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Nelson Historical Society Journal, Volume 1, Issue 1, November 1955

Notes and Queries

page Fourteen

Notes and Queries

Following on a suggestion made at the annual meeting of the Society, an occasional column of Notes and Queries on Nelson History has been supplied to the "Nelson Evening Mail" by a member of the Society writing under the nom de plume "Rambler". The instalments to date appeared on August 11 and 28, September 21 and October 3. A selection from the items is given below.

The queries produced a number of interesting replies, not all of which have yet been published. One query, for instance, as to the date at which the French Pass bridle track was constructed brought to light the fact that Miss Dinah Brough possesses the diaries kept by her father, the late Mr Jonathan Brough, for thirty-four years Nelson overseer for the Public Works Department, during which time he supervised the construction of roads and tracks into outlying areas all over the Province, including the French Pass track. The diaries abound in interesting references to bygone conditions in the different localities. Mr Brough was born in Cumberland, and after spending some time on the Victorian goldfields, arrived in Nelson 1866, dying here in 1927 at the age of 88.

French Pass Track

Constructed in 1900–1901, and having been a boon and blessing to local settlers for 55 years, the original French Pass bridle track is now being replaced by a motor road. When it was put in hand the only formed track in the area ran from the Rai up the densely forested Ronga Valley to the then populous Maori village of Whangarae, on the western shores of Croisilles Harbour. The new track took off from the old at the head of the valley, crossing the range to Okiwi Bay, then climbing again and sidling along bush-clad hillsides to the Croisilles-Pelorus saddle, and thence to the Pass, with one descent en route to sea-level at Tosswill's, in Garn's Bay. Its over-all length was 35 miles. A branch track was made from Okiwi to Whangarae and on to Onetea, and others soon after to Wairangi and to Elaine Bay and Tennyson Inlet.

A Shower of Benefits

Work on the French Pass track began with labour from Nelson, but on the local Maoris appearing on the scene and sitting down and watching the pakehas, Mr Brough suggested they should try their hand at it. Thereafter, the Maoris and the local settlers did most of the work. The resulting influx of money immediately saw the Maori homes at Whangarae in possession of sewing machines and other domestic amenities previously unknown. To the European settlers, the sea ceased to be the sole means of access, an uncertain means on exposed coasts. Mr Brough wrote in his diary that before the track was made a visit by boat, even to a neighbour in the next bay, might result in a weather-bound stay of several days. As soon as the track was completed, 100 head of cattle were driven out over it, to the substantial and continuing advantage of their owners. Mr Brough, in his labours in Nelson's outlying areas, seems to have been like Father Christmas, bearing a bagful of benefits for all and sundry. His handiwork, fortunately for Nelson, was of a kind not removable by any succeeding Government.

Our Earliest Settlers

In her recent "History of Port Nelson", Mrs Ruth Allan mentions the schooner Eliza, 11 tons, Rolph master, as the first vessel to sail out of Nelson Haven, from which she took departure on November 6, 1841, and also lists as the first vessel built in Blind Bay the 12-ton schooner Erin, registered on December 9, 1842, J. Rolph and J. Hoare, owners, built at Aorere by Rolph and E. Flowers, 1842, and wrecked near Cape Palliser in 1844. The wreck is recorded in Wheatley and Ingram's "Shipwrecks: N.Z. Disasters" (1952) with information that she was built at Aorere, Massacre Bay, by "Joseph Ralph and Eyra Blowers". In A. N. Field's "Nelson Province, page break1642-1842", published in 1942, two accounts of this Aorere river shipbuilding enterprise are reprinted from the "Examiner" following on visits by Mr Tuckett, chief surveyor, in March, 1842, a few weeks after the founding of Nelson, and by Captain Wakefield and Mr Domett in August of that year. Mr Tuckett reported one "Rolfe" as busy building two vessels, one of 12 tons and the other of 80 tons. Several articles appeared following the Wake-field visit. It was stated that a few white men were found settled at "a miserable pah at the Hauriri," and it was added: "They were of several professions—carpenter, engineer, sailor, etc., and under the direction of one Anderson had built a schooner of 120 tons or thereabout, to be called the Erin." Anderson is stated to have recognised Captain Wakefield as "his old commander in a man-of-war steamer in the Mediterranean" (Wakefield commanded H.M.S. Rhadamanthus, about the earliest steam-driven warship, from 1839 to 1841). On December 10, 1842, the "Examiner" recorded the arrival from Massacre Bay on her maiden voyage of the schooner, Erin, 20 tons, Sheridan master, with Messrs Dodson, Bartlett and Rolph as passengers, her builders being described as "Mr Rolfe and Mr —." She brought 15 tons of coal, sold to one person for 27/6. From this date on these Massacre Bay pioneers apparently disappear from history. Can any reader supply further information about any of them? When the Erin was wrecked in 1844 her then owner and master was listed as Henry Brown, butcher, of Wellington.

A Vanished Landmark

The Historical Society would welcome any information about the early history of Nelson's Masonic Hotel, recently demolished. An upstairs bedroom in what seems to have been the original building was the starting point of the great fire of November 7, 1867, which spread from the Masonic to Everett's Bank Hotel next door in Hardy street, and also gutted the offices of the Union Bank, leaving the tall, brick structure still standing, an empty shell, the attached manager's house, however, being saved. On the Trafalgar street side every building was demolished as far as Buxton's, which was saved by its brick walls, the firm's rear store only being destroyed.

According to the "Examiner" report, the Masonic then destroyed was a very old wooden building with a shingle roof. The records show that the land was allotted in 1851 to F. D. Bell and Thomas Renwick, who sold two years later to George Aitken, who in turn sold to Morrison and Sclanders, from whom the property was acquired by Thomas Field, brewer, in 1863, his estate in 1900 selling to Robert Gilmer, who had conducted the hotel from 1878 and continued to do so until 1902, when he in turn sold to Henry Baigent, whose widow a year or two back disposed of the property to its present owners. After the fire Mr Field erected the once-familiar red brick building, which Mr Baigent, on taking over, renovated and extended, also re-facing the exterior with cement and erecting the balcony.