I was born in Wellington, the capital of New Zealand. My earliest NZ ancestors are my great great great grandparents Abraham and Sophia Harris, from Essex, England. They arrived in Wellington in 1840 aboard the sailing ship Bolton.
The Bolton left England in November 1839 and arrived in Wellington in April 1840. The Harrises travelled in steerage on a one-way trip to the opposite side of the world… conditions were tough.
Their remains are buried in the cemetery at Christ Church in Taita, Lower Hutt, which Abraham, a builder’s labourer, helped build. It opened in 1854 and is the oldest church in the Wellington region.
Sophia was apparently a keen amateur botanist; she brought with her a rose cutting, which she kept alive inside a potato throughout the five-month voyage.
The Harris rose is now a distinct cultivar, and in 2014 specimens were planted in the Bolton Street Memorial Park, opposite the Bolton Hotel in Wellington city. The street and the hotel are named after the ship.
The hotel’s branding is inspired by the Harris rose. For me the juxtaposition of our shared history and the hardships endured by the early settlers with a modern high-rise hotel complete with swimming pool, valet parking, and expensive restaurant was surreal. I wonder what my ancestors would make of it?
A decade ago I recorded an album South Island Sessions, and presented a Fringe Festival show The Ballad of William Knife, which were partly inspired by my first Edwards ancestors who arrived in Nelson in 1861… possibly some of these other historical tales from other branches of the family will find their way into my music (or at least other blog posts).