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Journal of the Nelson and Marlborough Historical Societies, Volume 2, Issue 4, 1990

Childhood Memories of Sleepy Hollow

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Childhood Memories of Sleepy Hollow

I was only a little fellow, but can now visualise the old home, with four peaked gables, built on the terrace in that lovely old part of town, so near to the beloved river the Maitai. Many happy hours were spent swimming and trying to catch cockerbullies, crawlers and shrimps, after lifting up small stones in the shallows of the river. The river was not deep in many places, and we could paddle across it, holding up our knickerbockers, while the girls tucked their clothes into their pants! My sister Rachel, who was only three years older than myself, was always very keen to join me in my hunting under the stones. I was the baby of the family, number eleven and no doubt spoilt. I have four sisters and six brothers. I was an uncle when I was five years old, being twenty years younger than my eldest sister.

It must have been a relief for Mother, Bless her, to have the children away for a few hours, where she knew the water was not deep. We could all swim. I learnt at the age of four to swim under the water. One of my elder sisters, Effie, taught College girls to swim in the Girls' Bathing Hole, just up the river from the Nile Street foot bridge.

I can well remember often going to Wilkie's Butcher Shop, next to Griffin's Mill in Nile Street, to get a penny worth of cat's meat, which was always nice and fresh. Often the penny was not taken by the man. My sister Effie had a pot, which she took when we were taken for a picnic to Almond Tree Flat, just past Sharland's Bridge. This pot was used to boil onions and potatoes and sometimes, I am afraid, the cat's meat was mixed in with it. A real Irish stew!

My youngest sister Rachel and I were great pals and she loved being a "boy". We would go for mushrooms over the hills above the Maitai, Long Look-Out, Clouston's Hill and Two Peak and come home with our bags full. We used to have a flax bag with two handles, and a stick crosswise in the bag to stop the mushrooms being crushed. Other days we went bird nesting. The Council gave a penny a dozen for blackbird and thrush eggs. Mr Bolton, who had a nursery in Waimea Road and a shop near the Theatre Royal, in Lower Waimea Road, gave a penny a dozen for peach stones, so in season we collected a lot and sold them.

A day's outing to The Sands, Tahuna as it is now called, was a joy. We could take the Palace car from the Masonic Hotel, or the bus on rails, to Wakefield Quay and walk the rest of the way. On the way home, we would sometimes miss the bus and have to walk right home to Nile Street, near Wainui House. We never had a watch but used the sun. There were large sand hills which we could roll down, but they have been cleared away. The motor camp takes their place. Some of the houses near-by are built on the base of the sand hills near the motor camp.

I did not go to school till I was six years old and then went to Brook Street Miss Lucy Kitching was the mistress and when she called us at playtime, she would knock on the window. It must have been extra strong glass for we could hear it all over the playground.

We boys had iron hoops and a stick with a crook to hold it while in motion. The girls only had light wooden hoops and a straight slick. Marbles were all the go those days, and spinning tops.

We made a thrasher with half a blade of green flax. We stripped it down into small strands, about 12 inches long, and then kept hitting the top, to keep it moving on the asphalt path.

Spinning tops was a game for the older boys. A circle was made on the ground and a top placed in the centre. A boy took his spinning top, wound his cord firmly around it then, taking the top in his hand and holding the end of the cord, he threw his top at the one in the circle. If he got a bull's eye, the top on the ground could easily be split in half or damaged. A great shout came if he scored!

A game of marbles was played by digging permanent holes in the ground about 6 inches apart and 2 inches deep. I can't remember the name for it.

Jump the Nag's Tail was another rough and tumble game. Six boys were needed to kneel down, and the front one put his arms about a tree trunk, with the top of his head against the tree. The next page 22boy put his arms around the boy in front and so on, until the six were in place. Another six were needed, and in turn each one ran and jumped on the backs of the boys kneeling down. If he could break the nag's tail, his side won.

Gag's Home was a real struggle, with six boys to a side. The first six marked their man. The second six went behind a shed, or the school. One of them had a "gag", a button, a rubber, or something easy to hide on a person. These boys had to race as fast as possible and not get caught, to a fence about 20 yards away. There were many good tussles, all taken in good sport, but clothes often got ripped in finding the gag. If Gag got through to the fence, the boy would call out "Gag's Home". It was fun to watch, as well as be in the tussle. This game was mostly played at the Boys' Central School in Nile Street. The lime trees are still growing which we used for Gag's Home and Jump the Nag's Tail.

Nelson Central Boys School. c. 1907. Jones Collection. Alexander Tumbull Library.

Nelson Central Boys School. c. 1907. Jones Collection. Alexander Tumbull Library.

