James and Agnes moved house regularly, but always within an axis of the centre of Dunedin and Caversham. They probably rented accommodation for a number of years. Their addresses are in those parts of Dunedin which had small residences and which were dominated by what could loosely be described as the ‘working class’: small employers, skilled craftsmen and tradesmen of varying descriptions, along with a leavening of the semi- and unskilled.
The Caversham area was home to many of Dunedin’s ‘respectable poor’. While this is a generalisation and therefore a simplification, it does indicate two important facets of the lives of James and Agnes at this time: they were not well off - a large family and semi-skilled occupation would have ensured that - but they were nonetheless ‘respectable’ - almost certainly church-going, and may well have thought themselves akin to the socially dominant English-born and Anglican.
"Many Vogel immigrants settled on The Flat, the skilled Protestants preferring Caversham, while the Irish Catholics and the poorer settled in South Dunedin. By 1901 [when James died] 8 per cent of Caversham’s population were Catholic, compared with 17 per cent of South Dunedin’s. By comparison with other parts of the city, nor were Scots Presbyterians a great force. In 1901 12 per cent were Scots by birth and 33 per cent were Presbyterian (in Roslyn, by comparison, the proportions were 16 per cent and 41 per cent). English born comprised 14 per cent and Anglicans 21 per cent, but the Anglicans, together with the Methodists and Baptists, dominated the area. Ethnic identification and religious adherence appear to have shaped settlement patterns.
By 1900 over fifty businesses occupied the Main South Road, David Street, and Forbury Corner. Alma Rutherford described it well:
It became a thriving, busy place where frequent [horse-drawn] trams ground along their mid-street rails, the horse-drawn vehicles of the delivery firms and of the half dozen coal suppliers clopped rhythmically about the streets, and a vigorous anvil chorus issued from the smith
At the Kensington end of the borough the railway workshops, Lambert’s pipe- and tile-making works and the ‘Blue Bell’ Flour Mill gave the area an industrial character. The workshops dominated Kensington and employed almost 400 men by 1900 ... Dunedin had no shortage of [the] skilled men [needed by the workshops]. Goldmining and the expansion of the farming frontier had created opportunities for men skilled in metal trades. ... The men of the metal trades were the second largest occupational group in Caversham (exceeded only by the men of the building trades).
The immigrants who settled on The Flat and bought ... sections usually built small wooden cottages. ... In South Dunedin and the poorest streets in Caversham almost 90 per cent of all houses were three- or four-roomed wooden cottages with roofs of corrugated iron on lots of twenty poles or less. The smallest had two rooms and a lean-to on one-sixteenth of an acre."
And how did these respectable citizens of Caversham spend their non-working hours?
A relatively small proportion of the total population regularly attended church although, between them, Caversham’s Protestant churches could seat about 2,000 people. Most parents sent their children to Sunday school ... [The] Sunday schools [did not] confine themselves to biblical instruction. The Congregationalist Sunday school taught 105 pupils bookkeeping, wood-carving and shorthand, besides literary and Bible instruction. ... In an effort to attract members many [Bible Classes] maintained sporting teams, some of which affiliated with non-church clubs ...[one] even ran a gymnasium.
The citizens of Caversham also established a network of organisations besides friendly societies and churches. The Volunteer Fire Brigade and the southern District Rifles began in the early 1860s [although it faded away until] inspired by the Boer War, local enthusiasts formed a Volunteer Rifle Corps. ... By 1900 Caversham boasted a gymnastic club, a harriers club, ... a cricket club, a soccer club, a bowling club ... and a rugby club... The Caversham Mutual Improvement Association met monthly ... The Caversham Brass Band, ... two Literary and Debating Societies ... the South Dunedin branch of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, a South Dunedin Temperance Council and (in the 1890s) the Knights of Labour all met regularly.
Caversham was a thriving, generally prospering, and vibrant society, aware of both itself and the wider world; in tune with the aspirations of the times, with a will to improve the lives of its members.
By her death, Agnes was able to bequeath her children a small inheritance: a property in Caversham. This was a tangible achievement of one of the driving forces in the lives of many immigrants: the attainment of what has been called a ‘competency’ - the achievement of a degree of economic independence.
Although it is inaccurate to describe Caversham as a ‘working class community’, manual workers who sold their labour dominated. ...and the community ... thought of itself as a community of workers. Just as the language of the crafts and trades ‘conveyed important distinctions of honour and worth far beyond the ranks of craft workers alone’, so the men of these trades incorporated others within their community of crafts.
Olssen also argues that one of the central driving forces of the Caversham community was a desire to avoid the ills of the Old World. The contrast between the two Worlds
"shaped the perceptions of the immigrants who settled Caversham and transformed it from a ‘state of nature’ into an industrial centre. Although the New Zealand born rapidly grew in numbers, the older and successful immigrants remained powerful in the community. They held in their minds an inventory of the difference between Old and New. ... [Many reminders existed which reminded] men and women that the New World had created the possibility of leaving behind the social hierarchies of England, not to mention the caste system of Ireland. ... the migrants left deference behind."
The migrants, James and Agnes among them, appropriated standards of behaviour, honour and respect which in the Old World had been the domain of the ‘middle class’, with their claims of respectability and refinement.
This strain of ‘respectability’ and a belief in ‘self-improvement’ was a central component of the ethos which immigrants brought to New Zealand from the United Kingdom. It has been described as consisting of
"...the capacity for strenuous application, diligence, industriousness, perseverance, patience, cheerfulness, determination, punctuality, the orderly employment of time, sedulous attention to detail, purposefulness, resoluteness, conscientiousness, courage, promptitude, decisiveness, method, honesty, temperance, thrift, self-denial, accuracy, good habits, cleanliness, chastity, integrity, orderliness, concentration, and self-discipline and self-control - the latter two being the most important virtues of all, since they were the engines that drove the individual to develop the others."
James and Agnes' experience fitted the new world which was emerging. The desire for self-improvement was almost certainly realised in this community-wide ascription of the values subsumed under the title of ‘Respectability’. The desire to achieve an independence, on their own land, and to be beholden to no-one, was a characteristic handed to their children and their children's children.