Tuesday, May 17, 2011

James and Christina Bertram nee Waters

Christina Thomson Yates Waters was christened on 26 January 1840 in Haddington, East Lothian, Scotland to John and Marion Waters (recorded at that time as 'Watters', which may account for problems I sometimes have in finding the correct people...).  

Christina came to New Zealand on 22 January 1841 on the ship Slains Castle with her father John, mother Marion, elder brother John, and possibly her elder sister Jessie.  She would have been aged around a year old when they arrived at Pipitea Point in Wellington.

Christina's father John died some time around 1842/43, so she must have had little memory of him.  In 1844 her mother, Marion, married Nathaniel Sutherland.  She would have been no more than four years old at the time.  Nathaniel must have been a positive influence in her life, and was really the only father she ever knew.  Years later, she named her youngest son in honour of her step-father.  

Looking at the Waters siblings, there seemed to be familial affection reflected in the name choices of their children.

Christina grew up in Wellington amidst a large family.  Sadly, many of her siblings died as children in the winter of 1861, due to diptheria.  

At some point, Christina met a young man called James Munro Bertram

James Munro Bertram was born on 10 May 1841 and christened on 3 June 1841 at Stobo, Peebles, Scotland.  He was the son of James and Mary Bertram nee Munro.  I'm unsure, as yet, when he arrived in New Zealand and whether or not he came with family members.

In 1862 James married Christina Waters.  Around 1865 they moved to the Wanganui area, latterly living in Halcombe, Rangitikei.   The move to the Central North Island region makes sense, as eventually both Christina's younger half-brothers, Nathaniel and Archibald Sutherland, settled in the Fordell area, in rural Wanganui.  James started working as an assistant in the drapery department in the Wanganui store belonging to Messrs Taylor and Watts.  For a period of time they also lived in Waipawa, as this is where their youngest daughter was born in 1876. 

Over the following fourteen years James and Christina had a family of seven - four sons and three daughters:

1. Marion Mary Bertram was born in 1863.  Marion (named after her maternal grandmother) must have grown up around the Feilding/Halcombe area.  On 27 October 1886 she married a local, Isaac Marshall, in Wanganui.  They had four children:

Claude Bertram (known as Bertram) 23 August 1887 - 1959
Marion Bessie 1889
Robert Marshall 1891
Christina Annie Marshall 1893

Sadly, Marion died at the age of 30 on 9 August 1893.  She is buried at the Feilding Cemetery. Isaac later remarried Sarah Brown McDougall in September 1896.

2. Christina Elizabeth Jessie Bertram was born on 11 April 1864 at Willis Street in Wellington.  In 1889 she married local Ernest Carr and gave birth to five children. Christina died in 1943.

3. James Munro Bertram was born on 7 December 1868 at Willis Street, Wellington.  On 20 April 1900 he married Emily Blanche Whitlock, of the Wanganui Whitlock family.  James and Emily had four children.  James died in 1934.

4. Ivo Edgar Bertram was born on 29 July 1871.  He became a Presbyterian Minister and worked in parishes Taranaki and in Auckland.  In 1906, Ivo married Evelyn Susan Bruce and they had  two sons, including Rhodes Scholar, James Munro Bertram.  Rev. Bertram died in 1940.

5. John William Alexander Bertram was born in 1875.  In 1899 he married Johanna Matilda Stenberg.  They had three children.  John died in 1919.

6. Kate Eveline Bertram was the youngest of James and Christina's daughters and was born on 11 October 1876 in Waipawa, Southern Hawkes Bay.  She never married and appears to have moved with her mother to Devonport towards the end of her mother's life.  Kate died in 1947.

7. Nathaniel Simon Herbert Bertram was the youngest of the Bertram children and was known as Herbert.  His forenames probably relate to his mother's step-father, Nathaniel Sutherland, and possibly to his aunt's husband, Simon Tutchen.  Herbert was born in 1877 and became a doctor in Rotorua.  In 1912 he married nurse Madeline Marie Evans of New Plymouth.  Herbert and Madeline had five children.  Herbert died in 1953. 

After working in Wanganui for some time, James started a business in the flax industry near Foxton, with Hugh Owen of Wellington, however this business venture was not successful and James and Owen parted business company in August 1873.  An advertisement to this effect was published in the Wellington Independent newspaper on 23 August 1873:

Notice is hereby given that the partnership hitherto existing between JAMES MUNRO BERTRAM and HUGH OWEN trading as flax manufacturers at Motua, has this day been dissolved by mutual consent. 
Dated at Wellington this 6th day of August 1873

Interestingly, the advertisement records that the agreement of dissolution was witnessed by "W.A. Waters, Law Clerk, Wellington."  I'm unsure who this could be - obviously Waters was Christina's maiden name, but the only brother I am aware of was John Waters...

