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The Ups And Downs of Jeremy James

Pihama, Taranaki (1956-1958)


The farm at Pihama was owned by Mr & Mrs Gopperth who were quite elderly and so they had split the farm between their two sons, who now managed each half as a separate enterprise.  James and Dora were employed by Ivan Gopperth and they found him to be a very reasonable person to work for.

They were made to feel very welcome, initially staying with Mr & Mrs Gopperth senior and this gave them a few weeks to search around for some second-hand furniture to set up their first home together.  Dora continued to suffer from morning sickness but it was a lovely feeling when they moved into their little farm worker’s house, safe in the knowledge that they now had a home and a secure income.



1957: James and Dora’s first home, on the Gopperth’s farm at Pihama.



1957: The dairy cows in the milk shed, on the Gopperth’s farm at Pihama


The hours were very long but James and Dora coped.  They got up very early in the morning and left the house at 5.00am.  The cowshed was quite close being only about 200m away, so that was a bonus.  There were 115 cows, and these were milked in batches of 10, which altogether took a couple of hours.  Once the milking was finished and the equipment was all cleaned up, Dora and James returned to their house for breakfast at about 7.30am, after which James then set out to do the day’s work on the farm.  He had a one-hour break for lunch at mid-day and then worked through the afternoon until the next milking session which was from 3.30pm to 5.30pm.  On a dairy farm in those days, cows were generally milked twice a day, 7 days a week, so a day off each week for a farm worker was only possible if someone else did the milking.  On Sunday, lots of people would go to church but only after the cows had been milked. 

These rather long hours were what was normally expected of farm workers at the time.  Wages were about £55 a month from which a quarter was deducted for house rent, free milk and free firewood.  The rate of tax was probably about 17%.  This wage was not a lot of money, but it was enough to live on.

The following May James and Dora went to Palmerston North to attend a dairy farmers' conference.  Dora was by now 8 months pregnant but despite this she was keen to take the opportunity to get out for a few days and see a bit more of the country. They went by train but as they boarded, they suddenly realised that they had not pre-booked reserved seats and as the train was full, all the seats were taken.  An exceedingly kind passenger recognised her predicament and immediately stood up so she could have his seat.  What happened next was very unexpected.  Before she had managed to move across and take up the man’s kind offer of a seat, James had sat down, politely saying thank you as he did so.  Dora was rather shocked but no more so than the man, who then immediately told James that he had vacated his seat for Dora who was obviously heavily pregnant and much in need of a seat.  James quickly came to his senses, stood up and Dora sat down.  This was just a momentary error on James’ part but nevertheless, it seemed a very odd error to make.

Later at the conference Dora was feeling very ill and so she went and sat in the park.  She remembers feeling very much overcome and just sat there crying thinking how much she would really like to just go home to England.  She was very unhappy, and things just did not seem right but she could not really identify what it was that was actually wrong.

So what was the problem?  Certainly being in the later stages of pregnancy, she would not have been feeling top form.  She was by now finding the experience to be quite draining and rather painful but the anticipation of an imminent arrival and the new joy that it would bring kept her going.  James was a lovely person and she was very pleased that she had married him but something was not quite right with their marriage.  The farm at Pihama was relatively remote.  She could walk down towards the sea and look out at the waves gently coming into the shore.  Out there, a long way over the horizon was England.  Emigrating to New Zealand had been a great adventure but it meant that she was now a long way from home and going back just wasn’t an option.  The Gopperths were a lovely family but other than going to church on Sundays Dora was meeting very few people and she did not have any real friendships.

Another thing that Dora had noticed more and more, was James’ aversion to spending money, even very small amounts.  One reason why they were not meeting many people, was that he just did not seem to like going out, usually saying they could not afford it.

Dora gave birth to their first child at Opunake Maternity Hospital, a daughter whom they named Hilary, 7 June 1957.  The birth went reasonably well but afterwards Dora developed very bad boils on her bottom and the doctor was very concerned that these might be infectious.  As a result she was moved off to New Plymouth and placed in an isolation ward for a week.  Baby Hilary was kept at the hospital at Hawera.  This must have been pretty tough for Dora, having just given birth but having then more or less immediately been separated from her new baby.  

