Asher Asher was a businessman in early Auckland who led the town’s first volunteer fire brigade. But there’s a challenge to this fact in the writings of another pioneer, William Daldy. But based on evidence, its safe to say that Asher Asher was indeed the first fire chief in Auckland with the title Superintendent.

Asher Asher was from London, arriving in Auckland with his parents in 1842 when he was aged 20.

Asher Asher. Tauranga City Libraries

William Crush Daldy, from Essex in England, was a ship’s captain who settled in Auckland in 1846 aged 30.

William Crush Daldy c 1910

There are two instances when William Crush Daldy claimed he was the first to lead Auckland’s Volunteer Fire Brigade. The first was his own writing in what is described as his diary but which were his recollections written when he was aged 83.1 The supposition that he was Auckland’s first fire chief is further carried in a book about Daldy’s life published in 1993. 2

In short, Daldy claims that about 1848-49 the first volunteer brigade was formed and that he was elected Captain. He says he had help from Asher Asher and others. 3.

Daldy also reckons he had firefighting equipment including an engine, ladders, buckets and says all the town’s water wells were marked. 4.

Daldy recalls two specific fires in his diary, one in the new National Bank Building, the other in Coombes’ block. 5.

Some townspeople credited Daldy with forming a fire brigade following a public meeting held in September 1849 because of what they called ‘the present emergency’?” 6

“The Present Emergency…”

But the concern about fire in the closely-settled wooden buildings of burgeoning Auckland was just one of the topics discussed.  More importantly, settlers discussed other matters that night and in the end didn’t bother themselves about fighting fires. Those gathered wanted just one thing – to get rid of the Governor, George Grey.

Governor, Sir George Grey – not universally liked
In oils, painted by Daniel Mundy, circa 1860

The accusing townsfolk were tired of his ‘despotic rule’, which they said was delaying all development in the Colony because he stopped land sales, delayed public works and passed restrictive laws.  They said the over-zealous Grey was dissuading further settlers and demoralising those already here. He had to go. 7.

Various matters along with the dissolution of the Provincial Council, comprised ‘the present emergency’. And they were not solely Auckland’s lack of fire protection. Daldy would have had no authority, nor motivation, to immediately go out and set up a fire brigade at that time.

Military had the Monopoly

There is no evidence that there was an organised fire brigade in Auckland in 1848 or 1849. The military had the sole “fire engine” in town. It was a hand-pump, a cart, dragged to fires by the garrison’s soldiers. They drew water from the sea or from wells and pumped it through leather hoses, directing it on to the flames. The soldiers responded, for example, to the major fire that destroyed Government House in June, 1848. 8.

Government House before the fire.Edward Ashworth, water colour c 1842 – Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, 5-1376A

It’s recorded that the Governor, himself, thanked everyone who assisted on the night of the fire: the volunteer fire brigade isn’t mentioned: there wasn’t one.  William Daldy is not reported in attendance, and he surely would have been mentioned if he was Captain of the fire brigade, present, and fighting the blaze. 9.

The newspaper of the day confirms that Auckland had only one fire engine – and it belonged to the military. 10

The City Fathers Take Action

Further evidence of this was a resolution passed at a meeting of the Municipal Corporation in early 1852 calling for the purchase a fire engine and equipment from Merryweather in London and that ‘a competent fire brigade be organised’. There was also realisation that a water supply for fire-fighting, in all seasons, was going to be essential. 11

This was before a water supply for the downtown area was piped from the Domain duck pond.

Once again, the military engine was the only equipment available late 1853 to tackle a blaze in the Black Bull Inn in Albert Street. The crew of the navy ship “Pandora” came ashore to assist and their combined efforts prevented the fire spreading. There’s no mention of a volunteer fire brigade.12

The City Council followed up with a By-law in August 1854 which did two things. The Council would collect an annual levy on every building in the town.  (In effect the introduction of annual rates collected by local bodies). The second objective was to provide fire protection: the By-law declared there would be a “City Fire Brigade” funded by the rates collected by the Council.

Then again, in December 1854, the military were at the much more serious outbreak of fire in Fort Street in December 1854.13

Reviewing the damage done by that blaze the “Daily Southern Cross” advocated the formation of a fire brigade. 14 The newspaper would not have said this had Daldy’s brigade already existed.

A Reminder from Abroad

Moves towards a fire brigade stemmed from concern by local businessmen in December, 1853, when attention was drawn to further fires in San Francisco, an earlier major blaze having all but destroyed the city.

Artist’s impression of one of the San Francisco fires

Auckland businessmen said it would be foolish to rely on the military while waiting for the government or council to provide proper fire protection. Auckland newspapers reported that San Francisco had learned the lesson about fire protection, establishing no fewer than 14 Fire Companies with 840 men at the ready.  This prompted Auckland townsfolk to form several sub-committees to collect subscriptions from citizens. They said Auckland, with its mainly wooden buildings – as had been the case in San  Francisco – needed fire protection and the money gathered would go towards purchase of ‘fire engines etc’ 15

This fire brigade equipment – the first investment by the community for such – showed that in 1853 there was no fire brigade in Auckland: the military had the sole fire engine. Thus Daldy could not have led a Brigade with a fire engine 4 or 5 years earlier, in 1848-1849, as he claimed.

Enter Asher Asher

About the same time, late 1853, local businessman Asher Asher began to get interested in fire protection and he imported a quantity of portable fire escapes, ladders and fire buckets, and advertised them for sale in local newspapers from May 1854. He had a shop in Shortland Street. 16

Advertisement in Daily Southern Cross newspaper, May 16 1854

He presented a set of these escape ladders to the City Council in October 1854 which was gratefully received, stored in a lock-up in Market House ready for any emergency. 17

They were stored in the Market House, near the waterfront, because there was no fire station. It’s recorded that the Commissioner of Police was trusted with the key. Had there been a fire brigade then surely its officer- in-charge would have held a key enabling him to access it when required.

Foot of Queen Street 1850s, Market House is left foreground
Auckland Weekly News – ‘Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, AWNS-19400124-40-2

Some townsfolk had short memories about the devastation fire had already caused in the colony and there remained some antipathy about fire protection, especially when they were called on to pay the fire levy. Some refused to pay the small rate the council levied to fund the fire brigade once formed, to build a fire station and to equip it. 18

New Fire Engines

Real progress towards a fire brigade took place In February 1855 when the 2 new Merryweather fire engines which had been funded by townsfolk arrived, ready for service. 19.  And it was always known that the Provincial Government was also buying one, with the understanding that all three engines would combine for fire-fighting. The militia’s engine could also be counted-on in times of need.

Within a month a meeting was called, mid-March 1855, to organise the new fire brigades. While William Daldy was appointed to a committee to oversee funds and administration, it was Asher Asher, along with others, who were tasked with forming the two new brigades to deploy the Merryweather fire engines. 20

Auckland’s Merryweather would have been similar to this.

