KARANGAHAKE the years of the gold 1875 -1935
William Francis McWilliams, better known as Daldy, was born at Papakura in 1861. He was one of a large family who were among the first settlers at Mackaytown. They opened a store in an old hotel near the building used as the first school, and besides Daldy, there were: Harry, John, Jim, Ted, Bob, Charlie and a sister, Matty. Harry was a wanderer, about 6’3" in height and a great prospector around Karangahake and Waitekauri about 1875, and afterwards in Queensland, though later, he returned to the Coromandel area.
In 1879, when Daldy was 18, he had an exciting experience. The Government had purchased the Pukehane native block of land at Rotokohu, between Paeroa and Te Aroha. This was to be surveyed and subdivided by Messrs Bayldon and Crump, and men were wanted for line cutting and general survey work. Here was an opportunity for the youthful Daldy to earn some money and have some fun with the wild pigs. He approached his friend, Himiona, a Maori, and suggested his joining the party. "No fear," said Himiona, "the Ngatihako will shoot you."
Some months previously the Ngatihako tribe had stopped snagging operations in the Waihou River, seizing the boats and gear of the Thames County, and they claimed ownership of the Block, threatening to kill anyone who molested it. However, Daldy decided to join the survey party, and a half—caste named Tom Powdrell joined as his mate.
To quote Daldy’s own words:
"One night we were under canvas and just as we were about to retire, voices could be heard on the ridge above our camp. As I understood Maori a little, Bayldon asked me to get as close as possible and ascertain the object of the visit. However, by the time I got to the vicinity, the party had left. Next day we went on with our work of line cutting and at sunset we again heard the voices of the Maoris. Once more I worked my way silently through the fern, until I had almost reached the ridge, and again the Maoris had disappeared. We came to the conclusion that they were a party of pig hunters returning. I noticed, however, that Bayldon examined his revolver and placed it carefully within reach when retiring for the night."
The next morning, because his clothes had got wet the previous evening, Daldy put on clean, white canvas trousers and a clean shirt. This attire proved to be his undoing. At about 1 p.m. he was engaged cutting down a tawa tree when he heard a growl from his dog. Glancing around he saw a number of gun barrels pointed at him. He was holding the axe close to his head, when a bullet whistled by, cutting the tips of his finger and thumb, and splitting the axe handle to shivers. At the same time, others let fly, and pieces of cut up lead peppered him from throat to shin. As he jumped to get shelter behind the tree, another Maori fired, and the bullet struck him behind the hip. The impact threw him on his face and he lay there, shamming death.
Around him gathered the Ngatihako shooting party, about nine of them. One seized Daldy by his thick mane of black hair, and threw him on his back. "What a pity to kill the young fellow. He’s not the Rangitira of the party." The white trousers and shirt that Daldy had donned had caused the Maoris to think he must be the boss.
The firing commenced again. Ah! thought Daldy, they are getting Bayldon and the others. But Bayldon and party were not there. On the first sounds of firing they had made a hasty retreat. Ton Powdrell, Daldy’s mate, was not so lucky. In his endeavours to escape he became entangled in some creeping mange mange, and the Maoris made a detour in order to get a better shot. However, he managed to break free and hid for some time. When he realised that Daldy had been shot, he ran for help and kept going until he reached Mackaytown, across the river. He was in such a state of exhaustion, he could hardly speak when he met Mr Dodd, who realised that there was trouble, and informed Daldy’s family. They set out to investigate. John McWilliams, Clem Cornes and Kate Thompson comprised the relief party, and they were later assisted by Carol Nash who was then Proprietor of the Mackaytown Hotel.
Meanwhile Daldy was endeavouring to reach a hiding place, fearing the return of the Ngatihako. The bullet that had knocked him down had come through the lower part of his body in front, exposing his entrails, so he stripped off his shirt to wrap around his wound. Finding that he could not walk, he dragged himself along the ground until he came to a small creek at the bottom of the hill near Quinn’s farm. He felt very thirsty but was afraid to put his mouth down to drink, lest he should not have strength to lift his head again. The sandflies commenced to attack him in thousands but he was too weak to brush them off. All sounds of human beings had gone. There he lay through the afternoon until the sun sank, but as darkness came the full moon rose. Then came the noiseless flight of the morepork. Watching it, he fancied he could hear faint sounds as of human voices. They came nearer — he tried to call out, but no sound came from his lips. Would they find him?
