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Diamond Jubilee of the Ohinemuri County 1885 - 1945

The Birth of the Ohinemuri County

Favoured by Fertile Farms and Rich Goldfields

Sixty years of progress are being celebrated by the Ohinemuri County Council. Properly to describe the history of the county since its formation in 1885 would fill many books. This Diamond Jubilee Souvenir and Historical Record dare essay no more than a brief outline of how things came about. With the death of most of those who so vigorously struggled against the seemingly overwhelming odds of the early days, have died many memories. Tales that were worth telling have been left untold, and we of a later generation, who get our living more easily, but who are perhaps not so happy as those who have gone before and have fought a hard fight, can only pause for a while and try to carry our minds back through the mist of years — and doff our hats.

Let us think, too, of the time when the great native chiefs strode the earth in their pride and power. They stood on a high hill, and all they saw was theirs. Unspoiled by our civilisation, they had their loves and their hates — their peace and their war. Like us, they prayed to the Unseen Things that gave them life and laughter - and lust and loot. Proud people of the past, who have forgotten many things of which we wot not yet; firm in friendship and fierce in war, we salute you! Eti iwi ite po tena koutou.

Came the white man, with his bullets and his Bible; his method and his madness; his help and his hurt. From far fields he came, forced by circumstances or fired by adventure, to wrest a living and, perhaps found a patrimony in a new land — a land of great lakes and great forests, of fish and fowl, and great possibilities. So the white man came to New Zealand, and nearly half a century afterwards he set foot on the land of this district.

Natives Resent Intrusion

Opposition was met with. This was to be expected, because the owners were naturally unwilling to allow intruders on the lands which had been theirs from time immemorial. News that there was gold to be found caused many adventurers, some with mining experience and some without, to seek fortune in this country. Their way was not an easy one, and it was not until the commissioner for Hauraki, Mr. James Mackay, spoke with the chiefs that the gates were opened to the white man. That was in 1875, and followed successful negotiations between the Maori chiefs and the pakeha authorities. The Native Minister, Sir Donald McLean, visited the field and helped to make the way smoother. A "rush" comparable only to those which have occurred in even greater fields followed. Varying success was met with, and some of the ground over which the prospectors trod has yielded millions of pounds' worth of bullion, some of it still yields. And who can say that it will not yield as abundantly in the future?

Ohinemuri County Proclaimed

Not long afterwards, New Zealand was divided into counties — the Counties Act was passed on October 31, 1876 — and the County of Thames was one of them. Ohinemuri belonged to its territory, and remained a part of it until nearly ten years later, when people living in the area thought they were not getting the benefits to which their needs and their monetary contributions entitled them. Their petition was successful and Ohinemuri was gazetted a county on September 10, 1885, by the Governor, Lieutenant-General Sir William F. D. Jervois.

The Governor's Proclamation

Following is the Governor's proclamation, with the exception of Schedule two, which describes in detail the boundaries of the different ridings as then constituted: — "Whereas a petition was presented to the Governor, signed by not less than three-fifths of the county electors contained within the County of Thames included within the boundaries particularly set forth in the First Schedule hereto, and which said portion comprises in the whole an area of more than two hundred thousand acres in extent, and contains more than one hundred county electors: And whereas the said petition prayed the Governor to constitute the said portion of the County of Thames, a new county, and to set forth the boundaries of the proposed new county: And whereas such petition has been publicly notified as by law required.

"Now, therefore, I, William Francis Drummond Jervois, the Governor of the Colony of New Zealand, by and with the consent of the Executive Council of the said colony, by virtue and in exercise of the powers vested in me by "The Counties Act, 1876," do hereby proclaim and declare that the aforesaid portion of the County of Thames shall, as from the first day of October, one thousand eight hundred and eighty-five, constitute a new county, to be called the County of Ohinemuri, and that the boundaries of the said new county so constituted shall be those particularly set forth in the First Schedule hereto; and the said new county is hereby constituted accordingly.

"And I do further proclaim and declare that the said County of Ohinemuri shall be divided into four tidings, to be called the Waitekauri riding, the Karangahake riding, the Paeroa riding, and the Waitoa riding, the boundaries whereof shall be those particularly set forth in the Second Schedule hereto.

"And, in exercise of the like power, and with the like advice and consent as aforesaid, I do further proclaim and declare that the number of members of the County Council of the said County of Ohinemuri shall be: For the Waitekauri riding, two members; for the Karangahake riding, two members; for the Paeroa riding, three members; and for the Waitoa riding, one member.

