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Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 9, May 1968

By HORACE HARSANT

Mr. Robert Wigmore was born in Ireland and came to New Zealand from Canada in 1841. He was supposed to be the biggest man in the country at that time, being six foot eight and a half inches - heavily built. He came from a very good family background - "Calgary Castle" was the name of the family home, I believe. He was very well educated and had talent as a painter, some of his pictures having been hung in America, but drink was his problem. He was also an excellent cabinet maker and made all the furniture for his big house here at Hahei including his own bed, which I later cut down to normal size, it being about eight feet long. When he first arrived, he landed at Auckland but later travelled through the country surveying right down to Wellington, with the help of Maori canoes over rivers and bays. Passing across the Thames area he saw Hahei, which he never forgot.

After a short time he left New Zealand for America and Canada, also working in Peru and Chile with timber mills, but some years later returned to Auckland where he and his life-long friend Sir John Logan Campbell had purchased sections in Queen Street. Reselling his, he obtained the land title for the Hahei property and over 100 years ago took his family there, building a small cottage near the beach and close to the site where he and his wife are buried.

Later he built the big house, which is really a marvel of workmanship - -every strut and joist is morticed - all nailed with square nails. The price for first class kauri was 5/- a 100 ft. then. The old house is still as good as the day it was built. He would not allow a chimney in the home, but had an enormous stove in the centre of the kitchen with a metal pipe through the roof. The kitchen was very big and there are still hooks in the ceiling for hanging bacon.

Mr. Wigmore was the magistrate for the district, all Court business being done in the house itself. If a peninsula couple wanted to get married, they had to come here by boat, horse, or if needs be, by foot, there being no roads whatsoever. The Wigmores had no horses but the whole family would start digging acres of ground for growing wheat, maize and vegetables. They had a small hand mill and ground their flour. Their vegetables were taken round by rowing boat to Gumtown (Coroglen) and Whitianga and sold to the bush camps. The Wigmore girls rowed the boat, over 50 miles there and back. He would steer it, the daughters doing the pulling, but they were big strong women and did not mind. Later they obtained one horse and a bullock and did the ploughing with them. The yoke they used to harness the animals is still here. Eventually they bought another horse, the bullock probably being eaten. In addition to cropping the Wigmores hand-milked cows, set the milk in large jars for 24 hours, skimmed the cream and made butter for which they got 6d a pound. Cheese was also made, some of the hand presses being here still. They kept pigs, fattened them on maize and potatoes, slaughtered them and made bacon for sale.

Of interest in the surrounding area is that there was a small quantity of kauri gum on Mahurangi Island. On Hahei beach for some unforeseen reason, first in Wigmore's time, then in ours, a portion of the beach was uncovered leaving clay and rocks and also gum. We went down and dug two sacks before the tides came in and covered the clay again. There is only one solution in that Mahurangi Island must have been part of the mainland and under the clay of the beach at about 5 feet, there are bogs and swamp formation, the same as the mainland of Hahei. We have tried to dig for gum since, but it is impossible to dig in sand near the water. We even tried with horses and a road scoop, but only made a small lake. There would have been a small fortune in this covered gum if it could have been worked years ago.

The end of Robert Wigmore was very sudden. A cow persisted in getting into his plantation of young pines so he decided to shoot her. The family heard a shot and later found the old man dead half way to the plantation. Through too much excitement his heart must have stopped and apparently the gun had gone off as he fell. The family eventually scattered. The daughters all married and one son went into the Police Force while two carried on the farm for some years until it was sold to us, when one went to Auckland and the other bought a small property nearby. My sister Kate Harsant married Henry. It is said that Sir John Logan Campbell had given Robert Wigmore a library of books worth nearly a thousand pounds when it was intact. It was comprised of early complete editions of early authors, but the family divided it and have now lost trace of some of it. Unless a headstone is erected as a memorial, all trace will soon be lost of the grave of Robert Wigmore the most notable man of his time in this area - indeed the father of Hahei.

On Te Karo Beach, further round the coast towards Tairua, a headstone kept in good repair by the Hamilton family marks the grave of a sailor who lost his life well over 100 years ago. I believe they were getting spars off the beach when the lad was drowned. His name was "William Simpson", and his ship was the H.M.S. "Tortoise".

EDITORS NOTE : Mrs. Bernard Tucker (nee Joyce Creed, of Whitianga) and now of Paeroa is a great-grand-daughter of Robert Wigmore. Her grandmother, Mrs. McLeod (nee Eliza Wigmore) was born in Canada and Mrs. Tucker's mother (Margaret McLeod, an only child) was born at the old homestead at Hahei where she was brought up and always had a governess. She married Adolphus Creed of Hot Water Beach and Whitianga.

[see also Journal 10: Harsant Family - E]