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

11 Episodes, the Edwardian Years

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11 Episodes, the Edwardian Years

A Mail Coach Disaster

Around 6am on Friday, 14 August 1903, 30-year-old Thomas Kidd drove his four-horse mail coach out of Opunake on his four-hour daily run to Eltham to connect with the morning train to Hawera. Kidd, who had grown up on his Edinburgh-born father's ‘Willowbank’ farm at Hope, Nelson, had come north a year or two earlier and bought out this run, established in May 1899 when a government vote for the bridging of the dangerous Punehu River had made such a service feasible. There were still plenty of potentially dangerous fords over lesser streams, especially on the western end of the route, but ‘progress’ called for a certain amount of risk-taking. Kidd quickly became a popular local identity with a reputation as a first-class hand with horses. The little business must have been doing reasonably well as he was about to be married
Tom Kidd's Eltham—Opunake Coach

Tom Kidd's Eltham—Opunake Coach

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Heavy, warm rain had been falling during the night, and streams were running high, perhaps with snow water adding to the rainfall. Mailbags multiplied as Kidd called at each settlement, but he left Riverlea for Kaponga with only one passenger, Charles Hansen, who had joined at Te Kiri. Hansen had considerable experience with teams on this stretch of road, but with heavy rain still falling chose to stay inside with his luggage rather than join Kidd on the box. Running late (it was due in Kaponga by 8.40am), the coach reached the west bank of the Mangawhero Stream about 9am. The stream was bank high. On the opposite side were two settlers, Thomas Davidson and Michael Lawson, on their way to the factory with their milk. Finding the Mangawhero unfordable, they were about to unload their cans of milk and carry them across the suspension footbridge. Seeing the coach they crossed to the other side and joined passenger Hansen in trying to dissuade Kidd from attempting the ford. ‘Our Own’ later interviewed them.

The passenger and Messrs Lawson and Davidson … tried hard to persuade Tom ‘not to tackle her as she was running too high.’…. But it was no use, Tom remarking, ‘he was bound to get over somehow.’ On forcing his horses into the stream, it was noticed by Messrs Lawson and Davidson that the leaders swerved off and down stream, anxious to turn round apparently and get out. But by splendid ribbon work, and free use of the whip Tom got his leaders into place again, but the two polers, following their leaders, had also swerved off the track a bit, dragging either one or both off wheels over some rough big boulders that lined the narrow roadway through the creek bed and here for a few brief seconds Messrs Davidson and Lawson say it was splendid to see how the gallant horses hung to their traces, although little beyond their heads could be seen above water, and had the wheels not been jammed as they were, all would have gone well enough, and the coach got over safely.

What happened next can be pieced together from these men's more considered account at the inquest and a Star interview with experienced teamster Hansen, in Eltham. Seeing that the horses were in trouble, Hansen shouted to Kidd from the footbridge to turn back and he would run around and try to catch the horses' heads. But it was too late for this. The upstream poler was washed off his feet and, coming against the other poler, knocked it down. The lead horses responded by heading downstream. Michael Lawson told the inquest what happened next:

The coach seemed to rise slowly out of the water on one side. I knew it was going to capsize, and I sang out to the deceased, ‘Tom, jump for your life.’ The deceased then put the whip and the reins out of his hand, and his foot on the side of the coach as it rose up, and jumped into the river up stream, and well away from the coach. But he was immediately washed down again, amongst the wheels of the coach and the horses, and disappeared from sight, and the coach then capsized. I at once crossed the foot bridge and jumped off it, and ran to the west bank of the stream…. Deccased then came up, and page 318 went down stream hanging on to the front of the coach… Then something seemed to hold the coach for a moment or two, and then it went to pieces. Deceased disappeared again for a few feet, and when he appeared this time he was holding on to the tail of one of the horses … He then came to the first bend of the river, the current is very rapid here and the coach and horses, with the deceased, all seemed to jumble up, and deceased disappeared again. I never saw him afterwards.

