Sharp-Healy Family

The Story of the first two Generations

John Bentley Sharp 1885-1964

John Bentley Sharp.

John Bentley Sharp was born on 11 September 1885 at Maclaggan Street, Dunedin. His birth certificate states that his father was John Sharp, a storeman aged 43 from London and Isabella Mary Ann Sharp (formerly Hann) aged 28 from London and that they were married on 11 May 1875 in London.

Bentley (or alternative spelling of Bently) is an old family name. He was 5 foot 3 inches in height, of small boned physique, black hair and dark brown eyes and fair complexion. He was christened at St Peter's, Caversham and attended Caversham School.

He married Margaret Healy in St Joseph's Church, Dunedin on 1 January 1913 (although Eileen says it was at the registry office) - no publication of the marriage has been found. Margaret was born on 30 June 1887 in Kyeburn. His occupation was hotelkeeper. They had seven children altogether (known as Generation 2).

Eileen says that a friend gave them their wedding reception at her home and later they went for their honeymoon. On return from their honeymoon, John his father, gave them one of his three cottages in Caversham overlooking Carisbrook to live in. They remained there until 1914 when they decided to go into business - a grocery shop, in Cashel St, there were lots of grocery shops around run by couples, as there weren't any supermarkets in those days.

The stories on this page were taken from the transcript by Dale Hartle of a tape produced by Eileen in 1998.

1914, The Dunedin grocery store

The grocery shop consisted of a wooden two storied building, with a shop at the front, behind that a sitting room, a kitchen and a washhouse and a large storeroom. Upstairs was the bathroom and 3 bedrooms.

John would go out around his customers taking the list of groceries or goods they needed for the following week and later in the week he would visit and deliver the goods, and one day a week he would go to the warehouse to resupply the shop.

Seven months later, on 4 July 1913 their first child Eileen was born in St Helen's Hospital owned by a midwife in Dunedin. When Eileen was about 7 months old, her father had gone out on his rounds and the shop wasnt very busy, so her mother decided to make some raspberry jam, as she was a great cook.

Tragic fire

The only heating she had gas a gas range, so she put the raspberry jam on and just as it was settling down she was called in to the shop to attend to a customer, and stayed and talked for a while. Margaret didn't realise time had gone by and smoke started pouring out from the kitchen into the shop, and she went into the kitchen to find it was on fire. She only had time to rush upstairs to grab Eileen from the cot before running out onto the street to stand and watch their dreams, their business, had been burnt to the ground.

So you can just imagine the shock and distress of John when he arrived home to find the premises and his business destroyed. Eileen says her mother always hated the thought of rasperry jam from then on, and avoided the use of gas after that. (However no record of the fire has yet been found in the local newspapers.)

A friend rented them a house for a short time then they bought a bigger house in Bourke Street, Mornington. They settled down again and John was able to get a job in a warehouse in the shoe department in Dunedin, and he had a nice garden, and ran fowls, it was a very homely life. They lived at Bourke Street until about late 1916-17, in the meantime Grandad Sharp came to live with them for quite a long time.

John Bentley was a quite spoken man of quiet manner, and objected to any kind of bad language in the presence of women and children. He played football for the southern football club in Dunedin, was a good rifle shot, enjoyed trout and deep sea fishing, and enjoyed billiards and cards. He had a light tenor singing voice and enjoyed a party socially, as well as ballroom dancing and live theatre.

He carved wooden trays with brass handles, cabinets the fashion of the day, also small cabinets for odds and ends, pipe rack and a cabinet for his tobacco, and this was usually put in the sitting room or parlour of the day and the pipe rack was placed near handy the fire where it was handy when he relaxed.

John Bentley was a good all round in mens' company, he had had a business background so that served him well when he entered into hotelkeeping later on.

He was engaged in office work for two businessmen in Dunedin, also attached to horse rating and a clerk on horse racing club meetings around Otago.

