Wednesday, 31 July 2013


                              Samuel James McGruther

Our Kawhia cousin, Bella Pease, has given us some great information that we have long been missing in the family history of John (Gunny) McGruther. It's concerning his brothers Sam and Mutu whom we knew very little about. In an earlier article I referred to Sam McGruther as the 'mysterious' Sam who we thought might never have existed because so little was known about him. It appeared Mutu was well known but Sam seemed mysteriously quiet. As it turns out he was very much real and thanks to Bella the record can be put right and an important gap has been filled in.

Bella's grandmother, Iri, who was the daughter of Pera (Pohepohe) - Te Anu's sister - was a close friend and relative of Sam and as children they pretty much grew up together. In their young adult years they embarked on a holiday to the South Island together and while there Sam bought her a pair of gold-edged greenstone earrings. Some time after their return Iri lost one of the earrings at the Te Awamutu races. She kept the remaining earring and handed it down to her granddaughter, Bella. It has become a special family heirloom to be passed on to the daughters of each descending generation.

Samuel James McGruther was born at Kawhia 5 June, 1884, to Robert McGruther and Te Anu Amokawhia Pohepohe. This makes him the younger brother of our own John Honi Ruki McGruther by two years. When Robert and Te Anu separated Robert took John and went to live in Pirongia while Sam and Mutu remained in Kawhia with their mother.

Te Anu remarried to a man named French. Sam and Mutu became part of the new family and Sam became known as Sam French, which partly explains why we Pirongia Bells knew virtually nothing about him; we never knew him as Sam French. Another explanation is that our grandfather told us little to nothing about his Kawhia kin, something that seems staggeringly peculiar when we look at it from our perspective. However, we don't really know what went on during those troubled times in their lives, but reading between the lines we catch a sense that something hard and bitter must have occurred to fragment the family so permanently.

Sam left Kawhia and moved to Westport where he worked as a fitter. Westport was a coal mining town so we would suppose his occupation was mine related. He married one Mary Lucas (nee Hohepa) and they had two children, Rangi Doris (b. 1912) and Joseph Thomas Frederick (b. 1915).

On 27 February, 1916 at the age of thirty-two, Sam enlisted in the army to fight in World War One. He did his military training at Narrow Neck and was commissioned to the rank of Corporal. On July 26th he boarded the ship, Ulimaroa, bound for Devonport in England; he was probably heading for the trenches in France. Sadly, he never made it to England or France; he contracted spinal meningitis and died at sea, 7 August, 1916, less than a month after embarkation.

The Military record of Samuel James McGruther. Right click to enlarge.
I feel quite troubled about poor Sam and his family. I feel even more troubled that we knew so little about him. I feel troubled that my grandfather said nothing about him and I don't even know if he mourned his death. Certainly, we Pirongia folk had no contact with him or his family prior to and after his passing. One can only imagine the grief and anguish his wife and children must have felt at the news of his death so shockingly soon after leaving for the front and I am left to wonder about his wife Mary and the children Rangi Doris and Joseph and what became of them.

Mutu McGruther remained at Kawhia but I need to gather more information about him. When I know more it will be added to the blog. He became commonly known as Mutu Pohepohe instead of McGruther. It seems that John Honi Ruki was the only one that kept the McGruther surname, the other two brothers preferring French and Pohepohe. This suggests some alienation in the family. There are also some historical whisperings about John's land holdings and money from them changing hands in mysterious ways which could have contributed to the family's fragmentation, but nothing can be said with too much certainty until more reliable information is available.

Written by David Bell
Information Contributed by Bella Pease


1. Cenotaph Data Base, Auckland War Memorial Museum (for a full copy of his military record go online to Cenotaph Database and search for Samuel James French).

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