The first person to transcribe Emily Harris’s 1860-61 letters at the Taranaki Museum in January 1999 was Sue Needham. For a long time we assumed that Sue was a staff member or a summer intern because part of her typed transcript is on museum letterhead. Later we learned from correspondence held by Roseanne Cranstone that Sue Needham was a Harris descendant living in Australia. Roseanne’s mother Janet Briant received a letter from researcher Moira Long requesting permission to copy Harris material. Moira was the author of the entry on Emily Harris in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. She wrote: ‘I wish to request permission for the Turnbull Library to supply copies of the letters to Mrs Sue Needham, who lives in Queensland. She is a descendant and has a particular interest in the artist Emily Harris because she has recently taken up painting herself, and is also studying art history at university.’ (31 May 1996)
After contacting a surprised Sue Needham, Queensland artist, and finding that she had no knowledge of her Harris-related namesake, we let things rest, unable to make a connection between the New Zealand part of the family and its Australian offshoot. The breakthrough came a few weeks ago when we were finally able to reconstruct the history of Emily’s nephew Alfred Henry (Harry) Moore, who went to New South Wales in 1883, married there in 1895 and had six daughters born between 1896 and 1918. Surely, we thought, this must be the link to Sue Needham and her interest in Emily’s artwork and writing. But which of the six daughters was the pathway to Sue?
Enter Roseanne Cranstone with five letters written by Harry’s eldest daughter Dorothy Moore to her father Phil Briant between 1969 and 1972. Dorothy (1896-1979) and Phil (1902-1987) were second cousins and had clearly kept up with each other’s family news over the years. Perhaps Phil met Harry and the Moore cousins when he and his mother Gretchen Briant transited Sydney in March 1939 en route for England. Perhaps the families shared their respective Moore and Weyergang histories and talked about their common Harris ancestry. Whatever the case, Dorothy’s letters are full of family activities in Lismore and its surrounding small towns in northern NSW. Dorothy was the only unmarried sister among Harry’s daughters. For many years she worked as a clerk on the Northern Star in Lismore. Later her home was full of neighbourhood children as well as visiting nieces and nephews: ‘A week last Sat night I had five children here for the night. 4 stayed all night and the 2 year old went home with her mother when she called at 11PM. Always have two little girls 2 ½ and 4 ½ in for a cup of tea when I have breakfast and some folk say what do you do with yourself. I just say the days are not long enough for me.’ (20 Oct 1969)
Dorothy was close to her sisters Grace Wenban and Emily Tregeagle (known as Bonnie), who lived in nearby Grafton. ‘Grace and Bon’ feature prominently in the letters. Dorothy stays with them and keeps house for Grace when she is laid up by an accident. Grace and Bon have Dorothy to stay with them for three months when she is diagnosed with pernicious anaemia. The three sisters go on local excursions together, and sometimes they go to Brisbane (four hours away by car). They exchange batches of jam, relish and chutney. Dorothy also keeps an eye on trans-Tasman family news. In December 1971 she writes to Phil: ‘Did you know that Aunt Minnie and Des have had a trip to Australia. Des daughter Carol was married in Melbourne. They had a couple of days in Sydney. Visited Frances. I was not able to go down to see them.’ (This is Minnie Hill Moore, widow of Harry’s brother Frank Edwin Moore, and her son Deslie, who lived in Palmerston North. Frances is Mrs Frances Marsh, another Moore sister.) Then we see it:
Spent a lovely Xmas with my two sisters in Grafton. And Bon had her family home. We had great fun with Su’s baby a smart little chap. Was then 14 months. His great loves apart from his parents Robert and Sue Are meat fruit and music. Has got twiddly fingers, examines everything. Don’t think he will be a barrister like his dad – more like a [plumber]. Wish I could live long enough to know. (22 Feb 1972)
Not quite a positive identification, but it seems that Emily May (Bonnie) Tregeagle (born in 1911, married in 1940) might be Sue Needham’s mother. A snippet from a local newspaper confirms the child’s name:
St. Andrew’s Sunday School Concert
Children of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian School and their friends presented an entertaining programme at a concert in St. Andrew’s Hall, on Saturday night.
The concert raised £20 for the Sunday School and kindergarten.
Highlights of the programme were items by the kindergarten. The first was “The Sleeping Princess,” the cast being: Princess, Carolyn Geison; Lady-in-Waiting, Robyn Harwood; Prince, Raymond Strickland; children, Betty Hetherington, Joan Sibthoroe, Judith Harvey, Susan Tregeagle, Gillian Gib-bins, Kerry Naylor, Jill Stratton, Anne Herron, Diane Graham, Leone Warr, Kathryn Tippett, Janice Simmons.
The same children caused much merriment in a costumed hula dance.
The cast for the “Wedding of the Painted Doll” was bride, Elizabeth Imeson; bridegroom. Peter Imeson; bridesmaids, Susan Tregeagle, Cathryn Tib-bett; minister, David Monaghan; jumping Jack, Colin Hastings. (Daily Examiner [Grafton, NSW] 5 June 1951: 3)
If we are on the right track Sue Needham, who transcribed Emily’s letters in 1999, is Bonnie Tregeagle’s daughter, Harry Moore’s grand-daughter, Kate Harris’s great granddaughter and Emily Harris’s great-great niece. Will the New Zealand and Australian parts of the Harris family make contact again? We hope so.
Lead writer: Michele Leggott
Research support: Makyla Curtis, Betty Davis