The claim that these men comprised Auckland’s first fire brigades is backed up in the newspaper of the time with a write-up welcoming their formation as a great improvement for the city. 21

Recruiting began and within a week or so – in March 1855 – all those men interested in joining an engine company gathered. They enrolled on the spot and within days they were practising in Queen Street. 22

And the new firefighters didn’t have long to wait before they were called out to a fire. On 24th March they responded to Chancery Street but the blaze had been extinguished by neighbours and the next day they turned out to a fire in Shortland Street, also subdued without the need for their services. But the Daily Southern Cross praised them for their rapid deployment to both calls.23

The newspaper further welcomed the formation of these brigades. 24.  More recruits were sought in April 1855. 25

Combining Resources to Fight Fire

By May 1855 the combined Engine Companies  were regarded as one fire brigade, acknowledged when it was being proposed that the engine imported by the Provincial Council be handed over to ‘the brigade’.26

So Asher Asher did not follow Daldy as Superintendent of the Brigade as Daldy infers in his recollections. And the date, October 1854, which he recalls was when Asher took over as Superintendent is wrong. 27

There was some pressure on Asher, having helped establish these brigades in 1855, to combine them as one stand-alone brigade. Before going ahead it was essential to have sufficient firefighters and Asher could see a problem with this. By March 1857 there were real fears that those members of the Engine Companies who were also soldiers may no longer be available because, more and more, they were being deployed at the front, defending the threat from Maori dissidents in South Auckland. The fire brigades relied on the soldiers’ help, so Asher took two actions. He advertised a meeting to reorganise the brigade, as the “Engine Companies” were by now, collectively, known. 28

And he asked the Government to ensure militia support, and the Governor, realising the problem, acted. In September 1857 the military formally advised that it realised the town’s fire protection depended on the availability of those soldiers who were also members of the fire brigade. While the soldiers could not be excused active duty at the front, they would be drafted as a ‘fire detachment’. It seems this meant they would be deployed on ‘local duties’ and thus always available in the town to help fight fires. 29

Despite arguments, within a month, in October 1857, the Provincial Government handed over its fire engine along with all its gear and it was re-organised, with 3 fire engines and seeking 100 volunteers, the estimated number required for the 3 engines based on the militia’s experience. This figure was probably recalled by Daldy when he mistakenly wrote in his diary that it was the number of men he led as Fire Chief in 1848.

Asher Asher as Superintendent

Asher Asher officially became Superintendent on 13 October 1857 at a meeting which formally united the 2 Engine Companies and then elected Captains for each. Amalgamation talks had been going for some time and at the meeting Asher was unanimously elected to lead the one organised fire brigade, known as the Auckland Volunteer Fire Brigade, combining all available fire-fighting equipment which was then allocated to each Fire Engine Company, ready for action. 30

It was well-known and widely publicised that Asher Asher was elected on that date – the first Superintendent of Auckland Volunteer Fire Brigade, the first to hold this office anywhere in New Zealand because Auckland had the first such fire brigade”. 31

Asher’s Fire Helmet. Auckland Museum Collections

The newly-combined brigade wasted no time in practising and by mid-November 1857 they had a well-planned and rehearsed process to find and pump water, two engines  (those purchased by public subscription) often feeding the third (ex-Provincial Government) to provide sufficient pressure for fire-fighting in the town area”. 32

The Great Fire of July 1858

“Townsfolk could see progress and Asher was specially thanked for his work, as Superintendent, at the Great Fire of July, 1858. 32

It was huge fire attended by the 3 engines working together, along with the Army’s outfit. The blaze got an early hold and much of the business district around High Street was gutted with big losses.  Daldy was also there, acting in a private capacity, joining others to help save some premises.

Another aspect suggesting Daldy’s recollections were somewhat hazy concerned the water sources in early Auckland. He says wells and water courses were marked on a map in 1848. But there is documented evidence that it was only in late 1854 that the Royal Engineers were completing their useful project to map all the available local wells and waterholes so that there was a ready reference of their locations, essential in times of fire. 34

And then a year later the City Council began constructing wells at strategic places throughout the built-up area specifically for fire-fighting with attention to ready and easy access for the brigade”.35

Queen Street and the Ligar Canal: source of water or fire-fighting
James D Richardson: Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, 4-400

It was only after these sources were available and marked that it was made clear that the brigade had the right to use the water: at long last firefighters could be reasonably certain of supplies for their pumps as of right. Although firefighters sometimes drew on sea-water for waterfront fires, they couldn’t rely on it if the tide was out.

Daldy’s “Colleagues”

William Daldy’s mention of two colleagues assisting him with the early brigade also shows confusion. Asher, named as one, was not part of the brigade at that stage. But in 1858, when he had been Chief, the fire brigade fell apart in disarray so the garrison of the 58th Regiment reverted as the mainstay for Auckland’s fire-fighting.  But the soldiers returned to England in November that year leaving only police to attend to fires.

58th Regiment parades at Albert Barracks, 1858, with other regiments.
Possibly its last before leaving New Zealand

Then, in February 1859 after re-organisation, the fire brigade started up again. Asher was involved, but this brigade, too, was short-lived, with firefighters claiming they were under-resourced by the Council and received nothing but discouragement from the authorities. So they packed it in some 3 months later in May 1859. There’s evidence that this was when Daldy came in – it was August 1860 when he led a reformed brigade and was made Superintendent overseeing the 3 engines. 36

The other names Daldy recalled as connected with the earlier brigade, in 1848, were ‘Rattry’ and ‘Hely, from H. M. Customs’.  37

‘Rattry’ may be traced as probably William (Bill) Rattray who was more than likely there in 1860 because he is listed as a Foreman of one of the engines. 38

‘Hely from H M Customs’ is possibly meant to refer to Thomas Hendry Eley  who was on official, a Landing Waiter, in the Customs office in the 1850s. Eley was one of those helping Daldy, as civilians,  at the devastating fire downtown in July 1858. They were singled out for mention in the newspaper at the time.39

Perhaps it was Angelo Elias, another similar name, a man who had a shop in Queen Street about the late 1850s. 40.   The name Elias was mentioned as a Foreman who volunteered to serve under Daldy for the Northern Engine. 41

But that could be a mis-print, Elias instead of Ellis. Maybe Daldy meant Ellis from Freemans Bay who was on the crew of one of the engines, one of the better Foremen working under Daldy. 42

But its apparent these events occurred a good deal later than Daldy’s claim of 1848: more likely in 1860. Rattray and Ellis, for example, neither had arrived in Auckland until much later than 1848. 43, 44

Other Inconsistencies

Then there’s another inconsistency when Daldy mentions in his reminiscences the fire in the new National Bank as if it was about the time he was Captain, supposedly in 1848. 45

The fact is the National Bank of New Zealand wasn’t formed until 1872 and in Auckland didn’t open its doors until April 1873. 46

And by that date Daldy had gone from the brigade – he left in 1863 when the brigade dissolved for the umpteenth time.

Turbulent Times

Asher Asher was his Deputy when that happened: the turbulent era for fire brigades in Auckland was to continue. There were years of turmoil, arguments about who should have command of the brigades, who should run the engines and who should pay for them. Asher  made several attempts to reshape the brigades: it was obviously difficult leading such troubled outfits.  He helped form a new brigade in May 1865 but it failed and he tried again in March 1866 which had a longer life… but in September 1868 it, too, disbanded.47

Asher was to retain an interest in fire protection with brigades working together with the Insurance Companies’ Brigades. But the relationship between them soured. By mid-1872 there was a falling out:  Asher found there was intense competition between the volunteer brigade and the Insurance brigade. He was moved to advertise in the local newspaper that anyone trespassing in the fire station would be prosecuted and then he had a notice published to say that he had been put in charge of firefighting equipment at 3 depots… at the same time warning off members of the Insurance Brigade.

Auckland Star 11 May 1872

The Insurance Companies’ Brigade advertised in the same newspapers that Seering Matthews had taken over as their Superintendent and he, in turn, advised the “going rates” for anyone who helped his Brigade.

Auckland Star 11 May 1872

 

Auckland Star 11 May 1872

Despite this initial competition the brigade continued to attend outbreaks  together, both outfits working against the common enemy, fire. The newspapers called them ‘rival brigades’. 48

“A Pretender” emerges

In November that year there was a light-hearted challenge to Asher’s position as Superintendent, a position and rank he had retained. Christopher Greenway, said to be ‘the richest man in Auckland’, had disagreed with Asher’s firefighting techniques at several outbreaks. Greenway wrote to the editor of the Southern Cross newspaper in November 1872 repeating his criticism and, in the interests of improved fire protection, he offered to take over the job of Superintendent of the Fire Brigade – and without any payment. Greenway was described in the Press as a ‘gentleman of Remuera’ before he moved into the city to live, the owner of many downtown properties. The Southern Cross gently mocked his offer saying that if the brigades were placed under his command surely he would generously dip into his immense personal wealth to pay for them. His offer to be Superintendent was not taken up.