I remember when the grass in the Central School grounds was long and easy to loop together. How often we youngsters had a good chuckle when we saw a victim topple over, but this happened once too often! It was drill day and we were marching along in our uniforms and side caps, when over went dear old Sos, our headmaster, arms outstretched. He came to his feet as red as an apple. Silence reigned supreme. Next day we were all told to undo those traps. It was no good asking who did it. No one would split anyhow.

Sos, F.G. Gibbs, was our headmaster and a decent chap too. He used to take a mob of boys in the fifth and sixth classes tramping up Dun Mountain. We had to walk to the Reservoir, then up the long spur to the railway track and then through some lovely bush, carpeted with all kinds of ferns. Small streams crossed our path in many places before we reached Third House, where we had our lunch. Then on to the mineral belt, where Sos really enjoyed a look around among the minerals. We all came home laden with small pieces. I found a fossil of sea shells, which I kept for many years.

One sunny Saturday, Mr Gibbs took a dozen or so of us up there again and, just before we got to the mineral belt he told half of us to go on. We wandered along and then discovered snow on the track. What a surprise for us and a good chance for a snow fight. Sos knew it was there, but we didn't. When he and the rest of the boys came around the bend, we let drive and had a good battle. "Oh", Sos called out after a while, "that's enough boys. You've had your revenge on the schoolmaster". We always liked him for that kind of thing. He was not married, but was a jolly good teacher and friend.

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Mr Worley, Boop as the boys called him, had the blow pipe class at school for sixth formers only. He and Sos were mad on minerals. Once a week a male teacher took the boys for a swim at Denne's Hole, in the Maitai River, and those who could not swim were taught to. A doctor's certificate had to be sent in, if a boy was not allowed to go in the water. We had a day each year for swimming races. There were no bikes and we all had to use Shank's Pony. I remember us all going up the Maitai, with our towels and trunks around our necks, when the large poplars on the side of the road had shed the fluffy white cottonlike flower. It lined the roadway for a long way. There was a deep hole at Denne's and we could swim over 50 yards without striking the ground. One event was diving for plates. Shiny pancake tins were thrown in, well spaced, and the diver had to take long breaths and pick up as many as possible, sometimes all fifteen, which gained a special prize.

Overarm, trudge or crawl and side stroke were all allowed in the races. There was a race for back stroke and breast stroke, and diving was a must in a championship for the school.

In the early days of 1908, at Central School, there were swimming races at Denne's Hole. Four boys were picked to represent the school at a championship, arranged by the Nelson Amateur Swimming Club.

This was held at the Port, between the wharves. The Anchor Company had a long wharf built 25 yards out from the main wharf, just opposite the Ship Hotel and near the Anchor Foundry Co. Office. There was a ladder down to the water, where a punt had been placed, for the boys to use as a starting and finishing post. It was 50 yards to the breastwork, where we had the races. On the eastern side was a breastwork wall of granite blocks, on reclaimed land, which was used for storing coal.

This wall made a splendid grandstand for the races. The H.M.S. Encounter was out in the bay that Saturday, so there were mobs of Bluejackets, boys and men, watching the races, as well as a crowd of Nelson enthusiasts. During the Nelson Amateur Swimming Club events, the All Schools Races took place. The four finalists were all from Central School. They were Ken Robertson, Bert Warnock, Albert Sculley and Aubrey Spear. There were three races, 50yds, 75yds and 100yds. Each boy took his place on the punt, the shot went off, and away we went, amidst the constant shouting of the crowd, which gave us lots of courage. Robbie (Ken Robertson) was the one I had never beaten and I made an all out bid, right from the start. He was thick-set and red haired. I was long and thin in limbs. The roar from the crowd was good and I had come home first, with Robbie close behind. It was a great thrill. We were hauled up on to the punt and handshakes were prevalent We were given an orange and a good rub down, ready for the next race. The sailor boys gave us a good spin, one group calling for Ginger (Robbie) and the other for me (Split Pin). Robbie won the next two races, so got a gold medal. I got a silver medal for second and Bert Warnock (Chuck) came third.

Money was often given at the swimming races, so the prize winners could buy what they fancied. My brother, Cyril Spear, won a gold watch for Harriers in New Plymouth. Another brother, Elliott, who was the Nelson Swimming Champion won, at various races, a gold medal, gold watch and chain, a set of hair brushes, a walking stick, silver jam dish and spoon and other table articles. The jewellers often gave trophies in those days. My sister, Effie, who was the Women's Champion of Nelson for a number of years, got some lovely things, including a pair of opera glasses and a gold chain bangle.

I was die eleventh child of the family and all but one, die eldest, Kate, were good swimmers. My sister Effie won many events, particularly breast-stroke. She was a well-built girl and could stand up to the others well. Gertie and Rachel also won school races in their time.