County Boundaries Defined

"The County of Ohinemuri is bounded towards the East by the ocean from the mouth of the Otahu River to the Waihi River; thence towards the South-east and South by the Counties of Tauranga and Piako respectively; towards the West by the County of Waikato to a point due West of the confluence of the Waihou River with the Hikutaia River; and thence towards the North by a right line to the confluence of the said rivers; thence by a line along the middle of the said Hikutaia River to the source of the Otahu River aforesaid; thence by a right line to the source of the said Otahu River; and thence by a line along the middle of that river to the ocean."

Council's First Meeting

The next thing to be done was to appoint a responsible local authority for the newly born county, and on November 17, 1885 — about two months after the county was gazetted — the first meeting of what was to be the Ohinemuri County Council was held in the Paeroa Public Hall. There were present: Councillors W. C. Nicholls, F. Cock, H. Butler, F. Strange, J. Moore, J. Walsh, E. M. Corbett and T. M. Humphreys. Cr. Strange was elected chairman pro tem, and a resolution fixing the chairman's salary at £100 per annum inclusive of travelling expenses within the county, was carried. Mr. Edwin Edwards, father of the present Mayor of Paeroa, was elected clerk to the meeting and Cr. Cock was then unanimously elected chairman. There was a good deal of discussion relating to the appointment of a permanent clerk. This position was offered to the chairman, with a further remuneration of £50, but was declined. A resolution was then passed that applications be called from persons capable of filling the position of foreman of works, county clerk and treasurer and collector of rates, at a salary of £200 per annum. Cr. Walsh was appointed delegate to the Thames Hospital Board and the Bank of New Zealand Ohinemuri agency was appointed bankers to the council.

Annual Meeting Held

The first annual meeting was held on Wednesday, November 25th, 1885, when Cr. Cock was elected chairman for the ensuing year. The resolution passed at the previous meeting relative to the chairman's salary was withdrawn and a resolution that no salary be paid for the first six months, but that thereafter an honorarium at the option of the council be paid, was passed. The first Finance Committee consisted of the chairman and Crs. Humphreys, Corbett and Nicholls. An application from residents of the West bank of the Ohinemuri River, praying the council to construct a road and relieve the isolation, was received. The chairman was authorised to write to the Thames County Council for the rent of the office, then a small lean-to building on the site of the present Council Chambers.

A very important resolution was passed at this meeting, namely: "That no work be authorised unless at a general meeting, and that the council may authorise any councillor to see that works are carried out." Mr. Edwin Edwards was appointed interim clerk to the council.

First Work Authorised

The first work authorised by the council was at its ordinary meeting in December, 1885, when Messrs. Jackson and Kenny, surveyors, were instructed to survey a track through the Waitawheta Gorge and prepare an estimate. The matter of adjustment with the Thames County appears to have occupied quite a lot of discussion, and eventually it was placed in the hands of Messrs. Devore and Cooper, solicitors, Thames, to settle on behalf of the council. Messrs. Jackson and Kenny were instructed to survey a road on the East side of the Ohinemuri River deviation from Mackaytown to Karangahake. It was decided to send an application to the Government for a grant of £166 for the purpose of forming the Waitekauri track, and to spend the sum of £10 to clear the road between Owharoa and Karangahake. An application for a subsidy towards the Ohinemuri Library was received. It was decided that as soon as the council had a qualified engineer, he be instructed to lay off a road at Waitoa to take advantage of Mr. John Ballance's promise of a £2 for £1 subsidy for roads taken through Government blocks. For work done on Tui Track the council passed an account of £153 to be paid by the Government out of grants made. At the January meeting, Mr. Thomas Lawless was appointed as the first county clerk and treasurer, which also carried the "portfolios" of foreman of works and collector of rates, etc., but for some reason Mr. Lawless did not accept, and at the February meeting Mr. Robert Simms was appointed.

Compensation for Thames

Compensation, or adjustment for the loss of the Ohinemuri area by Thames, was fixed at £2000, and this was paid off within a few years of the formation of the county. Attention to the fact that final payment had been made was drawn in a leading article in the "Ohinemuri Gazette" (as the "Hauraki Plains Gazette" was then called) of April 8, 1893. "The County Council have at last paid up every penny of the award as between the Thames and Ohinemuri Counties of £2000, which was made in 1887 by the Auditor General," stated the "Gazette." "It was a sad miscarriage of justice, and was largely owing to maladministration on the part of those who then controlled local affairs. However, it had to be paid, and to do this there required to be honoured a sum of £1000 from the Government, which was repaid by means of a sinking fund, which had to be set aside each month from the County fund. This, of course, has been a great drawback, for it meant that nearly £30 a month which otherwise would have gone on the roads, went into 'the devil's exchequer'." Thirty pounds a month! How times have changed; County executives would not get a headache over such an amount now; but then matters are relative, and perhaps that £30 was as big a hurdle as the hundreds and thousands in which we deal to-day.