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Nelson Historical Society Journal, Volume 06, Issue 01, 1996

Pelorus Bridge School 1911–43 and its Locality

page 25

Pelorus Bridge School 1911–43 and its Locality

The school opened with Miss Eva Cheek, the teacher, and the following pupils – John, Frances. Frank and Walter Bown, Amy, Ada, Horace and George Gardiner, Lesley and Gwen Dryden, Amy and Rita Couper, Phylis, Edwina, Thelma and Warn Mills. They were farming families and some of their older members could have worked at Nees & McLeans Mill that had opened in the area in 1899.

(Eva Cheek and her first pupils)

(Eva Cheek and her first pupils)

The Drydens kept the Rai Falls Accommodation House and its small acreage of land which has a history of its own. It was first opened by Mrs Mary Luxton in 1896 and, three years after that was bought by Archdeacon T S Grace of Blenheim. He never lived there and leased it to Septimus Eyes. On 19 November 1900 Eyes opened a Post Office and ran it and the telegraph in conjunction with the Accommodation House. Newman's coaches stopped there for meals and a change of horses. On 10 April 1910 Shalto Gardiner took it over and stayed on about two years. Following a fire which burned down the Accommodation House the Gardiners page 26shifted to their new home about quarter of a mile above the school, taking the Post Office with them.

The Accommodation House was rebuilt and the Drydens came then, followed by the Raymond Wells and then Sarah and Harold Griffith. History tells us that the Rehab must have bought it. 7500 pounds was paid for it to Archdeacon Grace. A returned service man, Mr Rickleton, settled on it but he disappeared one night and was never heard of again. After the 1914–18 war the George Flintoff family came, but by then only the occasional wagoner stayed overnight with his team of six horses. I remember as a small girl looking down and perhaps seeing twelve draught horses feeding out of their chaff bags. The bags were often strung underneath the wagon while travelling. Following the Flintoffs came Mr and Mrs Tom Francis from Blind River, who were there until another fire burnt the Accommodation House down a few years later. This time it was never rebuilt. Bert Bown took it over, but when war came in 1939 he. Bill and Bruce Bown went away in the early echelons, and Bert was killed in action. His brother Frank kept an eye on the land till 1946, when it was joined with our farm next door and was again offered as a Rehab farm. Dick Hall bought it and that was the end of our association between the Smart family and Rai Falls farm. All the families had contributed to the Pelorus Bridge School.

I cannot find the date that Mr Charlie Bryant's mill came to this locality, but it was possibly about 1912, and that would have increased the school roll considerably. I apologise for any I didn't know or can't remember, but longtime residents were the Gartners, Thorns, Grangers, Luffs, and Billingsleys. Some that came, stayed a time, and went were the Prentice's, Neil Simonsen, Harry Stratford and the single men.

Each family was allowed to keep a cow and they all had fowls and a vegetable garden. The cows wandered round the mill and in the large area around. In the late 20's the Boyes family came to the mill and started a small shop. There had always been two grocery carts – Orsmans from Havelock and Mr Coppins from Carluke – with their goods.

The Hughes children joined the school roll about 1920. Four brothers had gone to war and Robert was killed in action, but Tom had married and their growing family began to attend, along with the Strange's who lived opposite our home. Mr Strange worked at Bryant's Mill. Mr Alex McDowell was put on a rehab farm up the Heringa, the last flat land before one started to climb the Maungatapu on the way to Nelson. It was always known to us as the Moki. The two McDowells had a very long way to come. Sharlands from Nelson started a mill halfway between the McDowell's farm and the school, and when a small school started, Mary and Alex went there. Mr Bert Thorn had a farm above Bryant's mill, but his wife died young and left five small children, the youngest being twins. He came down to live at the mill and his farm had various occupants.

So this was Pelorus Bridge's school area. The teachers boarded with Gardiners or Bowns or, a bit later, with Miss Winnie Couper after her father had died. The male teachers stayed at Gardiners. We had many teachers. One reason given was that the young women, after getting ready for tomorrow at school, found it was quite frightening walking through the bush to Miss Couper's. It was dark by five o'clock in the winter. I'm sure we were not unruly kids. I can page 27well remember that when a new teacher came, we kids were very quiet while we appraised each other. I started school when Mr Gus Mills was the teacher and he was very popular. He later taught in Blenheim and met and married a Miss Coker. This was the beginning of the Coker & Mills Ice Cream Co. While Mr Mills was there, and for a time after, the roll rose to 48 pupils and it was a two teacher school.