By good luck, they did, and at once set out to carry his now unconscious body home to Mackaytown, but they were met by young Cornes with a horse, so they conveyed him to Paeroa, whence Tom Powdrell had already galloped to inform the police. Sergeant Russell and a party proceeded to the scene of the shooting, with Tom, but found that Daldy had already been rescued. On returning to Paeroa they learned that he was there, and in a very serious condition. Meanwhile, Mr Thomas Snodgrass of Paeroa, had ridden to Thames with the news, and Sub-Inspector Kenny, and Dr Andrews left immediately for Ohinemuri, and Mr Puckey of the Native Dept and Mr McIlhone left at daybreak the next morning.
The small steamer Te Aroha that had just arrived from Thames, immediately began its return journey, taking Daldy to Thames. Thence he was conveyed to the Hospital, a small building surrounded by a low verandah, with only male nurses in attendance. Daldy always remembered the three distinct odours he encountered there - the almost over-powering smell of carbolic disinfectant, the linseed meal being boiled for poultices, and that of whiskey, the great pick-me-up.
He lay there for many months showing no sign of improvement, until a visiting doctor probed the wound, and extracted a piece of shirt, that had been driven in by the bullet. He then made a rapid recovery after his narrow escape, the bullet having just missed the femoral artery.
The Maoris responsible for the shooting, Pakara and Epiha, made their escape and it was not until long afterwards that they were brought to justice. However, they served only a short term of imprisonment, being pardoned when Te Kooti received his pardon. Daldy petitioned Parliament for compensation on several occasions, but without result. Years later he actually met some members of the shooting party, and it was remarkable that there were no signs of enmity on either side.
In 1882 Daldy McWilliams was associated with Mr John McCombie when the famous Talisman lode was discovered at Karangahake, and for several years he was very active on this field as well as at Waitekauri and Thames. It was there that he became an instructor and conducted a Gymnasium. He was a born leader.
About 1895 he opened a Hair Dressing Salon in Thames, and it was about this time that he did a lot of writing, contributing articles on mining to the Auckland Herald and to English papers for a period of over 40 years. He had always been noted as a great footballer, playing in the three-quarter line. Thinking back to the games they played, the talks they had and the expeditions they shared, Mr W. Hammond of Thames regarded him as one of the best friends he ever had.
Daldy married Miss F. Payne, the talented daughter of Mr Nat. Payne of Thames and they left there in 1901 to settle in Waihi, where he was for 25 years on the staff of the Magistrate’s Court. Mrs McWilliams had great musical ability and she and Daldy organised concerts to raise funds for many a good cause, such as a much—needed Ambulance, as well as for patriotic purposes during the First World War. Directing "Jack the Giant Killer", and her Operetta Company, Mrs McWilliams raised over $2600 throughout Ohinemuri.
On his retirement, in 1927, owing to illness, Daldy was tendered an unusual farewell in the Magistrate’s private room at the Waihi Courthouse. In total ignorance, he was ushered in by the Clerk of the Court, Mr T. Morgan, and there found representatives of the Court, Bar, Mines Department and Police. Mr F.W. Platts, S.M. in the chair, addressed him thus:
"Prisoner, we have discovered that you intend to leave the service of the Justice Department. You are going to leave us in the lurch, to our great regret."
Then followed expressions of good will and high appreciation, the speakers being: Messrs Platts, S.M.; T. Morgan; Matt Paul; See. Sgt. McLean; J.B. Beeche; and Peter Koeford (Auckland), a Thames school friend who added a glowing tribute to Daldy’s sterling qualities as a gymnasium instructor and a great helper of the young. A presentation followed.
Daldy McWilliams died in 1931, leaving his wife and three children: Noel, formerly of the Southland Electric Power Board; Zoe, Mrs Kennedy of Wellington; and Dallas (Dux), Mrs O’Byrnne of Matamata, who is now the only survivor. But there are many descendants of this very outstanding McWilliams family.