Elsdon Best was born at Grasslees Farm, Tawa Flat, the sixth of seven children.
His parents, William and Hannah, had farmed at "Grasslees", Elsdon, near Otterburn, Northumberland, before sailing from England with their three eldest childen in 1851. Best (senior) purchased and settled on Section 48 on the Porirua Road which traversed what is now Tawa. Elsdon Best spent the first nine years of his life on this bush farm, gaining a love of the forest that he never lost.
He spent many years living among the Maori people and became the foremost Maori ethnologist* of the day. His knowledge of Maori lore and custom was without equal, and his numerous writings preserved a great deal of information that otherwise would have been lost. He retained throughout his life a love of his birthplace, and in addition to contributing a series of articles on "Porirua and They Who Settled It" to a weekly newspaper in 1914, also penned several unpublished manuscripts dealing with those he named "The Old Bush Legion".
Elsdon Best was 75 years old when he died in Wellington in 1931. His wife, Mary Adelaide, died on 29 May 1944 aged 71, "there being no family". The book "Tawa Flat and the Old Porirua Road" by Arthur H Carman is dedicated to his memory, and reveres him as "Tawa Flat's greatest son".
On 27 February 1960, a monument to Elsdon Best was unveiled at Grasslees Reserve in Tawa by the then Prime Minister, Walter Nash. The monument was erected by the Tawa Borough Council with the Historic Places Trust declaring the site of Elsdon Best's birth an historic place. The pillar bears simply the bold words "Elsdon Best" (click here to see it), and the wording on the official plaque reads:
"Nearby at Grasslees Farm,
Elsdon Best, Maori Ethnologist,
was born on 30 April 1856.
His ashes lie here."
[Resourced from the book "Tawa Flat and the Old Porirua Road" by Arthur H Carman]
* ethnology = study of human peoples and cultural traditions