Author: mum

Staying Power



The Friedeburg dropped anchor about two miles outside Lyttelton harbour 150 years ago today—30 August 2022. It was a Friday afternoon, and the “fine iron ship” had spent 102 days at sea.

It remained anonymous until the next day, prompting the Christchurch Star that Monday to lobby for “the urgent necessity that exists for the establishment of telegraphic communication” between the lighthouse at the north Godley Head that screened the ship from the port that afternoon, the signal station on Adderly Head on the south side of the harbour entrance, and the Lyttelton telegraph office.

No doubt that after so long at sea, Captain Kopper and his crew were relieved to be under the cliff’s shelter, and had no idea of the fuss they created by not making themselves known immediately.

Christchurch immigration officials had been processing scores of ships and their passengers since the Charlotte Jane and the Randolph arrived on 16 December 1850, but the Friedeburg was another first. She arrived from Hamburg in continental Europe rather than from London. Her 292 passengers represented what immigration authorities called 241 statute adults. Immigration agents charged with finding suitable labourers for the new colony were paid £1 for every person older than 12 who arrived in New Zealand. Children younger than 12 were classified as half a statute adult, and babies younger than a year became simply “souls.”

The Friedeburg carried more than 90 Poles, more than 80 Germans, nearly 60 Norwegians and the same number of Danes. The next morning, three immigration officers and two interpreters arrived in Lyttelton to be taken to the vessel by the barque Gazelle. The flag flying on its stern confirmed the ship’s identity, and the men stepped into a crowd of different languages.

Like on other immigrant ships, the living quarters of married couples and families aboard Friedeburg divided those of the single men and single women. It is not clear whether authorities in Hamburg also divided the nationalities, or whether they did it themselves, but reports from the passengers about the voyage show that the Germans and Poles “on one side of the ship” seemed to have a poorer quality experience than the Danes and the Norwegians on the other side. The latter were wealthier and had been able to bring more “comforts” with them, as well as having money to be able to supplement the ordinary ship’s rations.

The 102 days aboard the Friedeburg ended with a flurry of attention for the single women and men, much sought-after by farmers wanting domestic workers and labourers. Despite language barriers, they seemed to have no trouble finding work. The larger families, which had provided a good income for the immigration agents, were not as lucky.

The Poles seemed to move as a loose unit to the Banks Peninsula. The Kotlowski family were the only ones who stayed there—apparently Marianna Kotlowska refused to move again. The rest made their way north and settled in northern Christchurch. As more large groups of Poles arrived in the colony in the next few years, Friedeburg families such as Burkett, Groszinski, Kurek, and Wisniewski migrated north to join other Polish settlements such as Inglewood in Taranaki. Jan Gierszewski’s family moved to the USA, but his brother Michał Gierszewski, who arrived off the Humboldt in 1873, remained in Marshland.

The Friedeburg Poles made names for themselves as market gardeners in Marshland and farmers in Taranaki, and Polish names show up on any walk among the headstones of old cemeteries such as the Linwood in Christchurch, or the Inglewood in Taranaki.

I am still looking for several of the single women, like Wilhelmina Arczikowska, Julianna Borcinska, and Paulina Woszewiak, off the Friedeburg. They are among the Polish women who disappeared thanks to mutilated spellings in marriages. Two Friedeburg families also remain elusive: Jablonski and Szutkowski, but sometimes there are gems: On a headstone at the Linwood cemetery are the words: “Matthew Shaskey (Mathias Jaroszewski) born Poland 22-2-1835. Died Christchurch 26-10-1912. Loved husband of Anna. Interred at Gisborne. RIP” Matthew and Anna’s son John remained in Christchurch, became a market gardener, kept the Shaskey name, and is buried at the Waimairi cemetery.

Other Friedeburg names at the Linwood cemetery are Borlowski, Burysek, Grofski (Grochowski), Gurni, Piekarski, Szymanski, Watembach, and Dunick (Zdunek). Most lived and farmed in Marshland and its environs.

Their descendants can be rightly proud of their contributions to a developing new colony. It has been a privilege to research and write about their families, and others who showed Polish grit and hospitality long before it was recognised.

—Barbara Scrivens

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Put “Friedeburg” into the search function at Papers Past to see a variety of stories about the ship and the settlers. The newspaper article here came from https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/TS18720902.2.9

Go to the Early Settlers section, and follow some of the stories in the menu.
https://polishhistorynewzealand.org/early-settlers/

Marshland, The Place Where Flax Grows Profusely is available at:
https://polishhistorynewzealand.org/marshland/

If you would like to comment on this post, or any other story, please email editor@polishhistorynewzealand.org/


Losing the Three Percent



My mother used to tell me, when I had a side-line in making applique items, that 97 percent was good enough. This from the woman who had previously told me that if I didn’t unpick a crooked seam, I’d keep seeing the flaw.

Aiming for 97 percent taught me that perfection is impossible: there would always be something else that I could do to tweak a cushion or a wall hanging into a higher sphere, but I saw the time to effort ratio skew exponentially towards craziness.

It’s been a good 20 years since I sat at my sewing machine, but my mother’s words have remained with me—she didn’t give me much advice, so it is comforting to be able to follow something. It has helped me decide when to pause the research and start to write—especially when a story is about people who died more than a century ago and one cannot know the whereabouts of the full stop.

The latest story on the Early Settlers page, about the Grofski (Grochowski) family, is an example of how sometimes, things fall into place. I mentioned my frustration at being unable to find the death details of the New Zealand patriarch, Simon Grochowski, at a talk I gave with Polish historian Ray Watembach during a Christchurch Heritage Week in 2018. The subject was the Poles who arrived in Christchurch in 1872, and the family was part of the story Marshland, The Place Where Flax Grows Profusely.

One of Simon’s descendants happened to be in the audience and came up to chat afterwards. He sent me a copy of Simon’s death certificate and other family documents and I started to chase a man who in 1883 had been buried under the misspelling of his wife’s maiden name. The cemetery on the death certificate says Lincoln, but I can find no inkling of his presence there, nor in any other cemetery in the Christchurch or Selwyn areas.

