Sunday, September 18, 2016

Thames (NZ): Whaleboat Racing at The Thames

**The following are research notes that I prepared in 2009 -  there is a 'Heritage Rescue' programme on Kawhia Museum screening 18 September 2016 on Choice TV**
Whaleboats were a means of transport in early New Zealand and were also raced in regatta’s around the country. Whaleboat teams travelled long distances to race in these events; one can only imagine the difficulty in getting the crew to events, let alone the large boats. One such regatta was the Auckland Regatta held on Anniversary day (as it is today) where Thames would enter in the sailing and rowing races. One report states “It was not until more recent years about 1884 that Thames Crews entered for the “Whale boat events” (2) but Papers Past (1) have details of Thames entering races as early as 1877. The 1884 date appears to relate to the first official entry by The Hauraki Rowing Club from Thames, that formed in 1884. 


Mr Hammond (2) names the ROBINSON brothers, who built a 4 oared gig racing boat and raced it. Also Mr Valentine (Tine) SAVAGE, who had a boat building business at the Hape Creek end of Fenton Street. Mr Savage is described as “a first class craftsman, and built many boats for the local fishing men, and racing boats.” In 1877 he built two whale boats for the New Plymouth Club (30 foot & built to go in the surf) and one for the Waitara Club (35 foot). The HAURAKI was a famous racing boat built by Mr Savage; and he also “acted as steer oar in the big whaleboat race” which they won against Waitemata. Other Whaleboats built in Thames included the OUTSIDER, the TOTAL and the JUBILEE by Mr Val Brown & Mr Charles May. (2)

In Thames Street Directories, four men are listed as boat builders, their names and years are as follows. (5) Robert FIELDER, Boat builder, Beach Road,  Thames (1878, 1880, 1883 & 1885), Horace NORGROVE, Boat builder, Grey Street, Thames (1909), Samuel SMARDON, Boat builder, Thames (1890) and Valentine SAVAGE, Boat builder, Thames (1883, 1885, 1887).

Papers Past has references to two rowing clubs from Thames; The Thames Rowing Club and the Hauraki Rowing Club. The Club that formed 1884 (2) is not named, but should be the Hauraki Club, given they raced in a boat called HAURAKI and the base was at Shortland Wharf. A further report in 1887 has crews from Hauraki and Thames competing at the Auckland Regatta. (1) There is further contradiction when the Observer Newspaper 1888 announces the formation of the HAURAKI ROWING CLUB,  earlier in the article it announces that “Thames Rowing Club intends joining the Auckland Rowing Association. (1) Could some of the confusion be based on amateur and professional status, or the affiliation to the larger Association. Until clarification can be sourced it would appear that the earlier racing events were entered under different criteria and formal registration of the Thames and/or Hauraki Rowing Clubs occurred in 1884/1888.

The following paragraph is on the Rowing club (assumed to be HAURAKI ROWING CLUB) from Mr Hammond’s notes.(2)   The Club stored it’s boats in PARKERS Stables (between Mitchell St and Shortland Wharf), later they built a rowing shed at the western end of Shortland Wharf (with it’s own slip). The Rowing club would hold races on Saturday afternoons (when the tide permitted) and these included whaleboat, four oared gigs and swimming races. Sometime in the 1890’s the club bought a 4 oared gig; the coach was Mr HOSKING, crew: W HAMMOND, Vivian MORGAN, Tom MULLINS and Jack CRAWFORD. They raced unsuccessfully at the Ngaruawahia Regatta and an Auckland race.  Mr Hammond describes one race day about 1894 when two four oared gigs were racing, got swamped by waves and required rescuing.  The crew members that day included: WGANLEY, T FINLAYSON, W HAMMOND, J MCLEAN, G DALTON (cox) & G RYAN, R RUNCIMAN, F MULLINS, Tom SOMMERVILLE and Geo GORDON (cox). The same day there was a whaleboat race between the Hauraki and the Total boats. “The Hauraki was steered by E Gibbon, among the crew was Alf BILLING, Harvey CURTIS, Chas LLOYD & Bob INGLIS.” (2) The Total was steered by Tom ROLTON. The race remembered as the day the Total crashed into the Hauraki, causing considerable damage, which was thankfully able to be repaired.

