Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 24, July 1980

[extract from the "The Daily Telegraph" 1920 - E]




A very great loss has occurred to the Bay of Plenty by the death of Mr George Vesey Stewart, founder of Katikati and neighbouring settlements, which occurred yesterday afternoon at Rotorua in the eighty-eighth year of his life. Mr Stewart had been ailing for several months, and paid frequent visits to Waihi for the purpose of consulting his medical adviser. A few weeks ago, acting under the Doctor's advice, he proceeded to Rotorua to obtain special treatment from the mineral baths, but unfortunately little or no benefit was derived from the change, and eventually symptoms of a critical nature became only too evident, placing his recovery outside the reach of medical skill and he passed away as stated above.

Mr Stewart was remarkable for his physical vigour and mental keeness and was the strongest personality in the Bay of Plenty district. He was a champion in the truest sense of the word of the interests of Katikati and Tauranga and initiated many movements for their advancement. One of the most recent was his strong advocacy of a harbour for Tauranga, which would place the district in a position enabling it to compete with most other places in N.Z. in the matter of receiving and accommodating the largest of vessels. He was not only a promoter of this great movement, but lived sufficiently long to see its consummation within reach. During the whole of his 45 years residence in the Bay of Plenty, the advancement of the district which he founded was always his first consideration. The claims of Katikati were brought before the Government constantly by his voice and pen and he seldom failed in his efforts. It may truly be said of him that noone in N.Z. has done more for the progress of his district than was done by Mr Stewart while he had the power to use his energies.

It was mainly through his exertions that Katikati was converted from an isolated wilderness into the prosperous district it is now. No one in N.Z. has had greater strength of purpose in carrying out any scheme tending to the welfare of a local public than had Mr Stewart.

The construction of the East Coast Railway, a scheme launched for the linking up the growing and flourishing districts from Waihi to Gisborne, affords another illustration of his strenuous work in promoting settlement on the tracts of fertile country throughout the Bay. This important line is now under way and it is hoped that the portion connecting Waihi with Katikati will be completed before long.

The above are only a few instances of the splendid and successful efforts which Mr Stewart put forward on behalf of the Bay of Plenty. During the last War he was prominent in the patriotic movement and did much towards raising the spirit of patriotism for which Katikati held so high a place. In social matters he was also well to the fore and at every opportunity brought the settlers of his district together in happy reunion. In local politics he held a record to be envied, while in general politics he was a candidate for the House of Representatives on two occasions but was not successful though his opponent in the first of the contests won by only nine votes.

The late Mr Stewart was born in Brighton, England in October 1832, and was the eldest surviving son of the late Captain Mervyn Stewart, D.L. of Martray, County Tyrone, Ireland, and grandson of the Right Hon. Sir John Stewart, Bart. P.C. and M.P. for Tyrone. He graduated at Trinity College Dublin. He was the founder of five "Stewart Special Settlements", at Katikati, Te Puke and Tauranga, and arrived at Auckland in September 1875 with the first party of Katikati settlers in the ships "Carisbrook Castle", "Dover Castle", and "Lady Joslyn", which had been specially chartered for the purpose, and brought from London to Belfast for embarkation of his North of Ireland party. Mr Stewart resided at "Martray" Katikati where be had a freehold farm of over 500 acres. On the 9th May 1876 he was elected chairman of the first road board and school committee at Katikati. He was also elected first Mayor of Tauranga when that town was constituted a borough. He was also for some years chairman of the Tauranga County Council, and was still a member of that body, to which he was elected at the time of the adoption of the Counties Act. Mr Stewart was a Justice of the Peace for County Tyrone, Ireland, and for N.Z. He married Margret Miller, daughter of Rowley Miller, D.L., County Derry, by whom he had five sons and three daughters, all living, with the exception of his second son, George Vesey, who was drowned when fishing off Katikati Heads.

Thursday March 4th, 1920.

(It is interesting to note that exactly 60 years later the railway connection mentioned is being dismantled. Mr Stewart's interest in local affairs was still manifesting itself on January 19th, 1920 when in a "Letter to the Editor" he expresses doubts as to the wisdom of the idea of the Waihi Borough Council borrowing £4000 to purchase 70 acres at Waihi Beach - ED.)