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Journal of the Nelson and Marlborough Historical Societies, Volume 1, Issue 5, October 1985

The Toll Gate

page 25

The Toll Gate

Most people will have noticed the preparation being made for a new housing estate at the top of Waimea Road. It seems that the old episcopal residence with its lovely sloping lawns and stately old trees will soon be surrounded by houses and even a mall. If the City Council has its way there might even be a rubbish tip in the vicinity! Once the house lay isolated outside the city, a little oasis of beauty and sanctity among green fields and farms, but now its peace and quietness will have gone for ever.

Mind you, there have been occasions in the past when the peace was disturbed. One, was when, in the 1870's, the Nelson Railway was built and the daily train from town crawled, puffing and clanking up Toi Toi Valley to its highest point almost opposite the Bishop's front gate. The railway lasted for so many years that people grew well accustomed to the noise and of course it had its uses. I suppose the Bishop hardly noticed the squad of college schoolboys disgorged daily at the little station near his gate. They were supposed to be under the charge of train prefects who seemed to take a delight in marching them through all the muddy pools and water courses on their route to college. I don't know what the principal thought, when he reviewed this daily offering from the country in their usual dishevelled and muddy state after such goings on. The girls, bless their souls, were more circumspect and travelled on to the Nelson Railway Station from which they issued, in sedate crocodiles on their way to their school on the hill. The harassed engine drivers free from their skylarking children found relief by speeding down hill, especially down Annesbrook Hill through the cutting on to the Main Road at Tahuna, sweeping all before them, on one occasion a passenger bus, whose driver, either a foolhardy or a careless man, had strayed on to the line. I think on this occasion the fracas ended in fisticuffs between the two drivers, much to the delight of the passengers.

But there must have been quieter and more seemly events. One I liked was when the German choir of the Upper Moutere Lutheran Church travelled by train to Bishopdale to serenade the Bishop with their old hymns like 'Eine Feste Burg'.

Mr Chrystall, a bowling acquaintance, told me an interesting tale of the railway. He ploughed much of the hillside at Bishopdale for the farmer Loveridge, and around about five o'clock each evening, as the train reached the top of its climb from Nelson, it gave a triumphant toot, as well it might, after such an effort! This told Mr Chrystall, that work had ended for the day, and his horses, being sagacious animals, soon learnt too that the whistle meant work was finished and they refused to do any more. We can imagine them casting pleasurable glances at this queer black monster which climbed to the top of the hill each day, to tell them, in its peculiar voice, that work for the day had ended. Pavlov's mouth would have watered at such a choice example of conditioned reflex action.

But in the end after many years, the railway was closed and its noise was gone. Before that another disturbance had come to Bishopdale which annoyed everyone — in fact, it was heartily detested — the Toll Gate, which page 26lay on Waimea Road just outside the Town Boundary so that all who travelled by Waimea Road had to use it. The 'Suburban South Gate' they called it.

It was the brain child of the Stoke Road Board who were always short of money for their roads and in desperation decided to inflict a toll gate on the travelling public of Nelson. In defence of the Road Board's action it must be said, perhaps quite rightly, that the roads were used by many, who were not resident in the district and who therefore paid no rates for their upkeep. The Road Board always seemed to be short of money to pay for the enormous amounts of gravel needed for road maintenance and they had tried practically all sources. They found the little stream running from Marsden Valley to be filled with good hard gravel, mainly from the hard argillite rocks at the head of the valley and hailed the source with delight. They dug out so much that the stream when it reached the Stoke Main Road was practically a chain in width much to the annoyance of Mr Marsden who did not particularly care to have his land made into a gravel reserve. But the Road Board got out as much as they could right up to Marsden's main gates. I don't think Marsden was very enamoured of the Road Board and their methods and less so when on a visit to the Turf Hotel to pay his annual rates to the secretary of the board, one T. J. Thompson, he became embroiled in a quarrel and was called "a damned liar" by the secretary. Almost lese majeste, one would think, to the lord of the manor, and the licensee of the Turf, Mrs Beach, was visibly shaken at such an outrage. Later in the court case following this, she confirmed in a shaking voice that these were the actual words used, and Thompson was convicted and bound over for three months.

The gloom of the board was again relieved when their overseer said that he had found another source of supply — the beach at Tahuna which at this time was covered with gravel, especially that area where the Rocks Road now runs. The Main Road from Hayes Corner to the beach was quickly upgraded to take advantage of the supply which, I imagine, was free, but, alas, the workers, having cleared the beach, began to dig into the hillside much to the indignation of the local landowners, Mathew Richmond and Edward Green, who saw their estates disappearing. Lawyers' letters followed and Edward Green even put a gate across the end of the Main Road leading to the beach. Once more the board was thwarted.