But the difficulty of managing fire brigades remained. Asher continued drilling with the brigades. Good numbers had been retained, sometimes 50 men mustered for training, and there were some good saves, attending fires both big and small. Lack of water, rather than a shortage of manpower, equipment or expertise was the main hindrance to providing ideal fire protection for the city. Asher’s firefighting abilities were sometimes questioned, mainly by rivals – Mr Seering Matthews and his insurance friends – with criticism once or twice boiling over into caustic debate through newspaper columns.

Asher Asher Bows Out

Asher Asher was appointed the town’s Fire Inspector and, soon after, a Municipal Brigade with a nucleus of paid firefighters was formed in 1874. A joint committee of the City Council and Insurance Companies was formed to appoint the brigade’s new Superintendent and this may have been Asher’s undoing. The insurance interests on the committee who had earlier criticised his administration and firefighting operations probably voted against him: John Hughes got the job in July that year. Asher Asher went to Tauranga soon after.   

When he died in 1899 there was further documentation that debunks Daldy’s writings. The New Zealand Herald wrote in an obituary ‘Mr. Asher was the original founder of the Auckland Fire Brigade… ‘. 49

Asher Asher at work
In oils, painter unknown

And the Auckland Star wrote that he ‘… was the founder and first Superintendent of the Auckland Fire Brigade, which was also the first in the colony’.50

In September 1874, when John Hughes succeeded Asher as Superintendent, there was a letter to the editor of the ‘Daily Southern Cross’ recalling his service. ‘It is hardly necessary to state,’ it said, ‘that Mr Asher has been connected (and was the first to start) a Fire Brigade in Auckland 19 years ago’. 51

While the correspondent may have been a little generous with the number of years Asher served as officer in charge, the man himself put his service much more accurately at the farewell function the Brigade held for him in 1874 when he said that he had answered every fire bell for the past 17 years, in other words since 1857, the year he was made Superintendent”.52

And again, there was a write-up in newspapers in 1897 when, on October 12th, Asher was receiving congratulations having completed 40 years of service as a fire brigade officer.  ‘Asher was appointed Superintendent of the Auckland Fire Brigade, being the first established in the colony on the 13th October, 1857 and then in Tauranga he organised and has led the fire brigade for 10 years’”. 53

In 1903 William Daldy was eulogised in the New Zealand Herald. The newspaper said “…some 40 years ago…  Daldy formed one of the finest fire brigades in the colony, the deceased being appointed its captain”. 54

This, much more accurately, puts Daldy in charge of the Brigade in the early 1860s sometime after Asher Asher was elected as Superintendent of the first brigade.

The Minute Book of the Auckland Volunteer Fire Brigade is available at Auckland Library, donated by Asher Asher, and its contents, too,  show that, throughout difficult early times, he was elected Superintendent of the various brigades from the very first”.55

RCC

November 2015/September 2020

References

  1. William Crush Daldy, 1816-1903, pioneer Auckland settler:

“1848-49, the first volunteer fire brigade was formed and I was elected Captain. I had associated with me Asher, W. Rattry, H Ely and many other citizens. We had one engine, ladders, buckets and wells marked during my time. Mr Asher succeeded me in charge. I now began to take an interest in public affairs and shortly after this was captain of the first brigade with 100 men” – his diary November 17th 1898.

  1. Captain William Crush Daldy by Lesley N. Dugdale, Heritage Press 1993 among many other publications quoting passages from Daldy’s diary
  2. Diary of William Crush Daldy written on November 17 1898.
  3. Ibid
  4. Ibid
  5. Southern Cross Public Notice of Meeting 4 September 1849
  6. Daily Southern Cross 11 September 1849 news article, proceedings of meeting
  7. New Zealander July 26 1848 news article Government House burns down
  8. Ibid
  9. New Zealander 24 June 1848 news article – the military turned out more for crowd control and salvage rather than to fight the fire “…because Auckland, alas, possesses but one of those essentials to the extinction of fire, an engine”.
  10. Daily Southern Cross 24 February 1852 news article reporting meeting of Auckland Municipal Corporation
  11. Daily Southern Cross 8 December 1853 news article Black Bull on fire
  12. New Zealander 20 December 1854 news article re garrison attendance at Fort Street fire
  13. Ibid 20 December 1854 “The results of Sunday night (fire) effectually testify to the great advantages to be derived from the organization of an efficient Fire Brigade…”
  14. New Zealander 24 June 1848 “…because Auckland, alas, possesses but one of those essentials to the extinction of fire, an engine.” (Reference to the Garrison’s engine)
  15. Daily Southern Cross 27 June 1853 advertisement for ladders, buckets etc
  16. New Zealander 1 October 1854 news item report on Council proceedings
  17. New Zealander 22 November 1854 news item and opinion piece on the fire levy
  18. Daily Southern Cross 6 February 1855 Port of Auckland list of foreign imports per “Josephine Willis” arrived 5 February 1855 from London
  19. New Zealander 17 March 1855 news item report that the Fire Prevention Committee is dissolving in favour of committees to form engine companies so as to “prevent procrastination over the formation of an efficient brigade” which will work together with the Provincial Council’s engine.
  20. Daily Southern Cross 19 December 1854 “…a well-appointed Fire Brigade might be rendered one of the most invaluable bands that could possibly be formed for the protection and security of Auckland”
  21. Ibid 23March 1855 news article reporting Fire Brigade is practising and water-testing
  22. New Zealander 18 March 1855 “…we must not pass unnoticed the praiseworthy anxiety that has been manifested by the inhabitants in the formation of Volunteer Fire Brigades… …we rejoice, therefore, to find that the feeling in favour of the formation of Volunteer Fire Brigades is so strong…”
  23. Daily Southern Cross 27 March 1855 news article about two weekend fires
  24. Daily Southern Cross 7 April 1857, notice of fire brigade meeting and seeking new recruits
  25. Daily Southern Cross 1 May 1855 news article reporting Provincial Council business –“…Mr Derrom: There is one volunteer fire brigade and the engines are made to work together…”
  26. “United to Protect” by G. M. Gillon, 1985 Orion Press. Also: “New Zealand Tragedies Fires & Firefighting” by Gavin McLean, 1992, Grantham House
  27. Daily Southern Cross 7th April 1857 Advertising meeting of the Fire Brigade
  28. New Zealander 12 September 1857 letter from Captain H C Balneavis
  29. “Decently and in Order” by G W A Bush, Auckland City Council, 1971. Also City Board Act, 1863, legislated by Auckland Provincial Government. Also “Cyclopedia of New Zealand”, The Cyclopedia Company 1902, accessed through NZETC website.
  30. “A Century of Service to Tauranga, 1882-1982” , by A. C. Bellamy, July 1982 , Publicity Printing Ltd, Tauranga, history of Tauranga Fire Brigade. Also “United To Protect” G. M. Gillon, 1985 Orion Press. Also “timespanner” blog on the internet by Lisa Truttman, reprinted in “Priority Message” newsletter of the Auckland Fire Brigade Historical Society, September 2013
  31. New Zealand Herald 16 Oct 1897 reporting Asher’s 40 years of service in fire brigades. Also NZ League Co NZ website, the life of player Arapeta Paurini (Opai) Asher – “His grandfather was the first superintendent of the Auckland Fire Brigade”.
  32. Daily Southern Cross 9 July 1858 report Provincial Council proceedings. And New Zealander 10 July 1858 news item detailing a destructive fire in the city
  33. New Zealander 20 December 1854 news item following a fire downtown
  34. New Zealander 24 March 1855 report of Auckland City Council proceedings
  35. New Zealander 24 October 1860 report of fire meeting
  36. “Captain William Crush Daldy” by Lesley N. Dugdale, Heritage Press 1993 among many other publications quoting the passages from Daldy’s diary
  37. New Zealander 24 October 1860 report of fire meeting
  38. Southern Cross 3 December 1861 Obituary – Thomas Hendry Ely: New Zealander 10 July 1858
  39. List of ratepayers with shop frontages to Queen Street, Auckland, 1858
  40. New Zealander 24 October 1861 report of fire meeting
  41. New Zealander 22 January 1862 Oliver Sydney Ellis, Captain of Fire Engine also Jury List for 1860-61, Daily Southern Cross, 7 February 1860
  42. “Asher Asher – His Life and Times 1822 -1899” Nan Payne published by R. C. Payne 1988, also Rattray family arrivals at Auckland aboard “Kestrel“ from Melbourne, March 26 1853, New Zealander 30 March 1853, also Auckland Star 4 August 1932 news article
  43. Daily Southern Cross 19 July 1859 O.S. Ellis arrived at Auckland aboard “Whirlwind” July 16 1859
  44. Diary of William Crush Daldy written on November 17 1898
  45. New Zealand Herald 2 April 1873 news article
  46. Auckland Star 21 January 1873
  47. “United To Protect” G. M. Gillon, 1985 Orion Press page 22ff. Also Auckland Volunteer Fire Brigade Minute Book, NZMS 223, held at Sir George Grey Collections, Auckland Library
  48. New Zealand Herald 17 February 1899 obituary for Asher Asher
  49. Auckland Star 20 February 1899 obituary for Asher Asher
  50. Daily Southern Cross 10 September 1874 Letter to the Editor from ‘A Volunteer’
  51. Daily Southern Cross 29 September 1874 news item re farewell function and presentation
  52. New Zealand Herald 16 October 1897 news article re Asher’s 40th anniversary as fire chief
  53. New Zealand Herald 6 October 1903, obituary for William Crush Daldy
  54. Auckland Volunteer Fire Brigade Minute Book, NZMS 223, held at Sir George Grey Collections, Auckland Library
  55. Diary of William Crush Daldy written on November 17 1898

