NameOscar Alfred Norgrove , GG Grandfather
Birth1 Nov 1842, Wellington, NZ [48], [292]
Death21 Aug 1907 [50], [292]
FatherWilliam Norgrove (1813-1886)
MotherSarah Hall (1818-1891)
1Edith Brook , GG Grandmother
Birth3 Dec 1848, London [48], [292]
Death16 Nov 1936 [50], [292]
MotherSarah Brown (1848-1938)
Marriage18 Jun 1878, Wellington, NZ [48], [292]
ChildrenEdgar Roydon (1878-1964)
 Bertha Emma Mabel (1880-1911)
 Kate Edith (1882-1974)
 Arthur Oscar (1884-1914)
 Alfred Brook (1886-1918)
Notes for Oscar Alfred Norgrove
The second son of William and Sarah was Oscar, but he was the oldest to survive into adulthood, the eldest son, Ovid, dying when he was only 18. Oscar was born in 1842, a year or so after his parents arrived in Wellington, and his brother Horace was born four years later. Oscar formed various business partnerships with Horace, and later with another brother Walter, although I have to admit that it's not always clear which brothers are meant when the Norgrove Bros. are mentioned. Possibly all three of them.

One of the earliest jobs (at least that I know of) that the Norgrove Brothers did was in 1868, when they were contracted to do the painting and paperhanging at Mr. Ewart's new Hotel. It sounds like they initially followed in their father's footsteps; I imagine Dad helped out. However, even at this early stage they didn't restrict themselves to a narrow and blinkered approach, as shown by the fact that they also made fireworks for a Blenheim celebration. (They organised a big fireworks display in May 1868, and made the fireworks themselves, or had them imported.) It seems like they did everything they could get their hands on. However, despite their well-rounded efforts they were as unsuccessful as their father tended to be. On the 21st of November Oscar was charged and fined for obstructing a bailiff. Clearly he hadn't been paying his debts, somebody sent the bailiffs around to cart away his possessions, and Oscar had a go at him. Dear oh dear.

On March 20th of 1868 they also advertised in the Marlborough Express to sell eight sections on Maxwell Road, Blenheim. “The Land is securely Fenced with a live quick hedge, and planted with a choice selection of Fruit and Forest Trees, together with Dwelling House and Vinery, stocked with choice Grapes. A well of excellent water and a stream of water runs through Paddock and Garden." It is hard to know whether or not this sale was related to the huge Blenheim flood of February, 1868, but it might have been. At any rate, the Norgrove Brothers were seen to play a hero's role in that flood, as they rowed around saving a number of people. Their career almost came to an untimely end if the account in the Marlborough Express is to be believed; apparently the Norgrove Brothers were rescuing a boatload of people but got washed away downstream, past the two-storey Marlborough Express office and the Literary Institute. They managed to get out of the currrent when they reached some shoals formed by drays, and thus survived the day, to receive at least two sets of grateful thanks in the following week's newspaper.

In the 1870s the Norgrove Brothers were heavily involved in the coastal shipping trade. In the late 1860s they built (and Horace sailed) a ketch called the “Amateur”, but by 1873 he was sailing the “Unity”, a vessel that the Norgrove Bros. had built in Picton, the first to have been built there. According to the Marlborough Express:

On the morning of Saturday last, one of those pleasing events which mark the progressive prosperity of the Province came off in Picton, namely the successful launch of the first vessel built in Picton proper, and but the second within the precincts of Queen Charlotte Sound;

... The skill and enterprise of Messrs. Norgrove Bros. have thus far been crowned with a well-deserved success and we most heartily wish the gallant little bark a long and prosperous career.

... the general plan of her construction has been similar to that adopted by Messrs. Norgrove in the first schooner they built, the Amateur, with such further improvements as experience and careful forethought could suggest.

... Having thus far described her, we have now to state that punctually at the hour appointed the shore dogs were knocked away, and in a few brief moments the labour of seven months was entrusted to the care of Old Ocean, amidst the cheers of the assembled crowd, and took her seat upon the water like a bird. Just as she glided away Miss Norgrove broke the accustomed bottle and named her the Unity. She is intended for the general coasting trade, and we hope her spirited builders and owners may long have the pleasure of seeing her ``walking the waters like a thing of life".

