Friday, 31 March 2023

Tauranga Courthouse Update

Map of the ‘Town of Tauranga’ created by George Pulman in 1864-1865
The two buildings circled in red have been identified as accommodating the Magistrate’s Court prior to 1874
Image courtesy of Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections Map 4498-4

In my November 2022 blog about Tauranga courthouses, I commented that the original site of the Magistrate’s Court was unknown – to me at least[i]. As is often the case with research, information comes to light when you’ve stopped looking for it and I can now report that the Magistrate’s Court in Tauranga was held in two further locations before the erection of the Government Building in 1874.

George Clarke (1798-1875), his wife Martha and their thirteen children, c. 1868, probably at Waimate North
It is likely that both Hopkins and Henry Clarke will be in this photograph

Oddly this information was gleaned from a court case brought by the Tauranga Town Board against Hopkins Clarke, Clerk of the Resident Magistrate’s Court, and brother of Henry Tacy Clarke, who was the Resident Magistrate in Tauranga during the 1860s and early 1870s. The Board was trying to obtain £5 15s in unpaid rates for a building Hopkins Clarke was occupying. Clarke claimed that, as the house and land was owned by the Government and used for Government purposes, he should be exempt:

“I shall be able to produce witnesses to prove that since I have been residing in that house it has been used as a Court house and also as a Government store ... there is a room used as a Court house, with a bar across for keeping the public from the bench; that bar is still in existence.”[ii]

The plaintiff also called several witnesses, including Ebenezer Norris, a member of the Town Board. Norris maintained that, although court cases had at one time been held in the building, it was his belief that it wasn’t during Hopkins Clarke’s residence. This is supported by a statement which appeared in the Bay of Plenty Times in September 1872:

“The old Mission school house is now converted into public offices. Here one will find Telegraph, Post, and Public Works Offices; also, Resident Magistrate’s Court.”[iii]

So, it appears that both the Resident Magistrate’s dwelling and the Mission school house, better known as the Native Institute, were used as the town’s first courthouses.[iv]

Resident Magistrate’s house on the left and Native Institute on the right
Photograph taken from Tauranga Town Wharf circa 1870s

Resident Magistrate’s house visible beyond the Bank of New Zealand on Wharf Street, circa 1880s
This house would be later be moved to a corner of the site to accommodate the Town Hall



[ii] Bay of Plenty Times, Volume II, Issue 187, 20 June 1874.

[iii] Bay of Plenty Times, Volume 1, Issue 8, 28 September 1872.

[iv] The Bench found in favour of the defendant Hopkins Clarke “The plaintiff has failed to show that the tenement on which recovery of rates issued is not in the occupation of the General Government of the colony.” Bay of Plenty Times, Volume II, Issue 189, 27 June 1874.

Friday, 24 March 2023

Moses Spence

Working Bee at Tauranga Hospital, with Moses Spence seated at centre (X), c. 1900s-1910s
Unmounted large format print by unidentified photographer
Tauranga Heritage Collection, Ref. 0435/08

The above image in the Tauranga Heritage Collection depicting a working bee at the Tauranga Hospital, taken early in the 20th century, intrigued me. A group of men with shovels and a wheelbarrow along with some nurses, all anonymous except for a man marked with an X.  He was Moses Spence and said to be chairman of the hospital board.  This turned out not be entirely accurate: Moses Spence was elected a member, but not chairman of the Bay of Plenty Hospital and Charitable Aid Board in 1911. One cannot imagine a member of our former DHB turning up shovel in hand to do a bit of work about the place.

So, who was Moses Spence? 

Mr Berry outside Moses Spence’s store, Tauranga, c. 1900
Mounted print by unidentified photographer
Collection of Tauranga City Library, Pae Korok
ī Ref. 01-467

Born in County Armagh, Ireland, Moses Spence joined George Vesey Stewart’s Special Settlers and sailed to New Zealand on the Lady Jocelyn.  It was the only emigrant ship to arrive in the Port of Tauranga and did so in January 1881. Spence drew a farm of 160 acres near Te Puke that he developed and where he persuaded his brother Samuel to join him.  Samuel had emigrated some years before Moses and farmed in the South Island.  Between them the brothers developed several farms including some that had been abandoned by other settlers.

Rev. James Richards in Moses Spence’s gig, c. 1904
Collection of Tauranga City Library, Pae Korokī Ref. 04-460

By 1887 Spence was working for R.C. Roberts, a grain and seed merchant in Tauranga, and the following year opened his own business with partner Phillip Bennet. By the 1890s the partnership dissolved and Spence added to the grain and seed side, selling fertiliser as an agent for Kempthorne Prosser, and selling their flour and bran for the Waimapu Flour Mill.  In 1893 he bought out Carlos Kramer Walters’ share of the Maketu store. He purchased shares in the Herald Gold Mining Company of Whangamata and in the Te Puke Gold Mining Company.

Building Bee at Methodist Church Hall, Tauranga, 1 January 1914
(Moses Spence standing hatless in middle row at far left)
Collection of Tauranga City Library, Pae Korokī Ref. 04-459

Meanwhile he took an active part in the Tauranga Methodist Church, where he sang in their concerts and was involved in building the first Methodist Church on the corner of First Avenue and Devonport Road. In 1897 Moses Spence was elected to the Tauranga Borough Council, then successfully stood for Waimapu Riding of the Tauranga County Council in 1908, and the Hospital and Charitable Aid Board in 1911.  In 1900 he took the first of three trips back to Ireland.