This story was inspired by a stay at the Orua Bay Motel in 2015. Reading the in-room almanac I found a list of former proprietors of the harbour-side accommodation since it was first opened by the Ritchies in the late 1890s. Researching finer details of these pioneers led to an appreciation of the history of the Bay, and surrounds… its connection with Kauri milling, earliest missionaries, the “Orpheus” tragedy and the unfulfilled Cornwallis dream.

 

Ritchie family members were among the first to settle at Orua Bay on the northern shore of Awhitu Peninsula on the waterfront of the Manukau Harbour.  They suffered privation, accident, threat of the Maori Wars and, in the case of Robert Junior, financial difficulties. Access was at first by boat (weather and tides permitting), on horseback or by foot. Robert and Mary Ritchie recognised the attractions of the sheltered, first-class beach and its potential. From 1891 they provided visitor accommodation at Orua Bay offering cottages fronting the sands.

These days it’s an easy drive by road through rolling, sometimes steep, farmland from Waiuku to Orua Bay where the road first reveals views of the Manukau Harbour and the distant Waitakere Ranges beyond. Then the road lets down to the flat of the Bay and the settlement there, including the modern, comfortable facilities of the Orua Bay Motel and Camping Ground right on the beach-front. The Ritchie legacy remains.

Ritchies Arrive

Mr Robert and Mrs Mary Ritchie (nee Graham) arrived in Auckland from Paisley, Scotland, aboard one of the earliest steamships, Lord Ashley, in October 1858. The New Zealander newspaper, 23rd June 1858, noted “Steam Service a Fact” after it was announced in London that Lord Ashley was bringing passengers to Auckland, innovating steam propulsion in the colony. It would be the New Zealand Royal Mail Steam Company’s first venture to New Zealand with Captain Alexander Stewart at the helm, notable for his exploits and voyages of discovery in the Arctic.

The Ritchies and 4 daughters, Christina, Mary, Catherine (Kate) and Marion were seeking a better life and departed London on 26th May 1858 under steam. (Newspaper reports about the Ritchie family erroneously put the year as 1857). The ship, later enjoying favourable winds, was under sail for much of the voyage via South Africa and around the southern coast of Australia. As New Zealand was approached the wind died, steam took over, but then with better winds the Waitemata Harbour was safely reached under sail 13th October. The voyage was summed up at the time as “140 days – a very fair run… with passengers arriving in good spirits: there was not one death aboard during the trip out…”

Colonists

The Ritchies first went to Graham’s Beach, although it was probably called Te Kauri at that time – reports have it that it was not called Graham’s Beach until after the death of pioneer William Graham.  William Graham and his wife, Marion, also originally from Paisley in Scotland, had settled there on what they called Kauri Point in 1853. Also on site at the same time was another family, among those first Europeans on the peninsula, Mr and Mrs Edward Logan and their two children, who had travelled with the Grahams to New Zealand.

Marion Graham was Mary Ritchie’s sister so there was a siblings’ reunion half a world from their native Paisley. The Ritchies, however, soon after moved the short distance to Orua Bay where they occupied 65 acres (26ha), granted title in 1861. The land was then thick virgin Kauri bush stretching to swampy land along the waterline of the Manukau Harbour.

In 1863 Robert Ritchie attended a meeting with other local residents (among them Messres Garland, Panormo, Coulthard and Dall together with Reverend Thomas Norrie) and proposed “…a school house and a place of worship in connection with the Presbyterian Church (of Scotland) be erected”.

Coulthard brothers, led by Septimus, were, like the Ritchies, among the first settlers at Orua: in fact Orua Bay was called Coulthard’s Bay for some time until Septimus’s wife Matilda (nee Panormo) decided the name should revert to Orua Bay and she took steps to get alterations made on shipping timetables, postal arrangements and maps, etc.  Coulthards established a store trading in Kauri Gum and general goods, transported to and from Onehunga on Septimus’s cutter Daphne.  A Post Office was incorporated in the store, with a weekly mail service overland from 1895 for some 15 years until mails arrived direct from Onehunga on the regular launch service which collected cream cans at various wharves on the run.

Original Panormo House at Orua Bay, built c 1860, known as “the old house”
Brian Muir Collection – Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections Footprints 07081

Septimus and Matilda lived at first in the Panormo house, several times added-to and believed to have a means of escape connected to the nearby blockhouse in case of hostilities. Septimus later had another house constructed on the beachfront.

 Milling the Native Timber

The Coulthards established a timber mill to harvest Kauri and other trees, notably Puriri. This industry required a wooden dam to store water to supply a giant waterwheel used to power machinery. On two occasions the dam malfunctioned, threatening settlers in the bay below. The first in July 1872 resulted from the sluice gates not being closed, as was usual, at the close of each day’s operations. This oversight led to a build-up behind the dam during the night until the timbers gave way with torrents of water rushing down into the bay. Some residents, flooded, gave the alarm and were rescued. It was considered lucky there were no casualties. Then, a few months later the scenario was repeated. This time the dam’s wooden frame gave way, an enormous volume of water was suddenly released, taking with it large quantities of logs and sawn timber down the slopes, across the flats, over the beach and into the harbour. Coulthards were left with loss of timbers and repairs to the embankment and timbered dam. The Ritchies must have been alarmed at the danger posed by the risk of the dam failing again. The Panormo brothers also established a mill and Robert Ritchie was employed there for a time. But Panormos gave it up in the face of  Native Land Wars, when demand for timber slumped and, anyway, the forest was being worked-out.  The Panormos travelled abroad but Charles and Louis returned to resettle in Awhitu in later years.

1860s

In 1859 Robert and Mary Ritchie extended their family with the birth of a son, Robert, and then William followed in 1861. Their fifth daughter, Annie, was born in 1863.

