Merville’s Memories Of A Beloved Father:

James Robertson 26.8.1879 – 30.7.1940

This post is taken directly from my mother’s written memories. While I will add more about my grandfather as these posts continue, these are her thoughts.

“He was 6 foot tall and had brown hair and hazel eyes. He was born at Sharks Tooth hill by the Makarewa river. Apparently his parents had crossed the flooded river and lost a lot of their stuff, but she still had a grey blanket to wrap him in, so the story goes. They then arrived in Winton in 1883 and bought the bush block of 100 acres at Gap Road. He went to Forest Hill School till he was twelve and he worked on the farm with his mother clearing bush and ploughing the land.

Sometime late in 1890 his father took over Timboon farm at Oreti and it was from there he left for the Boer War.

James Robertson

James Robertson

The local people gave him the horse and saddle he needed. He returned in 1901 to Oreti.

He married Bessina Moffatt from Mosgiel but couldn’t get along with his father and lived in Winton. In 1911 he went to the farm at Dacre and then back to Winton in 1923 and back on to the original farm at Gap Road.

He didnt keep very good health as he had malaria at the war and it kept coming back.

His mother had taught him Highland dancing and he taught us girls and in the evening he would play the jews harp and we would dance before going to bed.

A Jews Harp

A Jews Harp


He was always interested in politics and liked to know what was going on. He was no church goer but always said ‘I work with God every day on the farm’. He was very even tempered and happy to play football with the boys and talked about serious things with you such as sexual diseases.

He loved the silent films and took us kids along with him and he’d laugh his head off at the comedies.

Chum, Bessina, Jim, John & Arthur

Chum, Bessina, Jim, John & Arthur

He managed to buy an old truck with gears on the outside of the door and we used to go to Winton at night with bike lights on it. One night we ended up in a pool at the side of the road as it was the same colour as the gravel. But although he stalled it, a neighbour came along on his bike and the water wasn’t deep so he cranked it up again and away we went. Us four kids of course sat on the back and did we envy the neighbours who flew passed in their tin lizzies. He became very windy as he got older and managed to keep it in at the pictures but when we got out and had to cross the road to where we parked the truck he would be going pop pop and I always looked round to see if anyone was near.

He was a Director at the Dairy Factory and President of Southland Farmers Union for two years. It is now called Federated Farmers. He also served on the local school committee for a number of years.

We always went to the school picnic each year so had to get up at 3.30 to milk cows and go to factory and home and then to the station to catch the train at 8.30am. We went to either Riverton, Colac Bay or Bluff. I always seem to remember the days were fine and sunny. Of course our mother had our lunch with us and there was always a copper of boiling water that everyone used. As kids we thought them (the annual picnics) wonderful as we didn’t travel around.

Building a Stack

Building a Stack

Dad was a stack builder of oat sheafs and the neighbours all got him to build their stacks.



He also sheared with the blades and sometimes went to some of the big stations in shearing time.


On Labour Weekend we had to plant the potatoes. The drills were made with the horse and grubber and we had to put the potatoes in and manure them and then the horse covered them again. At Easter they were dug and put in a pit, in straw and covered with soil and we had potatoes all year.

Dad never smacked us, if he said anything we knew he meant it and no, was just that. His nick name was Chum. When William Massey was Prime Minister he used to say, ‘Bill Massey, Bill Massey, Bill Massey and me’ as he milked the cows, meaning Bill took most of it in tax. When our youngest brother was born he wanted to call him William Massey but our mother wouldn’t have it, so he must have thought Bill was all right.

My father had a dog called Sport and during the day it would lie at the back door and it was never allowed inside. But if there was a roll of thunder he would be inside and under the sofa like a shot.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *