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The story of Margaret and Alexander Brown

This is the story of Margaret and Alexander Brown who built the two-storied building, popularly known as The Halfway House, which still stands today in Glenside.

Margaret Clarkson Craig Brown

Mrs Margaret Clarkson Craig Brown.
Undated. This is a scan of a photocopy. 

 The Brown sisters

The daughters of Alexander and Margaret Brown.
From left: Jean Cleeve-Edwards, Isobel Taylor, Helen Bakewell, Grace Brown, Dominica (Min) Brandon. Undated. This is a scan of a photocopy. 


When Alexander Brown of the Halfway House died in 1900, he was described in newspapers as ‘widely known and esteemed’ and ‘well known from one end of the colony to the other’. He worked as a carrier in the gold fields and contracted his services for farm work. He is remembered as being good with horses and horsemanship and introduced proper timber drays to Wellington. In the early 1870's, Alexander and his wife Margaret bought the Halfway House and land, and built the large two-story historic Halfway House (they called it Gowan Bank) which still stands today at Glenside.

Horses in the goldfields

Alexander Brown, who was popularly known as Sandy, emigrated from Dumbarton, Scotland to the Victorian gold fields in Australia. It is understood that he brought his wife Margaret, nee Clarkson, with him. In 1861, at about the age 28, he travelled from Victoria to the Otago gold fields where he combined his love of horses with a role as a carter, or carrier.

In 1862 Alexander Brown, a carrier, was called as a witness in a Civil Court Case involving the soundness of a horse. It’s possible that this is the same person. Otago Daily Times, Issue 292, 26 November 1862, p5.

The Brown’s came to Wellington in 1864, however with the opening up of the goldfields in Marlborough, Alexander went south again, this time to the Wakamarina goldfields where he presumably continued his contract work as a carrier.

"The Wakamarina was proclaimed a goldfield on 11 June 1864 and the gold rush transformed Havelock into a bustling boomtown in the space of two months. Tents sprang up at Havelock, Canvastown and settlements up the Wakamarina River. Publicans and merchants arrived to assess business prospects and accommodation houses and stores mushroomed….The Wakamarina's easy gold was worked out within a year and the gold rush was soon over." The Prow Ritchie, W.H. (1998) Tales of the Wakamarina. Walton-on-Thames, England : Ritchie Pub; Johnston, M. (1992) Gold in a tin dish: the search for gold in Marlborough and Eastern Nelson. v.1. The history of the Wakamarina goldfield. Nelson, N.Z.: Nikau Press, pp90-92.

Back in Otago, a large number of his horses were advertised for sale at auction.

"Saturday 5th November
At 12 o'clock.
Commercial Horse Bazaar
Heavy Draught Horses
Wright, Robertson and Co are instructed by Mr A. Brown to sell by auction, at the above yards, on Saturday, the 5th instant, at 12 o'clock,
20 Head first-class heavy draught Horses and Mares.
These horses have been carefully selected in Southland by Mr Brown, whose well-known judgment in draught stock will be a sufficient guarantee for their quality. Most of them are broken, and will be sold subject to a satisfactory trial. They are all young, sound, in good condition, and for positive sale."
Otago Daily Times, Issue 897, 4 November 1864, p7.

A local newspaper reported that on his return to Wellington he was '...engaged drawing timber to Stewart and Greenfield’s mill, which was situated in Willis street, at the intersection of Lambton quay. He was the first man to introduce proper timber drays to the city, and he built up a large connection in timber drawing from Porirua to the city.'

In 1867, he advertised his stallion to service mares.

"To cover this season. The celebrated cart stallion Young Britain will travel this season as follows: Will leave Gillies’ station, Otaria, on Mondays, and will serve at Fuller’s Rising Sun on Tuesdays; on Wednesdays will travel to Masterton, calling at the Pioneer Hotel, Carterton, will serve then at Tuck’s Family Hotel on Thursdays, until one o’clock, and will then return to Mr Gillies’, Otaria, where he will serve during the remainder of the week. Young Britain is a dappled grey horse, five year old, with immense bone, substance and muscle, he has a splendid temper and constitution and was got by England’s Hope out of Black Champion. Terms :—£3 35., groomage 5s. One in five given in on bona fide property. Alexander Brown, Proprietor."
Wairarapa Standard, Volume I, Issue 41, 14 October 1867, p2.

