Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 10, October 1968
By BERT MIDDLEBROOK
Note. (The following is the substance of a second talk given to the Waihi Historical Society by a well-known Beach resident who was born in Kati Kati in 1890. His father, Mr. Sam Middlebrook, was engaged in early surveys in the Tauranga area in 1874, when he met Mr. George Vesey Stewart who was investigating various places in New Zealand with a view to establishing a settlement for a large number of people from Ulster. It was Bert's father who acted as his guide and here we quote a short passage from "An Ulster Plantation" by Mr. Arthur Gray, M.A., a grandson of one of the early settlers. (This valuable book is now out of print, but we are fortunate in having a copy). [see also Journal 8: Early History of Katikati - E]
"One morning they rode out of Tauranga towards the northern end of the harbour, and in the late afternoon, after 20 miles of hard riding through trackless swamps and hills, they reached the Aongatete River. - - - - As Vesey Stewart looked across the rolling stretches of fern country watered by six rivers, with the forested mountains on his left and glimpses of blue sea on his right, he knew that his search was over. After a careful inspection of three days, he returned to Auckland and made an official application for 10,000 acres of the Kati Kati block". - (He little realised of course how many years and tons of fertilizer it would take to bring about the present transformation.)
Let me take you back to the time when George Vesey Stewart returned to Ulster and with the help of the New Zealand Government arranged for the "Carisbrooke Castle" to bring 238 fairly comfortably-off settlers and 125 Government immigrants to our land and for the "Dover Castle" to bring a body of free emigrants. They arrived in Auckland in September 1875, later embarking on smaller vessels for Tauranga, where they were billeted in the Immigration Barracks, rough 4 roomed cottages each housing two families.
The settlers were eager to view the "promised land", but must have been dismayed to learn of the difficulties that lay ahead even before arriving there. For example they had to rely on further communication by water and it should be noted that in pre-European days the point on Bowen-town Heads was known as "Kati Kati" and the first Kati Kati Post Office and store were at the Ford before Vesey Stewart came. The name was later adopted by the present township. Vesey Stewart himself had reserved his land between Tuapiro and Kauri Point near the site of the first proposed township, and the other settlers balloted for theirs, all of which were covered with fern, teatree and bush and had to be cleared. They proceeded there as best they could, there being three main landing places! at the Aongatete River, at the Uretara and at the Tuapiro. For months until more permanent homes were built they lived in rough huts, each with green raupo walls and a nikau roof. Most of them had earth floors, lighting consisted of kerosene lamps and candles, and cooking was done in camp ovens. Even after houses were built "colonial ovens" were used. (One may be seen in the Waihi Museum.) They were heated by fire on bricks underneath them and more fire on top.
Likewise washing amenities were primitive and there being very few wash-sheds, cast iron "boilers" were used outside for clothes while "tubs" served for baths. I remember the story of a teacher who insisted that there must be a bathroom where she boarded, but she had to be satisfied with a big basin in a shed. Settlers had to rely on tanks for water and as these got very low in summer baths were often taken in the creek, if you were fortunate enough to be near one. It was 1914 before there was any hot water service in Kati Kati and that was in Bridgman's house. It was built by Mr. Harris and Mr. Smith and I worked for them. The plumbing was done by Alex Holland and Skin Oates neither of whom knew anything about installing a hot water system but they managed to sort it out.
The first representative local body of the settlement was the "Kati Kati Road Board" which was inaugurated in 1876 and Vesey Stewart was the first Chairman. Its duties comprised the maintenance of the side roads, the main highway being controlled by the Tauranga County Council. Many of the most prominent settlers served on the Board and the original Minute Book used is now in the Waihi Museum. The fact remains the Roads presented a major problem and for a long time were terrible, but they provided the first paid work the settlers had. They had all brought some money with them but there wasn't much left by the time they built their houses and fences. So with horses, drays and wheelbarrows, they tackled the task of improving their means of communication, by removing great boulders, substituting metal for mud, and improving grades. I remember a place on the Tauranga road where the passengers of a coach drawn by five horses had to walk up hill, and perhaps the worst place was Canon Johnstone's swamp. The last coaches belonged to Deverell and Crimmins.
I helped to build the Taupiro [Tuapiro ? – E] Bridge which was opened in 1907. Each plank had to be tarred and our hands were burned badly. The contract took 3 months. We used to wash in the river and leave the soap for the next time. However it kept disappearing and we blamed each other until we saw a pukeko taking it. While the bridge was being built traffic had to go across at low tide but once we put down planks to let the only motor car cross.
In the early days goods were brought from Auckland to Tauranga by boat and thence by boat to Kati Kati, so the sea played quite a large part in transport, but goods for a local market posed a problem until the road was improved to Waihi after the growth of the mining industry. By that time Kati Kati was producing eggs, butter, fruit and potatoes which found a ready sale in Waihi. Mr. W. J. Gray built a flour mill because the settlers grew quite a bit of wheat. He lived in a cottage beside the mill part of which is still standing. There were two blacksmith's shops, one being owned by Mr. Gray and it was here that Harry Armour served his time. On one occasion a Maori demanded four sets of shoes for her horse but they managed to persuade her to have only one set. At that time the cost was 5/-.
I should mention that Mr. Vesey Stewart was responsible for bringing a second party to Kati Kati in 1878. After a long delay he negotiated for another 10,000 acres of land and the passengers in the "Lady Jocelyn" included a large wealthy social element which contributed to the atmosphere of culture and refinement. Many of them settled in the Athenree area but they found the primitive conditions very trying. (This is well described in Mrs. Hugh Stewart's book "My Simple Life in New Zealand"). There were 11 different families of Stewarts - all well known by their Christian names. There were also ten families of Johnstones, four Noble Johnstones and five Lockingtons besides a great many outstanding people - some of whose descendants are held in high regard to-day.