Articles from New Zealand

By Elizabeth Feisst

Mary Gavin was born in June 1908 in Matamata, New Zealand and died just short of her 93rd birthday, in June 2001.

(Note: This article was written in June 2001 a few days after Mary's death. It was written as a tribute to her life. Some editing has occurred due to the personal nature of the original.)

Mary wrote the article on her mother - Mary Lovie-Schwarz (Nee Qualtrough)


Mary Gavin as a young woman Mary Gavin - about 1930

Mary was the eldest daughter of Bruno Schwarz himself born in Boerne, (pronounced Burnie) Kendall County, Texas (near San Antonio) in 1876 and Mary Lovie Qualtrough. born Orakau, Waikato, New Zealand. Along with his cousin, Ernest Schwarz, Bruno emigrated to New Zealand with his Feisst cousins in 1901 and they all settled in Fencourt, Cambridge, on a farm close to the Qualtrough family. Bruno sought work as a farm labourer, and later found a job in Matamata.

Bruno married one of the 8 Qualtrough daughters - Mary (known as Bunny) on 6 June 1906 in Cambridge. He had already acquired a farm of 159 acres by ballot in 1904, on Waharoa Road West, just one mile north of Matamata.

Bruno and Bunny settled into farming life in Matamata and had six children along the way- Bob, Mary, Jock, Dick, Margaret and Bill.

Bruno regularly kept in contact with his family back in Boerne, Texas and in 1920/21 he and Bunny took their whole family there for a whole year. Mary would have been about 12 at the time and she had vivid memories of this visit which she used to share with me when we were working on the Feisst booklet back in the 1970s


At the NZ Qualtrough Reunion in 1979.

Mary married Bevan Gavin in the early 1930's and they had five sons, John, Richard (who lived only a few short years), Bruce, Murray and Terry. 
Mary and Bevan worked on the Schwarz farm in Waharoa Road, bringing up their family there. They retired to Matamata in the mid 1960's (about 1964, I think) buying a home in Tower Road.

I first remember visiting Mary and her family when a young child in the 1950s. My parents (Joe Feisst, my father, was Mary's first cousin) often took me visiting there and I remember this gentle, uncomplaining soul busying herself in her kitchen in the cottage on the Schwarz property, making cups of tea and meals for her family and what seemed a never-ending stream of visitors - both family and friends. Also, I remember many family nights in the main Schwarz homestead watching movies. These nights were frequent and as we lived at Walton, about 15 miles from Matamata, we often seemed to be invited. Family was important to the Schwarz's and maintaining contact with their kith and kin was just part of their lives. The Schwarz's and the Feissts had a double connection, both originating from Boerne and also marrying into the Qualtroughs.

As I grew up, left school and married, (living in Matamata ) Mary and I seemed to gravitate closer together. My parents moved away to the Bay of Plenty and somehow Mary became almost a second mother to me.

In 1975 I became interested in my family background and the first person I went to for information was Mary. From that day onwards I remember spending many a hour at her kitchen table discussing our common ancestry, and plying her for information. My grandfather Henry Feisst had also been born in Boerne, Texas so as I located information from Boerne I always shared my findings with Mary. As I started going back further to Germany where both the Feissts and Schwarz had come from, I continued to share my findings with her, and we had many a laugh over many a cup of coffee.

In the late 1970s or early 80s, Mary returned to Boerne with her son Murray during the course of a tour of USA and together they attended the annual Boerne Picnic, put on for the pioneer families in May each year by the Historical Assn there . She was also able to catch up with many of her Schwarz cousins some of whom she had last seen when she was a girl in 1920. Also she was delighted that a few of her Texas relatives were able to visit New Zealand during her lifetime.

In 1976 when I was organising the Feisst family reunion in Matamata, Mary helped me with this and she and her family attended the reunion. Mary then also wrote the short chapter on her father in the booklet "The Feisst Story" which I published in 1978.

From there Mary and I became even closer as my genealogical interests moved to our common Qualtrough heritage from the Isle of Man. At the same time she also encouraged me in the forming of the Matamata Genealogy group of which she was a foundation member.

I remember going to the Matamata Cemetery many times with Mary and other group members to transcribe the headstones, part of a project of the NZ Society of Genealogists.

But I guess our really close times were in researching the Qualtrough ancestry - her mother and my grandmother being sisters. The Qualtrough family reunion in Pakuranga, Auckland in 1979 was a huge project and Mary was a wonderful supporter of that. Her kind, soothing nature seemed to wash over me as things got a little stressful during the organising period.

A few short years later, in the early 1980s when I was researching for the Qualtrough family history, A QUOTA OF QUALTROUGHS. published in 1984, Mary continued to feed me with information or contact others to gather memories and family history details. We were always talking on the phone or I was forever at her house checking details and generally fine-tuning. Joy MCDougall, another Qualtrough cousin from Auckland, also spent a lot of time with Mary as she put all the information together in written format. It was a wonderful two years and Mary and I worked VERY closely.

Mary was alert and keenly interested in the Matamata community, especially its history, and in the last 15-20 years of her life became "the person" to whom one could go to if you needed facts on early Matamata. She was a very keen member of the Matamata Historical Society and during the refurbishing of the Firth Tower was ever-present there helping. Her's was a life which spread over the many changes of the 20th century.

She was a very independent person and in the last 28 years of her life, since the death of her husband Bevan in 1973, she lived alone in her home in Tower Road, Matamata. She quietly got on with her life, was often surrounded by her family, and always welcomed anyone who visited.

When I moved to Australia in 1987, Mary and I maintained our closeness through letters and whenever I returned to New Zealand, Mary was always one to whom I would gravitate and I always stayed with her. I enjoyed her light-hearted nature, yet we always shared many thoughts on politics, the world and philosophy. She was open-minded, prepared to entertain new ideas, yet strong enough to stand up for what she believed in.

My contact with Mary increased in late 2001, when I again resumed my family history interests, specifically Qualtroughs. I was able to share with her much of what was happening and she continued to share her knowledge willingly, for which I was most grateful. She always wrote back saying that she appreciated being kept informed with what was happening even though she was not able to participate in the realm of cyberspace.

I last saw Mary shortly after Christmas in 1996, when I stayed a night with her in Matamata during the course of a tour of New Zealand. She had failed somewhat since I had last seen her at my mother's funeral in February 1994, yet she was still the same Mary. She died on 9 June 2001.

Elizabeth Feisst

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