 The Thames Museum (7) has the original photographs of two winning Whaleboat crew’s, copies are provided here, 1894 (lower left) and 1902 (Lower right) Hauraki Rowing Club Whaleboat Teams. (names listed in Timeline section below)
 The Hauraki Rowing Club is mentioned in Street Directories (5) 1899-1903 (T E MULLINS, Sec) and 1906 (A E HOSKING (Sec).  It would appear that interest in the club decreased over later years, in 1901 an article (see Newspapers below) suggested the club was under going a revival. Following this it appears the club tried to get it’s “best” event reinstated at the Auckland Regatta, but this was declined. Despite this in 1902 a Whaleboat race was held in the Regatta and Hauraki (Thames) did win!

In 1904 and 1905 the Thames teams won the championship race and Banner at the Auckland Anniversary Regattas. " In 1904 their boat was The Total (built by Val Brown)." Details in The Thaames Star 28 September 1948 (Copy at end of page). Crew members were: Dunlop T & J, Irwin, scott, and Rolton C & B.

Nationally Whaleboat racing appears to have over the years been involved in controversy, gambling has been suggested; for whatever reason more regatta’s moved to promote sail events. Maybe this then led to the decline of the club’s at Thames, or could it have been the falling population?  The Rowing club went out of existence sometime after1906 and their boats found new homes. “Mr Fred GIBBON, on the staff of the Thames Post Office was a keen yachtsman, and rower, and on leaving Thames became Post Master at Kawhia, and was responsible for the coming of two Thames whaleboats to Kawhia.” (2)

Old Thames Whaleboat Trophy
The Hauraki Rowing Club is recorded in the 1902 Cyclopedia (4). The 1900 officers were; Commodore: Mr A M MYERS; President: Mr J M FOY; Captain: Mr T SOMERVILLE, Secretary & Treasurer: Mr H G GILLESPIE. “It owns a large shed at the Shortland wharf, and has a fair plant, chiefly whaleboats.” (4)

 Whaleboat racing may have ended at Thames but it lives on at Kawhia, who in 2010 celebrated 100 years of Whaleboat racing at their Regatta. In 2008 a cup was discovered that reminded everyone that Thames once were Whaleboat champions. (Photo left)

Whaleboat racing and Thames Rowing clubs’ just another golden era in the history of the Thames.