The Grochowski name had at least 25 different spellings before Grofski became official in 1893: “Mr and Mrs S F Grofski… respectfully informed” their friends about the funeral of their 10-year-old daughter Annette. I like to think that their four living sons, 10 years after their father died, were making a point: after years under the influence of what in fairy tales would be called a “wicked stepfather,” and the death of another sister just months earlier, they were reasserting their original family.

The Grofski spelling stuck. Until then, other spellings included Crokowsky, Gerosky, Glogoski, Grahofski, Grofskey, Grofsky, Grogoski, Grokowska, Gronfsky, Gronkosski, Gronkouski, Gronkovsky, Gronkowski, Groschkowski, Grosenosky, Grosewski, Groshinski, Groskwsky, Grosrkowski, Groszkowski, Groufsky, Groukowski, Growchowski, Growszk, and Grojeski.

I first came across the name when researching the Marshland Poles. Another early settler in Marshland, Wilbur John Walter, wrote in his memoirs that Mrs Frances Grofski “and her family worked very hard on the[ir] place.” The array of farming stock and implements that Mrs Frances Grofski sold before she remarried in 1903 showed that she had become a solid farmer in the area.

I still need to go back to the Marshland story to amend an assumption I made that Mrs Grofski’s husband had been the one to register their son’s death in 1876. Unlike a crooked seam, the flaws in my stories don’t make themselves known immediately.

When I was sewing, I knew exactly what I had to work with: the machine, the fabric, the design, the thread, and the time pressure. All had their foibles, but it was a finite set. Writing about early settler families is like not knowing whether one is working with leather, velvet or silk, with a design that generally only makes itself known well into the process, and with fine threads that often remain hidden under heavier ones.

There is no way that I can estimate how long any of my stories will take to hatch. I cannot guarantee them like I used to with cushions: six by next week. But there is something about trying to capture and make sense of ephemeral moments that makes research and writing about families like the Grofskis so special.

This bee knows what the job entails: returning time and again to both known and different sources of nectar. I saw it on this gazania on yet another trip to the Linwood cemetery in Christchurch. I was looking for the unmarked graves of the Grofski sisters, and had included it in my photographs before I could confirm that the flower happened to be above those graves.

I’ve swapped the impossible perfection of 97 percent for discovering the pleasure of patience and uncovering the unexpected rewards of research.

—Barbara Scrivens

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For a fuller story on the Grofski family, go to https://polishhistorynewzealand.org/the-grofski-grochowski-family/

Marshland, The Place Where Flax Grows Profusely is available at:
https://polishhistorynewzealand.org/marshland/

If you would like to comment on this post, or any other story, please email editor@polishhistorynewzealand.org/


Full Circle



Pani Marysia née Dac Jaśkiewicz was a Pole typical of her time. Deeply religious, generous, stubborn, single-minded on many topics, she exuded the kind of Polish hospitality that she should have grown up with.

The St Mary of the Immaculate Conception church in Avondale was packed on 15 June. People nodded, smiled, and shed tears with her family and the priest, Pa Peter Tipine, whom Pani Marysia had known all his life, as they recalled tributes and reminiscences of a life heavily intertwined with the church. This was where she married Franciszek Jaśkiewicz in 1961, where her children Kazik, Marysia, Basia, and Krysia were baptised, where her daughters were married, where she sat for Franciszek’s funeral in 1994, and where there was not a priest nor an altar boy or girl who had not worn something she had sewn.

Pani Marysia was the local doyenne of sewing. She made her own wedding dress, and those of her four bridesmaids and, besides her daughters, did the same for countless others. At the funeral, one of her granddaughters wore one of the Polish embroidered national costumes that she had created. The last time I visited her, I saw several badly frayed red school jerseys on her kitchen counter. Basia, a school teacher, had brought them to her for repair. To me, they looked beyond help; to Pani Marysia, it was a fiddly job, and she did it. While she was conscious, her hands never stopped.

The recessional song at her funeral was Góralu, ci czy nie żal?  The English translation of the song’s name, Highlander, do you not feel grief/ sorrow/ regret/ desolation/ woe? is as complicated as the feelings of anyone forced from their home, as Pani Marysia was as a young girl. It took me back to my own 1960s childhood and Polish gatherings when, late into the evenings, the men would stand and sway and sing the mournful melody. (Anyone hearing it at a faster tempo is not doing it justice.) I did not know that it was one of Pani Marysia’s favourite Polish folksongs, so old that there are disputes about its musical origins, but that she interpreted as leaving her heart in Poland.

Apparently the author, poet Michał Bałucki, was imprisoned in Kraków in 1863 with a highlander farmer who had been arrested when crossing the border between Russian- and Austrian-partitioned Poland. Because he happened to be carrying the implements of his trade, a pitchfork and a shovel, he was accused of being an insurgent. The man’s grief at not being able to get back to his hills stayed with the poet.

I first met Pani Marysia in 2013, at the entrance to the Dom Polski in Morningside. Although I had immigrated to New Zealand 15 years earlier, it had not occurred to me before I started researching my family and became involved in this website, that there may be a proper Polish organisation here. I found out that the Auckland Polish Association was holding its annual general meeting. What better way to assess people?

Walking into a roomful of strangers is always intimidating, and I was grateful that this bird-like woman came up to me and started chatting with—probably interrogating—an unknown visitor. Whatever it was, I appreciated it, because no one else was as friendly.  

I grew to understand Pani Marysia through interviewing her in 2016. She insisted in speaking Polish, despite my telling her that I was not fluent, but it was as if she needed to be within her Polish self to recall the horrors of her childhood after Soviet soldiers barged into their home in Przemysł one early morning in February 1940, and told the family to pack and dress warmly because they were they were “going to Siberia for a vacation.”

Her father was shot in the forest near the forced-labour facility where they were imprisoned for nearly two years. Her mother died soon after getting Marysia and her older brother and sister to Kazakhstan.

