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Settler Kaponga 1881–1914 — A Frontier Fragment of the Western World

The Nascent Township

The Nascent Township

It should now be clear why Kaponga township was so long in taking off and why things began to move towards the end of the decade. The Kaponga village settlement went on sale in September 1882 as 40 township sections of a quarter acre up to one acre and nearly 40 small-farm allotments of just over 3 acres up to 50 acres. Even long-term speculators saw little that attracted them at this stage, so this unfelled site, difficult of access from all directions, and with only a thin scatter of settlers in its vicinity, languished for some years. Then it quietly began to see more life. Early on Henry Davy started storekeeping ‘in a very small way’43 on the northern edge of the township site, and gradually his business grew to provide something of a local centre. In June 1887 Davy became the township's first postmaster, with mails delivered to his store twice weekly44. In the September 1887 general election, after both candidates had considered it worthwhile holding meetings in Kaponga,45 Davy's store was a polling place to save '30 to 40 electors' a ‘journey through the mud’ to Manaia,46 and 32 actually voted page 50 there.47 In 1887 things began moving with the township's roads, with the Road Board letting the felling of the ‘village roads leading towards the Kaupokonui stream’ in May.48 In October, on receiving advice that the government proposed to include the felling of Kaponga village in the estimates, the Land Board withdrew it from sale.49 In November the Road Board agreed that the road through the town should be cleared 20 feet instead of 12.50 Presumably this was Eltham Road, whose stumping and clearing must by now have been approaching the township site from the east.

By 1888, then, the growing population west, east and north of Kaponga would have been flowing more easily over improving road lines to the village site on recurrent journeys down Manaia Road to Manaia and the South Road. Two prerequisites for a township take-off were still lacking— the felling of the site and the bridging of the Kaupokonui. With an impecunious government dragging its feet on a vote for clearing the site, the ‘Kaupokonui’ settlers prodded it with a unanimously signed petition on the matter in mid-1888.51 The government was pushing land settlement as an answer to both its budget and employment problems, so the settlers had a strong case. With news of new bush settlers at every Land Board meeting, the Hawera County Council presented the government with a proposal for making Eltham Road passable by wheeled traffic throughout its length. The County promised to do the road formation if the government would bridge the streams.52 Meanwhile, with a large number of houses going up throughout the ‘Kaupokonui’,53 the search for timber moved inland and in October sawmiller Robert Palmer gained Road Board permission to lay a bush tramline across Neill Road.54 A visit in November by the county council chairman to the local member, Prime Minister Harry Atkinson, about help with Eltham Road, brought the Minister of Lands to the district with a promise of a bridge over the Kaupokonui before the summer was out.55 The government kept its word with a cart bridge of 71ft 6in (main span 55ft) on concrete piers. It also began clearing the township site, with the felling of 18 acres at the junction of Manaia and Eltham roads.56 Others, too, were moving to put the place on the map, with the Methodists opening Kaponga's first church building in May 1889.57 Kaponga was becoming a little more than a name scrawled in charcoal upon a pukatea tree.