· 1877: Mr Savage built whaleboats for New Plymouth & Waitara (2)
· 1877: Thames Whaleboat DANGER won Nelson Regatta’s Champion Whaleboat race (1)
· 1884 January: Auckland Regatta, in the Champion Whaleboat race there were 6 entries, Hauraki finished 5th and Thames 6th; although Hauraki were at times looking like they could win. (1) (See Newspaper reports below)
· 1884 September: Meeting held Exchange Hotel to form a Rowing Club in Thames . Mr Val BROWN elected Secretary and 50 people wanted to be members, subs £1. (2)
· 1884 October: A new 35ft whaleboat, called the Hauraki was built and launched, in readiness for the January 1885 Auckland Regatta; thus allowing the crew time for practice. (2)
· 1885 January: Both The Hauraki & Thames Rowing Club had an entry in the Auckland Regatta Champion Whaleboat race.(1)
· 1886 January: Thames entries in the Auckland Regatta covered several events, including the the Champion Whaleboat race, the Junior Whaleboat Race and the Naval Brigades’ Cutter Race (1) (See Newspaper reports below) Hauraki were 2nd  in the Champion event.
· 1888 December: Newspaper reports formation of The Hauraki Rowing Club and that Thames Rowing Club became affiliated with the Auckland Association (1)
· 1889 January: Auckland anniversary regatta “the sensation of the day was the Champion Whaleboat race between, essentially Nelson, the Waitemata Rowing Club boat and OUTSIDER from the Thames Rowing Club. This developed into a running battle of oars, oaths, and fisticuffs between the two crews with the result that the Auckland boat was disqualified. There were all sort of charges, of professionalism and corruption, but was obvious that this particular “sport” had got right out of hand. Never again would the whaleboat racing take the regatta limelight in Auckland.”(3) (See Newspaper reports below)
· 1889 January: Thames was declared the winner of the Champion Whaleboat race following Waitemata’s disqualification (1)
· 1889 March 11th: Hauraki Rowing club held series of club races (1)
· 1890’s: Whaleboat racing continued to have a place at the Auckland Regatta, then interest declined. (3)
· 1891: Hauraki Rowing Club won champion and amateur races at the Auckland and Thames Regatta’s (1)
· 1894: Winning Crew of the Champion & Amateur Whaleboat Race at the Thames Regatta were; E GIBBONS (Steer oar), A OTTER (Strike), Jas TOWHILL (No 1), H FISHER (No 2), H WOODS (No 3), P WILSON (No 4),  A NEWDICK (Coach) & Jas LOUGHLIN (Captain H R C) (7) (photo above)
· 1895: Hauraki Rowing Club purchased four-oared gigs from the Star Rowing Club. (1)
· 1901: The Hauraki Rowing Club asked that Whaleboat rowing place be placed on the programme; the request was declined. (1)
· 1901 November: Report in papers that the Hauraki Rowing Club was again doing well (1)
· 1902: Hauraki Rowing Club were winners of the Whaleboat race at the Auckland anniversary Regatta held 29th January 1902. Crew: G A HUDDLESTON (Stroke), T SOMMERVILLE (Steer oar), H T A STEPHENSON (No 1), J CROSBIE (No 2), T A MULLINS (No 3, Hon Decy & Treas), D ADAMSON (No 4), A NEWDICK (Vice Captain, Coach), A A KIVELL (Captain). (7) (photo above)
· 1903 January: Hauraki Rowing Club entered three whaleboats in the Auckland Regatta. (1)
· 1903: Hauraki Rowing Club, Thames purchased a new four-oared racing clinker (1)
· 1904 & 1905: Thames team were winners of the Auckland Anniversary Whaleboat race. (10)
· 1906-1910: Thames Rowing Clubs ceased to exist
· Two Thames Whaleboats went to Kawhia in the late 1900’s. (2) There is a whaleboat at the Kawhia museum and two in a rowing shed, whether they are the original Thames boats can’t be confirmed. (6) **The Heritage Rescue programme on TV 18 September 2016 confirmed the boats were at Kawhia thanks to Mr Gibbons, but said they came from AUCKLAND!!!** Article below Thames Star 28 September 1942 states five boats went to Kawhia.



“..Nothing daunted by their want of success last year, the Thames crew have had a new boat built by their coxswain, Mr Savage. They pulled well last year, though their boat, being a local production, was not up to the standard of the English boats. If they win the race more credit will be due to them from the fact of their having had pluck enough to build a boat to contest the race…”
Full report in: Nelson Evening Mail, 9 January 1877(1)

“The whaleboat for the Thames and Auckland crew at Nelson will go per Wellington tomorrow” Reported in multiple papers including Otago Witness Issue 1312 20/1/1877 page 14 (1)

 The Interprovincial Regatta at Nelson was held 17-18/1/1877. The champion whaleboat race was won by Danger of Thames; the prize was £50. BOP Times, Volume 5, Issue 454 20/1/1877 page 3 (1)


“..directly the boats heads were turned homeward, then the Hauraki’s crew put on a game spurt, and passing the Thames closed up on the Manukaus and Nelsons.” “When about half way from home it was evident, bar accidents, that the race was the Waitemata’s, and consequently some little attention was now given to the other competitors.  The North Shore were second, and pulling a determined stroke, Nelson came third, and they were pulling such a race as to merit frequent and most hardy applause, and the same may be said of the Manukaus, who came fourth. The Hauraki crew were close upon the Manukaus, while the Thames were obviously fated to bring up the rear.”
Full report see Nelson Evening Mail, Volume XXI, Issue 28, 3 February 1887, page 3(1)

