Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Chronicles of a Country Saddler, Mayor & Centenarian - Andrew Liddell of Winton


Andrew Liddell of Winton in his 97th year,
Taken at Heddon Bush, Feb 1939
[Copyrighted Photo taken by William Dykes]

This blog attempts to relate something of the life story of Mr Andrew Liddell (1842 -1942), a well known and highly respected Southland identity in his day but now, and after the passage of so many years, largely forgotten. A Scottish born colonial era immigrant, Andrew Liddell not only became a successful country saddler in both Christchurch and in the small rural Southern town of Winton New Zealand, but also served as Town Mayor for a period before finally reaching the significant milestone of becoming a centenarian. Liddell would also, as we shall read, put his practical skills, experience and business abilities to very good use in the local community.

It was the finding amongst old family papers of some no doubt unique old invoices from his rural saddlery business and then, shortly afterwards, the quite serendipitous discovery of an actual original photo of Andrew that piqued my interest in researching the life story of this obviously resourceful and practical minded Scotsman. A family descendant has subsequently provided further family information including another wonderful photograph.

Confirmation of Birth of Andrew Docherty (later Liddell)
[Source : Scotland's People]

So firstly, what do we know of Andrew Liddell's early life? Historical Scottish Church and family sources confirm that he was born in Paisley Scotland on the 18th June 1842 but what is surprising is that his parents were John Docherty (1815 - 6 Dec 1861*) and Helen Liddell (13 Feb 1812 - 1857). And herein lies an interesting tale upon which we will learn more of anon. I do note that while Andrew Docherty's birth is entered into the Baptismal record book of the Paisley Burgh (or Low) Church (Church of Scotland - Presbyterian) he was not baptized here. This ceremony would occur on the 6th August 1842 at the George Street United Succession Church in Paisley, being a breakaway Presbyterian Church. So it appears that both parents were from two different churches, a registration of a birth and then a baptism at separate Presbyterian churches not being uncommon in such circumstances. [*This date is unconfirmed and I can find no evidence of death in civil records but this is also not uncommon in these early colonial years]

The Otago & Southland volume of the Cyclopedia of New Zealand, being published in 1906, confirms  Andrew as being the eldest son of John Liddell of Paisley. As Andrew would have had input into the writing of this bio he was at least prepared to acknowledge his father but not his original birth surname. After leaving school at nine years of age, Andrew's early employment was in rope spinning and then at a silk mill, Paisley being famous for thread manufacturing and spinning with 'Clarks' and 'Coats' being two such local firms. It was not uncommon for children of working class families to receive a short education and commence working long hours six days a week at such a young age. Could this have been one factor in a growing resentment against his father? Additionally, his later strong support of the temperance (anti drink) cause is perhaps also worth considering here.

But crucially, and in 1854, a young Andrew Docherty would next be apprenticed to the saddlery trade. Already his practical abilities were coming to the fore and he would go on to make this trade his future career.

It was now as a qualified saddler and at around 14 years of age that Andrew, along with his family, departed Gravesend on the Thames on the sailing vessel 'Palmyra' on the 28th October 1857, arriving at Port Chalmers, Otago, New Zealand on the 14th February 1858 after an extended 105 day voyage [Incidentally, this was the same voyage that carried the 'unlucky' Tokomairiro Church bell which I wrote about HERE]. While Captain Tierney would be charged with seven breaches of the Passenger's Act 1855 and fined £30 a number of passengers wrote in support of Tierney and many of the 300 immigrants on board had in fact signed a testimonial to him at the end of the voyage so opinions were rather divided.

The passenger manifest lists "Mr J Docherty", "Mrs Docherty", and "4 children" in steerage confirming that the family emigrated to New Zealand together, undoubtedly in search of a better life abroad. But crucially, published records also tell us that Mrs Helen Docherty died on the voyage out, being one of nine deaths on board. All would have been buried at sea and no further details were given. Family sources then advise John and his son Andrew as "going to live with relatives in Nelson".

However, this conflicts with a typed but much fuller record of the Staples family (who Andrew later married into) provided to the NZ Society of Genealogists; "He left Scotland on board 'Palmyra', arriving in New Zealand in February 1858, only to find that there were just eight horses in Dunedin! So he found work as a plough boy and a bullock driver for a Mr [David] Berwick of Saddle Hill. He drove a two-wheeled dray with six bullocks, taking household goods and stores to the gold diggings at the Dunstan (Clyde). Later, he drove his own team and travelled to Gabriel’s Gully, a rich goldfield near Lawrence. Later, he travelled north by steamer from Dunedin to Auckland. In 1869, he went to Canterbury, and became a saddler in Cashel Street, Christchurch."

His entry in the Cyclopedia of New Zealand merely states that from his arrival in 1858, "Mr Liddell experienced many changes incidental to early colonial life, including visits to Auckland, Nelson, and West Coast goldfields." Of this period we know that the gold rush at Gabriel's Gully took place primarily between 1861 and 1862 and that on the West Coast between 1864 and 1867 although the above biography excludes any reference to being on the West Coast goldfields although Nelson is at least mentioned.

As stated above, we find that in 1869 Liddell, and now using his mother's maiden surname, entered into business as a Saddler in Cashel Street Christchurch in the Province of Canterbury. There are two family stories relating to this change of surname but after the space of so many years it is difficult to confirm the absolute veracity of either. The first story holds that he changed his surname to 'Liddell' to simply "fit in" with the predominately Scottish settlers in the south, assumedly during his earlier time spent in Otago. The second story,  which circulated around some older members of the family and to which I would give greater weight, holds that he simply did not care much for his father and "wanted to lose his identity" so upon his arrival in New Zealand he simply assumed his maternal surname. This could have been achieved very easily if he did not have to rely on any apprenticeship papers or testimonials from Scotland for his employment or required a Church disjunction (transfer) certificate. 

Interestingly, a family story relates that Liddell was "a member of the early cycling club and was one of the few surviving persons who rode the old penny farthing bicycle". I assume this to have most likely been a club in Christchurch (possibly the Canterbury Bicycle Club) and while he was still a relatively young man.

Sale of Andrew Liddell's Saddlery Business
[Source : "The Press", 13th Jan 1882]

On the 13th January 1882 we find Andrew Liddell advertising his "Old Established" saddlery and Harness making business for sale, having been "carried on successfully by the present proprietor for the last ten years". So it would appear that from 1869 to 1872 he had perhaps only been an employee within the business before buying it out in 1872.  On the 21st May 1874 Liddell married Ada Jane Staples, a native of Imber in Wiltshire, England, having arrived in New Zealand in 1858 with her parents at just two years of age. Andrew was then almost 32 and Ada not yet quite 18 but it appears to have been a very happy marriage. Both Andrew and Ada would then set up home in Woolston with their first child being born in November 1874, being followed by twin boys in November 1876. A Lodge member, Liddell would be appointed Provincial Grand Master of the North Canterbury district in 1879, quite an honour but still not by any means the only feather in his cap.

Around June 1882 the Liddell family took a steamer south to Campbelltown (Bluff) at the southern end of the South Island. From here he would set up a new saddlery business in the strategically placed rural servicing and railway town of Winton in Central Southland. This would go on to became one of the largest such establishments in the district. But why he chose to leave an established business in Christchurch and move to Central Southland is unknown but his choice would surely turn out to be the right one. What I find interesting is that Liddell advertises his new business in Winton opening as from the 20th June 1882 but chose not to advertise his existing Christchurch business for sale until January 1883. I daresay he wished to make a go of the new enterprise before totally cutting existing ties.

The new business would carry on much as before. Besides the manufacture of saddlery, "Mr Liddell was a large importer of ropes, tarpaulins, horse covers,canvas, oils, etc." An invoice dated 1898 states that the business stocked "saddles, side saddles, bridles, coach, gig, buggy, and cart harness, spurs, whips, bits, and every description of saddlery in stock".

The First Evidence of Andrew Liddell,
Saddler & Harness Maker in Winton, Southland
[Source : "The Southland Times", 20 June 1882]

But his personal interests and service to the local community would also be notable; "He was elected to the [Winton] Borough Council in 1892, and during his term of office, a handsome Atheneum building was erected. Mr Liddell was chairman of the Winton Literary [and Debating] Institute, treasurer of the Lodge Winton [No 108, N.Z.C.], and a member of the Oddfellows, Manchester Unity".

Another obvious passion is noted in 1884 when Liddell acted as a Steward for the Winton Jockey Club annual races, no doubt having supplied much of the saddlery and various accoutrements for many of the locally owned race horses. He would then quickly go on to be elected Vice-President in 1888 and President in 1889, quite an achievement. This would, however, still prove not to be the penultimate achievement for this public spirited and very industrious man.

A Close-Up of Andrew Liddell from the Photo shown below
Taken circa 1900
[Photo Courtesy of Malcolm Liddell]

The Saddlery business at Winton appears to have been a great success with Liddell opening a new and "very commodious saddler's shop" in August 1885. This initial success may have encouraged him to open a new branch in Lumsden on the 24th August 1885. But unfortunately the new branch evidently proved not to be financially viable, being simply closed down as early as February 1887 rather than being sold as a going concern. In August 1885 Liddell makes reference to further reducing prices to "suit the times" and he, like many of his customers, were probably hit by the continuing general economic and rural downturn so expanding the business at this time was probably just bad timing, especially with additionally having to now pay for a qualified Tradesman at Lumsden.

In January 1888 his business would have a very lucky escape when the nearby Winton Hotel burnt down, Liddell being forced to remove his saddlery goods to safety across the street. A further expansion of the premises would then take place in June 1893, now stocking an even greater range of saddlery and horse related products, including equine related medicines. His business title at this times reads; "Winton Saddle, Harness, and Collar Factory".

An Invoice for "A. Liddell & Sons" dated 1st April 1898.
[Source : Personal Family Papers]

In May 1890 Liddell, as Secretary (possibly of the local Farmers' Club), chaired a meeting of farmers in the Winton Hotel to consider "the Small Bird Nuisance". He had, by now, also been elected Chairman of the Winton School Committee. And seemingly not content with an existing heavy workload of business and public activities he now became President of the Winton Caledonian Society, having served as a Committee member since 1884. But significantly, and in 1894, he was also voted onto the Awarua Temperance Party to represent Winton so was clearly teetotal and not afraid to represent this divisive cause. His obvious skills, ability to manage his prodigious workload, and his status in the community would however be fully recognized when, between 1896 and 1898, he would hold the very great honour of serving as the Winton Town Mayor. But still he somehow managed to find a little extra time to devote to his membership of the "River Board", representing, along with four other members, the Winton River District.

Andrew Liddell and his Two Sons,
taken outside the Winton Premises,
Circa 1900
[Photo courtesy of Malcom Liddell]

The business had now expanded to such an extent that on the 23rd January 1897 Liddell opened a second shop in Winton, now bringing his two sons Arthur and Herbert in as full partners, both already having "been working for him for some years". And sometime after the turn of the century, but prior to May 1903, branches would also be opened at Drummond and in Mossburn.

Unfortunately tragedy would strike at 3am on the morning of the 4th January 1904 when a devastating fire destroyed a number of wooden building in Winton, including 'A. Liddell & Sons' Saddlery shop - and no doubt also their financial records. The location is noted as being adjoining the still extant two story brick 'Jamieson's Building' which was largely saved. Liddell held insurance cover of £810 (and was in fact an agent for the company) with re-insurances of £230 each with two other firms but, it was noted, none of the businesses affected held cover for the full amount of their losses. But the business would survive this untimely conflagration. One invoice I hold is dated the 2nd February 1904 but includes an account dated July 1903 however this may be from the existing Drummond branch, being more convenient for my Grandfather than Winton.

The destruction of the Winton premises was obviously not a catastrophic financial loss as his sons would further diversify the business with additional branches being opened at Otautau as early as 1907 (after purchasing the business of Mr James Kidd) and in Balfour, all being in prosperous rural areas and serviced by the railways. But Andrew Liddell Snr., being now in his 60's, is mentioned very little from the earlier years of the 20th century as he slowly handed over his responsibilities to his very capable sons.

An Invoice for "A. Liddell & Sons" dated 2nd Aug 1904.
This has been signed by Arthur Liddell.
[Source : Personal Family Papers]

Sadly, Andrew's wife Ada died on the 3rd December 1918 at 62 years of age after a long period of ill-health. Her obituary notes that; "She was a worthy helpmate, and unobtrusively performed many kindly and charitable acts among her friends and neighbours." She also took a keen interest in her Church which I assume to be the Winton Presbyterian Church as the family were brought up in this faith. Ada was also a talented pianist. At this time their son Andrew Liddell, a baker, was serving with the forces in Palestine but would survive the war and return home. But of their fourteen children, six would die in infancy and one at 12 years of age, truly a saddening tale. Despite Andrew being 14 years older than Ada he would live on a further 24 long years after her death. 

Immediately after Ada's death, and on the 28th December 1918, Liddell now promptly sold up his furniture and personal effects and then moved in with his youngest daughter Evelyn, also a resident of Winton, but spending the winters with his family further north including his son Gordon in Wanganui.

In February 1936, and at age 94, Liddell was quoted as being; "a wonderful example of the early pioneers, being hale and hearty and often travelling in various parts of the Dominion." In fact, he continued to travel alone until he was in his 99th year. Another notable achievement was when, and at age 98, he was officially declared the oldest living "Past Provincial Grand Master [of a Lodge]" in the world, having of course been elected to that post as far back as 1879. 

Andrew Liddell's Signature on his will, 8th July 1941
[Source : Archives New Zealand]

My Grandfather photographed Andrew in the garden of my Mother's family home at Heddon Bush in February 1939, his photo being shown at the top of this page. As a well established and very hospitable Scottish born farming family, and having been long term customers, their friendship would have extended back almost to the time Andrew set up business in the district. But the invoices I hold (eight in total) are in fact from my Father's family, also being established farmers in the Heddon Bush district. So both were thus regular and loyal customers of "Liddell & Sons".  

Andrew Liddell "Southland Centenarian", taken 18th June 1942
[Source "The Auckland Weekly News", 8 July 1942]

Andrew Liddell's final milestone was reached on the 18th June 1942 when he achieved the significant age of 100 years. But owing to his then failing health a formal banquet to be put on in his honour by the Winton Borough Council had to be cancelled. Instead, a smaller gathering took place at his daughter's home. The then Winton Mayor speaking at this rather more intimate and personal gathering noted the unique situation of a sitting Mayor being able to congratulate an ex-Mayor on reaching 100 years. Liddell would also receive over 150 telegrams, including one from the King and Queen, a most telling testimony to his status in the community and of his wide circle of friends, family and acquaintances, both in New Zealand and overseas. By this stage he was not only the oldest Past Provincial Grand Master but also now the oldest Oddfellow in the world.

Liddell Family Gravestone,
Old Winton Cemetery
[Source : Tim Macdonald]

Having reached this great milestone in his life, Andrew died, no doubt with a contented heart for a full, long and useful life, at Invercargill on the 25th November 1942 and is buried in the Old Winton Cemetery with his wife and their son Edward who both pre-deceased him (location in Cemetery; Plot 18, Old Survey Block XI). His estate was valued for probate purposes at £682.10.6

Copyright & Updates : Commercial publication prohibited without my specific written permission. Excerpts may however be copied for private or academic use provided this site or the original publication source is acknowledged. Corrections of any unintentional errors or additional relevant information welcome. My email link appears in the right-hand menu bar.

Sources :

- Papers Past / Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa
- Archives New Zealand / Te Rua Mahara o te Kāwanatanga
- Family Search - The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints
- "The Cyclopedia of New Zealand - Otago & Southland", 1906 (from my own collection)
- "The Winton Record", 18 Feb 1936 (from my own collection)
- "Staples Family Tree and History" (NZ Society of Genealogists, Auckland) 
- Cochrane Family Papers (In my possession)
- William Dykes Photographic Collection (In my possession)
- Various Internet sources
- With grateful assistance from Malcolm Liddell
- Also my thanks to Tim Macdonald for taking the photograph of Andrew and Ada's Gravestone.

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