Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 49, September 2005

By Gordon Mathieson

The name Gwilliam has been a part of this district for more than one hundred years.

It was in 1904 that Ben Gwilliam, aged twenty-one, first came to the Thames Valley from Lower Hutt. His life history comes from a number of sources. One such is from the Waihi Borough Council Diamond Jubilee publication 1902 - 1962, edited by the late Mrs Nell Climie, the first editor of the Ohinemuri Regional History Journal.

As a tribute to this well-respected family, I quote from it . . .



"It was not my intention to stay in Waihi, as I had made up my mind to go to Rhodesia, but having a sister in Waihi I thought it only right to make a trip to wish her goodbye. My home was in Wellington then, and I arrived in Onehunga wet and seasick after a very rough trip.

"The year was 1894 and the weather was wintry. We had another wet trip by boat to Paeroa and at the Junction Wharf was an old tram which ran on wooden rails, pulled by an old grey horse - fare, one shilling. We ran off the rails about six times between the wharf and the township and all hands got off the tram to lift it back.

"Then we boarded the Waihi coach which left Crosby's Hotel - the Royal Mail. The roads were just mud, mud everywhere from Paeroa to Waihi, fare 12/6d and we had to get off and walk most of the way. It took the five horses all their time to pull the empty coach through the worst patches. But I must mention the driver. Many will remember him and what a gentleman he was, always obliging and cheerful. In after years he was a great friend of mine - Maurice Crimmins.

"Leaving Waikino we turned to the left and up over the hill, coming out by Heighman's freehold near Kinsella's. We crossed the Waitekauri River up on the flat by Chappell's farm, and from there we went wherever we could get through the scrub and dodge the mud. It was a common sight to see loaded wagons stuck everywhere. At last we came out on the hill above the Waitete Stream.

"And then Waihi with not a tree to be seen, only stunted scrub about 18 inches high, leaning on one side with the wind. The only bush was at Bulltown and that was being felled for mining props and for roasting the ore for dry crushing.

"I had been in Waihi about a fortnight and was thinking of returning to Wellington when one of the men working for my brother-in-law took sick so they asked me to take a few shifts for him. I had a good mate - Ted Taylor. He said the young 'un would do him (meaning me) and as I rather liked the work, we stayed together for some years."

After three years (1894 - 1897) in Waihi, Mr Gwilliam moved to the Luck at Last mine at Wharekawa, near Whangamata. This story is told in some detail in Journal 1 of June 1964, and has also been reproduced in "Whangamata - 100 Years of Change", compiled by Beverley Williamson in 1988. While there, Mr Gwilliam married (April 1899) Mary Ann Fleet, the ceremony being held in Lower Hutt.

In 1900 the Gwilliams came to Karangahake where Mr Gwilliam was smelting foreman at the Talisman Mine and it was at Karangahake that the first son, Cyril, was born. He commenced his schooling there in 1905.

Mr Gwilliam was appointed Mine and Battery manager at the New Waitekauri Mining Co., in 1906, which was essentially a reopening of the original mine on the site and then in 1912, a reopening of the Golden Cross mine occurred, but both of these closed in 1916 due to a manpower shortage caused by World War I and its attendant problems.

Two more children were born in this period - Ben in 1907 and Gwladys in 1909. They started school at Waitekauri but the family moved to Paeroa after the closure of the above mining venture and the children continued their education at the Paeroa District High School in Wood Street.

Mr Gwilliam became a Land Agent and Auctioneer, then purchasing land on Old Netherton Road in 1920, later returning to Paeroa. He then worked for the former Thames Valley Electric Power Board until retirement.

Mr and Mrs Gwilliam celebrated their 60th Wedding Anniversary in 1959. Mr Ben Gwilliam Senior died on 3 December 1962 aged eighty-nine years. Mrs Mary Gwilliam moved to Mount Maunganui to live with Gwladys. When the Karangahake School and district held its 80th Jubilee in 1969, Mrs Gwilliam Senior was honoured as the oldest former resident present, at age ninety-four. She died the following year, on 9 March, 1970.

