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John Aspin was born at Cranwich, Norfolk, England, in 1840. Cranwich is just a few miles N.W. of Mundford, and Mundford is some distance N.W. of Thetford. Cranwich today, is described as "a hamlet with farm house, Church with Saxon tower, and white brick Regency rectory which form a pretty group amongst meadows and hazel-nut trees". Back in 1840 it was more a "tiny cluster of houses and cottages". As far as we are aware, he had one sister, Louisa, who was 10 years older than him, and they were the children of John and Sarah Aspin (nee Dines). This John Aspin had one brother and two sisters, and they lived with their parents in Cranwich. I will set these out below - this information being taken from the Census of Cranwich, taken in 1841.

    John Aspin, born 1768, Labourer
m Elizabeth Cooper born 1773
              Louis Aspin, born 1803
              John Aspin, born 1806, Labourer
          m Sarah Dines, born 1801
                            Louisa Aspin, born 1830
                            John Aspin, born 1840
              Mary Aspin, born 1808
              Christopher Aspin, born 1811

(We think John Aspin and Elizabeth Cooper were married in Lancaster. She is Elizabeth, it is the Cooper that we are not 100% sure of.)

The Census of the village of Cranwich taken in 1841, shows that John and Sarah Aspin lived in the Keepers' cottage, while all the other members lived in another cottage. We understand it was quite common for the grandparents to bring up the grandchildren in these situations, and this is presumed to be the case here. (A note of thanks here goes to Sheryl and Peter Cawley - grandaughter of Charlie and Maggie Short - for finding this information out for us while living in London).
Nothing more is known of the other people mentioned above, but records show that the third John Aspin joined the Defence Force on the 16th October 1854 at the age of 14 years. He joined the 40th Foot Regiment, in England we assume, and made his way with them to New Zealand via Australia.

Rumour has it that his detachment saw service in India on their way to New Zealand, but we had no proof of this. Well, we do now. A further search in army archives has given us some more information. A publication titled "Discharged in New Zealand" and compiled by Hugh and Lyn Hughes, 1988, gives a research history of the soldiers of the Imperial Foot Regiments who took their discharge in NZ from 1840 - 1870. It states -
"This regiment had previously served in Van Diemen's Land and India. In 1852 they returned to Australia, stationed at Melbourne, Hobart and Adelaide and with the 1/12th were involved in the Eureka Stockade incident.
In April 1860 detachments were hurriedly sent over to New Plymouth, followed three months later by the main part of the regiment
and they were in action at Puketakauere, Huirangi and Te Arae. Detachments were maintained in Melbourne, Hobart and Adelaide but in 1863 these too came to join the others in New Zealand who were then heavily committed in the Waikato campaign, suffering casualties at Rangiriri, Paterangi and Orakau. The regiment finally left for the United Kingdon (Portsmouth) in May and June 1866."

Remember, John Aspin joined the regiment in England on 16th October 1854, thus he did not see service in India and he was discharged on the 4th May 1866 (in NZ) and upon completion of engagement as the regiment was returning to the U.K.

Army records show that from 1853 to 1859 the 40th regiment was stationed in "the Australian Colonies being much divided and furnished detachments to various places too numerous to mention during which time no occurrence of particular interest occurred".

Just for your general interest and information and as something of an aside, the text also noted that the regiment had a military mounted company engaged on gold escort service in Victoria and during that five year period the amount of treasure it escorted was fifty-three million, five hundred and twenty-nine pounds sterling !!! That's a bit of treasure.

So it would seem that John was employed with the regiment in Australia, maintaining law and order throughout the Colony up until 1860. (I would also make the assumption that, because he later returned to live and work in Queensland, it could be possible that he also served with the Regiment in Queensland. But that is just an assumption.) On 17th April 1860 the two flank companies of the regiment were dispatched to do battle in NZ and encamped at the mouth of the Waitara River. They suffered huge losses and on the news of this reaching Melbourne, the head quarters of the regiment were ordered to NZ. They embarked on the 18th July from Melbourne aboard the ship City of Hobart and disembarked at New Plymouth on the 24th July 1860. John Aspin, Reg. No. 3443, is listed on that ship. He was 20 years of age then. (A note of thanks to our daughter Penny who found this information when searching army achives in Wellington.)

He was a private, Regimental No. 3443 and the commemorative medal he had is now in safe keeping with the John Aspin family, being the eldest son of the eldest son of the eldest son of the ……….

