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

Coaching in the Mud

Coaching in the Mud

In 1872 George Davis and John Bidgood began a two-day-a-week summer passenger service between Gisborne and Ormond, using a hooded express drawn by three horses. The journey (12 miles) occupied six hours in fine weather, and the fares were: 3/- either way, 5/- return. En route to Makaraka the sandy ridges were followed. If the weather was wet the passengers had to walk when the stretches of clay between Makaraka and King's Road (named after William King, the sawmiller) were reached; they did not require to leave their hard seats again. Drays were used for a twice-a-week goods service. Early in 1874 Sam Climo took over the passenger service, but, during the winter, the express got bogged, and had to be left in the mud until the spring. In 1875 Bidgood resuscitated the service, and Sam Stevenson ran a twice-daily service between Gisborne and Makauri.

As the roads leading out of Gisborne were extended the number of coach services increased. In 1882 W. F. Hatten started a daily service between Gisborne and Ormond. A rival service was begun in 1884 by S. M. Wilson, who used a brake drawn by six greys. Mr. Hatten kept his service going until 1915, when it was superseded by a motor service. In the late 1880's A. Devery provided services between Puha and Kaiteratahi and between Kaiteratahi and Whatatutu. During the 1890's J. (“Chum”) Brown ran coaches between Gisborne and Whatatutu and between Gisborne and Te Karaka. R. Craill had a service to Patutahi and G. Burnand to Matawhero. In 1901 J. R. Redstone served Whatatutu, J. T. Cassidy, Ormond and Te Karaka, and B. Greaves, Waimata. J. and W. Bisset had the Waimata service in 1907, and J. T. Cassidy then ran to Motu twice a week in the summer. During the next decade C. Lovell conducted a service between Motu and Opotiki.

A coach service between Gisborne and Tolaga Bay was started in 1887 by William McKinley, senior, who had had considerable experience on the Napier-Taupo road. At the outset he made only one trip each way each week. The fares were: 12/- single, 20/- return. It took five good horses to draw the coach, and the journey either way then occupied two full days. Among Mr. McKinley's early assistants were: Fred. Newey, A. McIntyre, William McKinley, junior, Jim McKinley, J. Moore, R. C. Fisken, George McDonald, Joe Brown and B. Storey. In July, 1900, a twice-a-week service was established. Mr. McKinley senior died on 20 January, 1903, and the service was taken over by W. F. Sinclair, who page 350 extended it first to Tokomaru Bay and then to Waipiro Bay. In November, 1903, J. R. Redstone and Sons took over the run, and conducted it for over 20 years. It was then superseded by motor services.

Describing the difficulties under which William McKinley senior had to labour, C. H. McCracken, of Te Puia, told the writer:

“If ever a man had a rough time coaching it was William McKinley. I have seen him marooned between Pouawa and Waiomoko streams, with both in flood. He could not get either up or down the coast. Freeing his horses, he had had no option but to make the coach his home till the flood waters went down. More than once I have ridden across the Waiomoko River and picked for him a track which would enable him to avoid quicksands. I have also on more than one occasion after dusk walked ahead of his coach at Puatai Point and struck matches to help him find the test track.”

According to Mrs. F. Newey (wife of Mr. McKinley's head driver), the Puatai rocks section was the worst part of the Gisborne-Tolaga Bay route. On one occasion she had to make the journey with two of her young children. When Puatai was reached the driver relieved her of one of them. With both hands she clung to the coach, and, to prevent the other infant from being thrown out, she held it by clutching its gown with her teeth!

Only one fatal mishap occurred on the Gisborne-Tolaga Bay route. On 9 September, 1919, Mrs. R. James, of Pakarae, and a little boy joined the ordinary coach at the Pakarae road junction. When Tatapouri was reached, they transferred to a special coach due to arrive at Gisborne earlier, and were given outside seats. The only inside passenger was a man named Nelson. When the ordinary coach got to the top of Tatapouri Hill it was met by Nelson, who was dazed and covered with blood. At the Makarori bend the overturned coach was found. Mrs. James was dead, and the driver (Thomas Bushnell) was unconscious. The boy had escaped serious injury. One horse had a broken leg, but the others had got free. Mr. Bushnell died next morning.

The first coach journey from Gisborne to Wairoa, via Tiniroto, was undertaken by C. Dette in November, 1887. A stop overnight was made at the Green Park Arms Hotel at Waerenga-o-Kuri. In the late 1890's a regular service was begun by William McKinley senior. His fares were 20/- single and 40/- return. The run was taken over by A. McIntyre, who sold out to W. F. Sinclair in December, 1903. Shortly afterwards it passed into the hands of Redstone and Sons. By 1899 coaches could use the new road from Gisborne to Wairoa via Morere. William McKinley senior also pioneered this run, and, later, extended it to Lake Waikare-moana. His fares to the lake were: 45/- single and 65/- return. Redstone and Sons took over the service in February, 1903.

Describing a trip which he made from Wairoa to Gisborne, via Morere, in June, 1902, the Rev. Mr. Beecroft told the Gisborne Times:

“So true was the eye of our driver, and so steady was his hand, that, although there was sometimes barely three inches of the road to the good, we never once grazed a bank in a cutting. The faithful steeds never seemed to put a foot down in the wrong place as they were urged along by the aid of sundry obtestations and objurgations. These entreaties, I supposed, belonged to a foreign tongue, but, on asking Jack, our driver [J. E. McKinley], I was told that they were part of the Scottish language.”

Only expert driving got J. E. McKinley out of a dangerous situation on a journey from Wairoa to Gisborne on 3 January, 1903. Between Nuhaka and Morere the bush on both sides of the road was on fire. The heat was stifling and the smoke suffocating. As each doomed tree fell, the crash alarmed the horses. Next morning fires were encountered between Morere and Tarewa. Halts had to be made twice whilst roadmen cleared obstructions. To make matters worse, the wind turned to the south and began to rise. Until the danger zone had been left behind, the page 351 utmost pace had to be exacted from the team. When the wind had changed a Tarewa settler placed his wife and family in a big hole as a precautionary measure.

Stewart's Crossing, between Morere and Wairoa, was the most dangerous on the Gisborne-Wairoa, via Morere, route. A mailman named Williams lost his life there in 1898. Subsequently a cable (with cage) was erected. On 18 March, 1909, Frank Parker and his sister Annie (son and daughter of C. J. Parker) attempted the passage in a trap drawn by two horses. Although the stream was swollen, the coach had got through earlier in the day. In midstream the vehicle overturned and was swept away. Miss Parker was drowned.