Blundens in New Zealand
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The Downs

The Early Years of my Immediate Family

by Alice Reeves (nee Blunden)

My grandfather, Reginald Blunden, was born in Victoria, Australia, to John and Elizabeth Blunden in 1850.

Reginald BlundenReginald read Theology at Melbourne University, but did not finish his degree, before he moved to New Zealand, and took up farming.

He acquired land in South Canterbury, and married Alice Moore in 1875.

Alice was previously married to John Murphy, and had 6 daughters by this marriage - Elizabeth, Margaret, Mabel, Ellen, Anne, and Alice.

John Murphy was killed in an accident, and Alice then married Reginald Blunden.

Reginald and Alice Blunden lived at The Downs  at Bennetts,  near Cust about 35kms west of Christchurh in South Canterbury.

Reginald and Alice Blunden had 5 sons and one daughter:

  • ARTHUR  Reginald (born Dec 25 1875, died 22 Sept 1960, buried Port Levy cemetery), married Nora Shand, took overThe Downs after his father, Reginald, died in August 3 1914. Retired to Greymouth, later moved to Port Levy, Banks Peninsula. Arthur and Nora had 6 children:

  • Reginald Terence Esme (born 1901, died Sept 26 1979)

  • Arthur  Arnold (born 1907, no children), moved to South Africa.

  • Janice Mildred (born May 3 1908), Nurse, married Arthur Trevor Wallis on April 26, 1931.

  • Betty, married Robert Ensor, then married Ian Anderson, no children.

  • Peter Richard, farmer at Port Levy, Banks Peninsula, retired to Christchurch.  Corporal, 20th Armoured Regiment, 2nd NZEF, awarded Military Medal in North African campaign. Prisoner of War, escaped, and sheltered by Greek family. Married Thalia, from Greece.

  • Neil Ralph, (born 1916), Dip Ag Sci Canterbury Agricultural College 1936. Killed in Action March 1942, while serving in Europe with RNZAF.

  • HAROLD Ernest (Alice's father, born 31 March 1877, died at Christchurch May 5 1953), married Henrietta Denshire, farmed Selma near Ashburton. 

"Selma" near Ashburton

Selma was built around 1880 by H.T. Winter who had been manager of the Asnburton Run. He visited family in Tasmania about that time, which may have influenced the design. Harold E. Blunden owned the property from 1906 to 1920. Various owners ran the property until 1970 when it was bought by J.G. McArthur who sold the house for removal in 2001.

Harold and Henrietta had nine children at Selma including two sets of twins:

  • LEONARD Walter (born July 28 1879, killed in action in France October 1917), farmed at White Rocks, Groku Pass (?), Sergeant in 20th Mounted Rifles, 1st N.Z.E.F.

  • BERNARD Lionel, (born 28 August 1881, died 8 August 1973, buried Waikari Cemetery), sheep farmer at Waikari, North Canterbury, married Lillian Bassett, 2 children - son, Dr Rex Blunden (4 daughters - Jennifer, Gillian, Bridget, Diane), and a daughter.

  • ARNOLD, married Nance Bethel, died young, buried in Cust cemetery.

  • GLADYS Helen (born November 7 1886) married Charles Godfrey Cracroft Harper.

I remember The Downs well for we used to go there when Uncle Arthur later owned the property. It was a lovely place! It had long tree-lined drives, that went in one side and out the other. The Blundens also acquired back country holdings at Lees Valley and The Brothers.

When my grandfather died, the boys and one daughter were all given an equal share of his estate. Their stepsisters, the Murphy’s also became very wealthy. The eldest son was killed in World War 1, and Uncle Bernard farmed at Waikari and his son ? became one of Christchurch’s best known surgeons. Uncle Arthur stayed at The Downs, and his son, Arnold became an accountant. 

Neil Blunden went down in the sea in World War 2, and Peter Blunden was decorated for bravery in World War 2. Peter escaped from the Germans and was hidden, for the rest of the War, under the floorboards of a home in Greece where he, at that time, met his future wife, Thalia. Thalia  was only a schoolgirl then, but after the war he contacted her and she came out to New Zealand and married him - see Peter and Thalia's story.

My father, Harold, was a very handsome man who excelled at everything. 

