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Mon 24 February 2020
Archive: Reunion of Descendants of Joseph McRae
10 June 1986
Joseph McRae and Margaret BirdReunion of the Descendants of Joseph McRae and Margaret Bird

Rotorua 10 June 1986

On 10th June 1986 ninety to a hundred descendants of Joseph McRae and Margaret Bird gathered at Rotorna to mark the centenary of the Tarawera Eruption. Joseph McRae was proprietor at the Rotomahana Hotel at this time and featured prominently in the news.

Two other reunions of the Bird family (Joseph’s wife Margaret’s line) had been held in 1977 and 1978 and from these the list of people to contact had been compiled.

Joseph and Margaret had six daughters, five of whom had issue, and each of these families was represented at the reunion. The reunion activities were extra special to all because of the link to Maori celebrations. Margaret Bird’s brother William married a Maori maiden named Kiekie Hopaia and also McRae himself had many dealings with and was respected by the Maori people.

In 1977 and 1978 the McRae and Bird families had reunions at Maketu where all descendants of Margaret Birds parents William Henry and Sarah Jane Bird met. These reunions were organised by Maurice Bird, the grandson of William Bird and a committee had been formed at the first reunion.

On Monday 9th June 1986 the McRae families were invited to attend the celebrations at Hinimihi Marae at Ngapuna in Rotorua and were officially welcomed along with other visitors there.

Tuesday 10th saw members meeting at the Te Wairoa landing and going by launch across the lake to Te Ariki where they were welcomed by the Ngati Tohounangi Tribe, who were having ceremonies to honour their ancestors killed in 1886, a truly memorable experience.

Returning from Te Ariki, the family assembled at the ruins of the hotel in the Buried Village where a short memorial service was taken by Colin Cottrell (McRae’s great grandson and a Baptist minister) and McRae’s favourite song Ho Ro My Nut Brown Maiden was sung by Susan Dopson, great, great granddaughter.

From here the Brothers side (Ethel McRae and Ben Brothers’ descendants) went to the Rotorua Cemetery where Dorothy Tisdale (daughter) paid tribute to her parents.

At 4pm the family met at Burnetts Catering Hall at Ngongotaha for a response to the call of the clan sent them by Frank Brothers, who officiated resplendent in McRae tartan. McRae descendants were called upon by Frank to give an account of their families and their lives.

Professor Ron Keam, an authority on the eruption, gave an interesting and enlightening speech on the eruption and the days following it.

Maurice and Henry Bird and their families spoke and sung waiatas and gave a lovely Maori flavour to the proceedings which was much appreciated by all.

There was a meal, a chance for photographs, a time to browse over family items, a time to catch up with relations known and unknown, an introduction to Ron Keam, Reunion Cake to sample, a family tree to check out and family likenesses to ponder over.
June 11th saw McRaes visiting the Museum, Art Gallery etc. then dispersing back to all parts of New Zealand, and one family back to America. Australian relations were unfortunately unable to be present but had sent telegrams.

The inclusion in ceremonies held by the Maori tribes and the depth of feeling and rapport shown were an unexpected bonus and a great privilege to have been part of. It is a memory I, and I am sure, other members of the McRae Clan who attended, will hold dear for many years to come.

Barbara Anderson
Great granddaughter of Joseph McRae and Margaret Bird

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