Walker family research

2021 was a taxing year, especially living in Auckland.  Due to Covid, I have had to cancel several holidays, including trips to Christchurch and Brisbane.  I was able to bank all my leave into one long Christmas break.  I was able to spend 5 weeks in Marlborough in which I was able to do a bit of family research.  I spent most of my time at our family batch in Anakoha Bay.

My father had an accident involving a saw bench and was air lifted to Nelson Hospital between Christmas day and New Year’s Day.  As a result, I had three trips to Nelson as part of his checkups and was able to visit the Wakapuaka cemetery for some relatives that are buried there.  I did not have any specific research to do first visiting the cemetery, however after some digging, refined exactly what I was looking for.  Hopefully, I have all I need from the cemetery.

Whawhenga Waaka (1898-1932) and her family

As my main focus turned to who was buried in Wakapuaka Cemetery, this led me to the family of Lena Walker, sister to Wiremu Waaka, my great, great grandfather.  Her part in history has some interesting stories and also leaves some questions.  From her early marriage, children, second marriage and early death.

Whawhenga lived in Nelson with her first husband and had 6 children.  Hilda May born 1915, William John born 1917, Mary Unaiki born 1918, John Michael born 1921, Pauline Hauraki born 1923, and Thomas Balfour born 1925.

It seems that Whawhenga split from John and remarried in 1931 to Henry William Harrison.  It is not known why she had split or why she quickly married.  It is believed that the children went with John and not with Whawhenga.

It was only 6 months after her marriage when Whawhenga died.  She was only 34 years old and died on 2nd June 1932.  It is not known what she died of but it was of an injury or illness as she died in Nelson Hospital.

Whawhenga is the younger sister of Wiremu Waaka, and the leftmost figure in this photo.  She was born on 3rd August 1898 (or 1896 according to ancestry trees), in Okoha to parents Teimi(James) and Ina Waaka (nee Hemi).  This information does not appear to be in the BDM (births, deaths, and marriages) records.

Whawhenga went by Lena as her European name, and it seems like she was known as Lena during most of her life.

At the age of 16 or 17 she married John Parkin Brough in 1914.  John was 33 at the time.  This information is from other trees on Ancestry and there is no date for this wedding, and I cannot find a record for it in the BDM records.


Whawhenga was buried in Wakapuaka Cemetery in the Roman Catholic block.  It was late in my research finding that Lena was buried in this cemetery.  It was due to not being able to find her using the name Whawhenga or Brough.  She was known as Lena Harrison at the time and that is what her records show in the Nelson Cemeteries index.  It seems strange that she is in the Roman Catholic block as she is the only relative in that part of the cemetery.  Finding her grave on Findagrave.com it was thought that she did not have a headstone, however when we visited it there was a headstone there.  There was also some bark on the ground, which had fallen off the tree relating to her.

Whawhenga's first Husband John Parkin Brough (1881-1936)

John Parkin Brough was born on 21st January 1881 in Ballarat, Australia to James Henry and Jane Ann Brough (nee Dixon).  From my research, John moved to New Zealand with his two brothers Henry and Albert.  I am not sure how he met Whawhenga or what he did at the time.

Henry, John’s brother, got married in 1904 on the West Coast to Hellen Morrison.  They had three children, Alfred, John, and Vivienne. Henrry died around 18th May 1914 and is buried in Orowaiti Middle Cemetery on the west coast.  Hellen remarried in 1918 to Thomas Adam Green and had no further children.  Unfortunately, Hellen died 2 years later, on 20th September 1920.  I am not sure if they are buried together but Helen is also buried in the Orowaiti Middle Cemetery.

Back to John, he has a census record recording his residence in Deep Creek for 1925.  He is described as a miner in the record and there is no indication that the family is living with him at this time.  It is assumed that he had split from Whawhenga at this stage.  This is also the same year that his youngest son Thomas Balfour is born.

Unfortunately, John died 2 years after Whawhenga on 6th December 1936.  It does not appear that he remarried during this time and had moved from Nelson to Marlborough during this time.  He is buried in an unmarked grave at the Deep Creek Cemetery.  I think it will be very hard to find his grave at this cemetery, however it is recorded as plot 32.

