A Daughter of the Captain of Fortrose

Monday, August 26, 2013
On a windy, freezing cold night we blew into a country bed and breakfast in the heart of the Catlins. It had taken some finding in the dark, with four children sleeping in the back.  As the hostess came over to our little cottage to welcome us, I opened the door and said hello.
"Are you  a descendant of the Captain?" She asked smiling widely, as she handed me some extra blankets.
I nodded, thrilled. "Yes, yes I am." I replied.
"Let me shake your hand." she said.
I was rather thrilled to find that my Great great great Grandfather James Wybrow was still respected and revered by the community over a hundred years later.
We had come to the Catlins to find him.

James Wybrow, the son of a hardened criminal, and convict parents was born in Australia in 1814.
He came to New Zealand as a young man and worked in the whaling trade in Southland.

I love my family history - not for the tedium of reciting dates and times and places, but because I see them as real people. I have a connection to them. Their blood, whether good or bad, runs in my veins. I love the stories behind their lives. The family legends and the family pride. In fact, I love family history, even if it's not my own family. I do believe that every life is extraordinary. Every single person that has lived on the earth has a story to tell. There's a richness in the past. There's a strange feeling in getting to know your ancestors and who they were. Like reaching back into time and grasping hold of their courage and their love and their struggles and their strength and taking some of that for yourself. Like the years slip away and they are there before you. We were their future. We were their hope of a better world.

James comes with his own legends. A larger than life man, who widowed with three young sons, married my Great great Grandmother, Elizabeth Newton. A Stewart Island girl, daughter of a Maori woman and a Scottish man. She was 13 when she married James. Thirteen!

I have heard that he was good friends with my G, G, G, Grandfather George Newton. Maybe they used to work together in their business of whaling and timber milling. I imagine him sailing over to the Island in a little boat and getting to know the family. Apparently, my family - my Maori family on Stewart Island had a reputation for their hospitality. Nobody ever left their home empty-handed. And so I think of James meeting the young girl, Elizabeth and taking her for a bride. How young is that, to be marrying and perhaps raising three young boys who were not her own.

James and Elizabeth moved to the lower part of the Catlins and set up their  home. They founded the little seaside village of Fortrose.

One of the stories about James gives testament to his humanity and his kindness. When the SS Tararua was wrecked off the coast of Waipapa Point and all on board were lost, James wrapped himself in coils of rope and anchoring himself to the beach helped to bring in the many dead bodies of sailors and men and women and children. The account tells of the nightmares he endured for many months afterwards. What a dreadful task, but one that makes me feel proud of him.

James and Elizabeth had 7 children, one of whom was my Great great grandmother Isabella.

We have a very rare photograph of Elizabeth. Someone sent it to me by email a few months ago. What a treasure.

My own Grandmother said her mother used to talk about her grandmother, Elizabeth, as a warm and caring woman. What a heritage. If there was to be only one thing about you to be passed on to your descendants, don't you think that 'warm and caring' is the best tribute of all. What a dynamic couple she and James must have been. What strength and what leadership. I am proud to be counted among their children. To be a daughter of the Captain.


Betty Luckhurst said...

What an amazing part of your family history!

Nicky said...

You have a wonderful gift for sharing this part of your family history. I have been told of an ancestor of mine being one who rode for help following the wreck of the SS Tararua. So nice to see a map where I can pick out our farm on it too....
Thanks for a heart-warming tale.

BigT said...

Hi. I too am descended from Elizabeth and James and Isabella. It was great to read your account.

Anonymous said...

Kia ora :) I descend from the earlier marriage you speak of from James Wybrow II and Sarah Perkins. The James Wybrow you speak of helping with the Tararua wreckage- that was James Wybrow 2nd as the wreckage happened three years after James 1st passed. I was lucky enough to grow up in the Catlins- Waikawa where James and Sarah moved eventually- if your ever in the area again its always nice to meet whanau!

Anonymous said...

Kia ora I descend also from the earlier marriage from james wybrow II and Sarah Perkins. My grandmother was Catherine Wybrow alos known as Kate. There is a picture of her in the Waikawa museum

Anonymous said...

Hello, this was a great read. I too descend from the first marriage and from James Duffy Wybrow and Sarah Perkins. My great grandfather was Stanley Wybrow. Any information would be greatly appreciated as my family doesn't know too much of the family history. thanks, Jamie

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