Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 15, June 1971
by Tui Murdoch
Despite its present air of serenity, Hikutaia, situated some 7 miles from Paeroa and 13 from Thames has a past which was brash, turbulent, and full of colourful characters. Its early European settlement dates back to 1839 but one must remember that Missionaries, explorers and traders were familiar with the district even before that.
The only access for many years were the Waihou and Hikutaia Rivers. "Hikutaia", the Maori name for "thrashing tail" was so called by members of the mighty Ngata Maru [Ngati Maru – E] tribe to mark a visit of the legendary "Taniwha" to the waters of the river which rises high in the Coromandel Range and flows in a winding course to the Waihou. Mostly it is a gentle waterway interspersed with still deep pools and gaily bubbling rapids - a perfect home for trout, eels and mullet and undoubtedly of great value to the Maoris and early settlers.
The district comprises the stretch of country from Townsend Road in the north to the bridge over the Kurere Creek near Vowles' farm to the south while east are the ranges and west the Waihou River. Rough tracks, rather than roads as we know them, ran over the hills and through the dense bush, for the lack of conveyances did not deter the Maori from exploring the terrain, nor the white settler from developing it. The high country was heavily timbered with mighty kauris, while on the flats, flax and kahikatea abounded and soon the lure of gold was to the fore.
It is not surprising then to find that bushmen, gum diggers and miners fought out their hard and tough lives in this district. The bush was alive with native birds, many of which were used for food, the plump, trusting pigeons often being victims, as were the wild duck, pukeko and bittern of the swamps. Moreover the Maoris of the district were friendly and had become acquainted with pakehas when the Mission Station was established at Puriri in 1833.
Just before 1840, New Zealand experienced a land purchasing boom but after the Treaty of Waitangi the Government queried some of the holdings in order to curb the activities of "Land Sharks". This Article will deal only with early pioneer settlers, some of whom came to this district well before the opening of any Goldfields. Obviously they had to do much hard work in clearing the land before they could farm it, and on the whole they lived amicably among the Maoris proving that they were not merely Speculators.
The McCASKILL BROTHERS educated men from Scotland appear to have been the first European settlers.
(A letter from the National Archives (24/12/64) states - "On 23/11/1839 L.A. McCaskill purchased from Hura Moana and others land on behalf of himself and A. McCaskill, S. McDonald Martin, A. Martin, Q. McAllister and C.J. Campbell." The purchase comprised 8,000 acres which lay around the central portion of Hikutaia and stretched some miles up the Maratoto Valley. A sawmill was erected fairly near the mouth of the Hikutaia Creek. The land, marked on old maps as "McCaskills' Grant" was gradually improved and stocked. Ed.)
DONALD McCASKILL joined his brothers in 1848 after spending some years in U.S.A He apparently acquired one of the group interests - about 800 acres - and worked very hard on it though his family did not join him for about 8 years. Later all the holdings were greatly reduced by the Government and in the mid 60's the McCaskill Brothers experienced grave financial difficulties, after a period of enforced absence during the Maori War. They expected to receive Government compensation which was not forthcoming and their estate became heavily mortgaged. (See Journal 6 - October 1966 re McCaskill Diaries.) Ed. [see Journal 6: Journals of D. McCaskill - E]
Three of Donald and Colina McCaskill's sons - Kenneth, Donald and Hugh were educated in Scotland but John and Christine were born in New Zealand. John married Lily Crawford whose family came to Hikutaia from Katikati after the Tarawera eruption 1886. Their children were: Colina, Madge, Donalda and Josephine (Mrs. Biglowe).
ALBERT JOHN NICHOLAS was an early European settler at "Waipororua", Hikutaia He was familiar with the district because of early trading activities when his boats plied round the coast and up the rivers. (See separate article re Nicholas Family). Ed. [see in this Journal: Albert John Nicholas of Hikutaia - E]
HENRY ALLEY and his brother George arrived in New Zealand in 1842 and became pioneer settlers in Hawkes Bay. In 1857 in partnership with a ship-mate, H.S. Tiffin they purchased several thousand acres west of Napier. This they divided, Tiffin naming his part "Greenmeadows" while the Alleys named theirs "Taradale" in memory of their home in Ireland and the English Dales - their original birth place. In 1860 they built the first house in the district near Otatara Pa and it remains there today. However they decided to cut up the property for closer settlement and while George moved to Clive, Henry came north in 1872 as he had purchased part of McCaskill's Grant at Hikutaia.