Champion Whaleboat Crews for the Auckland Annual Regatta

Outsider (Thames Rowing Club): W PAYNE (11st 12lbs), stroke; G FISHER (13st 3lbs), No 4; S FISHER (14st 8lbs), No 3; A FISHER (15st 2 ½ lbs), No 2; D FISHER (12st 12lbs), No1; J A BROWN (10st 11lbs), coxswain. Hauraki (Hauraki Rowing Club): S LAURIE (12st 8lbs), stroke; T JOHNSTON (14st), No 4; R LAURIE (12st 8lbs), No 3; C ROLTON (11st), No 2; C MCPIKE (11st 7lbs), No 1; V Savage, coxswain.” The Hauraki Club also had an entry in the Junior Whaleboat Race and the Thames Naval Brigade had an entry in the Naval Brigades’ Cutter Race. “The junior crew is as follows: A ROE (9st 13lb), stroke; P LEITCH (11st 1lb), No 4; A KENRICK (10st 7lbs), No 3; W MORRISON (11st 4lbs), No 2; T DUNLOP (10st 8lbs), No 1; C MAY, Cockswain.”
Full report see Observer, 30 January 1886 (1)

 Full Regatta Results in Te Aroha News, 6 February 1886 (1)

Hauraki 2nd in Champion Whaleboat race, Hauraki did not start in the Junior Whaleboat and the Naval Brigade finished 3rd.

“The Thames people are to have a rowing club at last, thanks to the energy of Jack POLAND and one or two others. It has been decided to call the club the Hauraki Rowing Club, and blue and white are the colours chosen. The election of officers resulted as follows: M W PAYNE; Hon Sec S ASHER; and Treasurer , M P MCGREGOR. The club now consists of 60 members.”
Observer, 8 December 1888 (1)


In the Champion Whaleboat Race yesterday, when the foul occurred at the buoys, the Waitemata and Thames crews excitedly seized hold of each others boats’ oars, &c. A member of the Thames crew received a violent blow on the head from an oar. He tried to retaliate, and a general fracas was only averted by the approach of the third competing boat. It is expected that the race will be awarded by the umpire to the Thames crew.”

In the whaleboat race the Waitemata crew has been disqualified, and the umpire has awarded the first prize to the Thames crew and the second to the Auckland Navals.”
Evening Post, Volume XXXVII, Issue 25, 30 January 1889, page 3(1)

The Thames whaleboat crew, who won the Champion race at the recent Auckland Regatta, have challenged the Waitematas to row a match in Auckland for £300 within six weeks; or for £250 within a fortnight if the Waitemata crew will come to Thames.”
Te Aroha News, Volume VI, Issue 339, 2 February 1889, page 2(1)

 “Hauraki Rowing Club intend holding a series of club races on the 11th of next month.”
Observer, 13 April 1889 (1)

“Messrs J POLAND and R ASHER, Captain and Secretary respectively of the Hauraki Rowing Club, tendered their resignations at a committee meeting last night. The former leaves for Auckland at the end of the present month, while Mr ASHER contemplates proceeding to either Sydney or Melbourne. General regret was expressed by members at the loss of such popular officers, and a hearty vote of thanks was accorded them for the valuable services they have rendered to the Hauraki Club.”
Observer, 22 June 1889 (1)

“Mr Ralph ASHER has been presented with a gold pencil case by the members of the Hauraki Bowling Club, as a slight recognition of the valuable services he rendered as secretary. He intends leaving for Melbourne at an early daye, and will be greatly missed in athletic circles.”
Observer, Volume 9, Issue 550, 13 July 1889, page 12 (1)


