Friday, 6 June 2014

Michael Hodgkins, a gentleman and a scholar

Michael Hodgkins
Every town has at least one character that makes a lasting impression on its residents. Tauranga in the 1950’s and 60’s had Michael Hodgkins. Sometimes known as ‘Spring Heel Jack’, because of his way of walking, Michael stood out in a time when conformity was expected and encouraged. 

Born in 1902, Michael moved to Tauranga with his parents in 1937. He had a passion for botany and shared his extensive knowledge on local radio, in the Bay of Plenty Times, as well as working with a number of institutions including the DSIR and the Auckland Institute and Museum.

Michael’s hut on the edge of the Otumoetai salt marsh

After the death of his parents in 1948, Michael moved to a hut on the edge of the Otumoetai salt marsh and lived without electricity and running water. Paintings by Francis Hodgkins, his aunt, decorated the hut walls. It is during this time that the description of a man ‘unwashed, clad in ragged clothes, with unkempt shoulder-length hair, ‘sun-blackened skin’ and ‘piercing blue eyes’ would have emerged.

Michael walked great distances with his dog, Angus, enjoying the region's flora and fauna. On these travels he encountered school children who would either taunt him or request help with their homework, something that was encouraged by local teachers.

Michael died in his hut at the end of October 1965. However, he was not forgotten. Historians Alister Matheson and Jinty Rorke compiled details concerning Michael’s life and these are found online at The Dictionary of New Zealand Biography.  In 2009 the Tauranga Historical Society, with the financial support of many local people, placed a headstone on his grave.

Sketches by Graham Bell, courtesy of David Saric and provided to the Tauranga Heritage Collection.

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