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

Other Sports and Recreations of the 1890s

Other Sports and Recreations of the 1890s

The more casual and individual sports and activities, such as shooting, fishing and swimming, got only intermittent mention in the Star and elsewhere. Shooting must have been a common activity but ‘Our Own’ only touched on it with occasional complaints that people ‘don't bother about licences' and that ‘plenty of poaching [of pheasants] is going on’.6 In a letter to the children's page of the November 1895 Farmer Frank Hemingway of Riverlea, a standard 4 pupil at Kaponga School, commented:

There are a great many cock pheasants and wild pigs about here. We often see the pigs when we are looking around the cattle and then they run among the green bush. There are two rivers and a creek running through our place, and so we go bathing in the summer time.

Bathing in the district's many rivers may have been a common summer activity, but one unlikely to find its way into the record apart from the rare occurrence of a drowning.7 Another little-reported sport that these rivers provided was fishing. In the spring of 1894 the Acclimatisation Society released 15,000 trout fry in the streams crossing Eltham Road from Eltham to west of Kaponga.8 By 1898 ‘Our Own’ (19/1/98) was complaining of ‘the large amount of poaching for fish being done by the Maoris' and a Star page 167 ‘Travelling Correspondent’ (1/11/98) told of anglers ‘having a very good time round Kaponga’. With a casual freedom that barely got into the record Kaponga's yeomen and their friends were enjoying country sports for which the Old World gentry were pouring out much effort and money in the breeding and defence of game.

From time to time ‘Our Own’ mentioned various recreational groups in the township. We have noted the Kaponga orchestra participating in the school concert of 22 December 1898. Its origins and general activities were not reported. On the initiative of the Methodist minister, the Rev C. Beecroft, a Literary and Debating Society was formed in May 1892 with F.W. Wilkie as secretary. With varying success, largely dependent on the weather, it sponsored evenings of public speaking, music making and debating. Subjects included ‘Monarchy v Republicanism’, ‘Press v Platform’ (against Okaiawa), and ‘Free Trade v Protectionism’ (against Manaia).9 The society does not appear to have developed the literary aspect of its title, and its debating subjects were probably not widely appealing. This may be why a group of prominent citizens, including Wilkie, Canning, Harwood and John Robertson, took the initiative in forming a Mutual Improvement Society in July 1893. It flourished for about a year, its most fully reported occasion being an instrumental and vocal social to open its 1894 season.10 It then disappeared from the record while the more humdrum debating club survived into the next decade.

On the wet Friday evening of 27 March 1896 a ‘Very large audience’ gathered for the first performance of the newly formed Kaponga Dramatic Club on ‘one of the most convenient stages on the coast’, just completed in the town hall. Their well-received comedy was sandwiched between a concert and a dance. ‘Our Own’ (11/6/96) described their next, more ambitious, appearance as ‘one of the best entertainments ever witnessed in the district’. Before a crowded town hall they put on a five-act comedy, Worth a Struggle. Builder John Robertson played the hero, Palmer Road farmer's daughter Miss E. Coxhead the heroine, and storekeeper Harwood filled the part of the rascally lawyer ‘with such dramatic effect as to call forth the hoots and hisses of an appreciative audience’. The entertainment concluded with a short farce, Brown, the Martyr. ‘Our Own’ commended the club's ‘capital scenery’ and expeditious scene-changing. However, the club failed to sustain this initial enthusiasm and success and faded fairly quickly.11

The town's other recreation options included James Hawke's billiard saloon, opened in June 1895, and a chess and draughts club formed in July 1898.12 There was also reading, no doubt reasonably popular in town and country. On 19 June 1896 ‘Our Own’ reported rather enigmatically that ‘it is understood a circulating library will shortly be started. About 250 books are on the way out.’ The prime movers became apparent at a first annual meeting of subscribers on 10 December. It was chaired by headmaster Charles MacLean,* who was elected chairman, with a committee of builder page 168 Robertson, storekeeper Harwood, his assistant John Nicholls, and creamery manager Lewis. F.W. Wilkie was prominent in the discussion. The library had started in a room of Robertson's, which he now needed for his growing business, so a bookcase was fixed up in the town hall. After considerable debate the annual subscription was raised from 5s to 7/6. By the 1899 AGM the library had 418 volumes and 50 subscribers.13

But the district's most popular reading matter was probably the periodicals that both entertained and kept folk up to date with the world's goings on. Each weekend the Egmont Star, with its range of specialist pages and serialised novels, was scattered across the district. The Farmer came monthly to a good number of homes. Some folk may have come with a love for Auckland's Weekly News, Wanganui's Yeoman, Wellington's New Zealand Mail, or other of the colonial weeklies, and continued subscribing. Each year the colony received several million overseas newspapers, and Kaponga must have had its share of such titles as the English Lloyd's, Reynolds's and Illustrated London News, and the Australian Sydney Bulletin and Melbourne Australasian. This outpost of western civilisation was well aware of how the wide world was using its leisure. Kaponga folk probed vigorously and imaginatively for possibilities that could be adapted to their frontier conditions, and clearly had many successes.