Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 18, June 1974


Within the East Riding of Yorkshire lies some of the finest farming country in England. But it was not always so. The Yorkshire Wolds, once bare unenclosed sheep-walks and rabbit-warrens, were reclaimed during the 19th century, largely by the efforts of generations of the Sykes family of Sledmere and their tenant farmers. Sir Christopher, Sir Tatton (2) and Sir Mark Sykes (2) were all remarkable men of vision who cleared and ploughed waste land, and besides establishing considerable forest areas sowed crops and bred outstanding cattle and horses. (It is noteworthy that during World War I their famous "Waggoners" played an important part).

One hundred years ago the farmers in that area were still taking their produce to the quiet little market town of Driffield - noted now for its noisy great airport - and farm-hands were hired in the Market Place. Permanent tenants were comfortable enough on the large estates of the Squires but many longed to own a farm of their own, and those who had managed to gain a little education were inspired to wish for greater opportunities for their children. The idea of colonisation was working like yeast in the minds of the British people. Yorkshire folk had been stirred by the stories of the voyages of their own countrymen, Captain Cook, who had embarked from Whitby nearly 100 years before and young farmers in particular had long thoughts. One of them was my maternal Grandfather James Turner, a big striking man even in his old age.

In the Parish Church at Little Driffield on 2-6-1855, James then aged 26, married Margaret (21) a comely daughter of the large and highly respected Ushaw family. On the Marriage Lines he was designated "husbandman", and he was a Tenant Farmer on the estate of Sir Tatton Sykes who shunned society as such but delighted in associating with his tenants and workmen by whom he was idolised. In such circumstances one would have expected no change in the "status quo", but the worthy old squire encouraged the idea of emigration by generously helping to equip would-be colonists who were thus able to save their passage money and acquire seed and tools which they might need.

In 1863 Sir Tatton died and James Turner decided to submit his name for selection as a prospective farmer in N.Z. though Margaret had misgivings about taking their two children to so distant a land and leaving their comfortable home. However, her younger brother, Tom Ushaw with his wife and child elected to accompany them, so when Captain Daldy on behalf of the N.Z. Government made his selections in I864 the matter was finalised. Thus the formal education of the children abruptly ended, John Turner being 9 years of age, and his sister Harriet (my Mother) was 8. I still have in my possession a little "sample" of her handwork - the Alphabet worked in cross stitch on fine canvas followed by "Harriet Turner, Lady Sykes School, Wensford, Yorkshire". We also treasure the small Bible bearing family statistics in my Grandfather's copper-plate writing, and a copy of "Johnston's Dictionary" bought in York and inscribed "John Turner 1865".

Early in 1865 the little family travelled to London to join their ship, the "Lancashire Witch", a full rigged vessel of 1574. tons. It had been chartered by the Shaw Savill Coy., and on this, its 3rd long voyage, it carried the first railway iron for N.Z. and the largest number of passengers that had yet embarked for Auckland. Actually 490 arrived, five children being born en route and twelve having died. Dr. Wills, father of the famous Australian Explorer came out as surgeon and his duties were arduous. Conditions were cramped and crude and there was much sickness on the long rough voyage. Leaving "Start Point" on 13th February, & travelling via Cape of Good Hope, the ship arrived in Auckland on 2nd June, 1865 but many of the passengers were still a long way from their destination, which in the case of the Turners and Ushaws was the far North.

They were transferred from the "Lancashire Witch" in a swinging "Coal Basket" to the much smaller Schooner "Ivanhoe", and after two days and nights they reached Mangonui. Temporary accommodation there consisted of community huts and tents until each man built his own abode. This he had to do in his "spare" time, the Government having guaranteed 6 months work (roading) at 5/- per day. James Turner's 10 acre land grant (No. 15784 - Section 1040) was at Oruru several miles inland. When the small house was habitable a horse and dray conveyed the heavier boxes and the family gladly moved, albeit on foot, each member laden to capacity. My Mother always remembered that she carried the precious but desperately heavy "Camp Oven".