This photo was taken when Miss Mapp was teacher and the pupils Lilian and Florence Strange. Valerie and Doreen Prentice. Una Couper, Gladys Smart beside Miss Mapp (she was kept on for a year to help with the primers), Elizabeth and Isabel Bown, Pearl Smart. Olive Strange. On fence: Lil Gartner, Thelma Simonsen, Ada Gardiner. Trizie Luff, Bert and Dean Simonsen. Walter Bown, Warn Mills. Sinclair Couper. In front: Edith Hughes, Earl and Neil Simonsen. George. Dave and Darcy Mills. Leo Stratford and Frank Hughes.

The burnt out trunks of trees were part of the scene in many places, till they eventually fell. Later the stumps either rotted or were rooted out by stump jacks and horse and chain or gelignite. All the farmers had gelignite, to the delight of us kids when we knew it was going page 28to be used on a stump. I well remember the Flintoff boys and my brother being found with gelignite in their singlets. They never did that again, though boys will be boys. When I was walking home from school the boys would disappear down into the bush. I knew what they were doing – smoking fine crushed manuka bark rolled in newspaper.

The early service cars were part of the scene. I remember Newman's cars with their hoods folded back down and big straps bolted to the side to keep the luggage secure on the running-boards. The ladies wore picture hats with scarves over the top and tied under the chin. Mr Anstice of Nelson started up an amazing service for those days. He drove from Nelson to Christchurch in one day, starting very early and just travelled till he got there. People marvelled – this was about 1926. Readers will be surprised to hear that the service cars, either Curran's. Rink's, Gibb's Motors, Stent's, Wilfred Pope or Newman's would occasionally pick us up and drop us home. These service cars all ran during my time at school, 1921–28, and longer.

Newman's carried the mail and a small shelter shed was built at Pelorus Bridge where Thelma Mills the Postmistress would wait for the mail and, of course, for the mailbag that she had filled to be taken. That shed was covered with our names either written or carved in, as was the Pelorus Bridge.

What wonderful picnics we had – it was the special school event of the year. Someone went around getting money donations and the single men were very generous. Mrs Bown and Mrs Mills got on a service car and went off to Blenheim to buy the prizes. The picnic was on the Saturday after we started school after Christmas holidays. It always seemed to be a fine sunny day and we all collected at Couper's, where the picnic was held on the terraces below the road. Some came in horse and gig, by bicycle, or walked. One time, when the Simonsens lived at the mill, they had a big pet goat. Mr S made up a two wheeled cart with bicycle wheels, the goat was put in the shafts, rugs and cushions put in, and the babies and little ones came in that. Tables and boxes were put up under the chestnut trees for the older women and rugs spread around. It was lunch time by then and the goodies came out, with each family bringing their own contribution. Then the races began, with races for everyone, men, women and children. We school children were placed in age groups and, as each one came in, the presents were set out on a table. The 12 prizes had much the same value, but the winner had 1 st choice of all the articles, the 2nd second choice and so on down to the last child. The single men had theirs but no prizes for them, only glory, and it was the same for the single women, the married women and the married men. An extra for us was the three legged races. We'd be round after Dad's large white handkerchief and tied it on while gingerly stepping away from the odd fallen chestnut, although it was a bit too early for them to fall really. Coupers had one long row of chestnut trees along the main road and they employed children to pick them up in the season. There was many a tumble practicing for the three legged race, but what fun we had. The men had sack races. After all the races were over, the school children would be lined up and the teacher presented a book to one and all, with a nice decorated label with name and standard or primer inside the cover.

page 29
School picnic 6 February 1926

School picnic 6 February 1926

Mr Akersten would have arrived by this time and everyone would assemble on the bank and get their photos taken. It is great thanks to him that he stated the occasion, put the date, and his name on all his photos.

