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

Under Municipal Control

Under Municipal Control

Pioneer Civic Rulers and Their Problems

Gisborne was incorporated as a borough under a proclamation issued on 12 May, 1877, by the Marquis of Normanby. Captain T. Chrisp had, within two hours, obtained the necessary 200 signatures that appeared on the petition which had been sent to the Government. The election for mayor (25/6/1877) resulted: W. F. Crawford, 95 votes; W. W. Wilson, 38 C. D. Berry, who had also been nominated, withdrew. Two days later nine councillors were elected: S. Stevenson, 116 votes; J. Townley, 111; Carlaw Smith, 94; William Teat, 88; W. Adair, 82; E. K. Brown, 79; T. Adams, 76; J. R. Morgan, 68; and H. Clayton, 66. The unsuccessful candidates were: A. Walker, 65; J. Tutchen, 63; R. Kelly, 56; J. H. Stubbs, 53; W. T. H. Best, 49; H. C. Boylan, 47; R. Cooper, 39; M. G. Nasmith, 38; Brooke-Taylor, 29; and A. Y. Ross, 18. C. D. Bennett was appointed Town Clerk (salary, £150 per annum) and J. Drummond, C.E., engineer (salary, £200 per annum). A rate of 1/- in the £ on the rental values was estimated to yield £1,657.

The Council lost no time in providing a punt for the Turanganui River. It brought in a rental of £100 per annum. The scale of charges which the first licensee (H. Brownlow) had to abide by was as under: Foot passengers, 3d. each way; a man and a horse, 2/-; a four-wheel trap and one horse, 2/6; ditto, with two horses, 3/6; dray and two bullocks, 2/6, with a further charge of 1/- for each additional pair in yoke; sheep, up to 20, 3d. each; cattle, goats and pigs, 3d. each; horses, 6d; foals and calves, free; goods per ton measurement, 1/6, but if they had to be loaded or unloaded by the ferryman, 3/6 per ton. Double rates were levied between sunset and 6 a.m.

Many of the residents probably did not welcome the appointment of Thomas Faram as inspector of nuisances. In April, 1878, he stressed the primitive conditions in which some of them were living. “It would,” he reported, “hardly be credited were I to specify the wretchedly dirty state of some of the premises, and I can only express my astonishment that, impregnated as the atmosphere is by such noisome and offensive smells, there has not been some great sickness during the present dry season. There are places much too dirty for pigs to live in …” Another bugbear which troubled this conscientious official was the fire hazard. He strongly page 391 condemned the practice of lighting fires to do washing in the backyards of business premises which were strewn with packing cases and straw.

On 17 June, 1878, it was decided, by 100 votes to 5, to borrow £10,000 for ten years at 6 per cent., with a sinking fund of 7 per cent. per annum, mainly to meet the cost of metalling Gladstone Road. During the lengthy interval that elapsed before the loan money became available but little work could be undertaken. When a new footpath was made, or an old one repaired, half the cost had to be met by the owners of the frontages. Under by-laws enacted in 1879, the outer walls (except the front wall) of every new structure in Gladstone Road were required to be constructed of brick, concrete or corrugated iron. No new premises in the main street could be roofed with shingles, and all new chimneys had to be built either in brick or stone. An earth closet had to be provided at every home.

Roadmaking Under Difficulties

The task of providing Gisborne with good streets baffled its civic rulers for over half a century. First-class metal in large deposits was not available in handy positions, and the surface of the business area was composed mostly of sand and silt. A contract for formation work in Gladstone Road was let in May, 1874, by the Highways Board. Papa transported in punts from Kaiti Beach was used for foundations, and shingle from the “island” in the Waimata River for surfacing. During the wet winter of 1875 the papa turned to mud and most of the shingle disappeared. Crossings were then made with flat stones obtained from Tuamotu Island. In Upper Gladstone Road fascines were laid down. During the winter of 1876 a wagon had to be dug out at a spot just above the Royal Hotel.

