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Old Middlemarch Families: G

GILLIES, James MacAlister & Mary Barrowman (née Brown)

We first meet the Gillies family in the Cyclopedia of New Zealand (1903). Vol 4. Otago and Southland Provincial Districts. The entry is under Kokonga:

Mr. JAMES GILLIES was born at Barrhead, Renfrewshire, Scotland, in 1856. He was educated at Rothesay and was brought up to the soft goods trade in the wholesale warehouse of Mr. J. R. Harrington, Hanover Street, Glasgow, in whose employment he continued for fourteen years. Mr. Gillies arrived in the Colony, via Melbourne, in 1889, and became manager for Mr. Robert Neill, of Middlemarch. Subsequently he entered the employment of Mr. Alfred Arthur, and at the opening of that gentleman's branch business in Kokonga, in 1895, he was appointed to the managership. Mr. Gillies was married, in 1892, to a daughter of Mr. William Brown and has four daughters.

The marriage took place in the Strath Taieri Parish of the Presbyterian church on 12 July 1892. The event was reported in Otago Witness, 21 July 1892:

Middlemarch. Wedding Bells. — The marriage of Mr J. Gillies and Miss Mary Brown of this place, was celebrated last week with great eclat. A select few were invited to the Ceremony, and the presents were large and varied. The day's proceedings were finished up by a dance in Webb's Hall, where a numerous company assembled to do honour to the happy pair. Mr D. Crawford, in a neat and appropriate speech, asked the company to give three cheers for the bride and bridegroom, which was heartily done. The bridegroom replied in a few appropriate sentences.

James Gillies employment as manager for Robert Neill, Middlemarch, was of the store and bakery "on the site of the old bakehouse opposite the school" (Thompson, 1949, p. 121).

Later, newspapers of the time suggest James Gillies ended up as owner of Mr Arthur's store in Kokonga:

Mr James Gillies, the local storekeeper, has now opened a butcher's shop in connection with his general store. It is to be hoped that Mr Gillies’s venture will meet with success, for it is unnecessary to say that a store such as this is a great acquisition to a district; I wish Mr Gillies success. (Otago Witness, 2 November 1899)

The newspaper also discusses rumours that gold dredges would soon be working on the Taieri River near Kokonga based on gold prospecting activities there. Perhaps James Gillies took a chance that Kokonga would develop further. In the 1904 the Cyclopedia of New Zealand reports that Kokonga had a school, post office, store and hotel. Once the railway line to Ranfurly and beyond was completed, Kokonga lost its importance and the gold dredging activities did not come to fruition.

Mr Gillies was on the Kokonga school committee in 1988 and 1899.

While in Kokonga, the Gillies had a son James Albert, born 12 June 1898, who died suddenly just five months old. Another son, James George Albert, a twin, died 26 September 1899, aged 11 months.

In October 1900 the Gillies were bid farewell at two occasions reported in the Otago Witness: a 'smoke concert' for Mr Gillies at Ryan's Hotel, Kokonga, and a ladies social evening for Mrs Gillies with 60 of her friends present. At the men's evening there were many speeches and singing. The ladies evening likewise had singing on the the programme with Mrs Gillies contributing “The minstrel boy” and Mr Gillies, “When sparrows, build.” There were also refreshments followed by dancing "till the small hours of the morning" (Otago Witness, 24 October 1900, Page 33). The paper reported that Mrs Gillies was leaving for Ophir. With two of their children, their only sons, dying in infancy barely two years apart, she must have been devastated.

Four Gillies children commence school in Middlemarch in 1903: Janet, Mary Jane, Millicent Alberta Sarah (Alberta) and Gwendoline Gladys (Gwendoline), followed by Frances Martha in 1905.

On 16 November 1904, the Otago Witness reports:

Mr Gillies, who has returned from a trip to the Old Country, has bought out Mr Armstrong's store, and intends getting into harness again at an early date. Both Mr and Mrs Gillies are very well known and highly respected in this district, and I can safely say there is not one here but will welcome them back in our midst, and wish them every success.

Gillies' store was later owned by A Horn & Son.