“The Hauraki Rowing Club has just had its annual meeting, and the balance sheet and report show the club to be in a most flourishing condition. Mr Jas LOUGHLIN has been elected captain and Mr T ROLTON, vice-captain. The receipts for the year amounted to £100 12s 3d and the expenditure to £93 12s 2d leaving a cash balance in hand of £7 0s 1d. the assets are valued at £190 18s 6d, and the club have been most successful in rowing this year, having won the champion and amateur whaleboat races at the Auckland Regatta. At the Thames Regatta on the 17th March they also won the champion and amateur races.”
Observer, 17 October 1891 (1)


A meeting was held and one of the clubs elected was “Hauraki Rowing Club, Thames”
Full report in Evening Post, Volume XLIII, Issue 50, 29 February 1892, page 4 (1)

“The secretary was instructed to write to the Hauraki Rowing Club with reference to the reinstatement of the crew which won a whaleboat race in 1891.” (1)
Full report in Evening Post, Volume XLIII, Issue 50, 29 February 1892, page 4 (1)


‘The Star Boating Club has sold the whole of its four-oared batswing gigs to the Hauraki Rowing Club, Thames.”
Evening Post 27 April 1895 (1)

“Shortly to be published at the Thames, an interesting and amusing work by leading members of the Hauraki Rowing Club, entitled ‘The first spin in our new craft.’ To be edited by Schoolmaster Christie. Illustrations for the frontispiece: No 1 – The capsizing of the gig, with the pedagogue and the naval petty officer sprawling in the water. No 2 – Their heroic efforts to right the boat, Jim’s scull careening around like the sails of a windmill. A leading incident – Gallant rescue of the endangered pair by Tom ROLTON and his crew. The book is sure to be funny. Give your orders in good time.”
Observer 19 October 1895 (1)


AQUATICS (By Neptune)
“The Efforts made to resuscitate the Hauraki Rowing Club have been attended with great success. The club has obtained a new lease of life, and its prospects are now brighter than they have ever been”
Evening Post, Volume LXII, Issue 120, 16 November 1901, page 6 (1)

 AQUATICS (By Neptune)
“The Hauraki Rowing Club, Thames, has approached the Auckland Regatta Committee asking that a whaleboat race be placed on the Anniversary programme. The committee however do not view the suggestion with favour, for whaleboat rowing is long out of fashion amongst us.”
Evening Post, Volume LXII, Issue 154, 28 December 1901, page 7 (1)

“Hauraki Rowing Club have brought up a number of crews for to-day’s proceedings. In the whaleboat race they have entered three crews, which should be hard to beat.”
Observer, 31 January 1903 (1)

 “A fine specimen of the boatbuilder’s art in the shape of a four-oared racing clinker gig on the lines laid down by the New Zealand Amateur rowing Association has just been built by Mr George NORTON, of Wellington, to the order of the HAURAKI ROWING CLUB, Thames. The boat is of cedar, and is finished in first-class style. Mr Norton is now building a similar gig for the Waitemata Boating Club, Auckland.”
Evening Post, 7 September 1903 (1)

“Eighty-one entries were received yester-night for the 16 events at the Auckland Regatta. The following are the entries for the Champion Whaleboat Race: Hauraki Rowing Club…..Thames Rowing Club…£120 was received for entrance fees for all events.”
Wanganui Herald, Volume XX, Issue 5529, 28 January 1885, page 2 (1)