Of the seven sons, I only remember the three older than myself, as far as swimming goes, Cyril, Howard and Elliott The latter was champion of the Nelson Amateur Swimming Club and won a gold medal and a silver cup for diving at Sunday Hole, just above die bridge, where there was a deep hole and a good place for races.

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Girlies' swimming hole, Maitai River. Jones Collection. Nelson Provincial Museum.

Girlies' swimming hole, Maitai River. Jones Collection. Nelson Provincial Museum.

My brother Howard had a good chase of a duck, let go at a swimming race near the Nelson slip, at the Port, in 1906, during the A.S.C. races. A yacht was anchored some distance out and the duck flew a short way and then dived under the yacht with Howard after it He caught it just as it surfaced, poor thing. He brought it home and fed it up, ready for Easter dinner. It must have had a weak heart and not been used to so much excitement and food, for it was found dead in its pen, the day it was to have had its head chopped off.

Going back to the days of my childhood, I remember my mother telling me that one day I pushed a button up my nose and Dr Jimmy Hudson had to come and take it out. He was a stocky little man with a small pointed beard, and rode a large horse. He evidently hurt me, and the first thing I saw was his beard, which I must have pulled hard as Mother said he called me a little demon.

In 1907, I left Brook Street School and went to Central School. There were many happy days ahead and many dud ones too. When a couple of chaps got annoyed with each other and a fight began, a crowd would stand around and cheer the contestants on. If the school bell rang before the fight was over, it was arranged between the parties to finish the fight after school.

Long before I went to Central School, the "fighting ground" was on Church Hill under a very large fir which still stands to this day. There was a bank on the western side of the tree, near the church, facing Nile Street East, with a good flat piece of ground around it We got out of school at 3.30pm, if we didn't have to stay behind and write 100 words. The fight was a big event and I can see the boys running in a stream, up to the Church Hill, along Nile Street, and straight up the asphalt path between the two large gum trees. These are now both gone and the path is lawn. One or two boys were placed at a spot along the path to the fighting ground. They had to keep calling out "chook chook" to those that wanted to see the fight and that spurred them on to see the "kill". A lot of blood was spilt in that place over the years, until another place was found.

In 1907, Rona Hamilton came to see my mother and asked her if she would let me go camping with a few of the boys and girls, during our school holidays. Her mother, Mrs Fred Hamilton, said page 25if I could not go, then they were not allowed to. I was the "head man" (chaperone) according to Rona's mother!

Off we tramped to the Maitai whare Wyworry, with our packs, two tents and blankets. We did not need many, as it was summer time, one of the hottest summers for many years in Nelson.

We spent most of the days swimming in the lovely bathing hole at the back of the whare. We cooked our meals outside and slept in our tents, which were about 20 yards apart. They were a grand bunch of kids to be with. I was the eldest, at 14. We cut manuka scrub for our beds and laid it on the ground, with a sack or two on top, and a blanket

As far as I remember, those who came were Jeff Shallcrass, Fred Hamilton, Rona and Turepa Hamilton, Edith Robertson and her brother Oswald, Elsie Hamilton and myself.

While we were in the river one hot day, we saw smoke rising high up, near Pole Ford, a quarter of a mile further on, so it was a rush to put on our clothes and see what was happening. To our horror, we saw that the lovely bush was on fire. The undergrowth was very dry, so the fire made a clean sweep of the beauty spot. We never found out how it happened. Perhaps campers left a fire going. It took years to grow more seedlings, but eventually the bush took shape again and now (1965), you would never guess there had been a fire.

We camped amongst the manukas, which were about about 4 feet high in 1907. Today some of those manukas are still growing and are 30 feet high. Long poles, with tufts of growth on top, a place for wild pigeons to nest and other small birds. You hear the mockers calling in the early hours, and one, which seems to have been there many years, which calls out 1,2,3,4. The call must have been handed down for many years to the young ones.

We would often go down to the Grayling bathing hole, now known as the camping ground. There were only three families living in the Maitai when we were kids. The Dolomores, at the head of the Maitai, not far from the Forks, Jimmy Smith, with his wife and family, at Smith's Ford, and Sharlands, at the head of the creek which flowed into the Maitai near Almond Tree Flat. There were various whares scattered about the valley, used only for a week or two in winter and a longer time in summer. Hounsells were near Grayling, on the other side of the river. Routs were on the same side, but near the waterfalls. On the road side was Roger's whare, which was later bought by Doctor Tatton, then Maud Harley's brother had it, and then the sisters owned it.

On the other side of the river, Sherwood's whare stood on the flat and there was a good bathing hole there. The house belonged to several men, and it had been arranged at the beginning that the last man living could claim the house and land. Mr Arthur Shallcrass, the father of Jeff, claimed it. He left it to Mrs Bettry, his oldest daughter.

