Detective work solves mystery of 100-year-old photos

A photograph of the wedding between Florence Westlake and Gerald Baker was key to unlocking the mystery.

Dedicated detective work by Warkworth museum volunteer Alan Britton has solved the mystery of hundreds of old family photographs, left hidden in furniture donated to Warkworth Wellsford hospice.

The photos came to light when the furniture, possibly from a deceased estate, was being sorted and cleaned, as reported by Mahurangi Matters (MM August 2, 2017).

As there were no clues as to who the furniture belonged to and no one returned to claim the photographs, Hospice passed them on to the museum.

The black and white photographs dated back to the early 1900s.

The photos appeared to have been shot in England, some during the period of the First World War.

The only clue to their possible identity was an undated press cutting, which came with the photographs, which identified an Ivy Beale of Tavistock, Devon, England.

Included in the photographs was a wedding group that Alan suspected may have been taken in Tavistock.

He sent a copy of the picture to the Tavistock Times Gazette, which ran a story about the mystery pictures.

Readers identified the grand house in the wedding picture as Rydal Mount and researchers in Devon joined Alan in the quest to find out more.

It emerged that the wedding took place in April 1919 and was between Florence Westlake and Gerald Bousfield Baker – an army officer serving as an observer with the RAF.

It was an emotional moment when Alan Britton, left, handed over the pictures to Tony Westlake in an Auckland hotel.

The house was owned by Florence’s two widowed aunts. One of whom, Rhoda Mary Westlake, migrated to Australia in 1927.

She subsequently travelled on to Auckland and married a Mr John Holt Lyon at Pitt Street Methodist church in 1932. The couple ended up farming in Taranaki. John died in 1956 and Rhoda died in 1975.
It’s believed the photographs belonged to Rhoda Mary and she took them with her when she migrated to New Zealand.

But Alan says how the pictures managed to get from Taranaki to Warkworth is a puzzle that may never be solved.

However, Alan did manage to contact a surviving Westlake relative in the UK – Tony Treliving Westlake who – as luck would have it – was planning a trip to New Zealand over the New Year.

Alan was able to hand over the pictures to an “astounded” Tony in an Auckland Hotel. Tony and other family members have subsequently been able to identify many of the faces and places in the photographs.

Alan says the whole research process has taken the best part of 14 months. He says what spurred him on was his interest in genealogy and researching his own family background. He knew that anybody who shared the same interest in the Westlake family would find the photographs invaluable.

“The actual handover at the hotel was quite emotional for me,” he says.     

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