More tragedy

Then about when Eileen was about 9 months old, fate struck again, she contracted poliomylitis and was immediately admitted to hospital, spending several months there receiving treatment.

Joan was born on 1 December 1914 and weighed about 4 and a half pound, although quite a healthy baby. Apparently Margaret lost several babies prematurely before their due date.

When Doreen was born on 29 August 1916 she was a ten pounder, Margaret maintaining she had gone a month overdue.

When John and Margaret had saved sufficient money to purchase a new house, they bought one in Hague Street, Mornington, and next door they also bought a small two-bedroom cottage. The Hague Street house consisted of a front room or sitting room, separate kitchen and dining room, three bedrooms, and a washhouse. It was a nice house and the family enjoyed living there. John had a nice job and was very happy.

Eileen had been admitted to hospital again just before her fifth birthday to have surgery on her right leg due to her polio, and eventually she had a few months in hospital. John received a bill for her care from the hospital. So he went down to see the chairman of the board and in those days you had to list when you were admitted to hospital, all your assets, so he was told that he owned two houses, he would have to sell one of them to pay the hospital bill. He explained that he didn't have the ready cash and had a fourth child on the way, and must have asked for credit of some sort. However Eileen says the chairman didn't have much sympathy for him, so he had to sell the cottage to pay the bill.

Also about that time Grandad Healy had died suddenly in Dunedin Hospital (10 August 1918), on 30 August 1918 their first son Denis was born, a small but healthy baby, and later Margaret's younger brother Denis was killed while serving in France (16 October 1918), so the family had their problems at that time.

Move to Kyeburn 1919

Soon after that in 1919, the great influenza epidemic struck in New Zealand, and as Grandmother Healy was now living in Naseby, the family homestead at Kyeburn was empty, so John persuaded Margaret to take the children and go up and live there for a time until the plaque was over.

He went up to see the family from time to time, while he was still working in Dunedin, and one day he was talking to some of the farmers who were looking for someone to help with controlling the rabbits in the area. They persuaded John to help as he was such a good shot, so he went up to Kyeburn to live with the family and to help with the rabbits. Soon after, the school board at Hyde wanted someone to board a new lady school teacher who was coming to teach at the school, and they offered Margaret free rent of the school house if she would board the school teacher. As the school was about 4 miles from the homestead, the family moved into the schoolhouse and boarded the teacher, and Joan and Eileen were enrolled in 1919 at the Kyeburn school.

The family remained there for about two years and during that time Miss Hughes was being courted by a young farmer Harold Strode and they were eventually married. John did well at his rabbit shooting, and was well liked, and made a lot of money as rabbit hides were receiving a good price on the markets.

Eileen recalls that while they were living at Kyeburn, Margaret used to take them down to the river, about a mile from where they lived, and quite often their father would be out on his rounds, and we would go down to the river to join them for a picnic. The family really enjoyed these outings.

In 1920 HRH Prince Edward, the Prince of Wales, tourned New Zealand, and Margaret along with her daughter Joan and some friends, left for Dunedin in time to see the Prince of Wales pass through the city. Aparently it was quite a highlight for her.

However a few days later Margaret suddenly became very ill and was taken back to Dunedin, only to find she had smallpox, which was a worldwide epidemic at the time, and she was also four and a half months pregnant. This pregnancy ended and they never knew the sex of the child. Grandma Healy came down to Kyeburn to look after the children while Margaret was sick in hospital.

Then about 1921 the family decided to go back to Hague Street in Dunedin, and were ready to set up in business again, with the money John had made rabbitting.

1922-24 Central Otago Hotel, Hyde

So they went back to Dunedin but there was no work for them, but just by chance, he had the opportunity to buy into the Hyde Hotel, in Central Otago. It was called the Otago Central Hotel at that time.

So he sold the Hague Street home in Dunedin, and with extra help was able to finance himself into the hotel, so the started off on a new life back up to Central Otago.

