Old Lady Parfitt and other stories brought to life in new book

Photo of Gordonton Presbyterian Church
Gordonton Presbyterian Church


A book telling the struggles and triumphs of Gordonton residents from 100 years ago is almost complete. The project, part of the celebration of the centenary of Oaks Church, is coming together very well, says coordinator Valerie Morgan.

“Our history at Gordonton is actually very short. The contrasts between the lifestyles of those living a hundred years ago and now are huge. We have much to be thankful for as we stand on the shoulders of those who endured awful hardships, peat fires, boggy roads, stumpy paddocks, undeveloped unproductive land, poor communications, no electricity – it came to Gordonton about 1924 – rationing, wars, the Depression…”

Valerie says she has always been interested in stories that involve real people. “I’ve become more interested in history as I got older, now that the people I want to ask are no longer there to ask questions of!

“We wanted to record the grace of God towards the people who have worshipped in this church during the roller coaster of the times over the last 100 years, and through the stories of those people, their families and their faith.”

Getting the story

Getting the stories was interesting. “Victor Ballard left some facts handwritten on the back of an old calendar in the 1970s and 80s. Lex Riddell, who passed away in 2015, was more organised and wrote down lots of early stories and presented me with them, knowing we wanted to celebrate this centenary and thinking that he might not make it.

“We have minute books of women’s groups, and church elders’ meetings and administration notes. The national Presbyterian church was helpful, and we have accessed the library for texts to support the different themes of the book including early Maori history and how the gospel came to Gordonton first through the work of the Church Missionary Society at Taupiri.

Some families who have studied at EastWest College have contributed, so our reach is international! And present members have had their say too. Some are fifth generation of the pioneers and many go back five or more decades.”

Work on the book, which will feature colour photographs, began last October. “We started early and it has been a happy process at a leisurely pace, however we have had to keep pressing forward and the deadline is getting closer for us to get the work to the stage where we can ‘let it go’ and leave it with the printer.”

It has very much been a group task – “I have been grateful to those that have read the script, help to choose photos, worked on the layout and offered all sorts of help. I’ve never coordinated anything like this before.”

The committee consists of Judy Chrystall, Margaret Miers, Anne Macdonald, Alan Sharp and Marion Smith.

“We asked Alan because he is passionate about early history around here and researches in all directions. He made that part easy for me by presenting me with a folder of news cuttings going back to 1881! Margaret’s father was the historian for Fairfield Presbyterian Church which has a great photographic resource.”

Mrs Parfitt, left, with her daughter and granddaughter.

Our earliest storekeeper, Mrs Parfitt

To whet interest in the book, Valerie shares the story of one of Gordonton’s earliest storekeepers, Ellen Parfitt.

“Mrs Parfitt, and son George, bought the Gordonton store in 1907. The Post Office was set up in the store and she was the first postmistress. About this time the district began to be known as Gordonton, instead of Hukanui. Several people who still live in the area followed in Mrs Parfitt’s footsteps by working in the Gordonton Store and include Esther Cuperus, Heather Dickson and Clarice Hoban.

Originally from England, Mrs Parfitt had lived in Christchurch, Riverton, and Lawrence – where she managed a showroom of clothing, hats and corsetry – before coming to Gordonton.

A family tragedy occurred while they were living in Riverton. Their older son Fred was working in Dunedin at the DIC, a big department store. During the Christmas holidays in 1903, he died, aged 20, when crossing the Oreti River and his boat capsized.

Mr Parfitt, senior, died later that year. You never know what causes people to move away from an area, but I have no doubt that this would have been a motivating factor in the relocation of Mrs Parfitt and George to Gordonton. A new beginning, holding firmly to her faith in God.

Lex Riddell says she was affectionately known as Old Lady Parfitt, and was a faithful member of the Gordonton Presbyterian Church which was meeting in the Gordonton Hall when she and George arrived.

In fact she bought the very first harmonium (organ) for the church and played it regularly.. There is a photo of her amongst a large group of children at a Sunday school picnic in 1928-9. She was 74 when the original church was built. She died in 1929 aged 85.”

  • Centenary celebrations for the Gordonton Presbyterian Church kick off on Saturday 27 October, at Woodlands Homestead. Dinner will be held in the Gordonton Hall, and on Sunday a thanksgiving service will be held at the Oaks Christian Centre.  To find out more, email Valerie here.
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One thought on “Old Lady Parfitt and other stories brought to life in new book

  • June 18, 2021 at 11:03 am

    How can I get a copy of this book please.


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