With their parents dead, three Dac siblings roamed the streets looking for food. She was small enough to climb under a fence in a vegetable garden to steal what she could, and was almost shot by guards on horseback patrolling with dogs. Another time, the older ones left her playing with other children and she came so close to remaining in the village after a Russian girl decided to take her home. Weeks later, her brother heard her name being called, and retrieved her.

One of the youngest of the 733 Polish children who arrived in Wellington in November 1944, Pani Marysia loved her five years at the Polish children’s camp in Pahiatua. It gave her back some of what she had lost, and she absorbed the Polish traditions.

I am so glad that our Auckland Polish Association, instigated by Eva Sherer, made a special presentation to Pani Marysia at our annual general meeting on 29 May. She did seem tiny and more frail than usual when I hugged her goodbye, but I fully expected her to live much longer, despite her regular stays at Auckland City Hospital.

I am not sure what it will be like without our long phone calls that I found out recently were typically Polish: A good amount of complaining about whatever it was in the beginning, the reason for the call in the middle, and a good amount of saying goodbye at the end.

Rest in Peace, my friend. I will miss you.

—Basia Scrivens

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For a fuller story on Pani Marysia, go to https://polishhistorynewzealand.org/marysia-dac-jaskiewicz/

If you would like to comment on this post, or any other story, please email editor@polishhistorynewzealand.org/


A Swamp’s Gentle Reminder



Marshland in Christchurch got its name for a reason that the first Polish settlers in the area knew too well. In 1874, when the first Poles arrived there, the swamp was still home to trees and shrubs that thrived among the wetland’s flaxes and reeds.

Marshland today obviously looks nothing like it did 150 years ago, but there is one section off the northern tip of Marshland Road that gives one a feel for what those first settlers faced: the Ōtukaikino Reserve.

The reserve is tucked under the tip of the triangle that SH1 and SH74 make before joining at Chaneys to become Christchurch’s northern motorway.

The muffle from the elevated roads followed me as I walked around the reserve earlier this month—five years after my first visit—but I know that soon, the specimen trees will completely shut out the outside world. As I walked, I wondered at the strength and resilience that the first settlers to this region must have had, to have tamed such land.           

Among those settlers were Poles who had arrived in Lyttelton in 1872. They been working mostly in Pigeon Bay and Holmes Bay on the Banks Peninsula, when an owner of part of the swamp, Edward Reece, found them two years later and offered them land leases of £1 an acre for five- and 10-acre blocks, which they could repay over 30 years.

Several of the Poles moved north with their families. To them, the offer of leasing land was gold. Any of them who had had land historically, had long lost it under Poland’s Prussian-partitioning. They had managed to leave the Prussian oppression only thanks to the Vogel government’s scheme designed to encourage labourers—much-needed in the new colony in the 1870s—to emigrate by loaning the £5–£8 cost of their sea passages.

The lucrative but seasonal cocksfoot grass-seed industry on the Banks Peninsula helped them repay that debt, and they may have been ready to take on other employment, especially when it came to land.

I wonder how much they understood of Reece’s offer? I like to believe that the developer found an interpreter. Even if there were no Polish-English translators, there were German-English speakers, and the Poles had learnt German under the years of partitioning.  

What would any of the new settlers have thought when they first saw what they were up against?

Breaking in that land meant digging drains. An 1856 map by Ken Silby showed Christchurch’s swamps and vegetation, but the Marshland area was depicted generally as “Swamp raupo tussock & flax” with a “shaking tutu bog” to the south.

The drainage was just the first step. It led to the land’s subsiding and revealing previously immersed kahikatea, mataī, ribbonwood, totara, and mānuka, which then had to be removed.

Many a cow, sheep, horse, and even trailers and implements drowned in the process, but eventually that land became the market gardens that sustained the growing city, and when the Poles were in the position to buy the land freehold, they found that the improvements they had made had increased its value well over the original price.  

Drains are still fundamental to life in Marshland today. These ones are part of market gardens alongside Mairehau Road.

Ngāi Tūāhuriri Rūnanga suggested the 13 hectare freshwater wetland as a suitable site for the Ōtukaikino Reserve, and it has been operating as a joint venture between the Department of Conservation and Lamb & Hayward funeral directors since 1992. These days, the Friends of Ōtukaikino meet every month to plant and maintain the reserve.            

The original swampland has long been tamed, but for anyone wanting to experience a smidgen of what the early settlers found, the reserve is well worth a walk around. Just stick to the paths: the swamp is still capable of inhaling the unwary.

—Barbara Scrivens

The boardwalk bridge at the entrance of the Ōtukaikino Reserve.

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Find a fuller story on Marshland: The place where flax grows profusely at: https://polishhistorynewzealand.org/marshland

If you would like to comment on this post, or any other story, please email editor@polishhistorynewzealand.org/


Remembering Them



A few minutes before 7am on 28 April 1942, the deck watch on the Polish destroyer ORP Błyskawica saw six low-flying fighter aircraft approach from the south.

Their clear markings showed they were Luftwaffe. Their attack lasted less than a minute. They were gone before any alert was sounded on shore, but their raid foreshadowed a far more serious intent to damage and destroy the shipyards, aircraft factory, and the residential towns at Cowes and East Cowes on the Isle of Wight.

Eighty years ago today, the six planes flew in a “single line ahead” formation. The two on either side dropped their bombs on the shipyards and aircraft factory and they all veered away. The middle pair that flew over the Medina river, returned to drop bombs on either side of the ORP Błyskawica, docked in Cowes for repairs. The ship retaliated, and one of that pair flew away trailing black smoke after an “exceptionally violent turn.”

The attack left the ship without a mast, with her torpedo control destroyed, her RDF (Range and Detection Finding) capabilities “seriously damaged” and her superstructure battered. The damage suggested the planes were ME 109s, the light Messerschmitts that used bombs of “very small size with slight delayed action.”   