1942 Summary of rowing

Hauraki Herald 11 November 2008, page 2 (9)
MYSTERY TROPHY SURFACES by Mathew Grocott. (photo above)
How does a trophy discovered in Canterbury and carrying a picture of six men rowing a whale boat link back to Thames? That is the mystery the Hauraki Plains Rowing Club is trying to unravel after it was sent a silver trophy which dates back more than 100 years. The club was sent the trophy by members of the Canterbury Rowing Club which had discovered it while preparing for a prizegiving. The trophy has an engraving of five men rowing a whale boat with “Presented to Hauraki Rowing Club by W J Constant” printed on it. It is 100mm in diameter and stands 250mm high. The trophy also carries five small insignia around its base which may explain where and when it was made. Hauraki Plains Rowing Club committee member Mike Speedy has been tasked with researching the trophy. Mr Speedy said he discovered whale boat racing was once popular around the country, particularly in the Waitemata Harbour. Enquiries with organisers of the Auckland Anniversary Weekend regatta revealed that the Hauraki Rowing Club was based in Grahamstown, Thames in the latter part of the 19th century. Mr Speedy said he was keen to find out as  much as he could about the trophy’s history, and if a rightful owner for the trophy cannot be found he would like to see it housed in a museum. He suspects the trophy was last competed for in the 1880’s or 90’s when it was most likely won by the Canterbury Rowing Club who found it. The one record found so far of a W J Constant is that of a bread-maker who set up shop in Auckland in 1863. A boat builder called Valentine Savage has been linked to the Hauraki Rowing Club. At the end of  the 19th century Mr Savage was a famous boat builder and oarsman who built most of the club’s boats and manned the steer oar.”

NB. Concerning the above article and reference to Mr W J CONSTANT.
Mr WILLIAM JOSEPH CONSTANT settled in Thames during the prosperous gold mining years. Mr CONSTANT was a publican at several hotels including the CAMDEN and THAMES Hotels during the 1870’s to 1890’s. (8)


Thames Star 26 Feb 1940
(1)   Papers Past at
(2)   “Whale Boats at Kawhia” by Toss Hammond c 1867. Unpublished Papers held at THE TREASURY, Queen Street, Thames
(3)    “Southern Breeze, Story of yachting in New Zealand” by H Kidd, R Elliott, D Pardon. Viking 1999
(4)   “Cyclopedia of New Zealand. Auckland, Volume 2” Published 1902
(5)   “Street Directories” at Thames Genealogy Web-pages by Althea
(6)   Kawhia Museum contact:
(7)   Thames Museum, Corner of Cochrane & Pollen Streets, Thames
(8)   “Hotels of Thames” at Thames Genealogy Web-pages by Althea
(9)   “Hauraki Herald” Newspaper, Sealey Street, Thames. Copy held at THE TREASURY, Queen Street, Thames
(10) Thames Star, 28 September 1942. (copy on page)

 Research notes written: © Althea Barker 2009

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Thames (NZ): BUILDING THAMES (booklet)

Landmarks on the Thames Goldfield.
A small A5 booklet full of colour photos, 36 pages. The booklet was prepared with the assistance of the Thames Historical Museum to showcase the replica buildings constructed of Mr T Egan. This is part of the journey with the ‘Heritage Rescue’ Choice TV programme, where a new gallery was constructed at the museum.
There is background on 28 buildings, including: Central Hall, Fishermen’s Buildings, Kauaeranga Hotel, Taipari Residence, Warwick Arms Hotel and many more.  The booklets are available from the Thames Historical Museum and as required from the Thames School of Mines.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Thames (NZ): Post Office Messenger Boys

Early 1900s Government Buildings, Queen Street, Thames
'Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, 35-R1451'
From the 1870s the principle Post and Telegraph Office was located at the north end of Queen Street. A grand set of buildings at the Grahamstown end of town - Police, Courthouse and Post & Telegraph located side-by-side. (photo right)
Today the old Police Station and part of the courthouse remain standing and are in private ownership.

The post and telegraph services were in high demand, even after the peak population dropped. Mail, banking and telegraph services a necessity. A large number of staff were employed at the Post and Telegraph Offices - as can be seen in the 1903 staff photo below.
Back row: A V Pearse, J F Craig, T G Swindells, H G Sanders, H C Bull.
Third row: F Arns, H J Pearse, J Davies, T E Mullins, R McDonnell, A L H Stott, J McLean, E G May, C K Edwards, F L Cunnold, C H L McLean, J E Childerhouse.
Second row: W B Teasdale, C W Jansen, J Thorne, T Aitken (chief clerk), W McHutcheson (chief postmaster), A H Turner (second clerk), E Clark, J T W Collier, T F Gibbons.
Front row: W Steward, W Sawyer, M Lannigan, R Quick, R Jury (messengers)
Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, AWNS-19031112-5-1
The messenger boys at the front of the staff photo, were the equivalent of later telegram deliverers, in the days when it was quite customary to send urgent messages via the telegraph services. A telegram once received was hand delivered by the boys, by foot or by bike. Interestingly in the Thames Star 26 September 1911, a report about messenger boys was included. It stated: “No post office messenger boy in England is supposed, in the discharge of his duties, to walk more than ten miles a day, or to cover more than 24 miles on a bicycle.” Unfortunately they did not state what the norm was for the Thames messenger boys.

