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The Cyclopedia of New Zealand [Taranaki, Hawke's Bay & Wellington Provincial Districts]

Causes and Proofs Of Progress

Causes and Proofs Of Progress.

By 1871 the town of New Plymouth had begun to assume a more settled and prosperous aspect. There were many houses vacant, through the departure of troops, and rents were very low; but there was an Institute, an Oddfellows' page 37 Hall and a Freemasons' Hall that would have done credit to much larger towns. There were eight public houses, seven or eight general stores, half-a-dozen schools, four solicitors, and three doctors, two newspapers, two flour mills, a foundry, and a considerable number of miscellaneous small shops. New Plymouth itself was governed by a Town Board of nine members, elected annually; and the rates, which were 2d in the £ on assessed values, brought in £400 a year. For the rural district there were twenty-three Road Boards, which managed their own affairs without much reference to the Central Government; and in spite of the somewhat primitive conditions of life that prevailed in both town and country, Taranaki was already a prosperous and comfortable district in which life could be passed as happily as in any quarter of the colony. The greatest drawback to comfort and success was still the enforced isolation; a hardship which was accentuated by the difficulty of landing passengers from the sea at New Plymouth.

Under the conciliatory influence of Sir Donald McLean, the natives gradually became more amicable toward the whites. In 1872 Wi Kingi consented to visit the Native Minister at New Plymouth, and thenceforward the Ngatiawa chief offered no active opposition to the disposal of native land.

Between 1872 and 1874 the Provincial Council took over nearly 380,000 acres from the Maoris, including the Kopua, Huiroa, Waipuhu and Moa blocks; and as a natural result settlement began to make rapid headway. By 1874 Patea—or Carlyle—was a township of some importance, containing four hotels, four churches, two banks, and a large number of stores. Hawera, which was originally set apart as a military settlement, had two hotels, a bank, and a post and telegraph office. Early in 1875 the township of Inglewood was laid out in the Moa block, and the land adjoining it was speedily sold and cleared. Later in the same year the railway line between Waitara and New Plymouth (eleven miles long), was opened for traffic. The line reached Inglewood in 1877; and in that year Stratford township was laid out. The railway reached Stratford in 1879, and by August, 1881, it had got as far as Hawera. The forty-eight miles between New Plymouth and Hawera were covered in four hours; whereas Mr. Chavannes, who drove the first coach and four by the Mountain Road from Hawera to New Plymouth, took ten hours on his adventurous journey.

The railways were, of course, a part of the Public Works policy of the Fox-Vogel Ministry; and immigration was another important feature of Vogel's scheme. In 1874 the Provincial Council took steps to ensure a supply of suitable immigrants to Taranaki; and good work in this direction was done by Mr. W. M. Burten. Another important matter coming under the head of Public Works was the formation of the New Plymouth harbour. So far back as 1866 the roadstead had been surveyed as a harbour site. In 1874, Mr. Carrington, the Superintendent, got an Act passed by the General Assembly empowering the Provincial Council to set aside one-fourth of the land revenue of the province for harbour purposes. In 1875 the Provincial Council accordingly constituted a Harbour Board, in which it invested the reserves and funds, and authorised it to raise a loan of £350,000. Mr. F. Carrington was chairman and treasurer of the Harbour Board, which set about its duties with some show of energy. But in 1876, however, the scheme was mixed up with a project for establishing a Central Prison at New Plymouth, to supply convict labour for the harbour works, and when the provinces were abolished, this scheme fell through, and Parliament then limited the loan that might be raised for the harbour works to £200,000. The first stone of the breakwater was laid in 1881, and the work went on till the money was spent. But Parliament had so modified the land laws of the district, that the endowments originally granted to meet the interest on loans were practically confiscated, and so the district has always had to bear a heavy financial burden on account of its harbour works.

One of the most important public duties, which the Provincial Government had to pertorm, was the establishment of a system of education. Unlike the companies which founded Canterbury and Otago, the New Plymouth Company made no provision for general instruction in the new settlement, and the district was too sparsely peopled, and the settlers were too poor, to admit of private teachers starting schools with any hope of success. Many of the poorer children were taught to read in the Sunday schools. During the Maori war, the children who were sent as refugees to Nelson, received instruction in Government schools, but it was not till after the refugees returned to Taranaki that the first public day school was established at New Plymouth. It was founded by the Wesleyans, and conducted by Mr. and Mrs Schofield, who were succeeded by Mr. and Mrs Collis.

However, in 1867, the Provincial Council passed the Education Commission Ordinance, and in 1868 the Council decided to establish and maintain schools in the province. But the funds at their disposal were very limited; and the system thus inaugurated was necessarily very incomplete. In 1874, the Superintendent, Mr. F. Carrington, held meetings in the various country districts to lay before the people a scheme for placing primary education on a sound basis, and supporting it by a household rate of £1 per annum. In spite of strong opposition, the scheme was adopted by the Council, and the province was divided into two districts, with separate Education Boards. The funds obtained from the education rate were supplemented by special grants and endowments reserved by the Provincial Government. By dint of great exertion schools were opened in various rural districts, and the blockhouses scattered about the country were utilised for educational purposes. At last, in 1878, public education throughout the colony was brought under the control of the Central Government, and the comparatively inadequate arrangements made by the provincial authorities were superseded. Up to the time of the abolition of the provinces, Taranaki certainly never enjoyed the same educational advantages as the more fortunate provincial districts in the South Island.

The development of Taranaki since the abolition of the provinces has been steadily progressive, but page 38 it is only within the last twelve years, that the importance of the dairy industry, and the immense natural advantages that the district enjoys, with respect to dairy farming, have brought Taranaki to the front rank of the colonial centres of population. Without going into needless detail, it may be said that the district near the coast has been converted practically into one great dairy farm, and the establishment of creameries and butter factories under the fostering care of the Government, has proved a source of great wealth to the district, and promises even more prosperously for the future. Particulars given elsewhere show the importance of the dairy industry to Taranaki, and it is sufficient to mention here that from New Plymouth alone, including the minor ports, there were shipped in the year 1904 nearly 73,000 hundredweight of butter, valued at about £340,000, and 18,400 hundredweight of cheese, valued at £51,000.

Much is still hoped from the mineral resources of Taranaki—the ironsand piled in inexhaustible profusion along the coast, and the petroleum, which has at last (1906) begun to fulfil the expectations of its persevering seekers. But the prosperity of the district is now firmly based upon the most staple and permanent of all sources of public and private wealth—“the natural and inexhaustible powers of the soil.”