Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 22, June 1978



It was with great interest that I learned recently that one of my neighbours here in Vancouver, Kelvin Dodson, a retired bank executive, had spent part of his Childhood in Thames. His father had taught at the School of Mines there for a few years prior to World War I.

I suggested to Kelvin that a note on his recollections of Thames would be appreciated by the Historical Society and he gratefully responded with this splendid article. What an excellent memory he has! Should anyone recall having known Kelvin I am sure he would be very pleased to hear from you. I can report that he is in good health and seems to lead a very active life. He has a keen interest in historical matters and is presently compiling a history of his own family. He has managed to trace one line back two centuries so far.

I am sure his "Memories of Thames" will be enjoyed by many. I had to smile at his account of firemen running to the fire station donning their equipment as they ran. This aspect probably hasn't changed much in 70 years, but then I guess that fire brigades in the smaller Canadian towns operate on a voluntary basis just as they do in New Zealand.


We left our home in England, at Ramsgate, Kent, late in August 1906. I clearly remember standing on the dock at Tilbury with my Father and Mother, two sisters, Edna and Kathleen, (the latter then a babe in arms) and two of my Mother's sisters who had come up to London to see us off, looking up the steep gangway at R.H.S. Ionic of the Shaw Savil Line, which was to take us to faraway New Zealand. Six weeks later, after brief stops at Teneriffe, Capetown and Hobart, and one bit of excitement, the transfer of a stowaway to another ship in mid-ocean, we docked at Wellington. We completed the journey up the east coast in S.S. Manuka, a fast, very modern ship which had left the Dumbarton Yard of Denny Brothers on the Clyde only three years before. Auckland was our final destination, and we lived there until January 1908 when my Father, Thomas H. Dodson, was appointed electrical instructor at the School of Mines in Thames.

I have a book entitled "Thames Diamond Jubilee Souvenir 1867-1927". It was published in 1927 by the Thames Star and contains a wealth of material collected by Fred W. Weston. It deals primarily with the exciting days of the gold mining era which was drawing to a close when we were in Thames. At that point in time, one senses a pause, a change of pace. The story is no longer as detailed. And then, as the final part of the 60 year drama unfolds, there is an impression of reviving interest, of renewed life. So far as I recall the Waiotahi was the only gold mine operating in any significant way while we were in Thames, and by 1911 it, too, was exhausted. I remember talk of a proposed development of agriculture on the Hauraki Plains. After this, development took place and Thames was given a new lease on life.

I also have a syllabus of the School of Mines, printed by John Mackay, the Government Printer in Wellington, in 1901. The school was founded in November 1885 and operated under the New Zealand Department of Mines. The Honourable James McGowan was the Minister responsible for it in our time. The director was Mr. W.H. Baker, who later went to Thames High School, Mr. Albert Bruce being Secretary. I recall that there was another instructor but cannot remember his name. The school offered a wide variety of courses of interest to mining people, and also operated a library and a museum.

The Brian Boru Hotel, at the corner of Richmond and Pollen Streets, was then operated by a genial individual by the name of Twohill. (Irish, I think). After a brief stay there we moved into a small house at the corner of Richmond and Baillie Streets. We were fortunate in this as the house had been built by Ted Kenny in anticipation of his marriage which did not take place until after we had left New Zealand. The Kenny's operated what I suppose would now be called a trucking business (in those days it was horse-drawn) from their home further along Baillie Street. Our immediate neighbours were the Moran sisters whose home was one of the rather quaint earlier dwellings of Thames. Further up Richmond Street, was the home of C.W. Potterton, carpenter and joiner, and his family. At the top of the hill was the Presbyterian Manse where lived the Minister, Rev. Andrew Milne, with Mrs Milne and their children, Nettie, Frank, and I seem to recall one younger.

