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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 8, Issue 7 (November 1, 1933)

The Trail of Adventure — Pioneer Survey of the North Island Main Trunk Railway. — John Rochfort And The Hauhaus

page 25

The Trail of Adventure
Pioneer Survey of the North Island Main Trunk Railway.
John Rochfort And The Hauhaus.

The first reconnaissance survey of the Central railway route through the King Country, in 1883–84, was carried through under difficult and sometimes perilous conditions, because of the hostility of some of the Maori tribes in the upper part of the Wanganui River basin. The story of the adventures of Mr. John Rochfort, Government surveyor, is concluded here.

Part II.

Peehi Hitaua. This chief, who lived at Ngatokorua, Waimarino, at first opposed and later assisted John Rochfort in his survey work.

Peehi Hitaua. This chief, who lived at Ngatokorua, Waimarino, at first opposed and later assisted John Rochfort in his survey work.

Rochfort Resumes the Survey.

In the first part of this narrative we left John Rochfort paddling down the Wanganui River with his party of Maoris, Major Kepa's men, after an unsuccessful attempt to continue his bush explorations on the headwaters of the Manganui-a-te-ao, where the hostile Patu-tokotoko tribe had turned him back at the muzzles of their guns. Again he went to Wellington to consult headquarters as to the best method of dealing with the Kingite tribes and carrying on the reconnaissance survey. He reported to the Native Minister, Mr. John Bryce, and this time he asked for the support of “a few troopers” as an escort through the Hauhau country.

Bryce, cautious veteran of the wars, thought it unwise to force a right-of-way with Armed Constabulary. He directed Rochfort to go round to the northern end of his opponents' district, in the Ruapehu-Waimarino Country, and endeavour to secure the friendship of the high chief Peehi Turoa. (Peehi Hitaua was meant; this chief, already mentioned in this narrative, was Topia Turoa's brother; he lived at Ngatokorua, on the Waimarino Plain.)

The surveyor once more returned to Wanganui to see Kepa. On going up the river to Ranana he learned that the obstructionists had dispersed and had gone to their spring potato-planting at their various homes. So the much relieved Rochfort made his way to the high country again, retrieved his theodolite from the village where it had been seized, and went on with his engineering reconnaissance past the base of Ruapehu to the Waimarino Plains, without any further interruption.

The Chiefs of the South Taupo Region.

At the remote little village of Ngatokorua, sheltered from the icy winds off Ruapehu by a belt of tall forest, he found Peehi, who, “although a rank Hauhau,” as he described him, agreed, after a little talk, to help him; the chief was not really averse to the railway scheme. Rochfort now deemed it advisable to seek the support of the other principal chiefs of the interior, so he visited Topia Turoa (Peehi's brother, an ally of the Government in the campaign against Te Kooti in 1869–70), Matuahu, and Te Heuheu Tukino, at Roto-a-Ira, and the Lake Taupo villages Tokaanu and Waihi. Topia contented himself with sending a telegram to the Native Minister informing him that he would allow the surveyor to go on, but Te Heuheu and his kinsman Matuahu sent two men with Mr. Rochfort.

More Trouble Ahead.

Back at Ngatokorua, on the tussock plains, the pioneer of the survey found ominous complications. Two Maoris came in from the Tuhua country, between the Upper Wanganui and Lake Taupo, saying that there were two powerful aukatis (interdicts, prohibitions) to stop further progress, and besides there were a dozen mounted Hauhaus patrolling the tracks and waiting for him. They averred that they were sure to be hanged for the murder of Moffatt and one or two more pakehas would not alter the case.

This referred to the pakeha-Maori William Moffatt, whom the Taumarunui Maoris had page 26 shot at Matapuna in 1880, at the order of Wahanui, Taonui and Rewi Maniapoto, the head Kingite chiefs, for trespass on the sacred soil of the Rohepotae territory. Moffatt had lived with the Upper Wanganui Maoris before the war and had made gunpowder for the Hauhaus; a man with a strange wild history, too long a story to be narrated here.