Taradale was then known as a starting point for various inland routes and it is assumed that Alley knew something of these, for with some help be undertook the task of driving his cattle and sheep to their distant destination. After many difficulties they encountered another at Komata until Chief Tukukino gave them permission to pass, through his land, at that time there being no legal road between Paeroa and Hikutaia
Mr. Alley built his house very close to where his grandson, Mr. Vic Alley lives now, and on cleared portions of the land grew wheat which was ground for flour and oats to cut for chaff. Water was carried by race from Peel's Creek, Maratoto, to a Mill situated on the bank of the Hikutaia River, just up-stream from "Alley-Memorial Park". The products from the mill were then transported via the river. Meanwhile stock multiplied and a small dairy herd was established "Alley's Butter" being known throughout the district, while cattle, beef and mutton were in great demand after the opening of the Goldfields.
Mrs. Alley, one of the first white women to become a permanent resident of Hikutaia shared with her large family a tremendous amount of pioneering work. Thames was the main shopping area and she thought nothing of riding there on horseback. It is remembered that she bought Calico by the bolt to make clothes for both girls and boys. Members of the original family were:- Charlie, Fred, Jean, Jack, Alf, Elizabeth, William, George, Frances and Albert (Bert).
CHARLIE ALLEY, the eldest son, married EMILY NICHOLAS and they had a store on the Old Maritoto Road, then the centre of settlement, goods being brought up by boat. They reared a large family: Albert Henry, James Pakaurangi, Charles Robert, Alfred Wm., George Edward, David Clifford, Norah Ngahuia, Eric Alexander, Edna Helena and Hector John. Mrs. Emily Alley died in her 40's when giving birth to twins her widowed-mother remaining with the family until her death. Several of the boys served during the 1st World War when Alfred and David lost their lives. To-day only two of the family are living, Edna and Charles, a Gallipoli Veteran of 81 now in Waihi.
ALF ALLEY who married CLARA LOUISE NICHOLAS in 1887 had a Slaughter House and Butchers Shop on his property on Thames Road from the days when stock sales were big events in Hikutaia. There were twelve children; Emily (Mrs. Joe White of Paeroa), Agnes, Clara (Mrs. Klaus), Alma (Mrs. Morrow), Doris (Mrs. Wilson), Lucy (Mrs. Geary of Hikutaia) and Fred, Keith, Rev. Roy Alley of Auckland, Ernest (Carlo) William and Mick. Mrs. Alley died in 1952 aged 87 years and her husband in 1957 aged 92 years - two people who were closely identified with the progress of Hikutaia and noted for their kindness and hospitality. (Mr. Alf Alley was a first day pupil when the Hikutaia School opened in 1879. He was then 14 years of age and his teacher Mr. Hyatt was 19 years!)
WILLIAM ALLEY and his wife (nee Pauline Adolph) also had a large family! - William Henry, Irene (Mrs. McArvy), Victor (who married Leila Gubb and now lives on the site of the old homestead), Joyce (Mrs. Mal Morrison), Rose (Mrs. Thodey), George, Valerie (Mrs. Jim Morrison) and Alex.
GEORGE ALLEY who married Edith Lamb, became a well known Bay of Plenty farmer. His success was partly due to the fact that he introduced Cobalt, the trace element once lacking in much of the district. Returned soldiers in the area benefited as a result of a gift he made. Farm properties totalling 2,300 acres mainly in the Te Puke district were formally transferred to a board of trustees for the purpose of establishing a training centre for returned men. It is known as "Homewood Trust". There are three children living, Jean (Mrs. Hough), and twins Nancy (Mrs. Capamagian) and Nella (Mrs. Bob Silson).