By December 1916, Thames had eight messenger boys employed at the Thames Post & Telegraph Office. They were: A Anderson, C Comer, R J Donnelly, L R Hancock, F M J McGuinn, W H McDonald, S E L McLean, and F Strange.

This wonderful Xmas card (above) belongs to John Strange, his father Frank Strange was one of the messenger boys named on the card. Frank went on to work 25 years in the Post and Telegraph service.
The card is fascinating, the business acknowledging the work of the messenger boys and giving seasons greetings to their customers. It is a tradition that New Zealand Post appears to have continued, each Xmas it remains one of the few businesses that send a card out delivered by their 'posties'.

Some later background on Mr Francis (Frank) Strange (1900-1998).
Frank "was a sorter on the mail train to Wellington and would get off at Whangamomona and return sorting again back to Auckland. He attended the Ponsonby Post & Telegraph and became an experienced and sought after Morse code operator. In April 1928 he married and he was transferred to Whangarei Post Office until he became Post Master at Kamo. In 1940 he cashed in his Pension and bought a herd of cows and property at Hikutaia where he remained" until his death aged 98yrs.
Source: J Strange (son)

Monday, September 5, 2016

THAMES (NZ): Dickson Park aka The Tararu Gardens

DICKSON PARK - located at the east end of Victoria Street, Tararu, Thames.
View of the park September 2016
Remnants of the Tararu Gardens are signposted at the entrance to the Dickson Holiday Park.

c1868 Subdivision map of Tararu Garden area
From the time the Thames Goldfield opened, there was a special area at Tararu where Thamesites would travel to escape the noise and dirt of their mining town. The brainchild behind the Tararu Gardens was Mr Robert Graham, the Auckland property developer who subdivided Grahamstown and Tararu c1868.  Originally the gardens were run by Messrs Purdie and Wells under the name of Elysium Pleasure Grounds. (See end of article)

There was a major storm in 1874 that destroyed the Tararu Wharf, badly damaged Robert Graham’s hotel and his beloved Tararu Gardens. Following these series of events, Mr Graham left Thames, having his hotel shipped to his Waiwera Hotel site. Thankfully new of proprietors and owners kept the Tararu Gardens operational.

Sunday excursions to the Tararu Gardens were always popular. A place where families would picnic, swim in the river and play sports on the flat adjacent areas. Bands would play and dancing would continue on the green well into the night. Admission to the gardens cost sixpence and strawberries and cream another sixpence. School visits were also held to the gardens, such as end of year activities.  One such excursion took place on 14th December 1876. “A big day for all the schools of the Waiotahi District. Over 700 children from the five schools went to the Tararu Gardens for a day of music, fun and games. All up there were over 1000 people present. Everything went off satisfactorily, and the whole affair was evidence of the success of the educational system at present in force.”(1)
 Larger sports events were held on the main Tararu Flats where the Thames Hospital Board farm and Tararu Home was relocated (now Bupa Tararu Rest Home and Hospital).