The pioneering Ritchies would have been in Orua Bay when, apart from milling the abundant timber, there was local activity around shipping (taking the timber and produce to Onehunga) boat-building (using the timber to make coastal craft), gum-digging (harvesting beneath the Kauri trees and in swamps where ancient forests had been located) and smelting (Coulthards’ set up a furnace to convert black iron-sand into metal, but the venture was short-lived: uneconomic).

Ritchies tried commerce, opening a small trading store on the waterfront, but it did not prosper. Robert cleared the land, built a family home and drained the swampland, extracting lucrative Kauri Gum.

The Ritchie family must have eyed with some comfort the blockhouse built in the Bay in anticipation of conflict with Maori – news of the Land Wars in Auckland, Waikato and Taranaki must have given constant worry to the settlers at Awhitu, in case the action spread to the peninsula. They knew there was a large Maori pah not far towards Waiuku and welcomed the blockhouse as a precaution.

But relationships had, from the first, been cordial with the local Maori and their chiefs assuring colonists that there would be no fighting and that the settlers had nothing to fear. Ben Westhead in “West of the Manukau” says the chiefs’ word was kept: the blockhouse was never used. But in an obituary for Marion Snowden (nee Ritchie) in the Auckland Star, 14 August 1940, it says “…during the war Mrs. Snowden had on several occasions been compelled to seek shelter with her family at the old blockhouse when there was danger of Maoris raiding the township”. She went to live in the relative safety of Onehunga until troubles subsided.

The New Zealand Herald, November 1932, recalled events of 1863 saying that rampaging Maori led by Te Pani wrecked the signal station at the Manukau Heads. The report says the military was engaged in skirmishes at Drury, so defence of the station on Paratutai Island at the Heads was left to a band of volunteers. “The rebels landed from canoes and destroyed the flagstaff and a boat, but did not molest two women living at the pilothouse. After removing two other boats, the Maoris sailed to Awhitu where they terrorised the settlers for a time”.

The Irwins, Turners, Milletts, Hamlins, Dickeys, Logans, Palmers, Shorts, Westheads, Hamiltons, McPikes, Arrowsmiths , Brooks and McTiers were among pioneer families – farmers, timber millers, flax millers, gum diggers or traders – in the District, many written up in Ben Westhead’s book.  Some of the men, like Alfred Palmer, left the district for long periods to serve in the Maori Land Wars. The Garland’s Hotel (sometimes referred to as Boathouse and Boat Hotel) at Awhitu Wharf appears to have been first licensed in December 1865. It became a hub of social events and an oasis for hard-working farmers, bushmen and mill-men alike. Renewal of the “bush licence” by John Garland for the eleven-roomed establishment, after a lapse, was declined in 1894.

The Missionary Influence

The overall good relationships with Maori were no doubt the enduring results of the work of the very first Europeans at Orua Bay – the missionaries. Methodist Minister William Woon set up a mission station in the bay in January 1836 but it was short-lived. Crops failed, forcing Maori and William Woon, his wife and two children from the peninsula. During his short tenure Woon described the place as having “grandeur of the harbour and wonder of scenery”. No other missionary had lived in these parts before with only one other settler, a trader, on the northern (opposite) shore of the harbour.

Later, in the spring of that year, members of the Church Missionary Society, notably, Reverend Dr Robert Maunsell and Mrs Maunsell, and, later, Reverend James Hamlin, his wife and family, arrived in the district.

Rev. Robert Maunsell

Hamlin had already visited the Manukau and had chosen the spot for the mission station.

Rev. John Hamlin

The Maunsells first established their base at the chosen spot on the shore just North of Waiuku at Uretoa, also known as Mokatoa and Moeatoa. But soon the Maunsells, joined by John Hamlin and family in September 1836, transferred to new headquarters, ”…slightly to the west of Orua Stream…”, buying land at what they described as the “…much more suitable…” Orua Bay.

Governor William Hobson and party made several official visits to Orua Bay between 1840 and early 1842.

Governor, Captain William Hobson, RN, Auckland Museum Collections

Orua Bay, perhaps because of its stable, mission settlement, had been chosen as location for signing of the Treaty of Waitangi on 20th March 1840. 3 Maori Chiefs signed at Orua Bay, the first from the Manukau area to do so. Seven more chiefs from outlying districts signed in late April, but at a different location, probably under Maunsell’s influence at Port Waikato.

“Missionary Station at Ourou in Manukao”
Date unknown c.1840. Pen and wash on paper Johnson, John 1794-1848 Auckland War Memorial Museum – Tāmaki Paenga Hira. PD18(23)

Bishop George Selwyn* also called in at the Mission at Orua Bay during his walk of the North Island in 1842. Selwyn arranged a canoe to take him on to Onehunga to avoid the long walk around the Manukau Harbour’s southern shoreline. The Bishop visited Orua Bay again the following year.

Mission Station Flourishes

Notwithstanding trials and tribulations, the thriving Mission Station at Orua Bay endured. Residents at first lived in Raupo huts divided into a few rooms, “…the huts when new are liveable, but as they dry they become highly flammable,” Mrs Maunsell wrote home to England, “… the sitting room in turn serves as parlour, schoolroom, laundry, kitchen etc”. Hewn-timbered dwellings replaced the huts. The wives shared duties to take school lessons, up to 50 local pupils, including Maori children and adults, with morning and afternoon sessions.

John Hamlin* cultivated land adjacent to the Mission and proved himself a capable farmer, probably the first settler in the Manukau to engage extensively in agricultural pursuits. He farmed 400-500 acres (160 – 200hectares) and was looked on by traders as a landowner of considerable importance. (Later farmers said they found the land unsuitable for agriculture and pastoral purposes without application of much fertiliser)

But the missionaries’ work paid off in many ways for the people Orua Bay, like the Ritchies. Ben Westhead, author of “West of the Manukau”, says “… the influence of these missionaries was felt many years later when war broke out in the Waikato. Not a single white person was molested during the whole trouble and Maori Chief Kaihau used his influence with his counterpart, Tawhiao, to protect his white friends”.

The Beaten Track

On the surface the missionaries’ decision to set up at Orua Bay might seem strange because it was off the beaten track, off the busy “highway” between Auckland and the Waikato.

Not so. Orua Bay was just off the route well-used from earliest times by Maori. From Otahuhu they travelled by canoe across the Manukau Harbour to Waiuku. There they carried their craft the short distance to the Awaroa River which flowed to the Waikato River. The shallow draft canoes usually found the stream navigable, but there are stories of mud dams being built by hand to raise the level so, progressively, with a series of temporary dams the travellers could pass along the Awaroa to the Waikato River, gaining access to the South and Waikato. Maori thus deployed their own style of elementary locks when the Awaroa was at low levels.

There are accounts of fierce inter-tribal fighting in 1836 at the territorial threshold, and scene of much warfare, near the confluence of the Awaroa and Waikato Rivers. It may have been an inter-tribal boundary.

Before roads and railways were built, this became the preferred route as trade and travel increased. South-bound travellers and goods would be transported by cutter or scow from Onehunga to Waiuku. It was then a walk or a ride on horseback or ox cart a few miles or so (3 km) to the emerging “new town” of Pura Pura (also known as Moeatoa), a surveyed township at the head of the Awaroa River which was quite a settlement by the late 1840s… and growing… with stores, allocated mooring sites, a flax mill, native hostelry and Edward Constable’s “Rising Sun Hotel” providing travellers with accommodation and refreshment. . (These days few traces remain, it’s as if the place, somewhere near the present Misa Road, never existed).  The hotel was removed to Waiuku in 1851 as “The Kentish”, which has continued as licensed premises since 1853, said to be the longest-held licence in New Zealand.

Kentish Hotel, Waiuku, 1877
James D Richardson Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections 4-9141

The next stage of the journey south from Pura Pura was by boat, first the five miles (7km) through swamp down the Awaroa River to join the Waikato River near Maioro for passage on to Tuakau, Mercer, Hamilton, and beyond.

