Kemps gather at Kemp House for 200th anniversary celebration


Over 40 descendants of missionaries James and Charlotte Kemp gathered at the Kerikeri Mission Station in the weekend to commemorate their family ties to one of New Zealand’s earliest settlements. 

Kemp family reunion

James and Charlotte helped establish the fledgling Christian mission in 1819. The historic Kemp House – originally built for Rev John Butler and his family three years after the mission was established – was named after the missionary couple, who acquired the house in the 1830s.

"It was a privilege to be able to host some of James and Charlotte’s descendants – and a particular pleasure to meet descendants of Ernest and Dory Kemp, who gifted Kemp House to the nation in 1974," says Kerikeri Mission Station Property Lead, Liz Bigwood.

"We loved hearing stories from Ernest and Dory’s grandchildren who remember Kemp House as 'Granny and Grand-dad’s house when they were children."

The descendants of Charlotte and James enjoyed tours of the house and historic Stone Store over the weekend tying in with the Tūhono Kerikeri bicentennial celebrations.

For Roy Collett – grandson of Ernest Kemp, who spent a lot of time with his grand-father – Ernest was a childhood hero. One stand-out memory was catching a shark with a rod and reel in the Bay of Islands and bringing it home to the house.

"He was a top guy – friendly with everyone, and always willing to share stories with people who came to visit Kemp House," he says.

"He spoke fluent Te Reo from his years spent farming on the East Coast where there very few Pākehā around, and was a leader in the community – widely respected by everyone."

Another grandson, John Robson, remembers Kemp House as 'grand-dad’s house' – and also has fond memories of his adventurous grandfather.

"Ernest served in Palestine during the First World War. He was an outdoors man and was never seen without his enormous knife, which he made himself – probably from a tempered steel saw blade," says John.

"The local police were sometimes a little worried about Ernest’s knife, though they needn’t have been. He was a farmer, and his knife was really a part of him – an important tool he liked to have on hand. Many people remember him sitting on the porch of Kemp House whittling a piece of wood, or peeling an apple with it."

John remembers when his grandfather stayed with his family for a brief period before moving to a retirement home in Whangarei. The ever-helpful  Ernest had sharpened the family’s bread and butter knives to a state of combat-ready keenness – much to the horror of John’s mother.

Another grandson, Nigel Robson, who remembers staying in one of the bedrooms on the top floor of Kemp House as a boy, also recalls a barrel of missionary-era cut nails splitting open spilling its metal contents all over the ground.

"If you ran a metal detector over the place, you’d almost certainly find them there, buried today," he says.

All of Ernest’s grandsons remember playing with a toy Noah’s Ark when they were children – an artefact dating back to Charlotte and James Kemp – and the recent visit to Kemp House provided an opportunity for them to reacquaint themselves with the wooden toy.

The Ark is now a precious collection item representing a strong connection with the original missionary family.

Jim Kemp – another grandson of Ernest – took the opportunity on behalf of the Kemp family to present a framed facsimile of some pages from the original Kemp family Bible to Kerikeri Mission Station Manager, Liz Bigwood.

"This was a wonderful gesture on behalf of the Kemp family, and we will make sure that it is displayed in an appropriate place inside Kemp House," says Liz.

"This is an important year – the 200th anniversary of the establishment of the mission at Kerikeri and also 200 years since the arrival of James and Charlotte Kemp in New Zealand. It was a pleasure to share this very special anniversary with so many of James and Charlotte’s descendants."


Image (above): Grandchildren of Ernest and Dory Kemp, and descendants of missionaries James and Charlotte Kemp at the Stone Store. Ernest Kemp gifted Kemp House to the nation in 1974. L-R: Roy Collett, Nigel Robson, Raey Fulton, John Robson, Brian Robson and Jim Kemp.