Unfortunately Eileen ended up back in hospital at the time, but Joan and Doreen were enrolled in the Hyde School, and Denis was enrolled in 1923 when he turned five years of age.

The Hyde Hotel was a big rambling wooden place, one of the first hotels built in central Otago and was divided in the bar and business side and household side of the hotel. Eileen says that what comes to mind about this was the fact that her parents 35 years successful hotelling was due to the fact that "father ran the bar and business part of the hotel, and mother ran the household side of the hotel. It meant that mother employed and discharged and engaged and controlled the household side of the hotel, and never interfered with father's business, they talked about it though." Also attached to the hotel was a store, which catered for equipment, shoes, clothing and boots for the farmers, and had the post office and full grocery and part of the butchery all connected. "So during the day father had quite enough in the store to keep him busy and most of the bar trade was done from 4 pm when the farmers and wives would come in from their day for drinks and socialising. Mother before going up to Hyde was trained in Dunedin by the Post Office how to run a country post office, so she had to answer all the telephones which were manual to the homes, all the telegrams and parcels going in and out of the post office. To help her with that part, Bill Foley, a young plumbing apprentice came up and took over the post office."

Then in the Autumn of 1922, when Eileen was 9, Margaret woke during the night came up with a severe bleeding and threat of a miscarriage, which meant it was urgent and very serious. Eileen says, "Somehow they got in touch with the doctor from Middlemarch Hospital and he spent several hours with her until the train came through in the early hours of the morning, and mother was stretchered onto the guards van, as her life was in danger. The doctor stayed with her until she was admitted to Middlemarch Hospital, and a Matron Paddock looked after her until she finally miscarried twins at about 5 months. They believe they were boys. Mother then spent quite a long time regaining her strength after the great loss of blood she had suffered."

Eileen remembers that Grandma Healy arrived prompt haste at this time to look after the family but mainly to take over household duties and staff at the time as father wasn't a good housekeeper.

This photo shows Denis, Doreen, Eileen and Phil Blackie, with the maid Maud and Bill Foley, taken in 1921 when Denis was 3.

Sharp family at Hyde Hotel.

Cocky the Parrot

"However we had at that time a maid named Maude and a Mrs Muir who was the cook. Grandma arrived with a pure white parrot named Cocky - he had a yellow feathered top and when he got angry he would fan up his feathers on the top of his head, he was very naughty." Grandma Healy took over and eventually mother came home. When Grandma Healy went home they wanted her to leave the parrot with them; his leg was chained so he couldn't fly about and become a nuisance.

Eileen says that the hotel house part was not always full of guests, usually overnight stayers coming up from Dunedin or from Central, and once or twice a few weekend people might come up and stay, a honeymoon couple for instance. Once a year at duckshooting time, four businessmen would come and stay at the hotel and had to be away at 5 am to find their possie for duckshooting and they used to look for other wild fowl, such as pheasants, in the area. So that meant an early rise for mother and the maid to cook and get the men off with a substantial breakfast, and also to pack them a lunch, usually a mean of sliced cold meat of buttered bread and fruit, scones, and they would boil their own billy, enough for two meals.

"So the night before going to bed mother would arrange everything on the kitchen table and cupboards, a big bowl of eggs, bacon already sliced, bread sliced, butter ready, for the men to get off. But Cocky hadn't been chained up the night before, and he had a party in the kitchen. During the night somehow he pecked holes in the butter, chewed the bread and broke the eggs and tossed it all around the kitchen. Well, that was the end of Cocky in the hotel and mother demanded he be taken away from the hotel. I think the men survived but that was the sort of thing that went on in those days in the countryside."

Hotel life

There were three large paddocks attached to the hotel, one for growing oats for the animals. We ran two cows, two horses, we had sheep, we had hens and ducks and geese, and a pigsty which we kept one sty for the breeding sow having her young and the other for the older pigs.