There was one last source, but rather an awkward one — the large gravel deposits on Rabbit Island which came under the board's control. But how to get it? After deliberation they decided to buy a barge, or at least get one built. You can read the whole history in the board's minutes. Quite a pother it caused. First, Mr Gapper, a member of the board was sent to see the shipbuilders in Nelson and finally employed Mr Scott to build a barge to carry 30 cubic yards of gravel at a cost not to exceed £ 200. Then the board had to enter into £ 500 bond with the Customs, who evidently thought that they might slip over to Australia with their vessel and do a bit of trading. Dear me! What with barge building contracts, harbour fees, customs bonds, insurance, etc. the Road Board members wondered at times, whether they were still plain Stoke farmers or had become merchant adventurers. But enough of their difficulties. Now it was a Toll Gate.

page 27

First, of course, would the gate pay? Our friend, Mr Gapper was detailed this time, to keep traffic records at the gate site for a week and produce an abstract of all that passed, animal, vehicular, or whatever with the resultant revenue. He fulfilled his task, in spite of rude remarks from passers-by (who probably thought he was some sort of an inspector), and offerings of banana skins and odd empty bottles. I have entered a copy of his abstract in these notes. But did you notice the catch? A cunning man, Mr Gapper, or else the arithmetic taught at the original Stoke School was rather quaint. He has managed to include two Saturdays in his total!

This caused a discrepancy of about £ 2 per week, not much you would say but it could amount to £ 100 in the year. Their shrewd practice failed however, as no Toll Gate Keeper offered more than £ 750 rent for one year instead of the £ 1,000 the board had hoped for, and one keeper who offered £720 realised his mistake and asked for a rebate, which of course was definitely refused. The board, like Pontius Pilate, held that, "What I have written, I have written," and that was final.

Mr Gapper's Traffic Abstract for the week ending March 17th, 1866, taken outside the Town Boundary at the bottom of Jenkins Hill.



But before we detail the working of the gate did any other Road Board follow their shocking example? I am afraid that one board was indeed tempted and actually discussed opening a gate. The stalwart farmers of the Suburban North Road Board, at their weekly get-together at the Black Horse, toyed with th idea and envisaged the gate as situated on the Wakapuaka Road just on the town side of the cemetery!

What an outcry it caused in the town at such an imposition and more especially when it was made clear that the section of road between the town and cemetery had been paid for by the Town Board of Works.

page 28

However, the Road Board members of the Suburban North withdrew, muttering in their beards that it wasn't really meant. Thus was averted the sorry spectacle of a funeral being halted right at the cemetery side, while the chief mourner groped in his trouser pocket for the elusive tanner and the stolid gatekeeper cast his eye over the size of the funeral — a big funeral would have been a bonanza to the Road Board.

But to return to the South Gate. What were the gatekeeper's duties? For the sake of his employers and also for his own pocket, he had to count every animal and vehicle passing through the gate and keep an accurate record. It must have been one of life's most tedious jobs, for the gate had to be kept open at night — in fact it was a 24 hour job — from midnight to midnight. The keeper at times, had great trouble in keeping his lantern alight, using of course, his own oil and wicks, and anyone could have climbed over the gate in the dark. One keeper implored the board to build a little wicker gate near the house so he would not have to open the main gate in the middle of the night.

The keeper was installed in the house provided by the board, handy to the gate, for the duration of his tenure, generally only one year. For the timid Provincial Council ever alert to the howls of the public over the gate, required that the Road Board give only one year's tenure at a time in case the public clamour grew so loud that they had to revoke the law allowing toll gates.

Besides this the toll keeper had to put down £ 100 as a bond before taking over his duties as well as forward one-twelth of the rent each month. One big source of complaint was from travellers who went through the gate once on their way to work and again, when they returned to town, each day. The board had to agree that one payment a day was enough.

I don't know the names of all the keepers but the Board's minute book gave three — Mr Hopgood in April 1868, Mr Cochrane in April 1869, Mr Vercoe in April 1870 (he offered £750 rent for his year's toll keeping), and Mr Cochrane again in 1872 (a mere £ 720 this time). In the 1964 Evening Mail appeared a life story of Mrs Eleanor Patterson who had turned 94, having been born in 1870 on the York farm which lay next to the Bishop's residence. She remembered the toll gate and Mr Cochrane who really had two jobs, while his wife looked after the gate during the day. He managed the brick works in the nearby Market Reserve. Mr Cochrane is mentioned again in Mrs Sutton's History of the Chapel in the grounds of the Bishop's residence. She recalled that the records showed that he had made the first donation for the chapel in the shape of 1000 bricks (value 2 pounds 12 shillings).

