Settler Kaponga 1881–1914 — A Frontier Fragment of the Western World
Farewell to Kaponga
Farewell to Kaponga
One evening in the early spring of 1909 some 150 Kaponga settlers braved heavy rain to farewell Mr and Mrs Maurice Fitzgerald*, who were about to lead a family migration to the Waikato. They met in the Kaponga town hall, since 1901 proudly known as the Athenaeum, and enlivened the occasion with dancing, items and complimentary speeches. In his valedictory speech chairman William Swadling* told how Maurice Fitzgerald and he had been among Kaponga's first settlers, and had walked there together from Hawera as there was no way of returning horses. How one wishes that ‘Our Own’ had reported this speech more fully, and filled it out with an interview with these two pioneers. They had bought their farm sections on 8 September 1882 amid the excitement of a government land sale, with some 700 to 800 others crowding the Hawera town hall.
William Swadling's farewell from Kaponga was quite different from Fitzgerald's, for he died suddenly in June 1912. The local school closed for the day of the funeral. Among the three or four hundred who gathered in the Kaponga cemetery were many from outside the local district, including almost all the members and staff of the Eltham County Council, the mayor of Stratford, representatives of various dairy factories and other business leaders. Swadling had been a valued leader in many south Taranaki enterprises and public bodies as well as in a wide range of bodies in his own township, including the Town Board, Anglican Church, Oddfellows' Lodge, Dairy Company and school committee. Unlike Maurice Fitzgerald, he had not had to leave the district in search of a wider world for a growing clan. On his wife's death in 1906 he had been left a widower with an infant daughter. While his sister, Elizabeth Swadling, took care of his daughter, William threw himself so vigorously into public life that he came to be regarded as the ‘father of Kaponga’.
Maurice and Julia Fitzgerald in later life
Our three farewells give us brief glimpses of three Kaponga settler careers that roughly span the years of our study. They illustrate the diversity of pioneer origins. Prestidge had learnt his farming in Nelson, where he had arrived as a child immigrant. Swadling was a recent immigrant, with a year or two of colonial experience in Manawatu and Rangitikei. Fitzgerald was a staunch Roman Catholic from County Kerry, Ireland, with five years of page 18 colonial experience in Canterbury. Swadling's memory of swagging in and Prestidge's reminiscences indicate how primitive and amorphous were the district's beginnings, while the farewells accorded to Fitzgerald and Swadling give some intimation of the complexity and substance of what was achieved in the Kaponga district within one working lifetime, and of its interweaving with the wider world. All three were successful farmers, but while Prestidge took almost no part in public life, Fitzgerald took an active part, and Swadling became a prominent local and regional leader. This study examines the quality and the interplay of hundreds of diverse careers, of which these three are a small sample. But something must first be said about our purposes in choosing Kaponga's early settler years for close study and about our methods of approach and the reasons for them.