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

Early Handicap of Lack of Roads and Bridges

Early Handicap of Lack of Roads and Bridges

Uawa County (constituted on 10 December, 1918) had made two earlier attempts to break away from Cook County—in 1885, in conjunction with Waimata and Waiapu, and, in 1909, when it was proposed to establish a separate county under the name “Takirau County.” Although many of its ratepayers had complained bitterly of lack of roads and bridges, a proposal to raise £25,000 for such works was rejected in October, 1910, but only by the slender margin of 3 2/3 votes below the required three-fifths majority. The first council comprised: C. E. Smith, J. A. Moore and D. H. Hawkins (Arakihi Riding), F. Hutchinson and J. McNeil (Tauwhareparae), E. B. Boland (Hauiti) and J. S. Paterson (Mangatuna). At the first meeting (12/5/1919) Mr. Boland was elected chairman. One of its earliest decisions was that the county should secede from Gisborne Harbour District.

During the pioneering days a flat-bottomed boat was used to convey passengers across the Uawa River. Station cattle en route to Gisborne had to be swum over. Everybody with a boat turned out to give a hand, as the work provided a lot of good sport. In 1883 a punt (attached to an overhead cable and operated by means of a windlass) was established. W. Lockwood, senior, was placed in charge. Between 1885 and 1893, the ferryman was Enoch Kirk. He was credited with ferrying 2,400 sheep in four hours. The punt would carry a coach and five horses. A whaleboat was, at first, used to tender passengers and lighter cargo at Tolaga Bay. The service was conducted by W. Lockwood, J. A. Moore, H. Glover and W. E. Holder. Oil launches were afterwards obtained.

The first bridge over the Uawa River was built in 1905 at a cost of £6,000. For two years toll charges were levied—6d. per person and 1/-for each horse. W. E. Holder was the first custodian. On 12 May, 1916, a flood—the first of thirteen in twelve months—caused portion of the bridge to subside. Two more spans were wrecked during a flood in January, 1917. Another flood on 4 February, 1917, when 19 inches of rain fell in 18 hours, did further damage. So great was the rush of water that a camber over six feet high was formed at the mouth of the river. Until a new bridge became available the ferry service had again to be conducted. The second structure was carried away by a flood in February, 1938, but, fortunately, a concrete bridge had just been completed, and traffic was able to use it within 12 hours.

When the county was established, the coastal road between Gisborne and Tolaga Bay and a new bridge over the Pakarae River were under construction. In 1922 the ratepayers sanctioned the raising of a loan of £104,000 for road and bridge works (including the metalling of the Uawa page 405 portion of the Gisborne-Tolaga Bay main highway and improvements to the section linking Uawa and Waiapu). A crushing plant was installed at Mangatuna and a fleet of five motor lorries was procured.

Chairmen: E. B. Boland, 1919–30; J. McNeil, 1930–43; H. R. Irving, 1943–.

Engineers: J. P. Guthrie, 1919–30; G. W. King, 1930–38; C. Percy, 1939–.

County Clerks: F. T. Robinson, 1919–24; H. L. Tempest, 1924–47; A. B. Smith, 1947–48; R. Tregurtha, 1948–.


The site of Tolaga Bay township (252 acres) was bought by the Crown on 10 March, 1875, for £505. It was then covered with gorse. In 1904 the name Buckley (after Sir Patrick Buckley, Colonial Secretary in the Seddon Cabinet) was officially bestowed upon the township. The residents preferred to retain the name Tolaga Bay, which Captain Cook gave to the adjacent inlet. Important streets bear names which also serve to commemorate the great navigator's visit.

With 52 white residents, and as many more within easy distance, Tolaga Bay was the largest European centre on the East Coast in 1875. The population of Uawa County in 1926 was: Europeans, 1,074; Maoris, 592; total, 1,666. In 1945 there were 749 Europeans and 754 Maoris; total, 1,503, plus 3 per cent. in respect of residents absent on war activities. The gross capital value of the county in 1945 was £1,257,536.

A distressing tragedy occurred on 11 June, 1887, whilst Mrs. Enoch Kirk and three of her children were being brought ashore from s.s. Australia. Harry Glover was in charge of the surf boat, and his crew comprised Rawiri and Ropihana Tautau and Harry Hiutau. Inside the bar the boat shipped a wave and capsized. Glover got Mrs. Kirk ashore, but she expired. Rawiri Tautau saved himself. A boat manned by Constable M. G. Stagpoole, Joe James and Sam Gilman went to the rescue of the others, but it also capsized. Gilman swam ashore. The constable lashed Hiutau to his upturned boat, and they were picked up by a boat sent from the steamer. In addition to Mrs. Kirk and her children—Nellie (aged 9 years), Ralph (2 years) and Maud (1 year)—Joe James and Ropihana Tautau also lost their lives. Constable Stagpoole was awarded a silver medal by the Royal Humane Society of Australia.

On 25 January, 1923, the ratepayers of Tolaga Bay harbour district, by 115 votes to 22, sanctioned the raising of a loan not to exceed £100,000 to provide a ferroconcrete wharf, etc., to accommodate coastal vessels. The wharf and jetty are 2,150 feet in length and the depth at low tide is 17 feet. Harbourmaster: J. M. Fraser.