Ralph Watson and the Everetts of Nelson


At Home and Away during World War I: A Tale of Two Families

Albert Edward (Bert) Everett was born in Nelson in 1857 and was the fifth of ten children. He came from a prominent Nelson family with civic connections. His parents, Edward and Hannah (Annie), née Pope, had previously spent several years in Canada before emigrating to New Zealand on the Sir Edward Paget. They made landfall in Auckland on May 25, 1853.1 A Londoner by birth, Edward Everett settled with his wife and first four sons in Nelson around 1856 and soon prospered in his new home town.

Edward set up as a publican and wine and spirit merchant, getting an early boost to his fortunes by obtaining a lucrative "bush licence" in March, 1857, for the sale of liquor at the Aorere goldfields. Starting with both the Bank and Masonic Hotels on Hardy Street, he built up a substantial property portfolio over the years, including the historic Haven homestead, "Stafford House". He also served as a captain of the Volunteer Fire Brigade, City Councillor, Justice of the Peace and twice as Mayor of Nelson during the 1870s and 1880s.2

Everett bros NelsonEverett Bros. Bridge Street Store ca 1910.Nelson Provincial Museum Ref: 176679 (Photographer F N Jones). The "Victoria House" premises were sited at 68 Bridge Street. Later this would become the site for another long-running Nelson business, H & J Smith’s department store. Click image to enlarge

1864 saw a goldrush at Wakamarina and another opportunity for Edward Everett, who bought up John Wilson’s Accommodation House at Canvastown and rebranded it the Pelorus Hotel. With his two oldest sons, Edward Jnr and Charles in mind, he also set up an import and retail drapery business on Bridge Street. Trading as Everett Brothers & Company, with Edward Jnr in charge of the store and Charles in London, sourcing merchandise and sending it back home, this highly successful business would run for nearly 50 years, becoming a Nelson institution.3

Everett Bros. expanded their operations in 1874 by building a second, larger shop on Bridge Street. Following the death of storekeeper William Snow early that year, Everett Bros. acquired the drapery he had established on Trafalgar Street in the 1840s. Its stock and well-known trading name, “Victoria House”, were transferred to their own new premises, sited nearer the centre of town and opened in October, 1874. However, in March, 1875, a spectacular fire destroyed the original Everett Bros. store and its contents, fortunately well insured.4 Everett Bros. were back to one shop, with all business now devolving on “Victoria House”.

Meanwhile the younger son, Albert, went to school. He won a scholarship to Nelson College, which he attended 1871 to 1874, then spent time in Christchurch and Dunedin. Around 1885 he joined the partnership as manager of the family firm and oversaw another period of expansion. Everett Bros. Nelson store underwent a total revamp in November, 1899, and branches in Takaka and Motueka were opened around the same time.  

Everett Bros Motueka 1902Country cousin: Everett Bros.’ new Motueka store on opening day, 15 Nov., 1902. Motueka & District Historical Association. Fergus Holyoake Collection. Ref:355/1 SHOP. Motueka. This store was established at 151 High Street, where Paper Plus stands today.
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Motueka’s first Everett Bros. shop was a modest affair, but a brand new, purpose-built store on High Street was launched with great fanfare on 15 November, 1902.5 Everett Bros. Motueka establishment was sold in August, 1904, to its Motueka manager, William Uren, who continued to run it as a drapery under the name Uren & Co.. Albert Everett retained his connections with the Motueka community. He had a new interest and may have made a trade - store for land. In 1904 he bought a farm at Pokororo in the Motueka Valley, where he could experiment with apple production.6 By 1907 he was winning prizes for his apples at the Motueka Horticultural Society Show.

In 1883 Albert married Ada, née Gordon, born 1862 in Melbourne, Australia. They had 12 children who were raised in Nelson at the family's John Scott-built Collingwood Street villa, several attending Nelson College and Nelson College for Girls. They were: George, Ethel, Gladys (who became a well-known headmistress at various private girls’ schools in Australia), Viola, Claire and Dorothy (twins), Gerald, Frank, Charles, Stella, John and Colin.