At school at Christs College, Christchurch, NZ in 1894  Harold Blunden  was :

  • Captain    First XI    Cricket

  • Member    First XV    Rugby

  • Captain    Cadets

  • Gymnastics Champion

Harold Blunden was an outstanding athlete, rider (polo, hunts etc), a very good dancer and very musical - he could play anything by ear. 

He was a member of the North Canterbury Cricket XI in 196/97/98 and a Lieutenant in the Ashburton Mounted Rifles in 1906.

When my grandfather Reginald Blunden married Alice Moore (Murphy), she had five daughters by her first husband, John Murphy, who came out to NZ in the very early days, and was later killed in a riding accident. 

Alice and Reginald then had four sons and one daughter, Gladys who married Godfrey Harper, of Hackthorne, Asburton, a descendant of Bishop Harper, one or New Zealand’s earliest Bishops. I fear that the young Blunden boys may have been rather spoilt by their older step-sisters and the affluent lifestyle that they enjoyed. My father, Harold, wooed and won Henrietta Denshire, a lovely young lady who also had spirit and determination, and my father and mother eloped, since her parents were against the marriage.

Later in their marriage, however, tragedy struck. My father let their property get more and more into debt to the bank, and when the depression came, the banks closed down on all the farmers with big mortgages, and our farm and home all had to be sold.

Mother died of pneumonia in 1923, and Dad never recovered from losing her as they were very devoted. He tried to keep things going but he had several children at boarding school and economics were bad after World War 1. He found it all too difficult and in the end, he just folded up and let us all go.

The Denshires would do nothing to help, and they blamed Dad for everything, even Mother dying. But all his step-sisters helped. I was 3 years old, Peg was 6 years old and Bill was 9 years old and sent to Cathedral Grammar boarding school. The older boys finished school then had to fend for themselves. Friends of the family gave them jobs as shearers and musterers, but it was depression years and times were really hard. However, the pioneer spirit seemed to live in them and they survived. They loved their sport, rugby etc. and Bill was a lightweight boxing champion. They were all good workers and never lost their cheerful dispositions.

Thinking back, in spite of the hard times, we did not hear of any violence and stealing. There were lots of swaggers on the roads but they were honest and harmless, really colourful characters, a lot of them! I used to sleep out on the porch, in the summer, and was never scared.

My brother, Derek, was very delicate and died early of diabetes, and Godfrey and John were both later killed in World War 2. Brian went right though Christs College as a boarder and was the only one who had all the chances, but he threw them all away. He went into the Navy and later became a successful salesman. He was very good-looking with the Blunden charm, but women and alcohol were his downfall. Very sad! 

Lou and Bill Blunden in their home at Motueka, Nelson, NZ Bill eventually bought a sheep farm at Amberley, and did very well in business - buying and selling houses, land and antiques etc. 


Bill Blunden, on his 80th birthday

Bill married Lou McFarlane (her brothers race horses are very well known in New Zealand and they own most of Cathedral Square, Christchurch). 

Bill celebrated his 80th birthday at our home in Wiggins Lane, Richmond, Nelson.

John BlundenAfter the war, my brother, Leo, won land in the war Ballots, and established Falomai Farm, a lovely farm at The Levels, Timaru. He worked hard and turned it into a very valuable property, which his son, John, took over. 

John Blunden, (see left) Leo’s twin brother, was awarded a medal, for bravery in World War 2.

John Blunden receiving his War Medal

Peter Blunden (my cousin) was awarded the Military Medal - the photo shows Peter receiving his medal from General Freyberg.

Peter was with John the night before he was killed.  

Evidently John had a premonition that the next day was "the day".

John Blunden, World War II

Peter said John was very well respected, and his crew were devoted to him. 

Godfrey, (Derrick's twin) was also killed in World War II.

Joyce and Peg went to live at Aunt Mary Anderson’s beautiful home, Risingholme, which  is now a Community Centre in Christchurch. Uncle Fred Anderson owned a big foundry in Lyttleton – Anderson’s Foundry - I have a book of Risingholme with the preface written by my sister, Peg.

Risingholme, Christchurvh, NZRisingholme consisted of five acres of lovely grounds with a stream running through, two grass tennis courts and stables etc, two gardeners, and the cook, ‘Old May’.

