I’ve always had an interest in history and recently decided to delve into my own background. All I knew was that my great-great-grandparents lived in the Whangaroa area and their graves were somewhere near the harbour. Missionary James Shepherd arrived in New Zealand in 1818 to be joined by his wife Harriet some years later. After a time, they set up a mission station on the shores of the Whangaroa Harbour. James died in 1882, predeceased by Harriet in 1876. Their graves are marked by a headstone beneath a massive Norfolk pine that can be seen from the harbour if you know where to look.
Nearby, a stone cairn erected by family beside a huge spreading magnolia tree marks the site of the old homestead, and it’s a weird feeling to be standing at that spot nearly 200 years later. Vehicle access is through private property, but it was worth travelling the rugged four-wheel-drive farm track – only navigable in dry conditions – to discover exotic trees and a spreading carpet of irises that had been planted so many generations ago. Over a cuppa on our return to the farmhouse, owners Tony and Olive Shepherd, also direct descendants, mentioned that they had in their garden a rose named ‘Harriet Shepherd’ grown by the late Ken Nobbs.
Ken Nobbs was a rose breeder, co-founder of Heritage Roses New Zealand and obviously a historian. He honoured the missionaries’ wives by naming several of his roses after them in recognition of the important part these stoic women played in supporting their husbands. Ann Chapman’s very interesting book Missionaries, Wives & Roses also pays tribute to the conditions they endured. Earthen-floored houses, inadequate provisions, mould and mud, fear of Māori raids, and often-absent and in some cases unfaithful husbands, while raising their own large families were all part of the trials they faced.