This book is dedicated to my parents:
I am forever thankful
for their hard work, guidance and love
that shaped who I am today
It wasn’t until my Aunt Nellie passed on that I became fully aware of the
legacy she had left us; the complete history of our family dating back to the
late 1800s. I realised then, because of my interest in writing, I should follow
in her inkblots. Also I give thanks to my nephew, Milton Kayes, who, in the
early 1980s, did considerable research into the paternal side of the family.
Hopefully, when one of the baby-boomer generation within the family reaches the
latter stage of their life, they too will be inspired to put pen to paper, or
should I say keyboard to floppy disk.
I was born on 18th September 1923, (Virgo – pig), at the
Shirley Private Hospital, Pukekohe, New Zealand. My European ancestors came from
the small village of Teufen in the Appenzell Mountains in Switzerland. My
great-grandfather, Johann Konrad Schlaepfer, (born 1831), was the Chief
Magistrate and ran a successful lace manufacturing business with his wife, Anna
Kathrine, nee Meier; (they had 12 children).
Two of his sons, Jacob, my grandfather (born 1858), and John, his younger
brother, heard about New Zealand from a fellow countryman and decided they would
like to go and see it for themselves. Jacob suffered from asthma and Konrad was
a bit hesitant to let him journey so far away, but the local doctor said he
would not live to an old age in Switzerland’s severe climate so suggested Konrad
let him go as maybe the five-week sea voyage would help him.
On reaching New Zealand in 1884 his health improved, so they bought 500 acres
near the country town of Pukekohe, 30 miles south of Auckland, calling their
property Helvetia, after their homeland. They returned to Switzerland
nine months later, where Jacob married Johanna Zuercher, (born 1863), the
daughter of Yohan Jakob Zuercher, (born 1830), and his wife, Katherina Barbara
(nee Bruderer). He and his wife and John returned to Helvetia to start a
new life. My grandfather, Jacob, and his wife, Johanna, (Zuercher), went on to
have six children, my mother, Johanna, being the eldest born on 8th
My father, George Walter Kayes’ family, originated from France. During the
French Revolution they escaped to Dartford, Kent in England. They became
shopkeepers and had a plumbing establishment in London bearing a sign displaying
the Prince of Wales’ feathers, by appointment. My great-grandfather, Charles
Kayes, recorded his occupation as Gentleman, and liked to build an
inflated image of himself. His son, Henry, my grandfather, married Ellen Jenner
at the parish church in Dartford, Kent on 23rd December 1860.
One of my grandmother’s ancestors stands out: Edward Jenner. He was born on 17th
May 1749 to the Reverend and Mrs Stephen Jenner, vicar of Berkeley and rector of
nearby Rockhampton. As a youngster he liked natural history and collecting
fossils and dormice nests. He became apprenticed to Mr Daniel Ludlow, a surgeon,
and during this time he became fascinated by the disease of smallpox. At the age
of 21 he studied medicine under John Hunter. They collected animal and fauna
specimens for research.
In 1771 Captain James Cook returned from the first of his explorations of the
South Seas. He asked Jenner to go with him on one of the later expeditions, but
he declined, as he wanted to study medicine, so Joseph Banks, a friend, bought
back many specimens for him to experiment with. As a country doctor Jenner had
to treat people for smallpox. He noticed the unpoxed faces of milkmaids, which
was a remarkable sight in those days, so thought there must be a connection
between the work they did and the unusual lack of smallpox victims.
On 14th May 1796, Jenner, had the opportunity to put his theory to
the test. He decided to inoculate a person with cowpox and then gave them
smallpox to study the effects. He took some cowpox matter from a large sore on a
milkmaid’s hand and inserted it into the arm of a healthy eight-year-old boy.
Later he infected the lad with smallpox. He became restless with headaches and
fever, but 10 days later he was perfectly well. Jenner suffered a lot of
opposition but in 1800, he received a grant of £10,000 from the government to
support a vaccination program. In 1806, he was given a further £20,000. He died
In 1865, Henry and Ellen Jenner immigrated to New Zealand on the Lancashire
Witch, settling in Pukekohe on a farm. They had 10 children, George Walter,
my father, being the youngest. Both families – the Kayes and the Schlaepfers –
became a part of the district community. My mother, Johanna, married George in
1908 and raised a family of five children, myself being the youngest. George, my
father, was a dairy factory manager at Papakura. He was a musician and played in
the local brass band till 1923 when he finally became deaf. In 1919 they took
over a part of the Helvetia property.
We lived on a branch line, so only one train left every day at 9.30 am to the
junction with the mainline, returning again at 6.00 pm. A big treat for us was
to catch the train and go into Auckland to the biggest department store of those
times – The Farmers Trading Company. We had a wireless that was powered
by battery. Our local radio station, 1ZM, would announce birthdays and
give messages to the whereabouts of your hidden presents. My friends and I would
dash around the garden hunting for them.
Christmas was the highlight of the year; all the extended family would gather
together. After dinner my uncle would have a lolly scramble for us kids with a
kerosene tin full of sweets.