My volunteering experience at the Milton site: A descendant’s story

Today’s blog comes from Kath Croy, a member of the TP60 committee, relative of at least ten of the early Milton residents interred in the little St Johns Burial Ground and most importantly for us ‘camp mum’ of the St. John’s excavations.

Kath Croy (photo used with Kath’s permission)

I am a great great granddaughter of John and Elizabeth Finch (nee Shaw) who were interred in the Church of England burial ground in the late 1800s.  They began their lives in Derbyshire, sailed to Dunedin in the John Wickliffe in 1848 and farmed Athol Farm, Milton from 1860.  The farm is still farmed by their great-great-grandson.  I have visited the much-neglected little burial ground on the Back Road near Milton many times during my seventy years.  I have also taken my three children to pay their respects.  So, when another of John and Elizabeth’s descendants (who number in the thousands) suggested a committee be formed to rescue this historic but severely neglected spot, I was an enthusiastic starter!  The committee was called TP60 (Tokomairiro Project with the ‘60’ being the number of burials originally thought to have taken place there.)

An exciting development was the involvement of Professor Hallie Buckley and the University of Otago Department of Anthropology, and archeologist, Dr Peter Petchey.  They wanted to make a study of the health of some of Otago’s earliest European settlers.  This work was carried out in consultation with the TP60 committee, The Church of England, the local community and, of course, with the eventual permission of many important government departments.  The study benefitted our work and gave the TP60 committee interesting new layers to their endeavours.

Having always wanted to be an archeologist and with a love of family history I accepted with great enthusiasm the task of being keeper of the gate during the three weeks of the dig and I found myself staying back in Milton after a break of fifty years.  The role was a necessary one as the dig had gone ahead with strict rules set by the Ministry of Health.  My task was to give access to the grounds only people who had relatives buried there and of course the official members of the study.  I loved the opportunity to greet people known to me, especially some locals who had been at school with me, and of course, I met many relatives who came to look.  Occasionally great diplomacy was needed when folk arrived convinced that they would be allowed to enter.

However, my busiest task was a later addition.  I became the caterer and was eventually named ‘Camp Mum.’ 

The kitchen and dining room area, and over the part-wall behind the benches the accommodation and work area for the academics can be seen.

The day began about 8am.  Using an antique(!) single burner gas cooker I would boil enough water for morning tea and store it in thermos flasks then boil another amount for handwashing. (thanks to the farmer, Grant Love, we were supplied with a hose delivering continuous clean water). Food was required for 15 – 25 people and once the morning tea was over the water heating began again and filled rolls etc. were prepared for lunch.  Then later it was time to prepare for afternoon tea!  

Archaeologists hard at work!

The camaraderie and discussion which took place at meal and refreshment times was interesting and beneficial.  There were often visitors who joined us in the rustic surroundings – but for me the bonus of that amazing three weeks was the access to the work areas and I so enjoyed time spent with those conducting the study – the professionals and their enthusiastic students. 

Kath Croy, July 2019

Kath has generously agreed to write more for us, so stay tuned for her next story!

Kath on site with one of the archaeologists (Baylee), reading out the story of one of the individuals we were able to read the coffin plate of.

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