The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 13, Issue 8 (November 1, 1938)
Marlborough — … The Golden Province — Beautiful Blenheim — A Garden of History
It is possible that over the years I have become “railway-minded,” but I do find a distinctive atmosphere in any town which is not on a main railway highway. This was noticeable in Gisborne, and it is clearer still in Blenheim. It is difficult to fit a definition in exact words; but it is ever present, all pervading, and reveals itself in a thousand and one touches of local thought and outlook. Perhaps the main manifestation to the visiting observer is the tendency to dwell on the past. More history is talked in Blenheim and Gisborne than in any of the many places I have visited in the whole of New Zealand. They told me in Blenheim, as I stood on the modern Alfred Street bridge, of the old pontoon which was worked by a chain at that particular spot, and of how Lock-up Creek used to roar in flood beside the site of the Town Hall. This is a refreshing change in some ways, but I prefer the cheery forthright and wholesome pride in the future of their town shown by the inhabitants of so many lovely and pleasant centres in our country.
As they are rather inclined to dwell on the glorious past in Blenheim, this article will show that the pretty river-town which is the capital of Marlborough, has a bright present and a glowing future.
Blenheim, in many respects, is the most romantic provincial capital in New Zealand. I am sure that in the rapid changes to come, and in spite of the speedy growth which is the future lot of this sunlit town, it will retain its distinctive atmosphere. I was everlastingly reminded of Rupert Brooke's “Granchester,” as my friend of the camera and I wandered down the long streets.
Of course the trees of Marlborough are famous, the latest discovery being a bluegum 265 feet high. Tall trees are everywhere in Blenheim and we give you a picture of the large double-stemmed Sequoia in Maxwell Road. More than this, we landed in early September and the town was ablaze with blossoming shrubs and every tinted variety of flowering fruit tree. Every home has a garden, and every garden was golden with daffodils and gladioli. A flower shop in Blenheim would be entirely without customers.
We took pictures of one dream place which really needs a colour print to do justice to its radiance and chromatic tracery.
There is a small stream here with clear water and swaying green water-weed which is as English as the Cam or an upper reach of the Thames. There are many of these rivulets in the gardens of Blenheim.
The streets of Blenheim in the main are narrow, so that they contrive to look rustic lanes. A quarter of the population of the town live in suburbs, Southside, Mayfield, Springlands, Redwood Town and Riverlands, and this whole area is consistently pervaded by a leafy and sylvan sweetness.
The commercial and administrative portion of Blenheim differs wholly in design and lay-out from all its New Zealand sisters. The middle of this section is an irregular triangle, one side of which is dominated by the Post Office Block. The radiation of streets from this original central plaza, is, therefore, most interesting, and provides continual surprises. The reason for this furnishes a good story.
Market Square, as this trigonal space is called, was an impenetrable swamp when the surveyor made the first plans for the new township. On his tracings, therefore, he simply put his streets on the safe high ground, and left the “Square” blank. The first business man in Market Square was a photographer who built his premises on high piles with a bridge entrance.
Of course, it goes without saying that fine modern shops of metropolitan standard, well appointed hotels, and, as Blenheim is a capital, imposing offices of large businesses adorn the commercial blocks. Many fine public buildings adorn the town, notably a handsome Court House. The schools are of high standard, the Marlborough High School standing high in the ranks of secondary schools. We show a picture of a splendid open-air primary school, which is a notable example of giving the children of this fortunate region the manifest advantages of a genial climate. There are also blocks of flats which would grace Auckland or Wellington.
The truth is that the banks of the town rivers are highly ornamental, and a band of enthusiastic workers with the good title of the “Come to Blenheim” Society are rapidly transforming them. Our pictures show the changes these folk have wrought, and when their plans are complete, there will be miles of scenic show-places and pretty playgrounds along the river banks. I noticed among other attractions, a remarkably populous aviary whose many-coloured inhabitants sparkled in the Blenheim sunshine.
Of course, the Opawa has its utility value, helped by the Omaka which acts precisely like a railway switch line, giving the steamers deployment room for backing and turning.
