Stories by members of the family
Below is The Journey and links to other stories from members of
the family. Click on the titles below to be taken to the story.
If you would like a copy e-mailed to you click here
to contact Brent
May 2010 saw the publication of Oma Leni's own story - writing a book at the age of 93 is a huge achievement! With the help of various members of the family and a cover designed by Nick Potter and Geoff Woodcock, the delightful 78 page book with appropriate photos was an immediate hit with all who have so far read it. Below is the cover....click to enlarge
The Boat People - Joris de Bres
In The Course of His Life - Joris de Bres
Guido De Bres and the Birth of the Belgic
Confession - Rev. W. Peter Gadsby
The Journey - Various
In 1954, the de Bres family emigrated to New Zealand. Pieter, Leni,
Bartha, Kartini, Tjitske (Lyn), Guido, Joris, Margreet and Hanna
left Holland on 7 August and arrived in Wellington on 10 September.
They were the largest immigrant family to come to New Zealand in
those years. It was remarkable because the limit for immigrants
set by the New Zealand Government was two children. However, the
family was sponsored by the Presbyterian Church of New Zealand,
which guaranteed housing and work. Pieter was to be chaplain to
the many young dutch people in the southern part of the North Island
and the northern part of the South Island.
This is how we remember that journey.
After all the farewells from family, friends and our parish, at
last the day of our departure arrived. There had been a special
farewell service at which Pieter and I had to shake around 600 hands.
It was the custom that when a minister arrived or left, a service
was held in the largest church. There were eight Presbyterian churches
in Eindhoven. The farewell service was held in the evening and we
sang the well known evening hymn ‘The sun that bids us rest
is waking our brethren ‘neath the western sky, and hour by
hour fresh lips are making Thy wondrous doings heard on high.”
There was one more farewell: our family were to be at the harbour
in Rotterdam. We felt that most of all.
Early in the morning we left in a van. Our neighbour, the doctor’s
family, came to wave us goodbye, even though it was very early.
We drove through forests and beautiful fields of bright purple heather,
just in bloom. It had been such a busy time, that last fortnight,
moving with a large family. We had more or less camped in our house
with only the most essential things in our house, as the remover
needed time to pack everything as efficiently as possible.
When we got to Rotterdam quite a few of our family were waiting
to see us off. We had a cup of coffee (or lemonade) with them and
then we had to go through customs. The press were there to interview
us and in the evening there was a story and photos in the papers.
Our family was the largest on board the ship. Pieter was to work
as chaplain on board and had a lot to do.
We walked up the gangway. A Red Cross nurse offered to carry Hanna,
but I was afraid to hand her over, so the nurse walked right beside
me. We had a quick look in our cabin, put our hand luggage down
and went back on deck to wave goodbye to the family on the wharf.
We would be on the ship for 33 days.
We had a family cabin with 4 sets of bunks and a small aluminium
cot for Hanna. Pieter, as ship’s chaplain, had a small office
right opposite our cabin and the showers were next to that. The
ship carried about 800 passengers, 400 for New Zealand and 400 for
Australia, and crew. There was also a young Roman Catholic priest
on the ship, but he was so often seasick that Pieter had to do quite
a lot of his work as well.
The ship, the Waterman, had been an army transport carrier and
was not exactly luxurious or stable. I had expected that our trip
would be like a holiday, but soon discovered that, with such a large
family, there was a lot of work that needed to be done. There was
the washing, especially when the weather was hot. The nurses felt
sorry for me sometimes when I had to wait my turn for the general
washing machines and allowed me to use their laundry. There were
laundry staff available to do the washing for us, but they charged
a per item price and for our family that would have been very expensive.
There was a recreation officer and a children’s playroom.
With so many passengers they were very busy and didn’t offer
a lot of supervision. Guido and Joris liked to roam around the ship
and I was always glad to see them back for meals, for that was one
thing they never missed. I had to attend the children’s meals
as the people who served them were too busy to look after them.