Trees, chiefly poplars, were planted by the borough authorities along the sides of Gladstone Road in 1878. It was believed that they would assist to lessen the dust nuisance, besides affording shade, in summer, for horses tied to the hitching posts which stood in front of shops. The residents were also encouraged to plant trees, other than willows, in front of their premises. Many visitors regarded the stately rows as an attractive adjunct. Only very reluctantly did the council allow the Post and Telegraph Department in 1886 to trim some of the trees which interfered with its lines. In 1897, as many of the trees were proving a nuisance, a start was made to remove them.

The loan moneys authorised in June, 1878, became available in October, 1880, through the good offices of Sir Julius Vogel, who induced the Bank of New Zealand to advance the amount required upon a pledge that repayment would be made within six years. An extensive programme of road works was embarked upon, but only temporary benefit was derived. More papa was procured for foundations, and anybody who brought up shingle from Waikanae Beach was paid 2/- per cubic yard. For every prisoner the Prisons Department could supply it was paid, 3/- for eight hours' work. The dust nuisance remained so bad that some shopkeepers asked the council to arrange with the fire brigade to play water on the streets every morning. They would, they said, prefer mud to dust!

In the middle 1880's, spawls from Waihirere were obtained for road foundations. Within two years, however, the deposit could no longer be profitably worked. Stone from other localities was tried, but only a small proportion proved of fair quality. A horse-drawn mud-scraper had to be procured in 1902. Only very limited supplies of Patutahi stone could be spared by Cook County, and, for some years, the borough had to rely mainly upon Kaiteratahi gravel.

A quarry at Gentle Annie was opened by the borough in 1911. It was page 392 equipped with a first-class plant, and the stone was transported to town by a steam tramway. The quality grew progressively worse. Used for patching, it turned to slush in wet weather, and had to be scraped off the roads. In 1913 Mr. Mansfield (borough engineer) estimated that it would cost £642,000 to put all the streets in good order. The quarry was closed in June, 1915. Soon afterwards greywacke stone became available from Motuhora. Tar-sealing on extensive lines followed. In 1926 a hot-mix plant was obtained, and a great improvement in the principal streets soon became noticeable.

When W. Douglas Lysnar became the leader of the council in 1908 a new phase of borough politics began. A majority of the members were prepared to support his ambitious plans through thick and thin. The minority formed themselves into an organised opposition. Mr. Lysnar's followers were faithful to a degree. On one occasion, when a division was being taken, one of them was found to have dozed off. He was awakened and asked to indicate how he wished his vote to be recorded. Naively, he replied: “The same way as Mr. Lysnar!” Many of the meetings were very lively, and some of them lasted till daylight.

Loan proposals brought down in December, 1909, totalled £175,000. They included: Sewerage, £60,500; tram system, £25,000; electric power plant, £16,142; and street improvements, £35,000. The ratepayers were permitted to vote only for or against the issues as a whole, and the poll resulted: For, 861 votes; against, 279. Mr. Lysnar went to London and raised the loan at 4 per cent. for 30 years. To cover his expenses he received a much-debated grant of £800. It proved unfortunate that a sinking fund of only ½ per cent. was adopted. When the loan fell due in 1940 only £63,955 had accumulated. What made matters worse was that the exchange rate on London then stood at 25 per cent. A fresh loan of £151,800 was needed, in addition to the sinking fund, to repay the old loan.

By the end of 1946 there were 54.3 miles of formed legal roads and 5.5 miles of unformed legal roads in the borough. The length of bitumen matrix and/or concrete roads was then 9.7 miles. There were also 14 miles of bitumen or tar-sealed roads. Roads that were only metalled or gravelled aggregated 29.5 miles. Footpaths permanently sealed ran into 25.36 miles, and the extent of kerbing and channelling was 11.25 miles. Bridges of 25 feet in length and over numbered 11, with an aggregate length of 2,454 feet.

Gisborne's Water Supply Problem

Gisborne's misfortune in not being blessed with a plentiful, nearby supply of water for domestic purposes was first noted by Captain Cook. A spring near the site now occupied by the Wi Pere memorial in Read's Quay had to be relied upon by the pioneer residents when their tanks and wells failed. Many water supply schemes have since engaged the attention of the civic rulers. At the outset it was believed that an artesian supply could be obtained, but all the bores that were put down were a failure. Waihirere, as a possible source of supply, was first suggested in 1886. A poll taken in 1902 (in conjunction with a sewerage scheme) to draw water from that locality was carried, but, when the issue was voted upon again in 1903, it was rejected.

