Life in Early Poverty Bay
Gisborne in the Sixties — Exciting Experiences Of Early Days — Mr. Robert Thelwall's Reminiscences
Gisborne in the Sixties
Exciting Experiences Of Early Days
Mr. Robert Thelwall's Reminiscences
The oldest pioneer of Gisborne, living in the oldest house built on blocks in Gisborne. Such is the record claimed by Mr. Robert Thelwall, who, despite his eighty-seven odd years, is still hale and hearty and as active as the average “youngster” of half a century. He trundles the wheelbarrow with the best of workers, looks after the cows, digs the ground, cultivates a maize patch, and carries out the general work on a farm. Now and again during the week he comes up town and puts in the afternoon at the bowling green, where even now he is one of the best exponents of the game in the Bay. On Saturday he takes a whole day off, and is usually noticed in the town between 10 and 11 o'clock. The afternoon sees him on the Gisborne Bowling Club's green, and he goes home to tea. After the meal, Mr. Thelwall sets off again for town and puts in the night at the pictures, for he is an inveterate “movie fan.” It is nearly eleven o'clock before he again reaches home, but on Sunday morning he is up again bright and early, and carries out the farm work necessary for the day. Still at times he thinks of the old friends of boyhood days, when life was one long dream of happiness and of excitement, of the continuous watch against the treacherous Hauhaus and the midnight marches against Te Kooti, of the days in the township of Turanga when money was scattered like water, of the revelry at night. Nearly all his old comrades, alas, are now amongst the number
That from his Vintage rolling Time has pressed
Have drunk their cup a round or two before
And one by one crept silently to rest.
As but natural, such thoughts come to the veteran, but a smile soon creeps over his features as he recalls the fun of the early days. “They were good days, too,” said Mr Thelwall, “much better than the present times. We had to work hard and we got little money, but there was a different feeling abroad then. Friends then were true friends, who would stick to one through thick and thin. Nowadays with all these laws and unions things are different.” The march of civilisation has not impressed Mr. Thelwall.
Boyhood in Cheshire.
Mr. Thelwall was born in Farndon, Cheshire, in 1840, and at the age or sixteen was apprenticed to a farmer page 87 at Borres Hall, on Lord Kenyon's estate, Mr. Thelwall, senr., having to pay £100 per annum for the privilege. At the conclusion of three years he was transferred also at £100 a year for three years at what was considered the best farm in Cheshire, Hatton Hall, owned by Mr. Salmon. During this time rinderpest broke out in Cheshire, and hundreds of cattle were destroyed. Things did not look too promising for farming, and Mr. Thelwall, senr., was considering his son's future when a cousin named Sam Powdrell, whose relatives still reside in Wairoa, visited England from New Zealand, and, as usual in those times, poured forth glowing accounts of the new country into the ears of Robert Thelwall. Sam Powdrell was home on a holiday, and when he left some months later, Robert Thelwall naturally went with him, the two leaving by the sailing ship England towards the end of 1865.
Arrival in New Zealand.
After a voyage of nearly 130 days the ship arrived at Auckland, where the two, who were bound for Napier, transferred to the steamer Phoebe. The little vessel struck a gale on her way down and could not call in at the Hawke's Bay port, and anchor was not cast until well into Wellington harbor. After a few days there the weather eased, and the Phoebe left for Napier, arriving early in January, 1866.
Commencing Work in the New Land.
On arrival at Napier young Thelwall received an enthusiastic welcome from his cousins, the Parker family, father and mother of Mr. W. Parker, now of Mangapapa, who was, of course, then but a very small boy. After the rejoicings at the reunion were over, Mr. Thelwall commenced work with Messrs. C. Smale and W. Parker, erecting a bridge over the river between Napier and Hastings.
Legacy Leads to Land in Poverty Bay.
