Jessie Yvonne Hazel Copeland, born Jessie Yvonne Hazel Adlam on March the 9th, 1927 [in New Plymouth?] She was the youngest, very much the youngest of the six children of Ernest Albert Adlam and Jessie Adlam, née Preston. Her father’s father was George Alfred Adlam from Westbury in Wiltshire in the south-west of England, who came to New Zealand with his younger brother John David Adlam some time in the 1860s. Both brothers settled in Taranaki. George married Elizabeth Sefton of County Antrim in Northern Ireland, and they had 17 children, including twins who died unnamed at birth and one who died two days old. Ernie, Mum’s dad was George and Elizabeth’s third child. Mum was one of George and Elizabeth’s youngest grandchildren, born when he was nearly 85 and she was nearly 74. I have no way of knowing if any of George and Elizabeth Adlam’s other grandchildren still survive. Ernie married Jessie Preston, our Grandma, the daughter of James Preston of Eltham, when he (Grandad) was 29 and she was 18. Grandma’s parents were from Ireland, I believe one from the North and one from the South. Her mother died when she was a child, and her father remarried. Grandma was very attached to her stepmother, and gave her maiden name, Percival, as a middle name to her fifth child, Uncle Frank. Great-grandad Preston had the reputation in our family of a brute and a tyrant, but it seems that none of our aunts and uncles ever knew him.
Ernie and Jessie Adlam had six children. Uncle Bill was the eldest, born in November 1905, Auntie Olga was ten and a half months younger, born in October 1906, and Auntie Ruth not far behind her, in December 1907. Uncle Son, christened Arthur Douglas, was born in July 1911, Uncle Frank, ten years younger than Uncle Bill, was born in December 1915, and Mum, eleven years younger than Uncle Frank, and more than 21 years younger than Uncle Bill, in March 1927. Grandad was 53 and Grandma 42 when Mum was born. She once told me that Grandma had warned her never to trust a man until at least twenty minutes after rigor mortis sets in.
Grandad had a mixed farm on Croydon Road, Waipuku, just this side of Midhirst, and this is where Mum grew up. It was near the Manganui River, which joins the Waitara River a few miles upstream from here. She was deeply attached to her father, and often talked to me about him when I was a child. Although he died about seven months before I was born, he was one of my favourite relatives. Things I remember her telling me about her life there—
She went to school in a horse and gig. This was the Croydon Road School, with a roll of 13 when she started, and nine when she finished Standard 6. Her teacher was Miss Longbottom. I believe she had another teacher there called Miss Slyfield. I don’t know which order they were in.
Her brother Frank was a keen javelin thrower, and used to practise on the farm after school. Mum, then still a small child, was allowed to run and fetch his javelin for him each time he threw it. She felt very privileged.
There was her first attempt at riding a bike, when she was 13. Coming down the steep hill, picking up speed, and not knowing how to stop, she stuck her foot out, and flew over the handlebars.
Getting her driver’s licence at 15. She went with her father to the local cop, who said to Grandad, “This your daughter, is it, Ernie? You teach her to drive, did you? (Bang, stamp!) There you go!”
Perhaps the saddest event of her life—the death of her brother Frank on the 21st of March, 1945, at the age of 29. Mum was 18. Uncle Frank was an Air Force Pilot. Returning from a reconnaissance mission, he crashed his plane on the Hogsback, a hill, or a range of hills, in the south of England.
Then there’s the story we heard from Dad several years ago, about when he and Mum had decided to get married. He told the story again some time later, and the second telling was shorter, and some of the minor details were slightly different, as always happens, and what you’re getting here is what I remember of the first telling of the story. If I get it wrong, Dad can put you right later—
He and Mum were both 19—Dad was three days older than Mum—and they would only be 20 when they married, and in those days they needed parental permission to marry under the age of 21. So they had arranged that Dad would go out to the Adlam farm on the day when the shearing was to be done. Mum had to go out and get the sheep in, and while she was getting them, Dad would talk to Grandad and ask his permission to marry Mum.
