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Father Bailey: The musical blacksmith

Father Bailey: The musical blacksmith

When the new settlers from Pitcairn arrived on Norfolk Island in 1856, the family surnames were limited to those of the original mutineers, plus Nobbs, Buffett and Evans who had joined the little Pitcairn community. Within just a few years, a number of new family names had been added, and one of the first of these was Bailey.

George Bailey had emigrated from Devon in England in 1867, along with his parents Elizabeth and George, his brother Thomas, and his sister Maria and her infant son. According to family history Maria had married a Thomas Porter. When it was discovered that he was guilty of bigamy, he had compensated the whole family by funding their passage to New Zealand, where they joined with George’s sister Elizabeth and her husband Joseph Wallen, who had emigrated two years before.

As a fellow Devonian, George had probably heard of the work of Bishop John Coleridge Patteson with the Melanesian Mission in Norfolk Island, and within a short time he travelled to the island to offer his services as a Blacksmith. There would have been plenty of work for a man in his trade, and he would have been kept busy producing nails and tools for all the building work and implements for farming, as well as dealing with transport needs with horse shoes and wheel rims.

By the time the work on the Patteson Memorial Chapel commenced in 1875, George was to play an important role, working hand in hand with his carpenter friend Hindley. One of his tasks was to fashion the ornate metal crosses that graced the new building. There are also memorial and ornamental crosses in the Solomons and Vanuatu bear the marks
of his workmanship.

His greatest contribution to St. Barnabas Chapel, however, was the organ. Donated by Patteson’s cousin Charlotte Yonge, and shipped from England, the organ was first installed and fitted by George in the small chapel attached to the Bishop’s house. In 1880, it was moved to the special organ chamber in the beautiful new building where, no doubt, George had many opportunities to demonstrate and enjoy its beautiful tones.

In 1875, George married local girl Emily Wellesley Christian, who had come from Pitcairn Island as a 4 year old. Emily received a 12 ½ acre grant of land on her marriage, and here they built their home which they named ‘Shortridge’. Later this name would be given to the whole area. A forge was set up close to the house, and George was able to meet local needs as well as suppling the needs of the Mission. In those days, a ‘Smithy’ was as necessary in a community as a garage and a hardware store.

Emily already had a 4 year old son Herbert, whom George raised as his own. Maria was born in 1876, followed by Gilbert (1877), Charles(1879), Charlotte (1885), and finally Tom (1893). For a time the household increased with the addition of Anna Wallen, the daughter of George’s sister Elizabeth, who died when her three daughters were fairly young. By the time she was 17, Anna was wed to Reuben Christian, her aunt Emily’s younger brother.

George’s musical talents were much valued by the Mission. Many of the Melanesian students enjoyed musical activities and singing. There were a number of harmoniums in the Mission houses, which they played with great delight, knowing that instruments such as these would not survive the heat and humidity in their island homes to the north. A few were allowed to learn to play the Willis organ in the Chapel. One boy, John Pantutan, became so proficient he was given the opportunity to play at St. Mary’s Cathedral Church in Auckland. George often spoke with pride about this achievement.

Among the Mission staff and in the wider community, George organised musical evenings, a choral society, Glee clubs and even a Pipe and Fife Band. These musical talents were passed on to the Bailey children, who all mastered at least one musical instrument, and enjoyed playing together as a group.

There was a degree of ‘Britishness’ in the children’s upbringing. The girls learned to do fine needlework and dabbled in watercolours. No doubt their frequent contact with the Mission staff contributed to their interest in the gentle arts, and assisted in the acquisition of some social graces. Nevertheless, as with the other Pitcairn families, a spirit of resourcefulness and hard work was needed to feed the family and sustain their lives. Fruit trees were planted, crops were sown, and chickens, pigs and cattle were raised. There would have been quite a degree of sharing with the Christian family relatives, and opportunities to sell produce to the Mission.

The Bailey family acquired more land. They purchased an adjoining 27acre grant from Sydney Herbert Nobbs, who had gone to England to work as a clergyman. This land stretched from the old homestead right along Taylor’s Road as far as the building that is now Borry’s Rental Cars. From her father Charles Christian, Emily inherited a similar area of land, known as Dawe’s Land, across the road, stretching from what is now Governor’s Lodge Resort Hotel down to Seaview (formerly Hillcrest.) These new landholdings not only provided new building, growing and grazing possibilities, but also sources of water.

