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Life in Early Poverty Bay

The Big Problem — Lack of Proper Titles. — Mr. C. A. deLautour Recalls Early Difficulties

page 158

The Big Problem
Lack of Proper Titles.
Mr. C. A. deLautour Recalls Early Difficulties.

Amongst the earlier Mayors who did good service for the town is Mr. C A. deLautour, who, in his retirement, enjoys the esteem of a host of friends. Mr. DeLautour was born in India and came out to New Zealand in 1863, landing at Auckland. He first settled in Otago and gained a seat on the Provincial Council, and, later, was a member of the House of Representatives for Mt. Ida. Coming north again, Mr. deLautour paid his initial visit to Gisborne 48 years ago, but he spent two years in Napier before permanently settling in Poverty Bay, where he has been prominent in local body and business circles.

In the course of an interview, Mr. deLautour threw some interesting light on the relativity of Gisborne to other parts of New Zealand and on the trials of the settlers in the good old days of nearly half a cenutry ago.

Gisborne in Embryo.

When he arrived in Gisborne, Mr. deLautour remarked, the town area consisted of a thousand acres, bounded by the Taruheru river, the Turanganui river, the Waikanae stream and what is now called Lytton Road. In those days, the last was merely a line on the survey maps, but the Natives who ownea the adjacent land were quite familiar with the boundary and were always ready to assert their rights. A great willow tree formerly marked the termination of this line and was one of the land-marks of the district. This area had been purchased from the Natives, Ripirata Kahutia, a famous chieftainess being the one most interested. “Whataupoke was practically unsettled, the only two houses there being one on the Point, owned by the late Mr. W. Dean Lysnar, and another, further to the north, belonging to Mr Wyllie. North Gisborne was described by Mr. deLautour as “hefty scrub,” the only clear spot being what is now termed the Park, in Russell Street. Kaiti was much the same, only more swampy, and the only habitation there was a Maori pa near the present Kaiti freezing works. There were, then, of course, no bridges, but a ferry, worked by a wire rope, crossed the Turanganui for the convenience of Coast travellers. To reach Whataupoko, small boats were available, but when on horseback, one had to swim the animal behind the boat.

Mr. C. A. de Lautour.

Mr. C. A. de Lautour.

“There were strong expectations in the south, then,” said Mr. deLautour, “that good things were to be made out of the East Coast of this island. The south was then the dominant portion of N.Z. and the north had only been opened up on the coasts, little being known or the interior. Southern farmers were then looking to page 159 wards the north for estates on which to settle their sons and there was, consequently, keen inquiry in this direction.”

Dependent on Seawise Transport.

Passenger trade to Gisborne was then entirely by coastal vessels and no journeying was done overland. The Union Shipping Co. maintained a service of four boats from Dunedin—the Wanaka, Rotorua, Taupo, and Hawea—these travelling jointly to Wellington and then separating, two going up the East and the others up the West Coast. The Australan trade was in the hands of a firm, McMickin and Blackwood, who had two boats travelling more or less regularly between Melbourne and New Zealand. Most Australian cargo designed for Gisborne was transhipped at Wellington.

Internal communication in New Zealand, Mr. deLautour related, was not very good. There was no main trunk line in either island. Christ-church was not directly connected with Dunedin and in the North Island the main trunk line had reached only as far as Masterton. The west coast line, now so much used, had not been opened, and there was no line through the Manawatu Gorge. Palmerston North was in existence and had a line running to Foxton, but thence the connection with Wellington was by boat. Gradually, however, the eastern line crept on, first to Woodville and then to Napier. Gisborne, even then, did not benefit much, as communication overland between Gisborne and Napier was impossible except by walking or on horseback. Even railing to Napier was of little use, as the double handling entailed much extra expense. Thus Gisborne, until very recent times, depended almost entirely for communication upon its shipping facilities.

Difficulty in Getting Land Titles.

“Poverty Bay attained notoriety,” commented Mr. deLautour, “largely through the awful massacre of 1868. Though that disaster acted on settlement here as a deterrent in some ways, yet it really stimulated inquiry about the district. As the panic following the massacre died down, inquiries literally poured in and the district became very widely known. Stories of its richness and fertility, many of them perhaps exaggerated spread throughout New Zealand and man expressed the wish to take up land here. Then came the difficulty: Where was the land to come from? The only Crown lands in the district were the original 1000-acre town block and such areas as had been confiscated from rebellious Natives. All the rest was in the hands of the Maoris.

“The Government had been approached,” continued Mr. deLautour, “but it was some time before its purchasing agents began to get any land and then there was always much difficulty over the purchases. Some of the agents were far from satisfactory in their methods. This afterwards reacted greatly against the progress and there were many imperfect and disputed titles. The Natives soon learned from their agents to set up all manner of claims. Undoubtedly, in many instances, the Natives were entirely in the right, but some of their claims were really ridiculous.

The March of Progress.

“The real progress of the district,” said Mr. deLautour, “dates from the establishment of the Valuation Court and the appointment of the late Mr. George Elliot Barton, who was considered rather eccentric, but who was an excellent lawyer and had plenty of courage. I think he found his courage of far more value here than his knowledge of the law. His Registrar, Mr. H. C. Jackson, was of great assistance and these gentlemen did fine work, freeing large areas of land and making them available to settlers. With their titles established, the settlers were able to offer security for backing and progress really commenced. Other men who did fine work for the Crown were Mr. S. Locke and Major (afterwards Colonel) Porter. Mr. Locke was a magistrate and a sort of resident agent of the Crown. The work of these two stands out as compared with that of many others employed at the time.”

page 160

Mr. deLautour pointed out that the great difficulty facing settlers in the early days was the lack of markets. Of stock there was little and the only produce that was marketable outside the Bay was rye-grass seed and maize. It was Mr. Nelson who started the first freezing works in the district, at Taruheru, but, prior to that, the only use for wethers was to boil them down. Carts went round the township selling legs of mutton at 1/6 each Some twenty-eight years later, Nelsons Ltd. had so reduced their prices that the farmers, to guard their own interests, decided to establish their own works and the Gisborne Sheepfarmers' Freezing Company came into existence.

The Establishment of Bridges.

“I had the honor,” stated Mr. deLautour in conclusion, “of officiating as Mayor at the opening of the first bridge over the Turanganui. The first bridge over the Taruheru cost the town exactly nothing. When the title to Whataupoko was definitely settled, it thus made another 1000 acres available for settlers on that side of the river. Without a bridge, the land was of little value, so the promoters, to gain any profit from their investment, were compelled to bridge the Taruheru at their own expense.”

Gladstone Road Scene In 1873.

Gladstone Road Scene In 1873.

The Argyll Hotel (now the Coronation Hotel) erected by the late Mr. Alex. Blair; also on the right premises at one time occupied by the Herald Company.