Awaroa River near Pura Pura known as Otaua Landing c 1898
Enos Silvenus Pegler, Waiuku Museum Soc. – Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections Footprints 04731

Northbound, natives brought vegetables and grain to trade at Waiuku. In 1852 a traveller, Alexander Kennedy** describes the route thus: “Although it is little more than a ditch in some places the whole of the produce of the Waipa District is nevertheless brought by the natives in their canoes up this creek and conveyed across the portage to Waiuku when it is again shipped and landed at Onehunga…”

In these times Waiuku, the portage point, became the most important centre South of Otahuhu and was likely to become even bigger as trade developed and travel became popular. In 1858 the Provincial Government recognised the importance of the portage and provided funds for roading and bridges to ensure this vital link between Auckland and the Waikato remained passable year-round.

The government also investigated a canal, with locks, linking the Awaroa River at Pura Pura with the Manukau Harbour at Waiuku. Government money was set aside for surveying this “water highway” but it was superseded by the decision to prefer inland routes and the forming of the Great South Road and construction of the main trunk railway. Port Waikato provided ample facilities at that time for shipping. Waiuku, thus, was left out: its prominence lost as a vital through-route. Some settlers claimed they had paid high prices for land near Waiuku on the promise of a linking canal, or tramway, with much enhanced prospects for the district. They were dismayed when neither eventuated… and had not forgotten this in 1882 when they petitioned the Government for an alternative: a branch railway line from Pukekohe to Waiuku. They finally got their wish 40 years later when in 1922 local MP and Prime Minister, W. F .Massey, welcomed the first train at Waiuku.  This gave settlers of Awhitu, including Orua Bay, alternative transport for their produce.

Rt Hon William Massey
Schmidt, Weekly News – Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections AWNS-19130501-16-1

 

First train on the Glenbrook – Waiuku Line 1922
Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections AWNS-19220112-42-2

Dairy produce from factories in the district was its principal freight until road carriage took over and New Zealand Railways closed the line in 1967, though it was spared when a year later a spur was opened to serve the Glenbrook Steel Mill. The Railway Enthusiasts’ Society took over the track from Glenbrook Station to Fernleigh on the outskirts of Waiuku in 1971 to create a vintage steam railway. In 2014 the line was extended and visitors on this popular tourist attraction can now travel as far as Victoria Street Station at the rear of the Cosmopolitan Club, a short walk to and from Waiuku’s main street.

 Cornwallis – Unrealised Dream

So, returning to the Mission Station at Orua Bay. It was established not far from off the beaten track, “the highway” of the time, and perhaps Maunsell and Hamlin had heard about the inter-tribal fighting among Maori near Waiuku and decided Orua Bay would be safer.

Then again, perhaps the clerics savoured an extended mission, ministering to colonists in the new town of Cornwallis, proposed on a site straight across the narrow stretch of the Manukau Harbour from Orua Bay.  Colonising entrepreneurs, the New Zealand Manukau and Waitemata Land Company, had chosen Cornwallis as the future centre of a developing Auckland: a large town (maybe, later, a city), commercial hub and port, outdoing that on the Waitemata, bigger and better. Prospective settlers purchased sections through the Company before the first group left Scotland in December, 1840, aboard the “Brilliant”. Adversity began right away: on the first day the ship nearly ran aground and had to make for Cork for a check-up. There the captain, officers, crew and some passengers left the “Brilliant” saying it was less than its name implied: unseaworthy. Captain David Ritchie (no relation) and a new crew got the vessel through many other trials during the long voyage of 10 months. Severely tested, other passengers and crew members had left the ship en route so just 27 would-be settlers reached Cornwallis. Much to their surprise and disappointment they found none of the  development they had  anticipated as their “promised land”, just dense native bush, rough-cut walking tracks, a few Raupo huts, a harbour with a dangerous bar and a port too shallow to take the “Brilliant”, unsurveyed sections and arguments with Maori about who, exactly, owned the land.

Tragedy

There was further setback when long-time advocate of the colonists’ scheme and the Company’s agent/manager, Captain William Cornwallis Symonds, was drowned in November 1841. Symonds had a successful military career and had been in New Zealand since the 1830s where he held numerous public offices during earliest development of Auckland province. Sir William Cornwallis had been a benefactor to William Symond’s father, hence the name.

On the day of Captain Symond’s death he learned that Mrs Hamlin, across the strait at Orua Bay Mission Station, was very ill and that Dr Ellis was not available. Symonds immediately took medical supplies and helpers in a boat. About halfway during the crossing the craft capsized in a sudden squall… Symonds and 3 others drowned. Mrs Hamlin survived her illness.

This tragedy robbed the enterprise’s devoted leader and, along with other land and development problems, meant Cornwallis didn’t prosper despite two more ships, the “Osprey” and the “Louisa Campbell,” bringing further intending settlers. Milling the timber was but a short-lived industry.

The vision was all over by the mid-1850s. Some of the “sections” in the proposed township went unsold or unclaimed – these formed the basis of what is now a public park with a memorial to those who participated in the unfortunate experiment, the obelisk plainly seen across the water from Orua Bay.

Captain William Cornwallis Symonds is recalled with the name of Symonds Street and Symonds Street Cemetery in Auckland City. His younger brother Captain John Jermyn Symonds followed William to Auckland in 1841, becoming a public official and a commander in the military with the Fencible forces. He was later a Land Court Judge and elected MP – he is remembered by Symonds Street, Onehunga, near where he settled.

The area on the Northern side of the Manukau Harbour, including where Cornwallis was proposed, was originally called Karangahape, and the road in Auckland city was so named as this was the beginning of the track that Maori took en route for Karangahape on the Manukau.

Life in the Bay

Dr Maunsell later relocated to Maraetai Mission Station at Waikato Heads. But he often visited Orua Bay, taking several days for the journey, first crossing the Waikato River to Maioro Bay by canoe and then walking along the coastline to Awhitu. John Hamlin later transferred to Wairoa Mission Station near Papakura.

In August 1888 Robert’s son William possessed “a fast sailing boat”, probably the “Maui”, and used it to ferry members of the Awhitu Rugby Club to Waiuku for a match against locals there. Awhitu was victorious, a performance repeated when Waiuku visited Orua Bay for a return match.

In January 1891 a yacht owned by the Ritchies (again, possibly “Maui”) was in the news after an electric storm passed Orua Bay in the middle of the night. After one very vivid lightning flash during the prolonged storm a thunderous crash was heard by all in the Bay. Next morning it was found the yacht had been damaged. Close inspection showed a lightning bolt had struck the side leaving a large hole in her planks and melting metal parts of the rigging. The New Zealand Herald, reporting the storm, noted that it had “… rather interfered with the amusements of the four or five families of visitors residing at the Bay”. Nothing like understatement, but the report includes reference to visitors – they were probably guests at Ritchie’s accommodation. Robert had built cottages on the waterfront; accommodation he would let to visitors whom he thought would find Orua Bay attractive for a summer holiday.

 Orua Bay – Resort

That violent, somewhat unseasonal, storm coincided, in the same month, January 1891, with the very first advertisements in The Auckland Star newspaper advising that Robert Ritchie had cottages to let at Orua Bay.

Papers Past, National Library of N Z

Note that Ritchie uses  the old way of spelling “Awitu” which was rapidly falling into disuse in favour of the other version with the “h”. Whichever, the name translates to “place longed for”, “longing to return”.

In January 1897 the Auckland Star’s Awhitu correspondent noted that Coulthards had purchased more land at Orua Bay, and once the swamp was drained, would be “…a coming resort”. (There are reports that Moa bones were not infrequently found in swampland during these operations)

Coulthard’s house “Jesmond Dene”, c 1895, Orua Bay,
took over from the earlier Panormo residence
Brian Muir collection – Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections Footprints 07066

Newspaper social pages in that summer of 1897 noted that the well-to-do Brooks family from Parnell was holidaying at the Bay at the time. They were related to pioneers in the District.

