Friday, July 31, 2020

Thames (NZ): Family History Month: Breaking down brickwalls at Thames - A Duncan at Shortland

August is Family History month.  Throughout New Zealand, local and national groups have organised talks and informative days to assist the beginner to the advanced genealogist. Thames has events at The Treasury and the local branch of the New Zealand Genealogists Society.

If I could start again on the research of Thamesites (and my ancestors), I would start a notebook or spreadsheet and document when I had literally given up on 'someone'! Meaning I had hit a 'brickwall' and that I was sure there are no detours or solutions to proceed with that person's history. With so much information available at our fingertips via places like (free access for library users till end of August), or free within most New Zealand Libraries - Never say 'brickwalls' exist forever. They are just treasures awaiting solving.
     Below is the case of Andrew Duncan, interred at Shortland Cemetery in 1935. I have previously spent hours trying to locate and verify this man's / soldier's details. Follow the tale below and you will see 'brickwall's' can be broken.

PLOT 3768 SHORTLAND CEMETERY - Who is Andrew Duncan?
Plot 3768 Shortland Cemetery - Andrew Duncan
  • The Thames Coromandel Council District Cemetery database provides information on Andrew Duncan. He was interred 23 December 1935, aged 43 years.
  • Unfortunately there is no plaque on the headstone, which based on its shape and size indicates Andrew Duncan was a World War One soldier. A monumental inscription project completed in the 1970s by the New Zealand Society of Genealogists, luckily records the details that were on the plaque. (Source "NZEF 252563 Pte A Duncan, d 21 December 1935"
  • Next step to check the Auckland War Memorial Cenotaph for Andrew Duncan Regimental Number 252563. The regimental number didn't fit the format of WWI soldiers, so suspected a '/' may have been omitted. After checking the files of all the Andrew Duncan's there was no match, no wrongly written regimental numbers. Remember you can view the files online and usually the military service will have recorded the date of death and may have even included a notification of death notice. 
  • The death notice in the paper held the next clue to solving if and where Andrew Duncan completed his military service, given that being part of the first New Zealand Expeditionary Force seemed to be doubtful. Andrew was indeed from Scotland, so may have served for a branch of the army in England or Scotland.
  • The death notice also revealed that Andrew Duncan who is interred at Thames had a family in New Zealand. Mrs J Bowman, Mrs A Griffiths, Mrs R Cooke and two brothers. So who was Andrew's sister Mrs A Griffiths recorded in the death notice? A search on papers past, following a search for a marriage at NZ BMD Marriage registrations revealed that his sister was Margaret Scouller Duncan who married Andrew Griffiths September 1930. Described as a Scotch Wedding, Miss Duncan's parents were Mr A Duncan and the late Mrs Duncan of Paisley, Scotland.
  • Now given the naming patterns in Scotland, it was possible that the mother's maiden name was SCOULLER, and this was confirmed in family trees on (accessed 31 July 2020). Andrew Duncan's parents were: Andrew Duncan and Jane Scouller of Scotland. Leaving the family researcher with options to research back in Scotland via sites such as Scotlands People.
  • Now with the Scottish ancestry confirmed, the military records on and also available via the Discovery site (National Archives, Kew) site confirmed the regimental number was in fact correct. Not for the NZEF but for the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders.
Andrew Duncan's Medal Card, Discovery, The National Archives Kew.

So, the discovery journey has taken us from wondering who and where Andrew Duncan served in World War One, to being as certain as we can be without purchasing all the relevant certificates, that our Andrew Duncan at Shorland Cemetery was - Private A Duncan #252563 of the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders.
     We have also learnt, that despite having a broken headstone, that Andrew had a large family in New Zealand. We could go on very easily and track those people and build the tree even further.
     Another path could be to find out what Andrew's occupation and where he lived in the Thames area. The 1935 electoral roll for instance has an Andrew Duncan, Labourer at Paeroa. 

I hope you can see how the hunt can be both easy and hard; plus very addictive. Keep following those leads and you too will break down the odd brickwall or two!

Monday, July 27, 2020

Thames (NZ): WWI Soldier Thomas Davis at Shortland Cemetery (Update)

UPDATED STORY 28 July 2020
The answer was in my files all the time, too quick to post and connect the dots.

A photo taken some years back by Pauline (copy at The Treasury) had a plaque still on this plot estimated to be around the 3030s at Shortland Cemetery. The name was TAOHO REWIRI #16/352.
Plot 3034 Thomas Davis aka Taoho Rewiri (circled in blue, centre left)

Rewiri's military file is online at Archives New Zealand, and con\firms the death details at Tapu, Thames Coast. He was born at the Hokianga 16th February 1880, and worked as a bushman on enlistment.

