Mrs. Stephens

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Footsteps, yarns and little fibs
An intrepid Englishwoman and her daffodils.

Submitted: August 07, 2016

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Submitted: August 07, 2016

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My niece invited me to act as Master of Ceremonies at her wedding and so out of respect for the young woman, I reluctantly agreed. Reluctantly because suits and bow-ties make me feel like chook stuffed ready for roasting! When it came time for me to introduce the speakers, as a warm-up, I handed the bride a small pot containing some daffodil bulbs. Then I told her about a woman who showed courage and was an inspiration to all present.

Back in the day, as a young forest ranger my job included converting marginal farmland into sustainable, productive pine forest. The year was 1965 and an enclosure within the forest of about forty acres that was due to be burnt off in preparation for planting. The area was mainly gorse with some rough tussock and there was an old, small homestead built from local timbers. To the South there was a hugely overgrown Macrocarpa hedge, and as it was springtime, there was a mass display of old fashioned daffodils.

We cut down and removed the Macrocarpa hedge, dismantled the old homestead and salvaged the timber as we went. About a year later, I was checking on the progress of some trees to the East of the old homestead and came across a rock bluff that previous landowners had used as their rubbish tip. At the bottom of the bluff I found an assortment of artefacts, among them a black button-up shoe that I guessed belonged to Mrs. Stephens. I decided to ask the remaining old-timers in the district what is known of the Stephens and as well I checked the land title.

Records available to me showed that Nathaniel (Nat) Stephens had bought the property during 1920 and had built the small homestead. It was a simple one-roomed hut at first, until after his wife arrived. Sadly nobody could recall the Christian name of Mrs. Stephens, but many knew the legend: An apparently lonely Nat sent home to England a request for his family to find him a suitable wife! A young woman was chosen and was married by proxy to Nat in her local English village. It was pointed out that the new Mrs. Stephens wore her wedding ring on her finger during the long voyage to New Zealand – I cannot think why she would not, although the long sea voyage will have had its risks. On arrival she spent one night in Christchurch, at the dry hotel called The People’s Palace and caught the steam train south the next morning, which eventually dropped her at the Otepopo Station, North Otago. It is presumed Nat had sent her detailed directions, because he never met her at the station, nor did she have contact with anyone at the station, as far is known.

Her foot journey to the farm was no mean feat! There were no signposts but this brave young woman carried her one and only bag with her along Monk Street and then walked down Glencoe Road, a mere gravelled track, and then down the steep Cosy Del track to the river, where there is a wide ford. She waded through the river and climbed up the steep track that led to the foot of the hill to where the roughly formed Middle Ridge Road began. The start of Middle Ridge Road is the steepest part, but it was/is a long drag up to Nat’s hut. She simply went up to the door and knocked!

When Nat opened the door, man and wife met for the first time! That journey from the rail station to the homestead would have been arduous and no doubt daunting! I have travelled the journey on horseback and it took me more than three hours, so it would have taken Mrs. Stephens much longer!

Carefully wrapped in her bag, she carried a few daffodil bulbs from her mother’s garden, the only tangible thing she carried from home! Those daffodils flourished around that old homestead on Middle Ridge Road and gave no doubt her pleasure over many years and solace too, perhaps. Have no doubt, the Stephens faced hardship, especially during those early years because conditions were primitive with no electricity and only unreliable rainwater. The distant creek was also unreliable caused by the long summer droughts.

None of those daffodils flower there today, no wonder after two crops of pine forest! But the stock is not lost, some of us kept and still grow bulbs from that old homestead to remind us of the inspiring Mrs. Stephens. While the flowers are not spectacular compared to the modern flowers of today, but nonetheless they are special and I do not part with any of the bulbs easily. I hope you find this story inspirational and that the bulbs multiply to give you both joy.

I then introduced the speakers.

Nat and Mrs. Stephens lived there for twenty two years and successfully raised seven children.


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