Friday, 17 April 2015

Sanitation: The Sewers

Front cover of “Register Drainage Systems”, Tauranga, book kept by drainage foreman,
with entries in different hands, c early to mid-20th century
Image courtesy of Tauranga City Library
Recently a very battered book was brought into Tauranga City Libraries’ archives by a Council staff member. It is labelled “Register Drainage System” and dates from the late 19th or early 20th century, with entries made until about the 1950s indicating where maps of the drains could be found. Originally it appears to have been kept by the drainage foreman. The information in it is not easy to decipher, and even John Cuthbert Adams when he was Mayor from 1917 to 1919 had difficulty with it. His 1918 comments are glued into the book, and they show his exasperation with the system.

Workmen laying drains in Wharf Street, Tauranga c 1911-1912
Image courtesy of Tauranga City Library Ref. 99-746
It’s no wonder, as drains and sewers were a vexed question in Tauranga for many years. “Bye-Law No. 1”, promulgated in 1883, specified that anyone allowing “the contents of any watercloset privy or cesspool to overflow or to soak therefrom so as to be offensive” could be fined five pounds. It is doubtful if there were any water closets (flushing lavatories) in Tauranga in 1883, as there was no municipal water supply until 1912. The Star Hotel had a water closet before that date, but the Star had its own well and pump. The more usual arrangement was the night cart, which would collect and dump the contents of household privies during the hours of darkness. Operators, according to the bye-law, had to be registered and have “Night Cart” painted on their carts.

In 1883 a loan of a thousand pounds was proposed to construct a main sewer along the Strand. By 1887 there was a sewer in Spring Street, though it was not very satisfactory: the Borough Engineer had the delightful task of sorting out the “vile and intolerable smell” caused by its outflow taking place at the embankment rather than at low water mark. Things did not quickly improve. In 1892 a letter to the editor of the Bay of Plenty Times complained about the smelly drain on the beach next to the Victoria Wharf being the first thing to greet passengers coming in on the steamer from Auckland. In fact sewer problems persisted into the 20th century, though in 1912, as now, there were those who felt there was no need for the council to spend ratepayers’ money: the night cart would do for many years to come, insisted “Moderation” in a letter to the editor on 8 May. In 1928 the council took out loans to the value of nearly fourteen thousand pounds for sewerage and drainage purposes.

Putting the sewer line through at the bottom of the beach paddock on Mathesons’ farm “Fairview”,
Otumoetai, September 1982
Image courtesy of Tauranga City Library Ref. 05-262
Dealing with human waste is one of the first duties of any community, as the public health issues resulting from failure in this area are potentially catastrophic. According to the 2014 centennial history of the Tauranga Hospital Board there was a typhoid outbreak at Matapihi as late as 1930. It was not until nearly forty years after this that the first stage of a full reticulation and sewage scheme for Tauranga was delivered, with the treatment plant on reclaimed land at Chapel Street being commissioned in 1969 at a cost of $1.6 million. It was expanded and developed in 1978 with a second stage. Effluent is now treated by sophisticated methods including ultra-violet disinfection at the end of the process – an advance which would have been inconceivable in the days of the night-cart man.

Double-page spread from “Register Drainage Systems”, showing J. C. Adams’ comments from 1918
Image courtesy of Tauranga City Library
"This book was kept by the drainage foreman the records being probably copied into a more comple[te] register which so far I have been unable to find.
"The records of measurements are in links and decimals. They read from man-hole to man-hole, starting at the lower and progressing to the higher level. The arrows  ͢͢    indicate the flow of sewerage.
"There are 619 records, presumably of 4” Y junctions into the various sewers many of which are extended to the boundry [sic] line of the adjacent properties – at right angles – But information is lacking as to which of these records refer to Y junctions and which to the connection to the boundry or allotment.
"There are 198 √ ticks to the records which I thought might be a solution and strongly supports the theory of a more complete record but on applying this theory to completely reliable data I find it is incorrect     for proof see Page 88 Devonport Road between the 2nd & 3rd manholes left hand side of road. There are 6 records in the book 4 of these records are correct as to linkage and are complete to the boundry but only two are ticked."
                   "J. C. Adams
                    April 17th 1918"

Sources
Papers Past for newspaper items
History of Chapel Street sewage plant and details of current waste water treatment
Celebrating 100 years of innovation and excellence: Tauranga Hospital 1914-2014.


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