The Halfway House era

The Brown’s came to live at Section 23 on the Porirua Road in the early 1870's.

“Some time in the seventies Mr Brown settled on land in the Porirua district, and established the old “half-way house” on the Porirua road. He has ever since resided in the locality, devoting himself mainly to farming pursuits.” New Zealand Times, Volume LXXI, Issue 4208, 20 November 1900, p5.

In his book Tawa Flat and the Old Porirua Road, Arthur Carman writes that Alexander Brown came to live at the Halfway early in the 1870’s

“Early in the 1870’s Alexander ‘Sandy’ Brown occupied the Halfway House, remaining there until about 1890. Mr Brown himself kept a fine team of horses, and carried out a number of big contracting jobs, and it was he who built the large two-storey house, set back from the road.” (1982, p. 71).

Mr S. Purvis of Pahiatua, a descendant, said that Alexander Brown operated a hostelry (public inn and accommodation) and way station (place for checking goods in transit) for stagecoaches passing along the main road.

Len Stebbings (1909-2005) whose family had farmed Stebbings Valley since the 1860’s described Sandy Brown as good with horses and undertaking contract work for farmers in the area.

In 1877, Alexander had to sell ten of his fine horses due to the unprofitable timber trade.

"Beauchamp, Campbell & Co have received instructions from Mr. Alexander Brown to sell by auction, at the Nag's Head Yards, Cuba-street, on Saturday, 5th May, at 2 o'clock — 4 powerful draught horses 6 useful harness horses 2 very handsome cobs The disposal of the draught horses by Mr. Brown simply arises from the timber carrying trade being unprofitable, in the face of heavy arrivals from seaboard. The horses are of undeniable character, and were bred and imported from Canterbury. Terms cash." Evening Post, Volume XV, Issue 102, 2 May 1877, p3.

In 1881 he was judging draught horses for gold medal prizes at the Wairarapa and East Coast Pastoral and Agricultural Society. Wairarapa Daily Times, Volume 3, Issue 917, 4 November 1881, p2.

It's possible that the Alexander Brown of Picton, selling the Ohariu timber mill in 1882, is Alexander Brown of the Halfway, who was heavily involved in the movement of timber.

"The whole of the valuable machinary, including 25-h.p. engine, 2 Cornish boilers, self-acting vertical benches, self-acting travelling circular benches, planing machines, circular and vertical saws, logging and timber trucks, turning lathes, anvils, hammers, punches, timber jacks, shafting and pulleys, &c &c. Now in and upon the Ohariu Sawmill. This - sale is a rare opportunity for decent, careful men who understand the business to make a fortune. There is many years cutting in the bush, and the proximity of the mill to the City of Wellington gives it an increasing value."  New Zealand Times, Volume XXXIX, Issue 6742, 25 November 1882, p4.

Stagecoach to railcoach and a new Halfway House

In 1885 the Manawatu Steam and Rail Company rail line was built, cutting across the hills and farms of early settlers in the Halfway (Glenside), separating the main grazing land from the farm homesteads and the centre of farm operations. The Brown's property was one of several affected, with the Company taking  3 1/2 acres (Carman, 1988, p.169).

Perhaps in anticipation of the end of the stagecoach era and loss of stage coach business on the Porirua Road, Alexander and Margaret Brown built themselves a fine new home, less than 100 yards from the old Halfway House and stables.

In 1887, the name of the new house was referred to in newspapers as “Gowan Bank” however the name “Halfway House” stayed with the house throughout the years and continues to be known as “The Halfway House” today. The old Halfway House was tenanted, and burned down in 1891.