As the river almost doubled back on itself here, Lawson and Davidson, now joined by others, rushed across the narrow neck of land, confidently expecting to be able to haul Kidd out as he was carried past them. But they got no sight of him.

Michael Lawson seems to have taken charge of the emergency, sending a somewhat dazed Hansen off post haste to Kaponga to raise the alarm, wire the police, and get people to watch the Mangawhero and the Kaupokonui, which it joined about seven miles further downstream. A small group of Kaponga townsfolk, headed by Charles Betts and William Mellow, set off on horses and bicycles and joined the immediate search of a mile or two of both banks of the stream. They recovered two of the horses, the top carriage of the coach and seven of the mailbags, but found no sign of Kidd. The police constables from Opunake, Manaia and Eltham hurried to the scene to organise a more thorough and extensive search. The directing of the continuing search next day devolved on the Opunake constable, Thomas Hickman. Hickman's long service in the district had included the successful implementation of John Ballance's ‘one policeman policy’ at Parihaka and the building of strong bonds with the settlers along Eltham Road as he moved among them on census, factory legislation, and other business. The searchers eventually found and recovered the body about three miles below the ford.

The body was taken to Kaponga's Commercial Hotel, and the aftermath of the tragedy included the inquest held there the next day, a large funeral in Eltham, and a vigorous continuation of the ongoing campaign for the bridging of the Mangawhero. F.W. Wilkie, the acting coroner, had smartly fired off a telegram to the Minister for Public Works and at the inquest he read out the reply, expressing sympathy and giving assurance of prompt arrangements to remove the danger of the Mangawhero crossing. The jury brought in the obvious verdict, with a rider drawing attention to the ‘absolute necessity of a bridge’. The funeral drew folk from all over Taranaki to join Kidd's three brothers, who had travelled up from the south, and the cortège of about 50 vehicles was reported to be ‘one of the largest ever seen in Eltham’.

This accident had a deep and immediate impact on the district. A drinking fountain in Kidd's memory was erected in Eltham's Taumata Park and local histories record the tragedy. Both the event and the public reaction to it are worth probing for the light they throw on the mind of the time. page 319 Why was Tom so determined, despite the dissuasions of the onlookers, that ‘he was bound to get over somehow’? When the Mangawhero crossing was examined after the flood a big scour hole and a large boulder that had been brought down by the fresh were found, though neither was in a position to have caused the accident. But these were likely dangers that Kidd must have expected as he decided to go ahead. Lawson reported having seen him cross once before with the stream quite as high. Probably pride in his reputation for horsemanship and in maintaining his schedule under difficulties were elements in his decision. But there may also have been an element not so evident to our modern minds—the mystique of the faithful servant of the Royal Mail. This has perhaps never been better expressed than in Rudyard Kipling's The Overland Mail’:

Is the torrent in spate? He must ford it or swim.
Has the rain wrecked the road? He must climb by the cliff.
Does the tempest cry ‘halt’? What are tempests to him?
The service admits not a ‘but’ or an ‘if’.
While the breath's in his mouth, he must bear without fail,
In the Name of the Empress, the Overland Mail.

The wide contemporary vogue of Kipling's verse among the common people shows that he was striking deep chords of current popular thought and feeling. This honouring of the faithful mail carrier had several strands— the thankfulness of exiles and immigrants for the link with ‘Home’, pride in the far-flung imperial endeavour of which the postal service was a close-to-home example, and awareness that the success of it all depended on the costly, often dangerous, toil of a multitude of dedicated workers. Kidd's decision to drive into the dangerous stream belongs to a time before the Great War had dampened the commitment to Empire, raising doubts about the competence of its leaders and the wisdom of unquestioning self-sacrifice at their bidding.

The attendance at the funeral was remarkable for a young man and a recent arrival in the district. But a coachman was a public figure, the Eltham Road route would have made him widely known, and he had met his tragic death ‘on public service’. The district would also have been reinforcing the point that the Mangawhero must be bridged. There may have been a little guilt among the mourners, for the government had for a year or two been prepared to find half the cost, provided the local bodies found the other half. The matter had been on the agenda of the latest meeting of the Waimatc Road Board, put there by stirring by the Riverlea branch of the Farmers' Union. The holdup was in deciding the contributions of the various affected local bodies. The tragedy broke the impasse. The Kaponga firm of Robertson and Cave had begun work on the bridge by March 1904 and it was opened by a Minister of the Crown on 8 August 1904, with copious speeches and a banquet.

