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

Cook County

Cook County

Original Area Now Divided Into Five Counties

When Cook County was established in 1876 it comprised the areas which, to-day, form the counties of Cook, Waikohu, Uawa, Waiapu and Matakaoa, and it extended from Cape Runaway in the north to Paritu in the south. The members of its first council were: J. W. Johnson (Te Arai riding), J. R. Hurrey and C. W. Ferris (Gisborne), A. McDonald and J. Seymour (Waimata), E. Robson (Tolaga Bay) and T. W. Porter (Waiapu). At a meeting on 9 January, 1877, Mr. Johnson was elected chairman, Captain Tucker was appointed clerk (salary, £200 per annum) and R. M. Skeet, C.E., surveyor (salary, £150 per annum). Despite a protest by the Tolaga Bay ratepayers, the Counties Act as a whole was brought into force.

Te Arai, Ormond, Waikohu and Turanganui districts all had road boards in 1877. Patutahi followed in 1879, and then: Whataupoko (1882), Waimata (1885), Kaiti (1887), Ngatapa (1893), Pouawa and Aroha (1896) and Titirangi and Taruheru (1897). None of them functioned after December, 1917.

The county's first set of estimates (16 March, 1877) anticipated receipts totalling £3,541, the main items being: Rates, £1,541; Government subsidy, £500; and publicans' licence fees, £800. Roads proclaimed main roads were: Gisborne-Opotiki, East Coast and Gisborne-Wairoa (inland)—all to the boundaries of the old Highways District. A Public Works vote of £1,750 was received in April, 1877, and a schedule of road works, was drawn up as follows: Gisborne Borough to Makaraka, £200; Makaraka to King's Road, £300; King's Road-a-Hika, £250 Waerenga-a-Hika to Ormond, £250; road and approaches to proposed bridge over Waipaoa River, £300; and road to Waihirere quarry site, £450.

Towards the close of 1877 the council opened up the stone deposit at Waihirere, and laid down a tramline. At the outset the trucks were drawn by a small engine, which was driven by Fred Benson, with whom Bill Watt was associated as fireman. A larger engine was afterwards obtained, but it played havoc with the line. In the end, horses had to be employed. Waihirere stone was used for the foundations of the road betwen Makaraka and Ormond, and it has stood up to a constant stream of traffic. A lot of stone from the quarry also went into the foundations of Gisborne's main thoroughfare. When the quarry began to fail in 1885 another was opened up in the Patutahi district. This quarry proved a valuable source of supply, and is still (1949) being drawn upon. Supplementary supplies have, for some years, been obtained from Waerenga-o-Kuri.

During the winter of 1878 J. E. Hills considered himself lucky that page 398 “General” Jackson was able to take him and his family by bullock-wagon right on to his section at Patutahi. John Carron, who, with his wife and 11 children, settled there shortly afterwards, obtained some manuka poles, scrub, and rushes and quickly erected a rough shelter. He conducted a bullock-wagon service between Patutahi and Gisborne for some years, but it was often interrupted on account of the wretched state of the track. Francis Bee's four-wheeler could not be released from a bog near the Domain for some months in 1879. An essential part of a horseman's equipment in those days was a hammer and some staples to enable him to lower a farmer's fence (and repair it) when it became necessary to dodge a bad piece of road.

Maoris Outpace Europeans

According to the census taken in 1878, there were 1,541 European residents within the original boundaries of Cook County—Waiapu Riding, 109; Tolaga Bay, 187; Waimata, 101; Gisborne, 871; and Te Arai, 273.

1906: Cook County, 7,173; Waiapu County, 858; total, 8,031.
1926: Matakaoa, 539; Waiapu, 1,809; Uawa, 1,074; Waikohu, 2,604; Te Karaka T.D., 321; Cook County, 5,495; Patutahi T.D., 283; total, 12,125.
1945: Matakaoa, 303; Waiapu, 1,641; Uawa, 749; Waikohu, 1,912; Te Karaka T.D., 262; Cook County, 5,247; Patutahi T.D., 203; total, 10,317, plus 3 per cent, to represent residents out of the district on war service.

The Maori population within the area originally occupied by Cook County has more than doubled in less than 40 years, whereas the European population during the same period has increased not much above 25 percent, and was, in 1945, much below the 1926 figure. Maori census figures:

1906: Waiapu, 2,611; Cook County, approximately 1,500; total, 4,111.
1926: Matakaoa, 963; Waiapu, 3,292; Uawa, 592; Waikohu, 536; Cook, 940; total, 6,323.
1945: Matakaoa, 1,547; Waiapu, 4,341; Uawa, 754; Waikohu, 1,028: Cook, 1,468; total, 9,138, plus 3 per cent. as an allowance in respect of native residents absent on war activities.
On 28 March, 1886, the native population of Gisborne and Cook County (as originally constituted) was 3,739.
In 1906 the combined European and Maori populations in the area which originally formed Cook County was 12,141; in 1926, 18,448; and in 1945, 19,455, plus 3 per cent.