Whawhenga's second husband - Henry William Harrison (1901-1988)

Whawhenga’s second husband Henry William Harrison lived a long life after their short marriage. 

He married Marie Ester Hodson in 1935, in Nelson, then moved to Marlborough at some stage after that. Henry joined the military becoming a Staff Sergeant. 

Henry died on 19th of September 1988 and is buried in the RSA section at Fairhall Cemetery.

Children of John Parkin and Lena Whawhenga Brough

Hilda May (1915-1961)

Hilda May Brough was the first child of John and Lena Brough.  She was born 6th February 1915.  At this stage she is described as born in Pelorus, however this is most likely at Okoha.

It is not known when Hilda May married George Martin Humphrey, however her first child was born when she was sixteen.  This was Mavis Doreen, born on 10th September 1931 in Otaki.  George was also a Cootes on his mother’s side where his maternal grandmother was Sarah Kathleen Cootes

She had fifteen children, which I will need to continue researching at a later stage.

It looks like Hilda May was living in Otaki from when she was sixteen, however it appears that she also spent some time in Hinakura showing on a census record for 1954, however the birth of her children around the time could also indicate that she moved there around 1948-49.

Hilda May died on 30th November 1961 in Featherston, in which she is buried with her husband and two of her children.

William John (1917-1980)

William John Brough was born 6th April 1917 in what is assumed to be Okoha, like his older sister.

William married Polly Cootes, who was sister of Hapi Cootes, and cousin to Hilda Mays husband George. I am not sure when if they married, I cannot find any record of that, however Polly died at the age of 31 on 8th September 1943.  William was 26 at the time.

It is also not known what William did during his life, only that he died at the age of 63 in 1980 in Auckland.  I am unable to find any record of his burial.  I am not sure if he got remarried.

Mary Unaiki (1918-1944)

Mary Unaiki Brough was born on 27th December 1918 in Okoha. 

She married George Vivian Linton in 1935 in what is assumed to be Nelson when Mary was seventeen.  She had 2 children, Robert George, and Cornelius.  Unfortunately, Robert died at the age of 1 in 1938.  Cornelius was born in 1938 and lived until 2016.

Mary died at the age of 25 on 22nd October 1944 in Christchurch.  She is buried in the Linton family plot alongside her mother-in-law Mary, and her first born Robert. Mary’s husband George and his second wife are also buried in this plot

John Michael (1921-1943)

John Michael Brough was born 21st February 1921 in Nelson.  It appears that John is the first child not born in Okoha. 

John Michael had a child to Kathleen Bridget Brown, who was named John Michael, born 4th March 1941.  This seemed like an unwanted pregnancy and the child went with his mother.  John Michael (junior) was raised by Kathleen and her first husband, John William Ruston, and was brought up thinking that he was a Ruston.  Until only recently,  John Michael Ruston did a DNA test and found that he was not related to his father John Ruston.  It was only found after John Michael’s death that his father was John Michael Brough.

John Michael Brough married Margaret Rennie Howard on 14th March 1942, and had one child with her, Richard John Brough.  Richard was the Brough who contacted the children of John Michael and was able to fill in their family history.  Unfortunately, Richard died 9th December 2020.

John Michael Brough was drafted for World War 2 and died in Italy on 8th December 1943.

Pauline Hauraki (1923-1939)

Pauline Hauraki Brough was born 29th December 1923 in Nelson.

Unfortunately, not much is known about Pauline, I cannot find any photos or any details about her.  She died at the age of 15 on 3rd of February 1939.  She is buried in a plot on her own in Wakapuaka cemetery.

Thomas Balfour (1925-2009)

Thomas Balfour Brough was born 17th October 1925 in Nelson.

in 1956, Thomas married his brother John Michael’s widow, Margaret Rennie (nee Howard) and raised John Michaels child Richard.  Thomas and Margaret had 4 Daughters of their own Wendy, Irene, Judy, and Helen.

