Sunday, September 17, 2017

Thames (NZ): John Grigg's "My Own New Zealand Home"

John Grigg (1838-1920) was an extraordinary Thamesite, recognised around the world because of his astronomical studies and discoveries. In an obituary it was stated that Grigg was the only photographer in the world to capture a shot of the 1901 comet; and that the Astronomical Society of the Pacific had awarded him two medals over the years. He was also a fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society. John Grigg discovered three comets in total (1902, 1903, and 1907), which each were named after him. He built a special observatory at his Queen Street home, just south of the Pahau Street intersect.

Grigg moved to Thames in 1868, initially he was in the upholstery and furnishing business, before moving into his specialty area when he established a music shop. He gave music lessons to private individuals and at several Thames schools.

Grigg setup the Thames Choral Society in 1874, and composed many songs over the following years. One of the best known was "My Own New Zealand Home", a song that was said to be based on his beloved Thames.

This song became known as the unofficial anthem of the northern part of New Zealand. It was sung in schools and at official events not just in Thames, but the greater Waikato and Auckland area for many decades. For instance at the opening of the Thames Branch Railway 19 December 1898, school children sang "My Own New Zealand Home." (words below) Nearly 2000 children sang the special song under the conductorship of Mr Grigg himself. Afterwards they piled into carriages and were given a train trip to Matatoke.  The newspaper reported at this time that the song had been composed by Grigg for the turning of the sod that had taken place in 1878.

While stressing the importance of the song in the northern region, it was well known through out New Zealand. For instance in October 1888, it was sung at a concert in Lyttelton. An on an earlier occasion in January 1881, the St Stephen's Orphans Home in Parnell sang the song.

The song, is believed to have come close to being chosen as New Zealand's Anthem, a fact confirmed in a television documentary which can be viewed online. (Click the link Part Three and listen at 2.40 min) There is also a rendition online by Linda Grigg. (Click here)

It is sad to say this great man, lies at Shortland Cemetery in a grave that has long seen better days. (photos below) Let us not forget this great Thamesite, who came close to having the title of having written New Zealand's Anthem.