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A Fury of Gale, Fire and Cloudburst

The Opunake-Eltham coach service was again disrupted on Friday, 18 March 1904, when the greater part of the route between Opunake and Kaponga was swept by bush fires brought raging through by a furious gale. On 14 August 1903 there had been one man's tragedy, of which news went out quickly by rider and telegraph line, so that the Star got the gist of the story to its readers that evening. From before daylight on Friday, 18 March 1904, it was everyone's story over a great swathe of country stretching for about 15 miles on either side of Eltham Road, with further outbreaks to the north of Opunake as far as Pungarehu. But that evening's Star seemed
scarcely aware of the drama, the only mention being two short paragraphs from ‘Our Own’ and three lines from Te Kiri's ‘Our Own’. Settlers fighting for their lives and property in blinding smoke had no time to dispatch reports, and in any case telegraph news was being blacked out by the fire bringing down the lines along Eltham Road. Even next day the Star had
only three short paragraphs of sketchy reports. But on Monday, 21 March, the extent of the disaster was unfolded under a tier of headlines:

(By Our Special Reporter)

The rush of fire, the violence of the gale, the density of the smoke, and the suffocating atmosphere that prevailed on Friday last, will cause the day to be long remembered. Many settlers over a wide extent of countryside were compelled to neglect their daily milking to fight the flames that threatened wholesale destruction as they were forced along at a terrific pace by a furious gale.

The conflagration did not spread from one starting point. The fire that wrought so much havoc at Lower Rowan road (Kaponga) came from a different quarter to that which proved so terrible in the upper portion of that thoroughfare. Again there was no connection between the outbreak to the north of Opunake—about Rahotu and Pungarehu—and that which had its source in the Mountain Reserve. All that was required was an ember in an old rata log. This the wind would fan into a terrific blast, and spread the red-hot ashes broadcast to further the work of desolation.

We will concentrate our attention on the eastern end of the scene, where the fires swept across a large part of the western stretch of Kaponga's district. The cause of the disaster was a ‘furious northerly gale’, which started on the Thursday and continued until late on Friday, culminating in a cloudburst. The gale must have had a north-easterly inclination as the fires page 321 originating on Rowan Road spread from there towards Opunake, not eastwards towards Kaponga. One needs to take account of the flow of settlement to make sense of the location of the fires. The whole district will have been swept by the gale, but no fires were reported around Kaponga or to its east, whereas, as we saw in Chapter 4, the bush fires of the 1890s swept repeatedly along Palmer Road, and also at times threatened the township itself. In these older settled areas stumping and logging-up were now well advanced, and much of the land will have been in mature pasture. But in the later settled west of the district the autumn days will have seen a great deal of chopping, blasting and burning of stumps and logs, including the firing of the dry, standing skeleton of many a great rata. It was these vestiges of the forest that the gale whipped into roaring flames and spread abroad both through the dry grass and by means of fragments whirled through the air. Under the heading ‘A Terrible Day’ the reporter told how milkers rising before dawn on the Friday found something more urgent than their milking to attend to:

Towards the mountain could be seen huge pine trees flaring like giant torches and giving off strips of blazing material that were hurled tremendous distances by the hurricane. Now and then these merciless messengers would light on other pines or on some huge grub-punctured rata, whose innumerable flues would greedily suck up the flames, and these in turn blazed up, only to be dissolved by the rushing wind and carried on to make fresh fiery conquests. As the morning advanced the flames swept on, enveloping the farms in quick succession with heavy suffocating smoke. An organised attempt to check the conflagration was out of the question; the only thing that remained was for each to save his own homestead if possible.