As captain, Horace was a busy lad, sailing in and out of Wellington, Blenheim, Havelock, Patea, the East Coast, Wanganui, and probably many other places as well. Oscar, with family in tow, must have done an awful lot of sailing also. Oscar's daughter Kate (my G-grandmother) remembered how her early life revolved around boats; up to Wellington, back to Blenheim, up to Wainuiomata, back to Blenheim again. It is easy to underestimate just how fluid life could be at that time. I have often fallen into the trap of thinking that, because they didn't have cars and planes and nice paved roads, they must have stayed put most of the time, moving only in desperation, and that not often. Because of this it took me a long to time to realise just how much the Norgrove brothers moved around. For example, for many years I was confused because the Norgroves appeared in the Wainuiomata records while I thought they lived in Blenheim. What I didn't realise that, to them, it was all closely connected, and they were perfectly happy to zip from one place to the other on a regular basis.

In typical fashion, the Norgrove brothers' fertile minds were not restricted to traditional ship-building channels. On the 20th of May, 1892, a most interesting letter appeared in the Marlborough Express:

Dear Sir:-- In your Tuesday's issue you published an article referring to the new patent for three-keeled ships, and under it a letter from Mr. F.M. Levin, dated May 6th, in which he claims Mr. O. A. Norgrove as the original inventor.\footnote{Apparently, so says the letter from Mr. Levin, the idea originally came to Oscar Norgrove after he observed the flight of the albatross. I have to admit the connection between an albatross and a three-keeled ship is not immediately apparent to me.} I must ask you for space to state the facts. Twelve years ago I made the first model, and at once saw all the advantages to be derived from ships and steamers being built on those lines. My brother Oscar Alfred Norgrove visited me when I lived in Broadway, about the time I was satisfied with the success of my experiments. As may be expected, I took him into my confidence and showed him all the possibilities, and this is where he first got his ideas. If my brother is asked he will not deny this. I further developed the invention into a submarine steamer, and three years ago I took my crude drawings to the Defence Department with a model of the same. I have now full drawings and specifications that have been laid before the English Admiralty, bearing the stamp of the Agent-General's office, returned to me with a letter stating that the plans and specifications were not accepted by the Admiralty -- that I must construct and demonstrate. Being a poor man those conditions were an impossibility. If there is any claim for the first invention, I claim it against all comers. -- I am, \& c, Horace Norgrove, Picton, May 18th, 1892.

Well, well, a submarine steamer. It rather boggles the mind how this would work. We see here the fertile Norgrove imagination in full flight, coupled with an almost paranoid determination not to be cheated by anybody.

However, three-keeled ships and submarine steamers notwithstanding, in 1874 the Norgrove Bros. went bankrupt and dissolved their partnership. Horace continued sailing the coastal trade, and opened a fish curing works in Blenheim in partnership with the Whiting Brothers; Horace married Caroline Eliza Whiting and had two boys and four girls. One of the girls, Eliza, died in 1876, aged 5 weeks, and his eldest son, Horace, may also have died young. The other son, Harold, survived to become a market gardener in Auckland, or so my G-grandmother Kate said. By 1886 Horace was worth £4,000, had six permanent employees and produced around 10,000 cases of fish anually. Horace appears many times in court records of the day as he was a remarkably litigious man, always suing or being sued over money paid or not paid, conditions fulfilled or not fulfilled.

Oscar seems to have been less successful. We have already seen how he went to the Wakamarina gold rush and earned £300 in three weeks, but I doubt this money lasted long. He and his brother Walter had a business venture in Wainuiomata, where they operated a sawmill (or possibly a flax mill), and appear on the 1884 list of original settlers. They also had 400 sheep in 1884, so their activities were not confined to milling alone, but since they had no sheep at all in 1885 I doubt they were notable sheepfarmers. Oscar also continued in his father's trade as a painter until at least 1900, when he won a tender to paint some new buildings in Blenheim. The mill at Wainuiomata was the cause of at least one quarrel between Oscar and Walter, in which Walter punched Oscar on the nose. The scoundrel! It seems that Oscar thought that Walter's wife, Esther Gain, hadn't been pulling her weight, and hadn't been feeding the men at the mill properly. Walter took offence. Well, who wouldn't?

On the 18th of June, 1878, Oscar married Edith Brook, born in London on the 3rd of December, 1848, who had come to New Zealand for her health, as she had rheumatic fever. Edith Brook's father was a candlemaker called Richard Brook, and her mother, Sarah Brown, kept a school for young ladies after the death of Richard (which happened I don't know when). They lived at 20 Bridge St., Southwark, Surrey, at some stage. According to Kate Norgrove (Edith's daughter), young Edith could remember being held up to the window to watch the soldiers marching to the Crimea. Crummy, the maid, was crying because her boyfriend was going. The Crimean War did for more than Crummy's love life; it also ruined the candle factory.