In an excerpt taken from the Taranaki Herald it lists the City of Hobart arriving from Melbourne on 24th July 1860 with 207 rank and file of HM 40th Regt., as well as 16 sergeants, 10 drummers, etc. It states that the "ship was chartered by the Government on Saturday last to convey the remaining portion of HM 40th Regiment with stores and baggage, to New Zealand." Then the article describes how well the boat performed, etc.
The 40th Regiment was engaged in all the subsequent actions in the first Taranaki war.
The next information we have is that he was discharged from H.M. 40th Regiment at Otahuhu on 26th April 1866, having gained a good conduct badge and noted as a 'good character', and having served 12 years in the Force, six of these being in the Colony, i.e. New Zealand. (Note: Our latest source gives his discharge date as 4th May 1866, the reason given as "completion of engagement".)

He was secured a passage to Queensland with other members of the regiment, but he missed the steamer, and so had to make his own way there, which he did at the end of June 1866. Records obtained from Brisbane show that he was married to Jane Fisher at the District Registrar Office, Court House, Roma, Queensland, on 26th April 1869. Their marriage certificate states that Jane was employed as a domestic, born at Maybole, Ayreshire, Scotland, that she was 15 years old, her usual place of residence being Roma, and that she was the daughter of John and Margaret Fisher (nee Blyth), her father being a Labourer. John is described as a Labourer, born at Cranwich, Norfolk, England, 28 years old, his usual place of residence being Roma, the son of John and Sarah Aspin (nee Dennis!) and that his father was a Labourer. The marriage was witnessed by George Felix Davies and John Fisher. However, as you will realise, this marriage was not to last, and records show that tragically, Jane Aspin died instantly when she fell from a horse on 20th March 1870 at Roma. She was just 16 years and 6 months of age, having been married for 11 months, and she was buried according to the rites of the Church of England, at Roma, on 21st March 1870.

Further records show that the same John Aspin was married to Margaret Berry at St. John's Church, Brisbane, according to the rites of the Church of England, on 13th May 1872. Their Marriage Certificate states that Margaret was a spinster, born at Queenstown, County Cork, Ireland, that she was 23 years old, her usual place of residence being Brisbane, and that she was the daughter of Michael and Margaret Berry (nee Ahern), her father being a farmer. It is noted that John signed his marriage certificate, while Margaret made her mark with an X. The marriage was witnessed by Lawrence and Margaret Gallagher. John is described as a Labourer, born at Cranwich, Norfolk, 32 years old, his usual place of residence being Brisbane, and that he was the son of John and Sarah Aspin (nee Dines).
View John and Margaret's Marriage Certificate here.

As far as the Barrys are concerned, we ascertain that Queenstown is also known as 'Cobh', and this is a settlement on an island in the middle of Cork Harbour. It is thought that the Barry family emigrated from Ireland to Australia, settling in Brisbane, and that they were a large family, numbering perhaps 10, and that the youngest was called Ernest. We have been unable to certify any of this. Apparently one of her sisters also travelled to New Zealand, and she married a Mr Nixon.

After their marriage John and Margaret made their home on the Knive Downs Station, North Warrego, Queensland. We understand that he was employed as a musterer/stationhand there. A study of a map of Queensland shows that one of the principal rivers there is the Barcoo. We are told that William Graham, who was a farmer come storekeeper-of-kind at Grahams Beach during the 1880's, noted some of John Aspin's pet sayings, and they were "we'll send you up the Barcoo", presumably if someone got out of hand, or "you'd never get away with that up the Barcoo".

Their first four children were all born while they were employed at Knive Downs, and we believe that the native Aborigine were intrigued with the white children, and in Mary's case wanted to steel "little white Mary", and Margaret had to keep them indoors in order to keep a watch on them. We understand that this was a natural curiosity, and no difficulties were ever experienced other than the inconvenience. Another story we have been told, which was remembered by Mary (Polly), was when Margaret found a snake in the sugar barrel, and apparently she had to cut it up with the fire shovel.

Brian and Alma Aspin made a visit to Nive Downs Station in 1989 and spent some time with the owners who were intrigued with our story of John and Margaret. The original station was 370,000 acres and the homestead was a Cobh and Co. coach stop-over place. It was like a wee village in itself. The owner at that time was a John Perryman Clinch and it sported one of the biggest woolsheds in Queensland with 55 stands on the board!! It is a tragedy that it was burnt down in 1968 because on a huge wall above the stands were all the names of everyone who had lived and worked on that station. Was John's name etched on that board? Yes, we found the Barcoo river and it was in flow too!!

