Back in history: Blakelock’s journey to the islands

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Dorothy Blakelock carries out an interview at a relative’s place in Fiji. Picture: FILE

A new chapter unfolded in Dorothy Blakelock’s life when she was able to successfully trace the descendants of her father’s uncle, Thomas Blakelock, a seafarer from England who had settled in Kadavu, Fiji.

And now, this branch of her family had become a passion with Dorothy who was spending all her spare time seeking out her relatives in Fiji.

It all began when she was seven-years-old and saw a faded photograph of a ruggedly handsome man with his charming wife, two daughters and six sons.

The piece about the Blakelock’s settling in Fiji was published in The Fiji Times on November 3, 1984.

All the family members in the picture were dressed in Victorian clothes, they looked very English amidst the exotic background of banana plants and tall palm trees. “I became extremely interested and asked my father all sorts of questions about the family,” Dorothy said.

“He told me there had been letters from Fiji but he lost them over the years and had no information regarding his uncle and his family in the photograph.”

Dorothy said she had always thought her father had only three siblings – one brother and two sisters.

“The photo intrigued me and I decided to search out these relatives of mine – wherever they might be.”

She was born in Northumberland on the border of England and Scotland on the East Coast, and at the time lived with her small family in Great Britain.

Dorothy had married soon after she turned 20 and with her three children grown up, her interest in tracing her Fiji relatives increased.

Over the years she kept a scrap book that contained information about Fiji, and she vigorously did her own research into the country’s history and geography.

With Scotland being a rugby country, she managed to collect some information about Fijian rugby players there.

Through her research, Dorothy became familiar with her grand uncle, Thomas Blakelock, a seafaring, artistic person who built a sailing boat when he was living near the River Weir in County Durham, North of England.

Thomas decided to emigrate with his family, so in 1859 he left England and set sail for Lyttleton, New Zealand.

While he was in New Zealand some missionaries approached him as a master mariner and talked to him about Lakeba. This was where the missionaries had wanted to build a church.

Thomas agreed, and with some missionaries and his own family, set sail for Lakeba where he stayed before moving to Kadavu – the island where he decided finally to work and settle.

In Kadavu he built boats for his sons, who worked in the inter-island ferry business. Eventually his sons emigrated to New Zealand and elsewhere, except his youngest son Clark.

Clark was born in 1880 (in Kadavu) and when he grew up he married a Fijian girl. They named their first son David. He would later become the principal of Ballantine Memorial School at Delainavesi in Suva.

Dorothy was fascinated by the names of her relatives. She noted: “My father’s name is Clive and he was born in Scotland in 1880, the same year as his cousin Clark. The name of both cousins began with the same letter and they did not know about it.”

She added: “My cousin David and I are of the same age and our names begin with the same letter. It is most fascinating and I really want to find out all about them.”

In 1965, Dorothy was reading a morning paper when she came across the information that the Royal Fiji Military Forces Band was coming to Scotland to participate at the famous Edinburgh tattoo.

“I contacted the officials and introduced myself to the RFMF band conductor who asked his men if anyone knew about a David Blakelock.”

One did, so Dorothy gave him letters and pictures of her family to pass on to David. Soon after, she received a reply from him.

Their correspondence began in earnest. In 1969 David won a scholarship to further his education in Edinburgh. Dorothy was thrilled to meet her cousin Clark’s family.

After meeting her cousin in England that year, he became a regular at her home as she would always invite him to spend time with her family. Dorothy got her first opportunity to visit Fiji in 1979 when she stayed with her Fiji family for three weeks.

She said she met some Chinese relatives as well. When she returned home, Dorothy was even more determined to return for a longer stay.

Meanwhile, David’s son, Edward Thursfield Blakelock, briefly stayed with her for six months when he went for a course of study in Scotland.

Circumstances had it that Dorothy was able to visit to Fiji again, this time for four months. She stayed with David’s brother in Kadavu – the island where Thomas Blakelock had settled 130 years ago.

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