Friday, 16 October 2020

Bell Common Today

I took some pictures of the Bell Common for a previous post but decided maybe it needed its own dedicated article.

As one walks up the driveway (which formerly led to the homestead) there are many large old camellia and a rhododendron on the slope. Near the site of the original gate are a myrtle, a very substantial bay tree and the largest holly I have ever come across.

On the frontage to Cambridge Road there are a kauri and totara planted to commemorate the coronation of the present Queen’s parents, George VI and Elizabeth, on 12th May 1937. There is also a medium-sized walnut and to the west a large sweet chestnut and handsome Atlas cedar.

Moreton bay fig, planted in the 1930s

However the most handsome and spreading tree in this small arboretum is beyond the popular little playground. It is a Moreton Bay fig which fully occupies its own section of the Common and measures approximately 120 metres in circumference.

Bay of Plenty Times, 4 May 1933

Margaret Mackersey (née Bell) told me of her late father William Poole Bell arriving home in the 1930s intensely angry having witnessed the demise of the second of two large Moreton Bay figs in town. At the first opportunity he planted two more on the farm to compensate for their loss.

Moreton Bay fig, root system

Not many years passed and a tank trap was to be constructed across the farm during WW2 to stop the Japanese should they invade. The Bell family realised the matching tree down next to Cambridge Road (about opposite the present day shops) was in the way. William contacted the County Engineer who quietly came at night and moved the survey pegs to save it from destruction. Unfortunately 30 years later it really did have to be sacrificed to make way for the drainage systems when Townhead Farm was finally subdivided.

Moreton Bay fig - fruit developing
All images copyright Julie Green

Friday, 9 October 2020

The Active and the Rev. Henry Williams, 1832

Early Sailing Vessels and Visitors to Tauranga
Part X  -  The Active and the Rev. Henry Williams, 1832

Built in Calcutta around 1808, the brigantine Active was purchased by the missionary leader Samuel Marsden at Sydney in March 1814. Marsden, who planned to use the 110 ton vessel to help establish and service Anglican mission stations in New Zealand, paid the purchase price of 1400 pounds sterling himself. The vessel’s previous owner Jonothan McHugo, had been found on his arrival in Sydney to be ‘in a state of outrageous insanity.’ When the vessel and its cargo was auctioned, the proceeds of the sale were sent back to India with McHugo, who was for a time, confined to an asylum there.

During its historic voyage under Captain Hansen to establish the first missionary families at the Bay of Islands in late 1814, the group’s leader, Thomas Kendall noted that the Active ‘sails badly’. Regardless, Marsden kept the Active in constant use as a trading and passenger vessel between Sydney and the mission stations at Rangihoua, Kerikeri and Paihia. The missionary John Butler, who crossed the Tasman in 1819 found the brig ‘a strong and comfortable vessel, kept in good order.’ Appointed leading missionary at the Bay of Islands in 1823, Henry Williams, a former Royal Navy lieutenant, was often frustrated by the brig’s performance, writing:

She has a most unfortunate name and is no better than an old tub. She is not capable of working well off a lee shore, nor able to make sail and run before either a sudden gale or even hostile natives.

The Active off North Cape, November 1814

In March 1833, Williams instructed Captain Wright to take the Active to Tauranga, where he hoped to make peace between the local Ngai Te Rangi People and an invading Ngapuhi taua (military expedition) from the Bay of Islands led by Titore Takiri. Williams had previously visited Tauranga aboard the little missionary schooner Karere during January and February with the same intention He was not successful however, and had returned home. The journal for his second attempt in March/April 1833 records:

Monday, 26. At sunset, Mr. Fairburn and I went on board the Active; weighed and sailed for Tauranga.

Friday, 30
. At day light Mayor Island S. W. 6 miles. Shortened sail apprehensive of being driven off the land. Obs'd the fires near Tauranga. Maunganui about 6 miles to windward.

Saturday, 31
. At 9 o'clock came to an anchor close to leeward of Maunganui. Cap. Wright and Mr. Fairburn went on shore to reconnoitre. [W]e learnt that Ngapuhi had shifted quarters and were on the opposite of the river to Maungatapu, that several skirmishes had taken place and some few killed and wounded on both sides.