Bartha and Kartini helped out at times. I had to get special food
for Hanna. But Pieter, Bartha (who was over 12) and I had our meal
much later. We shared a table with the Doctor and the nurses.
Bartha, Kartini and Lyn took their turn to look after Margreet
and Hanna. Margreet could go to the children’s playroom, but
Hanna spent a lot of the time on deck in the playpen till someone
took her out for a walk. Pieter did that too, if he could spare
a bit of time.
The recreation officer organised games, sometimes there was a film
in the evening or English language lessons. On Sunday there were
church services and in the evenings a short ‘close of day”.
We also had talks about life in New Zealand.
We made some friends on the ship, especially a Quaker couple. The
majority of immigrants were young people.
Our first port of call was Curacao, a dutch island in the Caribbean.
I knew a Surinam minister’s family who lived there, they took
us out and gave us a nice meal. They told me a lot of news from
Surinam of course. It was interesting to be in the tropics, the
dark people, the flowers, the trees (especially the tall palm trees).
The meals on board were really good although there were always
people who complained.
Our next port of call was Balboa (Panama Canal). We went through
all the different floodgates and spent a short time there. In the
evening, Pieter, the priest and I went for a short walk, but did
not take the family.
The next day we set out for Tahiti, a beautiful French island.
We stayed there a bit longer, because one of the children’s
nurses was ill and needed surgery in the hospital there. Fortunately
they discharged her the next day and the ship’s doctor looked
after her on board.
A French pastor invited our family to visit his missionary training
school. The wives of the trainee pastors cooked us a lovely meal
which we ate under the coconut trees. Fortunately the pastor and
his wife spoke German, for we had mostly forgotten the French we
had learnt at High School. The students performed some dances, the
girls had flowers in their hair. There was no time left for shopping,
but we had at least seen something of the island.
The final part of the trip was stormy. Many people were
seasick, but not our family although Joris fell from his bed. He
wasn’t injured. A lot of food was thrown off the tables.
At last Wellington was in sight. We saw all the lights on the hills
in the evening. The next morning we woke to a lovely sunny day.
A reporter from the Evening Post came on board and took a family
photo. It appeared later with the caption ‘A shepherd and
his flock’. Customs officers and ministers came on board.
A minister took us to his house in a big car; they gave us a meal
and then drove us to our house, a colonial style four bedroom house
in Lower Hutt. We were glad to be ‘on land’ again, and
grateful that we had arrived safely in beautiful New Zealand.
Later, in 1962, we had another son, John, the first Kiwi in the
family. Our eldest son, Guido, died suddenly in 1992 and then, in
1994, Pieter died, also suddenly. He loved us and always cared for
Before we left Holland I tried very hard to imagine how 1000 people
could fit on one boat. I had never seen a large ocean liner and
couldn’t work out how that was possible.
For many months before this we had been waiting for a visa to go
to New Zealand. It seemed to take a very long time. We all went
to Rotterdam and I can remember the interview at the embassy. But
I was more fascinated by the beautiful little while ‘English’
church near it. We went inside to have a look and I enjoyed looking
at the prayer book, in ‘english’ of course.
We had to send all our shoes, except one pair, away to be chemically
cleaned. We got them back when we went on board, where the shoes
we were wearing were sprayed.
It was very exciting to be on board the ship, and we children didn’t
mind waving goodbye to our relatives who were standing on the wharf
as we sailed out. I was sorry that Grandma de Bres wasn’t
Our cabin was a tight squeeze, every space used – even a
specially made cabin trunk for our clothes to fit under the bunks.
On the way to Hook of Holland, Guido and Joris disappeared. Everyone
look for them, in case they had been left behind! They were finally
found on the bridge, having a great time.
Many people got seasick in the Bay of Biscay, but we were feeling
much better when we sighted the Azores islands – just a narrow
strip of land on the horizon.