The railway line proved burdensome and costly to the Browns. On the evening of 2nd December, 1886, the railway gates permitting farm access across the lines blew open. Three horses wandered onto the lines and were hit by a train. A graphic report about the incident was reported in the New Zealand Times. Alexander Brown sued the Railway Company for the loss.

"An accident occurred on the Manawatu Railway this morning, by which three horses belonging to a settler named Alexander Brown were killed and the safety of the passengers by the early train from town was endangered. It appears that on Mr. Brown's land, which is situated about a mile the other side of Johnsonville, there is a railway crossing protected by gates, but without any cattle-stops. During last night one of the gates, it is supposed, blew open, and the three horses, which were grazing in the adjoining paddock, strayed on to the line and wandered into the cutting in the direction of Porirua. The train this morning came upon them here, and as the animals could not get off the line they galloped in front of the train for about a mile, when they came to some cattle-stops at another crossing. All three became entangled in the stops, and were mangled under the train."
Evening Post, Volume XXXII, Issue 169, 2 December 1886, p2.

"A case was heard by Mr Wardell, R.M., yesterday, in which Mr Alexander Brown, a carrier, residing at Johnsonville, sued the Wellington-Manawatu Railway Company for £75, the value of three horses (two valued at £30 each, and one at £15) which were destroyed on the line by the train, in consequence, the plaintiff alleged, of the Company having failed to provide sufficient gates and approaches to the plaintiff’s property, through which the line runs. Mr Gully was for the plaintiff, and Mr W. T. L. Travers for the defendant Company., The evidence taken on both sides was rather lengthy. The plaintiff's evidence was to the effect that the gates through which the horses went on the line was defective, and several witnesses were called in support of this allegation. On the other hand, however, evidence was adduced on behalf of the Company to the effect that the gate was in good order, and that no accident would have happened had it been kept shut. At the conclusion of the evidence the matter was adjourned till today, when counsel will be heard." New Zealand Times, Volume XLVIII, Issue 8007, 11 February 1887, p2.


"His Worship Mr Wardell gave the following judgment yesterday in the case of Brown v. Wellington and Manawatu Railway Company, a claim for compensation for horses destroyed through alleged negligence of the Company."

"I find, on the evidence that the plaintiffs horses trespassed on the defendant’s railway in consequence of the gate on a crossing provided for the accommodation of the plaintiff having been blown open, and were there killed by a train in motion. The spring latch of the gate had become insufficient to secure it against the force of the wind. This defect was well-known to the plaintiff, but was unknown to the defendant, for although the ganger had found the gate open he discovered no defect in the fastening. The plaintiff being fully aware of the special danger to stock trespassing on the line arising from the close proximity of a curved crossing, and of the risk of trespass, owing to the insecure state of the gate, took.no steps to bring the insecure condition of the' gate to the knowledge of the defendant, but continued to depasture stock in the adjacent paddock, using the gate from time to time, occasionally fastening it with a piece of cord. Mr Gaily has contended that there was no duty on the plaintiff to make the insecure state of the gate known to the defendant, and that failure to do so cannot be held to be negligence."

"I have found no. English case which appears directly to govern my decision in this case; but Shearman on Negligence (page 546) says—" After a proper fence has been erected, it is the duty of every person interested in its maintenance to make reasonable efforts to give notice to the Railway Company of any defects in it which may came under his actual notice; and if he fails to do so, he cannot recover any damage be may sustain by reason of such defect, if it is not known to some agent of the Company whose duty it was to communicate information of the fact to the officers having charge of such matters, and he refers to the American case Polor v. New York Central Railway Company (16 N.Y. 476), in which Seldon, J., says : “There is no doubt that, although the statute imposes upon the Railroad Company the absolute duty of maintaining fences, gates, &c., yet a duty in this respect also devolved upon the proprietors along the road. They have no right quietly to fold their arms and permit their cattle to stray upon the railroad track through the known insufficiency of the fences, which the Corporation are bound to maintain. As it would be impracticable for the Railroad Company to keep a constant watch on every gate and rod of fence along the line, it is but reasonable to require of the adjacent proprietors, when defects have actually come to their knowledge, to make reasonable efforts to apprise the Company of such defects.”

