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

Kaponga and New Zealand

Kaponga and New Zealand

From Kaponga's intricate interconnections with the wider world of the colony we choose two for brief examination: the inflow of migrants from other provinces, and parliamentary representation.

Kaponga's immigrants came from many quarters, but there seem to have been particularly strong flows in the 1890s from rural Wellington and page 129 Canterbury. Some of the Wellington flow was a continuation of the north ward migration we noted in the 1880s, deriving from the Hutt Valley pioneers. he Fretheys, Wilkies and Hollards all received further reinforce ments. From the Hutt came Eli Hollard and his family in 1895, and Charles Hollard and his family in 1897.55 Both bought established farms; both families were Methodists. Also Methodist were Richard Mellow* and family, who migrated from Wellington in 1896. Mellow became a prominent leader in Kaponga dairying, farming and sporting affairs. Another significant Hutt family migration to Kaponga was that of the widowed Catherine Cleland* and her large family, about 1894.

The migration from Canterbury arose from land hunger, particularly among its farmers' sons. In the 1892 Land for Settlement Bill debate a North Island member said that all the land-hungry had to do was move north. In reply Richard Meredith, Liberal MP for Ashley, told how it looked from rural Canterbury:

You are denuding the South Island of the best of its population. You are taking away those young men who have been brought up on the soil, have had a thorough training, and who are in every way qualified to make the best settlers. These men who are coming to the North Island are in possession of some capital and they are bringing that capital with them. That is the class of person we wish to retain in the South Island.56

But the government could not afford to settle all these young men on subdivided southern estates. In the July 1891 Farmer its Hawera correspondent was pleased to note ‘quite an influx of South Island dairymen coming to this coast’, instancing a Mr Candy, who had ‘established a good reputation in Canterbury as a first-class dairyman’. The strength of the Canterbury inflow is reflected in the fact that by 1893 storekeeper Canning advertised as agent for the Hawera and Manaia newspapers, and for one other the Christchurch Press.57

Felix McGuire was the successful candidate in the February 1891 Egmont by-election, following Atkinson's resignation, and continued as Kaponga's member until defeated by Major in 1902. McGuire entered the House as a Liberal, but he soon broke with the party in protest at the South Island orientation of its land policy.58 Kaponga settlers gave him growing support through the 1890s, and would certainly have agreed with these comments of his in the debate on the 1895 Land for Settlement Bill:

Sir, it has also been said … that settlers' sons in Canterbury cannot get land in that district. Surely those young men who want to become settlers are not afraid to leave their mothers' apron strings and to go to other parts of New Zealand in order to get land…. Some of the Canterbury settlers have come to Taranaki and have been very successful indeed. Surely that is the right policy, and I say the Government is acting altogether wrongly in buying up land in order to settle these people at their own doors.59

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McGuire emigrated from Ireland, arriving in New Zealand in 1863. He had a rich variety of colonial experience, seeing active service in the land wars, trying his luck on the West Coast gold fields, and turning his hand to a variety of occupations. He was Patea member of the Taranaki Provincial Council 1873–76, and Hawera's first mayor 1882–83.60 He seems to have taken his Rowan Road section in 1886, on his return to Taranaki from three years in Auckland.

On Sunday, 20 November 1898, at McGuire's invitation, Prime Minister Richard Seddon paid a surprise visit to Kaponga. McGuire was doubtless acting in the interests of the district and in support of his claim that his constituents received as much consideration from the government as those of Liberal members.61 Despite its being Sunday Seddon was able to see the co-operative factory in action, and was shown around several ‘business establishments’. A hastily assembled deputation lobbied him for a post office building. On the spur of the moment the Commercial Hotel put on a spread that Seddon told them was ‘fit for a king’, even though he had descended on them without warning.

In May 1899 Seddon again visited Taranaki, obviously doing som advance work for the December general election. At Kaponga, after giving a two-and-a-half-hour speech to a crowded meeting, he receive deputations asking, among other things, for further bridges on Eltham Road, for improving the track to the Mountain House, and for a post office and local constable for Kaponga. Thereafter he sat down to a splendid dinner for some 60 people in the Commercial Hotel. On this occasion he was not accompanied by McGuire, and Kaponga folk would have known that his visit was aimed at unseating their local member.62