I soon discovered there were three other teenagers on board, a
brother and sister and another boy. They were all bound for Australia.
But the four of us hung around together and roamed the ship. A young
woman, Katrien Smit, who offered to teach us some English. It was
fun. There were no blackboards so we went from lounge to lounge
and used soap on the mirrors – we moved on when we were thrown
out. Many years later I discovered that she was on the staff of
Another thing we liked to do was play hopscotch on deck. The ship
had a well stocked library and I found many good books to read.
It was fun to be ‘grown up’ and have meals with the
adults, but it wasn’t fun to have to wait till the last sitting
each day. The meals ran in four sittings, the children’s was
first, then three adult sittings. And as I was often rostered on
to help with Margreet and Hanna at the children’s tables,
the one and a quarter hour wait for our turn seemed rather long.
We also had to help Mum with the washing. The laundry was a very
hot place to be and we had a lot of washing.
The Panama Canal was a great experience. As we moved into one lock
after another the little engines on the side were fascinating to
watch, as was the tropical environment on both sides.
Mum and Dad went out in Balboa, but it was in the evening and we
weren’t allowed to go. I was disappointed not to be able to
explore the exciting location.
The next excitement was a big party organised by the children’s
recreation officers to celebrate the crossing of the equator. Each
day the clocks had been put forward, now we skipped an entire day
– unfortunately it happened to be the 25th wedding anniversary
of two of the passengers. Bad luck!
There was to be a competition for the best fancy dress. We spent
a lot of time preparing. I had a skirt with flower baskets on it,
and a white shirt. I made a basket of flowers to carry and signed
on as a flower seller. I did feel a bit of a fraud, because I hadn’t
actually stitched the baskets on my skirt. Anyway, I gained third
prize and still have the beautiful burgundy leather photo album
that was my prize.
Tahiti was a great break. We went to have lunch at the missionary
training centre and I remember looking up the trees hoping the coconuts
wouldn’t drop on my head.
After Tahiti we had the big storm. The boat danced on the waves,
which were huge. At one stage I went on deck and saw a big dark
wave that seemed like twelve stories high above me. It was frightening.
Many people were seasick again and eating in the dining room was
a bit of an obstacle race.
When we finally reached Wellington Harbour it was fascinating to
sail into our new country. Agricultural officers and customs officials
came on board and set up tables to process everyone. We had dinner
and then I went out on deck. It had got dark in the mean time and
what a spectacular sight it was – all the lights sparkling
– a fairy land it seemed to me.
We were taken to our new home, a smallish house in Lower Hutt.
There wasn’t room for everyone so there was a caravan outside
for the girls. It took many days for me to get used to being on
land and not feel the sea anymore.
We went to dinner at the van Raaltes. I remember how white the
potatoes were and how delicious the New Zealand butter.
We had many things to learn, but I remember being sent to the local
dairy and trying to explain what I wanted. We soon learnt that when
something wasn’t available it was due to ‘import restrictions’!
I don’t have very many memories of the trip.
1. The only time we were allowed off the boat was in Tahiti and
then only to be taken up to the mission station
2. I remember being very annoyed not to be allowed to dine with
the adults. You had to be 12 and I did not turn 12 till the week
after we got to New Zealand. All those under 12 had to be in the
‘nursery’ while the adults had dinner. With 125 under
12’s on board and only a couple of adults supervising guess
who got to look after the younger ones
3. Then there was the storm in the Pacific. The tables all had
raised edges but the stuff still flew around. Everything on deck
was tied down and there were a lot of seasick people.
4. Having 9 in an 8 berth cabin was not a lot of fun either
My memories of the Boat trip are a little hazy. I remember the
departure day, and saying goodbye to Oma and Opa Boon, Opa de Bres
and our aunties at the wharf. One important person was missing,
Oma de Bres, my favourite grandma.She found it too hard to come
and say goodbye. Now that I have children and grandchildren of my
own I can understand how difficult it must have been for her to
face up to the fact that she might not see any of us again.