Hyde was a little country town and there were about half a dozen or more railway houses which housed the men who controlled the goods trains coming and going, and men who were employed on the railway lines, along with an inspector on a trolley who used to peddle up and down to check the lines to make sure there were no broken lines. There was one particular family of Smiths, Lillian was the oldest, then there was Sandy and Fred, who we were most attached to. They had a couple of dogs, and a Spaniel, and two ferrets.

The children go rabbiting

So there was the Smiths, the Sharps, and one or two other older children from some of the other houses, and away up the hills we would go rabbitting. We wouldn't take any lunch but the boys would have nets, and tonnyhawks and grubbers to dig into the rabbit burrows to rescue their ferrets, because very often the ferrets would find a happy family inside and promptly go to sleep. So we would block up the entrances to the burrows with nets and rocks, and down the hole the ferrets would go. Sometimes the rabbits shot out and sometimes we would wait and wait, and the ferrets would find the young nest of rabbits and would tuck in. So we would gather dead grass and twigs and green ones to create smoke to smoke out the burrows to get the ferrets out. Sometimes it would work and sometimes it didn't and very often we'd arrive home late, very hungry and tired, but no rabbits.

Another time mother would want mushrooms in the autumn, so off we would go on a mushroom trip, we'd walk for miles picking up mushrooms. There were the very large horse mushrooms, and the smaller white ones with pink underbellies. Anyway we got to this paddock and found some huge horse mushrooms and filled up all our bags, feeling very proud of ourselves. When we got home mother would say oh no they are poisonous, and we'd have to throw them out.

We had about a mile and a half to walk to school so we took our lunches with us, but quite often in winter we couldn't go to school because of the frosts and snow, but it was lovely in summer. Quite often on our return from school in early autumn we would go into the farmers garden and paddocks where they used to grow swedes and pick some to chew on our way home. It was great life at Hyde for a young family. On Friday afternoons we used to have the afternoon sports, running, in the winter it would be football and in the summer cricket or running races, and that is where Doreen got her taste for sports because she always used to win, no matter what she did, she was one of the best.

On one sports day she was locked in the schoolhouse for doing something naughty, but Doreen wasn't having any of that, so she decided to climb out one of the windows and go home. It was quite high and took off home, and when we went to let her out, Doreen had disappeared. She always enjoyed sport and brought her three children up liking sport as well.

Another time while we were at Hyde, the circus came to town, it camped in the large section across the road from the hotel. In the morning after it had arrived, when we woke up it was there. Father took us over to visit the circus, it was a highlight of our day, and on Saturday afternoon all the children from far and wide arrived to visit the circus. He enjoyed it as much as we did as children.

We left Hyde Hotel about the middle or end of 1923 and funnily enough in 1925 the Hyde Hotel was burnt to the ground, and some years later Raymond and I went to a trip through Central Otago, and stopped where the hotel was but there was no trace of it, nor the town hall which was next to the hotel. They had big functions, balls, and dances at the town hall. Quite often mum and Dad would get dressed up and go to the ball at the town hall. They enjoyed the interlude of social occasions like this.

This event was recorded in the newspapers of the time: "HOTEL BURNED. Auckland Star, Volume LVI, Issue 200, 25 August 1925, Page 9: WITH STORE AND HALL. DUNEDIN. This day. The Otago Central Hotel, with store and hall attached, an old landmark at Hyde, was destroyed by fire this morning."

1923-1925 Alexandra

Eileen recalls that about 1923 the family moved from Hyde to Alexandra. "I don't know how it came about but apparently the Caledonian Hotel in Alexandra was up for lease and father signed up. During these gaps between moving to one place to another, a few months here or there, Joan and Doreen and I usually ended up with either Grandma Healy or Mrs Strode, we called her Aunty Strode. We shared our holidays with them when we were on the move. Aunty Strode remained a family friend until her death in the late 1930s. She had one daughter named Mary who at 13 died of tuberculosis. They were also farmers who had a herd of cattle which she milked and sold the cream and milk. It made Joan and Doreen and myself more important to her as she liked our company, but she had 5 sons also, and one of her sons married Mabel Hughes.