A former Royal Navy officer and accomplished small boat sailor, Henry Williams found the Active’s slow pace and lack of maneuverability exasperating

Also that the New Zealander Schr. had been in, when a large party of Ngapuhi had fired upon her for a considerable time from the shore, which was returned by the schooner with her great guns, not known whether any killed or wounded. At 2 p.m. the flood tide making in, we weighed and made sail and worked into the harbour.

Sunday, 1 April. At sunrise upwards of a dozen canoes obs. pulling towards us from Ngapuhi full of men. We hoisted a white flag, but they were not satisfied what vessel it was until they hailed us… They told us they had thought we were the schr. which they engaged ten days since and had now come to take her and had brought six great guns.

Monday, 2. In the afternoon, Mr. Fairburn and I went to Ngapuhi. Paid a visit to all, many appeared desirous to return but others obstinately bent on remaining.

Tuesday, 3. We took a view of the fortifications [of Maungatapu Pa] which were stronger than those of Otumoetai.

Thursday, 5. Had short interview with the natives [at Maungatapu Pa] and proceeded on to the Camp of Ngapuhi. We had not been long here before seven Canoes pulled up from Otumoetai to challenge Ngapuhi. At length some canoes were launched and gave chase to the enemy. The two parties firing at each other at long range on the beach opposite the vessel. 

In 1832, Tauranga was invaded by a Ngapuhi musket taua from the Bay of Islands seeking utu for previous defeats by Ngai Te Rangi

Friday, 6. We took leave of all regretting that they retained dispositions to war… Returned on board by noon and as the wind was East we determined to proceed to the Bay of Islands immediately. As it was now high water we weighed and made sail, but were considerably baffled under the lee of Maunganui, the eddy wind catching us first on one side then on the other put us in imminent danger of running on shore. The entrance was narrow on our right, and a bank on our left, with a head sea caused by the tide now setting out strong. As we drew from under the high land the wind was more steady, and the tide assisting us, were enabled by a few tacks to get well clear of the land.
Were obliged to haul close to the Starbd. tack, and carry all possible sail, to endeavour to clear the Aldermen. Sunset, cloudy, symptoms of a gale. At 8 passed close to leeward of the Aldermen, and stood on for the Mercury isles, had great apprehensions that we could not weather, the sea getting up. At 11 saw the islands close to leeward. Wore and stood to the Southd. a rough course night. Waited anxiously for the morning, that we might run in amongst the islands.

Saturday, 7. We bore up in haste and were soon in smooth water under the lee of the Mercury islands and discovered what we had never before seen tho often in this neighbourhood a commodious bay in which we anchored about 10 o'clock, to the unspeakable relief of our minds and bodies. At 6 p.m. we all assembled in the Cabin to offer up prayer and praise to the God of all mercies for our late deliverance, every one being too weary to attend earlier.

Tuesday, 10. Mod and fine. Wind S. S. W. At 7 weighed and made sail and worked out of our bay of refuge, with thankful hearts for the protection afforded to us while here from the raging of the tempest, and for the wind now favourable for our return home.

Wednesday, 11. At sunrise Bay of Islands open to view, wind against us. Worked up by the afternoon, and were thankful to learn that all were well. 

The Active, redrawn by the Auckland Artist Richard Horner in 1988

Soon after the departure of the missionaries, Titore’s taua - unable to achieve any military successes at Tauranga and suffering food and munitions shortages – boarded their waka taua (war canoes) and also returned to the Bay of Islands.

Despite its limitations, the Active provided sterling service for the Church Missionary Society in New Zealand, under a succession of captains between 1814 and 1834. After many close calls, including nearly being ship wrecked on the return voyage from Tauranga in 1832, Williams and the Bay of Islands missionaries decided it was time to replace ‘the old tub’. On their own initiative they sold the brig in June 1834 and replaced it with the more seaworthy schooner Columbine.

The Active was sold to the Sydney merchant Robert Campbell who put it back on the Sydney-Calcutta run. The brig was found to be unseaworthy after just two voyages. Though destined to be broken up in Calcutta, the Active was lost at sea with all hands while returning to India for the last time.