While at work on the bridge, Mr. Thelwall received word of a legacy of £1000, and decided to purchase an interest in the Parker family's run at Turanga. Early in 1866, therefore, Mr William Parker and Robert Thelwall set out for their new home. The party left Napier in the schooner Ringleader, and were taken right up to the corner of their property, their landing place being the point, the junction of the rivers, near the Wm. Pettie bridge. Then for the first time Mr. Thelwall saw the property in which he had secured an interest. It comprised over 24,000 acres, roughly all the land between the Taruheru and the Waimata rivers, and extending some twelve of fifteen miles up the Taruheru. All the land now known as the suburb of Whataupoko was included in the block, which extended back almost as far as the Waimata settlement. It was a Native lease, for 21 years, and was considered first-class land, being all scrub, fern and swamp.
Stocking the Run.
A few weeks previously, Mr. W. W. Smith had brought up from Napier some flock ewes to stock the run. They were landed at the Point, and driven along the river-side up to a point between the present freezing works and Makaraka, where it was decided to erect the homestead. In those days the Taruheru was a wide, deep river, with a shingly beach on each side. These beaches were a favorite place with the Maoris, for the layer of sand hid literally millions of large and luscious pipis. Schooners from Sydney came right up to Makaraka, sailing all the way. They lay sometimes at anchor for weeks, waiting a cargo of wool and wheat, for the district grew much wheat on those days.
A little later the Parker family came up from Napier, and it was decided, instead of building a homestead, to lease a big house on the town side of the river belonging to Mr E. Espie's father. The building was on the bank of the river, not far from the Roseland gardens, and close to where the Roseland Hotel now stands. The property, as stated previously, was on the other side of the river, but access to the homestead was gained by means of a rope stretched on which settlers seated in page break page 89 a, canoe pulled themselves across. At that time there were only some twenty or thirty white people in Turanga, the majority of the people living out on the flats at Makaraka, the Resident Magistrate (Capt. R. Biggs) living at Matawhero.
Te Kooti's Return.
Meanwhile the colony, and more especially Poverty Bay, was thrown into a state of excitement by the news that Te Kooti, who had been deported to the Chathams in 1865, after the Waerenga-a-hika fight, had seized the schooner Rifleman and with a band of Hauhaus had landed at Whareongaonga. That was on July 10, 1868. The Europeans at Turanga and on the flats did not know of the arrival until two days later, and Captain Biggs called out the Poverty Bay Mounted Rifles under Captain Westrupp, Mr. Thelwall being amongst the number. The volunteers camped at the head of the Arai, and the first clash occurred on July 20, at Paparatu, on a field of snow. That was the opening shot in a campaign which lasted for many years, cost many lives, and involved an expenditure of thousands of pounds.
This first fight was a test of Te Kooti's strategy, for he sent a body of Natives behind the colonials, who were thus caught in an ambush—Te Kooti being on a ridge above and other Hauhaus below. The fight resulted in the loss of ten colonials and friendly Maoris, six more being wounded. The rebels lost three killed. Many of the friendly Natives quickly reteated before the Hauhau attack, and the Poverty Bay Mounted Rifles, about thirty in number, gave themselves up for lost when Henare Kakapango, who was in charge of the friendly Maoris, came to their rescue. Kakapango was one of the best and most experienced pighunters in New Zealand and knew the bush backward. Realising the seriousness of the position, he headed the retreating party, who were to a large extent hampered by the wounded. For his bravery, Kakapango was later presented with a sword, accompanied by a gift of £100.
Officious Colonel and Free and Easy Colonials.
At the head of the Arai the dispirited Europeans met Colonel Whitmore, the well-known ex-Imperial Army officer, who had already had much experience in Maori warfare. The retreating colonials and Colonel Whitmore's small force, which had come up from Napier, met in the Arai valley.
The Colonel asked full particulars and they were supplied him by Captain Westrupp.
“Ah!” he said, “you men must come back again with me.”
“Who the h— are you”? asked one of the volunteers, one Dodd, who was afterwards killed in the Massacre.
“I'm Colonel Whitmore,' was the reply.