The good news of Hilary’s arrival was very much welcomed back at Cattistock in England and was also given to James’ grandmother Constance who was still alive but she died a few days later having reached the great age of 88.  Although Dora was not aware of it at the time, James’ grandmother had left him some money which later on he was able to use to buy a farm.

Constance was laid to rest in the churchyard near the ancestral home of Linley Wood and after all the formalities, Cuthbert cleared his mother’s possessions from Cattistock Lodge and the building was sold.  Again various things went off to the auctioneers but a lot of her possessions were kept in the family, some going to James’s sisters and quite a few things were crammed into the Pound House.  Some were put in the attic and were to remain there untouched for the next 48 years.

Sending things to New Zealand was not a very practical option and so James did not ask for any of the furniture, family portraits or any other bulky items.  He did however tell his father that a few things would be nice to have and so Cuthbert arranged for a chest to be packed up with a selection of what he felt would be useful items and these were dispatched to James.

James did at the time mention to his father that Dora’s wristwatch had recently broken and if grandmother’s gold watch was available then they would be very grateful to receive it.  A few months later the chest arrived at Opunaki and when they unpacked it they were very pleased to also find the watch.  This was in good working order and my mother then wore it every day for the next 10 years, it being the only watch that she owned.  The other items in the chest included a tea service, a tray and some cutlery all made of silver.  Also a china dinner service, a clock and few other items.  All the things that Cuthbert thought might be useful for them in their new home.

I mention this note about the watch because I was to find out quite a few years later that unbeknown to James and Dora, the dispatch of the watch to Dora caused an all-out fight between Cuthbert and James’ three sisters (Pat, Danny and Rosamond).  They all saw their grandmother’s gold watch as being a prized family heirloom that they felt should go to one of them.  Cuthbert presumably felt that the gold watch should go to Dora as it was the only thing that James had actually asked for.  I don’t know for sure but when I heard about this years later from Aunt Danny, I got the impression that they all held Dora responsible for this and probably never forgave her.

The following year Cuthbert and Violet decided to visit James and Dora in New Zealand and of course to meet Hilary, their new granddaughter.  They flew out first class in January 1958 travelling via New York, San Francisco, Honolulu, Canton Island, Fiji, Auckland, New Plymouth.  James and Dora drove up to New Plymouth to meet them and then took them back to Pihama.  The Gopperths also made them feel very welcome and all indications are that they very much enjoyed their two months in New Zealand.  They also did a trip across to the East Coast to attend a wedding of one of James’ former naval colleagues who had also moved to New Zealand.



1958: Family group on the drive at Pihama with the Ford Consul. Violet, Hilary, James, Dora and Heidi the Collie.


After he returned to England, Cuthbert wrote a note about his experiences in New Zealand and I have included it here in my story, as I feel it gives quite a good view of the country at this time.  Cuthbert’s note reads as follows:


1958 - New Zealand

Two months in New Zealand. Some impressions.

We reached New Zealand on the 25th January and left on the 25th March having travelled via the U.S.A. QANTAS Airways returning via the Middle East.

The purpose of the trip was to visit our son who is working on a dairy farm in the Taranaki district.

Taranaki is situated on the bulge on the West coast of the North Island about 100 miles north of Wellington.

The countryside is dominated by Mount Egmont, 8000 feet extinct volcano.  There is a range of hills on the east side of the mountain: on the south the land slopes gently down to the sea. There are several small streams running down from the mountain.  This is one of the best dairy lands in New Zealand and is selling at about £100 an acre.  Less than 100 years ago it was a scrub covered swamp.

The owner of the farm on which we stayed is nominally retired which does not mean that he has given up working, but his 250 acres is divided into two units which are managed by two of his sons who work their holdings with a high degree of co-operation.  Each unit has a paid worker whose wives assist with the milking.