Moses Spence’s gravestone, Tauranga Methodist Cemetery, February 2023
Photographed by Justine Neal

He never married but gave away the daughter of his late brother Samuel when she married in 1918. He moved to Auckland in about 1920 to live near his brother’s family but returned frequently to visit Tauranga for events like the A & P Show. Moses Spence died in Auckland aged 90 in 1942 and was buried in the Tauranga Methodist Cemetery alongside Samuel and Maggie Spence.


Shearer, Dr. The Hon. Ian, and Wright-StClair, Dr Rex, A Century on Cameron Road. A History of Tauranga Hospital 1914-2014, Tauranga, 2016.

Bay of Plenty Times, Papers Past

Friday, 17 March 2023

Life at the East End of Elizabeth Street

Aerial view of downtown Tauranga, date unknown
Tauranga City Libraries, Pae Korok
ī Ref. 03-225

When this photo[1] was taken, possibly from one of the aeroplanes that sheltered in the large hangar built on the edge of the Tauranga Moana foreshore[2], and certainly earlier than the date suggested by Pae Koroki, Elizabeth Street had been “bitumenised” and – judging by the large structures to the south – thoroughly integrated into the urban life of Tauranga.

But Elizabeth Street[3] was once one of the fringier parts of town. In 1921 it was a useful boundary marker for rating purposes[4], bisected, as today, only by Devonport and Cameron Roads.  Elizabeth still terminates the ambitions of Grey, Durham and Selwyn Streets in “T” intersections.  (Elizabeth Street itself ran from harbourside cliffs at the eastern end to the town dump near the Waikaraeo estuary.  The dump has now gone and the street connects with Takitimu Drive.)  

Occasional small businesses would be located there – dressmakers (Miss Jessie Smith, Miss Munro), a builder, a fibrous plaster works (H S Riggir), even some music teachers (E. Florence Whitlock, Miss Pearl Moffat).  By 1936 it was included in the Borough’s “Business Area” for rubbish collection[5] - just as well, since the “Mt Pleasant Hospital” had been established at 4 Elizabeth St in 1933.  This did not garner much attention as a clinical facility[6] but it certainly served as a maternity home until mid-way through World War Two[7].  After that, the Mount Pleasant boarding house did duty for the passers-through and respectably low-waged until it vanishes from the records, although not living memory[8].

“Dilston”, the substantial house on the left of the zig-zag path to the beach, was under construction in 1882[9].  This was to be the long-term residence of some notable Tauranga families:  William McKenzie Commons, who served for a single one-year term as Mayor of Tauranga, and the Norrises, whose story is told elsewhere[10].  In due course it became “Mount Pleasant”.  Before that happened, a (nearly) anonymous 1925 advertisement of accommodation available on Elizabeth Street offers “five bedrooms, two sleeping porches, every possible modern convenience, suit two or more small families, adults preferred. £2 per week - Colinoris”[11].

Properties were substantial in those days.  In the oral history recorded by Jinty Rorke for Pae Korokī, Nan Garrity (née Norris) recalls that the house was “Right on the waterfront where the big flats are now… [it] went right down to the high tide mark.”  When Commons offered the place to let in 1907, it was described as consisting of “house, gardens, orchard and paddock”[12].

And it took a lot of upkeep.  By 1909[13], a “certificated cookery teacher” was offering, at Dilston, a “high and healthy situation” under new management  - a “Comfortable home for Permanent Boarders or Visitors” with a good table, bath and piano, all at “moderate” terms.  Mrs Commons, in February 1907[14], had already had a clearance sale[15].  Presumably the table, bath and piano were passed in at auction.

Clearance Sale [Advertisement], Bay of Plenty Times, 15 February 1907
Courtesy of Papers Past

It is a large thing to reflect, as a recent arrival[16] at the site now known as Elizabeth Heights - 8 (originally, number 4) Elizabeth Street - on the vast quantities of furniture that must have come and gone from this small part of town over the 140 years of its pākeha occupation.  The area itself, once so high, wide and expansive, has become more and more urbanized, concentrated and, well, lived in.

View from Elizabeth Street, 7 March 2023
Photograph by Beth Bowden

This March 2023 snapshot offers a tiny viewshaft through to the railway bridge, a glimpse on the extreme right of the 1960’s structure known as Elizabeth Heights, and a view over the more recent infill housing built along the Dilston cliff and down to where the aero club’s hangar used to be.  The Tauranga Yacht Club, visible at foreground right in the first image, remains in place, repurposed as the Harbourside Restaurant; everything else, except the streets themselves, perhaps the concrete boat ramps and of course the bridge, has been replaced.  Your writer is now dedicated to closer examination of, and research into, surviving elements of Elizabeth Street life in the Tauranga of the twenty-first century. 

[3] This arterial crossway was formed in 1883 by Mr Hamilton and his plough , and named after the wife of the first native-born Taurangian to be elected Mayor, .

[6] See Dr Paul Mountfort’s account of the development of Norfolk Hospital in Tauranga (1953-2007)

[7] Advertisements for “Mount Pleasant” vanish from the Bay of Plenty Times after April 1934, but see .

[8] Personal conversation, 24 January 2023, between the writer and one of the staff of NZ Movers, who recalled moving the boarding house furniture out of the property before demolition to make way for Elizabeth Heights’ construction.

[10] Julie Green, Tauranga Historical Society, Norris family blogs published10 June 2022 and 15 July 2022  and .  I am indebted to Fiona Kean of the TCC Heritage Collection for the Pae Koroki links cited here.

[15] Another such took place as the Norrises vacated:

[16] The writer helped move her husband’s household in over 24-25 January 2023