"I shall accept the principle of this decision for my guidance in this case, and hold that the plaintiff cannot recover. I shall therefore enter judgment for the defendant Company with costs.

"Mr Gully, who appeared for the plaintiff, gave notice of appeal."
New Zealand Times, Volume XLVIII, Issue 8022, 2 March 1887, Page 3

Later that year, in August, the Brown's 13 year old daughter died at the Halfway House. As if this wasn't enough, in 1888, fire broke out on the Brown’s property as a result of the Railway Company’s actions, and the Brown's took a further civil case out against the Company.

"A civil action is being heard in the Magistrate's Court this afternoon as we go to press in which the plaintiff, Alexander Brown, a carrier, of Johnsonville, seeks to recover an amount of £70 from the Wellington-Manawatu Railway Company, as damages alleged to have been caused by the defendants lighting a fire on the railway line which spread and destroyed certain fences, grass, bush, and timber on the plaintiff's property. Mr. Skerrett is acting on behalf of the claimant, and Mr. Edwards (instructed by Mr. Gully) appears for the defendant company."
Evening Post, Volume XXXVI, Issue 86, 9 October 1888, p3.

"Further evidence was taken in the Resident Magistrate's Court yesterday afternoon in the civil case brought by Alexander Brown against the Wellington and Manawatu Railway Company, in which the sum of £70 is claimed as damages for injury done to property through the negligence of the defendant’s servants in lighting a fire near the railway line at Johnsonville. The case was further adjourned until Monday next, at 11 am. Mr Skerrett appeared for the plaintiff, and Mr Edwards for the defendant Company."
New Zealand Times, Volume LI, Issue 8513, 20 October 1888, p4.

"The taking of evidence in the civil case of Alexander Brown v. Wellington-Manawatu Railway Company, in which the plaintiff claims £70 as damages for injury done to property through fire, was concluded in the Magistrate's Court yesterday afternoon. Mr. Robinson, R.M., reserved his decision, it being arranged that before judgment was delivered His Worship Should visit the locality of the fire. Mr. J. Wallace, manager of the defendant’s company, intimated that he would place a special train at the disposal of His Worship for the purpose on Saturday morning. Mr. Skerrett is acting for the plaintiff and Mr. Edwards for the defendant."
Evening Post, Volume XXXVI, Issue 98, 23 October 1888, p2.

"Decision in the civil ease of Alexander Brown, carrier, of Johnsonville, v. the Wellington-Manawatu Railway Company, in which the plaintiff claimed £70 as compensation for damage caused to his property by a fire alleged to have been negligently lighted by the defendant company, was given this morning by Mr Robinson, R.M. His Worship said he could not uphold the contention of the defence that the burning of grass upon the railway line was a necessary act under The Railway Construction and Land Act, 1881. It was doubtless necessary to keep the line clear, but he could not see that the use of fire for that purpose was anywhere expressly authorised by Statute. Negligence had been imputed by the plaintiff in the present case, and his Worship said he failed to see how that imputation could be avoided. The company's servants knew they were dealing with a highly dangerous thing in using fire, and though they certainly took some trouble to extinguish it, they left some still burning, and it was proved that the wind had carried the fire to the plaintiff's property He was obliged, therefore, to hold that the defendant company had been guilty of negligence and they would be liable on that ground, even if they had (as they had contended) statutory authority to use fire for clearing their line. The evidence as to damage was very conflicting, but his Worship took it as proved that the plaintiff had suffered loss by the burning of a quantity of grass, of some rata timber, of a small piece of bush for shelter, and of some fencing. He would enter up judgment for the plaintiff for £12 10s, with costs £13 0s 4d. Mr. Skerett appeared for the plaintiff, and Mr. Edwards for the defendant company." 
Evening Post, Volume XXXVI, Issue 110, 6 November 1888, p2. 

