Pioneering Reminiscences of Old Wairoa
Captain Burnaby's ride to Khiva was, no doubt, of great importance in the political life of Great Britain and to India, as also was "Dr. Jim's" raid into the Boer territory, as a prelude to the admission of South Africa to the British Common-wealth. But these were as nothing to "Corkill's ride to Napier," which is still spoken of both in Napier and Wairoa band circles. It was a very fine gesture on the part of a musical combination on the northern bight of Hawkes Bay, debarred from communication—except on occasions which were—"Like angels visits, short and far between," except on other occasions by sea—and cut off from communication with Napier and Gisborne by the "everlasting hills" and unbridged rivers in those days. To prove that this is no fairy tale of mine let me digress a moment. A well-known Wairoa lady, long since deceased, had adopted a Wairoa lad, and intending him to enter the priesthood she sent him to Maynooth College, in Ireland, and visited Napier to see him off. Then the Wairoa bar took a bad turn, in the parlance of the sea, and besides being very crooked was shallow to an unusual degree, whilst the rollers pounded on the beach day by day for many weeks. The lady made daily pilgrimages to Port Ahuriri, but to all her enquiries as to the general health of the bar she did not even get the usual nursing staff reply, "doing as well as could be expected," whilst the general reply of Davy Jones at the Wairoa end was in the language of that careful and excellent pilot, "might he, might he not," and the page 117late pilot could scarcely give a better answer—the bar was boss. The lady never missed a chance of getting home by sea. The roads, such as they were, were blocked by huge slips, and she actually got a cable in Napier from Ireland announcing the young man's arrival at the other side of the world before she could sail over the thirty-eight miles of sea that lay between her and Wairoa! I said this was a digression, but it was under these circumstances that the Wairoa Brass Band (conductor, Mr. J. Corkill) received an invitation from Napier to take part in a big demonstration in aid of the fund for the sufferers by the Brunner mine disaster, which took place on 26th March, 1896. The invitation was accepted, indeed, there was no question of resisting the blandishments of George Henry Swan, Mayor of Napier, who was a frequent visitor to Wairoa in early days. The band had, however, reckoned without its host, the Wairoa bar, and it soon became a question of facing personal discomfort and risk of life to aid suffering humanity, or to fail in carrying out the promise to Mr. Swan. No hope being held out regarding the bar, and although the signals were up against an overland ride of seventy-five or eighty miles, the band decided to face it, for it was unthinkable that it should let down its popular bandmaster, Mr. Corkill. The start was made "in the bright moonlight," the only bright thing about the whole expedition, and though the road difficulties were not so great at the start as anticipated, the band soon got into trouble, for the big drum was placed out of commission through being pierced by the hook of a pack-page 118saddle. Deviations to avoid dangerous slips were attempted, and it was with great difficulty and much signalling, that the musical combination again junctioned. Still, with faces to the south, they kept on; the creeks, mostly unbridged—and their number was legion—were found to be in heavy flood. Indeed, the Scottish "spate" was nothing to it, and the intrepid bandsmen had to dismount and lead their jaded steeds up steep hill-sides—for the coast road was the only one then in existence—and then along the edges of frowning precipices—one slip, and it meant the sounding of "The Last Post" by the first cornet.
"Are you going up there?" said the drummer to a fellow bandsman, as the latter was about to face a very precipitous ridge, "for if you are, I'm not; I'm going home," and home he truly went. The others proceeded on and arrived in Napier cold, ragged, hungry and tired, their knees torn from having come in contact with jagged rocks and projecting tree branches; but a brush up, and a wash, a square meal and the judicious use of needles and thread soon enabled the Wairoa Band to make a fair presentation—at all events the members took their part in the demonstration, and at its close were sumptuously entertained by the Mayor of Napier—and "then they rode back, ail that was left of them," and Corkill's ride is still fresh in the minds of our bandsmen…. Once again, the Wairoa Band, now a nicely-uniformed and well-equipped municipal band, visited Napier to take part in the official opening of the New Napier. The conditions of travel, however, are very different to 1896, and the band page 119arrived in Napier in quick time to assist in marking the wonderful restoration of the capital city after the disaster of February, 1931. Floreat Napier!