Mary's father, William Brown, owned land which "ran from the top road down to the corner close to what soon became the Middlemarch township" (Thompson, 1949, p. 105), i.e., the southern side of Browns Rd today. It can be assumed that James and Mary acquired land from her father on which to build a house. There was nothing ordinary about this house, because in June 1905, the Otago Witness reports that "a large house in course of erection at Middlemarch" has 14 rooms and is being built for Mr Gillies, Middlemarch. Mr J Robertson of Middlemarch was the builder and J Louis Salmond of Salmond & Vanes, Dunedin, the architect.

Local anecdotes suggest it was when William Brown came into money that he decided to build the biggest house possible. It seems unlikely that this was so. The Brown family had 13 children and also raised their eldest daughter's children at Strathmore, their stone house on Browns Rd. It is more likely that it was James Gillies, who inherited money. This would allow him to visit the home country with his wife and subsequently build the magnificent home.

On 5 September 1906, a photo of the completed home Gillies' home, Arthurlie, was published in the Otago Witness. Arthurlie was the name of James Gillies home village in Scotland. It was later described as "a single storey building, handsome and roomy, standing in 17 acres of excellent land 600 ft above sea level. There are lawns, gardens ready trenched, and a young orchard. The house forms three sides of a square, and contains 15 living rooms, offices, and bathrooms, besides good stables and outbuildings. Water is supplied by windmill" (Otago Witness, 11 December 1907). Another description elaborates further:

In front is a spacious lawn, on the outskirts of which young trees and shrubs are planted. On the left flank is an excellent bowling green, and in the rear is an orchard and kitchen garden, drained and trenched, and a quantity of arable land. The house forms three sides of a square, and contains 15 living rooms elaborately ornamented and well lighted, also a conservatory. The premises are expensively and luxuriously fitted, and are said to have cost £7500 to build. There is a handsome pillared entrance hall in white and gold. The wainscoatings are high and of red pine. There is an excellent bathroom, kitchens, and servants' offices; also good stables and coachhouse. The ceilings are of steel, and the premises are lighted by acetylene. The water supply is on the artesian principle, with windmill. (Otago Witness, 18 September 1907)

With the magnificent new house completed and the children now aged between 10 and 14 years, it must have been devastating when their father died on 17 January 1907 aged just 50.

Mary Gillies may have shifted to Mosgiel as two of her daughters entered Trinity College of Music practical exams as pupils of St Mary's Convent in December 1907. The following year they sit Royal Academy of Music exams, now in the Elementary Division of Braemar House School in Moray Place. In 1908, Alberta Gillies is presented with her Royal Academy of Music from the Prime Minister, Sir Joseph Ward at The Early Settlers' Hall.

James Gillies, merchant, is buried in the Northern Cemetery, Dunedin. Mary died in 1946, aged 83. Her ashes are buried next to her husband.

Soon after James Gillies' death, the large house was offered for sale. For a time the Hospital Board considered it for a sanatorium for 'consumptives' for £2500. Panic and protest ensued with 99 percent of the locals strongly against the idea. In the end, the climate of Middlemarch was not considered suitable. Instead the Salvation Army bought the property with the intention of using it either as an inebriates' home or a home for boys. However, after local opposition,it was decided that it would be a home for orphaned "and stray" girls.

The Salvation Army Home closed in 1921. The Salvation Army was prepared to sell for £3000 in 1918 for a doctor's residence and cottage hospital. This did not eventuate but monetary support by Sir John and Lady Roberts to the Otago Hospital and Charitable Aid Board enabled the purchase and furnishing of the Girls' Home as a hospital, which opened 22 December 1922 as the "Louisa Roberts Hospital" (Thompson, 1949, p. 167).

This hospital, a large house with two wings, had been fitted up with two maternity wards, two emergency wards, two spare rooms, an operating theatre, sterilising room, dispensary, patients' bathroom, superintendent's rooms, a sun porch, matron's rooms, dining-room and kitchen. (Thompson, 1949, p. 167)

In 1958 the hospital reverted to private ownership. This, the largest building in Middlemarch, mysteriously burned to the ground in the 1994.

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