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  John and Janet May with some of their children, undated c1900

Standing from left: Jessie, John, Eliza (Wannie)

Seated from left: Barbara, John May Snr. Paulina, Janet May, Mary

Held: Murray Henderson Collection, Glenside Progressive Assn. Inc.


 Location of Glenugie

Location of Glenugie in New Zealand


The following article was sourced, with permission, from the writings of Murray Henderson, descendant.


The May and Henderson family of Peterhead, Scotland immigrated to New Zealand in 1886 and settled at The Halfway, now Glenside. They called their 65 acre farm Glenugie, after the River Ugie and Ugie valley near Peterhead.

The homeland in Scotland

John May was the fourth child of nine children from the union of John May and Jane Stephen of Inverallochy, Scotland. His father was an industrious and capable fisherman. In 1838 the family moved to Burnhaven, a small close-knit fishing village not far from Peterhead, Scotland. At the time John was about ten years old. In a few years he would become a competent fisherman and would also extend his skills by taking up trade as a cooper, - a barrel and cask maker.

Janet was the youngest of six children to George Milne and Janet Williamson who lived on a farm four miles west of Peterhead and to the south of the River Ugie in Scotland.

On 2 June 1856 the couple were married at the farm, Hillhead of Cocklaw, near Peterhead.

For the next 30 years Janet and John lived in and near Peterhead. Their family bible records that Janet May gave birth to thirteen children. At the time of their marriage John May was a skilled cooper and fish-curer. He set up his own business in Peterhead. He also had a small farm holding on the outskirts of town and Janet kept a little shop nearby where her younger daughters helped her when necessary.

John and Janet May’s eldest daughter Mary-Jane was the first of their family to marry. Her husband was Captain John Henderson and they married at Peterhead on 27 April 1881.

For reasons unknown John and Janet May and their immediate family, including son-in-law Captain John Henderson and infant son John, left their home in Peterhead and travelled to London where in late January 1886 they boarded the Shaw Savill & Albion Company steamer Ionic and departed for the long voyage to New Zealand.

New Zealand

Toward the end of February the steamer Ionic berthed at Auckland, New Zealand and John and Janet May and their family landed in their new country after a voyage of several weeks. At this time the family consisted of:

The May family

John May, aged 58

Janet May nee Milne aged 50

Eliza Joan May aged 22

Jessie Williamson May aged 20

Barbara Henderson May aged 18

John Alexander May aged 16

Paulina May aged 13

The Henderson family

Mary Jane Henderson nee May aged 24

Captain John Henderson aged 34,

John Seaborn Henderson aged 3.

It would seem that no firm plans had been made about just where the family were to settle in New Zealand. Their first home was in a rented house in Parnell where they stayed for several weeks. A move was then made to Christchurch and then soon after to Blenheim. Whilst there, their daughter Eliza Jane, a qualified teacher, secured a position at the Renwicktown School and taught there for some time. Finally the opportunity came for the Mays to establish themselves with some permanency.


Glenugie homestead

May Family on the front steps of Glenugie in 1886

Held: Murray Henderson Collection, Glenside Progressive Assn. Inc.

Arrival at The Halfway (Glenside)

On 30th July 1886 John May purchased a small farm of 65 acres just north of Johnsonville in an area then known as the Halfway. This property was part of the original Section 24 on the Porirua Road and was brought from Charles Pichoir de Launay who had recently built a house there.

With obvious nostalgic reference to their homeland the farm was named Glenugie after the river and valley near Peterhead that had so greatly influenced the lives of their ancestors for several centuries.

Subsequent family recollections seem to confirm the fact that this was not easy land to farm and that great effort was needed to make it reasonably productive. But at least they owned it and a period of consolidation followed.

Opportunities also existed for John May to used his other considerable skills as a cooper and fish curer. At this time the small community of Paremata on the shores of the Porirua Harbour a few miles north of Glenugie was developing as a growing inshore fishing base in the Wellington district. Its accessibility was greatly enhanced in the mid 1880’s by the construction and opening of the privately owned Wellington and Manawatu Railway Company’s line and tenancy of small sections of land on the foreshore and reclamations associated with that line in the area were offered to interested parties, some of whom were already “squatters.”

Probably in the late 1880’s John May with his son John Alexander May as a worthy assistant, built premises on the shorefront at Paremata and started an operation which comprised a cooperage and smoking and curing facilities. They employed local fishermen to provide the catch and very quickly they became firmly established. They were soon joined by Thomson Bruce, a skilled fisherman, who had worked for John May back in Peterhead and who would later marry his daughter Barbara. Their business was known as J. May and Co.

As the family settled down to life in New Zealand each member became involved in other pursuits and interests. In the absence of the Congregational Church in the area, John and Janet became loyal and respected members of the Johnsonville Wesleyan Methodist Church and remained so for the rest of their lives. After some fourteen years yet another move was contemplated and effected soon after.

Move into Johnsonville

John May sold the Glenugie farm to John Collings Moxham on 29th September 1900 and purchased a block of land in the heart of Johnsonville – bounded by the lower end of Trafalger Street and Railway Terrace (now Frankmore Avenue). This section was only metres away from the site on the banks of the Waitohi Stream where in 1841 settler Frank Johnson built a house on his 100 acre Section 11 on the Porirua Road.

When they took up residence in Johnsonville, John and Janet May began a period of relatively quiet retirement. John apparently never became involved in public life but both of them maintained their reputations as very respected and popular members of the community.

John and Janet May celebrated their Golden Wedding at Johnsonville in 1906. John May died on 30 August 1907 aged 78 and Janet May died two years later on 17 July 1909 aged 73. Both are buried in the Wesleyan Methodist Church Cemetery in the heart of Johnsonville.

Honouring John May

John May’s death was recorded back in his old home town and his obituary printed in the Peterhead Sentinel read thus:

Death of the Townsman in New Zealand

"The death took place at Johnsonville, Wellington, New Zealand, on 30 August 1907 of Mr John May late of Peterhead, at the advanced age of 78. Mr May was well known and greatly respected in the community for nearly half a century, and many will remember the surprise evinced at the time when he, with a grown-up family, emigrated to New Zealand over twenty years ago. He was very strong and consistent in church matters and very soon he was as highly respected in the land of his adoption, as he was in the land of his birth. He was buried in Johnsonville cemetery on 1st September and the funeral was one of the largest ever seen in the district being attended by all in the neighbourhood and for many miles around. At the grave the officiating minister in an address to a gathering of most of the inhabitants of the township, pointed out the sterling qualities of the deceased who set a splendid example to all who knew him and came in contact with him; he took no part in public affairs, rather obscuring himself but he led an active and useful life. He is survived by a grown-up family.”


The Glenugie Farm was bought by the Moxham family, followed by the Hodge family and the Pender family. The Pender's sold to the Wrightson company, and the homestead was subsequently pulled down in about 1979. The homestead block was separated from the main farm by the Westchester link road and is named "Waitakaro".  The Reedy family own this land and the main farm, which is on the north side of the Westchester link road.

“Few if any in the area will now remember John and Janet May, their family and the Glenugie farm. However to us descendents the attractive little Glen will remain a tangible, lasting local reminder of long ago and the lands of the Ugie on the other side of the world from whence it gained its name.”  The words of descendant Murray Henderson (1928 - 2008) in the book From Glen to Glen.

Further reading:

From Glen to Glen The Story of John and Janet May, Their ancestors and descendants. Privately published family history.

Captain John Henderson 1852-1924 His ancestors and descendants. Privately published family history.