“Well you can go to h—!” said Dodd. “We're all going home; we've had enough.”
The Colonel said: “Martial law has been proclaimed, and I order you to turn back.”
“We all laughed,” said Mr. Thelwall, “or at least we smiled, as well as one could” smile at such a time. We surrounded him and told him we didn't care what he said. We had had quite enough, at any rate, for a start, and we were off home. We knew nothing of martial law being proclaimed. His abrupt official manner didn't appeal to us and we left him speechless. We told him, however we might come back next day if we felt like it After a good wash and a good feed we felt better. Later we had a meeting and decided to turn up on the following day, and we all joined Whitmore's forces.
The troops followed Te Kooti up the Ruatikuri river, where the Hauhaus attacked, killing six British and friendly Maoris and wounding five, and Whitmore's force came back. Te Kooti moved on to Puketapu in the Urewera Country, where he rested for the winter, and Whitmore's force was disbanded.
Joy in the Homestead.
For a little time matters appeared peaceful in Poverty Bay and the Parker family and Mr. Thelwall put in strenuous work clearing the bush on their propeity. On November 8, 1868, there was generally joy in the homestead for the first shearing had just been completed. The flock at that time totalled over 2000, and the young settlers could see themselves on the high road to prosperity. There was still uneasiness over Te Kooti's return, and the settlers on the flats commenced the construction of a large redoubt, which was nearing completion. The idea was that every evening the settlers and their families should sleep in the redoubt, returning to their homes in the daytime. Sunday, November 9, was a day of rest, in which the chief topic was the good fortune which had attended the farming venture in Poverty Bay. Wool was bringing ninepence a pound, and the clip was a good one. It was a merry party at the homestead that evening. In addition to Mr. and Mrs. Parker and their two children (Mr. W. Parker, of Mangapapa, and Mr. F. Parker, who later was manager of the Bank of New South Wales in Gisborne), Mr. Thelwall and Mr. C. Smale, there were also two European shearers, Dan Munn and Beb Parkhouse. The household retired early, little anticipating the horrors which the next day would bring forth.
“Black Monday” in Poverty Bay.
Between 3 and 4 a.m. on Monday, November 10, a rifle shot broke the silence. The cause was only too apparent and a thrill of horror ran through all present. It was the opening scene in the Poverty Bay Massacre. Messrs. Smale, Thelwall, Parkhouse and Muhns were still members of the Poverty Bay Mounted Rifles, and as Mr. and Mrs. Parker and the children in their night attire rushed into the scrub near the house, the others ran for their rifles. Munns seized a horse standing near and rode full tear down the road towards the other settlers. He met two Natives who appeared almost panic stricken and said To Kooti had returned and intended to kill all the settlers. Munns turned his horse, and galloped madly back. The news all had feared was only too true. The Natives, however, who had given Munns the news were Hauhaus, and as soon as he was a few yards away they fired on him and wounded him in the back. Munns, however, rode full tear into the manuka and eventually reached the stockhouse at Turanga. The almost hysterical party from the homestead, hidden in the manuka two chains away, counted a party of twenty-eight Hauhaus outside the door of the homestead, which they entered. They saw signs of hurried flight and thought the inmates bad been warned some time previously and had escaped. The Hauhaus, intent on more victims, wasted no time and rode away. After some little time the party in the manuka went back in the house and dressed themselves, secured a few valuables, crossed the river, and fled through the scrub on Whataupoko down to the blockhouse at Gisborne. Shortly after their departure the Hauhaus returned, looted the place, and set the homestead and woolshed on fire.
On Active Service Once More.
