Christensen Family of Manawatu, NZ
Lydia Christensen-Dahlstrom (Burr)
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Lydia Nicoline Christensen was born on 2 June 1880. Her birth was registered as 'Lydia Nikolina' and as 'Folio 1880/1339.' She recalled little of her life with her birth family, her mother having died several months before her fifth birthday. In later life about all she could remember was her mother yelling at her and her brother (thought to be Richard) to come back from the back of the property. The back portion was then probably still covered in bush and they were not allowed to play there.
She had far more vivid memories of the family that fostered her after Marie died, and these memories were bad. The foster family, named Larsen, lived at Mauriceville. She was not permitted to attend school and was forced to work around the house (at the age of five). Throughout her life she always resented the extent of the work involved, which she said included sweeping the dirt floor of their cottage. Perhaps Anders had some understanding of the problem, as when the Larsens announced that they were moving to the United States, he refused to allow them to take her with them. He was apparently convinced that they would 'lose' her there.
Doubtless this family were Norwegians and were a couple the Christensens had known from before they emigrated. This apparent attempt at reconstructing kinship networks gives some idea of the spread of the settlers once they arrived in New Zealand. Unfortunately, this Larsen family has never been identified. Four Norwegians named Larsen were naturalised while living at Mauriceville, while there was one Swede, whose sister married the Rev. Mads Christensen. This man's father was a Danish Larsen of Mauriceville, however, that family appear to have been well settled in New Zealand.
Once back in Palmerston North, somehow the childless couple, Ola Persson Dahlstrom and his wife Perine Martine (nee Osterbye) became Lydia's new foster parents, and then, with Anders' permission, they legally adopted her on 2 November 1887, by which time she was aged seven. She was enrolled at Stoney Creek School on 24 January 1888, and was not described as having attended any previous school.
The Dahlstroms had migrated to New Zealand aboard the German-owned Sloman Line ship Shakespear. The 882-ton ship had sailed from Hamburg, Germany, on 8 October 1875, commanded by Captain H.D. Jorgensen. The ship arrived in Wellington Harbour 108 days later on 24 January 1876, complete with 390 passengers and Yellow Fever. The "dreaded yellow flag" was flying at the main-truck as the ship came into the bay and the Port Health officers found there had been seven cases aboard. Although these were now largely recovered, the ship was diverted to quarantine at Somes Island. There had been a few cases of the disease in Hamburg when the ship sailed. Two infants had also died en route to New Zealand. After both ship and people had been" cleansed and disinfected," the Dahlstroms completed their journey to their new home in Palmerston North.
Presumably the Dahlstroms were allotted their land soon after arrival. The 24-acre Lot 60 of Section 418, was in Roberts Line, in the Stoney Creek Scandinavian Block. The homestead on the property is now 117 Roberts Line. Although this block of land had originally been allotted to Gustav Aron Kindberg, a Swede from the 1871 voyage of the England, the Dahlstroms found it to be completely untouched towering totara forest.
Fortunately Ola had the skills needed to make something of the property, and soon he had created a rough two-roomed 'house'. It was made from split slabs of totara grown on the property. The couple lived in this crude little house for about twelve years. The property was officially granted to them on 5 December 1877, with the title being awarded to Ola in May 1880. He was duly naturalised on 27 December 1884, describing himself as a settler of Stoney Creek, Palmerston North.
Unfortunately the Dahlstroms were childless, although there may have been an unsuccessful pregnancy at an early stage - if grandson Leo's memory was correct. However, by November 1887, Perine was aged 42 and Ola was 45 - and there was little likelihood that they would personally produce an heir to inherit their farm.
How Anders and the Dahlstroms came in contact is unknown, but on the whole it was a positive move. Presumably it was quite soon after the adoption that the Dahlstroms took the beautifully dressed little girl along to Palmerston North photographer, G.W. Shailer, to have her portrait prepared. The result was a full length photo of a little girl who looks far different than the one who evidently considered that she had been an over-worked five-year-old at Mauriceville. Adoption in this era though, was more a case of gaining an extra pair of hands, than for emotional reasons, and Lydia's case was not really an exception.
Lydia's contact with her birth family was certainly restricted by Mrs Dahlstrom. How often she had the chance to see her birth family anyway is unknown. She later spoke of having met her father on the road one day, and how Anders had given her an apple. The slightly odd Mrs Dahlstrom took it off her soon afterwards and threw it away, claiming that Anders had put poison in it. Lydia's relationship with her adoptive mother was always strained.
