An opera singer, a victim of abuse and a man who died in a 15m well are buried at the Kihikihi Cemetery.

It might look like any other resting place, but the Oliver Street cemetery harbours fascinating secrets about people buried there in the 19th Century.

The stories of local families are being uncovered by the Te Awamutu branch of New Zealand Society of Genealogists to learn more about Kihikihi.

The resting place of Rea and William Thomson, in a family plot, in Kihikihi Cemetery. Photo / Dean Taylor
The resting place of Rea and William Thomson, in a family plot, in Kihikihi Cemetery. Photo / Dean Taylor

Branch member Sandra Metcalfe says there are a raft of interesting and shocking stories to tell.

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"If we don't tell them, they'll be lost forever," she says.

The Te Awamutu branch is encouraging residents to come forward and share information and photographs about family members buried in the Kihikihi Cemetery in the 19th Century to the early 20th Century.

It might look like any other resting place, but the Oliver Street cemetery harbours fascinating secrets about people buried there in the 19th Century. Photo / Bethany Rolston
It might look like any other resting place, but the Oliver Street cemetery harbours fascinating secrets about people buried there in the 19th Century. Photo / Bethany Rolston

"We want to find out more about these families and what stories they tell," Sandra says.

"Living descendants can help us put flesh on the bones of the people buried here."

The public is invited to free information session in the Kihikihi Town Hall on Sunday, March 31 at 1.30pm, followed by a tour through the cemetery.

An opera singer, a victim of abuse and a man who died in a 15m well are buried at the Kihikihi Cemetery. Photo / Bethany Rolston
An opera singer, a victim of abuse and a man who died in a 15m well are buried at the Kihikihi Cemetery. Photo / Bethany Rolston

The information session is being narrated by Waikato historian Lyn Williams, who will share snippets about the following families.

The list is provided by the Te Awamutu branch of New Zealand Society of Genealogists.

Corboy family: Local land owners and owners of several early Kihikihi businesses, including the Alpha Hotel. Several of William and Mary Corboy's descendants are buried in the Kihikihi Cemetery.

Kay family: Well-known farming and polo playing family. The focus for this talk is on Orakau Kay, second son of the original settler Andrew Kay.

Maunder family: The original settler, George Maunder, was in the Armed Constabulary at Taranaki and Kihikihi. Two of his sons fought in the Boer War. Several members of the Maunder family are buried in the Kihikihi Cemetery, including local identity Molly Maunder who died in 2015.

Rowland Leicester Mainwaring: Son of an English baronet, Mainwaring married Elizabeth (Rihi Ngawai Huanga) Sexey, a granddaughter of Rewi Maniapoto.

Temple family: Charles Temple served in the Forest Rangers and later settled in Kihikihi. His grandaughter Isabel bequeathed her grandfather's cottage to the community and it now stands on the Rata-tu Redoubt in Lyon Street. But all was not as it seemed in the Temple family at the turn of the 20th century, with her father being prosecuted for appalling living conditions and other misdemeanours.

Thomson family: William Thomson was a Forest Ranger, the son of a Royal Navy surgeon and the grandson of another Royal Navy surgeon who had fought in the Napoleonic Wars at the Battle of Copenhagen in 1807. William's wife Rea was a daughter of Rewi Maniapoto.

WH Grace: Former private secretary to Sir George Grey and "first-grade" native speaker. Sensationally divorced his first wife Eliza Tinipoaka in 1873. Second wife Margaret (Makareti Hinewai) was a niece of Rewi Maniapoto.

WF Lees: In its heyday, Lees' store in Kihikihi was the largest supplier of general merchandise in any Waikato country town — until it was destroyed by fire in 1934.

Evan Gill: The most unfortunate man in the cemetery. Not only did he lose his wife and children at sea on their way to New Zealand, but he also suffered crippling work-related injuries. To add insult to injury, he is in an unmarked grave.

Ellen Annie Lee (nee Gage): As Nellie Gage, she was a favourite amateur opera singer on the Auckland and Wellington concert platforms.

Quinn sisters: Both born in Ireland, one sister was raised in New Zealand, the other in Ireland — but reunited in later years and both buried in the same plot at the Kihikihi Cemetery. It is by sheer chance that this family did not board the Cospatrick, a sailing ship that founded off the Cape of Good Hope in 1874 with the loss of 476 lives.

John Rochfort: Surveyed the Main Trunk Railway line through the King Country. Trained as an engineer under Isambard Kingdom Brunel in the UK. Died while dining at the Star Hotel. Although married with children, he also had a defacto wife of high social standing in the local Māori community.

Mackinder: A local farmer who served the Kihikihi community for many years but committed suicide by jumping onto a 15m deep well.

For more information about the Kihikihi Cemetery talk and tour contact Sandra Metcalfe on 021 2069 119.