The turn of the century brought about massive changes to families like George’s, with the establishment of the Pacific Cable Station at Anson Bay. Considerable funds were injected into the community, and the first priority for many families was a buggy or cart, which in turn, needed the services of a blacksmith for horseshoes and wheel rims. Herbert, newly married to Clara Christian, was employed in building houses for the Cable Board staff at Anson Bay. Both Maria and Charlotte were soon courting two of the new young men who had come to work at the Station. In 1907, Maria married Frank ‘Dick’ Heaps, a submarine telegraphist, in an elegant wedding at All Saints, Kingston. Charlotte, whose nickname was ‘Mum’ all her life, remained single and was to be very much a carer for family members over the years.

Young Tom gained employment with the Cable Board, as did Anna’s and Reuben’s son Holman. The island families were now exposed to many new influences and activities in their lives, and their world was opening up. A box of letters from 1914 reveals many changes. Only Gilbert and Charlotte remained home with George and Emily. However, two of Herbert and Clara’s offspring were also living at the old home while their parents worked with the Melanesian Mission in the islands of Vanuatu.

Tom and Holman had been sent to Fiji to work with the Cable Board, and through their careers were both to serve in many places in the Pacific. Meanwhile Maria and Dick had been posted to Auckland, where they not only had contact with their Bailey cousins, but also spent time with Charles and his new wife Flora and baby Gwynneth. Charles was to spend some years in New Zealand gaining skills and experience with building and boatbuilding, which would be very useful to him back on Norfolk Island. The letters reveal there was a great deal of homesickness, and boxes of fruit were sent from Norfolk Island to Auckland for the families there.

George retained a close connection with the Mission, continuing his involvement in musical activities. He valued his Mission friendships, and corresponded with retired key personnel such as Dr. Codrington and Archdeacon Commins.

In 1922, Emily passed away unexpectedly while sitting in her chair on the verandah of their home. George felt her loss keenly, but continued to be cared for by Charlotte, while Gilly was able to assist with the outside physical work. Maria, Charles and Herbert were all living with their families in their homes they had built on Dawes’ land across the road. Charlotte had also had a house built, which she named ‘Devon’ after her father’s birthplace. However, she let the house, and eventually moved to the property after the War, when she converted an army hut into a small cottage. Most of these second generation homes had used building materials and furnishings purchased from the Melanesian Mission when it moved to
the Solomons in 1920.

Norfolk Island had become a popular destination for longer term holidays, and both Maria and Dick, and Herbert and Clara took in paying guests. Both of those homes would eventually become the focus of future hotels. Charles had his own blacksmith’s forge at his home ‘Haeremai’. He was to build many Norfolk homes, based on the New Zealand ‘Californian bungalow’ style. In the 1920’s, he designed and built the Resolution, a ship designed to carry Norfolk produce to New Zealand.

Gilly did not marry until his fifties. When he first began courting Clarabel Quintal, he was worried that his father George may not approve, and it is said that he made her hide under a rug when they were out in the buggy. Eventually they married and settled on Clara’s family land in Collins Head Road. The Bailey siblings became very fond of Clara. Gilly was engaged in primary industry for much of his life – cattle, whaling, lemon seed, bananas, bean seed, passionfruit. His homemade passionfruit wine (‘soop’) became famous, especially with the NZ troops during the war, when liquor sales were prohibited!

We know from family photos that in his later years Father George had made a trip to New Zealand, and enjoyed time with his brother Tom and sister Maria and their families. In 1936 he passed away. His stepson Herbert died the same year. Son Tom, with his wife Edna and daughter Marie moved into the old home. At some stage it was renamed ‘Greenacre.’ Marie continued to live there until her death in 2016. Imagine – just 3 generations in over 140 years! Marie had inherited a spirit of enterprise from her father and grandfather. In 1989, realising she was surrounded by such a wealth of family history, she created the Pitcairn Settlers’ Village to preserve and showcase the tools and treasures of the Pitcairn pioneer settlers, during an important time of the island’s history. To this day Father Bailey’s forge remains in working order.

The property has now passed on to Charles Christian-Bailey, whose family traces back to both Father George and his niece Anna. Today Charles is planning an exciting new visitor experience at the old Bailey home and the Pitcairn Settlers’ Village to bring those characters ‘back to life’ in a sense. Using modern media and holographs, the visitor will be immersed into the daily life of Father Bailey and his family. You will see them at work and play – planting, sawing timber, preparing local dishes, entertaining, and finally gathering around the family piano.

While he feels honoured to have inherited these fine traditions and memories, Charles points out that every family has a fascinating history, and he hopes others will be inspired to discover and tell their own. The evidence may be out there in an old shed, in a dusty cupboard, and in the memories of our older folk. Our forebears were quiet achievers, but their resourcefulness and hard work have made our community what it is today. We can pay them no greater tribute than to tell their stories.

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