The commander of the ORP Błyskawica, Wojciech Francki, recognised the Luftwaffe mission as German reconnaissance and, against British Admiralty protocols of the time, re-armed his ship. That deed resulted in the ORP Błyskawica being able to use all except its still-not-repaired heavy guns to repel the 160 German bombers that arrived during the night of 4–5 May. Commander Francki’s order to light and maintain “smoke candles” on shore sheltered the town from illumination by flares and fires. Instead of the enemy planes being able to accurately bomb a well-lit target from around 50 metres, the barrage from the ship forced them higher, which affected their ability to aim.  

Every year Cowes and East Cowes commemorates the bravery and courage of the ORP Błyskawica commander and his crew, and the residents who staffed the towns’ ARP (Air Raid Precautions) headquarters and units. Although the towns lost 70 people, its residents know that without the Polish navy ship, the toll would have been far worse.

A duffel-coated commander probably on the bridge of his ship, smiling at the camera. Seas behind him are rough and grey.
Commander Wojciech Francki

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During the Anzac Day commemorations this year, I wondered whether Commander Francki, who lived in Auckland for nearly two decades after WW2, ever attended a post-war parade. The Polish military was snubbed at the massive, allied victory celebrations in London on 8 June 1946, and I doubt that many, if any, of the Polish veterans in New Zealand would have had the desire to be reminded that their years fighting “For Our Freedom and Yours” had been in vain.

In any case, by the 1950s, soon after most of the Polish veterans arrived in New Zealand, the day had lost its popularity—thanks to some local authorities extending the legal prohibition on commerce that day to include a ban on any entertainment or sport.

Nowadays, the increasing respect that we have for our fallen and our veterans is reflected in the number of services and those attending, including children who are encouraged to find out about their forbears’ contribution to war and peace efforts.

Polish names appear on every memorial that I have seen in districts where the early Polish settlers lived. Several thousand young Polish men fought with the New Zealand Expeditionary Forces in WWI at the same time as the New Zealand government put Poles who arrived here in the 1870s and 1880s, on its 1917 register of Enemy Aliens. Restrictions under that act decreed that they had to report weekly to their nearest police station, and had to carry a police permit if they wanted to travel farther than 20 miles.

While Poland fought for the allies in WW2, its own Armed Forced Day is on 13 August, to commemorate its 1920 victory over Soviet forces during the battle in Warsaw known as the Miracle on the Vistula.

This year I again attended a small ceremony to honour the almost 22,000 Polish prisoners-of-war executed by the NKVD, Stalin’s Secret Police, in April and May 1940, and buried in mass graves in the Katyń forest in western Russia. The Auckland function is organised by the Honorary Consul for Poland in Auckland, Bogusław Nowak, and takes place at the Cathedral of St Patrick and St Joseph, which holds a plaque dedicated to the Katyń victims. It was arranged by members of the Auckland Polish Association in 1990, at a time when the total dead still numbered 14,500.

Two Polish soldiers saluting the Katyn plaque in the cathedral. They are dressed in smart khaki uniform and blue berets.
Polish officers Colonel Paweł Chabielski and Lieutenant Colonel Marcin Matczak, visited the Auckland Catholic Cathedral in April 2018, and paid their respects to the Polish officers killed in western Russia and buried at Katyń.

—Barbara Scrivens

Find a fuller story of Commander Wojciech Francki on: https://polishhistorynewzealand.org/commander-wojciech-francki/

Although several individual family stories on our Early Settlers page include sons who fought in WWI, the story of the first eight Polish families in Taranaki also covers the Poles’ battle regarding the 1917 Enemy Alien register: https://polishhistorynewzealand.org/under-the-mountain/

Find a fuller story on the Katyń massacres at: https://polishhistorynewzealand.org/katyn-the-unspeakable-crime/

If you would like to comment on this post, or any other story, please email editor@polishhistorynewzealand.org/


Lost and Found



The 12 sheets of heavy A3 paper that Ray Watembach gave me the last time I was in his kitchen nearly three years ago still do not file neatly away, but this week I made peace with their contents.

They are copies of his notes, most written on the fronts and backs of buff-coloured envelopes that carried the Polish American journal Ray subscribed to. He started researching his own Polish roots decades before digitisation made trawling through records so much easier, but these were not his family notes. Rather, they were hunting for connections to Catharina Grabowska, eight years old in 1876.

Those 12 sheets of paper covered births, marriages, and deaths from 1818 to 1876 in Kokoszkowy, a village in then Prussian-partitioned north-western Poland.

Catharina Grabowska was listed on the ship Fritz Reuter as the daughter of a Jacob Rzonska, but she was not his daughter, neither his wife’s. Catharina’s father died when she was two months old, and her mother four years later.

Catharina Grabowska may have remained hidden, had her real name not appeared on her 1883 marriage certificate. Jacob Brzoska (the same Rzonska as above) was one of the witnesses. I wonder whether the “Katie Grabowsky” on that certificate had known that she had been fostered by the Brzoska family, or whether it came as a shock when her foster-father decided that he needed to provide as much correct information as possible on an official document. There were other people from Kokoszkowy in New Zealand who knew her family.  

Jacob Brzoska, his wife, Marianna, and several children moved to the USA in 1901, including two boys younger than Katie who also travelled on the Fritz Reuter. As the president of the Polish Genealogical Society in New Zealand, Ray met, helped and guided many other family genealogists, including a Brzoska family descendant who visited New Zealand in the early 1990s. After she could find no trace of Catharina, that genealogist decided that she had died aged 11 or 12. It is not clear why those ages, but Catharina does not appear in the genealogist’s subsequent family story.

Inaccuracies in the Kokoszkowy church books must happen—no set of record keeping can ever be infallible—but are more to do with spelling variations of a name, or the germanising of a name, say, a Polish Wojciech becoming its German equivalent, Adalbert. The Kokoszkowy record keepers had generally good handwriting when compared to some of the scrawlers in other parishes, so it is possible to follow a family’s genealogy.