Lydia attended Stoney Creek School for the last time on 6 December 1888 and was then transferred to Terrace End School. The distance to this school was shorter than to Stoney Creek, as she walked across the various paddocks 'as the crow flies.' Unfortunately this included clambering across creeks, and one day she even fell into one. It is possible though, that at least one or two of her younger siblings may have also been attending Terrace End School at the same time.
Kelvin Grove School opened just around the corner from her home on 8 May 1893. However, she refused to attend. By this time she felt that she was so far behind the other children, due to having been keep home from school so often to work in the house. She was then almost thirteen years old.
Around the time Lydia was adopted, Ola Dahlstrom purchased a property in the hills behind Halcombe. He was there long enough to have his photo taken, along with a group of others and a tent. Even so, Perine refused to move to this 'wilderness' property and it was sold. Its location is not presently known.
As a result, the decision was made to build a new house on the Stoney Creek/Kelvin Grove property, and to turn the old cottage into a harness room. Lydia said they were preparing to build the new house when she arrived, and that she only lived in the old one for a short time. Possibly her room was the lean-to tacked onto the back wall of the cottage - which at least had a wooden floor.
The Dahlstrom farm, once cleared, operated as a small dairy farm. There were about twelve cows, and also an array of other livestock to help make it pay. Lydia was not allowed to milk the cows, until one day she showed her parents that she could 'milk' a pair of woollen gloves hanging on the clothes line. Possibly she later regretted her enthusiasm.
The Dahlstroms' split totara cowshed and adjoining hayshed lasted until the big 1936 Gale. This gale also destablised the Dahlstroms' old cottage, which by that time was just a farm shed. It was subsequently demolished. The totara slabs from it next served as the walls of a car shed and currently form the upper facade of the property's large modern concrete car shed/workshop.
Similarly, parts of Ola's second house now adorn - amongst other things - the third one, built by grandson Leo Burr in 1956. Some bricks in the chimney of the 1956 house, originated in the original 1876 slab cottage. Perhaps Ola even fired them from the well-known, and not always appreciated (by gardeners and farmers) Kelvin Grove clay obtained from the property. Plastered brick front steps from the second house also serve the same role on the present house.
Recycling of seemingly unwanted objects is a particular attribute of the family, and Ola is recalled for his use of 'toilet waste' as fertiliser - once it was suitable rotted. When Lydia was a child, a man employed to plough their farm had the misfortune to have his horse bolt right through the resulting mound!!!
As the area developed, Ola found marketable uses for his skills as a brick layer. Lydia used to point out his distinctive style of chimney top on houses around the town, although this knowledge is now lost to descendants. An underground brick water tank he made, probably for the slab cottage, still gathers rainwater from the present house, although it has not been needed since 1940 when an artesian bore (and running water) was first installed on the property.
He also worked on the historic Hoffman Kiln, in Featherston Street, Palmerston North, that was built around 1904. However, by this time he was getting on a bit (early 60s) and those charged with undertaking the construction of the kiln's huge chimney would only let him work on the bottom twenty feet of the eighty foot tower. In its day, this chimney was Palmerston North's tallest. It was demolished in 1977, although the kiln itself is now a protected building that is becoming a key feature of a new park being constructed in its former clay pit.
Ola had a photo of construction workers, including himself, taken during the kiln's construction. However, when Leo Burr (Lydia's son) worked there around 1950, he donated it to then owners, the Brick & Pipe Company. They hung it in their office, only to have it destroyed when the office was burnt out by burglars.
Some years after Lydia's death, her sister Hilda commented to Lydia's daughter Vera, that she thought Lydia had been very lucky to be adopted out. As well as Perine's aforementioned attitude to Lydia's birth father, there were other problems with her adopted mother. Perine's attitude became increasingly antagonistic as she aged, and this marred their relationship for years. Perine was asthmatic and her health may have been erratic. Still, Lydia's experience with Perine's illness stood her in good stead when, after a fourteen-year 'courtship', she married the chronic asthmatic, Sidney Paul Burr on 2 July 1913.
Due to the pending marriage, Ola built another sturdy little cottage nearby for himself and Perine. That enabled him to turn the main house over to the newlyweds. Ola had also arranged that Sid would operate the farm on his behalf, and the couple's 'love letters' include something closely akin to a business contract regarding the transfer of responsibility from the aged Dahlstroms and the not-to-young-themselves about-to-be newlyweds. They also confirm the close and caring relationship between Lydia and her adoptive father.
Perine, on the other hand, felt rather different. In fact, she point blank refused to attend the wedding - which was held on their front lawn. Instead she sat determinedly in the kitchen throughout. When the couple's first child was expected, Perine's antagonism - or jealousy - boiled over and one day she jumped out from behind the fowl shed waving a hammer at Lydia. Lydia, in turn, was so startled that her subsequent miscarriage was attributed to the incident.
