The Smiths of Kaitaia

Pioneer Farmers

By Margaret M. Bowater, MA


Thomas William Portland Smith, known as TWP, was a most remarkable man, emerging from unclear origins in Ireland to become one of the founding fathers of New Zealand’s dairy industry, and something of a legend in his own district in the Far North of New Zealand.

His wife Jeanette, daughter of pioneer settlers James and Sarah Dunlop on the Gisborne Plains, was remarkable also for her roles as a wife in pioneer conditions, translator of Maori language in the community, mother of 14 children in 22 years, and hostess to new settlers in need of help. Yet many of their descendants have hardly heard of these remarkable forebears.

This book tells the story of Tom’s arrival in the British Army as a soldier and medical orderly, taking part in the Land Wars between Maori and Pakeha; his marriage to a capable young lady on the East Cape; their move to a raw Kaitaia landscape to establish one of the first dairy farms in the country; their burgeoning family; Tom’s multiple contributions to rural community development, from parenting to public morality, from roads to medical service, from agricultural shows to establishing a dairy factory, from education to politics, and friendship with settlers, local Maori and new immigrants. He wrote trenchant letters to the local papers, lobbied politicians and organized the isolated farmers into NZ’s first rural union. He attended its inaugural national Conference in Wellington, and made his mark - as a humourist! Even in his dying days he had his daughter read aloud to him from transcripts of parliamentary proceedings. Yet he died in obscurity and his gravestone stands neglected in a remote churchyard on the East Cape.

Tom and Jeanette belonged to the second generation of settlers in NZ, raising 6 sons and 7 daughters to maturity, losing one son by accident in childhood. In the third generation, all 6 surviving sons and 5 of their daughters carried on into farming, often bringing new land into production, and often involved in closely related activities such as cartage to create the needed capital, since only Grace married into wealth. All of them helped one another to get started, or helped look after children during hard times; none was known as violent, or a gambler or a drinker, though each had idiosyncracies. Some endured extreme poverty in the process; and the two youngest boys served in the Great War, returning wounded. Three were widowed relatively young; three were divorced; and three endured the loss of a child; while everyone worked hard to create a better future for the next generation.

In some ways, they were fortunate in their generation, since those in farming were less hurt by the Great Depression; their contribution lay in building the nation’s prosperity at a crucial time of development. But their foundations in turn were laid by Tom and Jeanette, parents who dedicated their lives to creating a strong family in a co-operative community.I want us, their descendants, to honour their story, and value the legacy they gave us.
Margaret Bowater,
Auckland 2010.

This book is dedicated to the memory
of my great-grandparents,
Thomas William Portland Smith, JP,
and his wife Jeanette Mary, nee Dunlop,
who helped to build our emerging nation.


1 volume, A4 spiral bound, b/w photos on most pages.
Contact us to order a copy. $20 + postage.