Kokoszkowy’s Gothic stone church of St Barbara, erected in the mid-1500s, held most of the ceremonies and records of its Catholic residents’ births, marriages, and deaths. The priests knew their parishioners, their parents, their children, their friends, and their extended families. They were unlikely to make a mistake about who was born to whom and who married whom. The death records are so precise that they give a cause of death, plus often the exact age of the person who died: Catharina Grabowska’s mother, Barbara Dytmer, died as the wife of Vincent Arim, aged 36 years two months and 24 days.

In comparison, New Zealand church records are riddled with inaccuracies. One can to some extent forgive a record keeper for not knowing a family that is new to an area, but when a bride’s father is recorded as her mother as well as her father—as happened to another Catharina who married in Carterton, Catharina Gronkowska—one wonders whether some of the colonial record takers were merely filling the forms as quickly as possible.

The same type of thing happened in other parts of the colony. In Christchurch, Michael and Ewa Piekarski had 12 children in Christchurch between 1877 and 1894. Their baptismal records from the Catholic diocese show only two surnames spelt correctly, and some so wildly silly, they border on offensive.  

One of Catharina Grabowska’s granddaughters asked Ray to investigate her mother’s roots, but would not believe that the Carterton marriage certificate was wrong. Even though Ray found the Polish record of Joseph Grabowski, aged 25, marrying Barbara Dytmer, aged 23, on 25 October 1857 at St Barbara’s, the descendant continued to believe that her great-grandmother was the Bella Oudeman named on Katie Grabowsky’s marriage certificate.

Ray accepted the descendant’s choice to believe what she wanted to, but the interaction bothered him enough to bring it up as we chatted that day about researching, and how easy it is to jump to a conclusion and remain in that hole. Two of Ray’s great-grandmothers are named Catharina, and he named his daughter Katarina after them, so he remembered the little lost girl, who happened to come from the same village as many of his extended family.

His records made researching Catharina Grabowska so much easier for me. It has been a pleasure to let him know that his researcher’s instincts were correct, that his question marks and various highlighted names did lead to a definitive answer for a little girl who became known as Catherine Salter, who in 1893 enrolled in New Zealand’s historical world-first election where women won the right to vote, who had seven children, and who is buried next to her husband in Taumarunui.   

—Barbara Scrivens

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Find a fuller story of Catherine Grabowska Salter, and copies of various birth and marriage records at https://polishhistorynewzealand.org/catharina-grabowska-salter/

A database of early Polish settlers in New Zealand is available at https://polishhistorynewzealand.org/search-settlers/. We allow wild-card spellings.

If you would like to comment on this post, or any other story, please email editor@polishhistorynewzealand.org/


Chipping Away



There is a new name on the list of Poles in Jackson’s Bay: Marianna Bielawska, who arrived there as a single woman in 1875, along with 13 Polish families.

Although there seems to be no link between her and the other Polish families, I have placed her at the end of those who arrived in August 1875 because she happened to be listed near two of them on the Lammershagen, which brought them to New Zealand.

The Jackson’s Bay record takers noted 15-year-old Joe Maskrunski, but 25-year-old Marianna’s name is not on any list that emanated from the West Coast Special Settlement. She is linked to the place only through her marriage certificate.

She immigrated to New Zealand under her own name—and may have been five years older—and the only reason that I know she was at there at all was through her marriage to Irish widower and father of two, Robert Nelson, at Jackson’s Bay on 28 October 1876. Although the registrar who officiated the event spelt her first name “Emilge,” he got her surname correct.

My Polish friend in Canada calls them gems, those pieces of integral information that appear unexpectedly and add depth to our ancestors’ lives. Single Polish women are an especially thin gruel, so when our Polish ambassador to New Zealand, Grzegorz Kowal, asked me whether there was anything else that could replace a travel grant that Covid curtailed last year, I immediately suggested BDM certificates. 

Those two dozen certificates have allowed me to look deeper into mainly single women who arrived here in the 1870s, and babies and young children who died soon after arriving, or who were born soon after. Single women and daughters within families often seemed to vanish after marriage. Whom did they marry? Did the young children disappear from records because they died? What caused their deaths?

My questions started when I expanded our previous linear database of early Polish settlers in 2020 into something more useable for researchers. The deeper dig led to many more questions than answers, questions not helped by sometimes wild spelling variations of names registered within the historical birth, death, and marriage records at the Department of Te Tari Taiwhenua/ Internal Affairs (BDM). Similar forenames among siblings, cousins, husbands, and wives further complicated matters.  

I have appreciated the gems. For instance, on Marianna’s marriage certificate, one of the witnesses was “Carl Bielawski, settler, Jackson’s Bay.” He and his family arrived in New Zealand off the Terpsichore in 1876. My earlier information on him pointed to his being related to the Bielecki family and, even though he was naturalised in Inglewood as Carl Bielawski, I kept his family under the Bielecki name. No longer.

Despite the Bielawski-Nelson marriage certificate having no provision for parents’ names—yet needed the registrar’s three times—it provided the key to Marianna’s connection to Carl, or Karol in Polish: Dunedin researcher Paul Klemick had already found Karol Bielawski’s parents recorded as Szymon Bielawski and Anna Laellman. Roy Szyhowski, a Bielecki relative from St Louis, USA, who contacted me shortly after we updated the website, sent me a link last week to a Polish website where he had entered the name Bielawska. Last night I looked on that site for a Szymon Bielawski, and found that a person of the same name, and married to an Anna Celman/ Celmann/ Cymerman/ Zelman, between 1840 and 1850 had fathered a Karol, Marianna, Jan, and Hubert in the same town, Józefkowo.

That’s enough for me right now to accept that our Marianna and Carl were siblings.  

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Jackson’s Bay saw several births among the Poles, two for the Górowski family. Franz Jorofski was born on 2 January 1877, and his brother Joseph, on 22 February 1878, both at the family home at the Arawata river. Franz survived, moved with his family to Hokitika, married, died aged 81, and is buried with his wife at the Hokitika cemetery as Frank Groufsky, the name the family adopted in New Zealand.

Joseph Górowski’s death certificate shows he died on 5 April 1878, aged six weeks. His cause of illness was “unknown,” he had been “ill from birth,” and there was no medical attendant for him. Polish settler John Stobbo was one of three witnesses to Joseph’s burial at the Arawata cemetery.

