Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 8, October 1967


By Jessie A. Thorp, B.Sc.

One hundred and twenty-five years ago, the first permanent European settlers came to Paeroa via the Thames River.

JOSHUA THORP (1796-1862), a man of great character and ability was trained as a land surveyor and civil engineer in Sheffield, Yorkshire. He spent some years in Sydney as Assistant Engineer in the Engineering Department when Sir Charles Darling was Governor. When England retrenched the public services in Sydney, almost abolishing the Engineering Department he practised privately as an architect until he came to New Zealand.

Mr. Thorp first visited New Zealand in 1839 to see the country and to find a suitable place to settle. After exploring the Firth of Thames he bought a piece of land at Te Kouma Bay on the Coromandel harbour and paid a deposit on a block of land on the Thames River between Komata and Puke. He arranged with the Maoris at Te Kouma to build him a large raupo whare. Returning to Sydney he made preparations for bringing his family to New Zealand.

Together with a few other settlers they chartered a vessel and brought with them goods and livestock necessary for establishing a new home. After touching at a number of places on the coast to land settlers they finally arrived in Te Kouma Bay in May 1840. They remained here till after the birth of Alfred in 1842.

Meanwhile Mr. Thorp made arrangements for setting up his home at Puke. He found he had to make many additional payments to sub-tribes claiming ownership of part of the land sold by Chief Taraia. He completed his agreements with the Maoris and applied for the Government title in 1842. This was not granted during his lifetime in spite of repeated claims (The title deed for 360 acres based on the 1842 claim and signed by Governor Greywasgranted to John W. Thorp in 1864).

This land is situated on the Thames River at the Puke, and was called in the document of sale "Wai-o-te-mata" (shining waters) but Mr. Thorp named it Belmont after a home in Yorkshire. The Puke Road which leads from it in a straight line to the township of Paeroa, continues as Belmont Road, a reminder of the early land transaction.

In October 1842, the family was transferred from Coromandel to the Paeroa property where a house was built on the high ground near the river. This house was burnt down in 1846 and another was built which subsequently became the property of the Wight family. (Illustn). Their nearest European neighbours were the McCaskills who had settled on the bank of the Hikutaia creek in 1839 and had built a timber mill there in 1840.

The river was the only means of communication between Auckland and Matamata, and Belmont became a stopping place for many travellers. Bishop Selwyn, paying a visit to the Thames and Matamata mission station in 1843, noted in his diary that he drank tea with Mr. Joshua Thorp and baptised his son Alfred. The settlers were again referred to in a little book published in 1851 by Messrs Williamson and Wilson, entitled "Journal of an Expedition Overland". It concerns a journey from Auckland to Taranaki by way of Rotorua, Taupo, and the West Coast, undertaken in the summer of 1849-50 by Sir George Grey. The writer records:-

"The Governor's party was received at Mr. Thorp's home at Paeroa. The trees in the orchard were laden with fruit of which only cherrieswere ripe. The herd of cattle included 25 milk-cows and some particularly fine fat bullocks. No servants were employed, the work of the establishment being done by Mr. Thorp and his family. Thirty or forty acres had been broken in and the land was producing wheat, potatoes, and grass; in the apiary were forty or fifty hives. The members of the party were invited to prolong their stay but had to excuse themselves taking away with them a bottle of milk. The Governor considered Mr. Thorp to be a settler of a very fine type".

In 1854 another property (Beckby) was bought at Clevedon, then known as Wairoa South or "The Wairoa". This became the family home and was farmed in conjunction with Belmont. The eldest daughter Catherine married Mr. Browne, editor of the Southern Cross newspaper and farmer of Clevedon. The eldest son Hampton and youngest child Charlotte remained at Beckby for the rest of their lives. George who married Margaret Wight farmed at Clevedon and Maku. Joseph, a bachelor, owned the land on which the Waikino battery was later built.

JOHN W. THORP (1837-1919) was born at Wallanora, New South Wales, and after receiving his education at Wesley College in Auckland, farmed with his father at both Wairoa and Paeroa. We are indebted to his diaries for many interesting items in connection with their endeavours.

A great part of the diaries are taken up with accounts of journeys carrying produce between "The Thames", "The Wairoa" and Auckland, either in their own vessel "The Scotch Lass", or others trading between Auckland and "McCaskill's Creek". The followingis a combination of entries for a period of 14 days.

February 1858, Belmont and Beckby.

On 11th, Alfred, Father, and I, started down the Wairoa to the Thames. We got across the Firth that night and the next day we got up below McCaskill's creek. We got up to Belmont on the 13th. We found the apple trees well loaded and the peaches and mulberries quite ripe. On 17th we nailed up and carted down to the vessel 62 boxes of apples, 2 boxes each of peaches and plums, and 1 cask of pork. We started for Auckland but only got 3 miles down the river that day. We had a head wind next day but at night it was more favourable. We got to Auckland next day at 3 p.m. After disposing of the produce at Connel and Ridings and at Weston's Auction Mart, we loaded boxes and goods on board and started for the Wairoa and reached Beckby the next day.

The marketing of produce in those days was a risky and time-consuming business. In very bad weather the journey from Paeroa to Auckland could be four or five days, and the fruit would often be bad before reaching the market. On one occasion eight bullocks taken to Auckland for sale fared so badly when a rudder broke, that one died and four had to be butchered on arrival.

John Thorp took over the Belmont property in 1858 sharing the stock with his brother Hampton and Mr. Browne. This entailed the transferof stockbetween the two farms in the "Scotch Lass".

