by Paul Sulzberger
Johannah Ottolangui (Langley) was born on 23 August 1877 at 77 Maclaggan Street, Dunedin to David and Agnes nee Dossett. She was the second child of the family which eventually numbered 12 children. Johannah got the nickname of “Cissie” by which she was known all her life. We know little of her early life in Dunedin. In 1883 she began school at the High Street School at the age of 5 yrs and 5 months. The school register shows she entered Arthur Street School in 1891, when she would have been 14.
The next major event we know about in Cissie’s life is a family tragedy. In February of 1899, her sister, Rayner Amelia, 3 years younger than Cissie, died at the age of 18. Rayner had had heart problems at least since she was 11, and for the last 3 months of her life, the problem had obviously worsened. Cissie was then 21 and about 4 months pregnant.
Who the father was we do not know. But we do know that Cissie was still living at home with her parents at Maclaggan Street. On July 10, 1899, Ernest Sydney Ottolangui (known as “Syd” was born. His entry in the Birth Register is marked “Illegitimate” and shows no name for the father. All the information I have about the child’s life comes from Dad’s sister Agnes. She writes “…our mother abandoned Syd. She boarded him out and cleared off and left him. Syd, met up with Uncle Maurice’s son Gershon, and Gershon took Syd home to Uncle Maurice who looked after him. He wouldn’t spit on our Mum if she was on fire. She further writes “… the father’s name was unknown. Perhaps she [Cissie] wouldn’t say. I believe it was Jim Lawrence.”
After the birth of Syd, Cissie continued to live at her parent’s house for another year or so, and got a job, probably in her father’s crockery shop in Dunedin’s Royal Arcade. Her entry in the Dunedin Electoral Roll describes her as a “saleswoman”. By 1902, she had moved out of her parent’s place to a house at 7 Smith Street, where she remained for a couple of years, from where she met a certain Australian chap named Oliver Tibeaudo
Oliver Draught Tibeaudo was born in Wagga-Wagga, New South Wales – his father, also called Oliver Draught, was an hotel keeper in Australia. He had come to New Zealand on board the ship “Waratah” was working in Dunedin as a “labourer”
In March 1904 Cissie married him. He was 34 and Cissie was 26, both of them quite old in a time when marriages for young women at age 18 were common.
By 1905, Cissie and Oliver had a son, who they named Langley Oliver. The baby was nicknamed “Lanny”. The baby was born at Cissie’s parent’s house in Maclaggan Street, according to his entry in the birth register.
The new family subsequently moved to Filleul Street, but tragedy struck the young family, and in 1906 at 9 months of age Lanny died . There was a Coroner’s enquiry and statements from the father, mother, a neighbour and the family doctor were taken. The father recalls “Last night… he had a slight cough…we gave him a teaspoon of whisky in hot water and sugar… This morning he seemed quite well, was laughing and cheerful.” Cissie states, “…I had him on my knee when he seemed to get stiff all of a sudden and put on an ugly face.” Cissie ran to the neighbour who sent for another neighbour and someone ran for the doctor. The neighbour, Mrs Tanner, stated, “I found the child in its mother’s arms. I thought it was dead, it looked so bad, it was quite stiff. I took it in my arms and took it into the kitchen of the mother’s house. She following me crying bitterly… I noticed nothing about the child that would account for its death in any way, no symptoms of choking… The child has always been well and carefully looked after by its mother.” The doctor stated that he examined the child and “found no marks of violence or anything indicating the cause of death” and concluded that the death was from “natural causes”. Both the mother and the father stated that the child had been a “sickly child” since birth and even the neighbour called him “..a delicate child”.
Poor young Lanny was buried in the family plot in Dunedin’s Southern Cemetery, which his Grandfather, David, had bought 7 years earlier when Rayner had died. Although still only a baby, Lanny was never forgotten. As a young teenager, I was very conscious of the fact that Dad had had a half brother who had died very young, although it is obvious that the details were very vague, even to Dad.
In the following year, there was another family tragedy. At the age of 62, Cissie’s father, David, died. Cissie was then 29 years of age.
What happened to her marriage with Oliver over the following 5 years, we will probably never know. At a time when large families were still the norm, there were no more children. By 1908 Oliver and Johanna had set up house in Clarke Street which was just around the corner from the family house on Maclaggan Street.
In 1911, Oliver Tibeaudo died in Prince Henry Hospital in Sydney. What he was doing in Australia and why he died might forever remain a mystery. In “The Sulzberger Story”, Dad writes “…it was essential for Cissie to travel there [to Australia] to establish her legal claim to her husband’s estate. That was all bad news. The necessary papers were stolen and she returned to New Zealand penniless.” At the age of 34, and with no support from a husband and no Social Welfare in those days, Cissie, appears to have made a living for herself from dressmaking.