Cyril Edward James Gwilliam, the eldest son of Ben and Mary, was born in 1900. He went to school at Karangahake, Waitekauri and, in 1916, to Paeroa High School. During 1917 - 1918 he was a pupil teacher at Karangahake and then he taught at Te Kuiti before leaving the teaching profession. Cyril married Amy (nee McAlpine) on 1 September 1939. In 1963 Cyril and Amy retired to Tauranga. Cyril died on 12 April 1992 aged 91 and Amy died on 12 May 2001, also aged 91. An obituary for Cyril was published in Journal 36, September 1992.

Benjamin Aidan Gwilliam was born on 25 May 1907 and attended Waitekauri School and Paeroa District High Schools, including two years in the Secondary Department, 1921 - 1922.

Always mechanically inclined, he operated his own garage for forty years on Belmont Road , trading as "BEN GWILLIAM, MOTOR AND GENERAL ENGINEER". Ben married Ailsea Bridge on 24 August 1932 at St. Paul's Anglican Church, Paeroa and they had one of Paeroa's longest marriages, lasting almost sixty-nine years. Ben and Ailsea had two daughters, Rosemary and Jeanette and one son, also named Ben. Mr Gwilliam served on the Paeroa District High School Committe until 1952. Mrs Ailsea Gwilliam died on 8 July 2001.

When the Paeroa Central School 125th Jubilee was held in October 2000, Mr Ben Gwilliam, then aged 93, was the earliest ex-pupil present and again he was honoured as the earliest ex-player to attend the Paeroa West Rugby Club Centenary, held in June 2002, he being aged 95 at the time. Finding someone who had lived in Paeroa longer than Mr Gwilliam would be a difficult exercise, particularly for one who was already aged nine when his family came here in 1916, for Mr Gwilliam could claim eighty-seven years residency here, until he moved to Te Puke in 2003. He lived with his son, Ben, for two and a half years and then became a resident at Carter House. He was only there for one week before he died on 12 May 2005 - just two weeks short of what would have been his ninety-eighth birthday.

Gwladys Mary Gwilliam, born on 23 August 1909, the youngest in the family, also commenced school at Waitekauri, having only two years there before moving to Paeroa and enrolling at Paeroa District High School on 20 March 1916. That was the only year that all three members of the family were at Paeroa District High School simultaneously. Gwladys was in the Secondary Department for four years (1923 - 1926), gaining her matriculation at the end of this time and then taking up a teaching career.

Miss Gwilliam taught at Paeroa for fifteen years in the primary department (1935 - 1950). She then moved to Mount Maunganui Primary where she was Infant Mistress until her retirement. Miss Gwilliam did not live the long life of her parents or brothers. She became ill while on an overseas holiday and returned home, dying on 4 December 1971 at Tauranga Hospital, aged sixty-two.


Editor's Note: Benjamin Aidan Gwilliam died at Te Puke on 12 May 2005. Following is an edited version of the Eulogy given at his funeral service by his daughter, Mrs Rosemary Godwin:

Benjamin Aidan Gwilliam was born in Auckland on 25 May 1907. His first childhood years were happy, carefree days in Waitekauri where his father was General Manager of the Golden Cross Mine. His love of tramping in the hills, the bush and living a good, simple life remained with him always.

When the Golden Cross mining operations ceased around 1916, the family moved to live in Paeroa and, at nine years of age, Benjamin began his schooling at what is now known as Paeroa Central School in Wood Street. His parents had decided that Benjamin should become a school teacher, as his older brother, Cyril and younger sister, Gwladys were, and also his two best friends, Bill Leach and the late Bill Malcolm were. But Benjamin had news for them and got himself a job with a local engineer. He loved machinery, motors and greasy nuts and bolts and carried on and completed his apprenticeship. He got a loan from the Building Society for £200 and bought his business, trading under the name of "Ben Gwilliam Motor and General Engineer". He disliked the name Benjamin from schooldays as his school mates used to refer to him as Ben Jam Tin, and his initials were B A G so they often put these to good use too. However he soon realised his mistake in dropping the name Benjamin as his father's name was Ben Gwilliam and it was more often than not believed that his father owned the business.