The details on babies’ death certificates underline the harsh living conditions the early Polish settlers endured. Barely two months after the Duszyński family walked to Inglewood from New Plymouth, Barbara, née Drozdowska, gave birth to Maria Augusta, who died 11 days later. Again, there was no “certified” medical attendant, and the Inglewood postmaster of the time who signed the certificate put “gradual decline” as the reason for her death.

That certificate showed that, although there was again no religious minister, three other Taranaki settlers besides Joseph Duszyński witnessed the baby girl’s burial at the Inglewood cemetery: Matthew Dodunski, Anton Potroz and August Neustrowski.

One can only order a certificate from the BDM if one can match a surname on its database. I could not find Anna Agnieszka née Jabłońska Bucholc, who apparently died in childbirth in Waikaka in on 5 October 1882. The baby was named Martha Barbara. Anna’s husband, John, is buried at the Gore cemetery with his wife Anna—but not Anna née Jabłońska. He married an Anna Dovaloska in Gore in 1883.  

And this is where I bless our regional heritage centres and their researchers’ generosity: I found a reference to the death of an Anne Bouchols at the Hokonui Heritage Centre in Gore and wrote to them. Its Heritage Research Officer Bruce Cavanagh replied, and steered me towards a variation of the name I had not tried with BDM: Bouchles. I found Anna, but no baby dying around the same time. Bruce tracked down Barbara, born to John Bouchles and Anna Yablouske in Waikaka on 5 October 1882; Martha Bucholz’s marriage to John Wyatt at her father’s home in Otakerama in 1903; John Wyatt’s death in 1909; Barbara Wyatt’s marriage to Albert Green in 1913; her death on 18 February 1944; and a recent plaque on Barbara’s grave: that of her son, Alan Francis Green.

How could he be so sure? Because he found Alan’s marriage certificate that recorded his mother’s maiden name. Bruce became Anna Agnieszka’s and her daughter Martha Barbara’s gem.  

Otorohanga is another regional council that is helpful. I would never have been able to confirm that the Margaret Roberts buried at the Otorohanga cemetery in 1942 was the Waleria Jokobowska who arrived here aged 13 months in 1876 if they had not taken the trouble to fill out her place of birth: Poland.   

I expect to continue to add and amend the early settlers’ database on this site. If anyone has a query, or can help, they can contact us through the Home page. Only information that I have been able to verify through several sources gets onto the database, so every bit helps.

—Barbara Scrivens

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The database is available at https://polishhistorynewzealand.org/search-settlers/. We allow wild-card spellings.

The list of Polish settlers at Jackson’s Bay between 1875 and 1879 is available at https://polishhistorynewzealand.org/list-of-poles-in-jacksons-bay/.

More on the first few years and the first families who arrived in Taranaki in 1876 at https://polishhistorynewzealand.org/under-the-mountain/.

If you would like to comment on this post, or any other story, please email editor@polishhistorynewzealand.org/


Henryka Aulich Blackler, 1930–2022



Pani Henia learnt about life by living it.

A smiling 13-year-old in a beret, dress and jacket looking towards hands outstretched to help her off the back of a truck.
Henryka Aulich, on 1 November 1944, as she stepped off one of the military lorries that drove 733 Polish children and their 105 caregivers to the Pahiatua Children’s Camp.

She learnt the sound and enormity of German bombers in 1939, aged eight. She and other children walked home from school one day as strange, huge machines flew overhead, on their way to bomb Łomża. She lived on a hill outside the city, and watched what she came to know as aeroplanes drop bomb after bomb, day after day, and night after night, until the city centre was a smouldering ruin.

Pani Henia was named after her carpenter father, who had been working on the Łomża cathedral. He walked into the city to check on his work once the bombing stopped, and was captured by German troops.

Within two weeks the Germans melted away and their allies, the Russians, took over. For nearly two years her mother quietly raised her eight children alone. They weren’t quiet enough, and Russian soldiers captured the rest of the family in June 1941, a date that coincided with Hitler’s re-invasion of Russian-occupied Poland, then Russia itself.

Pani Henia’s mum and her younger seven children were on one of the last cattle trains that Stalin used to transport Poles to the USSR to work as forced labour. They ended up in Kazakhstan, a place with little shelter, work, or food. Ultimately, her mother saved her middle five children by putting them on a train destined for the USSR border.

I know that Pani Henia did not forget any of that, because they were the first stories that tumbled out when I interviewed her.

Her early life was not easy, and one would have thought that when she arrived here in 1944 with three of her younger brothers, she would have been able to build on that sibling bond. But in 1948, Pahiatua Children’s Camp authorities forced her brothers to return to Poland to their widowed mother—destitute in post-war communist-controlled Poland—and left 17-year-old Henia alone in New Zealand.

When Pani Henia went to Poland to see her dying mother in 1986, her brothers showed her the basement room allocated to the family of six by the regime in Poland. But in 1948 in New Zealand, her brother Anton still had nightmares about his time in Kazakhstan, and kept running away from the Pahiatua camp to look for “shelter.” And, after spending a school holiday at the Pahiatua camp, her brother Peter let it slip that he did not want to become a priest after all.

During the hours of our conversations, which led to the story linked to below, never once did Pani Henia hint of “poor me.” Instead, she had a strength, a light within her that made her one of the most positive and kindest people I have ever met. The last time I saw her, she was arranging a dinner for a neighbour, worrying about others.

Henryka Aulich Blackler died on 2 January 2022.

Pani Henia with a microphone in her hand, singing.

I didn’t know her family in New Zealand, but I know how much she meant to the Polish community in Christchurch. She loved to sing—here in 2019 at the 75th anniversary of arriving in New Zealand with 732 other Polish children and their caregivers.

Pani Henia, you had the voice of an angel, and are one. You managed to find peace here on earth. I cannot imagine the peace ahead of you among the angels in heaven.

Pani Henio, byłaś taką wyjątkową osobą. To był dla mnie takie zaszczyt, że mogłam Cię spotkać i lepiej poznać.

