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Journal of the Nelson and Marlborough Historical Societies, Volume 2, Issue 2, 1988

Sixty Years Ago: Recollections of an Old Settler

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Sixty Years Ago: Recollections of an Old Settler

Sixty odd years ago, Springlands farm, now Blenheim's largest and most properous suburb, closely covered with charming houses, was owned by Mr Cornelius Murphy. He was a great man for machinery, and I remember him obtaining what was then considered a marvellous implement in the shape of a reaper. It was a big box covering two or three wheels, which drove a knife. On the box covering the gear sat a man with a rake, shoving the corn into sheaves, which were then tied by hand. That, of course, did away with the hook and scythe. We all know the strides that have been made since then in the formulation of the modern reaper and binder.

In the early days one could, and did, enjoy life. It was fairly common, in going along the road, to notice some obstruction in the distance, and one could be quite sure it was only two settlers who had met and had had an argument as to who had the better horse in his dray. The argument was settled by backing the drays together and fastening the axles one to the other with a stout rope. The horses were then whipped up and the fun started as one pulled against the other. There was no one to interfere, and the police were good fellows, one having to be a good deal of a sinner before he got into trouble.

I recall also that when the railway was first opened, horsemen regarded it with a certain amount of contempt, and it was a common thing to see some equestrian speeding along the road alongside the line in an endeavour to beat the train from Picton to Blenheim. 1 tried it myself and, aided by a fairly good sort of horse, had the satisfaction of landing home five or six minutes ahead of the train.

Blenheim wharf. NPM

Blenheim wharf. NPM

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Shipbuilding was an early industry in Blenheim, and the Norgrove Brothers launched a vessel named the Osprey here in the early days. She was built on the banks of the river where Messrs Clouston & Co's store now stands, and was launched into the Taylor, whence she was hauled down to the Omaka. She traded for many years between Blenheim and Wellington.

Speaking of shipping reminds me of Captain Scott, who sailed the Falcon for many years, and later the paddle-steamer Lyttelton. He used to boast that he could cross the bar in a heavy dew. Once, when the Lyttelton was laid aside for an overhaul, Captain Scott was transferred to the Wallace. She was a screw steamer, and was apparently too fast for the captain, for he sailed from Blenheim for Wanganui and was off Waverley before he realised that he had overrun his destination. He was right glad to get back to his old paddle-wheeler.

In those good old days the late Mr J Rayner had a wool business in a back shed in the Grove Road and afterwards shifted to Walter Street. Booker's hotel, or pub as we called it, was on the east side of Grove Road. Botham Brothers had a smithy opposite McCallum's mill (1). Mr J. M. Hutcheson had the first store on the bend of the river somewhere near where Mr Sutherland now resides (2) below Grovetown, and afterwards opposite the Loan and Mercantile Co's building (3). Gunn's pub — the Victoria — stood over the railway line facing toward the Omaka bridge (4). It was afterwards kept by Millingtons as a boarding house. There were several buildings along where the line of rails now goes. They reached not quite up to the Nelson Street Bridge. The Courthouse was there; also Wymond & Co's drapery (the late Mr W. B. Girling manager). Later Mr Girling shifted to the Hall of Commerce, where Dalgety's grain store is now (5). Opposite that, or where Ohen's shop is now, a Mr James kept a pub, the Royal Hotel (6). The present Royal was the Rainbow, owned by Charles Purkiss (7).

Mr Nathaniel Edwards started the first big business where Radd's wood and coal store is now (8). The manager was Mr John Connell. Mr Geo. Henderson was in it for many years, I think as an accountant, but I am not sure.

Where the Salvation Army building now stands, the Beaver Hotel was owned by Jimmie Smith (9). Where the Bank of New Zealand now is J. Smith Carroll had a pub named the Royal Oak (10).

Another old landmark for many years was the Alabama Hotel, situated where the Show Grounds are now. A man named Simmonds owned it.

About two miles up the Old Renwick Road, Mr Picton had a pub called the Plough Inn, afterwards owned by Mr Muirhead. Perhaps one of the oldest of the lot was the Wool Pack Inn, owned by an old Highlander and a great piper — Mclvor.

The first Presbyterian manse built in Marlborough is still standing in Renwicktown. The first minister's name was Nicholson.

The first cemetery was in Renwick. Possibly some may have been buried in the Wairau Valley before, but I am not sure.

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