The two women were kept well apart throughout Lydia's next pregnancy - which resulted in 1916 in the birth of Vera. When told of Perine's death, on 30 July 1918, aged 73, Ola's first comment allegedly was "Good job!" It is a little sad to add that from then on the farm took on a new tranquility. Perine's temperament was evidently quite widely known and she had even been taken to court by others on several occasions. For example, in 1878, she was charged with using "indecent and insulting language" against a Swedish woman (Maja Cajsa Andersen, of Whakarongo), and although both received an official growling, Perine bore the brunt of it - and a fine and costs totalling £4/11/6. Even at Perine's funeral, Pastor Christensen felt able to sum up her life with the words: "When she was good, she was very good. And when she was bad, she was very bad."
Ola, on the other hand, was very fondly remembered by his two grandchildren, Vera (born 1916) and Leo (born 1919). He spent the last two years of his life largely bedridden, or at least very dependant on his walking stick. He apparently considered these two youngsters to be a bit of a handful and certainly Vera enjoyed supplying him with willow switches. These were supposedly to extend his reach well across the room. Leo had no recollection of ever being on the receiving end of one of these switches. Vera admitted that she later heard that he never had the heart to hit her with one, due to her generosity in providing them all.
Finally, on the morning of 5 August 1924, Ola asked the children to leave the room so that he could relieve himself. A while later, having heard no more from him, Lydia went to check that he was alright, and found him dead. He was 82 years old.
That the Dahlstrom farm has remained in the same family (if by Lydia's adoption) for five generations since 1877, is responsible for a strong attachment to otherwise trivial links with the past. The fact the Vera went on to research and write on the district's history meant that history applicable to the family survived through to subsequent generations, who in turn have further researched and written on the topic.
Family documents, letters and books, which normally disappear in the course of time and moving house, still exist in this family, although loss of the Scandinavian languages has been a problem. Although English was not Lydia's first language, New Zealand schools only taught in English and like the others of her generation, the language of her forebears became a hindrance. The First World War attitudes to non-English-speaking - and speakers - further knocked the traditional languages. In Lydia's case, her use of the language (Danish?) was eventually reduced to 'party line' telephone conversations. By getting her friends to speak to her in Danish, eavesdropping neighbours couldn't understand what they were talking about.
Sid Burr died on 9 July 1949 aged 76. By this time Leo ran the little farm as a dairy farm, and also worked in town. Sid had also been secretary of the Kelvin Grove Social Hall Committee for many years (c1913-1935). Lydia died on 29 June 1952, aged 72, having lived long enough to know her first grandchildren was, at least, on the way. Five more would follow.
Thereafter the farm enlarged considerably to include about 120 acres, plus assorted run-offs, and was a reasonable sized farm in its day. The home base (and cowshed) between 1963 and 1974 was in Napier Road, next to the old Palmerston North gasworks site, and the Roberts Line house was rented out. When the farm, and its various leases, was discontinued, the family returned to the Roberts Line house.
Nowadays Lot 69 consists of the house, car shed, hayshed and cowshed and little more. The rest has been swallowed up by the Kelvin Grove subdivision. Leo died in 1999, however, all but one of his now adult children lives around Kelvin Grove, while the other isn't far away.
Compiled by Val Burr
Aminoff, Sten, Svenskarna I Nya Zeeland (Sweden, 1988): Entry No. 666.
Burr, Val, 'Anders Christian & Marie Christensen' and 'Ola Persson & Perine Martine Dahlstrom' in Early Manawatu Scandinavians (Scandinavian Club of Manawatu, Palmerston North, 1990, this reprint 1999). The above article derives from the unabridged version of the article published on the Dahlstrom family in this book.
Burr, Val, Mosquitoes & Sawdust: A history of Scandinavians in early Palmerston North & surrounding districts (Scandinavian Club of Manawatu, Palmerston North, 1995). [Contains a considerable amount on the recruitment, voyage, settlement etc. of these people.]
McLennan, Vera L., From Stoney Creek to Whakarongo, 1877-1977 (Palmerston North, !977): 27 and others. [Val Burr has subsequently written an updated version of this district, which is entitled A Time of Transition: Whakarongo School & District twelve decades on (P.N. 1999).]
Smith, Valerie, Saga in Sepia: The Shailer Collection in Palmerston North Public Library (Palmerston North, 1979): 121. [This is a photo of Lydia all dressed up soon after her adoption.)
Evening Post: 22/1/1876 'Arrival of the Shakespear.'
Manawatu Times: 21/9/1878 - Court Reports
Assorted papers and documents held by the Burr family.
Last updated: 29/12/2000