Families quickly formed themselves into bucket brigades, and all available water supplies were soon taxed to the utmost. The fire fighters acted strictly on the defensive. As the smoke thickened it was impossible to see at a greater distance than a few yards, and houses had to be regularly and carefully reconnoitred to extinguish as soon as they fell the sparks that dropped like hail. When a shed, a fence, or a haystack was seen to catch the brigades rushed to the place, and the incipient conflagration was suppressed. Temporarily blinded by the heat and smoke, the victors retired to press their aching eyeballs and prepare for a defence in another direction. The horror of the situation was increased by the dreadful uncertainty as to how one's neighbours were faring. Throughout the long day until late in the afternoon there was no period of rest from the anxious task.

We will illustrate the day's long struggle with some of the happenings along Rowan Road and at Riverlea. The strength of the gale can be seen in the way in which the flames outwitted the defence strategies that had developed over the years. To protect their homes many settlers surrounded them with a couple of chains of ploughed land, planted with potatoes, winter root crops &c. Allan Grace and W. J. Barleyman were two Rowan page 322 Road settlers who had taken this precaution. But Grace found that this day a ploughed paddock seven chains wide was no protection. Thousands of coals of living fire were swept right across it to set fire to the fences beyond. Barleyman's defences included a four-acre crop of rape, then four inches high. Every plant was blown out by the roots. Meanwhile the gale strewed the defensive zone with inflammable materials, hay, shingles torn from shed roofs, rubbish from the wild. After long hours of successful struggle Barleyman began taking serious losses around 2pm.

There was no burning tree within seven chains of the house, but big sparks fell in showers, and the wind with cyclonic force drove scorching pellets with destructive force against all the buildings. In the midst of it all a fiery flake of rotten rimu was lodged close by. Mr Barleyman turned for a bucket of water, but at that moment a sudden gust of wind swished the devilish torch beneath his new and very fine house. Not to be defeated without another effort, Mr Barleyman seized a flour-bag, and crawling below the building promptly smothered the dangerous blaze. Just then Mrs Barleyman called out that the haystacks were going, and before anything could be done 35 tons of hay was doomed. Then the stable and cowsheds caught alight, and the buildings, which contained a quantity of grass seeds, harness, tools, etc., were soon levelled to the ground. To say nothing of about 50 acres of grass, the value of the property that was burnt was about £400.

Other losses along the road included firewood and fencing by Grace and haystacks by Doyle and Voullaire. When a valuable haystack in one of Voullaire's paddocks came under threat, with the water supply exhausted, Voullaire and Allan Grace were able to save it with a dowsing of skim milk—an expedient also reported on elsewhere. In upper Rowan Road D. Stringer began taking losses about 3pm, with a recently erected double loft shed, 15 tons of oaten and clover hay, outhouses, tools, fencing, and a milk cart going up in flames. His house and another shed were frequently menaced, but he managed to save them. Throughout the fire district settlers took similar losses of sheds, haystacks and fencing. Several whares were also lost, but it appears that all substantial homes were successfully defended. Beside the struggles on the farms there were stern battles for other establishments, such as Parkes and Brooker's sawmill at Awatuna, a creamery on
Skeet Road and the social hall at Te Kiri.

Early on women and children, and others not able to fight the flames, abandoned their threatened homes for safer shelter, with bedding and valuables (some stowed in milk cans) loaded onto their vehicles. A few made their way to Kaponga. Others took refuge at Riverlea, in the dairy factory and in W. K. Howitt's store, with caches of valuables stored in Walker's new blacksmith's shop. With the defenders wilting with exhaustion and everything becoming increasingly desiccated by the fiery gale, there could well have been a second flood of refugees from burnt-out homesteads had not page 323 everything been dramatically changed late in the afternoon by the sudden cloudburst.

