Three generations of my maternal ancestors
On a recent trip to New Zealand I took the opportunity to do some research on my mother’s mother’s mother and her family. This great-grandmother, Sarah Louisa Craig Lowe, arrived in Sydney from Auckland some time in the late 1890s and married William Stewart, son of a Scottish immigrant. They lived in Albury, in southern New South Wales, and produced seven fine children.
Sarah’s mother was Margaret Craig, who arrived in Auckland as a four-year-old with her family aboard the Jane Gifford from Scotland in 1842, one of the first immigrant ships to Auckland. Her father had remarried a week before the ship sailed. What a life she must have had, growing up wild in a new town with no schools or playgrounds or any of the things we take for granted that children should have.
In 1862 Margaret married a widower named John Hindley Austin Lowe, who had arrived in New Zealand two or three years before after first trying his luck in Melbourne in Victoria. After his wife died in Nelson he moved his small family to Auckland. Margaret went on to have more children but then her husband died suddenly when she was pregnant with Sarah. He was 46. I have one photo of him, and he seems like a piece of work. Margaret had many older brothers and I was hopeful that she was looked after when her husband died.
My trip to New Zealand was my opportunity to fill in some of the many blanks I had for this family. Where did Margaret and her family live after John died? How did she get by? What was life like for her? What was Auckland like?
I found a lot of great stuff in the Auckland City Library, the Auckland City Archives, the National Archives of New Zealand Auckland Branch, and the New Zealand Society of Genealogists library. I still haven’t had time to process it all. It turns out that she had property – her house and her father’s; at least, she was paying rates for the two of them. She was on Burger Rolls (not hamburger rolls). She signed the petition in 1893 to give women the vote and enrolled to vote the next year. She worked for a while as a nurse, according to a later electoral roll.
Eventually she sold up her property and moved in with her daughter’s family, where she died a few years later at the respectable age of 79. She was buried in Waikumete Cemetery, and I took the opportunity of seeing the grave.
Corner of Waikumete Cemetery
Waikumete Cemetery is a large, sprawling cemetery in an outer suburb of Auckland. I wasn’t prepared with my maps when we arrived there, having just come from the last day of the AFFHO Congress, but we were out and about in the car and it seemed a good chance to go. I knew the section and I had a vague idea of where it was based on the proximity of fences and roads, but we looked through the long grass for a while and couldn’t find the grave.
Eventually we went back to the office to see if they could help us locate the grave. A very helpful lady gave us a pack with a map and a printout from the NZSG’s Burial Locator. From the map we could see that we’d been looking in the correct section but hadn’t realised it had an odd corner across the creek.
The photo above shows where the grave is. Can you see it? The headstone had fallen over, face down, and I remembered walking past it and thinking “wouldn’t you be annoyed if it was that one?” And of course it was that one.
Margaret Lowe nee Craig's grave
My long-suffering husband picked up the headstone and held it up so I could photograph it. Because it had been face down it was in excellent condition and could be easily read.
What I hadn’t expected was how deeply I would be affected by seeing Margaret’s grave. I’d seen her husband John’s and her father Joseph Craig’s graves in the Old Symond Street Cemetery, a fabulous old cemetery which has had the city grow up around it, and that had been exciting but not emotionally engaging.
See Margaret’s grave was different, somehow. She was more important to me, for one thing. Much of who we women are comes from our mothers, and from their mothers, and so on. Margaret is the earliest direct female ancestor that I know anything about, and I now knew quite a bit more about her. And here she was, in this quiet corner of the cemetery among the trees and grasses and flowers of the country she knew best.
I picked some wild flowers (they were probably mostly weeds, really) and put them on the grave, and my husband gave me a few minutes alone. I thought about where she’d come from, and wondered how much she’d remembered of Scotland, and of the voyage over. I thought about her childhood in early Auckland, and what might have made her marry John Hindley Austin Lowe and his family. She lived a long life after her husband died, watched her children grow up and have children of their own, and visited Australia at least once to be present at the birth of her youngest daughter’s first baby, and have her picture taken with them.
It was a memorable day.