The day arrived, Dad went out to the farm, and Mum went off to get the sheep. In my mind’s eye, I see her on a horse, but I’ve no idea if she was. I certainly never actually saw her on one. Anyway, she’s off to get the sheep, while Dad goes to the shearing shed to talk to Grandad.
Now Grandad by this time was 73, and the farm had got away on him a bit. The internal fences were in bad repair, and the whole farm was pretty much one big 200-acre paddock. So it wasn’t an easy job to get a mob of sheep together and bring them in. But Mum was getting it done with the help of Tim, the huntaway dog, who, according to Dad, was as mad as a meat-axe.
Meanwhile, back in the shearing shed, Dad’s talking to Grandad, and puts the question to him. And Grandad didn’t answer straight away. Just stood there chuckling to himself, and he said, “So, you want to marry my daughter, do you, boy?”
And then the sheep appeared, all moving together in a mob, with Mum and the dog Tim at the back of them. And Mum’s feeling as pleased as punch with herself, because the sheep could have pretty much the run of the whole farm if they choose, and she’s got them together.
And Grandad’s watching her bringing them in, and he says to Dad, “Hey boy, you want to see something funny?”
Dad didn’t know what he had in mind, but he said, “Oh, yeah?”
The dog’s with Mum at the back of the mob, and suddenly Grandad whistled him up. Tim made a beeline for him—straight through the mob of sheep. Which scattered. All over the farm. And you can understand that seeing all her good work undone, Mum completely lost her rag with Grandad, and she ripped into him, called him for everything under the sun. To use one of her own expressions, she told him his pedigree.
Grandad wasn’t at all worried about this, just stood there chuckling to himself. And when she finally stopped to draw breath, he turned to Dad and said, “Well, boy, you’ve seen her temper—if you still want her, she’s yours!”
And so, after a seven-month engagement, Mum and Dad got married, on the 19th of April, 1947, about six weeks after their 20th birthdays.
They lived in Midhirst for the first five and a half years of their marriage. And it was after they’d been married about two years that the second great blow of Mum’s life fell, when she had to have an operation—an operation that would prevent her ever having children of her own.
And so they looked at adopting. Mum told me that they planned to adopt a girl, but Grandad said the oldest should be a boy. I’ve always thought that was a strange thing to have a philosophy about, since most people don’t get to choose. Mum also told me they had thought about adopting a Māori, but had decided better for Māori to adopt Māori. One thing they were very clear on was that their children should grow up knowing they were adopted. They had known a young man whose parents had made a big thing of telling him on his 21st birthday that he was adopted, with disastrous results.
My earliest memory of Mum was some time around my second birthday, and her 26th. I don’t remember anything before that, and suddenly, there I was, on the front path of our home at 19A Grey Street, almost out the gate, with Dad in front of me, and Grandma, Mum’s mother, behind me. Dad went around the back of the old dark blue 1935 Chrysler to the driver’s door. I looked back toward the house, and there was Mum—coming out to the gate with Allen, probably not yet a year old, in her arms. He was crying, and reaching out to us because he wanted to come in the car too. I got into the middle of the front seat, and Grandma got in after me. Then the three of us drove to Palmerston North, to Uncle Bill and Auntie Thelma’s place. Uncle Bill was Mum’s oldest brother, and Grandma, who lived with us, sometimes used to go and stay with them for a few weeks.
Mum was the last of her generation of her family. The last of her five brothers and sisters, Auntie Olga, died 26 years ago in 1986. They were all much older than she was. The place that Mum had, and has, in the hearts of her family is reflected in the fact that she is commemorated in the names of one of her granddaughters and three of her great-grandchildren—Anna Hazel Copeland Barham, Jessie Yvonne McKenzie, Jessie Maree Gundesen and Isaac Samuel Adlam Barham. The extended family were an important part of our lives when we were children, on both sides of our family.