Oscar and Edith had five children. The eldest, Edgar Roydon, was born in August, 1878, which, the observant reader will no doubt notice, is considerably less than nine months after June, 1878. Naughty Oscar and Edith. Edgar married Mary Ann Annand, and one of their children was Joan Norgrove, later Joan McNaught, who has been such a help to me in finding out information about the Norgrove family. The next was a daughter, Bertha Emma Mabel, born in 1880, but who committed suicide (by drowning) in 1911. Bertha married a Melville, had a son, Eric Jack, who had a son, Ian, in turn. Ian Melville is another of the people who have sent me an enormous amount of information about the Norgroves, and another to whom I owe a considerable debt.

Next to come was my G-grandmother, Kate Norgrove (who married a Neal, as described in Chapter \ref{chap:neals}), and after her were two more sons, both of whom died young. Arthur Oscar (born in 1884) died on the 19th of June, 1914; he “fell down the hold of the collier Kauri at the Queen's Wharf this afternoon and was killed. The doctor of HMS Psyche went to the man's assistance, but death had been instantaneous. Deceased was single, about 24 years of age, and belonged to Blenheim." According to his sister Kate he went to sea in the “Temple Knight” and was on the first boat to pick up signals from the Titanic. The youngest child, Alfred Brook, born in 1886, died in 1918 during the flu epidemic.

On the 22nd of May, 1886, something occurred that throws enormous light on the entire history of the Norgrove family in New Zealand. The Marlborough Express writes:

At the R.M. Court this morning, before Mr. Allen, R.M., Oscar Norgrove was brought up as a person of unsound mind, and unfit to be at large. In support of this view the evidence of Drs. Porter and Nairn was taken. Norgrove protested to the Court that he was not mad, though very excited about certain inventions for electric ships and perpetual motion which had occurred to his mind, and stated that, if liberated, he would go steadily to work and calm down. He admitted, however, that the Court in dealing with him was acting for his good, though he protested that it was mistaken kindness. He also complained that he had been taken to a cell yesterday, and had not been supplied with any tea. Mr. Allen said that in Norgrove's present state of dangerous excitement it would be necessary to send him to an asylum for a short time for medical treatment. His Worship added that it was for his good, and not by way of punishment. Norgrove admitted that was so, but hoped that “Valentine Vox" treatment would not be dealt out to him, and that his inventions would not be burked and the public hoodwinked. The unfortunate man was then removed.

Then again on the 5th of March, 1888, again from the Marlborough Express:

Mr. Oscar Norgrove was committed to the Wellington Lunatic Asylum on Saturday by Mr. Allen R.M., Drs. Cleghorn and Nairn having certified to his being insane. The poor fellow brought to our office a few days ago some models, very cleverly designed, with which he had been working out the theory of perpetual motion. Great sympathy is felt for his family.

And there you have it. The explanation, I think, of why the Norgroves, so energetic, so intelligent, so talented, so creative, were so unsuccessful. I cannot read those newspaper entries without feeling enormous sadness for Oscar Norgrove; teetering on the brink of insanity but well enough to realise that he wasn't well, terrified that his idea and inventions would be stolen and unable to get them out of his mind although he realised that this was a sign of insanity, well enough to be terrified of the lunatic asylum (and who wouldn't be, given the conditions in which the inmates of such places lived?), and yet well enough to know that he had to go.

Poor Oscar. And poor Edith and the children, even more so. How must it have been for them, with their husband and father, their only source of support, becoming gradually worse over the years (as he almost certainly did), until finally they could no longer cope, the community could no longer cope, and such drastic measures became necessary? One cannot imagine.

Note the dates. Oscar must have been in and out of the Wellington Lunatic Asylum at least twice, a couple of years apart, and possibly more often. From records at Archive NZ (see below) we know that he was admitted on 25 May, 1886, and then discharged on 16 October, 1886, with the notation “Recovered”. Similarly, he was admitted again on 7 March 1888, and released on 12 May, 1888, again with the notation “Recovered”. So his bouts were short, and he appears to have recovered well. But I have little doubt that Oscar, and most likely his father before him, was a man who, for most of his life, struggled to survive on that knife edge; the genius of ideas on the one hand and crazed obsession on the other. There are quite clear signs that other members of the family also suffered similarly. Horace exhibits signs of paranoia in his letter about the three-keeled ship and his incessant litigation, while Bertha's suicide cannot plausibly be unrelated. My heart goes out to him and Edith. They cannot always have been happy.

