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Settlers and Pioneers


The life of the farmer is so protected and eased to-day by a watchful Government, and the people have become so accustomed to ask and receive State assistance, that the stories of some of the early-days settlement seem almost incredible. Immigrants arriving in the first four decades of New Zealand's existence as a British colony were often sent off to perfectly wild, unroaded forest regions, there to chop out a living. Many race elements have gone to the making of the New Zealander of to-day, page 36though the population is so predominantly Anglo-Celtic in origin. Some of our best pioneers, sturdy, industrious, and courageous, were Danes and Norwegians, who broke into the great bush that covered the country where the towns of Dannevirke, Norse-wood, and adjacent settlements now stand, and made the land a richly productive farm region.

There is the story of the Bohemian colony at Puhoi, some thirty-five miles north of Auckland. The founders of Puhoi were eighty-three men, women and children from Staab, in Bohemia, which was part of the old Austrian Empire.

Puhoi is reached by a good road to-day, passing through Waiwera on the northward journey from Auckland. The founder of this community in the Maori bush was Captain Martin Krippner, who had been an officer in the Austrian Army. He first came to New Zealand as a settler in 1859. He did not make a success of his efforts at farming, but he thought that the small-farming people of his homeland should do well in this new land of great opportunities. So, with the approval of the Auckland Provincial Government, he formed a party of Bohemian colonists. He had asked the Government to allot his people land and this was arranged on the forty-acre system; each adult immigrant paying his or her own passage would receive forty acres free and each child twenty acres.

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The first party of Bohemians left Staab, about a hundred miles from Prague, on 26 February 1863 and travelled to Liverpool by way of Hamburg and Altona. At Liverpool they embarked in the ship War Spirit , which landed them at Auckland in June 1863.

The first sight of the Promised Land was most depressing. Captain Krippner's choice was a lamentable error of judgment. There was not a road of any kind; the only way to reach their allotted land was by sea and up a tidal creek; there was hardly a level acre; all was broken into hills and gullies; and every part of it was covered with bush. The nearest inhabitants were a few Maoris who lived in the primitive way under their chief Te Hemara, a tall lean veteran we often saw in Auckland in after years. Nikau huts were built to shelter the people, who set about bravely to conquer the wilderness.

For an account of some of the difficulties of these people, who made excellent settlers and a permanent valuable addition to the young New Zealand nation, I turn to Father Silk's history. Father Silk, who became the parish priest of Puhoi in 1922, recorded the struggles and achievements of the settlement. The people were desperately poor in the first few years of their bush life. Soon after their arrival Captain Krippner formed a militia company to serve under the Government in the Maori war and most page 38of the young men joined it. After the war these militiamen were each given fifty acres of land at Ohaupo, in the Waikato, and settled there. That was good open land; those left at Puhoi struggled along at their bush-clearing.

The Puhoi men—and women, too—felled bush, cut firewood and shingles for shipment to Auckland, and burned large quantities of rimu bark to make charcoal in order to earn money for the necessaries of life. For years everything had to go by sea and there was very little left after freight had been paid. There was not enough money in this little community to buy a cow until several years had passed. Towards the end of the second year when some of the thick bush had been felled and burned, some small patches of ground were ready for potatoes and wheat. The wheat, when reaped, was ground into flour in small steel handmills. So the little community fared along, each year felling more of the all-surrounding bush. Another contingent of Bohemians arrived in 1866 and settled at Ahuroa, close to Puhoi, and these communities by hard work and mutual help gradually built up the pretty and comfortable settlements of to-day.

But for all their toil and semi-starvation in the early years those splendid settlers never lost their courage nor their capacity for making the best of life. Their one great relaxation was dancing. Puhoi became famous in Auckland for its dances, which sometimes lasted for three days and nights. Those hospitable and page 39jovial folk could play as heartily as they worked on their little farms.