Brig Active – 1814. Hansen Family,
Butler, John, Earliest New Zealand: The Journal and Correspondence of the Rev. John Butler, Palamontein and Petherick, Masterton, 1927
Elder, J. (ed.), The Letters and Journals of Samuel Marsden, 1765-1838, Coulls Somerville Wilkie and A.H. Reed Dunedin, 1932
Nicholas, John, Narrative of a Voyage to New Zealand Performed in the Years 1814 and 1815, James Black, London, 1817
Williams, Henry, The Early Journals of Henry Williams 1826–1840, L.M. Rogers (comp.), Pegasus Press, Christchurch, 1961
Williams, W. and J., The Turanga Journals 1840–1850, Frances Porter (ed.), Price Milburn, Wellington, 1974.

The Active off North Cape in 1814, John Nicholas, Narrative of a Voyage to New Zealand Performed in the Years 1814 and 1815, James Black, London,1817, Frontspiece.
Henry Williams, The Early Journal of Henry Williams, Pegasus Press, Christchurch, 1961, Frontspiece
John Williams, ‘The War Dance’, 1859, PUBLE-0144-1 front, Alexander Turnbull Library Wellington.
Richard Horner, ‘The Active’, 1988, Brig Active – 1814. Hansen Family

Friday, 2 October 2020

Wairere Waterfall

Wairere Falls, Whakatane. Photograph by C.G. Caisley (No 153)
Published by Frank Duncan & Co., Auckland (PM 1919)
Collection of Justine Neal

Tumbling down the cliffs immediately behind the township tall, skinny Te Wairere occupies a cool nook and a place in the early history of Whakatane. The falls were one of three landmarks given to Toroa, captain and navigator of the Mataatua waka, by his father Irakewa, in his search for Whakatane. The other two being Te Ano o Muriwai (Muriwai’s Cave) and Te Toko o Irakewa (Irakewa Rock). As well as being a sacred landmark Te Wairere Falls were a source of fresh water for the Ngati Awa people living at Te Whare o Toroa Pa. When the town itself was still small the falls were used for the setttlement’s first water supply and the stream continued to supply water to the Whakatane township until 1924.

The Fulloon whanau had land below the waterfall and it was here in 1865 that James Francis Fulloon was first laid to rest beside his mother’s grave. James was a native interpreter. In 1865 he was commissioned as a captain in the militia and set off by sea in the Kate for Whakatane to recruit a company of Ngati Awa to counter Pai Marire influence in the Bay of Plenty. His own people, however, had embraced the Pai Marire faith and James and most of his shipmates were killed. In 1913 his remains were moved by his sister to a new burial site at the Domain Road Cemetery.

Wairere Falls, Whakatane. Photograph by C.G. Caisley (No 159)
Published by Frank Duncan & Co., Auckland (no date)
Collection of Justine Neal

The falls are also associated with early industry. Flax mills need a lot of water for washing the fibre and soon after 1870 a mill was built at the falls; it was wrecked by a flood in 1875. In 1878 the government purchased the old flax mill buildings and machinery at Wairere for a flour mill site. The mill was driven by a Pelton Water Wheel and the water was piped from the top of the falls where there was a small concrete dam to pond the water.

On December 18th 1879 the large hall at the old flax mill site caught fire. The flames quickly caught hold and nothing could be done to stop it. Fortunately the plentiful water supply from the Wairere Falls saved the sawn timber for the Ngati Awa flour mill which had been stacked near the burning building.

By 1890 wheat growing had declined so much that there was not enough to keep the mill going and it was converted into a flax mill which burned down in 1910.

In 1907 the Rotorua Motor Coaching Company built stables at the foot of the falls for their horses, the stables were later used for a garage when cars replaced horses. A fire in 1928 destroyed the garage.

The site was made a scenic reserve in 1971, a peaceful place with the water cascading down the cliffs the way it always has long before Toroa first sighted it.

Whakatane Historic Trails
Papers Past
A Man of Two Cultures, W.T. Parham

Friday, 25 September 2020

Origins of Bell Common

by Guest Author, Margaret Mackersey (Bell)

Sarah Bell and children in front of homestead c 1900

In the late 1880s Sarah Little Bell with her husband Walter Common Bell moved onto 100 acres on Cambridge Road. There was not enough grassed area to graze her one cow. The land however was gradually turned into an attractive property and named Townhead Farm.