The contract in connection with the Te Arai supply was let in May, 1906, the ratepayers having approved, by 583 votes to 156, the raising of £75,000 for the purpose. By 1912 it was found, on account of the steady growth of population, that the supply, during dry spells, was not equal to the demand. Whilst a settling tank was being constructed at Waingake in 1913, a tunnel collapsed, and three workmen—Harry Fletcher, Robert Houston and Frank Wild—were killed. This was the worst accident ever experienced in connection with a Gisborne borough undertaking.

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To augment the supply a pipeline was laid, in 1917, from the Mangapoike stream over the watershed to the Te Arai side, and a pumping plant was installed. Within a few years, however, the demand exceeded the combined supply during drought periods. A service reservoir (850,000 gallons) was built on Taumata Hill in 1934, and proved helpful chiefly for firefighting purposes. In October, 1942, the ratepayers agreed to the raising of £45,000 to enable a low-lying area (including some ponds) in the Mangapoike watershed to be converted into a 40-acre reservoir, with a capacity of 246 million gallons. This scheme was designed by G. F. Clapcott (borough engineer).

Upon the advice of a consulting engineer, a start was made to construct a 6,000-foot tunnel to allow the water from the dam to be led direct into the Te Arai watershed. As the formation proved unstable, it became necessary to lay a pipeline 3¼ miles in length from the dam to a point where the ridge required to be pierced by a tunnel only 80 feet long. A reinforced tank (capacity, 420,000 gallons) in Lytton Road was, at this stage, added to the scheme. These extra works called for a supplementary loan of £30,000.

So desperate did the supply position become during the drought early in 1946 that the need to draw water from the Waipaoa River was obviated only by a narrow margin. Prior to the start of a drought of five months' duration during the spring and summer of 1947–8, only 40 million gallons of water had accumulated in the dam. In March, 1948, two pumps were installed alongside the Matawhero bridge to pump water from the Waipaoa River into the town mains. On the day before pumping was to have begun the awkward position was relieved by soaking rains. A torrential downpour in May, 1948, filled the dam to capacity.

Laid down in 1907, the 15-inch main from the Te Arai headworks was guaranteed only for between 25 and 30 years. In June, 1948, G. M. Beaumont (borough engineer) estimated that a 20-inch main capable of delivering 2,350,000 gallons of water per day, together with the work of extending the Taumata Hill reservoir so that it would hold 5,000,000 gallons of water, and other necessary work, would cost £211,320. His plan, he said, would provide for the needs of a population of 23,500, which, at Gisborne's rate of progress, should be reached between 1965 and 1970. With the aid of booster pumps, the capacity of the proposed larger main could be increased to supply a population of 40,000 on a consumption basis of 100 gallons per capita per day.

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.

Municipal Administrators

Since the incorporation of the Borough of Gisborne in 1877 only 18 residents have occupied the position of “Chief Magistrate.” The record in respect of greatest length of service was held by John Townley—“Honest John” to his fellow-citizens—who was mayor from 1890 till 1908. In sequence the holders have been:

W. F. Crawford, 1877–78; T. W. Porter, 1878–81; C. D. Bennett, 1881–82; E. K. Brown, 1882–83; T. W. Porter, 1883–84; C. A. de Lautour, 1884–85; A. McDonald, part 1885–86; H. Lewis, part 1885–86; T. W. Porter, 1886–87; W. H. Tucker, 1887–89; C. A. de Lautour, 1889–90; J. Townley, 1890–1908; W. Douglas Lysnar 1908–11; W. Pettie, 1911–13; J. R. Kirk, 19131–14; W. G. Sherratt, 1914–19; G. T. Wildish, 1919–27; C. E. Armstrong, part 1927–28; J. Blair, part, 1927–28; D. W. Coleman, 1928–33; J. Jackson, 1933–35; D. W. Coleman, 1935–41; N. H. Bull, 1941–.