His parents, by now, realised that Benjamin had shown responsibility and they selected a lovely young lady, who was the daughter of a well-known local family, for Benjamin to court and hopefully marry. But Benjamin had news for them. He was already seeing the young girl who worked in the local ice cream shop and against his father's wishes, married her. We have been told that they had a lovely wedding day and left the church under an archway of tyre levers, spanners, etc., held up by his workmates and friends. They had a good marriage until our mother died in 2001, just six weeks before their sixty-ninth wedding anniversary.

Our father took a great interest and pride in his hometown of Paeroa. He played rugby for the West Football Club. He was a member of the local Chamber of Commerce, served on School Committees and Parent Teacher Associations. He was a very early member of the Paeroa Historical Society, was a volunteer driver for St. John's Ambulance, also servicing their vehicle, and he would often drive down to Thames Hospital after work in the evenings to visit with the patient he had taken there in the ambulance. He used to say, "It's better than medicine to cheer a person up when they are feeling poorly". He was in the Home Guard during the War years. He helped revive the local Smallbore Rifle Club, was a member of the Outdoor 303 Rifle Club and he was recently made a life member of the Thames Valley Branch of the NZ Deerstalker's Association. He was so proud of this, wearing his hat badge wherever he went.

In his early days, he would pack up his Diamond T van and take his mechanics away, especially for the Easter Roar, down to the Ureweras. For every weekend he was away deerstalking, he owed our mother a weekend in Auckland with her cousins. This arrangement worked out quite well as his mother-in-law only lived a door away and was always on hand to come and stay with us while either of our parents had their time off. So even in those days long ago, they each got their space or quality time, as it is now known.

After Benjamin retired, our parents bought a small caravan and they had some hilarious adventures together, five trips to the South Island, that I can remember, and just as many to the far north. When travelling became a burden with much faster and more traffic on the roads, they would spend six weeks every summer down at the Surf 'N Sand Holiday Park at Ohope Beach and many of the family joined them on weekends and slept on the camp stretchers in their awning.

Before the caravan days, our parents took their first overseas holiday. They flew to Thailand to stay with their son, Ben, who was working there and they met, for the first time, their dear little Thai family. They came home to New Zealand not long after this and the children grew up as kiwis. Our father, their grandfather, adored them and delighted in teaching them some of his wise and wonderful sayings, which he actually gave to each and every one of us, such as, "Get your feet on the ground in the morning, don't worry about what happened yesterday, don't fret about tomorrow, just live today and enjoy it", and the big one, which he never practised himself was, "Go Slow".

After our mother died, Benjamin, at the age of ninety-four, decided for himself that it might be a good idea if he went and lived with his son, Ben, in Te Puke. So we packed him up with my husband, Keith, doing many, many trips to the dump, for our father was a bit of a hoarder. Then, with Ben's van packed with all his father's precious things, Blackie, the cat in his cat-box and Benjamin sitting up in the van, which he really enjoyed riding in, Keith and I following with the car and trailer, packed also, off we set for Te Puke. Later, when he had settled in with Ben, Benjamin put his house up for sale and, after eighty-five years living in Paeroa, that really became the end of an era.

For the past three and a half years, Benjamin and Ben have had some wonderful outings together, camping away in Ben's orange Toyota van, nicknamed orange roughy, and sometimes accompanied by Ben's grandson, Troy. They shared the household chores in the beginning, with Ben doing the cooking as Benjamin's eyesight was not the best, and he did the dishes. They went down to Rotorua every Wednesday to the Pistol Club and often went away to Gun Shows, etc.

Ben saw to it that our father had every health care available. He had his eyes lasered, wore two hearing aids, had a prostate operation, had a pacemaker inserted (in fact, wore the first one out and had to get a replacement), and we all nicknamed him Bionic Ben, which he chuckled about. He loved his family to bits and enjoyed nothing more than a birthday party, or Christmas, when we were all together.

His birthday was special. His first daughter and his first granddaughter were each born on his birthday. But, so sadly for us all, his granddaughter, Tracie, died a year ago, leaving the first gap in our little birthday trio.

The two Bens would come over to Tauranga every Wednesday night to share a meal with Keith and me, but sadly last Christmas was the last meal we had at our place. From then, till now, our father's health steadily declined and he was admitted to Carter House for hospital care on 5 May and died a week later.