At Alexandra, it was quite a nice hotel, partly wood, and brick, so Dad apparently got the lease of the hotel for three years. In those days the hotels were owned by widows or families and hotelkeepers paid a lease for so many years, it was usually three to five years.

It was a nice place; Alexandra is a town quite different to Hyde, it was a big commercial farming area, with gold dredging in the Clutha. We enjoyed the different atmosphere, compared to Hyde, which was quite unique and quiet, but Alexandra had a bigger shopping area, and businessmen, two or three banks, huge post office, doctors and dentists. It was surrounded by huge rocks and trees and surrounded by rivers, very warm, a good fruit growing place, and was the centre of the area's business.

While we were living at the Caledonian Hotel, electricity was switched on one night with great joy and celebrations, and some of the engineers and electricians who helped put the electricity through were contracted to live at the hotel. Before that there were just the ordinary iron street lamps which were lit just before dusk.

We left Alexandra in the spring of 1925.

1925-1928 Dunedin

The family were back living in Dunedin between 1925 and 1928, with the children attending local schools.

On 2 December 1926, the twins John and Desmond were born. Eileen recalls that "Father bought a car when the twins were born because he realised he would have to have some means of getting around with a family, as he enjoyed going out on Sundays for picnics, so he bought an American Dodge, it was a huge car, it would take the four children on the back seat, and loaded with two extras as well when we went on these Sunday excursions into the country. We'd take enough food for two or three meals, sliced cold meat, salads, cake and a thermos to boil for the billy. During that time Tane was courting Joan and he would come out and stay at the hotel on Friday and Saturday night and away we'd go on Sundays when the older men would go and shoot rabbits. Other young men Tane knew would come out on the Sunday as well."

Eileen says: "Mother had also come into a small inheritance from the estate of her mother, and I think she put that money into the education of her daughters, and she put that into Archerfield College, and there was the case of outfitting of the girls with uniforms in 1928, Joan and Eileen started in the February of 1928."

1928-1935 Commercial Hotel, Green Island

John Bentley and Margaret Sharp.

Sometime in 1928, John and Margaret, together with their six children, took up the lease at the Commercial Hotel at Green Island. At this stage, Eileen was 15 years of age, Joan 14, Doreen 12, Denis 10 and the twins Desmond and John were two. Desmond's earliest recollection of his childhood is of being dressed beside a gas heater by my mother or nanny on a morning in the smoking room of the hotel.

View of Commercial Hotel, Green Island.

Photo of list of Hotelkeepers.

From 1929 life continued much the same at the hotel, comings and goings, daily life, daily routine, we didn't have very many guests, just from time to time we had friends around. In 1931, mother was pregnant again and on 30 June, Norwood Alexander Sharp was born, weighing about 6 and a half pounds, a healthy boy, with fair hair and blue eyes. Now we are a family of seven, and later we had a nursemaid to help.

We'd also go on fishing trips out to Outram Glen and the Clutha and sometimes up north to a place called Waitati, and go inland there to the Waitati Steam or river, and to the fisheries where they were cultivating and experimenting with trout which were later released into the rivers in the Otago area.

We also had many trips to the beach for swimming, we had lots of picnics, it was great relaxation for father. Father also found relaxation going off with two or three of his men friends and they would go off fishing way down the harbour fishing for blue cod.

But we always had plenty of food and always seemed to be something going on, someone wanting food, it was a very enjoyable life at Green Island, and the boys joined in everything, and Joan, Doreen and I were making friends locally, and with Tane, there was a group of young men around, and we had church dances at the Church of England once a month during the winter from Easter to Labour Day. We congregated together as a group at these dances, also the tennis club dances. Then there were balls which came and went, the brass band ball, the football club ball, and they were held in the big town hall next to the hotel, and there were bus loads of people who would come out from Dunedin, it was a novelty coming out in the bus to the country balls.