Private Taoho Rewiri served four years and 130 days overseas in WWI


This grave is at Shortland Cemetery. The plot reference is 3PUBL-PLOT-3034.

The council records record the person interred as: Thomas DAVIS, buried 10 January 1934 aged 56 years.

So whats so special? The clue is in the small broken headstone - which once had an inset plaque, which has long gone. These small headstones are typical of a World War One soldiers grave at Thames.

At present I don't have Thomas recorded in our list of Thames WWI soldiers, so it is urgent that we find the regimental number!

The Thames Star newspaper provides some information.

Another report gives the name as Tom Davis, whereas the report above gives the firstname as Allan.

So we now know that Davis was a member of the First Contingent of the Pioneer Battalion NZEF. 

Regimental Number? This is an ongoing investigation, hopefully with the help of readers we will find the match for Thomas / Allan Davis who may well have taken on an english version of his 'proper' name. I have checked the rolls in Monty Soutar's book Maori in the First World War - but no exact matches so far. No luck also on Auckland War Memorial cenotaph under "Thomas Davis".

Hopefully we will find more soon - let me know if you have solved the mystery!

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Thames (NZ): First Flight over the Coromandel Ranges

When did your ancestors first take a flight at Thames? 
     The town was excited in August 1930 with the announcement that Captain Money's de Haviland Gipsy Moth would be coming to Thames. 
     The plane arrived at midday 15 August 1930, and delighted Thamesites watched from below as the plane circled above the town and gave a display of aerobatics. 
     Flights were available for the following two days.  The plane landed at the Parawai Racecourse - the entry fee to inspect the plane was two shillings and sixpence. If you went for a flight, the entrance fee was deducted off the fare. The cost of a flight was one pound.
     Passenger flights completed, Captain Money and his passenger prepared for a flight to Mercury Bay, the first flying craft to visit the Bay.

The First Flight over the Coromandel Ranges to Mercury Bay
On 16 August, Captain R R Money's moth left Thames headed for Mercury Bay. The flight took 25 minutes. and they landed on Buffalo Beach.
     Mr A G T Bryan of Thames accompanied Captain Money in the passenger seat. The Thames Star 16 August 1930 reported: "It is also worthy of note that Captain Money took with him a special edition of the "Thames Star," the first paper to be conveyed by air on the Peninsula."

Mr A G T Bryan's Flight
In the Thames Star 19 August 1930 Mr Bryan wrote a full account of his flight to Mercury Bay.

“We’re Off” Contact! A single turn, and the engine starts, and we go for a short taxi down the course, turning to open the throttle and gather speed rapidly.  A smooth run past the grandstand and we are off the ground before I know it – a hundred feet up – two hundred. Parawai is slipping away below, and over to the left are the Plains, dotted with cosy homesteads set among tidy green fields…Below are many upturned faces, looking up from the neat chessboard pattern of the town – it looks very well from the air, much better than from the ground.  We are over the harbour now – and how big Prices’ works look! One minute since we started.”  (Click for Full report)


Who was A G T Bryan (1891-1975)?
A probable match for the passenger on this momentous flight was Alfred George Thomas Bryan - a solicitor in Thames during the 1930s.
     Alfred was born at Reefton, attended Nelson College, served as a Captain in World War One, then settled in Thames as a solicitor.
Nelson College Yearbook 1956 at (accessed 19 July 2020)

The Future of Flight & the Coromandel Peninsula?
Captain Robert Raymond Money, was struck by the beauty of the Peninsula and the townships around it. He noted "As a stranger for the first time...I was very impressed by its beauty. I feel that it has only to become known to be a very popular holiday centre, provided that some better form of communication be made available."
     The question of an aerodrome and aero club was seen as vital. Captain Money felt that flight was a great transport option for the town, as a flight to Mangere aerodrome would take just thirty minutes.

DH60G Moth ZK-AAV,
Identified as the possible plane used by Captain Money for his tourist flights.
Source: Aviation Historical Society of New Zealand Message Board
Background Reading
Information on R R Money.

Monday, July 13, 2020

Thames (NZ): Mining Maps & Plans

Thanks to Dave for the alert regarding a site that specialises in mining plans - the details are below.

NZ Mine Plans
"NZ Mine Plans is a purpose-built database with an interactive GIS webmap. It provides free access to a catalogue of plans for recent and historic mines in New Zealand."
    Yes they are free! And the resolution of the downloadable plans are significant! Not all the plans have as yet been digitised but there are instructions about how copies can be obtained.
    A 'user guide' is available.