May was stone deaf and when all the Blunden boarders from Rangi-ruru and Christs College went to Aunt Mary’s for Sunday dinner, they used to wander along behind her, teasing her, but, of course, she never heard a word! When eventually she was too old to work, Aunt Mary paid for her to be taken care of for the rest of her life.

Sunday dinner was an occasion! About ten of us were seated and it was considered a solemn ritual. ‘Old May’ dished up the food, and we had to converse intelligently and mind our manners. Peg and I invariably got the giggles, and were often sent from the table!

Risingholme had a huge cherry orchard, all in a wire netting enclosure, and we used to eat the cherries until we burst!

Although Aunt Mary had two gardeners, she knew every tree, shrub and flower in her garden and supervised it all. Every Sunday, after dinner, we had to do the ‘Grand Tour’ of the garden. She talked about all the different plants etc. After that we were allowed to play tennis and then it was back to boarding school by 5.00pm.

Uncle Fred was a stern and serious man but Aunt Mary, who had been previously divorced, seemed to be so more approachable - a very gracious lady, almost regal.

When Peg went to Risingholme, she was only 6 years old, and Aunt Mary and the two older daughters made a great fuss of her. Joyce was 14 or 15 years old, and was still very upset over the family break up, and was not very happy there. She found it all very restricting, so she left school and rented a flat in Christchurch. Aunt Mary put her through Secretarial College and she was a legal secretary all her working years. 

Joyce always made her home a place for the boys to come to, and she took Mother's place as much as she could. She married Jack Fisher, a stock-broker, whose mother was a Van Asch.

Wedding of Joyce Blunden and Jack FisherJoyce and Alice both wore the heirloom veil for their weddings.

My father came to live with Joyce and Jack in the later years, which could not have been easy. 

My father, Harold Blunden, died at Joyce's home in Riccarton, Christchurch, on May 5 1953.

The Van Asches founded the School for The Deaf at Sumner. They were  great friends with the famous Dutch artist, Van Der Velden and their houses were full of his paintings. They also befriended Elco Boswick when he first came to New Zealand. He was a cadet on one of their properties before starting his coffee house, "Chez Elco", in Nelson, which he still owns today.

Jack Fisher's sister, Cynthia Van Asch (born in 1907), helped found the Rudolph Steiner Schools in New Zealand and in her eighties, wrote two books, one on ‘The Van Asches’ and one on ‘The Steiner Schools’. 

In 2000 Cynthia van Asch was awarded the Order of New Zealand Medal for her services to the Hohepa Schools, and to Rudolph Steiner Education, and is now 90 years old in 2000, and still with a very active brain.

Aunt Mary’s daughter, Margaret, was an artist and married Otto Frankel, now Sir Otto Frankel. He was a research scientist. They lived together before they were married and shocked all the relatives, especially Aunt Margaret who was very narrow-minded and puritanical. Unheard of in those days!!

Aunt Mary had my brother, Bill, staying there also after leaving college and wanted to put him through law school, but he did not want to study Law, and he took off to work on an Uncle’s farm.

Peg married Len Moorehouse at 19 years of age. He was ten years older than her and was an Olympic swimmer and champion golfer. He was also the Manager of New Zealand Breweries.

Peg became one of New Zealand’s top master weavers and has achieved some outstanding work. She lives in a beautiful home in the Marlborough Sounds.

The seven Blundens - approx. 1961
Derrick, Bill, Brian, Leo
Peg, Alice and Joyce

So that is the story of the early life of our family. A gutsy lot, the Blundens! We struck family tragedy, War and Depression. However, we did eventually unite again, which is quite remarkable under the circumstances. 

Blunden generations 

Picture shows 3 generations of Blunden boys -  Neil, John, John's son Chris, Bill and Peter.

But I feel it was all mainly due to my sister, Joyce, who never let up on the old values and traditions and she even used to visit Grandma Denshire and the Aunts despite what they did to us, or didn’t do.

Joyce and Jack Fisher, at Fay's wedding in 1968

Joyce stood by her father and her brothers through thick and thin. She had cancer for many years in her later life and I have always felt that it was so unfair.

Once again she was incredibly brave and always bright and I know of no one else who tried so hard to make life easier for her family. Not that she got the gratitude that she deserved but life is not like that, I am afraid. You just do what you can and expect nothing in return and then there are no recriminations.

It is always later, that the young realise the sacrifices that families make for them.

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