The face of the country was entirely changed by the deluge. In a few minutes the metalled roads had angry streams rushing along either side… Streamlets became creeks, creeks rivers, and rivers rushing torrents. In the paddocks hundreds of miniature lakes were formed, into which burning logs fell with wild hisses. Never before in the memory of settlers had such a downpour occurred. The Kapuni river, subject though it be to sudden freshes, is generally an innocent enough stream, but on Friday night it whirled along violently as if daring the wayfarer to effect a crossing by its fords. Kelly's Creek rose three feet higher than it had ever been known to do before, and was for a time an insuperable bar to vehicular traffic along the Eltham-Opunake road. The Mangawhero river became choked with logs at the crossing where Mr Kidd lost his life, and the coachdriver was compelled to leave the conveyance on the Opunake side and bring the mails across on horseback. Elliott's creek rose rapidly and acquiring torrential force washed the Skeet road bridge away bodily, leaving the wreck heaped up against the bank several chains away. Having escaped the fire the country appeared on the verge of being flooded, but, the flames being extinguished, the rain ceased as suddenly as it began.

Worn out by their endeavours some of the defenders now made their way into Kaponga as drenched refugees. Others took news of the successful defence of their homes to the women and children now bedding down in the Riverlea store and factory. As night fell the fires gave way only slowly to the deluge.

… the country bore a striking resemblance to a huge city when gaily illuminated on some festive occasion; looked at by those the fire encircled, the spectacle was awe-inspiring. Thousands of trees, each a living coal from its base to the top, stood out glowing against an inky sky. One after another of these forest giants would fall with a tremendous crash, while from its ruins myriads of sparks would rise upwards and disappear in black space. Only gradually did the tropical rain gain the mastery over the giant embers— towards dawn on Saturday morning …

This episode highlights the fact that into the 20th century our district remained ‘bush’ and ‘frontier’. After March 1904 there were still years of bush fires ahead. In mid-March 1907 the settlers of Rowan Road and Riverlea were again hard pressed by wind-driven bush fires that raged for several days before finally burning out. Beginning on 9 February 1908 a ‘fierce and destructive’ bush fire raged for about 10 days through a strip of country along and south of Opunake Road, beginning north of Awatuna and spreading eastward through Makaka and Rowan to reach the upper Manaia Road (i.e. somewhat to the north of the March 1904 blaze). In his first letter for 1910 ‘Our Own’ told of a heavy downpour on New Year's Eve morning putting a damper on bush fires that had been devastating ‘the page 324 country between us and the mountain, very close to the town’. On 2 April 1913 Rowan's ‘Our Own’ reported gales spreading bush fires in the district, the hall in danger, heavy losses of haystacks, and C. Hill's milking shed and plant destroyed. ‘The bush’ still differed from the coastal open country in vital ways. For decades now the homes and gardens, pastures and crops, flocks and herds of these southern neighbours had been sheltered from the recurrent gales by their shelter belts of trees and well-established boxthorn hedges. And when a summer or autumn turned dry their worries were trivial compared with those of ‘the bush’.

A Swiss Tragedy

The quiet, hard-working, law-abiding presence of the Swiss immigrant milkers was proving such a godsend to the district that when a fatal quarrel occurred between two of them on the evening of Saturday, 30 June 1906, it was met with real shock, almost incredulity.1 The inquest and the trials that followed throw some light on the lives and circumstances of this community of recent arrivals.

Karl Schicker, the accused in the trials, was born at Zug, Switzerland, on 29 June 1880. He arrived in New Zealand around the turn of the century and at the time of the incident was working for William Martin on lower Palmer Road. Six miles away, on the farm of G.B. Hill, Rowan Road, lived three other Swiss immigrants: Albert Ulrich, his sister Annie, and their lodger John Rollins, the victim in the case. Schicker became the sweetheart of Annie, they became engaged, and he made the 12-mile round trip to see his francèe twice each week. But John Rollins also developed an affection for Annie with the result that, according to her brother, there had been bad feeling between Schicker and Rollins for two years before the tragedy.