In the early twenties the young women were cutting off their lovely locks of hair. The same at school till there were just three of us left, all different families. No matter how we begged and wheedled, the mums would not budge, until the smallest of us did the deed herself and, for punishment, she was made to come to school with the same dreadful mess. Eventually my mother gave in, but Zoe had her lovely long hair for some time, and she did have a lot of sisters to do it. The Buster cut was the "in thing" – the shingle came later.

page 30

It was a straight road from the school up past Gardiners, down the cutting, over a small bridge, up a small cutting and on up to the shop on the right hand and all the mill houses along the left of the road. What work it must have been with pick and shovel and horse and dray to make a cutting as big as the one at Rai Falls. Hard manual work.

A memory of those times was hearing the whistling of Mr Arthur Blick about 6 o'clock in the morning, winter or summer, in his gig on the way to near Canvastown to let his horses have a good chaff breakfast before starting work at 8 am. He used to work with a two horse grader on the road and the time he went by depended on the area where he was working. Sometimes it would be nearer his home on the Opouri Road turnoff to Turakina.

Autumn and fern fires went together and how we loved going with Dad to light them. He taught us to lie face down on the ground if the smoke billowed back, there were no sparks with fem really. However we didn't enjoy having to go with him to cut the foxgloves in flower. The law said all foxgloves had to be cut one chain from a boundary fence, and our boundary went to the top of the hills joining Couper's and Dalton's on the very top. Another law was the Queen's Chain along the river. Brownlee's railway line went the 3/4 length of our place and one long paddock that Dad said was the Queen's. We would pick up lumps of coal and Dad explained that the loco drivers threw it at cattle who loved to lie on the dry line. Our farm was over the Rai River, with the house beside the main road on two acres of ground. To get across in all weather Dad would build a bridge on the part with the steepest and closest banks to walk across. It was a swing bridge that the floods were forever washing away, not so much by the water, but by the trees and branches that came down in a flood. In 1934 my 18 year old brother must have decided to carry a stump jack across without thinking and the extra weight was too much for the board he trod on. It broke and let him through into a small flood and his body wasn't found for six weeks. My father died the next year.

The Anglicans and Methodists had church in the school, with services for each on alternative Sundays. Frances Bown played the organ. The congregation wasn't very big, the singing was poor and the young ones often not very attentive, although the Rev Arthur Milgrew did try to get the message over. He drove an open sided Tin Lizzie, was very asthmatic and lived in Havelock for over twenty years, until he died at 54. He was part of the area and everyone knew and respected him. Although it was the Depression times, their home was an open home.

The organ helped with our singing lessons, where previously the tuning fork sufficed. I never remember ever having a concert, but lantern slides came to the school, and what excitement! Whole families came. Mr Flintoff harnessed his horse to the dray and came with Mrs Flintoff and the little ones on board, while the bigger ones ran behind. What pleasure we had; the school was overflowing. On another occasion Edwina Mills, an old pupil who had joined the Salvation Army, came and held a meeting. A few women had tears in their eyes. Another exciting event was the Rev Seamer with his travelling Maori Girls Choir. Darky Roberts from the Pa was a girl in the choir. The school was full to overflowing that time too.

Back to our education. Arithmetic, reading, composition and writing, alluded to as the three R's, were very much the main subjects, along with spelling, geography and history.

page 31

Arithmetic was first tiling in the morning and, for the primers, their tables; one times two are two, up to the 10 times tables. Even with all the different teachers, this did not vary. Singing with the tuning fork and, later, the organ was Friday afternoon and our nature teaching was the gardens.

Out on the sports field we played rounders, football, basketball, hopscotch and kick the block. Kick the block was six squares and a small wooden block. One player kicked it into each square. 1st, 2nd to 6th on one leg, not touching any lines, and out, with players taking turns. Hop scotch was five squares and a small flat stone. The player had to throw the stone, hop in, pick up the stone and hop round and out again, without treading on a line.

Quite unique was our annual breakup. For weeks before, the older pupils took newspaper to school and playtime was spent in the shelter sheds tearing up the paper into 1-1/2 inch pieces and putting it into two sacks. For the event two of the eldest pupils were voted the hares and the rest except the little ones, were the hounds. Came the day before school breakup and at 1 o'clock the hares were given 10 minutes on the route they would have decided on, while the hounds were kept in school. Then they were let out to find the paper trail. Plenty of hills, trees and fern, and everyone was home by three o'clock, caught or not. One pair of hounds dared to go through the empty Flat Creek School grounds, but the teacher noticed them through the window and came out and made them pick up every piece of paper. We didn't catch them that day.