How the site works?
I searched with 'Thames' and received many hits for the wider area. Understandably many of them were for the Martha Mine at Waihi.
     I selected the 'Bendigo Mine' at Thames. Looked at the preview, then selected to download the file. At this stage I was asked for my email address - which I submitted. Immediately I received a verification code, that I entered and the file began downloading.

     The plans cover not just the Bendigo Mine, but adjacent ones and their workings. Drives, reefs, adits, crosscuts, different levels are also included.

     I am sure you will not be lost for plans to look at, and hopefully for those of us less familiar with the mine location details, it will help us come to terms with what was happening at The Thames, which included a lot more than just a name on a map!

Using the interactive Map

     An easier way to check out the plans is to use the map, zoom into to the Thames area and then select the mine of choice. In the example above I selected the Cambria Mine. If nothing else this feature allows you to explore the locations of several Thames mines.

Other Resources:
Remember also to go back and visit some of the previous sites we have looked at, as they are updated from time to time.

  • Heritage maps available from Auckland Council Libraries Kura website. Use the advanced search option to select historical maps and the area you want to search "Thames"
  • Heritage maps available via the Auckland Libraries Heritage Images site
  • Digital NZ is an easy way to search across many resource providers. Here are the results for the terms "Thames Maps"

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Thames (NZ): Thames remembers the 'Rainbow Warrior'

What do these two have in common - The Karaka Bird Hide and Greenpeace's Rainbow Warrior?

Left: Boardwalk leading to the Karaka Bird hide, Brown Street Thames. 
Right: The Rainbow Warrior 1985 at Marsden Wharf, Auckland. Source:


The Bird Hide was officially opened 15th November 1993. It came from an idea by Keith Purnell of Thames, as a way of raising the awareness of the community and council towards environmental issues. The dream became a reality with a partnership, and the help of Environment Waikato. This led to plans being submitted for council planning approval, which was duly granted. Along the way members of the Forest and Bird Society became involved, plus members of the public who lent a hand. 
     An initial grant of $9000 was received from the ‘Rainbow Warrior Compensation’ fund. Altogether the costs were estimated at $28,000.  The vision has left a lasting legacy on the foreshore that is visited by people from all around the world.

Left: The Small Gauge Railway track loops around the foreshore reserve near the entrance to the Karaka Bird Hide - named after the Karak Creek located to the south.
Right: The view out to the Firth of Thames from one of the viewing windows in the Karaka Bird Hide.

Below: The simple understated sign that signals the entrance to the Bird Hide.
" Karaka Bird Hide
Royal N.Z. Forest and Bird Protection Society with the
Help of generous donations and voluntary labour built this
Walkway and Hide for your enjoyment; Best viewing 2hrs before - 2hrs after H.W."


Well, you 'should' be able to see some information on the Rainbow Warrior that was bombed while anchored on the Auckland waterfront thirty five years ago - 10 July 1985. 
     "A Portuguese crew member, Fernando Pereira, was killed in the explosions. The Rainbow Warrior had been involved in protests over French nuclear testing in the Pacific. French Secret Service (DGSE) agents were sent to prevent it leaving for another protest campaign at Mururoa Atoll."
     You 'should' also be able to see an identification panel for the birds that can be viewed from the hide.
     At present these information / identification panels are 'missing,' removed when the hide was painted. It hopefully is a priority to get these panels returned to the hide!
     There is an article in Coromandel Life Spring 2015, that included a photo of the panels, as well as photographs of the birds that could be seen on the firth of Thames.

Source:  Coromandel Life Spring 2015,

New Zealand was awarded compensation from France for the 'bombing', following a United Nations ruling. Money from this compensation was therefore given to contribute towards the construction of the Karaka Bird Hide at Thames,

Further Information:
Greenpeace's Rainbow Warrior Educational resources.

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Thames (NZ): Noah Jonassen - Early Sky Jumper from Thames

Characters of Thames
The town of Thames has been home for many famous people, many of those who have made it 'big' are in danger of being forgotten as our older generations pass away.
     Noah Jonassen, 1930s Thames garage owner, is an example of a man from Thames who was renown throughout the country. What for? As a sky jumper - balloonist.

Noah Jonassen's Thames Business
Then & Now Corner Pollen and Cochrane Streets. 
Left: 1930s - Jonassen's garage is far center right by the car parked in the foreground. 
Right: The view today via Google Streets.

