Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 15, June 1971


Mr. Lewis E. Cassrels who died in Auckland in December 1970 at the age of 88 years was not only one of the oldest members of the Paeroa Historical Society but a descendant of one of the earliest settlers in the district. His father established himself as a "trader" in Ohinemuri in 1869 — six years before the opening of the Goldfields.

Mr. Ascher Cassrels (1830—1924) had been enterprising from childhood when he was smuggled out of Poland in a cart load of hay and at 12 years of age stowed away in a coal boat to Cardiff. In London he learned the trade of Cabinet-making but in 1863 embarked for New Zealand in the Sailing Ship "Scimitar". Educated in Hebrew he had soon acquired enough English to read widely and while at sea was fascinated by "Captain Cook's Journal" which eventually led him to seek out the "River Thames". He had commenced business as a "Traveller" visiting many parts of New Zealand selling goods supplied by L.D. Nathan.

In 1867, at the time of the Thames gold-rush, Ascher Cassrels settled there as a Storekeeper but in 1869 set up his "Trading Station" in a Raupo Whare on the Waihou River near the present Cadman Road, Paeroa. This was not accomplished without difficulty for at first the Maoris resisted his landing, upsetting his Canoe and goods into the river. But admiring his persistence on a future occasion they were more friendly, especially as Mr. James Mackay had spoken for him.

After the official opening of the Goldfield in 1875 Mr. Cassrels acquired considerable property in the Paeroa township, entering into partnership with Phillip Bennett who had been a cap-maker for the Army. They were responsible for the naming of the streets which opened up their land e.g.:- Cassrels, Bennett, Nahum, Lewis, Olga and Seth Streets. Backed by the Auckland firm of Eherenfried Bros. Mr. Cassrels opened a small single storey Hotel on the site of the present "Criterion" which he established in 1897.

In 1881 he visited Sydney where he married Annette Brodziak who had been highly educated in Brussels and was unprepared for the life she was to live in Ohinemuri. Her eldest son, Lewis was born here in 1882, to be followed by two little girls who died of diptheria, after which Mrs. Cassrels would no longer remain at the Hotel. One of the houses in which she lived was in the Aorangi Road vicinity. Later she moved to Thames where her children attended School. Mr. Cassrels was a member of the Ohinemuri County Council 1890-1892.

Lewis Cassrels was a colourful character, clever and enterprising. After studying at Thames be became a Marine Engineer and travelled widely, spending 4 years in America. About 1911 he belonged to an Auckland Aero Club which included the two famous brothers Vivian and Leo Walsh. A keen investor Lewis was a Shareholder in various business enterprises, but for some years owned the farm where Mr. Gray Vuglar is now on Te Aroha Road. He left here about 1930 to live in Auckland but never really severed his connection with this district.

Olga Cassrels who died in 1954 was the fourth child. It was in the early 1920's that I first met Olga who was everything I admired in a woman. She was beautiful, well-read, had travelled extensively and always lent a sympathetic ear to less fortunate people. At that time she was a Public Accountant and had her Office at the Criterion Hotel where she also lived. Later when she became inundated with work she decided to convert a house in Normanby Road belonging to the family into an Office and this was when I became her assistant as Cashier and Office Girl.

Olga was a first class business woman but she loved music and often used to play her Cello, especially to relieve tension, when she was working long hours into the night. Our next move was into the Criterion Building, opposite the Hotel. Here were also, Mr. Talboys, Dentist; Kenny Brothers, Surveyors; and Mr. Gorrie, Solicitor. I had always done a good deal of riding and when Olga became interested she bought a fine Hunter so that we could ride together in the weekends. I think we explored the whole of Ohinemuri and during our excursions she used to relate her travel experiences and tell me of those of her friend Elsie K. Morton who wrote Articles for the N.Z. Herald, and also private letters which I was privileged to share.

Later I went to Wellington to train as a Dental Nurse and when Olga came down on business she would always take me out to dinner and a shout. Our happy association continued whenever I returned to Paeroa. Then in 1929 Olga and her Mother left the district to live in Auckland where she attended the Elam School of Art and became an Art Teacher for many years. She never married but devoted her life to the care of her mother, also an exceptional woman whom few people knew intimately.

Nahum Seth Cassrels (Joe) was born in 1895, and probably one of the most memorable experiences of his life was that of being wrecked on the "Elingamite" when be was about 7 year's of age. He and his mother were returning to N.Z. after a trip to Australia. In a dense fog, the ship struck the "West King" at 10.35 a.m. on Sunday November 9th 1902 when the ship and many lives were lost. Joe was "thrown" into a leaking lifeboat and fortunately found his mother there but they and their company spent two miserable nights on the rocks before being rescued. Now living in Auckland Joe is the last survivor of the family.