I hope I haven't only given the reader a personal view of farm life, as all the farmers were doing the same thing… stumping, ploughing, and sowing oats for chaff for the horses, rape for fattening lambs for the freezing works, or turnips for help with the winter feed. Everyone had a few cows for milk, butter and cream to the factory for the extra money.

Pelorus Bridge School Teachers (not in rotation)

  • Miss Eva Cheek
  • Mr Howard Mills
  • Miss Doak
  • Miss Gallop
  • Mr Doug White
  • Miss Doris Sheppard
  • Miss Veronica Landon-Lane
  • Mr Sutton
  • Miss Cramner
  • Mr Quinn
  • Miss Hicks
  • Miss Elsie Mapp
  • Miss Regent Murphy
  • Mr Jim Elder (1928)
  • Miss Chris Murphy
  • Miss Eileen O'Riley
  • Mr Tim Bragg
  • Miss Wilkins
  • Mrs Burns
  • Miss Clarice Goulter
  • and others.

Pelorus Bridge People

  • Mr and Mrs Tom Hughes – Edith, Frank, Jean, Rose, Robert, Ted, Joyce
  • Mr and Mrs John Bown – John, Francis, Frank, Walter, Bert, Elizabeth, Isobel, Bill, Bruce and Margaret.
  • Mr and Mrs William Couper – Amy, Rita, Anne, Sinclair
  • Mr John Couper Snr and Miss Winnie Couper
  • Mr and Mrs Louis Couper – Jack, Frank, Jim, Margaret, Peterpage 32
  • Mr and Mrs Charlie Mills – Myrtle, Amellia, Phylis, Edwin, Thelma, Warn, Darcy, Dave, George
  • Mr and Mrs Shalto Gardiner – Shalto, Fred, Rose, Bob, Lilian, Mary, Amy, George, Horace, Annie, Ada
  • Mr Bert Thorn – Lorna, Robert, Grace, Claude and Joan (twins)
  • Mr and Mrs Fred Gartner – Ida, Ruby, Lil, Gordan, Viola, Maisie, Zoe
  • Mr and Mrs Bill Billingsley – Nellie, Jim, Molly
  • Mr and Mrs Fred Luff- Haslam, Noel, Trixie, Cora, Leslie
  • Mr and Mrs Charlie Bryant – Paul, Basil, Rollo, Alfred, Terry, Thomas
  • Mr and Mrs Ern Thorn
  • Mr and Mrs Alex McDowell – Alex, Mary
  • Mr and Mrs Fred Granger – Carl, Mavis, Jean, Vena, Nola, Bill, Peter
  • Mr and Mrs Sid Borck – Jack, Cavel, Eileen, Susie
  • Mr and Mrs Boys 2 sons, Rita, Ruth, Nancy
  • Mr Fred Luff married Ruth Boyes
  • Mr and Mrs Arthur Prentice – Ted, Gladys, Doreen, Valerie, Zealand, Moi, Startcy, Watty
  • Mr and Mrs Neil Simonsen – Thelma, Bert, Dean, Neil, Rex, Innes, Dorothy
  • Various single men who I can't remember, and I may have forgotten some sons.
  • Mr and Mrs Dryden – Lesley, Gwen, Bruce, Gordon
  • Mr and Mrs Harold Griffith
  • Mr and Mrs George Flintoff – Gladys, Clarence, Lester, David, Alice and others
  • Mr and Mrs Tom Francis – 3 daughters didn't come here and Eric, Pat
  • Mr and Mrs Fred Strange – Olive, Florence, Lilian, Zena
  • Mr and Mrs Jack Smart – Gladys, Pearl, Robert
  • Mr and Mrs Percy Couper
  • Mr and Mrs Harry Stratford – Bill, Ruby, Tim, Mavis
  • Mr and Mrs Lister
  • Mr and Mrs Clarrie Webby – 10 girls and 2 boys.