Rollins was a heavily built, muscular man, and several witnesses, including relatives and friends, agreed that he was very quick-tempered. It was therefore a real problem for this little community when Rollins began making wild death threats against the much more lightly built Schicker. There were one or two earlier short fights between the two, in which Schicker compensated for his slight build by grabbing some kind of a cudgel. Eventually Rollins's anger became so deep that Annie Ulrich wrote to Schicker asking him to stop away for a few days as Rollins was threatening that either he or Schicker would have to die. So Schicker stayed away. Then Rollins came to see him in the middle of the night to ask why he did not come to the Ulrichs' any more. Schicker told him of the letter he had had from Annie. Rollins wanted Schicker to resume his visits because, he said, ‘If you don't come up, Annie will go away.’ Schicker complied. Unfortunately Rollins's anger and threats continued. To escape from the situation Annie broke off her engagement to Schicker and left for Switzerland about six weeks before the tragedy.

It is clear even from this brief outline that the situation developed page 325 largely as a result of the immigrant position of this small Swiss community. The intensity of the rivalry between Schicker and Rollins must have owed a good deal to the strong sex imbalance, with only 53 Swiss females in Taranaki to 135 males. Furthermore, had a similar situation arisen in the Swiss homeland setting, all three protagonists would have had mature counsellors, whether parents, relatives, friends or community figures, to whom they could have turned, or who would have initiated individual or community responses to meet the situation. In Taranaki no such help was available; even at the Roman Catholic church, to which most of them seem to have belonged, they would still have felt themselves aliens speaking a foreign tongue, rather than insiders able easily to seek understanding and help. One envisages that in the hearthland Rollins's situation as the Ulrichs' lodger would have been quickly ended. Why no such move was made on Rowan Road is not clear, but it is easy to envisage the difficulties relating to the employment contract with G.B. Hill, the need to maintain a united front vis-à-vis the wider community, and the likelihood of repercussions should forthright action be taken against the volatile Rollins. Annie's stopping of Schicker's visits by a letter, rather than in face-to-face discussion, gives some indication of how tricky she felt the situation to be.

Witnesses told of the prolonged tension between the two men, with accounts of two earlier fights as well as the final one. From all this comes a picture of a scatter of mainly unmarried labouring Swiss, as yet little involved socially with the wider community, and therefore heavily dependent on each other for companionship in leisure hours. At the Magistrate's Court Jacob Gaecal, who had known Schicker in Switzerland, and was working for settler Perry of Mangatoki, told of events on the last Sunday of 1905. After meeting at the Kaponga Roman Catholic church, he and Rollins, a cousin whom he had got to know only since coming to New Zealand, had gone out to the Ulrichs' place on Rowan Road. On arrival, as he was tying up his horse at the gate while Rollins went in ahead, he heard a row and saw Schicker, Annie Ulrich and Pinseck come out of the house. Although it was dark he could see that Rollins and Schicker were involved in a fight. Rollins called for Gaecal's help but he did not go in. The fight lasted about three minutes. Gaecal told the court:

Schicker had the best of the fight and afterwards told Rollins that he could have killed him if he wanted to. Rollins said then, ‘I am not frightened of you, Charlie.’ Charlie Schicker then held up a poker and said, ‘Come on, and I will knock you down.’ From that time on Schicker and Rollins were enemies.

[To Mr Wake, counsel for Schicker] … Rollins … was a very quick tempered man. Going home that night after the quarrel Rollins said to witness, I will buy a revolver and shoot Charlie.’ He was a much bigger man than Schicker. Rollins afterwards told witness that he (Rollins) started the fight that night.

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Giving evidence on his own behalf at the Supreme Court trial, Schicker told of another, apparently later, incident.

One Sunday night in Kaponga he heard Rollins was looking for him to kill him…. He had hardly been there five minutes, when they heard ‘someone coming up like mad.’ He and Miss Ulrich went out to see who it was. Rollins jumped off his horse and rushed at witness, Pensech [another Swiss]2 getting between them. Rollins kicked Pensech, and then the two got Rollins on the ground. Goessi came up from the gate. They went in, and Rollins started to threaten. Thinking that both Rollins and Goessi were going to tackle him, he seized a piece of iron to defend himself. He told Rollins there was nothing to prevent him coming into the house if he would only behave himself. They all spent the evening together amicably.