In August, 1885, the ratepayers of Waimata, Tolaga and Waiapu Ridings decided to petition the Government to form their areas into a separate county. They complained that, during the previous six years, £29,578 had been spent in the Gisborne, Te Arai and Waikohu Ridings and only £5,149 in their ridings. The rateable value of, and number of electors in, each of the ridings then was: Gisborne, £226,330, 182 electors, with an aggregate of 280 votes; Te Arai, £343,330, 111 electors, with 181 votes; Waikohu, £342,341, 35 electors, with 116 votes; Tolaga, £191,172, 37 electors, with 80 votes; Waimata, £211,060, 88 electors, with 105 votes; Waiapu, £232,132, 18 electors, with 48 votes. Totals, £1,546,365, 471 electors, with 810 votes. The council held that subdivision would be premature. When the petition was ready to be dispatched it became known that the Counties Act had just been amended to provide that a new county could be formed only under a special Act of Parliament.

As the council never had much money to expend on works not listed on its schedule, many early deputations had to return home empty-handed. In 1902 some coastal ratepayers were so sore when their request for road works was declined that they failed to smile when Captain Tucker rebuked them with the facetious remark: “What more should you require? You already have a road (he was alluding to the beach) which is washed twice a day by the Creator!” When Rua, the Maori” prophet,” applied in 1908 for better access to his settlement at Maungapohatu, he was told that he would have to provide £150 towards the cost. Wi Pere, who page 399 accompanied him, suggested that the council should deduct 2/- per day from the wages of each of the natives whom it employed on the work until Rua's share had accumulated. It was pointed out to him that the council would have to spend £1,000 before Rua's share could be raised in such a manner. As Wi Pere went off he roundly denounced all and sundry connected with the administration of the county.

The need for the adoption of roadmaking methods which would produce more durable results was stressed by Mr. Keane (the county overseer) in 1919. He pointed out that only a few of the roads had lasted even a third of the term of 36 years relating to the loans which had been raised to construct them. His estimate of the cost of improving the Gisborne-Morere, Gisborne-Kaiteratahi, Gisborne-Hangaroa, Gisborne-Mangapoike and Gisborne-Waimata roads was: Metalling only, £114,100; metalling and tar-sealing, £257,300; and, for concrete, £405,200. Early in 1920 the council sent him to the United States of America to study the latest methods of roadmaking and to inspect the newest types of plant.

A proposal to borrow £150,000 for road and bridge works was rejected in 1923 by 910 votes to 665. However, in 1924, the ratepayers agreed, by 1,016 votes to 181, that £153,000 should be raised. On the occasion of the first poll, ratepayers were allowed to vote in respect of each of their holdings, and some of them exercised as many as 10 votes. No ratepayer was permitted to cast more than three votes in the case of the second poll. With the aid of grants made by the Main Highways Board the county highways were soon greatly improved.


The capital value of the undivided county in 1877 was £343,385, in 1900 (after Waiapu and Matakaoa had seceded) it was £2,581,000, in 1939 (after Waikohu and Uawa had also hived off) £5,294,358, and in 1949 £6,895,361, (net).

Area of the county (1947), 791 square miles. Rateable properties, 3,033. Ratepayers, 2,085. Debt (1949), £171,660. Sinking funds, £17,593. Population (including Patutahi T.D.) in 1945, 6,918. Roads: Bituminous or cement concrete, 0.01 miles; bitumen or tar surfaced, 89.25 miles; metal or gravel, 291.85 miles; formed but not paved, 80.9 miles; bridle tracks, 28.5 miles, and unformed legal roads, 129 miles. Bridges: Concrete or stone, 10 (aggregating 985 feet); steel and concrete, 4 (710 feet); steel, concrete and timber, 8 (690 feet); hardwood, 50 (5,010 feet); native timbers, 8 (780 feet).

Administrators: Chairmen—J. Woodbine Johnson, 1877–79; A. Graham, 1879–81; J. W. Johnson, 1881–82; W. K. Chambers, 1882–84; G. L. Sunderland, 1884–86; John Clark, 1886–92; C. Gray, 1892–05; James Macfarlane, 1895–1902; W. H. Tucker, 1902–12; H. Kenway, 1912–14; T. Jex-Blake, 1914–17; F. J. Lysnar, 1917–18; G. M. Reynolds, 1918–19; C. Matthews, 1919–21; G. M. Reynolds, 1921–25; C. Matthews, 1925–38; W. G. Sherratt, 1938–43; E. H. Baker, 1943–49; R. Graham, 1949.

