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History - The Men and Women from Dalmatia

Click photo to enlarge
Victor and Agatha
There was another influx of Catholic settlers to the Mangawhai-Te Arai-Tomarata district just before and during the First World War, when a number of Dalamtian immigrants arrived in New Zealand and many of them moved north. Some came as gumdiggers or bushmen and stayed on as farmers; others entered business ventures.

Click photo to enlarge
Michael Tomas
Father of Tony & Ivan
Some of the names we know today - Tomas, Tomich, Urlich, Yelas, Lipanovich and Zenovich. Others who have moved on were Sosich, Unkovich, Matusich, Devich, Yakich and more.

About 1923, Tony and Ivan Tomas' parents were married in the home of Frank and Marietta Tomich at Te Arai, with Father Skinner from Puhoi officiating. The bride, Yokobina Tomich, aged 18, was a niece of Frank and newly arrived from Dalmatia. The groom of course was Mike Tomas.

Moving On

In late 1920 Frederick Hodgson represented the Hoteo Riding on the Rodney District Council. Older Parishioners will remember his sons Tom and Clem, and daughter Kitty, and others remember his grand-daughter, Marie Simmons, her husband Arthur and their five sons.

Click photo to enlarge
Clem and Kitty

When the older Hodgsons died and their sons and daughter took over the farm, a new house was built. Under the direction of Kitty, the sitting room was specially designed for use as a Mass venue. An inglenook was set up and Kitty always kept a Mass kit in the home.

When a visiting priest was expected, Kitty would messages to all the Catholic neighbours and place notices in various public places.

The Aitkens home was another that was used for the celebration of Mass. Pat and Vonnie had a large family so the had a big congregation without even having to invite anyone else. This was after World War Two, which was when the Aitkens family arrived in the Parish. Yvonne Aitkens was a sister to Frances Sosich and a sister-in-law to Mick Kuluz, a widower with two small girls and a founding Parishioner.

Another venue remembered by Tanny Andrew (nee Tomich) and the Tomas brothers was the Shannon-Simpson home in Pool Road, formerly Flamank Road. The cross-country trips to hear Mass were usually undertaken on horseback. Cars were rare and the roads terrible. During the 1940s Father O'Carroll sometimes came from Puhoi to say Mass in the Mangawhai Hall.

Click photo to enlarge
Corazon Kok (left)
& Tanny Andrew
In March 1928, Bishop Cleary spent four weks in the Lower North, visiting the scattered families of his diocese. On Sunday 18th March 1928 he addressed congregations at Kaukapakapa, Helensville, Puhoi and Warkworth, conferring the Sacrament of Confirmation with the assistance of Father Dore.

Then for a week he travelled the district visiting scattered Catholic families in Te Hana, Whangaripo, Tomarata and Mangawhai, celebrating Mass each morning at a different place. On his visit to Managwhai the Bishop was accompanied by Father Carcenac of Whangarei, and on his Wellsford visit by Father Dore of Puhoi, from which we may assume that Mangawhai was officially part of Whangarei Parish and Wellsford part of Puhoi. The Bishop observed that a new Parish, centred on Wellsford, would obviate much unnecessary travelling and would permit the development of district support for its own church. It would be 16 years before his foresight would grow from idea to action.

Wellsford Comes Into Its Own

So at last we come to Wellsford. With building of the railway, completed in 1909, business activity gradually moved from Old Wellsford to the new, and slowly the little twon grew.

Harry Mabbett tells us that in 1930 the population was just over 200. With the accepted ratio of seven percent Catholic to general population, this would have given a Catholic base of 14! Lets be generous and say 20, but it was still a very small congregation, if congregation be an appropriate word for so small a group.

Click photo to enlarge
Isabella Matheson-Curry
Photo courtesy of M Brookfield
Now we meet Isabella Matheson-Curry. The formation of the Parish owes so much to her and her husband Phillip Edward Curry, that any history must include a tribute to them. Isabella's first husband was John Gilmer Matheson, who settled in Wellsford in 1885, on a block running approximately from what is now Batten Street, down Rodney Street to Station Road, and roughly up a line ending below the present town water supply reservoir.

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The Matheson-Curry house
in Station Road - now
the Heritage Rest Home
John Mateson was then a single man, but married Isabella Kirton in 1891. The couple had five daughters. The youngest, Linda, is now a resident of Heritage Rest Home which was once the farm house where she was born more than 90 years ago.

John died in 1902, and Isabella struggled along, managing the farm and her five children, until 1908, when she married Phillip Curry, an Australian working on the railway project which was by the underway. Isabella and Phillip had three more daughters. The anmes of the Matheson girls appear in the roll of the Old Wellsford School: Ida 1898, Thelma 1900, Edith 1902, Ettie 1906 and Linda 1909. They were not then Catholic; it was Phillip Curry who brought the Catholic faith to the Matheson household.

At that time Wellsford was mostly farmland. There were no railways, shops or public hall, and virtually no roads - just a handful of farmhouses, and the Curry house, important to this story, was one of them. It still stands where it always did, but today we know it as the heritage Rest Home. Between times it had other owners, notably Fred and Aileen Preece and their family, staunchly Catholic.

Over the years, Isabella and Phillip donated or sold land for several community projects, especially the public hall now called the Community Centre. More important to this story was the gifting of two lots of land to the Catholic Bishop of Auckland. the first gift was made in 1918, and a further block, intended for a school, was donated in 1925.

If your Parish would like a managed site like this - email Simon Straka

Copyright 2006