Nicholas and Ellen McGrath left their home in Tipperary, Ireland, to migrate to New Zealand aboard the Brodick Castle, a magnificent iron clipper ship of 1775 tons. She was on her maiden voyage when she sailed from London on 7 October 1875 for Auckland.
On arrival in Auckland, the McGrath family lived in Parnell for 10 years before moving to Swanson in 1886 where, under the John Balance Village Settlement Scheme they farmed 45 acres. The land was located at what is now the start of Scenic Drive near the intersection with Waitakere Road. The McGraths had 17 children but only 10 grew to adulthood.
As Roman Catholics they were happy to have a Catholic church built on their land but unfortunately it was too close to the railway line and in 1906, a spark from a train set the surrounding vegetation on fire and the church burned down.
The McGraths built their own house, carting timber from four miles away. The youngest son, Michael, took over the farm when his father died, but later his wife Emily sold the farm in the late 1940s when she became a widow.
Beatrice Francis McGrath, a daughter of Nicholas and Ellen married a Frenchman, Jean Marie Paitry in 1892. Paitry, a foreign legionnaire who deserted ship in New Zealand, worked on ships in the Kaipara Harbour and the Hauraki Gulf. The Paitrys lived in Parnell, Kingsland, Morningside, New Lynn (where they owned the hotel on Great North Road) and Swanson where they took up land in a ballot in about 1910. There were 10 children, but one set of twins died and one girl in another set of twins also, with the remaining twin boy having infantile paralysis.
On their 15 acres on the corner of O’Neills Road and Drower Road, Beatrice and Jean grew strawberries, loganberries, tomatoes, flowers, and milked a few cows.
Their daughter Eugenie Francis Paitry married Richard Fuller from the Waikato in 1920. The couple had three boys and three girls, farming near Hopa Hopa, Ngaruawahia. One of their children was Enid who married Ken Corfield in 1951 and they moved to Swanson in 1953. Enid still lives in the village.
Enid used to come to Swanson for holidays and stayed with her grandparents, the Paitrys and also the McGraths, Michael and Emily. Someone believed her great grand-mother had buried gold (probably sovereigns) on the property and members of the family often took a spade when visiting and spent hours digging but no gold was ever found. It was more likely they were digging for kauri gum.
Enid worked part-time at the Ponderosa store under many owners and also at the post Office. Fruit picking was another job — picking strawberries, and picking grapes at Babichs, where she also helped with washing bottles and bottling the wine. She was a member of the Women’s Institute, helped with cubs, brownies, girl guides and was the first secretary of the women’s section of the Swanson RSA.
Enid has served the community for many years as a Justice of the Peace.
(Abridged from an oral history taken in November 2003.)
Mary Berry (nee McGrath) wrote in her historical memoir, titled Old Swanson, that
“The old settlers were a fun-loving and sportslike people. New Year’s Day was the day of the year, as on that day their annual picnic was always held. They always finished the day with a dance in the schoolroom and often these dances kept going till daylight next day. The grandparents danced with great spirit often could out-do the younger set. The music for dances was supplied by violin and often by an accordion. The usual dance frock was generally the Sunday-best dress, but for special occasions some of the girls had a dress of another type. These were made of buttercloth — 6 yds at 3d per yard, and were dyed to suit the taste of the wearer. To obtain a blue, light or dark, the ordinary wash “blue-bag” was used, sparingly or lavishly. Saffron for yellow or canary or cream, red or pink was obtained by boiling a quarter of a yard of red with the buttercloth. Most of these dresses were made by hand and would cost 1s 9d or 2s. Silks satins, crepe de chines, fuji etc. were materials unknown in those days.”
Rugged Determination, p172