ALBERT (BERT) ALLEY, the youngest of the original family spent all his life in Hikutaia where he died in 1964 aged 90 years. His wife (nee Mabel Beamish) who taught at the Hikutaia School before 1920, died in 1963. There were four children, Vida, Loma (Mrs. Heslop), Nira (Mrs. Wilson, dec.) and Bruce who still lives on the home farm.
(It is noteworthy that another branch of the original pioneering Alley family settled in the South Island and the well-known New Zealander, Rewi Alley who dedicated his life to helping the struggling masses in China is descended from them. See "A Learner in China" by Rewi Alley.) Ed.
The early settlers experienced great difficulties in educating their children. It was not till 1879 that they saw the erection of a one roomed school 28 x 20 with a porch 14' x 18' and a Teacher's residence on a section of Mr. Alley's ground (purchased for £10). For a time the school was classified "half-time" with Turua and then with Omahu (later known as Wharepoa). In 1896 Mr. Alley gave a strip of land so that the children might have a horse paddock and shortly afterwards the School became "full time". Early Head Teachers were: 1879 H.R. Hyalt; 1880 T.M. Minchin; 1882 G.B. Horgan; 1886 W.J. May; 1889 E.N. Ormiston; 1890 Mary Stanton; 1894 Cordelia Crowther; 1897 Ernest J. Walters.
(An advertisement in the 1880 Thames Directory states - "Pioneer Hotel Hikutaia, Robert Kelly, Proprietor. Accommodation for Man and Beast. Best Wines, Spirits, and Beers. The shortest and quickest road to Te Aroha is by Phillip's Coach to Hikutaia Fare 4/-. And from there by Horse from Kelly's Hotel 5/-. Time occupied only 5 hours".) Ed.
It is said that at one time there were 3 other hotels - the Stirling (later moved to Waihi) and 2 up the old Maratoto Road - one where Mr. Wyatt's house now stands and one on Maori Flat where there was also a large Meeting House.
MR. AND MRS. JAMES CORBETT bought the Pioneer Hotel in the mid-80's. Over 10 years previously James and Thomas Corbett had left Ireland for the Australian Goldfields but in the late 70's decided to try their luck in New Zealand and were engaged in mining both at Thames and Ohinemuri. In the year 1881 two sisters Keohane arrived from Ireland, and James Corbett married Julia while Thomas married Mary. Both couples moved to Hikutaia and had large families, though the latter returned to Thames. The children of James and Julia Corbett were:- John, Mary, James, Patrick, Kitty, Maggie, Winnie, Julie, and Nora. Julie was the only one who married. She became Mrs. Goonan and her descendents are still in the district. Winnie and Nora continue to live in the big house built by their mother in 1923. Their father died in 1908 and their mother in 1932.
The Corbetts bought up various pieces of land in the village and later a nephew from Ireland (John Corbett) who married Johanna Donlon settled on what is now known as Corbett's Road. There were seven children in this family - Mary, Josephine (Matron of Thames Hospital), Winnie and two sons, Lawrence and Patrick who still manage the farm. The eldest son Jack and the late Thomas also bought farms in Hikutaia (Mrs. T. Corbett and family live on Maratoto Road).
(The Thames Directory for 1880 lists the following names of European residents of Hikutaia:- Henry Alley, Chas. Binney, James Gordon, Robert Kelly, Donald, L.A. and A., McCaskill, John, Hugh, and Ken., AJ. Nicholas, and W.G. Scott.
At that time the Ohinemuri North Riding of the Thames County (Kauaeranga to Hikutaia) recorded 175 males, 69 females and 78 dwellings. Ohinemuri South (Hikutaia to southern boundary) 355 males, 194 females and 153 dwellings. The following additional names appear in the 1886 Directory — Carlton, Clarke, Corbett, Ennis, Handley, Nicholls, Paul, Reed, Reilly, Riley, Taylor, Williams, and Wroath.) Ed.
OUR CONTRIBUTOR: Mrs. Tui Murdock (nee Johnston) has lived in Hikutaia since her marriage to Mr. Cedric Murdock in the early 30's. Apart from her home she has had two very strong interests - Drama and Journalism. She is particularly well known as a Producer of Plays and like her late father, has made good use of her talent for writing.