Soon after reaching the redoubt Mr. Thelwall fell a victim to typhoid fever, and as there was no doctor at Turanga was sent to Napier, but a few months later returned and rejoined his old troop. Meanwhile Te Kooti, with his mana increased as the result of his victories over the pakehas, moved down from the Urewera into Poverty Bay again, and established himself at Ngatapa, the first fight taking place on December 5, when six Europeans and friendlies were killed, the rebels losing ten men. Then on January 1, 1869, commenced the siege of Ngatapa when, with the help of 200 Ngatiporous under Ropata Wahawaha and Kotene Porourangi, and 170 Wairoa Natives under Lieut. Preece, the Ngatapa pa was besieged for three days and three nights until the Hauhaus abandoned their mountain hold, losing over 130 dead. Te Kooti retreated to the Te Wera forest, with his mana page 91 largely decreased, and his followers but few.
The Poverty Bay men returned to Turanga, and lived in the blockhouse, guarding the township. This was in 1869. In 1872 Te Kooti escaped into the King Country, where he spent eleven years. He was pardoned in 1883, but was not allowed to return to Poverty Bay.
Final Expedition Against Te Kooti.
In 1889, however, he decided to defy the Government, went to Auckland, and in spite of warnings travelled to the Bay of Plenty with a large number of followers, intending to revisit Turanga or Gisborne, as it was then known. A meeting was held at Makaraka school and a force of over 100 left Gisborne to prevent his reappearance in this district. The force was commanded by Colonel Porter, with Major Winter next in command, and Major Ropata in charge of the Ngati-Porous. Mr. Thelwall held the rank of sergeant-major in the advance guard. The force marched to Opotiki. Here it was ascertained that Te Kooti with a following of 150 men, women and children was at Ohua. The Hauhaus were surrounded but Te Kooti was missing. Later he came near and found himself in a net of Ngatiporous and the advance guard. He was arrested and later sent to the Supreme Court at Auckland and sentenced to remain in a prescribed area on the shore of Ohiwa harbor, where he died in 1893. Uncertainty as to the exact location of the body exists, however, to the present day.
Gisborne in the Seventies.
After his return from active service early in the seventies, Mr. Thelwall secured 250 acres at Patutahi, at a Native lease of 5/- an acre, the term being for 21 years. Mr. William Smith went into partnership with him and occupied the land while Mr. Thelwall worked as overseer for Johnson Bros., and Westrupp at Wharekia station, near Muriwai. After a few years the partnership was dissolved, and Mr. Thelwall took to shearing at Te Arai, working for Mr. Woodbine Johnson. Then he resolved to commence butchering, with his slaughterhouse at Makaraka and the shop in Gisborne. His first purchase was 100 fat wethers. The Gisborne shop was at the end of Captain Read's wharf, which ran out into the river at a point where the Band Rotunda now stands.
“The King of Gisborne.”
At that time Captain Read was practically “king of Gisborne,” and ran his own fleet of schooners to and fro. He lived on the Kaiti side of the bay, opposite his wharf, and had also a woolshed there. At his store the greater part of the business of the Bay was done, and many humorous tales are told of his dealings with the Natives. He issued his own private notes in exchange for gold, and these notes were universally accepted as currency in the district.
It is related that on various occasions after a Native had exchanged his gold for notes, a dispute would arise with the Captain, and the incensed Maori, in order to show his contempt for the pakeha trader, would tear the notes to pieces in the store, scatter the remnants on the floor, and stalk indignantly out. On another occasion, it is related, a Native appeared in great consternation and related that his house on the Flats had been destroyed by fire, and a number of notes had gone up in smoke. He explained that he was unable to replace these notes which, to his mind, were the property of Captain Read, who listened solemnly to the story, and told the Maori that as they were old friends he need not worry about such a small matter as replacement. He agreed with the Maori that it was a sheer case of bad luck. No more need be said. The delighted Maori, it is stated, left in the highest spirits, singing the praises of the generous captain!
Gladstone Road in the 70'S.
Gladstone Road in the seventies was a very different thoroughfare to the wide bitumen surface of to-day. The road, which was named after William Ewart Gladstone, Britain's. Premier at that time, commenced as now at the Turanganui river. It page break page 93 ran as far as Grey Street, then went through to Palmerston Road, as far as Disraeli Street, to Aberdeen Road until just past past Lytton Road, where it cut across and again joined the main road near the cemetery. The whole of Gladstone Road, or at least the route mentioned, was of pure sand, and horses had a hard time with the heavy vehicles then in use.
