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

Gisborne's Ill-fated Tramways System

Gisborne's Ill-fated Tramways System

Gisborne is the only town in New Zealand in which the storage-battery system of tramways was tried. Whilst W. D. Lysnar (the mayor) was in the United States of America in 1910, he consulted Thomas Edison (the eminent inventor), and, upon his return home, two of the novel trams were ordered. The system was inaugurated on 16 April, 1913. For ten years the only line ran along Gladstone Road from the Post Office to Stanley Road (176 chains). A third tram was bought in 1917 and a fourth in 1919. On 24 November, 1923, a line through Whataupoko, via Ormond Road (111 chains) was opened. The capital expenditure had then reached £57,000, and the system had shown a loss each year.

It was decided in September, 1925, by 1,054 votes to 902, and in November, 1926, by 1,187 votes to 959, that the system should be “scrapped,” but, in turn, these polls were upset. Before a third poll could be held the borough was required by a Compensation Court to take over four motor buses from L. H. Coham and pay him £2,059, on the ground that his service was in substantial competition with a borough passenger service. Both bus and tram services were then operated under municipal control. page 394 By 1,283 votes to 1,130 the residents finally decided, in June, 1928, that the trams should be dispensed with. The Ormond Road service was discontinued in November, 1928, and the Gladstone Road service in July, 1929.


Intersected by the Turanganui River and its two large outspreading arms—the Taruheru River and the Waimata River—and also by Waikanae Creek, Gisborne, which is divided into four areas, is already served by eleven bridges (exclsive of the harbour bridge). Neither the Peel Steet bridge (opened on 24/11/1923) nor the Galdstone Road bridge (openeed on 26/3/1925) is surpassed in appearance or in strength by any bridge of similar size elsewhere in the Dominion.

The first bridge over the Taruheru River at Peel Street was built by the New Zealand Land Settlement Company (in which W. L. Rees was a prominent figure) in 1882. It was called “Rees's Folly” because it was believed that Whataupoko was so far out of town that it would not attract residents. Sections in that suburb were auctioned in 1884, the upset prices for quarter-acre lots ranging from £15 to £50. The highest amount paid was £108. A wooden house built in 1864 by James Ralston Wyllie and, later, removed to Stout Street, is still standing. Its vertical weather-boarding distinguhshes it from its neighbours.

The first building boom in Gisborne was experienced in the 1870's. There was another very busy period in the early and middle 1920's. In 1921 permits to the amount of £153,834 were issued. During the world depression (1929–33) building fell off to a very low level. Only £16,000 worth of work was carried out in 1931. Another boom began at the close of the Second World War. In 1945–46 the permits aggregated £146,000; 1946–47, £281,000; 1947–48, £215,797; and 1948–49, £215,446. The average cost of private dwellings in Gisborne has varied as under: 1912–13, £420; 1024–25, £979; 1932–33 (depression period), £502; 1944–45, £1,340; and 1948–49, £1,703. No figures have been released concerning the cost of building State houses in the town.

Some very close mayoral contests have been held in Gisborne. In 1880 T. W. Porter defeated W. F. Crawford by 108 votes to 105; in 1905 J. Townley polled 562 votes to W. D. Lysnar's 526; in 1914 W. G. Sherratt beat Dr. J. C. Collins by 1,109 votes to 1,093; and in 1928 D. W. Coleman won against J. Blair by 1,767 votes to 1,742.

A by-election for councillor in October, 1888, resulted in each of the three candidates—W. L. File, J. Ponsford and A. Taylor—receiving 130 votes. In a by-election in May, 1910, T. J. Jackson (758 votes) beat Georgd Smith (757). Alfred Ledger, a candidate for a seat on the council in 1886, advertised that he had received a requisition to stand from: “James Honesty,” “John Truth,” “Edward Butcher,” “Fred. Draper,” and so on. Only 11 of the 408 voters supported the humorist, whose tally still stands as a record low polling figure. Among seven candidates for two vacancies on the council in September, 1911, was Wong King, a Chinese market gardener. He stated afterwards that, when he signed the nomination paper, he was under the impression that he was nominating his proposers! With 134 votes he came lowest on the poll.

The first half-holiday poll held in Gisborne (April, 1921) resulted: Saturday, 1,476 votes; Thursday, 1,475. There was a margin of only 60 votes in favour of the erection of the Peel Street ferro-concrete bridge, and the Galdstone Road bridge proposal was carried with only 15 votes to spare.