The next chapter of their lives, i.e. their arrival in New Zealand, remains clouded with uncertainty. The New Zealand Herald, dated 23rd March 1881, lists the ships arriving the previous day, and part of this reads:

"Sydenham, barque, Captain Millar, from London. Passengers -
Saloon: Jane Dunstan. Thomas, William and
George Whitelaw. William and Henry L. Murray. William, Sarah J, Frederick W, Frank, Charles, Herbert, Percy, Edith, Harry, Alfred, Ernest and Gertrude Hunt. Emily O'Brien, nurse. Joseph, Agnes, Katie, Percy, Milly, Nina, George 0, and Constance Berry. Kate Anderson, nurse. Emma and Margaret Aspin.
Second Cabin: (And these passengers are
Steerage: (Again these passengers are
There is no mention of any other Aspins.
The same paper gives an account of the voyage, and this reads:
"The barque Sydenham, 1063 tons register, arrived from London yesterday afternoon, bringing 118 passengers. The trip was a somewhat protracted one, owing to the total absence of N.E. trade winds, and the weather being very light throughout, and occupied 118 days from port to port, or 104 days from land to land. The passengers all arrived in excellent health, and happily there were no deaths, but on the contrary, the small community received an accession of three members, Mesdames Heron, Gordon and Berry having given birth to children on the voyage. The time passed very pleasantly, concerts, theatricals, charades and numerous kinds of amusements causing the trip to pass merrily enough". It then goes on to describe the entertainments in some detail, then continues - "The Master furnishes the following report of the voyage: Left London Dock on the 23rd and Gravesend on the 27th November 1880. Took her departure from the Lizard on 4th December, with light S.W. winds. Experienced light S. winds to 260 North afterwards light E. and variable airs, there being no N.E. trades at all. The Equator was crossed on 13th January 1881. Had moderate S.E. trades with extremely fine weather. Passed the Island of Trinidad at midday on the 19th. Passed Tristan d'Acunha on the 31st. From thence running the casting down had light and moderate winds and as a rule foggy weather. During this period had nine days E. wind, during which no progress was made. Made the south of Tasmania on the afternoon of 12th March. Thence across had light westerly winds. Made the Three Kings at midnight on the 19th, and down the coast had light S.W. and S. winds. Were abreast the Poor Knights on 20th March. Dropped anchor yesterday afternoon in harbour at 5.30 p.m.".
It does not appear to have stopped anywhere, let alone Australia! Where did Margaret and Emma board the ship?

Recent information tells us that immigration records related to the same journey of the Sydenham list Emma and Margaret as Emma and Margaret Aslin …. with a note saying the NZ Herald has spelt the name as Aspin. Now that opens a can of worms …….
Which entry is correct?

The fact is that we just do not know.

I have been told by a fair number of John and Margaret's grandchildren when doing my initial research in the early 1980's that they always understood the family came to NZ aboard the ship the Sydenham. Enough of the Aspins, McPikes and two Short families have told me this for me to take it as gospel. I have run with that as being a fact. Is it?
The Sydenham only made one other voyage to these shores and that was to Lyttleton on January 30th 1882. She arrived from England with Captain Millar still being in command.

Emma died in 1954 aged 72 years. While we often cannot rely on dates as recorded, it is generally accepted that most people knew how many birthdays they had and yes, 72 years back from 1954 is 1882.
However, she was married in March 1898 aged 17 years and that would put her birth year as 1881. It is confusing.
Awhitu school records show her passing exams on 19th October 1896 aged 14 years and 8 months, which would put her birth date at February 1882. I understand that at times birth records were used for exam purposes and yes, her recorded birth year is 1882 and that would show up in exam records.

As this goes to print now we remain with a very unanswered set of questions. Anybody who is so inclined can do some more research work and let us know any results. I will continue to do a bit myself and see what we come up with. But we need to be warned on placing too much emphasis on recorded dates and we need to take some heed of what has been verbally passed down from generations.

We have one more unanswered query here.
If you look at the marriage certificate of John and Margaret you will see that she is named as Margaret Berry!! This posed some more questions. In 1982 I sought clarification of that and I have enclosed the reply to my letter.