Although the partnership was dissolved, apparently James was very enthusiastic when it came to all matters pertaining to the preparation of flax.  He worked on patents for the manufacture of flax and at the time of his death it was speculated that his patents were likely to "successfully solve the problem of how to work the fibre to the best advantage, and at a minimum of cost."  See here for proof that on 23 February 1881 James had applied for a patent for his machine.

James did not have a lot of luck.  On 6 June 1882 one of the flax machines James had designed was fitted up by a Mr D. Murray of the Wanganui Foundry, under James' supervision, and was undergoing its trial experiment at Mr W.H. Lash's sawmill.  Unfortunately, in the early hours of that morning a fire burned swept through the mill and burned it to the ground.

James had been a manager for Mr Lash for some time, until he went out to start his own mill, but again was unsuccessful.  He then turned back to his true love, the flax industry and experimenting with flax machinery.  As a result of this, James often travelled to Wellington, to the Patents Office, trying to arrange a patent for his flax machine.  

On 2 May 1883, James was travelling from Wellington back to Wanganui.  The SS Huia left Wellington about 3.00pm, and at that time it was noticed that James had the "appearance of a man who had been drinking." James then had a whiskey on board the steamer before leaving Wellington and was put to bed at about 4.00pm, not even getting up for his tea.  James got up around 8.00pm, had another whiskey and then seemed "the worse for liquor."  He was then refused another drink in the cabin by the second steward.  Presumably wanting to remedy this, at about 8.40pm, James went onto the deck to speak with the chief steward.  Whilst there, he leaned heavily against the railing as the steamer "lurched to port" plummeting James overboard.  He somersaulted over the railing, but managed to hold on with one hand for a minute, before losing his grip and disappearing into the sea.   

The ship was just off Mana Island, travelling at 10 knots an hour and the sea was rough.  A life buoy was thrown in and half an hour was spent searching for James, however, neither sight nor sound of him was found.  

No doubt, the recent business difficulties James had endured and his frustration at trying to perfect his flax machine and arrange a patent, led to his drinking that night on the Huia.  Years later, when another man succeeded in obtaining a flax machine patent, the local papers remembered James and commented on the fact that he had pioneered flax machinery invention.  The following letter appeared in the Feilding Star in the 26 March 1889 edition:


Sir, — My attention has been drawn to a new flax dresser which has been patented by Messrs T. H. Davidson and G. W. Gough, of Dunedin, and styled the "Premier." This is claimed by that firm as an original invention, its chief characteristic being the fact that it is the first double drum action machine which has been brought before the public. 
Allow me to inform you the late Mr James Bertram, of Halcombe, invented and took out letters patent for a double drum flax dresser some six years ago, and one of these machines can be seen working at Mr David Murray's Foundry, Wanganui — I am, &c,
Lambert Clapham
Feilding, March 25, 1889.

The local paper, the Feilding Star, expressed much sympathy for Christina and her young family (Herbert would have only been six year old at the time of his father's death).  It also expressed indignation about the way the crew of the Huia had highlighted James' inebriated state and implied that the accident was his own doing.  The Star suggested that a buoy thrown in was not much good, at the rate the Huia was travelling, and that a lighted buoy may have yielded a better result search wise. 

As it was, Christina was left a widow at the age of 43.  Later, she appears to have moved with daughter Kate to Devonport, where her son, Rev. Ivo Bertram seems to have stayed for some time.  Her death was reported in the Feilding Star on 10 July 1908 where she was referred to as one of the earliest settlers of Halcombe.  The Star kindly reported:

Mrs Bertram was highly esteemed by all who had the privilege of her acquaintance, and was for many years an active helper in temperance and church work.  She was a good wife and a loving mother.  She leaves a grown-up family of six to mourn their loss, including Mrs Ernest Carr of Waituna; Miss Kate Bertram, of Devonport; Dr H. Bertram of Rotorua Sanatorium; the Rev. Ivo Bertram, Presbyterian minister, Devonport; Mr James Bertram, farmer, Waikato; and Mr W. Bertram, Otago. There are fifteen grandchildren.


  1. There are four children listed in BDM being the children of 'Isaac & Marion Mary Marshall'. Is this a different couple?

    1887/5977 – 1959/33352 Aged 73
    m. 1912/54 Sarah Hyett Davis

    Also the BDM (which can be wrong!)records the date for marriage of Herbert and Madoline Marie Evans as 1912/3311

  2. This is exactly why I started this blog, because I wanted some confirmation or denial - I'll look into those births. And yes - the marriage of Herbert and Madoline should be 1912. So glad you came across this blog!!! Will update this weekend!! :)