Food shortage sometimes became severe and eels and other fish were items of staple diet, while pork and beans with honey was a treat. A born husbandman, James Turner fashioned his own plough from a fork of puriri, a mole board and a share, sowed his treasured seed and soon was growing small crops which together with pigs, helped their own living, but marketing conditions were never anything but difficult. Later when he acquired an old cart drawn by a horse with two bullocks in the lead, he was able to trade produce such as beans, maize, potatoes and pumpkins with whalers who frequented Mangonui harbour. They mostly came in two masted Brigs and would proffer casks of flour or other goods. One day James rescued a run-away sailor conveying him in an empty cask to Coopers Beach, thence to Taipa and finally up the shallow river bed to Oruru. The climate was good and the coastal scenery beautiful but frustration and the lack of communication marred progress.

Inevitably it was the women and children who paid the high price of pioneering. About 18 months after their arrival in N.Z. another son was born to the Turners, the unofficial mid-wife being a Maori woman who proved a wonderful neighbour. In turn Margaret was glad to reciprocate help and her little son William was adored by all. Although the parents did their best to educate their other two children at home the lack of schooling became a pressing problem and at a tender age John and Harriet were doing the manual work of adults. Discouraged settlers were drifting away and in 1871 the Turners joined those who were drawn to the then booming Thames Goldfield. James preceded his family and having found work and bought a small cottage for £50 he sent for them. They again boarded the Schooner "Ivanhoe", and after a night in Auckland set out for Thames in the "Golden Crown". Their luggage was simple - one large case and their body-guard, a muzzled dog named "Chance"!

Familiar with English Cities as well as with lonely outposts they had never witnessed a scene such as that at Thames. Hundreds of tents were pitched along the waterfront while hundreds of small cottages festooned the hills beyond the "golden mile" of the town where hotels and stables were as numerous as shops. And assailing their ears was the continual pulsating sound of quartz crushing machinery and busy foundries. Although arrangements were made for Harriet to attend school, John resisted the suggestion, maintaining that at 14 he was a man and intended to work which he did, proudly bringing home 10/- per week. With their father earning up to £3 per week in the mine the family felt affluent. Churches and Sunday Schools were flourishing at "The Thames", as century old hymn books testify. William soon became a School boy and made good progress. He was to become a great comfort to his Mother during the years that followed. Harriet developed into a beautiful girl, and spent some years with family friends (Judge Puckey) in Auckland.

But James Turner was not destined to be a miner for long. He began to cough perpetually and soon it was confirmed that he had contracted the dread miner's phthisis. He sought work "above ground" but with the decline of the mining "boom", hundreds of men were out of work. Then John suffered an injury and lost his job also. However he had saved enough money to buy a horse and saddle and undaunted set off at 19, to seek his fortune elsewhere. Riding to Tauranga via the old road and thence to Rotorua, Taupo and Hawkes Bay, he earned enough from cattle-mustering and shepherding to send a little money home but no one anticipated that his parents would not see him again for over 30 years. Farming was "in his blood" and he acquired some land, married and embarked on the long arduous struggle of "breaking in" a wilderness. Meanwhile the search for work took his father far afield. Auckland was in the doldrums, but Wellington, now the Capital, was assuming importance. So James set out on a very long "tramp". He finally secured a lucrative job in charge of the brick work in the railway tunnels between Wanganui and New Plymouth so was able to maintain the little home at Thames, and Margaret, though heartened at the end of a lonely year by the fact that he had regained his health, was determined that mining was not for him.