But even this was not enough, I fear, to compensate for the daily hullabaloo at the Bishop's front gate, with barking of dogs, bleating of animals, and shouts of the travellers and drovers. Not only this, but his front gate was almost blocked by the temporary fences put up by drovers on both sides of the gate so that the different mobs would not be mixed while one went through and the other waited. One bishop complained bitterly about the constant noise and asked the board if it was really necessary to block his entrance with these rough-looking enclosures. The board had to admit that page 29they had not the right and would have to remove them if the bishop insisted. But the bishop, on reflection decided that without these crude fences there was a greater chance of flocks becoming mixed with a further increase in the amount of noise following so he held his peace. A later bishop also disturbed by the proceedings at the toll gate found, from reading a map of the area, that there was another road line further away from his gate and asked the board if there was any chance of this becoming the Main Road but the board replied that they had no intention of changing the roads. Not much satisfaction for the bishops but there were further unpleasant events to come as you will see.

One thing missing from Mr Gapper's Scale of Charges was the charge for individuals using the gate. I wondered at first but I remembered the little wicker gate built to cater for individuals and then there was that letter in the Examiner pointing out that it was wrong to expect clergymen and government officials to pay toll charges. I could understand clergymen being allowed through free as a sop to the bishop whose ears were assailed daily by the cacophony at the gate, but government servants? Who were they? Inspectors, mainly, I suppose, going through each day to annoy the Stoke farmers – scab inspectors, dog tax inspectors, gorse inspectors, you name it, they had one for everything. I would charge them double. One of them from a well known Nelson family, which I forbear to name, appeared in a case in the Examiner. At this time, there was a county regulation against animals occupying the highway, and if your cow or whatever moved along the road at less than two miles per hour it was held to be stationary and you could be fined for obstructing the highway. The inspector, in question, was hiding behind a fair-sized gorse bush somewhere on the Port Hills watching two little girls driving Dad's cows along the road to their paddock. Anyone who studies children knows that their idea of time is quite elastic – one day they arrive home from school breathless at about five past three and the next day they are happily playing down the road after four o'clock. These little girls, quite sensibly, were not rushing the cows down the road but taking them along quietly. Probably, they thought, just as I do, that it was heartless to chase the cows down the road to the milking shed, milk them just as smartly and then rush them back to their paddock. But to their dismay they were suddenly confronted by a large gentleman who appeared from behind a gorse bush and demanded their names, their father's name and address, the name of the cows, their ages, etc., probably in triplicate, and then sent on their way frightened and tearful. Dad appeared subsequently in court and was fined for his misdemeanour while in the meantime, the inspector, dusting down his riding britches and leather leggings and replacing his gold hunter in his fob pocket, made off down the road looking for further prey, satisfied with a job well done.

But to return to the toll gate and the happenings there. There remains that famous case – "The Case of the Man who Tried to Dodge Paying", duly reported in the paper. When I first read of it thought it must have been some early visitor from Otago who had been appalled at the thought of paying a bawbee for some man to open a wee gate for him. But I was wrong as the miscreant lived up the road from the gate and should have known better.

page 30

It appears that he opened a slip rail in the fence at the back of the bishop's residence and made his way down the paddock past the toll gate only to be seen by Mrs Cochrane who rushed shouting across the paddock to seize the culprit, followed by Mr Cochrane brandishing an axe. During the following fracas the miscreant pushed off Mrs Cochrane violently, and was then threatened by Mr Cochrane, who swore he would cleave his head in two if he touched Mrs C. again. Evidently one hit was permitted.

In the ensuing court case the prisoner (they always called him a prisoner even before he was committed), was represented by his lawyer one of the Adams family, who, in defending his client, stated that the prisoner was a sick man and easily excited so that he did not know what he was doing, etc. In fact all the legal jargon, so beloved by the profession today except for the one about being brought up by a solo mother. Unfortunately, both the prisoner's parents were all to evident, especially his aged father whose marauding chooks had devastated Cochrane's vegetable garden on a previous occasion. Hence the axe, I should think.

What did the jury say? They brought in a verdict of guilty, but added a rider asking for mercy. Mercy! The court didn't know the word. The sentence? One year's hard labour for perjury.

Happily most things come to an end and in the Examiner of 1879 a short passage read, "The Toll Gate which stood for many years on Waimea Road was abolished and with dwelling, fencing, etc. was sold by public auction on March 19th".

I have never seen a picture or photograph of the gate and the keeper's house, perhaps there isn't one. Maybe no one wanted to remember it.