Torkington History

I guess the right place to start is with William Torkington, my grandfather's grandfather. He was a builder and a carpenter, living in Asthon-Under-Lyne in the 1870s, an industrial township (with radical sympathies) then just beyond the outskirts of Manchester. He married Eliza Hollis. Three of their children died in infancy. Eliza died at the birth of their seventh child, and the child died a few days later. William determined to emigrate, and eight years later he and his three surviving children arrived in New Zealand. He came to a temperate forested land that was being consumed by immigrants from Europe.

He arrived in Auckland on "The Ionic" in 1886, with his three sons Arthur, Harold, and Joe (ages 17, 12, and 10). He walked to Ti Point (60 miles), then to Mangawai (40 miles), and then back to Auckland to buy the land on Ti Point, and then walked there with his sons. He worked as a carpenter, lumberjack, and farmer. During this time he built the palace for the King of Tonga with another chap whose great-great-grandchild went to school with my sister Bree. Colonization, begun only a few decades earlier, was proceeding apace, and there was still plenty of land to fell the trees from, and then dig for the gum of the kauri tree. The father and his boys lived in tumbling timber shacks.

Let's jump to another ancestor, to Charles Septimus Clarke, who was the other grandfather of my grandfather. Charles was the 7th son of an English landowner. He was of the squirearchy, and was expected to be a leader in the community. He would have known that radicals, and even democracy, were a threat to wealth, to order, and to stability. He had been educated and schooled, but didn't have an inherited fortune to look forward to. So he came to New Zealand, and travelled 1st class. Also in his boat, ``The Queen of Beauty'', was the Wyatt family. He befriended their sixteen year old daughter, Mary Anne Wyatt. They married (he was 20, she was 16) and settled together in Leigh with the rest of the Wyatt family. With Charles's money, they bought a lot of land in Leigh, where they remain. Charles Septimus had built a three gabled cottage with orchards for his young wife and their growing family. There were letters two or three times a year from Charles back to the relatives in England.

The Torkingtons maintained their reputation for being lefty radicals. A man living in a lean-to shack was as good as his master, especially as good as one with a class accent and living in a three gabled cottage. But we possess a charming photograph. It shows the young Joe Torkington, dressed obviously in borrowed trousers which are long enough to trip him up, and hanging loose about him, and he stands with his bride, the beautiful and petite, and beautifully arraigned, Minnie Clarke, daughter of Charles Septimus. We can only guess at the overwhelming charm and the poltical cheek that must have preceeded this marriage.

Joe and Minnie lived on a farm on Ti Point, and had seven children: Alma, Agnes, Arthur, Eileen, Jack, Ernie, and Ted (my grandfather). I grew up knowing most of these, although most of them only too briefly. Alma died in 1971, Agnes in 1980, Arthur in 1981, Jack in 1994, and Ernie in 1995 (my grandfather is, I'm very glad to say, still alive). I was born in 1973 to one of Ted's sons, Barry Torkington.

Got that so far? William Torkington's son Joe, had a son Ted, who had a son Barry, who had a son Nathan, who is writing this when he really should be attempting to make yet another son. Anyway, we had gotten as far as the people I knew.

Joe's eldest daughter was Alma, who married Norman Roderick Smith, but he died before they could have children. She remarried his brother, Victor Smith. The Smiths owned land on the end of Ti Point, right by the Torkingtons. One of their sons, Alvin, is a good friend of mine--he's a math graduate ex-teacher with a great mind and a powerful wit. I knew their son Kevin (big man with a loud voice that used to scare me), and I still see Vern occasionally. They had one other son, Ivan, who died in a motorcycle wreck at the age of 24. Following his death, Alvin's mother became clinically depressed, and after a few years Alvin found himself having to care for her, until she died. His father, too, in his late eighties, became senile, and Alvin found himself continuing for the next five years in the role of care-giver.