Thames Star 31 December 1885

The gardens were not always smooth sailing financially over the years, resulting in many attempted sales and owners.  In 1876 Mr Fred Bennett was listed as the Proprietor of the gardens. While a note in the 1918 newspaper mentioned that the gardens were actually laid out by Mr F Bennett.(2) The gardens appear to have operated seasonally in these early years, for instance they opened Saturday 21 October 1876. Admission for six months was listed as giving the holder admission at all times during the day, including Sundays! The cost was: Family ticket (Two adults and children under 12 years of age) 10s 6d; and single ticket 5s. (3)

The strawberries that were so popular were grown at the gardens. In 1879, the paper reported that Mr Bennett and his assistants had been busy at the gardens which were in the full bloom of spring flowers. “The Strawberries are rapidly ripening, indeed a good number have already found their way into Grahamstown, and with seasonal weather Mr Bennett expects to be able to meet all the demands of his many visitors.” (4)

In the Thames Star 15 March 1888, Mr R R McGregor, auctioneer of Thames had been authorised to sell the Tararu Gardens by order of the mortgagees. The land described as being part of Block Kauaeranga E, No 14. In another section Mr Robert Graham Esq, was reported as the late owner, it is not clear whether this meant he was the current owner. At the auction the bidding reached 500 Pounds, the property was withdrawn as this was 90 Pounds under the reserve price set before the auction.
The next we hear is that the gardens are in the procession of the Thames Building Society, who offered them for sale in January 1890. A correspondent wrote to the Thames Star newspaper on 10 February 1890 and suggested wisely that the Borough Council should purchase the gardens as a recreation ground for the town. The matter dragged on. In 1891 the council was offered the gardens and surrounding grounds for 625 Pounds. The Thames Star 6 February 1891, had the news that the Thames Borough Council had decided not to buy the Tararu or Parawai Gardens as recreation areas for the town, deeming them not suitable. By 1892 the Building Society still had the mortgage on the property and wanted urgently to sell the Tararu gardens.

The news came at the end of 1892 that Mr R Comer had purchased the property for 300 Pounds, then immediately offered it to the council at that price, so they could be used as a recreation ground for the town.  In the end, a vote was held so that the people of Thames could decide whether the gardens should be purchased. The poll required 373 votes in favour, but sadly only 121 votes were for it and 48 against. So it was left to Robert Comer to continue to run the gardens, at the end of 1893 the entrance fee was reduced to entice customers. Then once again at the beginning of 1894 the property was yet again on the market. During all these years of continual for sale notices, the paper is still full of people going to the gardens to enjoy picnic and other events.
1954 view of the park
In 1896 the gardens were the property of Mr J W Walker, who proceeded to build a large villa residence shortly after the purchase was complete. (5) In the Thames Star 16 August 1907, the property was again for sale.  It was advertised as the residence of the late Mrs J W Walker, the land was 10 acres – formerly the Tararu Gardens. The following years are yet to be explored but by 1953 the garden area was the Thames Camping Ground.

In 1953 the Thames Improvement Society planted a tree and placed a plaque at the Thames Camping Ground to honour the work of the late Mr J Dickson.  (photo below) “It was felt that such a memorial would be most appropriate in view of all Mr Dickson had done as Chairman of the Works Committee to bring the Camping Ground into being and the great interest he had always shown in anything to do with the beautification of the town.” (6)  Mr A J Dickson had died 1 September 1953. (7)
The park/gardens have changed hands many times over the years. Today the camping ground is called Dickson Holiday Park and remains to this day a popular holiday destination. The plaque for Mr Dickson, is now located on a rock at the entrance to the park, as well as a sign showing the remnants of the famed Tararu Gardens.
Above: The Memorial plaque for Mr Dickson on the rock (left photo), closer view on the right.
Below: View of the park from the entrance, looking south-east 
(1) Waiotahi Creek School, by Althea Barker.
(2) Thames Star, 11 March 1918.
(3) Thames Star, 4 December 1876.
(4) Thames Star, 20 October 1879.
(5) Thames Star, 28 July 1986.
(6) Thames Star, 9 September 1953.
(7) Thames Star, 2 September 1953.

Background Reading:
Old Tararu Gardens an Important part of early Thames, Thames Star, 20 June 1952.

**Opened 11 November 1872 by lessees Wells & Purdie, operated as Elysium Pleasure Grounds.
**Lease Sold March 1873 to Mr Wells. By 1874 known as the "Tararu Gardens."