Monday, June 15, 2009

Phoebe (Bee) Newman

Taken from the Bee Family Reunion book 1896

Chapter Seven

Phoebe (Bee) Newman

Like her sisters, Phoebe Bee was a woman of strong character, a stalwart of her time. But this strength was tempered by amiability and a genuine interest in those whose lives touched hers. She lived in the country district of Ormond, Gisborne for fifty seven years, fifty one of those years were as the wife of Albert Newman who was fifteen years older than herself. Phoebe was born in 1855 at Ocean Beach, Hawke's Bay, the fifth daughter of Anne and Francis Bee. The hard experience of the family in her early years must have helped to develop her strong regard for family ties and her great capacity for 'mothering' others, especially of course her own family of nine children, five sons and four daughters, which were born to Albert and Phoebe. Phoebe also took a careful interest in the development and administration of their farm which she named 'Homebush'.

Its situation was difficult — a block of land at Ngakaroa near Ormond, which had access only from a crossing of the large Waipaoa river. The freehold was registered in Phoebe's name and was transferred from one Katerina Tawahi in 1901. At this time its hills would have been covered in rutty grass and its flats in swamp.

Because of the difficulty of living upon it with small children, Albert and Phoebe established themselves at "Riverford" a ten acre block near to Ormond School, St. Luke’s and to other settlers. Here they built a fine big house, an extensive garden and tennis court and enjoyed a simple but enthusiastic social life. "Homebush" was in time farmed by Phoebe's two eldest lads Bert and Geoff, who bathed there.

Phoebe has a passionate interest in gardening. Two large camellia trees still stand on the former Riverford home site, (now occupied by the Ormond School) which were presented to her for her birthday by her two sons.

In appearance Phoebe was tall, raven haired brown eyed and olive skinned. Her quick wit and outgoing nature and calm demeanour made her a popular figure with her friends and extended family circle. She was well educated at a private school for some years.

Entries from a diary kept by Ivy, one of her daughters, during Ivy's girlhood years, are typical. Every day at 'Riverford' there were visitors, outings to town, to church or tennis at neighbouring homes or their own.

"Thursday 6th March 1913
"Queen" (Graham) came down to lunch and she and Ella rode and Mum and I drove over to the Maori Hui at Te Aria. Miss Craighead came in this evening. Ada went to the Hui from town and we all enjoyed it very much.

Saturday 5th April 1913
Marion drove over and she and Ella, Mum and I drove over to Grahams for tennis. Mum came home before tea and Ella drove Annie and Miss Craighead up for euchre (cards) in the evening. All had a grand time. Two dances to finish. Cold rain commenced in the evening so the girls stayed here."

But hard years were to come. A World War was to see their second son Geoff and many friends leave for France, and in 1920 the sudden death of Bert, Phoebe's eldest son. Throughout these sorrows Phoebe remained the calm consoler of her family, and all members comforted and kept in touch with the others.

An entry from a diary kept by a family friend Alick Trafford (later to become a son-in-law) reads as follows:-
'December 13th 1920
I rode up to 'Homebush' to tell Geoff and Jack the sad news (of Bert's death - no phone contact was possible). Geoff recognised me coming from afar and knew what to expect I can sympathise in his sorrow, knowing too well what the loss of a brother is. Geoff went immediately to ‘Riverford’ while I stayed to keep Jack company I am very sorry for Mrs Newman. This is the break in her family. It is wonderful and beautiful how the family ‘pull together’."

There were also the joyful occasions for Phoebe when her daughters were married, always from ‘Riverford’ with many guests and family attending and staying there. As the daughters had grown up Phoebe was freed from domestic chores and this enabled her to become the complete diplomatic matriarch to whom all looked for comfort and guidance — truly a 'Queen Bee'.

Her grandchildren in turn became very aware of their 'Homebush Grandma' and often stayed at 'Riverford' on school holidays joining in the family life and being warmly received by their uncles and aunts.

Phoebe did not believe in 'smacking' children, but a firm verbal reproof in her impressive contralto voice had its effect.

Many a merry evening was spent around the fireside, roasting chestnuts from the big trees on the property and joining in a concert, initiated by Phoebe where each one had to 'sing, say, or penny pay' and were accompanied on the fine old English piano. The lovely matured garden with its masses of flowering azaleas arched and grown together held delight for small children as they played 'hidey' in the tunnels formed by the branches.

Children sensed the utter security given by Phoebe's presence and her calm words 'Wait-a-bit, wait-a-bit' in the face of their impatience had a wondrous effect. The loss of her own son Frederick in infancy had no doubt given her a sense of the unique and special value of each child.

Judith Elmers (Gisborne)

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