Kawhatau Press, 2021
Bee Dawson is the author of Manston: Stories of the Gorringe family in New Zealand. It was her previous book about the Plimmer family that led to Manston.
“I know the Plimmers well, and I was at their book launch,” says Mervyn (Bunny) Gorringe, patriarch of the Gorringe family.
He and his late wife, Kristin, had already started on a family history, but it had been on pause until it became obvious that this was something Bee Dawson could do well.
“I made myself known [to her] and she took it on,” says Bunny.
The book comprises 242 glossy pages with historical photographs from the Gorringe collection and modern photos by Anthony Behrens to complement the well-researched text by Bee.
“It’s uncovered an incredible amount of information,” says Bunny. “We had a wayward uncle who was, in effect, sent off to the Solomon Islands.”
His story is included in a chapter about a copra plantation in the Pacific. Just one of many fascinating details uncovered during the research for the book.
“Anthony Behrens in Palmerston North took on the photographs, then he took on the production [of the book].”
A lot of the aerial photos were taken by drone.
While the book must mean a great deal to the Gorringe family and to future generations, it means an awful lot to Bunny.
“I am old enough to have known the pioneers, who started in the 1890s,” he says.
The book features a picture of an imposing old rectory in Sturminster Newton, Dorset, England, part of the bricks and mortar of the family’s heritage.
“The village is called Manston,” says Bunny.
It’s the name they transported to the other side of the world and used to name the family estate in New Zealand. Bunny has visited the rectory.
“It’s now a registered and recognised garden and country house.”
He says it belongs to a wealthy insurance broker who has restored the property.
Bunny says the Gorringe name has Norman origins, arriving in England in 1066.
One of his relations, General George Gorringe, graces the front cover of The War Illustrated of April 20, 1916.
There’s a picture of Bunny’s grandfather, Mervyn Gorringe, posing for the photo with the Radley College Rowing Eight in 1895. Radley is a well known English public school.
“I rowed from the Radley boathouse when I was at Oxford,” says Bunny, “And I found his name on the wall. He came from that background to the bush of New Zealand. From the epitome of English upper class, to that.
“They were well-off, relatively speaking, and they were entrepreneurs, and they came out here because they had family connections. They came to make their fortunes. One of the ways to do it was to buy a big chunk of bushland, clear it, run sheep on it and sell the wool.
“My father’s mother’s family, the Frasers, were poor Scots people who came out because there was nothing else at home. A lot of immigrants came from that background and made the best of New Zealand. Some succeeded and some didn’t.”
The book was launched at a gathering of about 100 people at Mangaweka. Manston is mostly a history of the Gorringe family, leaving off at Bunny’s generation, but including a record of when Bunny was heavily involved in public life in the 1970s and 1980s.
“In the 1990s I was a hearings commissioner for the regional council and did quite a few resource consent hearings in Whanganui.”
He says the theme of the book, apart from the history, he refers to in the foreword, and is one of sustainability and long-term vision.
Manston is on sale at Paige’s Book Gallery in Whanganui, Paper Plus in Taihape and Bruce McKenzie Booksellers in Palmerston North.
Paul Brooks in The Whanganui Chronicle, 15 December 2021.