The diaries record his experiences on the Otago goldfields in 1861 and with the Forest Rangers in the Waikato War in 1864.

On returning to Ohinemuri after three months in Otago he goes prospecting in Rotokohu and Karangahake with Te Kepa Raharuhi. In May 1862 he writes:--

"Kepa and I went to the mountains to look for gold. On 1st, found 2 specks but none after we had gone 20 miles in the mountains"....

"The Maoris had a talk to Kepa about his going to look for the root of all evil".

Being very interested in Maori affairs Mr. Thorp mentions many intertribal meetings prior to the Waikato war. He evidently had many conversations with Taraia. After three years of talking, and against Taraia's wishes, most of the Maoris joined the King Party, but apparently a remnant remained friendly with the settlers. For periods during the war Belmont was left in charge of A. Peka and two others.

After his early discharge from the Forest Rangers on account of dysentery John returns to Wairoa where four of his brothers have joined the Wairoa Rifles. While still very ill, he takes some young stock to Belmont in April l864. He writes:-

"Old Taraia asked payment for his brothers I had killed near Paparata. He meant the men Captain Jackson had shot".

He finds the garden and orchard in good order and ships wheat,oats, and potatoes in the "George" for sale in Auckland. As John has now contracted scarlet fever, Hampton takes some more stock in the "George" for Belmont. On his return he reports that they "only got up to Nicholas's place. He heard from Peka that the "George" would be robbed if she went to Belmont. Peka was afraid the house would be robbedor burnt so he stowed away everything".

He finally returns to Belmont in June 1864. He writes:- "Started in Schooner George for Thames. Got up to Te Kauri and from there in a canoe to Belmont. Found most of the men gone to Tauranga. My natives say it isn't safe for me to stay here long for when the others return from Tauranga they mean to rob my place and dispatch me; which I hope may not be true. Mr. Alan McCaskill promised that I could take my cattle down to his place, I drove them down to the mill but natives had come down to say all was safe and that Taraia wished me to return with my cattle. I also got my cattle run returned. I heard from McCaskill that the soldiers had defeated the Maoris at Tauranga, which has made these natives quite quiet".

The diary now returns to the usual records of work, trading, journeying; and mentions various visitors calling in on their way up the river.

Just after the Waikato war and while the country was still in a disturbed state Mr. Thorp acted as upper Thames correspondent for the Southern Cross and Herald newspapers. His knowledge of the Maori language and people enabled him to be of great assistance to Mr. James Mackay when he was negotiating for the opening of the Ohinemuri Goldfields. For a great many years he served as interpreter in the Native Land Court.

In January 1869 Mr. Thorp sold Belmont to Mr. Cashel and soon afterwards commenced farming on the Opukeko block near by, which he at first leased and later bought from the Maoris. In March 1869, he shifted from Belmont to Opukeko. At this time Chief Te Hira was making trouble in support of Te Kooti and trying to drive the Europeans out of the district. The people of Shortland were alarmed and the women of Tauranga were sent to Auckland. Meanwhile Mr. Thorp prepares to build a house by getting bricks made and assembling timber. His second house on Opukeko was completed in 1873 and the farm was later called "Donburn".

In 1881 Mr. John Thorp married a daughter of Mr. R. J. McFarland, surveyor of Auckland. Mrs. Thorp died in 1884 and six years later he married a daughter of Mr. R. G. Gibbons, ships' architect of Patea.

ALFRED JOSHUA THORP (1842-1912) was very well known in Ohinemuri. In his early life he became a surveyor and carried out much pioneering surveying in the Colville and Piako ranges as far south as Rotorua and Cambridge. In 1875 he laid out the southern part of the Paeroa township which includes Normandy Road and the neighbouring streets.

In 1875 he bought some land from the Maoris on the left bank of the Ohinemuri river and also a large block of swamp on the other side of the Rotokohu road. On the whole of this area he established his farm "Oaklands" making the name appropriate by planting hundreds of oak trees. On a portion near the river called Pareroiroi, there was an unused Maori church and a cottage where he lived till his first house was built nearby.

Alfred Thorp was elected to represent the Ohinemuri Riding in the first council of the Thames County in 1876, and the Netherton Riding in the first Ohinemuri County Council in 1885. He was for a time Chairman of Directors of the Thames Valley Dairy Company. He also served his church as layreader, church warden, synodsman and Sunday school Superintendent.

MRS. A.J. THORP (1863-1935) was the only child (Anna) of Mr. and Mrs. Horgan, her father being the first schoolmaster at Hikutaia. She came to New Zealand at the age of four and spent most of her girlhood at Thames, receiving her secondary education at the Thames Convent.

In 1882 she came as a young teacher to Paeroa and was married in the present Hikutaia schoolhouse, in 1886. When Mr. Thorp died in 1912, she carried on the management of the farm and played an important part in the affairs of Paeroa. She served on committees and carried on Mr. Thorp's Sunday school work. Because of her great love of books, she gave many years of voluntary service to the Paeroa Public Library.

MISS JESSIE THORP, B.Sc., a daughter of Mr. Alfred Thorp was born at Oaklands, Paeroa. She attended Paeroa District High School, Auckland Girls' Grammar School, Auckland University College, and Auckland Teachers' College. She also spent two years of her childhood at Beckby, Clevedon. While in England (1931-1935) she went to Reading University for one year and obtained a portion of a degree in horticulture. Most of her life has been spent in teaching in various parts of N.Z. She retired after12years at Otahuhu College, and is now living in Howick.