Urban Designer - Vernacular Architect - Maritime Planner - Owner-Builder - Servant of Piglet - Educator - Author - Revolutionary - Peacenik - Tour Guide 

Tony Watkins

 ~ Vernacular Design 

Elizabeth (Bessie) Butler (nee Turnbull) Print E-mail

ImageJohn and Jane Turnbull arrived in New Zealand in 1863 on the ship Gertrude. In 1872 John moved to Te Au-o-Waikato and his wife joined him there in 1873. It was a further eighteen months before she saw another white woman, as John was one of the first white settlers in the Morrinsville district. At that time all provisions were brought up the river from Thames.



John and Jane's second youngest daughter, Mary, was the first white baby born in Morrinsville. Her elder sister Jennie later married Frank Marshall and became the first Mayoress of Morrinsville when it was proclaimed a borough in 1921. Elizabeth, the youngest of eight children, was born in Morrinsville in 1877.

In 1906 Elizabeth married Michael Pierce (Percy) Butler, who had established a thriving flax mill in Morrinsville after leaving his father's mail run from Auckland to Albany. Ena was born in 1907 and Tom was born in 1909. In 1911 the family moved to Mercer, where Percy ran a successful quarry. Dorothy was born in 1914.

The family moved to Papatoetoe in 1918, and in 1922 Percy opened Butler's garage on the Great South Road. This was still the early days of motoring, with benzine sold in cases with two four gallon tins to the case. The gravel surfaced Great South Road was not concreted until 1928. When the first petrol pumps were introduced they were hand operated.

For thirty seven years Bessie Butler served petrol, offering advice, friendship and a cheerful word of encouragement. Bessie became a well known and respected figure. Many customers came distances for petrol, eggs and a chat about local news. The garage became a centre of social and community life.

The first Catholic Mass in Papatoetoe was offered in Bessie's house in 1921, and Mass continued to be celebrated there until a church was built. Bessie was generous to all. Even the tramp with his pet pig would never pass without being given a meal.

She found time to run a large poultry farm, milk the house cow and churn the butter.

Bessie continued to tend the pumps for more than ten years after Percy's death, until she died on 7 June 1959.

Clive and Tony Watkins

First published in "Cameos of Papatoetoe Women"
Compiled by the Papatoetoe Historical Society Inc. 1996

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