When Raewyn Calvert visited Wairarapa and wandered the byways of the Scandinavian settlement of Mauriceville, looking for remnants of her great-grandparents’ lives, she was unprepared for the treasure she discovered. Close friend and feature writer Marlene Ditchfield tells the story of a young Swedish immigrant and eventual Masterton icon.
Raewyn knew very little of her forebears, only that her maternal grandmother had lived in a children’s home in Masterton. She had always wondered why.
Not only, on her trip to Wairarapa, did she find a photograph of her great grandfather, Lars Mattson, at work in the Mauriceville Post Office in 1912 – but she found his grave and impressive headstone, and the site where he built his first house.
Lars was born on December 7, 1864, in Malmo, Sweden and sailed as a 20-year-old to New Zealand. In 1890, he was granted New Zealand naturalisation and settled in Mauriceville, where he was granted title to a block of land [110 acres] on Jackson’s Rd. It was steep hilly country, covered in bush. On a small flat area, he cleared a space and built a four-roomed cottage, haybarn, and three-bail cowshed.
Lars married Christina Christensen at Kuripuni, Masterton, in 1892 at the home of her parents, Peter and Johanna. Peter was the first person to burn lime in Wairarapa and was the forerunner of what was to become the Mauriceville Lime Company. A proud claim to fame for this small business was that this lime was used in the mortar to build the Houses of Parliament in Wellington.
Lars and Christina’s sons, Anders [known as Alex] and Edward [Ted], were born in 1894 and 1896. A baby girl, Cecilia, was born in 1899 but died aged 10 days. A third son, Rupert, followed in 1900. Three years on, Lars and Christina adopted a baby girl, Alice Rachael Mattson, who sadly died aged 11.
Lars sold his Jackson’s Line land in 1907 and built a house in the centre of Mauriceville West. When the postal service was transferred to the Mauriceville West Co-operative Store, Lars was appointed postmaster and bought the store.
His young son, Ted, became a junior staff member in the bustling store, sweeping floors before school and helping collect mailbags by horseback from the Mauriceville Railway Station. In 1910, at age 14, he became a full-time employee.
In 1913, Lars and Christina had a sixth child, Hannah Christina. Hers became a sad life, however, as her parents died within months of each other: Lars on November 15, 1919, and Christina on March 12, 1920. Lars had been held in high esteem in the rural community and, in recognition of his role as postmaster, Mauriceville School closed for the afternoon of his funeral.
An orphan at age seven, Hannah was sent to the Whatman Children’s Home in Masterton. She lived there for the next 12 years until she married Raynham Stewart Middleton in 1932. Her older brother, Ted, continued to manage the Mauriceville store until the trustees of his father’s estate wound the affairs up.
Lars, Christina, baby Cecilia and adopted daughter Alice are buried in one plot at the Mauriceville West Cemetery, atop a hill behind the former school. The small cemetery faces north with views across the valley.
Lars was a settler farmer, storekeeper, postmaster, secretary of the Mauriceville Dairy Company, vice-president of the Mauriceville Cricket Club, a Justice of the Peace, trustee of the Mauriceville Cemetery, a Sunday School supervisor at the Lutheran Church, and secretary of the Kopuaranga Forrester’s Lodge. Not bad for a 20-year-old Swedish man, who set his sights on the new world. His tale epitomises the many early settlers who dared to try new things. Great-granddaughter Raewyn was mighty pleased with her find.