William Fitzgerald Crawford (born in Tipperary in 1844) reached Auckland early in 1864, and went off to the goldfields on the West Coast (South Island). Returning to Auckland, he became clerk at the Albert Brewery. In 1874 his employers built a brewery at Gisborne and placed him in charge. He took over the concern in 1875, formed a company which built a new brewery, and conducted it until 1897. In 1878 he introduced the first “writing machine” into Gisborne. Many fine photographs page 395 of scenes and gatherings in Poverty Bay in the early days were taken by him. He died at Auckland in December, 1916.

John Townley (born at Warrington, Lancashire, in 1837) landed at Napier in 1863 and joined Mr. Large in conducting a furniture factory there. He took part in the Battle of Omarunui (1866). In 1873 he opened a branch at Gisborne, and ten years later took it over. Besides holding the office of mayor for the record term of 18 years, Mr. Townley also held the record for length of service on the council (1877–1908). A borough minute eulogising his civic work states: “His unswerving courtesy in the conduct of public business, his incessant devotion to the duties of his office, and his many acts of friendship, kindness and hospitality will long be cherished by the people among whom he has lived and laboured.” Mr. Townley was also Chairman of the Harbour Board from 1890 till 1918, and superintendent of the fire brigade from 1885 till 1913. He passed away on 27 April, 1920. Mrs. Townley died on 25 November, 1930, at the great age of 93 years.

Charles Edward Armstrong (born at Hampstead, England, in 1865) joined the engineering staff of the Public Works Department in 1880. He was engaged on the Midland, Wanganui-New Plymouth, North Island Main Trunk, Kawakawa-Whangarei and Gisborne-Motuhora railway lines. When he came to Gisborne in 1901 as District Engineer there was only a poor road outlet to the south and no northern outlet. Upon his retirement in 1924 there were all-weather highways in both directions. He died on 24 February, 1928.

Cecil Albert de Lautour (born in India in 1845) was a son of Judge de Lautour, of the High Court of Calcutta. He attended the East India Company's military college. Settling at Naseby in 1863, he engaged first in pastoral pursuits and then became editor and part-proprietor of the Mount Ida Chronicle. He served as mayor of Naseby, was a member of the first Education Board of Otago, represented Mount Ida on the Otago Provincial Council (1874–6), and was M.H.R. for Mount Ida (1876–84). Moving to the North Island, he unsuccessfully contested the Newton and Waiapu seats. He was mayor of Gisborne for two terms, served on the Harbour Board, Hospital Board and High School Board, and, for 20 years, was chairman of directors of the Gisborne S.F.M. and M. Co. Ltd. He died in December, 1930.

Charles Debenham Bennett (born at Worcester in 1835) went out to India in 1858 and joined a cavalry regiment in the East India Company's service. In 1864 he saw active service in Taranaki, and, subsequently, on the East Coast. He then became a partner in the firm of Graham, Pitt and Bennett. In 1898 he and W. G. Sherratt founded the firm of Bennett and Sherratt. He died on 10 March, 1903.

Edward Knight Brown (born in England in 1845) moved from the Waikato to Gisborne in 1875 and opened a store. Subsequently, he was editor, for some years, of the Hillgrove Times (N.S.W.). He died in August, 1929.

William Pettie (born in Inniskilling in 1851) was trained as a draper, and came out to Wellington in 1880. Six years later he took a position in Gisborne. He established the business now known as Petties Ltd. He died at Auckland on 27 February, 1914, whilst on a visit with a Gisborne bowling team.

Henry Lewis (born in London in 1833) migrated to Sydney in 1854, and, in 1855, settled in Auckland, where he and his brothers established a softgoods business. In 1878 he moved to Gisborne. He died on 30 May, 1917.

John Jackson (born at Maori Creek, West Coast, in 1868) spent 21 years at coalmining and 15 years on railway construction works. From page 396 1904 till 1911 he was employed on the Greymouth waterfront. He was a member of the Greymouth Borough Council for some years. In 1911 he was appointed an inspector of factories and served, in turn, at Greymouth, Napier, Timaru, Christchurch, Wellington, and then at Gisborne (1925–32). He returned to the West Coast (South Island).