By Easter 1898 the Waiuku and Onehunga Steam Navigation Company Limited had realised the tourist potential Orua Bay offered for day-trippers as well as those who sought accommodation to stay over with the Ritchies. Special trips were scheduled over the Easter break aboard S.S. Weka, even though the name “Coulthards Bay” is used in the timetable instead of, by then, the preferred “Orua Bay”.  Reduced excursion fares were offered. The Company, revising its business extensively, announced that weather permitting, the Weka would call at all landing places as required… including The Heads, Awhitu, Pollok, Te Toro, Waipipi and Waiuku. The following year Huia, on the northern shore of the Manukau, was added to the Weka’s scheduled stopping places and later still some journeys included Whatipu.

That same date the press was also reporting that the Government Surveyor, presently in Awhitu, should be directed by the Education Board to map the site of the Orua Bay School, land given by Elizabeth Coulthard. “The school is in full swing” the report said, “with Mrs Mellsop the teacher who has created a grand flower garden in front”.

Orua Bay Schoolhouse, Brian Muir Collection – Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections Footprints 07056

But for all Miss Mellsop’s  good qualities and expertise, she resigned her post in 1899 when she declined to teach singing. She is 4th from left in the school photo.

Pupils of Orua School, 1895. Waiuku Museum Society – Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections Footprints 04699

An Auckland Star reporter discovered the qualities of the peninsula for the visitor and waxed eloquent in a lengthy article in the newspaper in July 1899. “Already families have chosen Graham’s Beach and Orua Bay for summer holidays. At the latter there are two stores, each having their own trading cutter – Coulthard‘s and Ritchie’s”. For potential settlers the Star continues “…one striking feature in the northern part of Awhitu is that the lands lay chiefly to the warm and favoured north-east. The soil is light, with a general subsoil of rich clay, and several swamps, some of which are already being drained and turned into grazing land. The district hitherto has only had a Scotch Church, but a pretty site above Orua Bay is being transferred to the Anglican Church by Mr W. F. Hammond out of his own land”.

In July 1899 Robert and Mary Ritchie appeared in Court at Waiuku to successfully apply for a pension.

“Greetings from Orua Bay”, postcard, c 1909
Waiuku Museum Society Collection – Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections Footprints 04613

Boating on the Manukau Harbour

A few months later Robert had the sad duty to telegraph police at Onehunga with a message that a man’s body had been washed up, as the New Zealand Herald reported, “at Ritchie’s Bay”. The victim was Joseph Balton who “ventured out to Onehunga in a cranky boat without sea-faring skills when the craft capsized between Puponga Point (Cornwallis) and the Manukau Heads”. His companion was saved, but 22 year old Balton disappeared, thought to have drowned – and now Robert Ritchie had secured his remains.

There were several similar incidents with boats on the harbour: weather, fool-hardiness, the onset of darkness and poor navigation skills contributed to tragedy. Although outside the Manukau Heads, the wreck of HMS Orpheus in February 1863, showed the treachery of the elements.

HMS Orpheus: drawing in ‘Illustrated London News’
Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections JTD-19M-01678

The ship was wrecked as it crossed the bar with the loss of 189 of the 256 on board at the time.  Nothing has changed: there were boating accidents in Ritchie’s time and there are still today.

Not long after the Orpheus tragedy a settler from farmland opposite Waipipi took delivery of a brand new boat at Onehunga and attempted to get it home. Over 4 days as he travelled the Manukau Harbour he was seen by several passing boats at different locations. Everyone who saw the new craft realised the seamanship left much to be desired.  The boat, one-time in the shallows, another in a dangerous situation too close to the Heads, was taken in tow. Then it was sighted anchored off Graham’s Beach, our intrepid apprentice sailor asleep on the beach. A local gave him advice about the best course to take and sent him on his way towards Waipipi. Meantime, one of the earlier helpers mentioned the apparently hopeless case to police at Onehunga and the local constable was detailed to make inquiries. He found the sailor and his new boat had arrived home safely after a circuitous, trying, voyage that took 3 days more than it should have!

In December 1907 one of the Ritchies, William, was involved in what the Auckland Star described as “…a painful accident at Onehunga Wharf to a young man who resides at Awhitu. Ritchie was assisting to get a launch alongside the wharf, when his knee got between the launch and the wharf, and was severely wrenched. No bones were broken, and, after receiving medical attendance, Ritchie was taken to the residence of Mrs. Snowden, Onehunga, (his sister) where he is at present staying”

The scheduled boat service between Orua Bay and Onehunga seems to have ended in  the 1960s, though excursions may have continued.

Then in August 1910 two well-known names in the district were involved in a boating tragedy on the West Coast off Pollok. George Clark and Alfred Clyde Millett had been trying to re-float a punt near Cochran’s Gap when the dinghy they were in was hit by a large wave and capsized. Both men were flung into the sea… Clark tried to assist his companion but to no avail and almost lost his own life in the attempt. Clark eventually made his way back to shore exhausted but uninjured: Millett was swept away by the waves in the current and drowned.

In 1903 the wharf at Orua Bay was constructed after the Awhitu Road Board had a wrangle with contractors about the price of the work, and with settlers about building wharves on the Manukau. Graham’s Beach was also due for a wharf at the same time – tender prices for building both came in well over Government estimates. So the Board did a deal with Ralph Millett of Orua Bay to build both wharves on a “supplies and labour” basis… and to appease Graham’s Beach folk, their wharf was built first.

Orua Bay Wharf c 1925
Brian Muir Collection – Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections Footprints 07060

Construction of Orua’s wharf immediately followed … it was to endure about 50 years before being demolished in 1951.

 The Barges1920s Auckland had an insatiable appetite for sand to make into concrete for the many projects underway. Roading was one, public buildings another, together with construction of the upper dam at Huia to feed the growing city’s fresh water needs . Big Bay, next to Orua at the tip of the Awhitu Peninsula had an abundance of sand and, contracted to carriers and construction companies, barges would arrive to gather the resource and take it to Onehunga. Former bargeman Morton Paul *** recalls long days and nights on these trips the timetable dictated entirely by the tides and the weather. The barges tethered to a launch would often leave Onehunga in the middle of the night to catch high tide, arriving at Big Bay some two or three hours later where a spot to ground the craft was worked out and anchors taken ashore. Once the tide had gone out and the craft were beached, planks would be put down enabling the task of loading the barges. This was by wheelbarrows until some 50 yards (38 cubic meters) of sand, filled each barge. Later ingenious hoists assisted loading.  Once afloat it was the return journey to Onehunga to unload. To coincide with the tides, operations were carried out at all times of the day and night: loading at Big Bay was often done by the light of the moon or illuminated by kerosene lamps and flares. The tidal timetable also applied to loading… Morton Paul says he often saw drays and trucks stuck in the sand, “it was like quicksand”, on an incoming tide… “”the tide comes in so quickly on the Manukau and there’s a rise and fall of 17 feet (5.5meters) so occasionally it proved impossible to get a vehicle out in time”.

Sometimes while awaiting the tide bargemen would have a spell at Orua Bay, tie up to the wharf and visit locals.

Sand for the Huia Dam project was taken from Big Bay straight across the harbour, more or less opposite Orua Bay, to Big Muddy Bay. “But I never enjoyed the trip even though it was short, about 2 miles (3.2k), because it was very risky and more than once I lost a load of sand I was supposed to deliver for the dam construction”.

Barge alongside the hopper at Big Muddy Bay 1920
Henry Winkelmann- Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections JTD-08B-03298-1

Sand operations wound up on the Manukau in the 1930s when Mercer became the main source.

Ritchie – Personal

In 1905 some 65 acres (26 hectares) in Orua Bay were transferred to the name of Mary Ritchie, the then current occupier.