County Clerks: W. H. Tucker, 1877–80; J. Warren, 1880–1918; C. Perry, 1918–24; F. T. Robinson, assistant clerk, 1910–15, and county clerk, 1924–46; R. K. Gardiner, 1947. [Mr. Robinson (born at Castlemaine, Vic., in 1881) died on 14 September, 1949.]

Engineers: R. M. Skeet, 1877–78; G. J. Winter, 1878–1892; De G. Fraser, 1901–15; J. J. Keane, overseer, 1908–1921, and engineer, 1921–27; A. Guthrie, 1927–33; K. F. Jones, 1934–. Whilst Major Jones was on war service J. Gunn was acting-engineer.


William Knox Chambers (born in South Australia in 1850) was taken by his parents in 1854 to Hawke's Bay, where he was brought up to sheepfarming. In 1873 he bought Repongaere. He served on the Ormond, Waikohu and Ngatapa Road Boards, Cook County Council and Gisborne Harbour Board.

James Macfarlane (born in North Canterbury in 1853) took up a run in the Amuri district. For nine years he was chairman of Amuri County Council. In 1892 he bought Takapau (10,470 acres). He served on Cook County Council, the Hospital Board, the Farmers' Union and the Poverty Bay A. and P. Association. The Government acquired Takapau in 1903.

Charles Gray (born near Huntingdon, England, in 1840) followed the sea early in life. In 1870 he and a brother went to Queensland, where page 400 they engaged in pastoral pursuits. He acquired Waiohika in 1877. His public service included the chairmanship both of Cook County Council and Cook Hospital Board. He died at Dunedin on 8 March, 1918. His second wife (a daughter of Bishop W. L. Williams) was born at Whakato in 1856 and died in 1942.

Thomas Jex-Blake (born at Norwich in 1857) was employed in Poverty Bay first of all by his uncle (J. W. Johnson). For some years he managed Taureka, and then bought properties at Waerenga-o-Kuri and Te Arai. He died in April, 1928.

Charles Matthews (born in England in 1878) came out to Poverty Bay with his parents, assisted his father to develop Te Ruanui, and then bought properties on his own account. He was a member of Cook County Council for 24 years, and also served on the Poverty Bay Power Board and Cook Hospital Board. He died on 8 December, 1942.

John Warren (born at Woolwich in 1844) arrived at Auckland with his parents in 1847. He fought in the Waikato War. In 1873 he moved to Gisborne, which then had only 116 houses, many of them being only shacks on sledges. His first job was in connection with the erection of the first Masonic Hotel. He was the sponsor of Oddfellowship in Gisborne, a keen volunteer and a strong supporter of the hospital. A foundation member of St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church, he was a Sunday School teacher from 1874 till 1888, and then superintendent for nearly 30 years. He died on 30 March, 1919.

De Gennes Fraser (born at Karachi in 1852) left India with his parents for Jersey upon the retirement of his father from the service of the East India Company. He came out to New Zealand in 1870. Whilst he was engaged in Government survey work with a party in Taranaki in 1878, trouble arose with the natives, who sent their womenfolk to remove the flags and pegs on Ngutuwera block. A native named Hiroki was hanged at New Plymouth for murdering McLean, the camp cook. Mr. Fraser became engineer to Pahiatua County in 1889 and to Wairoa County (1900–01). During his term as engineer to Cook County the road to Tolaga Bay was greatly improved by the construction of deviations from the treacherous beaches at Puatai and Tapuae. In 1916–17 he was engineer for Gisborne Borough. He died at Auckland on 4 June, 1938.

Robert Mixer Skeet (born in 1832) migrated in 1854 to Nelson, where he spent several years. Next he engaged upon survey work in Hawke's Bay. From 1865 till 1871 he was Wellington city surveyor. In 1872 he advertised himself in Gisborne as “a civil engineer, surveyor, land and general agent.” He was the first engineer to Cook County (1877–78) and afterwards engaged in private practice in Gisborne. He died on 21 March, 1894.

John Joseph Keane came to Gisborne from the West Coast (South Island) in 1902 to join the staff of the Public Works Department. In 1908 he became overseer to Cook County, and, in 1921, he was appointed engineer. He had a fatal seizure on 20 December, 1927, whilst he was driving his car over a temporary bridge at Waimata.