Thomas became a carpenter from his census records.

Thomas died at the age of 83 on the 20th of February 2009.  He was cremated and buried at Wakapuaka Cemetery.


It was great finding out about these relatives and searching for their headstones in Wakapuaka Cemetery.  This part of the family is plagued with many early deaths, which askes more questions about how they died.  

Also, there are some questions around Whawhenga and Johns split, this was around their last child, and was she having an affair at the time.

She was also buried in the Roman Catholic section at the Cemetery, however no one else in the family is buried in this area.  I don’t think that any of the other Walker family were Roman Catholics, so this seems a bit strange.

There is a bit of a triangle between John Michael Brough with Margaret Rennie Howard and Johns younger brother Thomas Balfour Brough.  I assume that Margaret was looking for someone to look after their child after Johns Death, and someone within the family probably seemed like a good idea.  It looked like that worked, as Margaret and Thomas had more children.

There is also the Ruston link here which is a bit tragic.  I don’t think John Michael Ruston ever found out about his real father; however, it is great to know that his children were able to discuss their father’s real family with his half-brother Richard John Michael Brough before he died in 2020.

There is also an interesting link here with the Linton family through Mary Unaiki Brough which have many graves in Wakapuaka Cemetery.  I will look at doing a post on them when I have more time.



  • Hi I’m a direct descendent of Lena Waaka, Hilda May is my great grandmother. This info brought tears to my eyes, thank you

    • Kia ora Loren.
      So amazing to come across both this information and your comment. I am also off Lena and Hilda May Brough is my great, great grandmother.
      Would love to connect if you’re interested- fry.i@outlook.com

  • Kia ora Rob.
    This was brilliant to find through a Google search of our Tūpuna, what an amazing write up.
    I misspoke in my reply comment to Loren, Hilda is also my great grandmother and I’m a great, great grandchild of Lena whaawehenga.
    I am also the one who carved her information into the gum tree by her gravesite. Thank you for finding it and placing it nicely.
    I hope your father is alright after his accident.
    Please feel free to get in touch. 🙂

  • Hi there, Hilda May is my grandmother, my mum was Mavis Doreen.

  • Kia ora whanaunga 🥰 yes nanny Hilda had lots of children just like my father used to tell me as a child so we are lucky to have such a large whanau. She is my grandmother (dad’s mum) Linda’s mother, so my great grandmother also. I am 22 yrs old & discovering my roots as I am now carrying my first child, and my father Michael passed away 10yrs ago so I aim to keep the connection strong to his/my/our family for generations to come 💓

    • Kai ora Whanaunga.
      My name is Kelly Gibbons, I am a direct defendant of Lena Waaka, Hilda May was my great grandmother. One of many children she had was Grace who is my nana. Grace and Henry Gibbons had 7 children, names Shirley, Lynn, kath, Debbie, David and Diane (my mother) and lastly Susan.
      My mother has 5 children’, myself being the oldest, and then 4 boys Including a set of twins
      I reside in the lower north island Wairarapa, small town called Greytown.
      I have three children myself, 2 girls, 1 boy.

      My email for Anyone wanting to contact.


  • Hi All,
    I am Joanne Ruston. Granddaughter to John Michael Brough. Thanks Rob for investigating our family. My brother Geoff Ruston and I have missed out on knowing our family thanks to family skeletons. We had no idea we had Maori blood in us until long after my father John Michael Ruston had passed away. I did a DNA test because something wasn’t adding up. 5 years later, we found Dads half brother Richard John Brough. Richard was born John Michael Brough until his mother found out about my dad and his name was changed to Richard John. We were so lucky to find Richard when we did. It was like we were meant to find eachother. We flew to NZ twice to spend time with Richard, his lovely wife Lorraine and Richards 4 sisters. They welcomed us into their family and I will always be great full for that. We are heading off to America in October to meet Richards 4 kids for the first time and to see lovely Lorraine again. I may have missed 50 years of not knowing the truth about Dads father, but I’m not wasting anymore time and getting to know our family now.


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