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

The General Stores

The General Stores

At the end of the 1880s Kaponga's only shops were Henry Davy's general store and John Hastie's and Walter Higginson's butcher's shops, and the only workshop was that of blacksmith Walter Wilkie. As the township leapt into vigorous life in the 1890s Kaponga was soon being served by two competing general stores. Their premises expanded steadily to match the district's growing population and prosperity, and they were joined by an ever-increasing range of specialist shops and workshops. As the storekeepers played a special role in the community's social, public and commercial life, page 148

Childs's coach factory, with which Kaponga sought to impress Seddon, was taken over in June
1900 by F. W. Buckingham. This is how he was shortly advertising it

we will look at them first before dealing with the other concerns.

We have already seen something of Henry Davy's wide community involvement, including his term on the Road Board, his service as Kaponga's first postmaster, his lending his premises as a polling place, and his pioneer butter factory. He was in partnership with John W. Falkner but Davy was obviously the dominant member. In the early days the store would have been the obvious place to discuss public matters and Davy the obvious person to attend to public needs, both commercial and other. Thus early in 1892, through moving on one such need, Davy & Falkner had complicated negotiations with the County Council over the unpaid bills of a bridge builder who had abandoned his contracts and left the district. They had procured him timber (presumably totara) from the Manawatu and also provided cement for concrete piers.35 It was at the store that early in July 1892 about 30 ratepayers met to pass resolutions of concern that, with most of the £5000 Eltham Road loan now spent, their section of the road was still in a sad state. The rise of the township brought new public institutions and gathering places, but the storekeepers continued to be looked to for public leadership. It was still at the stores that one continually met neighbours and had informal discussions on all kinds of matters of public interest. And the page 149 storekeepers continued to be folk with wide interests and contacts. At a dinner farewelling Davy on his move to Feilding in December 1892 the settlers presented him with an artistic testimonial, showering praise for all he had done in the interests of Kaponga.36

Davy and Falkner were bought out by Frank Stephen Canning who came with a wealth of experience in business, journalism, politics and colonial life in general. Although he stayed only for three years he made a major contribution to Kaponga's public life at a crucial stage in its development. Over his first Kaponga winter he chaired the meetings on the L & M's dairy factory proposals. He served terms as chairman of the local school committee, cricket club, mutual improvement society and Caledonian sports; served on the Hawera County Council, the Taranaki Hospital and Charitable Aid Board; and was chairman of the South Egmont Forest Conservators Board. He seems also to have been ‘Our Own’ for these years. On taking over from Davy and Falkner he advertised as a ‘General Merchant’ and a ‘Qualified Valuer, Land, Estate and General Commission Agent’. He certainly covered a wide field. Thus his Star advertisement of 19 April 1895 listed the ‘Post, Telegraph and Money Order Office’, ‘Suitable and well-selected supplies of every country requisite’, ‘Men's Clothing, Drapery, Ironmongery, Crockeryware, Boots, and other sundries too numerous to mention’ and briefly detailed nine farms and two Kaponga town sections. In July 1895 his store was enlarged by 800 square feet. The Star of 28 September 1895, in reporting Canning chairing a farewell to business rival Philip Cullen, gives a glimpse into the personal side of local storekeeping. After some fulsome praise of Cullen

… The Chairman remarked that his utterances with regard to their guest were obtained by as true a test as any man could well be put to, viz., running an opposition business in a small place like Kaponga. He had found Mr Cullen more like a brother than an opponent.

Cullen's reply included a glance at an unexpected facet of a small-town storekeeper's wide role:

He had known Mr Canning to sew up wounds and administer medicine on many occasions in cases of emergency. If a man were in as bad a state of health as Jim Smiley's famous fifteen minute nag, which always had the mange or the consumption, or something of that kind, all he had to do was to go to Mr Canning and get fixed up.

In December 1895 Canning sold out to J.L. Harwood,* one of his employees. Harwood's change-over advertisement in the Star advised that he was negotiating for a regular supply of ‘new lines quite original to this district’, commenting that although this might appear risky ‘our lengthy and varied experience in both Islands assures us that our judgment will be appreciated’. To make room for the new lines there was a clearing sale of some old lines, and also of saddlery, ‘which we are not going to replace’— page 150 illustrating a trend to being less of a provider of almost everything, as the township's specialist shops matured. Increased business led to further extensions of the premises in 1899, and at the same time Harwood demonstrated that he was prospering by building a new nine-roomed home.37 Harwood became involved in many public and social organisations but without Canning's flair for leadership

Kaponga's second general store was founded early in the decade by James Cullen as a branch of his Manaia business. In June 1894 he sold the Kaponga concern to his brother Philip. Unable to get a decent turnover Philip sold out in August 1895 to George Tindle of Manaia. Tindle immediately advertised that ‘packing and carting to all parts of the district will be continued the same as in the past’, but he also moved in several new directions to gain for his Empire Stores the turnover that Philip Cullen had failed to find. To cater to the district's growing prosperity he advertised in November 1898 that besides basic groceries, clothing and ironmongery he had a big line in linoleum and had made large purchases of Christmas goods.38 The nature of ‘Mr Tindle's stock of presents', and his catering for two other markets—school prizes and the frontier settlers' grass seed harvest—were described by ‘Our Own’ (Tindle?) on 20 December 1898:

Mr Tindle's stock of presents … may be equalled but not excelled for variety or price. There are rings and brooches, albums, glove and handkerchief boxes, and many other things too numberous to mention, whilst for the young folks there are toys of all descriptions…. I am pleased to state that the different school committees who have given the Empire Store a call have departed loaded and satisfied. Mr Tindle has also, to meet the requirements of the coming grass seed season, built a large store room where grass seed cleaning can be carried on.

Tindle was prominent in Kaponga public affairs. He became a JP in May 1898 and served as the Kaponga Co-operative Dairy Company's first secretary. In September 1899 C.A. Wilkinson of Eltham bought out Tindle, but the latter remained in Kaponga for a short time, putting up a new building from which he operated as a commission agent. Wilkinson immediately extended the premises.39