Walter and Sarah Bell

Walter died in 1926 and the property continued to be developed by Walter’s son William*, until his death in 1943. By then the farm had been extended to 150 acres. William’s widow, Kathrine, managed the property with share milkers until her death in 1970. Margaret returned home from Ruakura in 1955 and married Godfrey Mackersey and they took over the management of the family farm for the next 20 years.

Original Bell Homestead

Sometime following Kathrine’s passing the Education Department approached the Bell Estate during their planning for a fourth secondary school. They showed interest in the easy-contoured, elevated land which would have made the  reduced size of the Town Milk farm impractical and limited for alternative land use. The growing demand for housing sections was becoming a reality. We resisted subdividing but realised it would become inevitable. The Education Department was offered an alternative elsewhere but declined. Meanwhile we continued to farm and several years later did apply to subdivide some of the land fronting Cambridge Road.

William Pool Bell, wounded during WW1

A reserve contribution required when subdividing has to be met either in land or finance. In a later staged development the area including the old plantings surrounding the original cottage (and the then present homestead) was offered as the reserve contribution. The Estate requested that it be named “Bell Common”. This indeed created some debate at Council.

Homestead, Townhead Farm, 1960
Our reasoning:
 —William McKenzie Commons originally had possession of the land.
 —Sarah and Walter Common Bell helped develop it and later purchased it for themselves in 1902.
 —William Commons was noted as a generous person and in fact served a short time as Tauranga Mayor.

Bell Common, 2020

The City Council struggled to accept the name “Bell Common”. At the time they planned new streets in our area to be named after English cathedrals, certainly NOT the choice of a strong Scottish family!
*see also “Putting Matters Right” by Beth Bowden  27th Dec 2019

Images courtesy of Margaret Mackersey

Friday, 18 September 2020

Early History of the Tauranga Branch of Sanford

Sanford - known by locals as Sanfords - is a business that seems to have been around forever. The recent closure of its fish processing plant at Sulphur Point made me wonder, just how long has it had a presence in Tauranga and what is its early history here? 

According to the Sanford Company, its founder Albert Sanford arrived in New Zealand in 1864 and almost immediately began fishing in the Hauraki Gulf. After some initial setbacks, Albert started a successful business on Rakino Island supplying Auckland residents with smoked snapper. In 1894, Albert established a fish market in Auckland and spent the next decade expanding beyond the Auckland region, including an ice plant in Thames. In 1904 Sanford became a limited liability company and was run by Albert, with the assistance of his children (

A big catch: 1500 dozen fish in Sanford’s fishyard, Thames, Auckland
Auckland Weekly News, 26 October 1905
Image courtesy of Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections

The first recorded visit of a Sanford representative to Tauranga was in August 1906. Following their inspection of the town the Bay of Plenty Times reported that Mr A. Sanford was “so well satisfied with the results that he has decided upon the erection of suitable premises for curing and smoking fish, which will be packed and forwarded to the firm's Auckland headquarters” (BOPT, 15 August 1906). This proved accurate and by October 1906 local architect Mr G. Arnold Ward had been engaged to oversee the building’s construction. A lengthy description of the facility, built by J. C. Adams, appeared in the paper in February 1907. “The factory consists of a large cleaning room and four smoking chambers. The cleaning room is built of corrugated iron … measuring 40 feet by 20 feet, with concrete floor” (BOPT, 18 February 1907).

