13 October 2014

Faces from the past: My great, great grandmother, Marianna Rydzewska

Marianna (nee Rydzewska) SCHULTZ
This beautiful photo used to hang high on the wall in the front bedroom at my great grandparents home in Stratford Street in Gore. This is the face of my maternal great, great grandmother, Marianna Rosalia RYDZEWSKA. She was born in Muhlbanz, West Prussia (now part of Poland) on the 19th of August 1859, the second daughter of August Valentin RYDZEWSKI and his wife Rosalia Marianna SLIWINSKA.

In July 1872 Marianna (age 13), her parents and her siblings Johann, Francisca and Paulina left their homeland behind and sailed from Hamburg, Germany on board the sailing ship ‘Palmerston’,  disembarking at Port Chalmers, New Zealand on Christmas Eve 1872. During the voyage Marianna met a very handsome young gentleman by the name of Johann Valentin SCHULTZ (age 25), and he became her husband three years later. They were married in the Catholic basilica in Invercargill, New Zealand on the 24th of November 1875.

Like many of the other Polish immigrants, after arriving in New Zealand Marianna and Johann anglicised their names to become Mary REGEFSKY and John SCHULTZ. After their marriage John and Mary went on to have a family of nine children, two of whom died as babies; Frank (b.1877), John (b.1879), Martha (b.1881), Joseph (b.1882), Thomas (b.1884), Adam (b.1886), James (b.1887 - my great grandfather), Alexander (b.1890), and Thomas (b.1893). 

Many of the Polish immigrants that settled in southern New Zealand lived in the area of East Gore then known as Germantown, with many of them working on the development of the railway. In time some of them were able to purchase land and John SCHULTZ purchased 200 acres at Croydon Bush, west of Gore. Life was tough for immigrant families trying hard to settle in a new country where they often struggled to be understood, but John and Mary worked hard to develop their land and raise their young family. 

But after several very poor years on the farm, and heavily in debt, John found himself in trouble and had to sell his land. The farm was auctioned off and he had to find other ways to feed his growing family. He spent time working on the maintenance of local roads, and also made some extra money shooting rabbits. However, his debt was too much for him and he was eventually declared as bankrupt in July 1887. 

From the "Mataura Ensign"
17 April 1894
From the "Mataura Ensign"
20 April 1894
In 1893 John fell seriously ill with tuberculosis and then contracted pneumonia and could no longer work to support his family. He died on the 2nd of November 1893, aged just 47. Mary was 34 years old and seven months pregnant at the time, and was left a widow with seven young children to raise on her own. Her parents and her brother and two sisters were all living locally, so they would have been available to give her some support and help. 

But it must have been a very tough time for Mary as six months after John’s death I found an interesting report in the newspaper of a concert being held to benefit Mary and her young children. There were mixed reviews of the actual concert but in total it raised over £18 for her, which was a fair amount of money way back in 1894. They must have been a well-liked family for the town to do this for them.

Although Mary never fully came to grips with the English language and struggled with it throughout much of her life, she became a naturalised New Zealander in May 1926. My late nana (Doris, nee SCHULTZ) told me that as a child she would go to the home of Mary (her grandmother) each day after school and do chores for her. At times she struggled to understand her grandmother but remembered her fondly and said she was always very, very kind to her. 

Mary died aged 72 on the 22nd of January 1932 after a long battle with cancer of the liver. She was buried with John and their two young sons, Thomas and Adam, in the Gore Cemetery.

I have nothing but admiration for Mary and would love to have been around 100 years ago so I could have known her. To me she seems like a very strong woman, and I guess she would have had to have been to put the bad times behind her and carry on and raise her seven children on her own. To do it in this day and age would be difficult, but to do it 125 years ago would be extremely hard, especially too as she struggled so much with the language in her new homeland. I am very, very proud to be descended from Mary, such a beautiful, kind and strong Polish woman.

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