A river port always has a personality of its own, and many a Blenheim boy must have got the full savour of Mark Twain and his Mississippi stories from his own home town wharves.
By the way, the river trip is worth while for any visitor. There are seventeen miles of winding waterway which pass through lands of abounding fertility, spreading green pastures and cosy homesteads.
It is well to remember that Blenheim owes its birth to the existence of these interesting river loops.
That interesting pioneer Dutchman, Wynen, had built his first store at the Wairau Bar entrance, and so sat at the gateway of the province as far back as 1847. His strategy was good. The Wellington vessels did not attempt to cross the Wairau Bar. They anchored outside, where Wynen's boats transhipped the cargoes, and ran them up to “The Beaver.” A smoke signal called the settlers from far and near to collect their consignments.
Thus “The Beaver” became Blenheim, and in the fervour for military names, Waitohi, the rival for the leadership of Marlborough, became Picton.
Memories are good in Blenheim, and as I have said, interest in the fascinating history of the place is maintained in high degree.
The citizen who showed me the fine gasworks installation belonging to the municipality, explained that the works were erected on the very hummock from which the smoke signals ascended warning the farmhouses on the plain that boatloads of goods had reached “The Beaver.”
An American tourist, travelling with his family on a comprehensive New Zealand tour, “reckoned” that the Criterion Hotel, was as “mahdern” as a good city hotel back Home. It seems to be the Mecca, too, of dinners and weddings, giving it an urban air.
There is a capacious theatre with an up-to-date stage which would accommodate the largest travelling companies, there is a modern cinema palace, and I saw an abundance of other halls. The cultural and recreational possessions of Blenheim are high even for New Zealand.
There are three men's clubs, all with good premises and luxurious appointments, and I was shown an array of flowering trees in the grounds of a pretty club house belonging to the other sex.
Playing fields are in abundance, and the golf course is good. I enjoyed the stroll through Waterlea Park which adjoins the picturesque racecourse. One of these days this will be a beauty spot for all New Zealand. Other reserves in the town add up to 180 acres.
The central position and the presence of handsome buildings near by, invest Seymour Park with an air of urban dignity, yet it manages to retain an old world atmosphere.
Its most interesting exhibit, and perhaps, one of the most exciting old-time treasures in New Zealand, is the Blin-kinsopp gun.
This six-pounder was the total consideration for the purchase of the Wairau Plain. Captain Blinkinsopp, having exchanged his gun for a deed of transfer signed by Te Rauparaha and Rangihaetea, set off to Hobart, and launched a rosy scheme of settlement. He was drowned off the Australian Coast, the Maoris repudiated the transaction, particularly after they learned of the mariner's death, the few settlers who did arrive, mysteriously disappeared, and the only use made of the gun throughout the years was when some enthusiasts on Mafeking Night fired a salute from it.
However, it stands in Seymour Park now, a silent monument to the roaring days of the early Wairau. The charm of those far-off days is always with us in Blenheim. The stories of the long battle between Picton and Blenheim are full of vim, and possess the qualities of an Oppenheim novel. For a long period after the establishment of Marlborough as a separate Province the Picton old guard fought the good fight, and for a while, held the upper hand. The Chief Post Office and the Government Buildings were erected in Picton, which became the capital of the newly-constituted province. Time continued to do its work, the Wairau and the Awatere were filling with settlers, and in spite of such efforts as a stonewall speech of nearly eleven hours by the late Sir Harold Beauchamp's father, Mr. A. Beauchamp, the Picton fortress fell.
The Government archives were moved to Blenheim by bullock dray and the Picton paper sadly records as a last blow, the loss of the town clock which, of course, followed the removal of the Chief Post Office.
The rebellion of the Marlborough settlers against government by Nelson provided a vivid page, and the stout band of Wairau settlers were the first to secede and become an independent province. Their example was soon followed by Hawke's Bay, in the North Island.
The Borough of Blenheim is one of the oldest in New Zealand. It was gazetted on 6th March, 1869. It has the distinction, too, of being the first municipality to adopt the revolutionary idea of allowing the citizens to elect the Mayor instead of the Council.