Death of young daughter

In 1887, on Saturday, 27 August, the Brown’s fifth daughter Margaret Anna Brown died at Gowan Bank, the Halfway House, aged 13. 

"Brown. On Saturday; 27th August, at Gowan Bank, Porirua Road, Margaret Anna, fifth and much beloved daughter, of Mr Alexander Brown, aged 13 years."
New Zealand Times, Volume XLX, Issue 8184, 8 September 1887, p10.

"Funeral Notice. The friends of Alexander Brown, Johnsonville, are respectfully invited to attend the funeral of his late daughter Margaret Anna, which will leave his residence for Johnsonville cemetery at 3 p.m. on Tuesday next. E. & A. Collett, Undertakers."
Evening Post, Volume XXXIV, Issue 50, 27 August 1887, p3.

Perhaps, because of this tragedy and the troubles with the Railway Company, the Brown's decided to move north to Hawera.

Gowan Bank, the Halfway House leased

When the Brown's moved to Hawera, the property was managed in their absence by Mr J Orr, of the Wellington City Buffet Hotel. Mr Orr lived at Johnsonville and could keep an eye on the property. 

In 1895 the house and land was leased to Mr Fred Rongen, a Collie dog and poultry breeder, for kennels, and became known as Gowan Bank Kennels.  When the Rongen's moved on two years later, Mr Orr was advertising the property for lease again. By then it was known as Gowan Bank House.

"At Johnsonville, the nice Family Residence known as Gowan Bank House, containing eight rooms, bathroom, p.w.c, copper built in, and water laid on, and about four acres of land ; also, a good fowl run and stable ; situated 1 ½ miles from Railway Station on Porirua-road. For further particulars apply at City Buffet Hotel, or to Mr. J. Orr, Johnsonville."
Evening Post, Volume LIII, Issue 43,20 February 1897, p1.

Death of Alexander Brown

In Hawera, it was reported in the Hawera & Normanby Star, that on the 4 July, 1900, Alexander Brown’s daughter Isobel, married W. D. Taylor of Napier. Four months later, the same newspaper reported that Mr Brown had died after a long and painful illness. His body was brought back to The Halfway and he is buried at St Johns Anglican Church, Johnsonville. In his Will, he left everything to his wife. 

"Death. Brown – On Friday, November 16, 1900, at his residence, Tawhiti road, Hawera, after a long and painful illness, Alexander Brown, late of Gowan Bank, Johnsonville; aged 65 years."  Hawera & Normanby Star, Volume XXXXI, Issue 7073, 17 November 1900, p2.

Mrs Brown and daughter Gracie, who never married, went to live in Mangatainoka, to be near Isobel. Mrs Brown died in 1923 and is buried at Mangatainoka cemetery. Other members of the Brown family are buried near by. The Halfway House continued to be leased until it was sold in 1908.


"Another old identity has passed away in the person of Mr. Alexander Brown, of Porirua,. who was in his 67th year, emigrated from Dumbarton, Scotland, to Victoria, in the early days of the gold fever, and came on to New Zealand in 1861. He was for three years on the southern goldfields, and afterwards settled in Wellington, where he was for many years engaged as a carter. Over twenty years ago Mr. Brown settled at Porirua, and since then he has engaged mainly in farming pursuits."
Evening Post, Volume LX, Issue 122, 20 November 1900, p4.

"On Friday last Mr Alexander Brown, of Porirua, passed away, in his 67th year. The deceased was an old Wellington identity. In fact, he was well known from one end of the colony to the other. Deceased came out from Dumbarton (Scotland) to Victoria, and was on the early goldfields of that colony. The outbreak of the Otago diggings attracted Mr Brown to New Zealand in 1861, and he was engaged for some time in carting operations on the southern goldfields. In 1864 he came up to Wellington, and from thence went across to Marlborough, where he put in some time on the Wakamarina goldfields. Later on he returned to 'Wellington, and was engaged drawing timber to Stewart and Greenfield’s mill, which was situated in Willis street, at the intersection of Lambton quay. He was the first man to introduce proper timber drays to the city, and he built up a large connection in timber drawing from Porirua to the city. Some time in the seventies Mr Brown settled on land in the Porirua district, and established the old “half-way house” on the Porirua road. He has ever since resided in the locality, devoting himself mainly to farming pursuits. A brother of deceased for a considerable time held the office of inspector of public roads and bridges in Otago, but it is not now known whether or not he survives." New Zealand Times, Volume LXXI, Issue 4208, 20 November 1900, p5.

