The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 10, Issue 4 (July 1, 1935.)
Destruction of Te Wairoa Village
Destruction of Te Wairoa Village.
Some Memories Of A Survivor.
(The writer of this article was for many years Government Surveyor and Ranger for the Crown Lands Department. He was one of the survivors of the memorable early morning of June 10,1886, when the eruption of Tarawera volcano and the upheaval of Rotomahana lake overwhelmed Te Wairoa, caused widespread terror and destruction and killed more than 150 people. Mr. Lundius here describes briefly his experiences in Te Wairoa village, and some incidents of the eruption)
We had come in from the Urewera Country road survey to rest awhile at Te Wairoa in the winter of 1886. The early morning of the 10th June was beautifully clear. It was full moon. In fact, there was an occultation of Mars by the Moon at 10.30 that night. There was no wind. My first sight of the outbreak was the finest and most remarkable I have ever seen. From Tarawera Mountain, with an awful noise and earth-rending, there rose a huge column of black smoke, straight up in the air, the summit of which took a mushroom shape, round the edges of which a chain of lightning was playing. I was told by persons who were at Galatea, and to windward of the mountain, that they saw flames and smoke being emitted, but we at Te Wairoa did not see any fire. I was staying with Mr. Haszard, the school teacher. In the house also were Mr. and Mrs. Haszard, four daughters, one son, one nephew, Mr. J. C. Blythe (the surveyor), and an old Maori woman called Mary te Mu. We were all gathered in a small building close to the main residence. It contained a large sitting-room and two bedrooms.
We did not know at first what was going on outside, except continuous earthshakes and a terrific noise. Then came a fall of some solid matter (scoria I afterwards found it was) on the roof. One extra large lump penetrated the iron on the roof and went through a picture hanging on the wall. It was then that Mr. Haszard thought it wisest for his wife and the young children to sit in the middle of the room right under the ridge. I was standing at the window all the time trying to see what was going on outside, but I could see nothing. The darkness was so great that one could feel it. Miss Haszard was sitting at the harmonium playing and singing hymns. I saw her get up and stoop to look at the bottom of the door, when a cracking noise was heard and I found that the roof had collapsed.
Escape from the House of Death.
I soon discovered Miss Haszard and Mr. Blythe near me. It then occurred to me that the present situation was a good one to get out of, so I set to work to break the windows. The glass I could break with my hands (later on I found that I had cut my hand rather badly in doing this). The wooden part of the window was not so easily broken, so I set to work and completed the job with my foot, and eventually got both my companions out. We then made for the old residence close by. Mr. Blythe wanted to go inside, but one experience of a collapsed roof was enough for me. I found that the ground was covered with mud to the depth of some 4 feet. That would be a fairly good test for a roof to stand, so I insisted on our standing under the verandah, so that if the roof should collapse we had a chance to escape the consequences.
I went out in front of the building we had just left and called out, trying to ascertain if anyone else had escaped or were alive, but the noise was so terrific that I could not hear anything. After a short while (it seemed ages to me) we found that the house was on fire. What caused it I do not know. Probably it was some hot stones. Occasionally we experienced a hot suffocating wind and possibly the house was struck by lightning.
A Night in a Fowlhouse.
We were then obliged to leave the shelter of the verandah and go out into the paddock. By the light of the burning house I discovered the fowlhouse intact, so we took shelter there. As the mud was still falling, I took the precaution to shore up the rafters in the fowlhouse with some timber I found there. We did not know what our end would be. I was often asked, “Did you not feel frightened?” My reply was that I was beyond being frightened. All I hoped for was that the end would come quickly.
About nine o'clock in the morning the fall of mud somewhat abated, and it became lighter. The wind, fortunately for us, changed towards the south. Shortly afterwards we saw Joe McRae, the hotelkeeper, and the two Birds, his brothers-in-law, coming up to see if anyone had survived at the schoolhouse. We all went up to the ruins and found Miss Ina Haszard and old Mary sheltering under some furniture in what had been my bedroom. We soon got them out and the two sisters were once more together. We did not hear a sound or indication of anyone else being alive under the debris.