Everett Captain George GordonCaptain George Gordon Everett. Courtesy Barbara Strathdee, My Heritage: Everett-Strathdee Family
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George (b. 1884) was the eldest, and distinguished himself at Nelson College, which he attended 1900-1904, being captain of the 1st XV and Head Boy, dux and captain of the No 2 Cadet Company in his final year. A career soldier, he went to England after leaving school and gained a commission with the British Imperial Army in 1904. He was later transferred to India, where he served for 12 years as a Captain with the 67th Punjabis. He had just returned to Baluchistan after a three-year tour of duty with the Military Police in Northern Burma when he was killed on 1 May, 1917, during an attack on a British convoy by Mahsud tribesmen near Fort Nili Kach, on the North-West Frontier.7 He is the only known New Zealander to be commemorated at the India Gate memorial in New Delhi, dedicated to Indian Army soldiers killed in WWI and on the N.W. Frontier (today Pakistan).

By the time of George’s death, his father Albert was living at Pokororo. His wife, Ada, had died in 1906 and on 10 September, 1913, he remarried at the Nelson Registry Office to 40-year-old divorcée, Annie Watson, née Arscott, daughter of Thomas and Harriett Arscott of Timaru.8 Annie had come out from England with her parents on the White Rose in 1875. Not long before the wedding, Albert liquidated several Nelson properties, including the flagship Everett Bros. store on Bridge Street. By now the only family member involved with the business, he had decided to make a complete break and, with his new bride, set up permanently on his Pokororo farm as a commercial fruitgrower.9

Everett Ralph WatsonRalph Watson. Nelson College Old Boys Association. Courtesy Gina Fletcher. Originally published in The Nelsonian, July, 1917
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Annie had a son, Ralph Thomas Watson, born in Wellington on Christmas Day, 1897, who became Albert Everett’s stepson.10 Ralph got off to a rough start. His birth father was William John Turner Watson, an Australian carter who was working as a hotel-keeper at Makikihi when he married Annie in January 1897.  The Watsons struggled to make a living and he deserted her a year after Ralph's birth. Annie returned to her family in Timaru, where she supported herself and her son by working as a dressmaker. She eventually sued for divorce and was granted a decree nisi in 1910.11

Ralph's grandparents lived on Timaru’s Dee Street. His grandfather, Tom, was a stoker with the Timaru Gas Company, his grandmother a supporter of women's suffrage. There were plenty of male role models amongst his extended family. His mother had three brothers  - Ernest, Frederick and Alfred Arscott  - who all served in WWI and returned. Their names are inscribed on the Roll of Honour at the Timaru War Memorial.

A regular attendee at the Timaru Congregational Church Sunday School from an early age, Ralph started school in 1903 and spent 20 months at Timaru Main School. From 1905 to 1910 he was educated at Tasman Street School and Nelson Central School, after moving with his mother to Nelson.12 Annie Watson carried on her work as a dressmaker at a Bridge Street establishment, almost certainly Everett Bros., the biggest employer of tailors and dressmakers in Nelson.13

Ralph attended Nelson College, 1911-1914, at the same time as Albert Everett’s sons, Gerald and Frank. He appears to have been a natural athlete. In December, 1910, at the age of 12, he was coxswain for the losing crew in the final of the Nelson Rowing Club's fours. At College he was a keen rugby player and cricketer, being a member of both the 1st XV and the 1st XI.

Everett Albert on his Pokororo farmAlbert Everett at his Pokororo farm with his children Claire (later Strathdee) and Charles (Charlie). Courtesy Barbara Strathdee, My Heritage website: Everett-Strathdee Family.
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After leaving College Ralph worked on mixed farms and orchards around Pokororo, no doubt including his stepfather’s property, where his stepbrother Frank was employed. At the age of 17 he enlisted at Pokororo, becoming a Gunner with the NZ Field Artillery. He was still keen as mustard when he wrote to his proud grandfather from France in August 1916,14 and itching to get back to the Front in a letter sent to Timaru from Sling Camp a couple of months later. Just five days after this last letter was published in the Timaru Herald, Ralph would be dead, killed in action at the Somme. He was 19.15

Five of Albert Everett’s other children also served during WWI. His sons Gerald and Frank were likewise Gunners with the NZ Field Artillery. Gerald joined up before his younger brother Frank, leaving New Zealand with the Main Body on October 16, 1914. Frank and Gerald (known as “Flick”) were also Nelson College Old Boys, with Gerald a noted sportsman at school.16