Since I was barely 11 years old when we left New Zealand, some thoughts on my school days might seem appropriate. My memories in that direction are certainly clear enough. But presenting them with the assessment which seems necessary if history is to serve any purpose at all is somewhat difficult. I started school at Auckland in 1907, at Mount Eden Primary Schl. That experience was not a happy one. When we moved to Thames in 1908, I went to Kauaeranga School which then occupied a rambling old wooden building, since demolished, on Baillie Street.

When we left New Zealand in 1911 I was in what was called Standard 4. My two closest associates were Frank Milne, the son of Rev. Andrew Milne, and Arthur Dodd, who seemed to live in a distinctive manner in an interesting home near the sea. I do not remember meeting his family even though I visited his home occasionally. My Standard 4 Teacher was Miss Eva Ashman. She was a first class teacher and over the wide span of years I have looked back at her happily as a friend. Despite the shortcoming of the New Zealand educational system, which was in its infancy at the time, she managed to bring a sense of maturity to her work. When we left Thames she made a point of hurrying down to the pier on her bicycle to wish me goodbye.

We belonged to St. George's Church, which I notice from recent photographs still occupies the same location and is unchanged in appearance. The Rector was then Reverent Doctor O'Callaghan (Doctor of Divinity). He was a short, rather rotund, middle-aged Irishman with a decided twinkle in his eye. I have a very fond memory of dear old Dr O'Callaghan moving about among his congregation in his black cassock before the commencement of the Sunday morning service. I also attended St. George's Sunday School, which was a happy experience. The Superintendent was Arthur Chapman, then the Town Clerk of Thames. My class teacher was a quiet, serious young man by the name, I recall, of Dalby. I find from the Thames Diamond Jubilee Souvenir mentioned above, that the Sunday School Building originally housed the Church.

I remember mile-long Pollen Street, with its permanent canopies built out over the sidewalk to provide shade for the shoppers. The grocery store was operated by William Wood who founded the business in 1876. We did our shopping there and enjoyed a friendly personal relationship with the family. We also knew the Lowes. Henry Lowe was the butcher and was at one time the Mayor of Thames. Then there was Bongard the chemist, and Hetherington who operated the drapery shop, and Dr. Wright, the dentist, who once extracted an aching tooth from my mouth - without anaesthetic!

As a lover of ships, I remember the "Wakatere" which was then the only direct means of communication with Auckland. She was propelled by paddle-wheels and had the red and black funnel of the Union Steamship Company of New Zealand. Her brass and other appointments were always polished until they shone. The water at the head of the Hauraki Gulf was quite shallow. Consequently, the Wakatere came in on high tide and gradually settled onto mudflat beside the pier as the sea receded. When she was refloated by the next high tide, she set out on her return trip to Auckland with her two paddle wheels churning the water into white spray.

No story of the Thames of 1908-1911 would be complete without mention of the fire brigade which was the town's pride and joy. While we were there money was being raised to buy modem fire-fighting equipment. In those days the only fire engine was a two-wheeled hose reel. I do not recall any kind of a pump and certainly there were no chemical extinguishers. There were many old, tinder dry buildings like the Shortland Hotel which was destroyed in a spectacular blaze one morning. Perhaps smoking in bed was not too prevalent in those days, but overturned oil lamps (there being no electric lights at the time) were frequently the cause of disastrous house fires. Fire alarms were given by large bells which were mounted in strategically located wooden towers. When a fire-bell sounded, and no one could miss hearing it, the firemen were obliged to run to the fire station, don their helmets and other fire-fighting clothing, and then run to the scene of the fire, dragging the hose reel after them. The firemen did their best, but because of the time consumed, and often lack of adequate water pressure when they did arrive, it is not surprising that the unfortunate building often burned to the ground.

On April 11th 1911, we left Auckland on S.S. Navua on the first leg of our journey to a new home in Vancouver, British Columbia.

* * *

(Compiled June 12th 1977 by Kelvin Dodson, 4319 Blenheim Street Vancouver, B.C. CANADA V6L 2Z6).