The Sole Society, a Family History Society researching Sole, Saul, Sewell, Solley and similar names

SOLE Reunion in New Zealand 1997

By Bob Sheldon

This article was originally published in the April 1998 edition of Soul Search, the journal of The Sole Society.

Before my retirement,  my business career frequently caused me to visit New Zealand during a period covering some 20 Years. Although I met many New Zealanders, some of who became good friends, in all that lime I did not know I had so many relations living there.

From my connection with the Sole Society over the past 3 years, I discovered that I have at least two distinct sets of cousins living in NZ. Firstly, there are the descendants of the family group of ancestors who had emigrated to New Plymouth in 1841 seeking a new life after suffering the hardships of farm labouring in East Kent at that time (see Don Steel's article in Journal Vol 1 No 7 April 1995). A more recent emigrant, who I discovered was born and grew up only some two miles from my birthplace in East Kent, had left the UK for Auckland with her husband more recently in the 1970s

I made early contact by letter with Society members Sue Sutton (Auckland) and Marie and David Sole (New Plymouth) when I was satisfied with our family tree connections. I explained that my wife Ann and I were at that time making provisional plans to again visit NZ in 1997 as part of our ruby wedding celebrations and we received very kind invitations to pay them a visit. 

So plans were finalised and we arrived in Auckland in mid‑November. We were met at the airport by Sue who had waited patiently for our arrival which was some 90 minutes overdue. We stayed with Sue and Rod for two days and had interesting discussions about our research experiences into our respective lines which merged with our common ancestors James (1796 ‑ 1850) and Elizabeth (nee Wiles) Sole.

Sue's father James, a sprightly 85 years, now lives near to his daughter in Auckland having spent most of his life in Thanet (the former island which includes the towns of Margate, Ramsgate and Broadstairs and the villages of St. Peters and St. Nicholas all of which have been home to the SOLEs). He and I shared memories of the village primary school which we both attended and although some 25 years apart, we both were taught by "Dicky" Bird who had become headmaster during my time there.

James also told me he had lived for many years very close to three of my uncles and aunts in Margate but they had never knowingly crossed each other's path. I suppose that has to be true for most distant cousins even though they share the same name and are not so distant geographically.

We finally had to say our good byes to these newly found relatives promising to keep each other informed with future research findings. I was pleased to note that Sue is seriously considering joining the growing numbers of e‑mail subscribers that will keep us in even closer touch.

We drove south to New Plymouth and on arrival at our hotel were pleased to receive a welcoming note from Dianne Thorstensen who is the secretary of the NZ Sole Family Reunion committee. Society members will recall her article in our very first journal (June 1992) detailing the events of their 1991 reunion when 420 SOLEs gathered to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the arrival in New Plymouth of their five male ancestors with their mother Susannah and step father Richard Foreman in 1841. To further mark. the occasion the committee had commissioned a book 'From the Marshes to the Mountain' by Faye Clarke which is a very fine record of some 1900 known descendants.

Arrangements had been made for Dianne's father Pat Sole to meet us personally to show us some of the SOLE sites in the area. Pat had been the original convenor of the first meeting in 1987 that led up to the successful 1991 reunion.

First he took us to see the graves of Richard and Susannah in the churchyard of St. Mary's. Then on to the Tarranaki Bowls Club where Pat has been a member for only two years, but clearly he has some skill at the game as he had already participated in local tournaments. In pride of place on the club wall is the photo of J.D. Sole who was the first captain of the club when it was opened in 1910. Elsewhere around the room we saw the many SOLE names appearing on the Club's Championship notice boards.

Pat later invited us to his home that he had lived in for over 50 years. He had been a farmer on his land for much of this time but now it is being developed into residential estates. Very nice houses they are, but I sensed that he would rather have retained the wonderful rural views he once enjoyed and which are gradually disappearing. Pat now lives there on his own having recently lost his wife Joan, sadly just before they were to celebrate their golden wedding.

In the evening, Dianne, Pat's daughter, and her husband Steve invited us to dinner where we met other members of her family. Her father was there, as was uncle Geoff Sole with his wife Joan, Dianne's two daughters Sarah Jane and Michelle, and Marie and David Sole who had been my only contact prior to the visit.

We enjoyed a very pleasant evening together during which I presented Dianne with our Society's charts and supporting papers which showed how our two lines were connected by Edward and Mercy (nee Chittenden) Sole, who were married in 1792, together with full family trees of all his known descendants who stayed back in England. Apart from Sue Sutton whom we met in Auckland we do not know of any other cousins from this line who have emigrated from the UK.

After dinner I was shown a SOLE coat of arms that had been acquired a few years ago. This was a very well produced shield in a design complete with three fishes. It is an interesting object but its authenticity has not been established.

The next day, David and Marie Sole took us on another pleasant tour of New Plymouth including a stop at the Ngamamaku Gardens, a local tourist attraction which was created in 1987 and now maintained by cousin John Sole and his partner Tony Barnes in their spare time; they both work full time in New Plymouth. They have had their setbacks, like a cyclone in 1988 and floods in 1990 but they are to be congratulated on the results especially the Rhododendrons.

Then we visited the site of Soleville, so called because at one time so many SOLEs lived there. The name has long since been discarded and all the old buildings have been replaced but Mount Egmont (8,000 ft) still maintains its unchanged vigil over Soleville and New Plymouth just as it did in those days of the early settlers.

Another surprise awaited us at Marfarlanes Restaurant where other members of the Reunion Committee, including Jim Sole (the chairman) and his wife Pearl, had come to have lunch with us. After taking group photos in very strong sunshine, we enjoyed a pleasant meal together during which Jim told me he hoped to mark the year 2000 with another reunion.

After lunch, Jim and Pearl kindly invited us to their home for afternoon tea. They live at Hawara on the road from New Plymouth to Wanganui which was our next stop before crossing from the north to south island for the continuation of our holiday.

Thanks are due to all those long lost cousins that we met for making our brief stay in the north island of NZ so memorable. We are many miles distant physically but we shall always enjoy the closeness that comes from knowing that some of the genes of Edward and Susannah who lived some 200 years ago are alive in all of us today.

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