The owner lives in the homestead surrounded by a bright attractive garden, a feature of which is a tall hedge of blue hydrangeas which seem to thrive in the district.

The younger son and his family live about 50 yards from the homestead just off the main road.  The workers residence is about 50 yards further on in the corner of a paddock.  All the houses are on the telephone which is more widely used than in this country [than in the UK] at much cheaper rates.

Most of the New Zealand houses are one storey timber buildings with galvanised roofs, usually painted white every two years and picked out in bright colours.  They are generally built on concrete piles raised about 18 inches above the ground.  The effect is pleasing to the eye and enhances the sense of freshness and cleanliness and light which was our first impression of the country.  Even the towns look bright and clean.  We saw nothing drab or dingy.

The workers residence where we stayed was naturally smaller than the other houses.  It has a fair sized well proportioned living room with three bedrooms, a small combined kitchen and pantry and an up-to-date bathroom opening out of it.  Everything is electric, cooker, water heater and automatic pump which brings water from a well in the paddock.  At the east end there is a small sunporch with a wash-house and lavatory opening out of it.

There is a roomy garage with a concrete approach to the main road, the whole fenced in with a lawn five to ten yards wide round the house.  A few yards away a quarter of an acre kitchen garden, also fenced in, the whole being shielded from the main road by a high boxthorn hedge.

The farm is flat except that at the far end there is a belt of sand-dunes leading to the cliffs.  The dunes are covered with yellow lupins and scrub.

Apart from the flowering shrubs there are few trees in the district, a few plantations of pinus signus [pine trees].  Shelter is provided by boxthorn hedges up to 20 or 30 feet high.  These help to shelter the vegetation and the animals from the cold salty winds which prevail during the short winter months.

Everything on the farm is streamlined.  Milking shed and implement sheds are close to the homestead, and adjoins a concrete road which runs down the middle of the farm.  On either side of the race, as it is called, there are eight or ten rectangular paddocks divided by box thorn hedges.  The gates are all made on the farm and kept in first class repair.

During our visit they were milking 113 Jersey cows, ten at a time from 5.30am to 7.30am in the morning and from 3.30pm to 5.30pm in the evening.  The milk lorry is backed onto the concrete bay in the shed, and the milk driven off half a mile to the factory after the morning milking.  It is poured into tanks on arrival and has been made into cheese by about 3pm.  The cheeses are then placed in an air-conditioned store for a fortnight when they are ready for export, though they are at their best if kept for 12 months.

After the morning milking, the cows are turned into a different paddock each day, though during part of our visit they were turned into a turnip field for an hour.  Apart from the one field of turnips nothing is grown except grass.  Silage and hay is made for winter feeding.

I was told that a really good cow produces 500lbs of butterfat per season, but that the average yield is about 250lbs.  Generally speaking, milk recording is less efficient than in this country [than in the UK].

It is usual for farm workers to take their 14 days annual holiday in the winter  months, but our farmer suggested a week’s holiday for our worker and told him to take a few days extra if he wished so that we should be able to see more of the country.  Accordingly we set off early one morning with our infant grand-daughter parked on the front seat of the car and a couple of tents on the roof rack.  The weather was warm when we started with midday shade temperatures of 78 and 84, but nearly always a cool sea breeze.

We drove south through Wanganui to Palmerston North and then turned east through the Manawatu Gorge up the west coast through Dannevirke to Napier in the Hawkes Bay district. Except for the gorge, the roads were fairly level with long straight stretches, tar-sealed in the middle, the edges left rough and levelled from time to time with a grader. After leaving Manawatu Gorge it got hotter and we lost the vivid green of the west coast. After leaving Napier we found ourselves in the hilly country rising up to two or three thousand feet and following the contours of the hills with countless hairpin bends and often a sheer drop of several hundred feet.


1958: Camping at Lake Tutira, near Napier.



1958: Camping at Lake Tutira: Dora, Violet, James, Hilary.


