On the 7th of November 1848, John Kirk Penney married Robina Miller Robertson at St Cuthbert's Church Midlothian, Scotland.
After their marriage, they made their home in Culross, on the northern bank of the Firth of Forth, just north of Edinburgh and near where the Forth Bridge now stands.
John Kirk Penney was headmaster of a school for boys whom he prepared for University Entrance.
They subsequently had nine children, all born in Culross. Alexander was their eldest son. The old parish register for Culross reads for April 1853 as follows: "John Kirk Penney, schoolmaster of Culross, and Mrs Robina Miller Robertson, his wife, had a son born to them on the 5th day of April 1853 and baptized on the 12th day of April by the Reverend Peter Morrison, minister of Saline, and named Alexander." Alexander had an elder sister, May, (born in 1851) and his other brothers and sisters were Patrick, Mary Catherine (Kate), Anne, John, Robert, William and Amelia (Amy). Of these nine children, only Alexander actually emigrated to New Zealand, but all of Patrick's children eventually settled here or lived here for a time.
Because of his home being near the sea, Alexander became a good swimmer and developed a love of sailing and boats. (In later years he showed his children a misshapen small finger, damaged in a sailing mishap in his youth.) Alexander went to Edinburgh University where he took Latin and Greek and was being educated to be a Presbyterian Minister. However, he left University and went to Bermuda in the West Indies where he taught young gentlemen in a private school. (We believe he actually set out for New Zealand at this time as we have in our possession an old wooden trunk of his on which is written in faded lettering: "Not wanted on the Voyage, A.R. Penney, Passenger per 'SS Victory' to Dunedin." However, Dunedin is overstamped with 'Bermuda'). In Bermuda he taught at St Georges Grammar School where he became ill with a tropical fever (enteric fever) and returned to Edinburgh. About 1880 he went to a Paris Exposition with his sister Kate.
In January 1885 he landed in New Zealand (possibly at Timaru aboard the Rakaia). After his arrival he went to Geraldine Flat School where he taught until 1887. As headmaster in 1885 he received a salary of 165 pounds per year, in 1886 145 pounds and 2 shillings and in 1887 138 pounds. At Geraldine Flat he taught his wife-to-be, Margaret (Maggie) Shaw. Maggie was the eldest daughter of David and Margaret Shaw (nee Stevenson). Maggie was 17 when she married Alexander on the 24th of February 1887. They were married at her parents home at Geraldine Flat by the Rev George Barclay.
After their marriage, they went to the North Island, to Eketahuna, a milling area which had been settled by Danish people, and was then known as "40-mile-bush". Alexander was the first teacher of the Eketahuna school, where as headmaster in 1888 he received an annual salary of 210 pounds, in 1889 205 pounds, and in 1890 215 pounds. The story is told that Alexander used to go shooting wood-pigeons in the bush in the early mornings before school. In fact he became so engrossed that sometimes the pupils of the school would come in search of him when school-time arrived.
Alexander and Maggie's two eldest children were born in Eketahuna, Wilkie in 1887 and Dave in 1889. From Eketahuna, the family moved by sailing ship, to the West Coast of the South Island, a journey which must have been an ordeal for Maggie, as she disliked sailing and suffered badly from sea sickness.
In 1891 at Dungaville school, inland from Greymouth, Alexander earned 145 pounds as his headmasters' salary. By 1892 the family had moved again, to Christchurch, where Alexander worked as a reporter for the "Lyttleton Times". Here he lived at least until 1895 at 12 Windmill Road, Sydenham. He then went back to teaching at Springburn in mid-Canterbury.
On all these moves, the family piano went with them, in spite of the difficulties of transport in those times.
Shortly after this latest move, some Government blocks of land came up for lease, near Barrhill. As he now had four children and teachers' salaries were so small Alexander decided to go farming and took up two blocks of about 40 acres altogether at Marawiti. It was here that Dora was born soon after. The rest of the family were born here and went to school in Barrhill. Alexander must have been one of the early settlers at Marawiti, with no trees or fences there when he arrived. He grew wheat, milked about half a dozen cows and kept a large vegetable garden. After, a further 25 acres were added to the original blocks.
Alexander remained here until his death in Ashburton hospital on the 5th of October 1928 at the age of 75 years. Maggie Penney died on 28th May 1936 at her daughter, Ruby Hewett's home "The Peaks, Hawarden". They are both buried in Ashburton.
Prepared by Margaret Bayly (nee Penney)
Updated: 11 November 2006|
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