Nelson Historical Society Journal, Volume 1, Issue 4, December 1959
The Big Flood
The Big Flood
In February, 1877, a big flood swept the whole district. The cause as told to Edmund Parker by two diggers was this: rain fell from Friday until Monday and as a result a high hill one side of the Baton river fell across it and buried a bush-covered terrace 50ft. high the other side, forming a wall which dammed up the Baton river for three days. The water then overflowed into the Motueka river and came down the Pangato-tara Valley in a wall 20ft. high, which after leaving the valley spread out over the whole district. Many people were nearly ruined as a result of the damage done by the flood. Fortunately, the wall of water came down the valley in the morning instead of the night and people seeing it coming could leave their homes and seek refuge on the hills or wherever they could find safety.
Most of Motueka was flooded, water coming from Whakarewa and the bridge. Most buildings in High Street had water through them and many in other parts of the district fared as badly, no doubt. The Mason, Cook and Parker homes were not flooded although surrounded by water. The Staples home opposite Cooks must have been flooded as Mrs Staples took refuge in the Parker home.
Mr and Mrs William Auty lived well back from the road on the property owned by the family of the late Albert Goodman and were in grave danger from the flood waters. Henry Staples Jnr., Edmund and Arthur Parker walked and swam across Auty's paddocks until they reached the river bank. From there they walked around until able to get to the back of the house, went inside and helped Mr and Mrs Auty to put their furniture on to the table and then left to return home. The house was two storied so Mr and Mrs Auty decided that they would be quite safe to stay there. The three young men on their return had to swim through some of the gullies. On attempting to jump across one, Arthur landed in the water and was carried away by the current. Henry and Edmund had to run along the bank, catch hold of some fern and grasp Arthur as he was swept along. They then reached Henry Staples barn which stood across the gully where the gum trees now are. They found the two cows in the yard almost afloat and turned them out on the road to take their chance. The four pigs floating about in the sty they took into the barn and placed on some sheaves of wheat which could not be included in the stack at harvest time.
The three men had to remain where they were until a canoe was brought from Wilkies swamp by Fred Parker. By this time about 20 men had collected on the bank this side of the gully and someone said Mr and Mrs Auty should be brought out. Fred and Edmund Parker volunteered to go, and set off in the canoe, reaching the house safely finding four feet of water inside.
They persuaded the couple to leave although Mr Auty was not very willing to do so. Returning proved much more difficult than the going as it meant paddling against the stream. The current proved too strong and swept the canoe broadside on to a bunch of gorse growing against a steep hole. The canoe filled with water and Fred jumped out into the bunch of gorse. The canoe sank from under Mr and Mrs Auty and Edmund and they floated toward the willow trees, the two men supporting Mrs Auty until they reached there. Mr Auty got into the first tree and Mrs Auty and Edmund reached the second. Great difficulty was experienced in getting Mrs Auty on to a branch of the tree as she had clothed herself in several extra frocks before leaving the house. Mr Auty called out something which Edmund could not at the time hear. Later he learned that it was "Rip those dammed rags off her". Needless to say all his energies were devoted to the task of getting her safely on to a branch of the tree which he eventually succeeded in doing, and there they had to wait for an hour until rescued by some of the men on the bank.page Nine
Fred was seen first and thrown a rope by which means he was pulled to safety. Edmund and Mrs Auty could not be seen by the rescuers until Fred pointed them out. A ladder had to be obtained and was put across to Mr Auty's tree and he was duly rescued. After that Mrs Auty and Edmund were brought to safety. Mr and Mrs Auty were then taken to the Motueka Hotel.
With some other men who had rescued people from the flood waters, Edmund was presented with the Caledonian Society's Medal.