Sulphur Point, showing Sanford’s fish factory in the proper right corner of the photograph
The building was completed in February 1907
Image courtesy of Tauranga City Libraries, Acc No 3246

With the factory ready for business, Gilbert Sanford, Albert’s son, called a meeting at the Star Hotel of those interested in the local fishing industry and a ‘satisfactory arrangement’ was made with Tauranga boat-owners (BOPT, 25 February 1907). Within days of the meeting Sanford commenced trading with locals. This included Maori from Rangiwaea Island who sold a catch of 70 dozen ‘schnapper’. The fish was smoked and 30 cases sent to Auckland. (BOPT, 1 & 3 March 1907)

Although this first trade appeared to go well, it was quickly apparent that not everyone was happy. On 6 March 1907 a meeting of concerned parties was again held at the Star Hotel – this time without Sanford representation. Complaints about price and quantities of fish purchased were made and it was the opinion of many of the attendees that Mr Sanford would be the main beneficiary of any trade under the present conditions. It was proposed at the meeting that local fishermen ‘stick together’ and form their own works. It was also agreed that those present would not accept a price lower than 2s 6d per dozen. A further meeting with Gilbert Sanford was requested (BOPT, 6 March 1907). If a meeting eventuated it was not reported and in the following months Sanford advertised twice a week in the Bay of Plenty Times. In October 1907 Captain Clark, who attended the March meeting, was catching large quantities of hapuka for the company - perhaps solidarity amongst locals did not last long (18 October 1907).

A Sanford advertisement from the Auckland Weekly News, 16 December 1916
Image courtesy of Tauranga Heritage Collection

In the ensuing years business was good and by 1912 Sanford looked to expand. Seeing a need for a freezing works in Tauranga it floated the idea: “The question of a large freezing plant capable of handling and freezing sheep, beef, fish etc., curing bacon, chilling butter; also canning works, boiling down works and fish offal drying for manure, requires a great deal of consideration from the people of Tauranga” (BOPT, 29 April 1912). Two months later the company withdrew the proposal explaining that the time was ‘not ripe’ for erecting a large plant in Tauranga on their own (BOPT, 26 June 1912).

In 1913 Sanford’s purchased the Te Ope fish and bacon factory. Te Ope, also operating at Sulphur Point, had been established by the Salvation Army to assist local Maori. Following the acquisition local fishermen, including Maori, were again complaining about low prices Sanford paid for their fish. However, oversupply meant Sanford could have closed their factory in Tauranga rather than pay more (BOPT 5 May 1913). They didn’t increase the price paid to fishermen and the factory remained open. A year later the factory commenced curing bacon – a side of the Te Ope business that had been initially discontinued by Sanford. The return of this service was praised and assistance to improve water supply to the operation was given by the Borough Council (BOPT, 11 January 1915).

Reginald Watkins inside the Te Ope fish and bacon factory at Sulphur Point. Watkins was a Salvation Army Officer and a man who was held in high esteem by all who knew him
Image courtesy of the Watkins Collection, Tauranga Heritage Collection

In 1916 Sanford began fishing local waters with its own boats. Local fishermen complained of questionable fishing practises including Sanford boats turning off their lights to trawl close to the shore (BOPT, 12 May 1916). Despite these concerns the restrictions around trawling in the Bay were removed. “The appearance of the trawlers [Sanford Limited] has caused considerable consternation among local line fishermen, and a protest has already gone forward to the Minister for Marine on the matter” (BOPT, 27 September 1919).

These protests did not fall on deaf ears and within a month the Minister for Marine, the Hon. W. H. Herries revoked the decision to remove trawling limits in the Bay. No doubt the Member of Parliament for the Bay of Plenty was listening to his constituents.  A swift protest was made by Sanford but the company received little support from locals. William Gifford, the editor of the Bay of Plenty Times, claimed that Herries was “acting fairly towards local fishermen and the industry generally” (BOPT, 25 October 1919). Ill feeling towards Sanford continued and in June 1920 it prompted Albert, now 76, to write a long letter to the people of Tauranga explaining that his company had “no desire to interfere with the men who are now getting a living at fishing, or fishing for pleasure, and to keep the Tauranga people without fish would be the last thing I should think of doing ... I will conclude by saying that Sanford’s trawlers are not the enemies of Tauranga that they are represented to be, and I am seriously thinking of buying a house and ending my days in your beautiful little town” (BOPT, 29 June 1920).

By October 1922 Sanford had pulled out of Tauranga and the Sulphur Point site was occupied by Mr W. S. Marshall. However its absence was temporary, and with trawling quotas settled, the company re-established their factory at Sulphur Point in 1928 (BOPT, 2 March 1928). Albert never did buy his house in Tauranga, dying at his residence in Devonport on 27 September 1924.