However, Cissie soon met up with our grandfather-to-be, Edgar David Albert Sulzberger. Born in Tasmania, the youngest son of a German immigrant, Edgar had emigrated (in disgrace) to New Zealand on the same ship as Cissie’s former husband, the “Waratah”, although not on the same voyage and had ended up in Kaitangata as a miner. Cissie apparently met him at a dance in Dunedin and they married on 2 May 1913. As Dad recalls the relationship certainly didn’t have the blessing of Cissie’s mother, and as far as I know, they “eloped” and married in Balclutha, a town close to the small mining village of Kaitangata where they were to make their home. I would guess that Cissie’s mother and other close relatives were not even present at the ceremony at the Balcutha Registry Office, as the witnesses who signed the Marriage Register appears to be local Balcutha people, possibly related to the local registrar. That Grandma Langley didn’t approve of Edgar Sulzberger is borne out by Agnes’s recollections of her last meeting with her. She writes, “My last visit to Grandma Langley was awful. She told me how ugly I was. I had no right to her name and my father was a German.”
Edgar’s mother Biddy Sulzberger was obviously not very pleased about the marriage either. Daughter Agnes writes, “I can just see her (Biddy) making bombs! How the fur and feather would fly if she and our Mum met. Just only beaks and claws left!”
One of the factors which may have engendered the displeasure of their respective parents was the discrepancy in their ages – Cissie was considerably older than Edgar. While their entry in the Marriage Register states that Cissie was 34 and Edgar was 26, my calculations from their birth dates show that Cissie was rather 35 going on 36, while Edgar was only 22 going on 23 – a difference of 13 years! Perhaps the incorrect ages in the Marriage Register was an attempt to somehow narrow the age gap for the rest of world – or even perhaps these were the ages they had told each other! We’ll never know.
Cissie and Edgar settled down in a house in Start Street in Kaitangata. Cissie and Ed obviously didn’t have much to come and go on in those early days and in their first house in Start Street, Kaitangata, used butter boxes for furniture. Cissie got busy and covered them with gingham. By 1915 Cissie and Edgar had their first child, Agnes Lucy – for certain named after Cissie’s mother.
Edgar was working at the mine, but there is some speculation as to what his position really was. His marriage certificate simply states, “miner”, although Dad seems to think that he may have been a mine inspector. In any event, it seems unlikely that Cissie and Edgar would have been content to settle for the hard, working class lifestyle that the mine would have provided. Cissie had come from a fashionable household in Dunedin where her mother employed servants and held fashionable afternoon teas once a week in her salon. Ed’s father was a wealthy Tasmanian farmer and a leading figure in the local community. There is perhaps a clue to their aspirations in a letter which Cissie’s youngest brother, Jack Langley, wrote to her from France during World War I: “How is Ed getting on with the contract, tell him I wish I were with him, instead of being here.” What the contract was, will undoubtedly remain beyond our reach. Was this an allusion to some sort of proposed business deal perhaps?
How long the tension between mother and daughter over the marriage to Ed lasted I do not know, but by the time Agnes was born, Grandma Langley and Cissie were obviously seeing each other again as brother Jack in his letter asks “Has mother been up to see you lately?”
It would have been a sad occasion, when the news of brother Jack’s death was received by the family. He was in Romarin, near Messines (France) and “while on parade some enemy shells came over and Langley was hit and died as he was being carried to the dressing station at about 10 am.” Jack died on 17 August 1917.
In the following year, on 22nd of March 1918, our father, Jacob (“Jack”) Joshua Langley Sulzberger was born at Branksea Street, Kaitangata . With her baby son, only 8 months old, a major tragedy again struck Cissie. Edgar had suffered an accident in the mine and had broken his back. He was bed-ridden for some time and finally died of a haemorrhage in his lung. How ironic that our Dad also broke his back and then finally died from respiratory failure!
Cissie’s daughter Agnes remembers the day her Dad died. She would have been going on for 4 years at the time. “I was taken into the bedroom and was not allowed to go beyond the foot of the bed (1918 ‘flu). He kissed his hand and I did the same and we blew our kisses to each other. His coffin was put through the window because the passage was too narrow.”