We camped for the night under the willows by the side of Lake Tutira, about 30 miles north of Napier. This is a bird sanctuary, all we saw were some black swans, geese, and ducks. It was very beautiful in the early morning, with the vivid blue sky and the surrounding hills and the willows reflected in the lake. After a bathe in the lake and breakfast we left for Gisborne, mostly up and down and round steep hills with the usual hairpin bends every fifty yards. We passed several road gangs with bulldozers, cutting through hills and filling up valleys.

At Gisborne we spent two nights in a motor camp close to the beach. The temperature during the day was high, and we were in and out of the sea most of the time. You find motor camps or motels in or near many of the towns and bathing beaches. They are pleasantly designed with trees or high hedges. Sites are provided for tents and caravans, and there are buildings with shower, baths and lavatories, and a cook house supplied with electric or gas cookers on the penny in the slot principle.

The next day we made an 80 mile drive to Opotiki on the Bay of Plenty. We climbed to 4,000 feet and as we crossed the summit we passed from a brown dried up countryside to a vivid green one. We spent the night in another motor camp at Ohope beach. Rain started during the night and continued for most of the rest of the trip. This was a pity as we missed some of the most striking scenery. We stopped in Rotorua, and some of the party had a look at the Maori village at Whakarewarewa, but as there were no guides to be seen, we gave the geysers and boiling springs a miss and drove on to Wairakie which is a few miles north of Lake Taupo. Wairaki is also famous for its thermal wonders, and we joined a party next morning to walk round the valley and look at the geysers and boiling mud. There had been so much rain that one of them had turned from pink to white (or the other way about) during the night. Meanwhile we had been fortunate to engage the last four berth cabin in the Wairaki motor camp, as there was no ground dry enough to pitch a tent. Some of the party had a disturbed night, the camp being a few hundred yards from another thermal valley which has been tapped to provide steam for a power station. The steam escaping never stopped roaring, and the cabin was vibrating all night.

The rain was still coming down in buckets the next morning so it was decided to cut short the trip and make for home. We drove south along the eastern shore of Lake Taupo, then turned west through Taumarunui with an alarming succession of bluffs and gorges [Taumarunui to Stratford]. The road was slippery in places and a skid would have sent us over the bluff and into the river five hundred feet below. As it happened next day some of the towns we passed through were flooded and the roads were closed. The rain continued for another day after our return. On an average we had about one day of rain a week during our two months visit, but usually there was bright sunshine.

During the latter part of the trip we passed close to two volcanoes, Ruapehu and Tongariro, but owing to the rain we did not see them. The visitor gets the impression that New Zealand is a happy country, although some of the legislation is considered socialist, the individual still counts. Given integrity, average intelligence, some initiative and above all a capacity for work, any young man has a reasonable prospect of making a good living and probably running his own show after a few years. No one could have been more thoughtful, hospitable, and kind than our farmer and his family. Indeed everywhere we found friendliness and nice manners.

The standard of living seems to be much higher than in this country [than in the UK]. The food was good, margarine and artificial creams are unknown but I did not like the bacon.

The New Zealanders we were privileged to meet struck us as carefree though doubtless they have problems to face like the rest of mankind. The fall in the prices of butter and cheese is one of them, but the older hands have been through it before, and I was told that many of them can increase production if it is worthwhile.

I cannot write with certainty about the economic aspect. Many imported goods are dutiable, but there is no such thing as purchase tax. I think taxation is generally less drastic than in this country [than in the UK]. Tobacco is half the price and petrol is three and ten a gallon.

We shall always have happy memories of our two months in New Zealand.

We boarded our plane at New Plymouth 4pm Tuesday 25th March and headed to Auckland.


From Auckland Cuthbert and Violet flew to Sydney and then on to Newcastle where they stayed with some of Violet’s Palmer relations for 4 days.  After that they flew back to Sydney and on to London going via Jakarta, Singapore, Bangkok, Calcutta, Karachi, Cairo and Athens.


Dora and James spent two years working on the Gopperth’s farm at Pihama and learned all about dairy farming.  They had found the Gopperth’s to be lovely people to work with but it was time for a change.  Their next adventure was to be the experience of working on a sheep farm.