Around 1921 took over the Motor Power Station (Garage) at the corner of Pollen and Cochrane Streets Thames. The garage offered a wide range of services at the Grahamstown section of Pollen Street.


Thames Star 1 April 1921   and     Thames Star 21 November 1934

Before Noah Jonassen came to Thames he was 'famous' throughout the Dominion.
    Captain Jonassen as he was known, performed at demonstration events. For example for the 12 December 1907 at Timaru, he advertised a 6000 feet ascent in a monster balloon followed by a parachute jump.
Left: Timaru Herald 10 December 1907  
Right: Balloon Ascent at Day's Bay Wellington 9 November 1907. 
Whites Aviation Limited. 1907. Noah Jonassen, 15-1225. Walsh Memorial Library, The Museum of Transport and Technology (MOTAT).

Captain N. Jonassen the "Aerial King" on balloon ascent at Days Bay, Wellington.
Whites Aviation Limited. 09 Nov 1907. Balloon Flights [Pre 1914], 15-1163. Walsh Memorial Library, The Museum of Transport and Technology (MOTAT).

1929 April 18 Thames Star: Airman's Feat banned read the headlines. Mr Jonassen had been interviewed by the Thames Star newspaper about his ballooning activities. He said “They talk about wishing to establish an air sense in New Zealand, but, as far as I can see, they don’t want to learn anything and they won’t let anyone else touch them.” The paper noted that Jonassen was one of the pioneers of aviation in New Zealand. That he was involved with experimental work long before the war, had built a ‘plane, and taken part in ballooning.
     Mr Jonassen had studied life saving methods for when accidents happened in the air, in particular the use of the parachute. He had recommended the use of a parachute for all pilots to Massey’s government - to which they rubbished the proposal. Ironically it was only later that the value of the parachute was acknowledged. 
     The argument in 1929 was that Mr Jonassen wanted to provide a demonstration to the Auckland Aero Club on the value of the parachute as a safety devise -  the Defence Department subsequently prohibited the display.

1930 February 10 Thames Star: News that Mr Jonassen had applied to the Defence Department for permission to do parachute descents from military aeroplanes. The application was approved, Jonassen was given the green light to go ahead with four exhibition jumps. The first to take place at Hastings. The paper reported that Noah Jonassen "had considerable experience in parachute jumps from balloons" including exhibitions in overseas countries.

BIG PARACHUTE DESCENT. Captain Jonassen (left), of Thames, prior to making a descent of 3000 ft. from an aeroplane at the Hawke's Bay Aero Club's pageant.

Noah Jonassen, balloonist in Thames about 1933 - showing equipment.
LEFT: Whites Aviation Limited. 1933. Noah Jonassen, 15-1224. Walsh Memorial Library, The Museum of Transport and Technology (MOTAT).
RIGHT: Whites Aviation Limited. 1930s. Noah Jonassen, 15-1228. Walsh Memorial Library, The Museum of Transport and Technology (MOTAT).

In August 1930, the interest in planes and air travel was growing. People were going on flights in Captain Money's Moth. A special edition of the newspaper was printed and flown to Whitianga in just 25 minutes. Mr Jonassen was involved with looking for a suitable site for an aerodrome and would be available to help with the establishment of an aero club. Plus Jonassen promised to so a parachute jump in the near future.

Mishaps still happened despite Captain Jonassen's experience. He recounted in 1930 that he had once had a problem during descent and ended up breaking his angle. While in his latest jump, he was blown half a mile off target. All part of the experience reassured Noah Jonassen!

Amazing Thamesite
Noah Ezra Obed Samuel Jonassen was born 24 August 1888 at Akaraoa, New Zealand. Married Agnes Maud Wells in 1910 and the couple had three daughters. The family lived in Queen Street, Thames - just north of the Mary Street intersect on the eastern side of the road. Mr Jonassen died at Thames Hospital 17 April 1959 and was cremated at Purewa in Auckland. (Source: Family trees at
     A true aviation pioneer who called Thames home for forty years.

Further Information
  • Photographs relating to Noah Jonassen at National Library of New Zealand
  • Those Daring Young Men in their Flying Machine: Sandford-Miller biplane flights at Avondale, 1913, on Timespanner Blog 29 September 2008
  • Family Tree on Geni accessed 30/6/2020
  • Ballooning at Te Ara The encyclopedia of New Zealand accessed 30/6/2020
  • Off the Ground - 1, The First to Fly, NZONSCREEN at 11.08 minutes (Photo snip below)
Captain Noah Jonassen - 'The Aerial King'