Click here for the letter from the Registrar-General

It only deepened the confusion. There always remains the possibility that Margaret Barry was in fact Margaret Berry. If you look back at the passenger list I gave you for the Sydenham you will see that travelling in the same saloon as Margaret and Emma Aspin were a family of Berrys, along with a nurse. Yes, there are questions here. Remember, she never wrote her maiden name down and for someone speaking with an Irish brogue as she must have it would be very easy to confuse Barry with Berry. We have taken the option that in fact Barry is correct, even though all evidence actually points to Berry, but the case remains open !!!

Other records show that John Aspin took up residence at Awhitu in October 1880. We have been told that the eldest children can remember landing, and that apparently it was very late in the afternoon and that their father had to cut ti-tree to make a shelter over the children to sleep under on the beach, and that they had with them potatoes and a few seeds. We understand that this was up the Wade River, at Silverdale, north of Auckland. We do not know when. We are led to believe that their mother Margaret was not with them either. I do not know if that is fact. We also understand that when they first arrived they lived at Waitakere for some period of time before crossing the Manukau Harbour to the Peninsula. It was on this crossing that Maggie and Lucy threw their china dolls overboard to the fishes.

As we know, John Aspin took up residence at Awhitu in October 1880 and Herald records show that Margaret and Emma arrived on 23rd March 1881. If that is fact, we simply have to assume that John had the other four children in his care for some time before Margaret and Emma arrived and that if he took up residence in October 1880, perhaps the children were being cared for by someone in Waitakere. There just remains many unanswered questions here. Eileen Exeter, daughter of Maggie and Charlie, told me that she always understood that John wanted his arrival back in NZ to be undocumented as he wished for the authorities to believe that he had never left the country. It was assumed that this was so he would remain eligible for a government land grant as a soldier settler. In affidavits he later signed when applying for a land grant, he stated that he had remained living in the colony, etc. etc. But documentation proves that he had settled in Queensland, Australia. And, as we know, he was never successful in any application for land grants.

Is it possible that John and the eldest four children travelled to New Zealand sometime in 1880, disembarking from the ship before it docked, John then leaving his family in Waitakere while he came to Grahams Beach to establish a home?  Is it also possible that Margaret travelled back to the United Kingdom for a short time, then boarded the Sydenham in London to join her family in New Zealand? Emma's official Birth Certificate states she was born at Awhitu on 30th January 1882. We doubt this, but suggest that it could be the date or year on which her birth was actually registered. Her marriage certificate, dated 18th March 1898, states that she was 17 years of age. If we go back 17 years from March 1898, it will put us at January 1881. Due to the ships records, even that actual date may not be correct - we do not know. But I have often wandered if the 'Berry" baby born enroute was in fact Emma!!! Those dates then could make sense. It may be appropriate to assume that Margaret travelled back to the United Kingdom and that John and the eldest children travelled to New Zealand alone. To date no records have proved this.

A search of the land title shows that under Conveyance No. 70744 John Aspin of Waitakere purchased 80 acres from Thomas McCarthy for thirteen pounds ten shillings on 18th July 1881, being Lot NE 8.  William Graham's records at Grahams Beach show that on 1st October 1881 Mrs Aspin placed an order for one and a half pounds of butter. This order was repeated in November, December, January 1882, September and October. Also on 4th February 1882 we see the entry, related to Aspins, "sold Blossom for five pounds". William Graham was a farmer who sold/bartered surplus products to others in the district. (As a note, his grand-daughter Gwen Marshall has now retired to that land and she is the sister-in-law of Kath and Dan Aspin. It is Gwen who has provided us with these wee gems of information.)

Their lives would have followed that of any other pioneering family in the district at the time, and we are told that John had a fishing net and used to fish down at Benny's Bay, and what fish was not kept for eating was dug into the garden for fertiliser. He used bullocks and we are told of how Polly had to lead these while her father ploughed, and how the bullocks' horns used to bruise her arms and shoulders, but she just had to keep on. She also told the story of going down with her father to the beach to get goods from the boat from Onehunga. They had a bullock trolley with home-made wooden wheels and wooden axle. They always carried dripping to grease the wheels and axle with, but on this occasion Polly had forgotten to bring it with her and the axle caught on fire.