John Bentley with John and Norrie, 1934.

Over the next two to three years Norrie grew to be a difficult boy and mother decided to put him into an academy with the sisters to teach him to settle down because in a year or so he would be entering school, but he remained there until he was older, then moved to other schools as mother and father moved around.

Break from hotel life

Desmond recalls that his parents retired from hotel life in 1936, and bought a house in London Street, Dunedin. They had decided they wanted to get out of the hotel, even though the lease had been for 10 years, and as it was a family trust hotel, and they had been unable to purchase it. So they moved to 10 Wilson Avenue, St Clair, Dunedin, into a modern new home about 1937. By chance John and Margaret had a week or ten days holiday in Christchurch at the big race meeting, and while they were there they approached friends of theirs, the Gregorys, and they ran a restaurant in the centre of town. It was a big place, upstairs was a huge kitchen, and a ballroom, and a smaller room with its own smaller kitchen, a conference room, and they held dances upstairs regularly. It was a leading place for social life in Christchurch. So after living privately for the past few years, John and Margaret arranged to manage the business in Christchurch, and once again the family was on the move. "My father took on the management of the White Hart Hotel, in High Street, Christchurch. My parents bought or rented a house in Bealey Avenue where we lived for a short time. Then my parents decided to run the Trafalgar Hotel in Nelson as proprietors, so in October 1941 we all shifted to Nelson."

Trafalgar and Royal Hotels, Nelson

John Bentley with Peter Morrison.

In October 1941 John and Margaret took up the lease of the Trafalgar Hotel in Nelson, and the family moved up there. You can read more on Desmond's page. The hotel was in the main Street of Nelson, a three storey wooden building with accommodation for guests a bar and dining room, kitchen etc, and the family lived on the premises. Later they leased the Royal Hotel for several years, until their early 70s when they retired. Eileen says: "I feel the success of their 40 years in hotel life was due to their team work."

By the mid 1950s, John Bentley was the sole surviving child of John and Isabella Sharp. Unfortunately in 1949 John and Margaret split up, going their separate ways. By this time, all their children had grown up and left home. John went back to Dunedin and lived with his daughter Doreen and her family. She looked after him for a long time until he used to wander off and not know where he was. Eventually he went to Cherry Farm for his own safety where he had 24/7 care until he died.


John Bentley Sharp died on 26 June 1964 aged 79 years at 37 Greenhill Avenue, Dunedin. He was buried on 27 June in Block 251, Plot 49, at Andersons Bay Cemetery. When Margaret died 16 years later in 1980, she was also buried in this plot.

His Death Notice reads:

"Sharp, on June 26, 1964, at Dunedin, John Bently (Jack), husband of Margaret Sharp, loved father of Eileen (Mrs E Baker, Pine Hill), Joan (Mrs J L T Braithwaite, Mornington), Doreen (Mrs D Morrison, Wakari), Dennis (Sydney), John (Motueka), Desmond (Wellington), and Norrie (Dannevirke), and loved grandfather of all his grandchildren, aged 79 years. The funeral will leave our chapel, 78 St Andrew St, today (Saturday) June 27 after a service commencing at 1 pm for the Andersons Bay Cemetery. Messages to 32 Elgin Road, Mornington. No flowers by request. Hope and Sons Ltd, funeral directors."

Headstone - John Bentley and Margaret Sharp
Headstone - John Bentley and Margaret Sharp
Family at John Bentley Sharp grave
Desmond Sharp and his family at the grave of John Bentley Sharp in January 1976.

The headstone inscription reads: In Loving memory of John Bently Sharp, died 26th June 1964, aged 78 years, and his beloved wife Margaret, died 28 September 1980, aged 93 years.

More details about the life and times of John Bentley Sharp are told by his son Desmond.

Dale Hartle at Sharp Family Plot, December 2019.

Dale Hartle at Sharp Family Plot, December 2019.