"Mr Alexander Brown, of Porirua, who was widely known and esteemed, died at Hawera on Friday lost, in his 67th year. Deceased came out from Scotland to Victoria and thence to Otago in 1861 at the time of the outbreak of the diggings. In 1864 he came to Wellington, and then to Marlborough, where he was engaged on the goldfields. He was the first person to introduce proper timber drays to Wellington, and he built up a large connection in timber hauling to Porirua to the city. He subsequently settled down at Porirua, where he carried on farming pursuits."
Wairarapa Daily Times, Volume XXVI, Issue 6712, 20 November 1900, p2. 

Alexander and Margaret Brown’s family

Alexander Brown died on November 16, 1900 and is buried at St John Anglican Church cemetery, in Johnsonville. His wife Margaret Clarkson Craig BROWN died 4th February 1923, aged 79 and is buried at Mangatainoka cemetery. The BROWNS had seven children.

Gracie Alexandra, d1942 (age 75)
Helen Mary 1868-1953 (age 85)
Isobel Margaret d1943 (age 71)
Margaret Anna d1887 (age 13)
Dominica 1879-1972 (age 93)
Roy James 1883-1934 (aged 56)

Jean (her name is also recorded as Jeanie or Jeanni ) married Walter CLEEVE-EDWARDS (d1929) in 1886. He was a respected railway engineer from Otago. He later served in the Boer War and lived in South Africa for many years in various public works appointments. He was appointed chief resident and chief engineer of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands and the representative of the Pacific Phosphate Company.  At the time of his death, he and Jeanie were living in Sydney. The CLEEVE-EDWARDS had a daughter and three sons. One son died in France during service in World War I. 

Their children were:
Cecil CLEEVE-EDWARDS (b1886)
Awdrey [Awdry?] CLEEVE-EDWARDS (b1888)
Ruth Lois CLEEVE-EDWARDS (1897-1984)
Eric Roy Brereton CLEEVE-EDWARDS (1900-1977)

Gracie never married. She died on 20 July 1942 and was cremated. There is a plaque to her memory on her mother's burial stone at Mangatainoka.

In 1894 Helen Mary BROWN married Frederick Haslam Frescheville BAKEWELL, M.A. (1858-1935)
The children were:
Beatrix Helen BAKEWELL (b1898)
Roger Anker Frescheville BAKEWELL (1903-1967) 

All three children of Helen and Frederick became Doctors. Their son Roger is commemorated with them at St John Anglican Church in Johnsonville, alongside Alexander BROWN and his young daughter Margaret BROWN.

In 1900, Isobel Margaret BROWN married William Dixon TAYLOR (d1949 aged 87), a farmer, and lived at Mangatainoka. The children were:
Margaret Elizabeth TAYLOR (1902-1974) m James Donald GARDINER in 1926
Ina Kathleen TAYLOR (1904-1990) m Simon PURVIS
Ian Montague TAYLOR (1904-1980) m Doris HALL
Joyce Gracie TAYLOR (1907-1983) m Leslie Vivian JAMES in 1934
Stuart Charles TAYLOR (1915-1980) m Colleen Marsh BOYD (1920-2009) in 1940

In 1914 Dominica BROWN married Sidney Francis BRANDON (d1934). They had no children. Dominica and Sidney are buried together at Mangatainoka cemetery.

In 1914 Roy James BROWN married Anne Maria STEWART. The children were:
Roy Stewart BROWN b1915
Wilfred James BROWN b1916
Lillian May BROWN b1918
Vera BROWN b1921