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Whatton family’s contributions

Matilda des Forges’ grave. PHOTO/WAIRARAPA ARCHIVE

Among the graves in the older sections of Masterton’s Archer St cemetery are those of a family who made large contributions to Wairarapa and Taranki history. GARETH WINTER from the Wairarapa Archive reports on the life of the Whatton family.

The Staffordshire village of Sedgley contributed several early pakeha families to Wairarapa.

Henry Bannister, who married Joseph and Sarah Masters’ daughter Sarah, came from the village, and his descendants gave the name to the boys’ orphanage in Intermediate St.

Among others to hail from Sedgely was Susannah Crump, born about 1812.

In 1841 she married Joseph Whatton, an “iron melter” from the nearby village of Bilston.

They came to New Zealand on the ‘Harkaway’ in 1858 with their five daughters, settling in the Crofton area, near Wellington.

In 1863, their daughter Penelope married Masterton settler Giles Edinborough Chamberlain, and the following year Matilda married Thomas Rogerson.

Shortly afterwards, the family relocated to Greytown, where daughter Emily married William Edmeades in 1869, and Selina married Pierce Cotter.

Susannah and Joseph did not stay in Greytown for long.

In 1874, they headed for New Plymouth and a return to Joseph’s previous occupation.

In conjunction with other metal workers and founders, he embarked on a venture to turn Taranaki’s iron sands into pure iron.

Newspaper reports said he had sold his farm, receiving £800, and invested it all in his new venture.

He was certain he would succeed.

However, reports in 1876 indicated he had failed.

He said he had done his best but had not been able to smelt the iron, and was going to leave his furnace in good condition for others to try their hand.

The previous year, their youngest daughter Elizabeth married the Taranaki-based Chinese-born businessman Chew Chong.

He had arrived in New Zealand after periods in Singapore and Australia, and was working as an itinerant pedlar in Taranaki when he noticed the Jew’s ear fungus [Auricularia cornea] growing on some trees.

Recognising it as a valuable Chinese herbal remedy, he set up business, sending the fungus to China and importing and selling Chinese goods.

The fungus sales were a significant income for Taranaki farmers – for some years they exceeded butter sales by value.

As butter exports became more feasible with refrigerated shipping, Chew Chong opened dairy factories, introducing an early form of sharemilking on farms he owned.

In 1885, Susannah and Joseph Whatton left Taranaki, bound for Masterton, where they lived on the Upper Plain.

Susannah died in 1897, but Joseph continued on into old age.

In a time when people died a lot younger than today, his advanced years made him a topic of conversation.

His 89th birthday party was commented on, with reports of his daughters, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren all appearing.

A further report in 1903 told of the time when Dr William Hosking was driving his new car down Church St when he noticed Whatton, “a patriarch of over 90 years” looking on with interest.

Hosking stopped and asked him if he would like a ride in the car.

Although the old man was initially nervous, he did join Hosking in a quick jaunt down the road.

Joseph Whatton died in 1909, aged nearly 97.

He was living with his daughter Penelope Chamberlain and her husband Giles.

According to the Wairarapa Age, he was remarkably hale and hearty for his age and had been able to get about until comparatively recently.

He was survived by four of his daughters.

Mildred Rogerson, who was widowed in 1868, had remarried Samuel des Forges, and was once again widowed in 1900.

She died in 1901 and is buried near her parents in Archer St.

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