Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 17, June 1973
By DOROTHY WALDEGRAVE
Hospitality was arranged for a most enjoyable outing by Mr. and Mrs. Keith Coxhead, both 3rd generation settlers of Miranda. We had met them on a previous visit to their beautiful home, "Sunnybrae" where we were shown relics of former days - an ancient muzzle loading rifle, a cavalry sword, and the original "Sign Plate" (inscribed V.R.) of the Miranda Post Office opened in 1868 by Mr. A. Hunter. It was later operated at "Sunnybrae" by Mrs. Robert Coxhead (Keith's Grandmother) and for many years it occupied the building which is now the farm Office.
On a glorious morning in Nov. 1972 our party were met at the Miranda Hall and during an early lunch we were given a general history of the locality by Mr. K. Findlay and Mr. A. Lane, (descendants of early settlers,) who answered our questions after the playing of a valuable tape recording of the reminiscences of the late Mr. George Findlay taken in his 85th year shortly before his death in 1958. We were enthralled by the clarity of the tape which was a moving tribute to the pioneers of this district and indeed to this remarkable man himself.
The History of Miranda proved of far greater importance than we had imagined. A glance at the map will show why this western shore of the Hauraki Gulf was "the hub of a communication system" linking the Bay of Islands with the Waikato and the Bay of Plenty. It had figured prominently even before 24/4/1834 when at Puriri the missionaries Preece and Morgan welcomed "two weary travellers", Hamlin and Brown, who had completed an arduous journey throughout the Waikato. From there to the Mission Station, at Puriri by way of Whakatiwai near Miranda was the "short cut".
Even earlier history had been made by Charles Marshall, a settler at Waikato Heads after being shipwrecked in 1829. On a return journey from Kauaeranga he had been forced by bad weather to shelter at Pipiroa. Tramping the long seashore north he had discovered a store and houses belonging to Messrs Jones and Walker, merchants from Sydney, the place being called: Pokorokoro. In 1832 it was renamed "Miranda" after a Corvette that, with a complement of soldiers, called at Kaiaua.
In 1863 when it became known that Brigadier Carey and his troops planned the construction of a line of redoubts the Maoris dug rifle pits at the Miranda creek to resist the landing of the Corvettes Esk, Miranda and Surrey. However the landing was made at Kaiaua, a military engagement being avoided.
Owing to the friendly co-operation of the Maoris it was possible in 1869 for Messrs W. and R. Findlay, G. McInness, P. Hunter and Hopkinson to open a trading store, as gum digging was carried on in the area. Mr. Hunter operated the first telegraph station and by 1873 the Europeans had bought land and were carving out homes in these primitive wilds.
There was boat communication with Thames and Auckland but the only road was a rough bush track to Pokeno. Moreover it must be remembered that Miranda in the 1860's must have bean a hungry and a lonely land. How could the early settlers, the Findlays, the McInnes, the Hunters, the Coxheads and the rest have known that the swamps and those manuka covered spurs, so hard and barren and poor would one day be covered with green loveliness and farm animals? In 1969 they celebrated 100 years of settlement and there are many descendants of the old settlers there now.
One felt very strongly this spirit of continuity and conservation, when invited to enter the lovely home of Miss Sylvia Findlay, built so beautifully of mellow brick in 1906. And Miss Findlay herself, chatelaine of this three generation home, surrounded by gardens which only time and care can grow, though in her late eighties, has retained the grace and beauty of a girl. One had only to look from her to the face of her mother pictured above to see the same dignity and to realise that here lies some secret of an inner strength. She, like her home has survived all fashions and she had gone to infinite trouble to display for us the treasures of the past. (Miss Findlay had been a Teacher for many years and actually spent a year as Pupil Teacher at Karangahake School about 1900 before going to Te Puke).
As the children of the pioneers reached school age Mrs. Findlay's sitting room and store house became class rooms until in 1884 an Education Board School was built of pit-sawn Kauri on land donated by the family. It still stands but now it fills another purpose. Restored and beautified by loving hands it is now a place of worship and on the day of our visit we were conscious of its very special atmosphere.
We were taken to another old home five miles by the winding road which the Findlay brothers of the 1860's had surveyed and engineered themselves - "up to the bush". It was a 2000 foot square house of pit-sawn Kauri overlooking a stand of young Kauris and beyond, the sea. Here George Findlay (who recorded the tape) brother of Sylvia and father of Ken and Nell, brought his bride in 1906 after years of "baching" and carving out his home. (Lying under giant macrocarpas I noticed three generations of cooking stoves - each in its turn such a vast improvement on the last that one almost heard the acclamation that must have greeted its appearance).
It was obvious that the tangled garden where sheep sought shade under the overgrown camellias and other shrubs, had once been someone's Garden of Eden.
The property had been sold to the Department of Lands and Survey who already owned adjacent land, so the gracious building is now used as a doss-house for Shearers. Inside, one was torn with the contrast of past and present knowing that the home was once a woman's pride and joy. Wandering slowly from room to room we noted the lovely flooring as level and solid as when built, gazed at the faded friezes on the walls and the battens on the lofty ceilings. It was pleasing also to see the long table for years presided over by a father and mother who had cherished this home. But it was difficult to avert our eyes from the bottles stacked in corners and the cigarette butts on the old fashioned mantlepieces, now dusty and drear.
Perhaps the greatest wonder of all was that five miles of tedious track which must have isolated the pioneers in winter from their kinsmen on the plain - which perhaps goes to prove, judging from the men and women we met, that isolation is good for people - some people! Finally we returned to the Hall, where the hospitable Miranda folk dispensed afternoon tea, for which we added our thanks and blessings. It had been a most memorable day.
NOTE - To Mrs. Waldegrave, who arranged it, this was a day of memorial going back 3 generations. The Great-grandfather of Keith Coxhead had been a close neighbour of her Grandfather, both men having pioneered heavy bush land when the first blocks south of Egmont were thrown open for settlement at Kapuni in January, 1881. We are deeply grateful to her. (Ed.)