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Historic Poverty Bay and the East Coast, N.I., N.Z.


The earliest European residents of Poverty Bay had to arrange with captains of visiting vessels to carry their outward mail. Inward correspondence for roving colonists was required to be addressed to somebody who had agreed to take care of it. William Morris's first letter from Ireland was addressed “Mr. John Williams Harris, Poverty Bay, New Zealand. For William Morris, Waikahua.” Its wrapper was a sheet of paper sealed with wax, and, in addition to the Royal Arms, it bore the following marks: “Ship's letter, London. Paid. 6. May 2, 1841.”

When Mr. Wardell was appointed resident magistrate for Poverty Bay in 1855, he also became the first official postmaster. As he lived at Makaraka he arranged with Captain Read to act for him at Turanganui. This work was carried out, for some years, by a member of Read's staff. In 1871 the post office was shifted to the Argyll Hotel; in 1872 J. H. Stubbs, chemist, took it over; and, in 1873, it was at Boylan's ironmongery shop. When a fortnightly mail service to and from Auckland by the Pretty Jane was arranged in 1874 a Postal Department official was appointed postmaster. The first post office was built in 1876.

Gisborne's first letter carrier, Albert Joseph Fyson, was appointed in 1879. At the outset he was not required to go out on a regular delivery round; he would put a bundle of letters in his pocket and stroll out on to the main road in the hope that he might run across some of the addressees. Letters for Maoris were placed on the counter, and native callers were invited to look through the heap. It was part of Mr. Fyson's work to record official time at noon every Saturday by firing off a cannou which stood near the mouth of the Waikanae Creek.

Once a fortnight a mailman on horseback left Gisborne with the mail for the East Coast. No other traveller received a warmer welcome. Upon John Walker's retirement in 1895 the settlers presented him with a purse of sovereigns. No matter how muddy the track, he had always had a smile for everybody. Nobody would venture close to the mailbags whilst they were in the custody of his dog, Sandy. Walker then became a dog tax collector, with headquarters at Tokomaru Bay. Once again, Sandy proved a dutiful public servant. When a native settlement came in sight he would run on ahead and, by his vocal efforts, lure out all the resident dogs. His master would follow them back to their domiciles and demand the tax. Natives carried the mail on horseback to and from Wairoa in the 1860's and 1870's. In the next decade pakeha carriers used mules as well as packhorses. Then came the Royal Mail coach services. (See sub-section: Trials of Travel in Bygone Days.)

Gisborne was linked up with the national telegraph system on 4 May, 1875. When the line reached Wairoa from Napier 12 months earlier, the Poverty Bay Herald gleefully commented: “It is now possible to get into immediate touch with outside districts by taking only a day's ride to Wairoa.” Some delay occurred in obtaining from the natives the right to continue the line north from Wairoa. In an attempt to enforce a demand for rent at the rate of 1/- per chain, the Wairoa natives transferred some posts and wire back on to the southern side of the river. page 334 The Nuhaka natives held up the line until they received payment for their services during the Waikaremoana expedition against Te Kooti.

A telephone exchange, with 60 subscribers, was opened at Gisborne on 1 March, 1897. There were two operators—Miss S. Buchanan and Miss Nasmith (Mrs. Douglas Blair, of Kaiti)—and the exchange, at the outset, was kept open only from 9 a.m. till 5 p.m. on weekdays, and from 9 a.m. till 10 a.m. on Sundays. From 27 February, 1909, the exchange remained open all day on Sundays, and the closing hour each evening was extended till 11 o'clock. A continuous service was established in October, 1912, and an automatic exchange was installed in May, 1941. The number of subscribers at 31 March, 1949, in the Gisborne Postal District (which includes Opotiki, Wairoa and the East Coast) was 6,014.