This photograph, part of the Motueka and Districts Historical Association collection, has been copied with their kind permission. As a guess, based on the hand-writing and comments, the picture may have come from the collection of Adelaide Bensemann, a daughter of Adolph Bensemann shown standing third from left.
The band was sometimes called the Bensemann Band not only because most of its members were Bensemanns but because nearly all were Bensemann relatives - for example Joseph Heine pictured fourth from left at the back was the youngest child of Anna Heine nee Bensemann.
According to Leone Morris-Bensemann in her book Escape from Sarau, published in 2006 by Scholastic NZ, the band members had to send to Germany for their instruments and learned to play them months later when the instruments arrived by sailing ship. Leonie is the great grand-daughter of George Bensemann; the imposing figure standing third from right at the back. Although it is difficult to tell in the above photo, George has only one arm. In her book, Leonie said George lost his hand in a sawmilling accident and because Sarau was so isolated in those days his family tried to treat the stump themselves. Two days later they were forced to take George to the doctor at Motueka, who had to cut the arm off above the elbow because of infection. It was done without anesthetics. The Bensemann family, devoutly religious people, believed God would reassemble George's arm with his body on Judgement Day, so buried the arm in Sarau's Lutheran churchyard.
Fred Bensemann, standing far left, was Adelaide's grandfather. He is remembered today most of all for building the now historic mud cottage which is still standing at Mahana and has been preserved as a tourist attraction by Thawley, Bensemann and Harvey descendants (ie descendants of people who lived in the house).
There is another historic photo (right) showing Adolph working in the bush in what is now called Sunrise Valley at Upper Moutere. This one is in the Leo Bensemann family collection and the caption is unmistakably in Leo's beautiful hand-writing.
See Leo Bensemann
Adolph, also spelt Adolf, is at far right next to his cousin Rey, who is one of Dick's younger sons.
Dick (of course all these names became anglicised - he was christened Johann Diedrich) is standing at the far right of the band photo.
Both Dick and Rey are quite legendary in the family oral history. Dick in effect defended the family honour against anti-German prejudice during the First World War. He was targetted because he was a fluent German speaker. Even though three of Dick's sons - Lawrence, Norman and Albert - were sent to war to fight for the British (they all returned) the family was still abused for its German ancestry.
According to a story told and retold by his relatives, Dick in his 60s, a heavy-set Golden Bay blacksmith and wheelwright, became so sick of being called a 'dirty Hun' or 'filthy Hun' during the war that he picked up a man in a Takaka bar, held him horizontally over his head and threw him through the hotel's front window. The local police decided there was no case to answer because of the abuse. Another version of the story says it was Rey Bensemann, a brother of Lawrence, Norman and Albert, who threw the man through the window. This is much more likely. Rey was 6'6" tall and weighed 16 stone at age 18. In his youth he was an unofficial pub bouncer at the family's Moutere Inn and had a reputation as a fierce opponent when confronting drunks in the bar.
There’s a common misconception that our German ancestors were hard-working, very quiet, peaceful churchgoing volk. That’s only partly true. They worked hard but they also played hard. According to our grandfathers and grandmothers, Cordt Bensemann was also a deserter from the army. In Hannover conscription meant six years military service. There were press gangs going around rural areas picking up young men for the army. Anyone who was tall was especially targeted.
Cordt was part of the Royal Hannoverian Guards at Queen Victoria’s Coronation in 1837. When Cordt left Germany he still had about 5 months of military service to go. Cordt should have been listed as a Grenadier in the passenger list. He listed himself by his secondary occupation as carpenter. Not one of the 135 passengers on the St Pauli listed themselves as a soldier but I believe several were. Cordt was apparently sentenced to death in absentia at a court martial while on the way to NZ. He was pardoned years later.
So a hangman’s noose was a feature of the Moutere Inn when Cordt ran it. Any strange upper class Germans who was visiting was suspected of being an official looking for army deserters and the hangman’s noose would be pointed out to the visitor. Cordt also kept a stockwhip behind the bar to keep order.
Four Scandanivian sailors jumped ship at Port Nelson in the late C19th and hid out in a manuka bivvy that locals built for them up a little gully at Upper Moutere while they worked on farms and were fed by our great grandmothers. No-one dobbed them every time the 'English cops' raided.
Lawrence Bensemann, Rey’s brother, wrote, 'Half a dozen armed men headed by the Richmond policeman Jack Ingram were questioning the locals and roamed the Moutere Hills …. The search was doomed to failure because of the dense manuka on the hillsides. Jack Ingram had a shrewd idea they were in the valley…he and his men made a number of lightning raids. A constant look-out was kept to give warning of the return of the posse. The security held, in spite of all his enquiries. Even we youngsters were interrogated and in spite of our terror of policemen we lied like flatfish.'
Anyway after several weeks the ship left Nelson and the search was called off. The police had no interest in putting deserters in jail once their ship had left the country. I think this story is interesting because it is a case of deserters from the German army helping other deserters from Europe who had jumped ship.
But that’s not the end of the story because the deserters caused problems after the police had stopped searching for them. This is Lawrence again: 'They turned out to be a rough, rollicking, drunken, fighting mob.... Alec Friman was the Finn. He reckoned his neck was so strong that he could never be hanged... To prove this... he would tie the noose around his neck. After hanging for five or 10 minutes he would pull himself up hand over hand... and grip the rope with his teeth. He would sway backwards and forwards hanging on by his teeth alone...'
Here's where Rey Bensemann, the bouncer, re-enters the story. Lawrence continues: 'It was the day of the wedding of cousin Adolf... Alec the Finn suddenly went beserk and pulled out the long sheath knife that was always on his belt... he rushed at Rey with a round arm sweep of his knife that would have disembowelled Rey had it connected'. This was happening in the Moutere Inn.
'Rey grabbed a chair and brought it crashing down on Alec's shoulder. The chair was smashed to matchwood... Round and around the room they fought.... Rey hammered him mercilessly until every last chair was turned to matchwood... The only piece of furniture left was a heavy round table. Rey crashed it down on Alec's head. Still he was not out... Alec crawled towards Rey. Rey gave him another wallop with the table that laid him out cold.'