Refugees for Rotorua.
When we got through Tikitapu bush, we found to our delight Ted Robertson there with a buggy and pair. I do not think I was ever so glad to see anyone as I was to see Ted. He told us Rotorua was intact, but most of the people had gone towards Tauranga or Oxford (now Tirau). We got the girls into the buggy and returned to Wairoa, and began to clear away the debris of the demolished house. I soon found that the cut I had received when breaking the windows was more severe than I thought, and I could not do much digging.
Mrs. Haszard Found.
After a while we saw a hand move up through an opening made by the digging, and found Mrs. Haszard alive. We soon got her out. One of her legs was badly crushed. She told us that her children were all dead. We improvised a stretcher and started to carry her out. Just as we were leaving I discovered my horse Charlie; I had left him in the paddock near the house. He had several inches of mud all over him, although he was not injured in any way. I think that for once he was glad to see me!
On our journey to Rotorua, we took it in turns to carry Mrs. Haszard. Fortunately, we were reinforced by several men from Rotorua, and at last reached that place weary and famished.
I could fill pages relating what we did for weeks afterwards. I guided several parties to the site of the upheaval, and I was one of the late Mr. S. Percy Smith's party making a survey of the crater of Tarawera, the old mountain that had done all the damage.
A Prayer, and a Guarantee.
On the night of the eruption, a roadmaking party was camped at the east side of the Kaingaroa Plain. The late Mr. J. Morgan was in charge of the work. Only Maoris were employed. The camp was some miles up the Rangitaiki River, south of Galatea. The men had a good view of Tarawera mountain; the wind was from the east. They could see the awful spectacle of fire and cloud arising from the mountain. The Maoris were very frightened. Morgan told me that one of them came into his tent scared almost to death. He evidently thought the end of the world had come, and that it was time for him to make peace with his Maker, especially as he had rather a bad past. He prayed with fervour and ended by saying earnestly:
“Oh Lord, if you will allow me to live through this night, I will give you a pound. Morgan can stop it out of my wages.”
That Maori survived, but I do not know if he redeemed his promise.
I had been asked by the late Mr. James Stewart, C.E, to act as guide to a party intending to go as near as possible to the site of the upheaval. We started from Rotorua on the morning of Saturday, 12th June. As we entered into what had once been Te Wairoa, we heard from beneath a mound (where we concluded a whare had stood) most distressing, bloodcurdling cries.page 34 page 35
body was taken from the place where Louper had buried it and interred in the cemetery at Grey.
This is only one story of the early struggles and defeats of the pioneers in New Zealand, but it is a typical one. But I have wandered far from Dunedin. When I was in Christchurch I asked John Schroder what was the sight that I must see in Dunedin.
“The sight,” he said, “is my dear old grandpa, Archdeacon Whitehead. Go and see him and tell him I sent you.” “I think not,” I said. “Archdeacons are hardly in my line.”
“This one is,” John assured me. “He is a revolutionary archdeacon. From that moment I was deeply interested in John's grandpa. The dear old gentleman! So brave, so persecuted ! And at such an age! Why, he must be getting on for ninety; grandson John was forty if a day, I knew. When I arrived in Dunedin I took a taxi to Selwyn College, of which he is the Principal, to meet him. The parlourmaid at the door told me that he was teaching at the moment, but would I come in and wait? I would. The Archdeacon's study was lined with books. Books were on every chair and table.
At last the Archdeacon came in. But, dear me!–whatever ….? This was no venerable old gentleman but a vigorous clean-shaven man in the prime of life. He could not be John's grandpa. But did John say “grandpa” or “godfather”? For the life of me, I could not remember. Fortunately, the Archdeacon had heard of me; he conversed on a number of subjects with considerable ease and tact. Also, better still, he rang for tea. Thoughtfully munching a chocolate biscuit I planned my explanation.
“I must tell you,” I said at last, “that John sent me to see you.”
My heart sank. Not a gleam of recognition shone in the Archdeacon's eye. He seemed never to have heard of John.