Agnes (``Aunty'', we called her) died in 1980. She married Sandy Matheson (``Uncle Sandy''), from the Matheson clan just over the hill. They had arrived in 1857 from Nova Scotia, in a boat called ``The Spray'', and made a living from a boat-building business. Sandy died in 1973, so I never knew him (although I did hear stories).

Arthur married Catherine Haughton (from Castlejordan, Ireland) in 1938. Arthur was the eldest son, although not the eldest child. Quite some pressure must have been on his shoulders to perform, and his jobs as mechanic and truck driver can hardly have satisfied the high hopes of his parents. I knew and loved Arthur, and was extremely sad when he died in 1981 of lung cancer. I can remember the smell of his pipe tobacco, and the sound of the horse racing on the tv. Aunty Kath used to make pikelets (small pancakes). She died in 1994, after spending some years in a retirement home after Arthur died. During those years, she met and became friends with Alvin's brother Kevin.

Jack was a gentle gentle man, a natural fisherman and sea spirit. He married a South African woman, Rosebug Houghton, whose peculiar habits became more eccentric as the years went on until she died around 1975. Jack was a conscientious objector during World War Two, which earned him jail time. I remember him as a sweet and gentle man, who dearly loved to fish. He died after a too-long battle with Alzheimers, in 1994.

Ernie was also a fisherman. He married Pearl Stoneham in 1943, and kids Robbie, Stan, Marie, and Phil. These kids became my dad's cousins, and they'd get up to much trouble raiding local crops. I can remember growing up with Phil's kids as my cousins. Ernie died in 1995 and I can still remember the fabulously different smell of his house, drying clothes, home-made bread, scones, smoked fish, cooking fish, sunshine and a slowly flowing curtain.

Ted was the youngest of Joe and Minnie's kids. He went to school, as did the other kids, at Ti Point School. His teacher was an alcoholic who beat the children mercilessly. He grew up shy and timid--as he says, "I couldn't say boo to a goose". His childhood companions were his brothers (especially Ernie and Jack). He married Dorothy (my paternal grandmother), daughter of a poor family in south-central New Zealand. They had children Kay, Les, Alan, Jeff, and Barry (my father). Bryce, who would have been the eldest, died after six days. This greatly affected my grandparents.

Ted and Dorothy lived for a while on the Torkington farm on Ti Point, then they moved to a new piece of land on the top of the inland side of Ti Point hill--during these times, my grandfather fished with Ernie for crayfish and snapper, as well as farming. After sixteen years of slow growth and prosperity there, they moved up North to a larger farm at Okaihau in 1966. They had returned to their current house on Ti Point around when I was born, in 1973.

My father, Barry, was the youngest of the three close-togther boys, Les (an outdoorsman and gardener in Whangarei), Alan (a part-time fisherman in Leigh), and Barry (an unemployed jack-of-all-trades in Ti Point). A few years after Dad came Jeff (a computer programmer in Auckland). The three boys used to get up to much mischief, and were the terror of the neighbourhood.

Dad met Mum (Dee McIntyre) in 1969, and I followed in 1973. They moved around Australia for a bit, with Dad being an electrician (I can remember when Dad worked for a coal mine and we lived in the boonies of Australia). When I was five, though, and ready to start school, my folks moved back to home. We lived for a while in Whangateau, and then moved to our present house on Ti Point. My sister, Bree, came along in 1981.

Well, that's it for the speedy fan out through the family tree. Those are the names you're likely to meet here: Torkington (that's me!), Matheson (intertwined with Torkingtons), and Smiths (Alvin's mother was a Torkington, his father's mother was a Matheson, both of whose parents were also Mathesons--yes, it's amazing he doesn't have a tail or webbed feet).

There's a web site that may help you untangle some of this, but for the time being there the story stands. You know now the main families, the principal characters, and are ready for stories and pictures.

If you have any questions, please feel free to drop Nat <nathan AT> a line.

Last modified by Nat