This news of trouble ahead in the forests so alarmed the two delegates from the Taupo chiefs that they were afraid to go on to Taumarunui with Rochfort, and they turned back when within a few miles of that village. The surveyor still had some Maoris with him; two of these men had been among those who offered armed opposition to him at the Manganui-a-te-ao. One of them went on in front on the bush track which Rochfort was following, and at every slight noise he started back, fearing the Hauhau scouts.

The Wanganui Valley Above Taumarunui.

Rochfort interpolated here in his report of his adventures a brief description of the country through which he travelled before reaching the junction of the Wanganui and Ongarue Rivers. “The Wanganui River [valley] above Taumarunui,” he wrote, “is open for seven or eight miles, with five Maori settlements; and Whata-raparapa [to correct his mis-spelling of the name] the furthest open land up the river, where I first came out of the bush from Waimarino, is the scene of a celebrated fight between the Patutokotoko (who gave me so much trouble in the Manganui-a-te-ao) and the Ngati-Maniapoto. The old pa of the Patu-tokotoko is on a flattopped isolated hill, with open land all round, except towards Piopiotea, in which direction forest stretches to Waimarino. Dotted over the flat below the pa for a mile or more are short posts stuck in the ground; some are rotted and fallen; these mark the spots where the fallen in battle lay or were buried. Turanga-tahi and Tuhiora were the chiefs of the Patu-tokotoko, and their descendants speak with pride of having beaten back their border enemies.”

Not Wanted at Taumarunui.

The Government pathfinder and his men had a sullen, ominous reception when they marched into the village square at Taumarunui, weary and wet. Not a word of welcome was uttered. They pitched their tents in the kainga where the large town now stands, and waited until the Hauhaus would design to speak to them. After several hours the chief Ngatai (this was the leader of the Moffatt execution party) and some others came out and ceremoniously greeted the visitors. Ngatai said he would protect the surveyor and his companions while they were in Taumarunui, but they could not go on any further, as the Rohepotae was closed to them by the Kingite aukati. For two days Rochfort waited in his camp. Meantime he had written to the nearest chiefs who were enforcing the aukati.

“Keep Out.”

Then ten or twelve men came down the Ongarue Valley, and after a long talk refused Rochfort further passage. They would not even let him send a messenger through their country. They said that Wahanui had closed the King Country to pakehas for a long time, and that for the last six months some of them had been waiting and watching the tracks.

Rochfort Takes Another Route.

So now there was no choice for it but to turn back along the track and abandon the attempt to carry the reconnaissance up the valley of the Ongarue and on to Te Kuiti. The explorer and his men packed their swags and shook the mud of Taumarunui off their feet. They marched back to the Waimarino uplands and from there on to Tokaanu. The surveyor, blocked on one route, decided to try another. From Tokaanu and Waihi he took to the rugged bush country on the west side of Lake Taupo, and thence travelled through the western part of the King Country to the Puniu River and the frontier township of Kihikihi, a long, rough journey of about a hundred miles.

A Happy Ending.

At Kihikihi, Rochfort met and talked with Wahanui and Rewi Maniapoto, in the house which the Government had built for Rewi two years before in token of the making of peace. It was close to the site of Rewi's olden home, in the days before the Waikato War and the confiscation of the land.

The chiefs informed him that Mr. Bryce was coming in a week's time, and that all would be settled satisfactorily then. Rochfort accordingly waited for the Native Minister, and in the meantime Wahanui sent messages for all the chiefs who had stopped him in the Rohepotae to come out for a korero. Presently they were all assembled there, including Ngatai, the principal in the shooting of the man Moffatt. The meeting was amicable and altogether satisfactory, and under the protective mana of the head chiefs Rochfort returned to his survey task. The last words of Rewi to him were:

“Tell Mr. Bryce to hasten on the railway; I am an old man now, and I should like to ride in the train before I die.”

The Surveyor's Report.

