Of John and Lavinia Mettam’s 12 children, six were born in Swanson. John’s father and brothers helped build a house on a 41 acre block (which Tram Valley Road and the railway now cut through). The land was issued to John Tunnard Mettam in September 1886, for an annual rent of 12 3s Od, under the Village Settlement Scheme.
John Mettam was a rope maker for Donaghys in Auckland before he married and on arrival in Swanson set up a rope-making business using local flax. The whole family helped him.
He particularly liked the girls doing the work as they had nimble fingers. The rope making was done outside by some pine trees and opposite the kitchen. John took a dray into Auckland to get the flax. Family members recall him selling to a supply store in Eden Terrace or Kingsland and then loading up with groceries for the return journey. The rope-making business lasted for a good 10 years. In June 1898 the Weekly News noted
“Mr J. T. Mettam, who is busy at rope manufacture, says that the great drawback to the New Zealand flax industry is the faulty and unreliable character of the bales. “
He also helped with the various road-making contracts around the district, worked on the dam project building the tunnel, as well as running the family’s own small farm, with its orchard, vegetable garden, small dairy and chickens. His grandchildren remember watching their uncles ploughing using the family’s work horses called Buff and Nugget. Once there was a furrow the horses would automatically walk in it. The children would follow the ploughing and pick up gum pieces to take to the shop and exchange for lollies.
John had a fine tenor voice and also played the violin at local concerts. He had been a Nigger Minstel and was a supporting singer in Auckland when there was an entertainer from overseas. On these occasions he would arrive home at two or three in the morning after a performance, clearly having had to walk some of the way home. He used to sing to the house cow, called Strawberry, while he milked, saying that she would give more milk the more she was sung to. He encouraged his grandchildren to sing and playing his accordion, auto harp and jew’s harp. The family had a phonograph machine with a horn, and a large collection of cylinders, including some by Caruso and also comic ones.
In June 1903, when the Governor visited Swanson on his trip to the Kaipara travelling by train, John, as chairman of the school committee (a member for 20 years), received the party at the station and escorted the visitors to the school.
Lavinia Mettam, or Sissy as she was known, came from a well-to-do family. Her father disapproved of John Mettam, so the couple eloped to be married in secret. It was three months before they were discovered. Apparently they were not legally old enough to marry, but because of Lavinia’s father’s position he was able to get them off as John said he would farm at Swanson.
City-born Lavinia, had quite a big adjustment to the tough pioneering life of rural New Zealand. She was said to be scared of the Maoris when they appeared on the veranda of the Mettam house and would give them flour to encourage them to go away. All the baking was done in the coal range and the washing was done in a big metal tub with a washing board on the back veranda. The toilet was down the garden. Apparently when a toilet was built later inside Mrs Mettam would not use it and kept using the outside one.
The tramway built by Ebenezer Gibbons in the 1880s ran through Mettam land and the roadway was known for a while as Mettam Road before eventually becoming the Tram Valley Road of today. Mettam descendants recalled that large kauri logs were often hauled out along this route to the station using teams of 12 bullocks.
Rugged Determination, p128
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