Story: Graham, Rose

Page 1 - Biography

Graham, Rose

1879–1974

Homemaker, hotel-keeper

This biography was written by Dorothy Fletcher and was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand BiographyVolume 3, 1996

Rose McBride was born at Gillespies Beach, south Westland, New Zealand, on 25 September 1879, the fifth of 10 children of Archibald McBride, a goldminer, and his wife, Margaret McGrath. Her parents also ran the hotel and store at Gillespies Beach. She was educated at the local school, and when aged 13 moved with her family to Hokitika. At 16 she shifted further south to teach at a household school at Bruce Bay. In 1896 her father died in Thames, where he had been sent to inspect a gold-bearing reef, and Rose went to Okarito to help her mother run the Caledonian Hotel and local post office.

There Rose McBride met and became engaged to James (Jim) William Graham, one of five sons of Isabella and David Graham of Three Mile Beach, but their wedding was delayed for two years while Jim recovered from a mill accident that cost him a leg and necessitated a change of lifestyle. After their marriage at Okarito on 4 September 1907 they settled in Hokitika, where he set up a hairdressing business. The couple were to have three children.

In 1911 Jim Graham and his brother Alexander (Alec) considered buying the hotel at Waiho (Franz Josef Glacier). This was a very difficult decision for Rose, whose experience in hotel work was vital to the enterprise. She had one child, was expecting another, and knew that she would have to cope with pioneering conditions. She promised to try it for five years, providing she could then return to Hokitika if she found the work too hard. She stayed for 36 years and became known to a vast number of people during her time as hostess and partner at Franz Josef Glacier Hotel.

Developing a tourist hotel in such a remote area required much ingenuity and physical labour. In the early years Rose did all the cooking and laundry, made mattresses, sheets, curtains and cushions, cured bacon and ham, looked after poultry, picked and processed countless kerosene tins full of blackberries, acted as hostess and brought up her young family of three.

Alec Graham's involvement in the First World War brought added burdens for Jim and Rose, including the care of Isabella Graham, who died in 1918. Jim's sudden death from pneumonia in 1921 was a tragedy that almost overwhelmed Rose, but gradually she rallied to take her full part once again in the partnership which, in 1922, was joined by Alec's brother, Peter.

Over the years the six-roomed hotel grew to a complex which catered for 120 guests, but Rose Graham managed to retain its homelike atmosphere and made each guest feel welcome. Alec and Peter were mountain guides and Rose was responsible for maintaining mountain huts, preparing up to 100 cut lunches a day, drying out and mending clothes and feeding wet and weary mountaineers. She also organised celebrations after successful climbs. Her commitment to her staff, guests, extended family and the local community earned her respect and affection. Drivers of service coaches cheerfully searched Hokitika for special catering needs, or delayed their departure while she rushed away to get a scented rose or bunch of lilies of the valley for a departing guest.

The Second World War brought staff shortages and a return to much of the physical labour of the past. This took its toll on the whole family and the decision was made to sell the hotel. A fire costing four lives destroyed the annexe wing in July 1947 and prolonged the sale negotiations, but at last in December the Department of Tourist and Health Resorts took over the business.

Rose Graham's retirement years were filled with people. She supported her war-widowed daughter and young family in Christchurch, enjoyed her extended family, and continued to correspond overseas with friends made during her hotel years. Interested and alert to the end, she attended the opening of the Haast Pass highway in 1965. She died at Halswell, Christchurch, on 3 February 1974 aged 94, survived by two daughters and a son.