Chapter 20
Hugh and Ann’s sons

20.1 William McNair

Of Hugh and Ann’s 11 children who survived to adulthood, three were boys [M.1]. The eldest of these, their second child, was William (“Bill”), born 17.10.1865. He never married. I know almost nothing of him. A photograph, taken in middle life, shows a short, portly figure in lodge regalia, not unlike his father.

20.2 James Miller McNair

Strictly conforming to the Scottish tradition Bill was named after his paternal grandfather. In the same tradition the second boy, who was also the fifth child, was called James Miller (“Jim”) [M.1] after his maternal grandfather. He was born 3.7.1870. Jim McNair went to America as a young man to try his fortune, evidently not too enamoured of prospects in Dunedin about the tail end of the century. He wrote home from time to time, seemingly from San Francisco, for family tradition had it that he was never heard of after the San Francisco earthquake, and that he may have died in it. However, this is wrong. A postcard from Jim to his sister “Josie” (Mary), carrying his photograph and his signature was sent as a Christmas card from Los Angeles, dated December 5, 1906. This is months after the San Francisco earthquake, which occurred in April 1906. Jim McNair married, and was thought [DM, FMT] to have had two children, a boy and a girl. The marriage may have taken place before he left New Zealand, for there is a record in the NZ Index of BDM of the marriage of a James McNair in 1897, when Jim would have been about 27.

20.3 George Smith McNair

The third son of Hugh and Ann, and their 10th child, was George Smith McNair [M.1], in my hearing always known as Uncle George, but to his close friends “Snowy”, because of his platinum blond hair in boyhood. He was born on 8.3.1881. George was an accountant on the staff of the “Dominion” newspaper in Wellington, and before that of the “New Zealand Herald” in Auckland. Like many of his time he does not seem to have had any formal accountancy qualifications. In 1909 he married Mary Constance Saunders (“Mollie”). They had one child, Margaret Anne. They could not have been altogether short of money, for they sent Margaret to Ngatawa College, an exclusive private school for girls in Hawkes Bay, for her secondary schooling. Mum always said of her Auntie Mollie that “she had tickets on herself”, and sending Margaret to Ngatawa was perhaps part of this. Margaret (this is her own account) sat the Oxford University Entrance Scholarship from Ngatawa, did not get a scholarship, but did gain entrance. While a student at Oxford she met her future husband, Christopher Gowan. They were both holidaying in Switzerland. After taking her degree she returned to New Zealand for a time. She got a job on the “Dominion”, unknown to her father, reporting dances and “doing the children’s page”. When her father found she had a job on “his” paper, he would not speak to her for six weeks. When she finally had something published over her own name, he relented, phoned her, and said, “When are you going home? Perhaps we could travel together?” Margaret obviously thought highly of her father. She described him as clever, especially at mathematics, good at games (tennis, soccer, golf), a man of few words, not very aggressive. “He would never ask for salary rises.” He always retained, Margaret said, a touch of the Scotch background of his parents, pronounced “bath” with a short “a”, and was prone to silence conversation with: “If you’ve nothing sensible to say, haud yer whist”. His favourite sister was Grace, Mum’s mother, who, 14 years his senior, “practically brought him up” and whom he thought of as “special”. Margaret does not seem to have got on well with her mother.


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Figure 20.1: William (“Bill”) McNair


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Figure 20.2: George McNair with daughter Margaret

The George McNair line, though not the name, continues through Margaret and Christopher Gowan [M.1]. Christopher taught modern languages at Eton, and wrote a textbook. When he retired they moved to a “cottage”, in reality a modern and attractive house, just north of Newby Bridge, overlooking the southern end of Lake Windermere from the eastern side. We visited this lovely place in 1978. It was then that she told us of these memories I have recorded above. She also spoke of their children. She and Christopher have three, all girls. The eldest, Elizabeth, married David Chieseman. Margaret described her as “a good businesswoman”. She works in the finance department of John Lewis and Partners, an English chain of department stores. They have two children, David (b.1962) and Richard (b.1965). The second daughter, Juliet, is “brilliant, but a manic depressive”; she has spent a number of periods in hospital. Her first marriage ended tragically when “her husband, a drinker, died at her feet”. She remarried, to Pat Akhurg [spelling?], a toolmaker. They have no children. She writes poetry. After taking a London external degree she has been teaching. The youngest daughter, Cecilia (b) is married to Vivian Bingham. She works with him in his business consultancy, which involves them in a lot of travelling. They have one daughter, Catherine Mary Gray Bingham. They live on the outskirts of Manchester.


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Figure 20.3: The McNair sisters. From the left: Alice, Nell, Grace, Lissa, Jean, Josie, Nessie