Everett Nurses at Walton on ThamesMatron Fanny Wilson and nursing staff at Walton-on-Thames Hospital, ca. 1918. Claire & Dorothy Everett together at right-hand end, bottom row. Credit: Royal NZ R.S.A. Collection, Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. Ref: 1/2-014124-G
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Roy Edward Everett Roy Edward Everett. Image supplied by Jenifer Lemaire
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Viola, who qualified as a nurse in Sydney, Australia in October, 1915, joined the Australian Army Nursing Service in December 1916 and served as a staff nurse at No 27 General Hospital in Alexandria, Egypt, returning to Australia in July, 1919.17 Twins, Claire and Dorothy, who qualified together at Christchurch in June 1916, both went off to England with the NZ Army Nursing Service in August, 1918. They served together as staff nurses at No 2 NZ General Hospital, a military hospital for seriously wounded NZ soldiers, situated at Walton-on-Thames. The life-saving care their brother, Frank, received at No 1 NZ General Hospital at Brockenhurst from October 1916 to January 1917 possibly influenced their decision to join up. They returned to New Zealand in August, 1919.18

One of Albert's nephews went off to war as well; his brother Frank Evelyn Everett's son, Roy Edward Everett.  Roy was another Nelson College Old Boy. He also served as a Gunner with the NZ Field Artillery and was awarded the Military Medal for gallantry in action during the Battle of Broodseinde Ridge in October 1917. After the war he became a farmer at Motupipi, Takaka.

In October 1916, around the same time as Thomas Arscott was receiving the bad news about his grandson in Timaru, Albert Everett was notified that his stepson Ralph had been killed and his son Frank seriously injured by shrapnel.19

Everett. A Gun Pit in the Somme BattleA Gun-Pit in the Somme Valley. From: The New Zealand Division 1916-1919: A Popular History Credit: NZETC
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The two stepbrothers were close in age and clearly inseparable friends as well, perhaps from school-days. They joined up together on the same day, 24 August, 1915, left with the same draft on 9 October, 1915 and trained together in Egypt, where Ralph turned 18. They were together, too, in the same artillery gun pit at Flers when it was struck by an enemy shell on October 15, 1916, during the Battle of the Somme. Ralph took the full impact and was killed instantly. Frank was hit by shrapnel, receiving head injuries which left him unconscious for 14 days. Ralph was found lying over Frank, who later credited his stepbrother with saving his life.20

Everett Frank2Frank Everett. Courtesy Barbara Strathdee, My Heritage: Everett–Strathdee Family
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After three months in hospital in England, Frank was sent back to New Zealand for 12 months’ recuperation, but was discharged in 1917 as a result of his injuries and later moved to Australia to live. Gerald was demobilised in 1919 and went to Auckland, where he resumed his former profession as a clerk with the Union Bank of Australia. He retired to Nelson. Viola, who never married, continued her nursing career in Australia and in 1945 became Matron of the Kenmore Repatriation Hospital in Queensland. In 1957 she was awarded an MBE for her work there. Her sister Gladys (who preferred to be called "Gordon") was also awarded an MBE in 1960 for her work in the field of education.

Dorothy and Claire came back to Nelson but soon found that it was too quiet for them. They travelled together to San Francisco where they both took work as nurses. Claire met and married Frederick (Fred) Strathdee, who came from Scotland. He had been recruited as a teenager by a Canadian Bank, and remained in banking all his working life. Fred and Claire made their home in San Francisco, and raised their three children there. Dorothy didn’t ever marry, but continued working as a nurse. She was a fond aunt and spent many weekends with the Strathdee family. When the Strathdees eventually retired to Victoria on Vancouver Island in Canada, Dorothy returned to Nelson.

The Everett family suffered an earlier loss at home on the 1st January, 1915, when Albert’s daughter Stella drowned while swimming in the Motueka River. She was 24. Stella had epilepsy, which was thought to have been a contributing factor in her death.21

Albert Everett lived with his second wife Annie at his Pokororo farm for many years and remained closely involved with the local fruitgrowing industry until April 1935. He then leased out his farm and retired to Nelson, where he died 17 August, 1943, aged 85. Annie died 29 September, 1957. They both lie at the Wakapuaka Cemetery, with Albert's first wife, Ada, his parents Edward and Hannah Everett and other family members close by.

Ralph Watson is commemorated at the Caterpillar (New Zealand) Memorial at Caterpillar Valley Cemetery, Longueval, France, which records the names of those NZ servicemen killed during fighting at the Somme in September and October, 1916, "whose graves are known only to God."

He is listed on the Nelson/Tasman Roll of Honour and also honoured at the Ngatimoti War Memorial in the Motueka Valley, Tasman, New Zealand.

