Chapter 19
McNair family in New Zealand

19.1 Hugh and Ann

When Hugh and Ann arrived in New Zealand he was 24, she a few months off her 24th birthday. With their baby they first settled on the Taieri Plain, south of Dunedin, where they spent four years [DM]. They moved to Dunedin in 1868. What work Hugh had on the Taieri I do not know; he seems to have spent some time on the Otago goldfields.

In Dunedin he was employed in his old trade as a cooper, and he followed this trade for the rest of his working life. The family first lived in Clyde Street, but later moved to Pine Hill Terrace [FMT]. Their house has now been pulled down.

Hugh and Ann had 13 children [M.1], of whom 11 lived to adulthood. They belonged to the Methodist faith, and attended the Primitive Methodist Church, Dundas Street. Ann seems to have been a devout member of the congregation. A printed sheet records the proceedings of a memorial service to her on April 3, 1904. An illustrated book, comprising 575 pages of moral and christian tales and essays and entitled “The Pathway of Life”, once hers and come down to me through “Mama”, that is to say my maternal Grandma Hellyer, and Mum, has been much thumbed and pored over to the point of dilapidation.

Family accounts attribute to Ann the strength behind the family, and paint Hugh as easy going and convivial. Besides being very sociable he was very musical. A copy of a letter from Charles Umbers (who may have been the same Charles Umbers, a car salesman, who was a drinking companion of my father’s) to a Dunedin newspaper (date unknown) credits him with founding the fife-and-drum band movement in Dunedin.

and I think the late Mr McNair was our first bandmaster. He was an expert musician, a most genial and lovable instructor, and to his infectious enthusiasm the boys responded with a will

Margaret Gowan, a granddaughter of Hugh and Ann, in a letter to Mum in 1976, wrote:

“Did you hear the rather unkind character [reference] to Grandpa Hugh, that he was very musical and played the violin, but was inclined to do this rather than earn a living. True or not, this was told me by Daddy [George Smith McNair] in praise of his mother, whom he admired and loved for all she did.”

In reminiscing to Margaret and me, when we visited her and her husband, Christopher Gowan, at Newby Bridge in 1978, Margaret Gowan remarked that

“He took to the bottle. I always visualise him in bed with whisky bottle and fiddle and producing 12 children.”

In fact there were 13 [M.1]. Margaret Gowan did not know of the baby who was born between Helen and Alice and who died at birth.

Ann Shearer McNair died on the 25th of March, 1904; Hugh on the 26th of February, 1911 [M.1].


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Figure 19.1: Hugh McNair


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Figure 19.2: Ann Shearer McNair (nee Miller)