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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 9, Issue 12 (March 1, 1935)

The Billy That Wouldn't Boil

The Billy That Wouldn't Boil.

The late Mita Taupopoki, the picturesque and eloquent old chief of Whakarewarewa, was one of the Tuhourangi tribespeople who survived the destruction of Te Wairoa village by the eruption of Mt. Tarawera in 1886. In Wellington we have one of the pakeha survivors, Mr. H. Lundius, who was a surveyor in the district when this fearful rain of ash and mud descended on the village where the grass and the jungly bushes and trees grow green over the olden scene of destruction. Mr. Lundius could write a bookful of stories about that night of horror, when no one knew whether they would ever see daylight again. But he prefers to tell the lighter side of things.

One curious little incident the veteran surveyor relates concerns Joe McRae's hotel. A few hours before the midnight outburst of the volcano, Mr. McRae and several others were sitting in the smoking-room of the hotel. After a while McRae asked his cook, George Baker, to go out to the kitchen and boil a kettle for tea for the party. After a considerable time, when that pot of tea was overdue, the cook returned and said that the water would not boil. He had a good fire going, but the kettle would not come to the boiling point. McRae and his guests thought it was curious, and Joe gave it up, and they all had something else instead of tea. It was the peculiar atmospheric conditions immediately preceding the earthquakes and the eruption that prevented the water boiling; that was realised afterwards, of course, but it was a mystery at the time.