The cows that they had wore bells around their necks, as they had the free roam of the district, and it was the job of the children to collect the cows from wherever they were for the milkings. Dan Aspin remembers his father talking of this "I recall Dad talking about having to go and get the cows to milk. They had two or three cows, and they would roam anywhere between here and Awhitu Central. They used to have ways of finding which way they went. When they used to bring them home at night, if they were anywhere up the track they used to brush the track with ti-tree brush so that they would see which way the cattle tracks were going next morning". Dan also recalls his father talking of when they first started down here, John used to grow a fair number of potatoes over in the gully, and Jack's job was to keep the pheasants away, and he would have to run around all day chasing these birds away to prevent them burrowing after the spuds. Bill Short, son of Jim and Emma, remembers the two bullocks his Grandfather had when he was a lad. They were called 'Spanka' and 'Lively', and he remembers John ploughed the vegetable plot with these two.

John planted fruit trees too, and established quite a productive orchard, as well as planting trees for shelter. When not helping on the farm, the girls were full-time gumdiggers, and their Mum used to send them off each Monday morning in clean white stockings. But the gumfields where everything that would burn was set fire to, was a blackened mess, so imagine four young ladies in their whites after working in burnt scrub! At times they would be given the strap by their father and sent to bed hungry if they came home without any gum.

Kathleen Gardner, daughter of Maggie and Charlie Short, remembers her Grandparents and the many times she and others of her family walked down from the Heads to visit them. I quote from her letter "When I was a youngster, I used to spend a lot of time with our darling Grannie Aspin in that dear old cottage at the foot of the hill. One thing I will never forget during those early days, Grandad was there at this time, and was sitting in the shed outside the back door, and I followed Grannie and he spoke to me as he sat on a box with a little cask and this had a top on it. He was helping himself to a drink, and said would I like some. I did, and that was the sweetest beer I ever tasted, and I think it could have been hop beer. Then I caught up with Grannie up the back path to the dairy across the yard, and she gave me some raisins. The picture I have in my mind is still very clear and I could tell you just where the stove was in the kitchen, and about six steps up into the lounge, with front door on right, bedroom to the left and then down two more steps to the left and two small bedrooms, one on either side of the hall. With the cow bails, and I won't say 'shed' as it wasn't one, further back at the top of the hill. The bail was all red clay, sometimes I would get eggs at the head of the bails. I often think about the old orchard under the hill, could show you where the fruit trees were, even to the damson plum which I found so bitter. And I can visualise dear Grannie now with her big hat and veil on and this puff-puff in her hand with smoke oozing out of it that for sure she was going to rob the bees in the old orchard". Of course, it was not thought much to walk a number of miles then to visit friends, and Margaret used to walk over to visit Mrs Brookes quite regularly, staying often for several days. This was at the old Brookes homestead, now included in the A.R.A. Awhitu Park. A further 40 acre block, which included the land on which their home was built, was purchased in December 1899 (or 1901), giving them a total of 120 acres.
Kathleen Gardner recalls more - "I hadn't seen a photo of Grandad Aspin, but he was medium height, grey hair and long white beard, well down on his chest. He was not a very talkative man. The last I saw Grandad was as we were coming home from school. I would have been about eight years old I think, and he was riding a strawberry horse near the Central School, and had biscuit tins in his haversack. These were filled with strawberries, and he stopped to give us all some. This was some few months before he died". Others too recall that John used to grow a very good crop of strawberries.
John and Margaret's son Michael John (Jack) was married in 1906, and he and his wife Kate lived with his parents for a time after their marriage. We note a transfer of the two titles of land to Michael John Aspin on 26th February 1907 and a new home was built, using some of the timber from the old home. This house was built up on top of the hill, beside the road, and about this time John went to live up beside Jim and Emma's home in Boiler Gully, and Margaret remained living with Jack and Kate. Several years later, on 16th April 1909 John Aspin passed away, aged 74 years, and was buried two days later at Awhitu Central.
View John Aspin's Death Certificate here.

Margaret became very well known for her services as the local mid-wife. She delivered perhaps the vast majority of her own grandchildren, as well as many others, including the Garlands, Kemps and Millets. She would walk many miles to assist on these
occasions, often stopping overnight or longer at the homes of the families. She was a women greatly respected for this service, and for the affection and humanity she showed at all times. She continued on living with Jack and Kate until about 1925, when she went to live at the Home of the Little Sisters of the Poor in Shelly Beach Road, Ponsonby, and this is where she passed away on 30th July 1927 at the age of 82, and she was buried on the 2nd August 1927 at Hillsborough.
View Margaret Aspin's Death Certificate here.

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