The old road went past this whare. Hamilton's was beyond, over the river. Tatton's and Sherwood's were just before the bend, before the stretch to Pole Ford. There was no proper road to Pole Ford in those days, only a walking track to the foot bridge. The horse wagons used to go across the river, just below where the track started, near the black birch trees on the roadside today. The track went as far as the bend in the river, just above the present Pole Ford.

Ned's Creek, which flows over the road between Pole Fork and Dad's Creek, is a very pretty spot, with huge rocks, ferns and trees on the banks. A dolly pot used by a goldminer was found, by Fred Shallcrass, son of Jeff Shallcrass, near the mouth of Dad's Creek one day, while he was fishing for trout. It is at the Museum now. He gave it to me and I passed it on to the Historical Society about 1956.

Mr Jimmy Smith drove a log wagon to Nelson from the Maitai at least once a week, to take firewood and timber to the mill in Nelson and load up with provisions and a bottle or two of beer! He was a grand old man, we youngsters thought, and would give anyone a ride up the Maitai. After leaving the Prince Albert Hotel, he would doze off and the horses knew the road better than he did. There was a ford to cross the Maitai, just past Wainui House, around the corner past the willows, and a good pull up the other side on to the road, at the corner of Tory Street, close to the foot bridge.

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The next bend in the road was at Huddleston's, the artist, who had a large house, with several walnut trees overhanging the road, much to our delight. We got away with a lot, but Miss Huddleston was always around the corner with stick. We thought, as the nuts were on the road, we were allowed to claim them. But not her!

There were many fords to cross before Jimmy got home, often late at night, and the horses trudged along at a slow pace all the time and never went off the road. I remember one of the last drives I had with him, when he hardly touched the reins all the way home. He fell asleep and the horses did the rest. They were two lovely animals.

Not far from Almond Tree Flat, there is a portion of the road that has stones banked up on either side, to keep the flood waters off the road. It is still there, but the road was moved nearer the hills some years ago, so that the old part is not used. It is near Sullivan's Slip, before you come to the camping ground. Many years ago, before I was born I think, Mrs James Smith died at the house near Smith's Ford and there was such a large flood in the river, the family were not able to get to Nelson, so they had to dig a grave above the road, opposite the house, and bury her up there. We, as youngsters, often looked over the wooden fence, perched on the hillside.

About 1899, in the Xmas school holidays, I was sent to spend a few weeks at Riwaka with friends of my parents, Mr and Mrs John McLean. What grand days those were. I was taken to Kaiteriteri in the big wagonette with two horses. Hubert, the eldest son of John MacLean, was on the farm. He milked many cows each morning, and took the milk to the butter factory, in a low cart with one horse. Large milk drums or cans, with a handle at both sides, were used. On the way home again, the cans were over-flowing with froth from the vats at the factory. The skim milk was for the pigs and the froth soon disappeared.

I was taken to Canaan on the Takaka Hills for a week, as Hubert's father had property there and we were going to cut cocksfoot for seed. A fly was erected and the long grass cut with a reaphook. The bundles were placed on sacks on the ground. Then a stick was cut from a sapling and a piece of rope tied round it, for a handle. This flail was used to beat out the seed, under the fly.

We camped in tents at night, amongst the lovely bush. Woodhens made funny noises when it was dark and, if we were not on the look-out, they would pinch our soap or spoons. Lots of tiny birds, in the early mornings and during the day, flew about us. The bush robin, tiddlewink and bush wren were plentiful. While I stayed there I did not have much to do. I met Mr and Mrs Fred Huffam and Gerard his brother and young Bill. We had great fun, Bill and I. One day Mr Huffam, Uncle Fred we called him, took me to find moa bones. That was the thrill of my life. We went to many large holes and a lovely cave. One hole, which had a fuchsia growing over it, was very deep, so Uncle Fred got bullock chains and tied them together. He and I lowered ourselves to the bottom and then had to crawl on hands and knees, dragging a sack. Several good specimens of bones were found. I do not know how far we crawled, but it was mostly flat, and a bit knobbly with the limestone on the floor. We had a job getting back to the surface, where we emptied our bags. I had the lower jaw of one moa, about 8 inches long, and several gizzard stones and leg bones about two feet long. When I took these home to Nelson, my brother said we would be able to have some moa bone soup! It did not appeal to me to boil those bones, so I hid them under a house next to our's in Nile Street East. When I went for them later, before we moved from there, I was surprised to find them gone. I scratched away the earth and discovered, to my disappointment, that under the house was a deep cellar, so the moa bones were once more under ground. About 60 years later, that same house was up for sale and when the owner was showing me over the place, we came to the stairs. I looked for the door and he said there was not one and wondered how I knew about it I told him the story about the bones and he looked as if he didn't believe me. The house still stands, so my old friends, the bones, may still be resting in peace.