Memories Of A Hard Working Mother

Today I’m taking the memories my mother wrote about her mother. As with my grandfather, I’m sure I will be adding extra snippets about Bessina as my blog about Merville and her life continues. However these are her thoughts from many years ago when I asked her to write something down.

Bessina Robertson (nee Moffatt) 20.2.1881 – 12.8.1958

“My mother was born in Mosgiel and had two sisters and one brother.

Bessina seated at left, with sisters, brother & Sinclair cousin

Bessina seated at left, with sisters, brother & Sinclair cousin



“She was a dressmaker and moved to Oreti when she married James Robertson. Her first child (Ivy) was born there and then they moved into Winton where another five children were born, Allan, Minnie, Agnes (Nessie), Bessina (Ina) and Eric. (Sometime between 1912 & 1914) They went to Dacre and a farm covered with tussock and lived there until 1923 when they moved to Gap Road to a farm owned by Granddad Robertson. She had four more children, Merville, James, John and Arthur, all born in Invercargill.

“She was a real worker and milked cows morning and night as well as preparing meals, making most of our clothes and looking after hens and the garden, also chopping wood when it was needed. Wood was the only firing we had and still she was a great baker and turned out great scones and sponges. There were big oval pots that would hold a leg of mutton and it would be boiled up and then the stock made into vegetable soup and would be hot when we came in from school in the winter. Another favourite was pikelets and they were made for us coming from school. After walking three miles we were ready for something to eat.

“When living at Dacre Mum had to wash outside and boil up the copper there too, so must have only washed on fine days. At Gap Road the copper and tubs were inside. Monday she washed all day and was hanging out trousers and socks when we arrived from school and would have lines full as well as preparing meals.

“After milking we always had a cooked breakfast plus porridge. Usually we had cold meat and fried potatoes for lunch then a cooked meal at nights and how she managed it all when she spent an hour in the cow shed when it was cooking and nothing ever seemed to burn. I suppose the wood fire wouldnt be too hot. By the time the shed had been cleaned and cows put away to their paddock the meal would be on the table. We all got the same (meal) and there was never anything left on any plate. We always had puddings too, mostly milk ones as we had plenty of milk and they were enjoyed by all.

Gap Road farm (some years later)

Gap Road farm (some years later)

“She did beautiful crochet, edgings and baby clothes but never knitted. Also made all our clothes even our (under) pants, girls and boys. If any clothing wore out if there was a good piece anywhere it would be used. If not big enough it would be put into a patch work quilt for the beds.

“During the 1930 slump she washed sheeps wool and made eiderdowns, stitching it onto cheese cloth and then covering it. They are still being used. (Mum wrote this sometime in 1980’s, I have no idea where these eiderdowns might be today)

“When she visited friends she had to drive a horse and cart but used to go off sometimes for the day with some of the younger kids and spend a day having a real old gossip and usually there were kids there to play with so everyone was happy.

“She was very fond of her garden and always had flowers in it. A real cottage garden but neighbours always came to get flowers in the winter for wreaths if someone had died.

“She liked to go to church (attended the Methodist church in Winton) and had to ride a bike 3 miles and only learned to ride it in her fifties. She had a tumble or two and I remember her spraining her thumb once.

Bessina with her Parents (Gold Wedding celebration)

Bessina with her Parents (Gold Wedding celebration)

“When there were cake stalls she always made a rainbow sponge. Three oblong sponges with 3 eggs in each, one plain, one pink and one brown. She’d put jam between and ice it, and then carried it to Winton on the bike. It could then be cut and was always popular.

“She used to growl at us and smack us but no one took much notice.”

I don’t really remember my grandmother. When my mother visited her, my aunt wouldn’t allow me in the house. I had to sit under a tree in the garden. Once my mother ignored her elder sister and took me into Grandma’s bedroom. I think it must have been soon before she passed. I have a vague memory of a little wizened old lady lying in a bed, that’s all. I was five when she died.

Hearing Mum speak of her, I’m saddened I never got to know the very strong, hard working lady she must have been.

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