In Auckland, Harriet had friends who were associated with James Mackay in negotiations for the opening of the Ohinemuri Goldfield. As a speculation in 1877 Gerald O'Halloran applied for a title to a block of 115 acres of freehold land some two miles from Paeroa on the way towards the mines. This was granted through the Maori Land Court on 5-5-81 and the Turners had been invited to occupy and develop the land with a view to buying it. The proposition sounded promising, hopes ran high, and James once more applied himself to house-building. Felling trees on the property he split slabs and built a four-roomed cottage which he thatched with raupo and rushes. Plants brought from Thames surrounded it to make a colourful garden, an attractive spot on a particularly arduous part of the road that went over the then steep hill. It soon became known as "Turner's Hill" for a double reason. "Captain Turner" with his Military work-force was engaged to form it and James Turner the first settler became noted for assisting wayfarers, who had difficulty in negotiating it in the horse days. For nearly 100 years the name has remained "Turners Hill". Soon there were two neighbours in the vicinity and Will attended the Paeroa School in company with Bill Marsh and Oliver Sorensen. Though School boys, each one was a great asset to his pioneer parents who had to take other work, such as contracting, and road making until land was cleared and productive.

Always honest and idealistic himself James Turner was unsuspecting so far as others were concerned but his business acumen was never a strong point. Hence it was a great shock to him after ten years of apparent progress to find that the property was not only heavily mortgaged but that it was now in the name of new owners. I have examined files in the Land Survey Office and find that it was transferred to John Hennerlly who died, then to his widow and finally to Michael Hennerlly who further mortgaged it, but could not keep up payments. Then the Bank closed because of the hopeless situation, and the leasee was helpless. Later records show that in 1893 the well known Edwards family became the owners and had the land surveyed into sections which they hoped would be "Paeroa South" - but this never eventuated. (Many years later I bought Sections 43 and 44 on which I now live). The little thatched cottage was destroyed by fire and in 1904 Mr. Joshua Tetley bought part of the land and built the cottage now derelict. In 1908 this part was sold to the Crosby family but in 1934 reverted to the Edwards. Later owners have been: Pendergrast, Bottomly (who bought the disused Mackaytown School and erected another house), Beale, Havill and now Dreadon. The only memorial to the Turners is the round-topped pine they planted.

In desperation when the blow fell, James Turner negotiated for "Te Tawa" an adjacent "Leasehold" separated from the Freehold by a "Paper Goldfields Road". It comprised 50 acres of wild hill country covered with heavy bush, a far cry from the "Yorkshire Wolds", and presented no mean hurdle for a disillusioned man of 65. The children were now married and William and his young family were in Paeroa, but Harriet and her husband, Wm. Scott undertook to help at Te Tawa. Hence two cottages were built, one for my parents and the other for my grandparents who brought with them some equipment and livestock. For some time the lack of fences was a great problem, in fact the first post and rail ones were erected to keep the stock out of the hastily established "cultivations" which were a necessity for subsistence. Cows wandering far afield in the bush, were located by the tinkle of their bells but the hungry land did at least supply milk and butter as well as eggs, fruit and vegetables. The sale of timber from the hills and road metal from the creek added to the meagre budget, for by the turn of the century there were three small daughters in the Scott family - Edith (Mrs. Feigler), Nellie (Climie) and Mary (Lewis).

Another ten years brought the worst calamity of all - the loss of our parents. Our Mother died suddenly of a heart attack and within a year we were fatherless. But we still had the wonderful old Grandparents whose thoughts and efforts were all for us. It was not until much later that we appreciated their tremendous courage and selflessness in the face of adversities. In 1913 James Turner died at the age of 85 but dear Gran was with us till 1924 when she was almost 90. Thus their story seems to end but as we all know there are far away beginnings, roots if you like, and the equally far-reaching branches of a family tree that would be too detailed to record here.

POST SCRIPT - We converted our 50 acre "Leasehold" to "Freehold" but destiny dispersed us. When we all left the district in the mid-twenties we "let" the land together with one of the cottages. The other we retained for our own use at holiday times, for sentiment was strong and the place dear to us. In time, the situation became uneconomic and very reluctantly in the 50's we sold to Mr. and Mrs. Barney Havill. One cottage was derelict but they renovated the other and now own the rugged land bounded on the south by a stream shown on very old maps as "Te Tawa-a-Takuao" but on later ones as "Turners Creek". It joins the Ohinemuri River not far from the foot of "Turners Hill".