Diamond Jubilee of the Ohinemuri County 1885 - 1945
Tales of a Veteran Driver
Difficulties of Travel
Old coaching days in the district were recalled recently by a veteran driver, Mr. Nat. Ferguson, formerly of Thames, who was the second man to drive a four-horse team along the Thames-Paeroa-Te Aroha Road. Many well-known names and places are mentioned by Mr. Ferguson.
For some years after the Thames was proclaimed a goldfield in August, 1867, communication with the outside world was mainly by sailing vessels and steamers from Auckland. The discoveries of gold in the 'seventies in the Ohinemuri district, and the proclamation of Te Aroha as a goldfield in 1880 turned attention to the development of those districts. Communication by coach was established by Messrs. Bradley and Company, the coach leaving Grahamstown every morning from the Royal Hotel, kept by Mr. George Symington, and the Pacific Hotel, kept by Mr. Charles Curtis.
"New Zealand's Muddiest Road"
"Early in 1882, Mr. Thomas Bradley, of Te Aroha, started to run a line of coaches from Thames to Paeroa and Te Aroha," said Mr. Ferguson. "I joined this firm as driver in March of that year, and became a partner in the following year. The roads were then of a primitive character, being in course of formation. The road went through the present Paeroa racecourse, and came out at the top side of Primrose Hill, above the school. The driver in the next year was Mr. John Juring, who came from Wanganui and remained for several months. He declared that he had driven all over Australia and New Zealand, but had never seen a road to equal that between Thames and Paeroa for mud. The next driver on that road for the following two years was Mr. Alfred Rowe, now employed by the Farmers' Auctioneering Company at Frankton Junction. When Mr. Rowe left I resumed driving from Thames to Paeroa for several years, and then Mr. Patrick Skelton drove for the balance of the period until we sold out.
"In 1884 the service was extended to Morrinsville to meet the up-train from Auckland, and this was maintained until the railway from Morrinsville connected with Te Aroha two or three years later," he continued. "Arrangements were made with the railway authorities for a round trip ticket, which was largely availed of by tourists and commercial travellers. There was no bridge across the Waihou River at Te Aroha, and it had to be crossed by a ferry, which was in charge of Mr. William Everett. It was impossible to work the ferry during a heavy flood, which backed up the water for a fortnight owing to the lack of drainage. Passengers had to be conveyed across the river by boat, the coach being left on the Morrinsville side of the river, and the horses swam across.
Thames to Tauranga
Messrs. Young and Pope, from Dunedin, were the successful contractors for the mail coach service from Thames to Tauranga, via Paeroa and Waihi, which started on January 1, 1884. This coach left Thames at 6 am. on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and arrived at Tauranga the same evenings at six o'clock. The departure from Tauranga was at 6 am. on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, arriving at Thames the same day at 6 p.m. The driver was Mr. William Douglas, who came from Wanganui. This service was later reduced to two trips weekly, and later was supplanted by train. In 1886 Bradley and Co. opened a coach service between Paeroa and Waihi, leaving Waihi at 9 a.m. and returning from Paeroa to Waihi at noon. This service used to go over the hill called Rahu, going in the hills at Mackaytown and coming out at Owharoa, it not being until several years later that the Karangahake Road was opened. This service connected with the Thames coach, arriving at Paeroa at 11.30 a.m., and also with the Te Aroha coach, which left Te Aroha at 9 am, and arrived at Paeroa at 11.30 a.m.
Hotels and Their Hosts
"When the service started there were three hotels in Te Aroha, the Hot Springs being kept by Mr. George O'Halloran, the British by Mr. Patrick Quinlan, and the Family Hotel, near the bank of the river, by Mr. Allwood. The Palace Hotel was being erected for the first proprietor, Mr. J. W. Walker, known as 'Long Drive.' Mr. Walker was of Thames mining fame.
"The four hotels in Paeroa faced the river, the Criterion being kept by Messrs. Cassrels and Bennett, the Belmont by Mrs. J. Mahoney, the Commercial by Mr. J. M. Coote, and the Ohinemuri (originally the All Nations) by Mr. Maurice G. Power. The license of the Belmont was transferred to the Royal Mail, a wooden building on the site now occupied by the modern structure, which was erected for Mr. George Crosby. The hotel was so named because Mr. Crosby then had the contract for carrying the King's mails from Rotorua to Paeroa. That was in 1893. Later a coaching syndicate was formed, with Mr. Crosby as managing director. The service under that management was continued until the train ran to Paeroa and Thames, after which the business was sold out to Mr. Short, for whom Mr. William Medhurst was manager. Incidentally, Mr. Short, who came from Oxford (now Tirau) managed the original business for Mr. Crosby, whose brother, Mr. Michael Crosby, still in Paeroa, was a well-known and popular driver on the Paeroa-Karangahake run.
"During all the years these coaches were run there were no accidents, not one person being hurt in any way. In winter the roads were very bad, and there were never any charges of speeding by traffic 'cops,'" concluded Mr. Ferguson.
IMPORTANCE OF PAEROA
Another contributor relates the following: — In the 'nineties Paeroa was an important coaching centre, all coaches from Thames, Te Aroha and Waihi meeting there. Competition between the rival coaching firms was often keen, and for a time the fare between Paeroa and Waihi, and between Paeroa and Thames was one shilling only. Cut-throat competition ended soon after one firm carried passengers without charge from Thames to Waihi, and provided them with a midday meal at Paeroa.
In 1899 all the coaching firms engaged between Paeroa and Waihi got together and formed the Ohinemuri Coaching Company, Limited, with a capital of £4392. The subscribers to the Company were: George Crosby 1388 shares, Edward Short 634, Charles Short 635, William L. Hunter 1043, George Johnstone 492, John Crosby 100, Michael Crosby 100. The main objects of the Company were "To establish and maintain a regular service of coaches, buggies and other conveyances running at reasonable fares between the townships of Waihi, Waitekauri, Karangahake and Paeroa. . . and to keep open livery and bait stables at such places, for the letting on hire of buggies and saddle horses, for the accommodation of the travelling public, and generally to carry on the business of a Coach Proprietor and Carrier of Passengers and Goods, and of a Livery and Bait Stable-keeper." The Memorandum and Articles of Association were prepared by Messrs. Miller and Porritt, solicitors, of Paeroa.
The Company conducted business successfully for several years.