On the afternoon of Saturday, 30 June, Rollins and Albert Ulrich rode in from Rowan Road to Kaponga. They left their horses at a Kaponga stable and set out to walk to Prestidge's place, about a mile and a half from town. From his whare on Daniel Fitzgerald's place Joseph Steiner, another Swiss, saw them walking by on this moonlit evening. He went out and persuaded them to come and help him finish his tasks for Fitzgerald so that they could all go into the township together. Coming back from these chores past Fitzgerald's house, between 7 and 8pm, they saw Schicker come in at the front gate and go towards Steiner's whare. Steiner and Ulrich both shook hands with Schicker but Rollins and Schicker did not speak to each other. Schicker had an axe handle in his hand. Steiner and Ulrich went into the whare while Schicker and Rollins stayed outside. Steiner came out again to show Schicker and Rollins a postcard he had received and found them talking about postcards that Rollins had received and claimed were in Schicker's handwriting but Schicker denied this. Rollins had burned the cards as soon as he received them. What the various cards contained is not reported, but it makes good sense to infer that Annie Ulrich had sent cards to hei Kaponga friends while on her voyage home. As he turned to lock his whare Steiner heard the two getting into a loud dispute, each calling the other a liar. Turning back he saw Rollins falling to the ground. It was Albert Ulrich who witnessed the fatal blow. Rollins had just accused Schicker of making ‘a very offensive remark’ about Annie Ulrich in the hotel and Schicker then said, ‘If you say that again you are a liar, and I will hit you with this axe handle.’ On Rollins repeating the statement Schicker lifted the axe handle with both hands, Rollins moved towards him, and was struck on the head and knocked down on his hands and knees. He got up again, said a few words, walked a short distance, and then fell down again and began shaking. Ulrich and Schicker carried him inside the whare.

Rollins did not regain consciousness. Schicker proposed that he should go for a doctor but the others persuaded him not to as they thought there was no danger. Eventually, after about two hours, Schicker went, but there was further delay as he had to wait for half an hour for Dr Maclagan.

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Arriving at about 11pm, Maclagan found the victim unconscious, paralysed in all his limbs, and with troubled breathing and a rapid, irregular pulse. Nothing could be done and he died shortly after. In his post mortem examination Maclagan found that death was due to pressure on the brain of a clot of blood under a depressed fracture. Schicker waited at Maclagan's surgery to be taken into custody by the Eltham constable.

At the inquest in the Commercial Hotel on the Monday afternoon the jury returned a verdict of unlawful killing, but added a rider expressing the opinion that Schicker had struck the blow ‘in defending himself in a quarrel’. At the conclusion of the Magistrate's Court hearing in Eltham on 10 July 1906 Schicker was committed to stand trial in the Supreme Court. Bail was fixed at £100 on his own recognisance, and two sureties of £200 each were forthcoming. At the New Plymouth Supreme Court on 25 September the grand jury reduced the charge from murder to manslaughter. Schicker's defence was led by New Plymouth's leading barrister, Oliver Samuel. Schicker gave detailed evidence in his own defence and said that he thought the Crown witnesses had told the truth. In describing his situation he said

‘I was always frightened about him. I thought he would knock me down and kill me. I only wanted to stop him.’ He did not think he could have escaped Rollins. ‘I was in dread of my life at the time, and my only reason for striking was to keep him from seizing me, and doing me some great hurt.’

The Taranaki News reported that ‘His Honor summed up lucidly and favourably to the prisoner’, and the jury did not take long to bring in its verdict of ‘not guilty’.

Schicker went on to a career as a dairy farmer in the Kaponga district. He apparently did not seek to renew his relationship with Annie. He made a trip home to Switzerland in 1911 and it was probably then that he married his wife, Mathilde. This tragic story from his early life gives us some insight into the tensions of this small alien immigrant community. There were to be added tensions a few years later when their new homeland became embroiled in the Great War against the empire that spoke their mother tongue. But their qualities as settlers and citizens saw them through the hard years and quickly gained them full acceptance as neighbours and friends.