Spoczywaj w pokoju.

—Basia Scrivens

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The top photograph is a still from the Weekly Review newsreel No. 169 https://www.nzonscreen.com/title/nz-soldiers-and-polish-children-weekly-review-no-169-1944. Anna Gruczyńska took the 2019 photograph.

Henia Aulich Blackler’s story is available at https://polishhistorynewzealand.org/henryka-aulich-blackler/

If you would like to comment on this post, or any other story, please email editor@polishhistorynewzealand.org/


Family, Friendships, and Funerals



I’m closing the door gently on 2021. No slamming, or sighs of relief. I don’t want to tempt any gremlins on the other side.

For those of us who complain that the years pass by quicker than ever, the four months’ lockdown in Auckland from August this year had Christmas barrel towards us with extra speed. We assessed life differently, and came to a heightened appreciation of family and friends.

I would have let 2021 slip away quietly, not made this post on the last day of the year, had it not been for wanting to formally farewell three dear people.

This time last year Joanna née Adamek Kalinowska and Stefania née Pracz Boyle were both becoming more frail. Pani Joanna died on 17 January this year, and Pani Stefa two weeks later. I met them both in 2018, and both were willing to share their stories for this website. They did not know each other, but they were both born in Poland, and in 1940—five months after the Russian invasion of eastern Poland—were both rounded up with their families by armed Soviet soldiers—Pani Joanna aged 11 and Pani Stefa nine—and taken on cattle trains to Soviet forced-labour facilities in northern Russia.

After the Polish army helped Poles escape the USSR in 1942, Pani Joanna ended up with nearly 20,000 other Poles in one of the Polish refugee camps scattered along eastern and southern Africa. England accepted them as refugees in 1948. Twenty-five years later, she and her husband, Polish army veteran Tadeusz, arrived in Auckland with their four children.

Head and shoulders of a smiling 90-year-old,, hair tied in a bun, but escaping, and in a bit of a brown crumpled track-suit top. Still a handsome woman.

Covid put an end to easy access to Pani Joanna, who lived in a retirement home, but I made a few notes the last time we had a long phone conversation, when she again reflected on her life:

“For the first few years, when we were taken to Russia, I cried continuously. I wanted to go back to Poland. When I grew up, I realised there was no point in crying. You have to accept what you are facing and make the best of it.

“I lost my patriotic feeling towards Poland, but you can’t take your nationality out of your soul. Your country is like a mother. You may not always like her, and she might not always like you, but when you are born in a certain country, you will have patriotic feelings towards her.

“These days, as long as I have a roof over my head, a bed to sleep in, something to eat, what else can I demand? You have to take in life what comes to you because it is not often that you can make your own decisions.”

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Another smiling old lady, this time sitting and leaning her elbow on a table. Royal blue top, same coloured glasses and still blue eyes. Shortish white hair.

Pani Stefa, with her sister Eugenia, was among the 733 Polish children whom the New Zealand government invited, with their caregivers, to wait out the war in peaceful security. They arrived in Wellington in November 1944 and, after it became clear that allied Poland had lost her land to the Soviet regime, Prime Minister Peter Fraser extended that invitation.

The sisters had become separated from their parents and older stepsisters in Kazakhstan in 1942, after Stalin released the Poles from his forced-labour facilities. The Pracz family had travelled south to find the Polish army, but circumstances became so dire without food, water, or shelter that their mother put them into an orphanage. Years later they found out that their parents had died within days of each other in Kazakhstan, but that their stepsisters survived, and lived in Poland.

Pani Stefa married Graham Boyle in Auckland in 1953, and had three children. At her funeral, we heard about her feisty character, her infectious sense of humour and the stubbornness that helped her overcome her experiences in the USSR in WW2.

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Richard Wach died suddenly on 7 May. I thought I was one of his favourite non-family members, because he’d phone saying it was “Wujek Rysiek,” then chuckle. He used to play with my uncles Rysiek and Janusz at the Polish refugee camp in Tengeru, in then Tanganika, now Tanzania, and remained friends with them when they all moved to England long after WW2 had ended for others. I found this out when we met at a function at the Auckland Polish Association, when he took pity on a newcomer standing alone and asked me my maiden name.

I found out at his funeral that I wasn’t the only one he was a ‘wujek’ to. He befriended and mentored many in his community, and had a special affinity for new immigrants from any country. He knew what it was like to move and start again.

A sepia pic of a young boy in dungarees, sitting alone in what looks like hay.

He was a toddler when the Soviets removed him and his family from eastern Poland in February 1940. He last saw his grandmother when she left the cattle train to look for food when it stopped on its way towards what he called the Archangielsk forests, and it left the station without her. He knew that his grandfather died of starvation at the forced-labour facility deep in those forests, and that his parents went without food to feed him and his older brother, Stanisław. His father managed to find the Polish army in Uzbekistan, and enlisted, but died soon after. His mother accompanied her sons to Africa, but died of malaria in Tengeru in 1943.

In 1948, the brothers Wach, then nine and 12, sailed on the Carnarvon Castle, with my uncles and paternal babcia, to Southampton and a fresh start in England, where Pan Rysiek met his wife, Maureen. They immigrated to Canada in 1967 and, with three children, to Auckland in 1981.

This year we lost three beautiful Poles: a motherly angel, an inspiration, and an anchor.

So not a good riddance to 2021, but a farewell.

—Basia Scrivens

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Joanna Kalinowska’s story is available at https://polishhistorynewzealand.org/joanna-adamek-kalinowska/  

If you would like to comment on this post, or any other story, please email editor@polishhistorynewzealand.org/


Polish kitchens



My mother was the world’s second-worst cook. My husband and I confirmed it when we let her know we were on the road, six to seven hours from her place, and she said, “Good, I’ll get the pork chops in the oven now.” That dinner, with her favourite out-of-the-packet frozen diced mixed veg, lived up to our expectations.

