Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 56, September 2012

(Mr W. H. Taylor, a well-known Paeroa resident, records in graphic manner his trip 51 years ago from Auckland to the Te Aroha Goldfields, the jubilee of the proclamation of which field will be celebrated with becoming éclat from Sunday, November 30 next, to the following Saturday. Published in the Hauraki Plains Gazette, November, 1930.)

In the month of November, 1879, I found myself at a loose end, as it were; I had no regular employment. I was like Micawber of Charles Dickens's fame, waiting for something to "turn up".

Just at this period very important news reached Auckland of a "a rich gold find at Te Aroha". Such intelligence had the effect of setting the whole city into a flame of excitement—newspapers were aflame with the news; gold-bearing quartz were exhibited in some of the shop windows in Queen Street; and the subject of conversation was nothing else but Te Aroha and the fabulous amount of gold that was already unearthed and the possibilities of more only awaiting the hand of the miner to wrest it from its security under the ground.

"Where is Te Aroha"

In the midst of all this excitement none could be excused from asking: "Where is Te Aroha?" I don't suppose there were half-a-dozen people in Auckland who had any idea where Te Aroha was; and in which direction it lay. However, after due enquires had been made, I discovered it was in the southern part of the Hauraki Peninsula, some distance inland from Thames and the communication would be somewhat difficult although settlement was rapidly developing toward Te Aroha in the neighbourhood of Morrinsville, Waitoa and Waihou.

No through-road had as yet penetrated to Te Aroha, but the real highway to the El Dorado lay in the direction of Thames. So, after considering the state of my finances and other considerations, I decided to venture forth, and so I left Auckland on a small steamer, the "Rotomahana", a regular trader between Auckland and Thames in those old days. We left the wharf at about 9 o'clock. The trip down the harbour was uneventful and we arrived at Thames in the early morning.

All Bound for the El Dorado

I woke next morning to find the Thames people in a state preparedness to proceed up-country by a steamer that was in waiting for the time of its advertised departure for Te Aroha. Those of us who came from Auckland joined forces with our Thames brethren, boarded the steamer named "Vivid" (later of somewhat inglorious fame) and sailed from Grahamstown at about 9 a.m. on a beautiful summer morning.

I cannot now recollect the name of the skipper on the trip. One thing I do remember was that our ship was loaded to her utmost capacity; as a matter of fact, dangerously over-loaded, both with goods and passengers.

Through the Hauraki Plains

However, we were soon under way and running up the Thames River with a strong spring tide, so we bowled along at a great rate, despite the little steamer's overburden. It was noticeable that the river from the entrance up to Puriri was very dirty and slimy, but on reaching Netherton the water became quite clear and clean.

I noted at various points on the banks of the Waihou, as we passed along, the home of early pioneers of the Hauraki Plains. You must understand that the Waihou and Thames Rivers were, in those days, the main highway of the eastern fringe of the vast Hauraki Plains, where an immense white pine forest stretched for miles on either bank, and only here and there through gaps in the forest belt did you have a glimpse of the flat lands at the back.

At one of these points I gazed upon one of the most beautiful sights I had ever witnessed. It was an orchard owned by Mr Joshua Thorp, of early missionary fame. The area must have been considerable; it seemed that we would never pass it by. The apples were fully formed and looked delicious, while there were peaches, plums, pears and cherries in abundance everywhere and the sight it presented was most gorgeous.

We passed on till we arrived at the junction where the Ohinemuri River joins the Waihou. The tide had by this time receded and the river commenced to get narrow and swift. We were feeling the effect of the strong current. However, our good ship ploughed her way steadily on, passing several Maori settlements, and also peach and cherry groves.

Navigating the Stream

As I mentioned previously, our boat was very heavily laden indeed, so much so that at several of the sharp bends in the river the vessel could not be controlled by the steering gear, with the results that instead of the vessel answering the "helm" and rounding the bend as it should have done, she kept straight on and dived her nose into the bank. In such circumstances there remained nothing to do but "man" the small ship's boat. This was done by the deck-hands, including some of the passengers.

A long rope would be run across to the opposite bank and with a "heave ho", away would come the ship, accompanied by a chorus of cheers from those on board. This process was repeated at several sharp bends further ahead.