At the end of Capt. Read's wharf stood the house of Mr G. G. Mill, Captain Read's manager, and Mr. William Adair's dwelling was next. Then, at the present corner of Gladstone Road and Read's Quay was Mr Thelwall's butchery, with Capt. Read's bond at the back. A section about 80 yards or so wide separated the butchery from Bradley's Hotel-afterwards the Albion Club hotel, and next to this was the Albion Club stables, which may still be seen at the end of the Albion Club right of way. In the early days there was still a right of way, which led, of course, to the stables. On the town side of the right of way and in front of the stables, was Mr Arthur Cooper's bootmaker's shop, and then came Fromm's, booksellers, Nasmith's jewellers; Bests, drapers; Adams, booksellers, and the Bank of New Zealand, a small shed. Then on the site where Adair Bros, now stands was the old Court-house, which also included the Customhouse, the Armoury and the Public Library. At the back stood the residence of Major Westrupp, which was later occupied by the only medical man of the town, Dr. Nesbitt.
On the opposite side of what is now Lowe Street stood Teat and Robjohn's store, then came the dwellinghouse and shop of Mr Matthew Hall, saddler, and Parnell's store, which was on the site near where Mr Good's jewellery establishment stands at present. Further down the street was the Music Hall, in which entertainments and theatrical performances were given. This was on the site of the auction mart occupied a few years ago by Mr W. Samson, and the old building is still there, being built on in front by McKee's buildings. The first Masonic lodge in Gisborne, removed to the Music Hall from a room over Mr Thelwall's butchery. Later the lodge room was transferred to a hall near the back of the buildings now occupied by the U.S.S. Co. in Childers Road.
On the other side of Gladstone Road from the river, was the Post Office, then Horsfall's store, the Argyll Hotel, a barber's shop, and Mr Stubb's chemist shop, on a site ner where Mr E. D. Smith's chemist shop now stands.
The block-house, a two-storey building with loop-holes, and surrounded by a stout palisade of manuka stakes, was on the site between the present Police Station and the Opera House. From the block-house to the Courthouse ran an embankment five feet high, with a trench behind. For some considerable time all the settlers had to assemble every evening behind the embankment, outside of which a military patrol was stationed, and under no circumstances were civilians allowed to break bounds.
On the left-hand side of Gladstone-Road stood Steady's Post Office, a little shed, with a loft above in which the postmaster slept. That was on the site at present occupied by the Parcels Office. Then a few yards away stood McFarlane's house, which had attached to it a dairy run, with cowbails, yards, etc. The run extended some distance towards the sea, the next building being the house of John Harvey, Captain Read's storeman. Later a man named McKay lived in Harvey's house. Then came the Turanganui Hotel, kept in later years by Madame de Costa, who was a very popular hostess, and gave innumerable parties to the young folk of the district.
In the seventies, when Mr. Thelwall was the town butcher, there was only one price for meat. 4d per lb, roasts of beef and legs of mutton all being retailed with no advance for the better cuts. After a time Mr. Thelwall put in a sausage machine, the first in the Bay. The engine was purchased in Sydney for £100. Later Mr. Thelwall increased the power of the engine and crushed oats and page break page 95 maize for the hotels and stablekeepers. Sausages were sold at sixpence per pound.
Captain Read's House.
Captain Read slept on the Kaiti side of the river in an imposing building in those days, with a wharf running out. on which ships and schooners unloaded. This was near the site of the present Kaiti freezing works Underneath the building was a cellar containing large quantities of wine, rum, whisky and brandy. On one occasion some careless individual left the tap of a big whisky cask turned on, and on the next visit the floor was found covered with the spirit. This mishap caused quite a sensation in Gisborne at the time.