During the succeeding ten months Mr. Rochfort (who presently was associated with Mr. Hursthouse) was engaged steadily in his explorations, and on September 11, 1884, he reported to the Engineer-in-Chief that he had completed the actual survey of the Central route for the proposed railway, and he forwarded complete sets of plans and a descriptive report on the line. He estimated the cost of construction at £6093 per mile, without the cost of the land or fencing, but including a road alongside for the whole length of the line for the purpose of railway construction. The total length of the traverse from Marton to Te Awamutu was 223 ¼ page 27 miles, but the actual railway line was 212 miles 27 chains; he thought this might yet be shortened to 200 miles on more detailed exploration. His survey was very accurate, and was closely followed; the length of the present section from Marton to Te Awamutu is 210 miles

The late Alexander Bell, the pakeha-Maori pioneer of Taumarunui, joined Rochfort's party as a chainman, and assisted the surveyor in much of the arduous bush work. One of Rochfort's old employees who is still living is Mr. E. C. Williams, of Auckland, who was a surveyor's assistant for the greater part of his life. As a lad he was one of the party (numbering twelve) taken prisoner at the Manganui-a-te-ao and sent down the Wanganui River, and he accompanied Rochfort when the exploration work was resumed.

A Suggested Hawke's Bay Route.

It is rather curious to recall the fact that simultaneously with the exploration of the Central route via Taumarunui an attempt was made to find a rail route through the heart of the Island to the East Coast. A reconnaissance survey was made along a proposed alternative line of railway from Hastings, near Napier, to Te Awamutu, a distance of 170 miles. This survey was carried out by Mr. G. P. Williams, who reported on it to the Engineer-in-Chief for Public Works, in May 1884. The reconnaissance line crossed the ranges at an altitude of 2600 feet, at a point 64 miles from Hastings, crossed the Waikato River near the Huka Falls, thence went by way of the Waipapa, the Whakamaru Range, the Mangakino River, and the Waotu district, thence through the King Country to the Puniu River and Te Awamutu.

A great part of the route was through very rugged and difficult country; and “with regard to the capabilities of the route for supporting a line passing through it,” the surveyor reported, “I am afraid I cannot speak favourably.” He estimated the approximate cost of construction at £1,200,000. Mr. Williams was not without his Maori obstruction troubles; he was several times ordered back, but he managed to get through without any active resistance.

He recorded his thanks to the chiefs Hitiri te Paerata, of the Ngati-Raukawa tribe, and to Rewi Maniapoto, and also to Major Scannell, in command of the Armed Constabulary at Taupo. One of the incidents of the exploration of the King Country portion of the route was an ascent of the tapu mountain Titiraupenga, in West Taupo, the highest peak of the Hurakia Range, 3450 feet. This mountain and several other peaks climbed in order to fix positions by compass bearings had never previously been ascended by white men.

Williams' report was convincing proof of the unsuitability of the King Country-Hawke's Bay route, and no more was heard of it.

The Rival Routes.

During 1884 also, the Western route, as the line of the present Main Trunk-Stratford link
A memorial totara tree near the junction of the Wanganui and Ongarue Rivers, Taumarunui. It bears an inscription stating that it was planted by the chief Puia, the father of Manu-aute, as a token of the promise of safe conduct to Mr. Rochfort and his party of surveyors blazing the track of the Main Trunk Railway. The tree is very nearly fifty years old.

A memorial totara tree near the junction of the Wanganui and Ongarue Rivers, Taumarunui. It bears an inscription stating that it was planted by the chief Puia, the father of Manu-aute, as a token of the promise of safe conduct to Mr. Rochfort and his party of surveyors blazing the track of the Main Trunk Railway. The tree is very nearly fifty years old.

line was then called, was explored and reported on by Mr. R. W. Holmes and Mr. A. J. Rawson, of New Plymouth. The reports on the various lines and the evidence taken before the Select Committee of Parliament appointed to consider and report on the best route for the North Island Main Trunk Railway occupy over a hundred pages in the Appendices to the Journals of the House of Representatives for 1884.