James Robert Kirk, M.B.E. (born at Dunedin in 1878) practised for some years as a solicitor at Naseby, where he served as mayor for two terms. In September, 1908, he bought W. D. Lysnar's practice in Gisborne. Three months later he refused a magistracy. During the first Great War he went overseas as educational officer in the First N.Z.E.F., retiring with the rank of major. He served on the Hawke's Bay Education Board for some years, and was a member of the Royal Commission on Education. Prior to his death in Wellington in 1943 he had resided there for several years.

George Thomas Wildish (born in London in 1865) came out to Oamaru with his parents when he was a child. In 1885, after serving his apprenticeship as a saddler, he moved to Auckland. Three months later he joined the staff of William Morgan in Gisborne. He went into business on his own account in 1904, retiring in 1919. For many years he was a member of the Gisborne School Committee, and, in addition, served on the Hawke's Bay Education Board. He was a member of the fire brigade for 30 years and a prominent athlete. He unsuccessfully contested the Gisborne seat in 1922. He made his home in Auckland in 1927. On the occasion of the General Election in 1938 he was an unsuccessful aspirant for the Grey Lynn seat.

Borough engineers: J. Drummond, 1877–88; R. J. Reynolds, 1883–86; J. Drummond, 1886–1900 (as required); G. J. Winter, 1900–06 (as required); E. Harvey Gibbon, 1906–07; A. J. Paterson, 1910–13; W. T. Mansfield, 1913–15; de Gennes Fraser, 1916–17; A. Slinger, 1917–18; J. A. MacDonald, 1919–23; J. G. Alexander, 1923–24; A. Young, 1924–30; G. Darton, 1930–32; E. Thomas, 1932–42; G. H. Clapcott, 1942–46, and consulting engineer, 1946–; G. M. Beaumont, 1946–.

John Drummond, C.E. (born in Glasgow) went out to the Australian goldfields and, later, to the Otago, Thames and Coromandel goldfields. He then entered the service of the General Government. In 1870–1 he re-surveyed the road from Gisborne to Ormond. Other early works carried out by him were: Settling the route for a bridle track between Gisborne and Wairoa, via Te Reinga, and laying off the route for the telegraph line between Wairoa and Gisborne. He was the first engineer both to the Poverty Bay Highways Board and the Gisborne Borough Council. His death occurred in November, 1900.

Richard James Reynolds, C.E. (born near Liverpool in 1845) settled in Gisborne in 1880. He was borough engineer from 1883 till 1886. The first bridge over the Turanganui River was designed by him. In 1886 he took up Mangaheia No. 1 block, but continued to reside in Gisborne at “Sandown,” which he built in 1882. He was one of the founders of the Poverty Bay Golf Club, a keen cricketer and a good shot. He died on 13 January, 1924.

George Edward Darton (born at Lawrence in 1871) was borough road overseer from 1911 till 1913. He was an unsuccessful aspirant for the Waiapu seat in 1905 and for the Gisborne seat in 1908. During the Great War of 1914–18 he served on Gallipoli. From 1930 till his death on 18 September, 1932, he was borough engineer. He was a keen supporter of every movement for the beautification of the town, and an enthusiastic officer-bearer in the R.S.A. His work in connection with the construction of the Gisborne aerodrome was outstanding. To perpetuate his memory the borough council gave to it the name “Darton Field.”

Town Clerks: C. D. Bennett, 1877–78; Bedford Sherriff, 1878–82; John Bourke, 1882–91; R. D. B. Robinson, 1891–1933; W. M. Jenkins, M.B.E., 1933–.
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Bedford Sherriff (born at Tunbridge Wells, England, in 1835) settled at Wanganui in 1851. During the Taranaki War he served under Major von Tempsky. He was storekeeper to the Armed Constabulary at Ormond in the early 1870's, and, later, became prominent in business, volunteering and musical circles in Gisborne. He died on 18 December, 1918.

Reginald Deason Blanford Robinson (born at Auckland in 1871) was Town Clerk of Gisborne for 42 years. He joined the borough clerical staff in June, 1888, and was only 20 years old when he was appointed Town Clerk on 1 July, 1891. For some years he was also secretary to the Hospital Board, and, for some seasons secretary to the Poverty Bay Rugby Union. He was prominent in athletics, Rugby and rowing. His death occurred on 3 July, 1933. The clock tower in Gladstone Road, which was unveiled on 19 December, 1934, was named in his honour.