Friday 25 January 2019
James was born on 11 September 1908 in Birkenhead UK. He started work as a baker’s errand boy in 1922, but within a year was working in the shipyards. He first worked at Cammell Laird and later, in 1924, at the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board de-scaling and cleaning ship boilers.
On 27 May 1926 James Payne emigrated from Liverpool under the Dreadnought Scheme, with £20 and a case of clothes, on Shaw Savill and Albion’s ship, Pakeha. There were 47 other boys in their group on the ship and, after calling in at Cape Town for coal, Albany, Adelaide and Melbourne, they arrived in Sydney on 17 July.
James was immediately sent to train at Grafton Experimental Farm, until 8 October 1926, when he was placed on a farm at Spring Grove, near Casino. The following year he was joined by another ‘English lad’. Farms were being sold up because of drought, but when rain had come bringing the new grass, James’ boss needed another milker. Apart from the milking there was very little to do, and eventually the farm was sold, and the two boys paid off. They headed for Sydney.
Sensing better opportunities, James Payne travelled from Sydney to Wellington, New Zealand, on the Ulimaroa, on 12 August 1927. He stayed at the Salvation Army Hostel until his money ran out, and went to the Labour Exchange. There were no jobs available but just as he was walking out, he was asked “Can you milk cows? Can you fence? An enquiry has just come in.” He was sent to Mr Charlie Thomas’ farm at nearby Miramar, where he got the job.
For the next two years James worked on several farms in the areas around Wellington and Lake Wairarapa, but on 17 July 1929 a new opportunity came. There was a major earthquake at Murchison on the South Island, followed by a nation-wide call for men to help in the reconstruction. James Payne and others responded. When they arrived in Murchison, they asked the local storekeeper about getting a job. They were told the Public Works Department Foreman would be in that afternoon. When he arrived, they signed on and received a tent fly, an axe, a shovel and a few utensils.
The earthquake had cost 17 lives and done damage over a wide area. Many roads and several rivers were blocked. For his part in the reconstruction, Jim initially worked on access tracks, then stone cages for the sides of the Maruia River and later on the repair or rebuilding of bridges. He continued in the bridge gangs, living in tent camps near the work. In 1932 he brought his bride, Minnie Gibson, to share this life.
By 1938, James Payne was on road work as a permanent surfaceman for the PWD. However, petrol rationing and the need to educate the children well, meant a move to Nelson by 1943. Boarding at first, they were soon in their own home. As Jim had his PWD shot-firer’s ticket he was kept busy around the coast.
As this work eased, he was employed on the highways with the only tarsealing plant in the Nelson District. In 1946 the Tar Sprayer got cancer and Jim was asked by the PWD to take over that position. On doctor’s advice, he later left the job because of the health risk.
After a number of cleaning positions, James became Head Porter at Nelson Public Hospital in 1962. After more than four decades away, he was able to visit his relatives in Birkenhead UK in 1969.
James Payne lived until 1990 when he died, aged 82, after a short battle with cancer. Ironically, the doctor diagnosing the cancer was the son of the doctor who had advised him to leave the tarsealing work.