In 1912, Alfred Oldham wrote an account of his life which included some wonderful anecdotes illustrating the lives of our early settlers. Alfred was born into a large working class family in Chilwell, Nottinghamshire. He became a lay minister, preaching on the Methodist circuit on Sundays while working as a lacemaker. Alfred married Elizabeth in 1853 and wrote, “Of course, I thought that my friends in the circuit would wish me well in my new life, but it was not so; the only man who spoke to me about it said that I ought to be horsewhipped for getting married.”
By 1859, the lacemaking trade was in decline, so Alfred and his family left Liverpool on The Mermaid, arriving in Auckland 100 days later. Their group headed north, settling on a block inland from Mangawhai. The first job was to build a house. Alfred followed another settler’s example by making one out of Totara bark. One young lady writing to friends said that the house was “like a long haystack, with holes in the sides for windows”. When the family moved to their allotted 100 acres at Maungaturoto, the house was pulled down, carried on foot to the site and rebuilt.
Once while clearing bush, Alfred’s axe caught on supplejack and badly cut his foot. He bound it up as best he could and sent his son for help. The track was narrow with stumps in the way. He couldn’t be carried out, so crawled on hands and knees for about one-and-a-half miles. It was months before he could work again.
In 1872, the Oldhams moved to Kaihu. Alfred worked for Mr Tinne’s flax mill. The company wanted their workers and gum diggers to attend religious services and when Alfred asked the manager how the people lived there, the response was “like heathens”. Alfred worked 10-hour days and conducted services every Sunday night. These were held in a room over a store. To reach it, everyone had to climb up a 20-rung ladder bringing their own seats and candles.
For over 20 years, he preached in North Auckland doing the work of a missionary in conjunction with the Rev. W. Gittos. He had regular contact with Bishop Selwyn and related one incident he found amusing. “When the Bishop appointed the person to conduct services in the church, he told him that he would like his readers to shave. That person said, ‘My Lord, I have never shaved myself in my life!’ The Bishop said ‘I will shave you’, which he did to the satisfaction of all concerned.”
The family finally moved to Waiuku, which was then central to the flax milling industry. Alfred died in 1919, 18 years after his beloved Elizabeth, leaving eight children, 40 grandchildren and 19 great-grandchildren.