She lost the worst cook title to our son’s partner’s grandmother, who made every main meal the same way: put a pot on the stove, add water and ingredients. Seeds in the butternut? All in. Trimming any meat? What?

My babcia, my mother’s mother-in-law, was the opposite. When I was little, she ran the kitchen at Fawley Court, Henley on Thames, the Marian Fathers’ boarding school for Polish boys, set in idyllic buildings and grounds on the Thames as it glides through Oxfordshire. Her baking was supreme, and she taught me in ways I sometimes did not appreciate when she was at home and away from her kitchen appliances, and made me use the back of a wooden spoon to cream castor sugar with either butter or egg yolks.

In the right foreground, two old ladies sit on chairs in a roped off area of a large garden. Large trees, including the beginning of a row of the same genus of tree, take up the background. A group sits under the first tree in the row. There is a loudspeaker in the middle and an empty chair to the left foreground, outside and behind the cordon where the ladies are.
Czesław Siegieda almost certainly captured my babcia, left, and her life-long friend in this Fawley Court photograph. It is babcia’s look, her glasses, her hairdo, her handbag, and her shoes, and her friend has aged the same way. No doubt the two ladies fed the visiting photographer, as they fed the boys, the brothers, the other staff, and anyone else who arrived or lived at the estate. Babcia was a stickler for being on time and I can also imagine the two being early for a school presentation, maybe involving the group of boys in the background.

Babcia taught me to bake by muttering hints (Never use all the sugar a recipe tells you to; never take your eyes off the stove when you are making masa for torte; add a dash of self-raising flour to ground almonds…) and by allowing me to absorb the feel of a bake. Measurements were by cup or glass.

I was proud to have baked my first cake without babcia’s supervision, aged eight, and it did not occur to me that my mother did not bake. I followed babcia’s recipes by memory. She did not write them down – that I know of – but after I left England and babcia, my memory faded.

The last time my mother saw babcia in England, she insisted the old lady give her her sponge recipe “or it will be gone forever” so now I have babcia’s official recipe for that in my mother’s handwriting.

There is something about people who share recipes. Few of them work out as they say. Maybe I read too literally, but there always seems to be something left hanging, too loose, too easily misinterpreted, like: how “cool” is “cool?”

I don’t think I will ever find the chemical wizardry that was babcia’s famous honey-cake, and am tired of trying, so decided to create something simpler this Christmas: pierniczki, Polish gingerbread biscuits.   

My old-fashioned Polish cookbook was too loose in its description of “honey-cake spices,” so I trawled the internet for inspiration. It was the first of three versions that I made this week. Christmas reminds me of babcia – and her glorious torte – and in her honour, here is my version of pierniczki. I am not sure whether she would have been quite so liberal with the spices, but I have the feeling that her angel on my shoulder might nod an okay, possibly admitting that her hours babysitting me were not wasted:

A pohutukawa Christmas plate with star-shaped pierniczki with red blobs of icing on the stars.

PIERNICZKI

  1. Prepare the spices. Most recipes use less than I do, but I like the kick. Make them to your own taste. If you use ground, buy them fresh. Apart from ginger, I like to grind – or in the case of nutmeg, grate – my own. I don’t believe ground husks add anything to flavour, so I open the cardamom pods and use just the seeds, and sieve the husks from the coriander.
    – 4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
    – 4 teaspoons ready ground ginger
    – 2 teaspoons ground nutmeg
    – 2 teaspoons ground cloves
    – 2 teaspoons ground coriander (possibly odd, but it works)
    – 3 teaspoons ground cardamom
    A teaspoon of ground black pepper adds a zing, but may be a step too far for some.
  2. Other ingredients:
    – 115g unsalted butter (the equivalent of a Polish “stick”)
    – 250g honey (try to use a good, creamed version)
    – Two large eggs at room temperature
    – Two sets of castor sugar: 125g for the main mix and 60g for the pre-mix
    – 3 cups of flour: after experimenting with grammes, I found a cup measure that seems to work. I tap it to make sure that the flour is sitting well inside.
    – 2 teaspoons baking powder.
  3. Method:
    – Combine the spices, butter, and honey in a pan and cook gently for a few minutes. (I chose this bit out of one old-fashioned recipe because it reminded me of savoury recipes using spices that start with “heat spices in a frying pan.”)
    – Set aside.
    – In another small pan – which you have prepared by re-cleaning an already clean pan with boiling water, and wiping with a clean cloth – let the 60g sugar dissolve into caramel on a medium-low heat. (Do not stir, do not add anything, do not touch it. You may jiggle the pot slightly, but if the pot is clean, and no foreign body has touched the sugar, it should dissolve.)
    – As soon as the caramel is done, add the still-warm honey mixture to it, mixing quickly as the caramel tends to harden quickly.
    – Allow to cool. (Don’t be distracted for too long. Here, “cool” is more “lukewarm.”)
    – Beat the egg whites – they need to be quite stiff – and set aside.
    – Beat the egg yolks with the 125g sugar until creamy. (Preferably not with a wooden spoon, or your butter-honey-spice-caramel combination will truly cool.)
    – Add the honey mixture to the creamed eggs.
    – Gradually incorporate the sifted flour and baking powder until it gets too stiff to handle easily.
    – From then, alternate between adding the egg whites and the rest of the flour. (You may need a dash more flour. Here, you need to use your initiative.)
    – Transfer to a ceramic pot that you can keep, covered, in the fridge for five to seven days.
    – Roll out cool dough to about 5mm. Cut out shapes, place on baking paper and bake in a pre-heated (200 deg) oven for seven to 10 minutes. Be careful. Do not overbake.
    – When cool, decorate with a melted chocolate glaze; or one made from icing sugar and lemon; or icing sugar, water, and almond extract. Decoration depends on who you have in the kitchen to help you.
Rows of Christmas tree-shaped pierniczki. Naive decoration with green icing.

 Enjoy the Christmas baking!

—Basia Scrivens

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If you would like to comment on this post, or any other story, please email editor@polishhistorynewzealand.org.

I have tried without success to contact the website of Czesław Siegieda, and will continue to do so.