History – Discovering her Bohemian roots

Biddy Orr adored her grandmother, Elizabeth Karl. When Biddy was aged four-and-a-half she was brought north from the Waikato for Christmas and met her Puhoi family, including her great grandmother, Mary Remiger, who had emigrated from Bohemia as a child and had never learned to speak English. So, Biddy began a lifelong love and fascination for the stories of family, Puhoi and Bohemia. Her great grandfather, Benedict Remiger, had emigrated as a 12-year-old with no close relatives. Fairly recently, Biddy discovered that he was a distant relative of Puhoi’s founder, Martin Krippner. Benedict and Mary Remiger had a family of three sons and 10 daughters.

In 1879, Biddy’s great uncle, Franz Karl, was due to be conscripted into the Austrian Army. He and two other youths escaped to Belgium in the dead of night. Franz made his way to New Zealand and joined his uncle, Joseph Karl’s family. Joseph’s family had emigrated to New Zealand with Martin Krippner and had settled in the Waikato after being part of Captain Krippner’s 3rd Waikato Regiment. After a few years, Franz’s parents, his sister and two brothers were able to join them. They brought from Bohemia a photo of a family outside a house and farm yard.

Franz’s youngest brother, John, aged nine when he emigrated, was sent to Auckland to learn bookkeeping and from there went to Puhoi. He met Elizabeth Remiger. They were married in a triple wedding ceremony in Puhoi in 1901. They returned to the Waikato to successfully farm, breed sheep, cattle and horses, grow fruit and shade trees from seeds brought with them from Bohemia, and produce wine and honey. Visits were exchanged with relatives in Puhoi.

Biddy grew up hearing and recording their stories. After marrying and raising her family, she was invited to go with a group to the Karl and Remiger homeland, then in Czechoslovakia. She sent a copy of a photo, handed down from her great grandparents, to a contact made through a newsletter. She mentioned the time she was arriving in Frankfurt. Imagine her surprise and delight when she was met at the airport by a descendant of the people in the photo and who could introduce her to other Karl and Remiger descendants then living in Germany.

Biddy meticulously researched and wrote the history of the Chotieschau Convent, which had been the feudal overlord of the lands the Puhoi settlers left. She researched her father’s family history and found connections to James Brock Tarr (a milkman who rose to become Mayor of Wellington), artist Alfred Sharpe and Australian bushranger Captain Moonlite, which resulted in an appearance on Australian TV.

Biddy Orr died this November, a lovely, gentle, hospitable lady who always had an interesting story to tell of the latest discovery she had made. This story is a tribute to her. Well done Biddy, a life well lived.

Jenny Schollum, Puhoi Historical Society

Puhoi Historical Society