Dad writes “My mother never ever recovered from the trauma of that year… Cissie was left with her grief and two small children. She refused to move from her freehold cottage. It was her only security… She struggled on for the next six years doing her best for her children according to her own values. In 1926 she at last consented to marry a long-term suitor, miner Archibald Steele Dobbie. It was not a love match. I think my mother always regarded it more as a business proposition to provide her children with some sort of anchor.” Thus at the age of 48, on 28 April 1926, Cissie married for a third and final time. Cissie’s mother was obviously again not impressed with the marriage, according to daugher Agnes, Grandma Langley, in a fit of pique, called Archie “a muderer”! Life for Cissie was not easy, especially during the depression years. She and Archie were tough on the kids. Agnes recalls, “I think sometimes our Mother must have had some troubled and unhappy thoughts and at times took it out on us. I was always asking and crying for our father, so I was told, and perhaps I got on our mother’s nerves. I can remember a time when I stuttered badly and went to school with a black eye (Standard 6), belted with a manuka stick on the back of the neck and that was the only time I saw stars from a blow. Donnie [stepfather Archie] did the black eye and the manuka wallop and that was when I started to call him Mr. Dobbie and then it got down to Donnie. You [brother Jack] used to get a shove from me when you called him ‘Pa’. I would tell you ‘He’s not our Father’.
In 1930, Cissie’s mum, Agnes Langley died and was buried with her husband David, daughter Rayner and grandchild Lanny in the family plot in Dunedin.
A couple of years later, at the age of 17, daughter Agnes got pregnant to Harry Young. Cissie was incensed, and there was a major family row. Not only would this have been seen as socially intolerable in those times, but the fact that Cissie herself had done the same as a young woman, the undoubted feelings of guilt and shame would have compounded what was already an emotionally difficult situation. Agnes was duly married on an unknown date in 1932. The wedding portrait taken at the front of the Branksea Street house shows little of the joy one might expect at a wedding. It must have been a difficult time for everyone. Once Agnes had left home, there was little, if any, contact with her mother again. This also marked the beginning of an almost 60 year silence between Agnes and Jack, broken only in their last years.
Son Jack had managed to get to high school for one year, but had to bow to family pressure and become a productive member of the family and was sent to the mine. His life in these days is covered in detail elsewhere, but soon he too was to leave home.
In 1940, with the onset of World War II, Jack left for the Middle East as a young soldier – but letters were exchanged and parcels were received from home. In 1944, younger sister Dolly came to live near her sister Cissie in Kaitangata. Dolly, 13 years younger than Cissie, had stayed on at her mother’s splendid house in Queen’s Drive after she had died in 1930. Why she chose to live in Kaitangata, I don’t know, but in a letter to nephew Jack she wrote, “You would be surprised to hear that I have settled in Kai – for the meantime anyway – I really like the place. I usually go over the Branksea Street once a week – all being well I will be over there tomorrow night. Your Mother is looking well and so is Archie”. Dolly’s twin sister, Frances, had married and also settled down in Kaitangata where she remained for the rest of her life.
Once the war was over, son Jack got married to our mother Pat Wingham of Greymouth, and in 1947 Cissie travelled to Christchurch to be at the wedding. Cissie’s niece, Florence, her sister Frances’s daughter, was the bridesmaid at the ceremony.
Over the years that followed, there were visits from her sisters, letters and photos exchanged with son Jack now living in the North Island. The section at Branksea Street was kept tidy, the hedges cut and the lawns mowed as can be seen from photos of Archie behind the hand lawnmower.
In 1961/2(?), husband Archie died. I remember the day when Dad arrived at school to tell me, with restrained emotion, that Granddad Dobbie had died, and then flew off to Kaitangata for the funeral.
Cissie carried on in Branksea Street for a while, but her health soon began to deteriorate, and she suffered several minor strokes. Unable to care well enough for herself any longer, she travelled up to Hastings, and lived for a year with son Jack and his family. Grandson Paul moved out of his bedroom, making way for Grandma, and went to live in the small family caravan. Cissie kept busy about the house, doing the dishes and generally helping out in the house. In the evenings, she would often read stories to the girls, Patricia and Jacqueline.
In September 1962, Mum’s sister Kathleen died, and she and Dad had left for New Plymouth to attend the funeral. I remember that Grandma was out in the washhouse doing the ironing. Sometime in the afternoon I went out to see her, and was surprised that she wasn’t there. Going back into the house, I saw her, lying head down on the steps leading down from the back door. She’d either slipped or perhaps she’d had a stroke and fell. I called the ambulance and remember it taking her away. Mum has told me that prior to that, she would sometimes get up during the night and take a turn on her way to the bathroom.
Grandma never really recovered from the fall, and at the age of 85, died at Hastings hospital on 2nd February 1963.