Old-time Maori Strife

At one point in the river, near Tui Pa, we met an obstruction constructed by the Maori some time previously.

The structure consisted of a number of kahikatea round piles driven in a row, forming a narrow race, 20ft wide and 30ft to 40ft long. There were two such races, one being large and the other small. By means of these contraptions steamers plying up and down river could be systematically searched for firearms and munitions, which the Te Aroha Maori suspected of being carried up-country.

The affair arose out of a dispute between the Te Aroha tribe and Ngati Tamatera of Thames over a writ of sale of a valuable block of land (the Ngati Tamatera) had no legitimate claim to deal with. The dispute became so serious that at one stage the quarrel seemed that nothing short of bloodshed would satisfy and mend the open breach between the warring factions. Fortunately an amicable settlement was finally reached and the trouble ended without any loss of life.

The obstructions referred to were left standing in the river as a reminder of "what might have been".

"Jovial 'Jack' "

Before leaving the steamer, I think my story of the passage from Thames to Te Aroha would be incomplete if I failed to record my impressions of some of the passengers who made the trip on that memorable occasion.

As a matter of fact, there was but one outstanding personality who commanded my attention. I am going to refer to the late Jack Leydon, the well-known auctioneer of the Thames. "Jack" as he was popularly known by his friends and acquaintances, was moving to Te Aroha to try his luck.

The ship carried immense quantities of his goods and equipment, required in such surroundings as might be expected in a place like Te Aroha under its new gold-diggings conditions. I feel sure that everyone on the steamer felt the human touch of this genial and jovial individual.

Our journey was a long, tedious and most tiresome affair, and but for the "fund" of stories and jokes of our friend "Jack" Leydon, our trip would have been a dismal ordeal. He sang, he talked and he danced; he caused shrieks of laughter from womenfolk with his jokes about the beauty of their babies; he talked politics with the men when he ceased singing a song and dancing; altogether, he was a most remarkable man. I noticed, however, at various intervals or intermissions, he had a happy knack of disappearing mysteriously "down below", whatever that meant.

It was explained to me by a fellow passenger that "Jack" had some arrangement with the steward (he told me this with a shrug over his shoulder) to investigate the "dry spots", and it turn out that "Jack" had as many "spots" as anyone on board. However, despite the frequency of these visits of investigations "Jack" would reappear flushed and full of vigour, and more than ever ready to regale his fellow passengers with tales of his exploits on gold rushes in other lands—and what he was likely to achieve at Te Aroha.

Although it is close to 51 years ago, my memory is still fresh of the incidents that have happened since, and I can clearly see "Jack" Leydon dancing a "Sailor's Hornpipe" on the crowd deck of the steamer, to the resounding cheers—"Good boy Jack"—as our boat churned her way up the Waihou in the year 1879.

Arrival at Te Aroha

When our steamer had reached a certain point near the location of the present Te Aroha butter factory, about 50 of us decided to land and walk across to the township—such as it was at the time of our arrival. The steamer had still a considerable distance to go and many bends to go round before reaching the landing.

We reached our destination about five o'clock. I shall never forget my first glimpse of the crowd as we arrived, and soon intermixed with those who were already established. Most of the people thronged around the one solitary wooden building in the place, lately occupied by Mr Geo. Lipsey and family, but which had been converted into a "pub" of which Mr Geo. O'Halloland was the licensee. The remainder of the township was nothing but canvas by the mile.

Accommodation signs were to be seen here and there, while barbers, billiard saloons, and other shops and professional offices were also much evidence all over the place, bearing their respective signs.

I did not sleep much the first night. The next morning I wondered if anything could be picked up, and in my wanderings I witnessed "Jack" Leydon pitching his big tent just about where the present Grand Hotel stands and by midday the erection was completed, but internal arrangements had not been finished.

However, by two o'clock "Jack" had mounted the "rostrum" and was then to be seen to advantage enumerating the quality of his goods and the moderate prices at which he was offering them.

Whether Mr Leydon was doing much business or not, the fact remained that crowds by the hundreds gathered around his stand all day.