“John Schroder,” I quavered with a sinking heart. “I think you are his grand—er,–his godfather.”
“Not that I know of.”
“I don&t know if you have ever heard of a Christchurch editor named John Schroder,” I said desperately, “but he told me to come and see you. He said you were his revolutionary grandpa.”page 36 page 37
The Archdeacon had more than a gleam in his eye now. He had a twinkle which developed into a yell of laughter.
“That scamp! He has played a trick on you. He and I were at the ‘Varsity together years ago. I was three or four years older than he, so he used to call me grandpa.”
Well, the Archdeacon was neither venerable nor revolutionary, but he was kind and interesting, and his college was beautiful.
Dunedin abounds with fine educational buildings. The Otago University, the Medical School, the Dental School and the School of Mines, are all housed in fine and dignified buildings. The place is full of students, of course. I had the honour of lecturing to their Social Discussions Group one night. Before I spoke to them one young man drew me aside.
“I want to warn you,” he said earnestly, “not to introduce anything sentimental into your speech. Most of our lads are medical students and you know what they are—hard and cynical and disillusioned. They'd simply laugh at anything sentimental.”
When I stood up to speak to them I looked round the room for hard, cynical and disillusioned faces, but they were conspicuous by their absence. Whenever I am entrusted with this sort of secret I immediately entrust it to my audience.
“I have been warned,” I commenced, “that I must avoid anything sentimental in speaking to you because many of you are medical students and you are very hard and cynical and disillusioned. Now, as a woman of the world I want to tell you that I have found that hardness and cynicism are not characteristics of men and women in the medical profession, but that they are sometimes characteristics of immaturity. The medical student is a young person who, at a most impressionable age, is confronted by sights and sounds which shock and horrify him. If he is to endure such things he finds he must put on an armour of pretence or he will break down. Because his soft heart may betray him, he pretends to be hard. It is what Freud calls ‘over-compensation of a secret doubt.’ So if any of you are very hard-boiled, please know that I understand it. It is an infantile complaint and you will get over it in time.”
Several of the students laughingly told me afterwards that they thought my diagnosis quite correct. Interesting young people, I enjoyed my discussions with them very much.
New Zealanders always talk of Dunedin as being one of their coldest cities, but as to climate, it is 4 1/2 degrees nearer to the equator than any town in England; and its climate is similar to that of Venice. One of the most charming natural features of the city is the Town Belt, a reserve of five hundred acres of natural bush and shrub land. This delightful area is traversed by motor roads, and footpaths. People who are weary after the day's or week's work find it a haven of rest, refreshing the jaded spirit with its noble trees and green swards, its birds who sing unendingly.
(To be continued)page 38 page 39
The Tarawera Eruption.
(Continued from page 31).
We naturally came to the conclusion that someone was entombed there and hastened to get some implements to effect a rescue. After frantic efforts we reached the woodwork of the whare. When we succeeded in making an opening, out jumped a big black cat. He went like the proverbial “scalded cat,” streaking for Rotorua like the wind. Nine lives! That cat must have had a hundred lives.
Explosives, with Care.
In those days all stores and other commodities had to be brought from Tauranga by wagon. One of the Bird family, a brother-in-law of McRae, had arrived the day previous to the eruption with a full load. Amongst the cargo was a box for us, sent by Mr. E. Adams (now Borough Engineer at the Thames), who had been in our camp some weeks previously. We had then discussed a new explosive called “blasting gelatine,” of which we had no knowledge. Amongst the contents of the box was a parcel which, from its outward appearance, we judged to be this “blasting gelatine,” and, in consequence, treated it with the utmost respect. I handled it most carefully, and placed it in a large earthenware jar; it was left in the wash-house, detached from the main dwelling (which was burnt down).
During the night we spent in the fowlhouse I wondered what would happen if the fire from the dwelling spread to the wash-house where the earthenware jar was deposited. However, the wash-house was intact, and a few days afterwards I went to see what the explosive was like. On carefully undoing the parcel I found it contained preserved bananas!