Historic Poverty Bay and the East Coast, N.I., N.Z.
“Snip” and “Nelson”
“Snip” and “Nelson”
It was, at first, Read's rule not to buy produce from a native on a sample. Perhaps he had been “taken down” elsewhere! Before a bargain would be struck the whole of the line would be carefully examined. As there were no roads, as the sledge was, then, the only vehicle that had come into use, and as the spot cash market was very limited, there was little risk that a dissatisfied native would take his produce back home. When other page 189 traders entered the arena Read became more reasonable. He then began to pay personal calls upon good native clients.
On one of his many visits to Auckland, Read bought “Snip,” a sturdy white horse, which had belonged to a circus and had been taught to stoop. “Snip” was the only horse which he could mount and dismount from without aid. He was also very fond of his Newfoundland dog “Nelson,” and, when it became old and lame and could no longer accompany him to and from business, he greatly missed its companionship. When some road formation had been carried out, he imported a light, but very strong, vehicle of the type known as “an American buckboard.” In good weather he often put “Snip” in the shafts and took an outing with his faithful wife Noko, who had to make the best of a precarious position at the back of the vehicle.
Never in the course of his long business career did Read hold a cheap sale. New seasons came and went, but, in the case of his stocks, fashions showed but little tendency to change. When a fresh consignment of drapery came to hand Mrs. James Dunlop, who had eight daughters, invariably was allowed first choice. In those days jewellery was not in much demand and the most eagerly desired wedding gift was either a side-saddle or a hand sewing machine. Unsaleable goods were put in a wool bale and given to Captain Kennedy to dump overboard on one of his coastal trips.
Few traders had as good a day-by-day idea of their stocks as Read, who was credited with possessing a wonderful “photographic” memory. If some valuable article was not in its accustomed place he would inquire the name of the buyer. On one occasion (so it was stated) he missed an expensive saddle. His storeman (Robert Colebrook) was alarmed to find that he had not only omitted to enter up this particular sale, but that the name of the buyer had also escaped his memory. Angrily, Read demanded a list of all the customers (mostly natives) who had come in during his absence. He then gave instructions that a saddle should be charged up to each of them. According to the story only George Scott challenged the item!
It was Read's custom to have a settling up with one particular client only once a year.
“And what a day it was!” Frank Harris was fond of recalling. He would continue: “On the road outside you could hear the pair heatedly arguing over disputed items. Eventually, the irate client would emerge from the premises, closely followed by the equally well-aroused merchant. Invariably, the client's parting words would be: ‘You will never get another penny of my money!’ and Read's stock rejoinder would be: ‘And you will never get any more credit from me!’ This way of settling up had gone on for many years in the same stormy fashion. High words were always used on both sides, but blows were never struck.”page 190
Either as plaintiff or defendant—in most cases in the former role—Read figured prominently in the Magistrate's Court. For many years the sittings were held in one of his buildings, which was known as “The Courthouse.” A story went the rounds among the old hands—and, of course, it might not have been true—that, on one occasion, when it appeared likely that he would lose his case, he ordered Mr. Locke, R.M., and his staff off the premises! When Mr. Locke heard of Read's death he remarked: “He was very touchy, and was liable to burst into a temper and go off in a huff.”
Read sometimes fell so far from grace that he had to appear before the court to answer a complaint that he had used abusive and threatening language. On one occasion he was charged with having threatened to shoot a fellow-resident. When the charge was read out he became very excited, and, banging his fist down on the table, he shouted: “Yes, I did, and, by jingo, I will!” Upon calming down he told Mr. Locke that he now thought better on the matter. This admission pacified the complainant and pleased the magistrate. When Captain Tucker left his employ to look after Riparata Kahutia's affairs Read treated him as a personal enemy, and, whenever they chanced to meet, he would abuse him. Tucker had him fined on several occasions.
It came as a great shock to Read when he learned, early in 1871, that Samuel Taylor Horsfall was about to open a big store on the main street. Bitter enmity soon sprang up between them, and, on several occasions, their wordy warfare ended in blows. During a quarrel in October, 1872, Horsfall knocked some of Read's teeth out and kicked him. Read took the matter into court. Horsfall pleaded that, when he had sent a messenger with an account to Read, the document had been thrown back to the accompaniment of insulting language. He was merely bound over to keep the peace. Dissatisfied with the decision, Read sued Horsfall for £500 for violent assault. A special jury at Napier assessed the damages at £50.
One of the highlights of Read's career was his temporary entry into national politics. In 1873 he declined a requisition that he should allow himself to be nominated for the Turanganui seat on the Auckland Provincial Council. However, three years later, he agreed to become a candidate for the East Coast seat in the General Assembly. The electorate included the Bay of Plenty, the East Coast, Poverty Bay and Northern Hawke's Bay. On the northern side there were 342 electors, and on the southern side 691. There were only six polling places: Tauranga, Matata, Maketu, Opotiki, Gisborne and Wairoa. Further references to the sensational contest which followed appear under the heading “Election Echoes.”