I must admit that Oscar's illness raises a number of questions for me. In the court records he didn't sound too deranged. Indeed, he was clearly well enough to make literary references, and to understand well what was happening, and where he was going and why. So why was such drastic action taken? Was his family unable to cope? Unwilling, maybe? Was he dangerous to others or to himself? How long was he in the asylum, and how many times? Do medical records of his visits exist? It's unlikely that we'll ever be able to answer all these questions.

We know for sure that, whether or not they were happy, they were certainly poor. You can see the poverty clearly in a photograph of Oscar, Edith, and their two eldest children, Edgar and Bertha, which must have been taken around 1888. Their house was unkempt and simple, the garden completely untended, with wood and branches in an untidy heap. Oscar is holding some unidentified thing, dressed in his working clothes, and looking as scruffy as I usually do, and his family look undeniably grim. It's hard to avoid the conclusion that they were poor as a result of Oscar's mental illness; although this must have affected Kate greatly, she never made any mention of it. Ever. Kate would tell stories of being sent down to the store to get food on credit as they couldn't afford to pay for it, and how she was dressed in a coat and bonnet made from her father's old overcoat turned. Her 6d wooden doll was a treasure and her fancy shoes had brass toecaps; her mother's bedside table was a packing case draped with white muslin. I suppose that poverty was no shame to her, but a father's illness was more difficult to cope with.

In August 1907 Oscar finally gave up the struggle, or had it given up for him I suppose, to be more accurate. His horse was frightened by some cans a boy was carrying, and threw Oscar off the trap, rupturing his liver. The initial newspaper report in the Marlborough Express (12 Aug., 1907) was rather optimistic: “Mr. Oscar Norgrove met with an accident while driving in a trap this morning. The horse, as far as can be gathered, took fright, and, swerving, ran against an embankment near Farnham, causing Mr. Norgrove to be thrown out. He fell upon his left shoulder, and it is possible that one of the small bones is broken. The ambulance conveyed Mr. Norgrove to his hose, and though he was very much bruised, it is not thought that his injuries are severe.”

Well, they got that wrong. Oscar lingered on for ten days before finally giving up the ghost. Oscar's obituary appeared in, of all unlikely places, the West Coast Times:

The late Mr. Oscar Alfred Norgrove who died recently at his home in Blenheim, from injuries received from being thrown from a trap, was (says an Exchange) born in Wellington in the year 1842, and was the eldest son of the late Wm. Norgrove. In the year 1854 he took up his residence in Nelson, where he resided with the rest of his family till 1861, when he came to the Wairau. In 1868, in conjunction with his brothers, Horace and Walter, he built the ketch Amateur, of 25 tons register, on the banks of Lockup Creek, near where Clouston's stables now stand in Wynen St. For some years subsequent to this he followed the sea. A second boat was built at Picton, of 60 tons, called the Unity, in 1872. He sailed this boat for a time, and then he and his brothers gave up the sea, and deceased went to the Wakamarina goldfields, but returned shortly after to Blenheim to work at his trade, which has claimed his attention ever since.

Edith herself lived for a good long time after Oscar's death, dying in 1936, two weeks before turning 90. One wonders if she found it more peaceful; I know very little about what she did in the last 30 years of her life, and I ought to know more. Maybe one day someone will tell me.

From Graham Langton, Senior Archivist, Research Services:

I searched for Norgrove in the first alphabetical Mental Health Index [Archives Reference: H-MHD 5/1] and found an entry for him:
Norgrove, Oscar A     Wn [Wellington]     [Admission No.] 4089     357
I then looked in the first Mental Health Register [Archives Reference: H-MHD 5/7] and looked for Admission No.4089 since the entries are in numerical order.  On page 310 I found the following entry:
4089     Norgrove, Oscar A    [Date of Admission] 25 May 1886     Wellington
                                [Date of Discharge] 16 October 1886     Recovered     Record No.1690
I then looked on page 357 to see if there was another entry for the Re-admission, and there was:
Norgrove, Oscar A     [Date of Admission] 7 March 1888     Wellington
                                [Date of Discharge] 12 May 1888     Recovered     Record No.724
Notes for Edith (Spouse 1)
From Kate [50]:
Edith had rheumatic fever and came out to NZ for her health with Nellie Follett. Edith landed at Auckland Point, Nelson. Married at 29 to Oscar Alfred Norgrove.
Died 2 weeks before turning 90.

Kate’s dates not completely consistent with information from Ian Melville and Joan McNaught. Probably Kate didn’t quite remember correctly.
Last Modified 14 Jan 2013Created 11 Sep 2016 using Reunion for Macintosh