I still felt as if I looked rather strange. Our parents had been
warned that there could be head lice on board so the girls in the
family had had our lovely long hair chopped short before we began
I couldn't wait to get up the gangway to explore our new quarters.
But when I did see our cabin I was surprised at how cramped it was
, after living in our spacious 3 Eindhoven home. I didn't relish
the thought of living in such cramped conditions for 6 weeks!
There was a sense of occasion about the departure. Music was played
as we slowly steamed away, probably the Dutch National anthem, and
there was much waving and shouting last goodbyes.
For the first few days it was fun exploring all the nooks and crannies.
The places where we probably were not meant to hang out were the
most appealing. The noisy engine room, sneaking past the crew's
quarters, fossicking around the life boats and sneaking back up
on deck after dark was always fun. There wasn't much else to do
so I spent many hours just staring at the sky , the sea, and the
endless horizon, hoping to catch sight of an albatross or some flying
fish, or just watching the changing colours of the water, and the
I missed my best school friend Hannie, and although there were
other children on board I didn't really make any special new friends.
Just as well there were always enough sisters and brothers to hang
The scariest time was when there was a storm at sea. Everything
had to be tied down, and the little church organ went slithering
around the chapel. When I looked through one of the portholes I
could see a gigantic wave, much higher than the boat itself, and
I was terrified that the sea might swallow us up before we were
able to get to our destination.
It was wonderful to see land on several occasions. But when my
father took off to see the sights of Panama without us I felt quite
peeved as I would have loved to have a look around. Fortunately
the whole family was invited out to lunch in Tahiti. We were warned
to watch out for coconuts dropping on our heads which made the whole
experience seem like quite an adventure. The minister's wife gave
me a circular piece of coral which I treasured for years.
My knowledge about New Zealand was infinitesimal. So as we approached
Wellington Harbour I felt both excited and very curious. The first
view of green hills, and little houses nestled amongst them looked
very attractive. But we couldn't land straight away because we had
to go through various customs procedures. I didn't appreciate having
our family photo taken for the newspaper as we all had to get into
a long line to show what a large family we were.
When we did finally manage to get off the boat we were warmly welcomed
and taken to our new home and welcomed with delicious food and our
beds were ready. It was a good start to our new life as Dutch Kiwis.
Looking back 50 years, it’s hard to distinguish between what
I actually remember from when I was a 7 years old, what I remember
from photos and what I remember from stories.
There was learning English hymns at home before we came (Holy,
Holy, Holy, Across the Gla-Si-Si), and getting our two pairs of
new shoes each.
The photo of farewelling grandparents, uncles and aunts, dressed
in their post-war European fashions, in the bare passenger terminal
at the Rotterdam Docks. Ports of call along the way – Curacao,
the Panama Canal, and Tahiti (was that where we nearly got hit by
a falling coconut?).
A storm on board, in our crowded cabin, in which I was apparently
thrown out of my bunk and pinned beneath a cabin trunk.
Planning an escape from the children’s play centre with Guido
and balancing dangerously on the ship’s railings.
Arrival in Wellington, and the photo of us all lined up on the
deck, published in the Evening Post the next day.
In our strange new home, cupboards full of chocolate chippie biscuits,
jams and preserves, and other New Zealand groceries, provided by
the parishioners of Knox Church. Mixing butter, sugar and vanilla
essence together as a sneaky treat.
Being taken to school, and left with the Infant Mistress, Miss
Whisky, and having to learn English in her office for the fist six
week. Finally let out into the classroom, not knowing how to say
I wanted to go to the toilet, and Lyn being brought from another
class to translate after I burst into tears. Getting the rest of
the day off school.
Being told off for walking on the school hall’s polished
floor with my Dutch hob-nailed boots on, specially worn for the
occasion, when Sir Edmund came to speak to us.
Hiding from the fire engine’s siren in the hedge on the corner
of Epuni St and Kings Crescent.
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