Sir George Grey's View.

Among the witnesses who gave evidence before the Committee was Sir George Grey, who was then M.H.R. for Auckland East. He gave it as his opinion that the Stratford line would be the most serviceable. “When I chose the line by way of Taranaki, during my administration,” he said, “I did so with the view of uniting the two great populations of Auckland and the whole of the New Plymouth district.” The last time he was in the district traversed by the route, he said, was about 1865. He first of all traversed it carefully about 1847 or 1848, looking for a road from Auckland to New Plymouth.

Wahanui's Little Calabash.

The Chief Wahanui, the Kingite “power behind the throne,” who was in Wellington on Rohepotae business, was asked to give evidence before the Committee. He gave it as his opinion that the Stratford route passed through better land than the proposed Central line. He was questioned as to whether he would give his page 28 page 29 support to the making of a railway through the Maori country. He made a non-committal reply. “The little matter that I have brought down in my calabash” [kiaka was the term for the gourd calabash used by the Ngati-Maniapoto] “have not been attended to; and before replying to your question I would like to have my own matters put right. It will not do for me to give way all at once without some concessions on the other side. If the Government will only assist me in the object for which I have come to Wellington I will do all in my power to assist the Government in carrying out this matter, and I will be very strong to give effect to the wishes of the Government with regard to this railway making.”

An admirable, diplomatic reply. The shrewd big chief of the Rohepotae made it clear that he was striking a bargain with the Government. Presumably the contents of his business “calabash” were attended to to his satisfaction, for a few months later (April 1885) he and his fellow chiefs, Taonui and Rewi, joined in turning the first sods of the line on the bank of the Punui River, with Mr. Stout, the then Premier of the Colony; and so began the transformation of the King Country. The Committee reported that it recommended the Central Route as the best for the railway.

The rest is familiar history, the slow but steady construction of the 210 miles link between the two rail-heads and the completion of through railway connection between Wellington and Auckland in 1908.

Railway Pioneer Passes
Death of Mr. C. Crutch.

The death occurred at Wanganui recently of Mr. C. Crutch, one of the few remaining pioneers of railway construction of the last century.

(Photo. M. A. Brennan) Nature of the country traversed by the North Island Main Trunk Railway. View taken from a point overlooking the Makohine Viaduct.

(Photo. M. A. Brennan)
Nature of the country traversed by the North Island Main Trunk Railway. View taken from a point overlooking the Makohine Viaduct.

The late Mr. C. Crutch was eighty-five years of age at the time of his death, and for the past twenty-five years had resided at Gonville, Wanganui. He arrived in New Zealand in 1874, by the ship “Ballochmyle,” which anchored at Lyttelton. Having previous experience in railway work in England, he secured employment with the contractors then engaged upon railway construction work in Canterbury. Just how much the immigrants of those early days must have been impressed by the prospects in this country can be judged by the fact that the late Mr. C. Crutch never forgot, and often repeated the wording of the posters which were to be seen in many parts of the Homeland before his departure for New Zealand. “Eight hours work—eight hours play—eight hours sleep and eight shillings a day.”

In 1877 he joined the staff of the New Zealand Railways as a ganger at Cave, and four years later, he was appointed Inspector of Permanent Way at Lumsden. At Invercargill he spent sixteen years, and was in charge of the network of lines and branches of Southland, as they were opened up. In 1899 he was transferred to the North Island, and took over the position of Inspector of Permanent Way at Aramoho. During his sojourn at Aramoho he was in charge of the development of the North Island Main Trunk Line, from a short branch to an important section, tapping the very heart of the Island. The late Mr. C. Crutch was transferred to Hawera in 1905, and before retiring on superannuation two years later, he was again connected with another arterial railway (which today is an established fact), namely, the Stratford-Okahukura line. His last important work was associated with the deviation of the Main Line, from the centre of the town of New Plymouth to its present position along the coast.