Mr. James Hutcheson, in 1873, was the first Mayor in New Zealand to be chosen by the whole body of the ratepayers.
History may be in the air of Blenheim, and all about its hinterland are regions rich in legend and story; but the Wairau Plain is a present scene of surpassing beauty. This vast terrain contains over 65,000 acres of prodigally rich soil. The climate is nearly perfection. The patriotic Blenheim citizen rightly claims that in the much debated statistics of sunshine hours, the Marlborough capital is in the top two or three. There is little variation in the temperature, and as I know from much experience, the winter is mild and has plenty of “blue days.”
Then the plain is well-watered by never failing streams, and the best rainfall obliges by dropping on the richest land. This is a land where “anything grows.”page 21
The agricultural prospect is more varied than in any other portion of New Zealand. Wheat, barley, oats, red clover, peas, lucerne and other crops make a diversified colour scheme of the landscape. From the air, for instance, it is a tessellated pavement in pastel shades, the neat squares of the farm subdivisions presenting a patterned and symmetrical beauty which is quite distinctive.
In the autumn, the preponderance of cereal crops, makes obvious the aptness of the title, “Marlborough the Golden.” There is a permanent spell of enchantment in the wide vista of cultivated lands. The rapid growth of trees also helps by giving to the townships dotted about this plain an old world air of restfulness. This is seen even in the new centres in the other great Marlborough Valley, the opulent Awatere. From the top of the Redwood Pass, there is a long view which in many countries would entail the establishment of a tourist hotel to accommodate the sightseers. In the distance is Tapuaenuku, the mighty chieftain of the lofty Kaikouras, and in the foreground is the lovely valley of thirty miles of concentrated scenic pageantry. Seddon, although comparatively new, spreads lazily underneath groves of mighty bluegums, and any globe-trotter might be excused for thinking that the township was two hundred years old.
If the timbered homesteads of Wairau and Awatere were replaced with buildings of brick or stone, the scenes would be interchangeable with Wiltshire or Kent. Be reminded, though, that the distant mountains would be loftier and that there would be here an added wealth of genial skies and constant sunshine.
It is a strange phenomenon in the development of New Zealand that this noble region should not have had lavished upon it every means of development. The feeling of isolation, of incompleteness in ways of egress and ingress, is inescapable.
The very fact of the abundance of production, the exuberance of natural wealth, entails that the best instruments of bulk transport should be available. It was delightful to find such widespread knowledge among its people of the romantic story of Marlborough Province. As a writer I was charmed to find the full range of legend and story read, remembered, and appreciated by a greater percentage of local folk than in any other part of New Zealand.
But I am going to make this prediction. Marlborough and its capital, Blenheim, are moving towards a glory of progress and expansion which will startle even their most optimistic prophets.
There is one thing more—Blenheim is worth a visit by the holiday-maker, even if you are not on your way to the far-famed Marlborough Sounds. Fishing and shooting are good, and there are endless scenic trips by land and water. White's Bay was a surprise to me. It is about ten miles from Blenheim, and is a perfect semi-circular sweep of golden sand which will one day become a populous seaside resort.
Marlborough the Golden has a golden future and the beauty of its capital will not be impaired because it grows to be a “bigger, better and brighter” Blenheim.
A well-known Auckland lady, an old identity, has no time for the modern miss. Interviewed by a local pressman she discussed the shortcomings of the girls of the period and said if she had smoked cigarettes when she was a girl her mother would have “spanked her and sent her to bed!” But other times, other manners. There's really no harm in a girl smoking a cigarette than there is in powdering her nose—always provided that the tobacco is really pure and of first-class quality. And that applies to smokers generally. Of course such brands are not quite as common as used tram-tickets, but you have them in “toasted” for the five famous blends Cut Plug No. 10 (Bullshead), Navy Cut No. 3 (Bulldog), Cavendish, Riverhead Gold and Desert Gold are as near perfection as tobacco can be. Not only are they a joy to the smoker but, thanks to toasting, comparatively harmless, so little nicotine is left in them. They have stood the test of time, emerged triumphant, and challenge comparison with the world's best.*page 22