John and Mary France

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Picton, or Waitohi (Pa) to the Te Atiawa who occupied the site, was a rugged, hidden community in its early days. The area was virtually unexplored by Pākehā, even long after Cook's arrival in the Sounds in 1770.

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John and Mary France and family. Image supplied by author

Once the town was founded in the 1850's, however,  it slowly became a thriving community and with the promise of gold over the hills people from all walks of life were attracted to the township and from all corners of the globe. It is unclear what attracted John France to Picton, but he ended up spending possibly more than half his life in a community nearly 13,000 kilometres away from his birthplace.

John France was probably born  in Ohio County, Indiana, in the year 1830 to William and Priscilla France and was the oldest child. Not much more is known about his early life.  One story is that he came to New Zealand in search of gold like many people, as he landing in Dunedin and then venturing to the Otago Gold Field.  However, this was in about 1847, when John was 17, so the gold rush had not yet occurred. Another story is he may have been a postal worker and one way or another ended up coming to New Zealand, perhaps going through Australia first.

It is known that, in Dunedin in 1862, he married a Dublin girl named Mary Ann Fox, daughter of one William and Ann Fox.  The pair had their first child, A daughter, named Rachel. At some point the family found their way to Picton, where it is believed that John owned a boat engineering firm. This information was provided by Marguerite Fairweather, Great Granddaughter of John and Mary. The family soon grew, until by 1883 they had 12 children - six girls and six boys.

In 1889, their eldest child Rachel, married a farmer out at Waitaria Bay, Kenepuru, named William Henderson. The pair spent most of their married lives in the Kenepuru farming sheep but probably came back to Picton not long before Rachel’s passing in 1932, predeceasing her husband by 18 years. In 1892, the next marriage was their third daughter Teresa Agnes to Charles Edward Davis-Goff. Charles was son to Charles and Elizabeth Nee Brydon of Renwick. In 1899, Charles was working in Renwick when he was struck by lightning while riding his horse. His body was found by a Mr Bary but because of the thunderstorm he kept riding to Renwick where he and Mr W. Tapp returned to try and help him, but unfortunately he had already passed away. Teresa remarried and lived a long life of about 88 years.

In 1895 however, the France family lost their first child William Harvey. William, was a "fruit dealer" who lived in Picton for his whole life. Unfortunately, on the 27th of May, 1895 he passed away after suffering from blood poisoning for the past few years. He had cut himself on an oyster and soon after came into contact with "Chemicals of Photography".  He was the only child to predecease John France and was buried in a plot in Picton Cemetery which became the family burying grounds.

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The France family plot. Image supplied by author

In 1896, John France passed away at his residence in Wellington Street, Picton, after a five month battle with stomach cancer at the age of 66. On his death certificate it states that he was born in Canada however, this is unlikely. At the time of his death his youngest child was 13 and the eldest living was 34. John’s funeral took place on the 2nd of May at St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church. Apparently a photograph at the Picton Museum shows John in his coffin inside the church, shrouded in lit candles and rosary in hand. He was buried with his eldest son.

The years went by and all of his living children married and started families. Seven of the eleven children stayed in Marlborough with the rest going mainly up north or overseas. One son Joel went to England during W.W.1 and ended up staying there.  In 1912 tragedy struck the family. The youngest son George had gone up north to work in Auckland at the Frankton Junction Railway Yards. He had married and had a young son in 1908. In the very early hours of the 27th of March, 1912 George was working a pneumatic crane loading a locomotive with coal. He had done two buckets with the crane when the fireman cried out “Look Out!, She’s Lifting!”. George jumped to get out of the way of the falling crane but was pinned across the chest on top of a full bucket of coal, killing him instantly. He was aged  29 years. George’s name was commemorated on the family headstone in Picton Cemetery.

Five months later Daniel Patrick, John and Mary’s third son a keen cricketer and a founding member of the Picton Poultry Society, died aged 41 years, after an attack of pleurisy in the early hours of a morning in August. He was interred with his father and brother in Picton.

It was now the outbreak of World War One and of Mary’s six boys she now had lost half.  Mary was blessed to still have all her daughters and her son Austin alive and well. However, on the afternoon of the 17th December, 1924 her son James, a postmaster in Eketahuna, was sent out along with other post office workers by the department to take an independent ballot of the settlers regarding the Pahiatua-Eketahuna rural delivery. When their automobile came to a bend in Campbell’s Gully, Kaitawa, the steering did not respond and they went over the side of the road. James was seriously injured and survived only a few days before dying in Pahiatua Hospital at the age of 55. Unlike his brothers he was not memorialised on the family headstone in Picton.

Mary moved to Renwick where she probably lived with her daughter Catherine up until her death on the 7th of September, 1927 at the ripe old age of 90 years. Her funeral took place on the 10th and she was interred with her husband and two sons. In 1952, her youngest daughter was interred in the same plot. All Mary and John’s remaining children lived to old age, although it is unknown what happened to Joel who ventured overseas. Though no descendants named France now reside in Marlboroug,h plenty of descendants still do bearing such names as McIsaac, Davis-Goff, O’Connor, Moore, Campbell and Vavasour.

2020

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