2014. Updated July 2020

Acknowledgements:  Jenifer Lemaire and Barbara Strathdee (Everett and Strathdee families); Nelson College Old Boys’ Association per Gina Fletcher; Coralie Smith, Motueka Historical Association; Tony Rippin (curator), South Canterbury Museum, Timaru, and Teresa Scott (librarian), South Canterbury Branch NZSG.

Sources used in this story

  1. Edward Everett. Information retrieved from Ancestry.com or Ancestrylibrary.proquest.com
  2. Edward Everett, b. Hackney, England, 1821, d. Nelson, 1904. Mayor of Nelson. Retrieved from Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edward_William_Everett
  3. Everett Bros.: Drapers, Clothiers, Dressmakers and Tailors (1901, September 7). Nelson Evening Mail
  4. Fire at Messrs Everett Bros. (1875, 22 March) Nelson Evening Mail
  5. District News: Motueka– Opening of Messrs Everett Bros.' New Motueka Store (1902, November 21) Nelson Evening Mail
  6. Land records, Ngatimoti. A. Everett, 1904, Pokororo.
  7. Roll of honour: Captain George Everett - obituary (1917, 8 May) Marlborough Express
  8. Department of Internal Affairs. Marriage Certificate. Births, Deaths & Marriages, NZ, Historical Records, Everett-Watson, ref: 1913/5143
  9. Notification: Change of hands, Messrs Everett Bros. Bridge Street store sold to William McKay & Son (1913, September 3). Nelson Evening Mail.
  10. Birth Certificate, Ralph Watson, ref: 1898/15255. BDM NZ Historical Records [Note: Ralph Watson's birth at the end of 1897 was not registered until early 1898.]
  11. Supreme Court, Christchurch : Annie Watson, Nelson, Petition for Divorce. Decree Nisi Granted (1910, February 15) Press
  12. School Records Ralph Watson: Timaru Main School, 13 February, 1903- 30 Sept., 1904; Central Nelson School  21 Oct, 1907- 16 Dec., 1907. Source :South Canterbury Branch, NZSG & Nelson Branch, NZSG
  13. Electoral Roll, Nelson, 1905-6
  14. At Home in the Trenches: Trooper Ralph Watson's Experiences. Reprinted from a letter sent by Ralph Watson to his grandfather, Thomas Arscott (1916, August 1). Timaru Herald.
  15. Military personnel record: Ralph Watson. Archway Archives NZ
  16. Military personnel records: Gerald Gordon Everett and Frank Gordon Watson. Archway Archives NZ
  17. Viola Everett AANS (Australian Imperial Force). Online Cenotaph record.
  18. Claire and Dorothy Everett NZANS. NZ Military Nursing website
  19. Notifications: Messrs T. Arscott, Timaru, and A. Everett, Pokororo, Tasman. Death and Injury, Ralph Watson and Frank Everett: Roll of Honour: Casualty List (1916, November 1) Timaru Herald ; Personal (1916, November 2) Colonist 2 November, 1916. Personal. [Note: The date of Ralph Watson's death was initially recorded incorrectly as 21 October, 1916.]
  20. Frank Everett, Personal account of events at the Somme on 15 October, 1916 (July 1917) The Nelsonian, pp. 65 & 66.
  21. Sad Fatality at Pokororo  (1915, January 20) Colonist.

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  • Really interesting to see this. I think my maternal great, great, grandfather was Edward Everett Jnr. He ended up settling back in England and had three daughters Ena, Marjorie (born 1912) and Joan. He went bankrupt and apparently Joan went to live with relatives in San Francisco. Marjorie (my grandmother) and Ena became nurses. Ena moved to the then named Rhodesia. Regards Clare Hawkins

    Posted by Clare Hawkins, 21/08/2016 8:50am (8 years ago)

  • Hi there
    I am a descendant of Gerald Gordon Everett (he was my Grandfather), and as a family we are trying to find out some more information about our Great Uncle Captain George Gordon Everett. He died in India in 1917 and we are under the impression he was engaged to be married at the time of his death. We are trying to find out what his fiancees name was. We have managed to find out detail of his service and even have a copy of his certificate of death. We also would like to make contact with the writer of this amazing piece of history. Regards Jenny Everett-Wells

    Posted by Jennifer Everett-Wells, 22/06/2015 12:28pm (9 years ago)

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