There must have been something of a scandal in the District when Robert Ritchie, Junior, was heading towards bankruptcy in 1914. He had commissioned a builder, E. Morton, to construct accommodation at his mother’s property at Orua Bay. Robert Junior had misjudged funds available: a loan from his brother William and the proceeds of selling his boat, the Maui. He was in trouble with the Official Assignee when he did not appear in person for the scheduled court hearing… but the Court accepted Robert meant no disrespect by his absence when he explained the poor mails to Orua Bay had not alerted him to the hearing in time to get to Auckland. His petition was allowed: he was later discharged from bankruptcy in May 1919.

Mrs Mary Ritchie died in October 1915. Her brief obituary in the New Zealand Herald, while it has the date of her arrival in Auckland wrong, continues,  “…she leaves a husband, four daughters, two sons, twenty-nine grandchildren, and thirty-five great grandchildren”.

Renewed Business

Despite the First World War, in subsequent years there was increased newspaper advertising of the Ritchie’s visitors’ facilities at Orua Bay. In April 1916 there was a plea to make early Easter bookings for-

“An Ideal Holiday Resort. Near Manukau Heads end, West Coast.

NEW BOARDINGHOUSE JUST OPENED

First-class Table. Shooting. Fishing, Boating.

Handy City. Good Launch Service.

 Apply immediately to Ritchie, Orua Bay.”

This advertisement  indicates that perhaps Robert Junior’s additions had at last been completed! Later that year regular advertisements in the New Zealand Herald read

“Orua House”, Orua Bay, Manukau –

Ideal place for quiet holiday.

First-class boarding house.

Fishing, boating, shooting.

Terms: 6s day; 30s week.

Brownlie’s launch from Onehunga. Ritchie, Orua Bay”.

And appealing to the Christmas holiday visitors, in December that year the advertising had a new therapeutic twist…

Great Health Resort. Under new management.

First-class Boarding house;

convenient to town, fishing, boating;

good launch service. Terms, 6s day, 30s week”

And then in January 1902 the very last newspaper advertisement for Ritchie’s establishment appeared in the Auckland Star

SPEND YOUR HOLIDAY AT ORUA HOUSE.

Fishing, boating, swimming;

tariff, £2 2/.—R. Ritchie, Orua Bay

Within weeks Ritchie’s advertisements were replaced in the Auckland Star by those of a new competitor, the local postmistress, Mrs Johansson who was quick to point out the facilities she could provide guests!

“Beach Haven”, Orua Bay, (via Onehunga).

Winter and Summer Boarding House.

P.O. and telephone in house.

Apply to Mrs Johansson.

In the 1930s Mrs Johansson changed the name of her property, advertising “Loch Lomond House, good seaside accommodation at moderate rates”.

In October 1920 Robert Ritchie, Snr, died and lies in Awhitu Cemetery, Manukau Heads Road, also known as the Maori War and Pioneers Cemetery.  He would have been in his 80s.

Regular newspaper advertising for Ritchie’s Orua Bay property ceased until January 1924 when it resumed and with a new name, “L. Morris”. Up until this time it appears Robert Ritchie Junior had been running the business and now he was in partnership with his nephew, Leslie Morris.

THE PINES. Orua Bay via Onehunga.

 The place to spend your holidays.

Lovely beach for bathing, good fishing; tennis court, etc.

For full particulars wire or write L. Morris, Proprietor.

Advertising resumed in October 1929 after a break over winter.

The typical advertisements continued over the years in much the same form, except in the 1930s “boats for fishing” and “wireless” was added, indicating guests had access to a radio so they could listen to their favourite programmes while on holiday.  “2 hours by boat” was another variation of the classified advertisement along with other changes from time to time -“spend your holidays at the seaside – try us”. “Billiard table”, “dance hall”, “store”, and “seaside frontage” were included as enticement at different times.

By 1930 Leslie and Lilly Morris were outright owners. Robert Junior had sold the establishment on the seafront in 1921 to Trevor Lewis from whom the Morris’s purchased it. The property thus returned to the “wider Ritchie family”. The Morris’s erected a hall which provided for what must have been the social highlight of the year, or for many years, with an evening and dance held in September 1930 by the Public Works Department at The Pines.  The New Zealand Herald reported the gala occasion, attended by Department’s employees and many local residents. “The hall was attractively decorated… … there were solo songs and a pianoforte item between dances… … with an excellent supper provided by Mr L. Morris. Miss Morris wore a navy blue crepe  de chine with fawn trimming. The Public Works Department oversaw development of “an all-weather road between Waiuku and Awhitu, with bridges and access to Orua Bay Road, using “relief labour”: jobs offered men who were out of work because of widespread economic depression.

In 1932 these works were reflected in a “grand celebration”, held at The Pines when residents and members of Franklin County Council marked the opening of Morrison Road, named after an early settler of the peninsula, Alexander Morrison, who came from Glasgow in 1887, buying land at Awhitu 10 years later. He was a member of the County Council and a firm advocate for better roading in the District. He died in 1937 so he could have been at that function at The Pines.

By 1935 there must have been a faster steamship or an “oil launch” available because the journey from Onehunga is reduced by 30 minutes to one and a half hours! Newspaper ads ceased, understandably, during World War Two. And in this year it appears Richies sold their remaining property at Orua Bay.

Changes

By 1944 the property at Orua Bay was back in business as a resort operated by Charles Edward Le Grice. He had owned buses in Auckland and tourist accommodation at Piha. Newspaper advertisements for both Le Grice’s Piha property (tariff: 3 pounds 3 shillings per week) and the Ritchie’s “The Pines” at Orua Bay (2 pounds 10 shillings weekly) were, in the late 1920s, often cheek-by-jowl in the classified columns, competing for business.  Le Grice is later listed as owner of the Piha enterprise.

Charles Le Grice began marketing sections at Orua Bay in January 1944:

10 level quarter-acre sections,

close to the beach,

100 pounds each

In April the same year, nearly too late for summer visitors, he began advertising in the New Zealand Herald classified columns:

ORUA BAY. Le Grice’s Orua House

Good fishing, launch, rowing boats, tennis, billiards, dance hall, etc.

Ph 1, Le Grice Orua Bay.

It looks like Le Grice installed the first private telephone in the Bay, about 1944. Business obviously looked up with the end of the Second World War. In October 1945 the advert in the New Zealand Herald advised that the Christmas holidays were already fully booked but the ad on the 27th October was the last in the name of Le Grice. In November the establishment was under new management, gearing-up with newspaper advertisements seeking 2 housemaid-waitresses. “Don’t see a returned serviceman stuck” the advertisement pleaded, referring to the fact that the new proprietor (Stanley Sawyers?) had seen service in the war. Mrs Johansson, still in business in the Bay was also seeking staff as the holiday season approached. And new-comers, Watsons, added an alternative, advertising their accommodation at Orua Bay: guests were housed in Army Huts, no longer required, post-war, by the military and moved to the Bay.

Orua Bay, 1964
Brian Muir Collection – Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections Footprints 07160

There were increasing accommodation opportunities as Orua Bay’s attractions became evermore popular with weekend visitors, day-trippers and sightseers. The original Ritchie property has changed hands many times over the decades. Today the Bay has its share of both year-round residents and holiday baches, along with the modern amenities on the same waterfront where Ritchies opened their facilities in 1891, some 125 years ago!

 

* Hamlin and Selwyn notes by G.G.M. Mitchell, were published in the “Auckland – Waikato Historical Journal, No.50”, April 1987, Auckland-Waikato Historical Societies, J. P. Webster, Editor

**  Kennedy quote from  “Early Waiuku, Edward Constable and the Kentish Hotel:, Brian Muir,

*** Recollections by Morton Paul were published in the “Auckland – Waikato Historical Journal, No.29”, September 1976, Auckland-Waikato Historical Societies, E. Macdonald, Editor

Sources:

In-room almanac at Orua Bay Motel

Website: Papers Past, National Museum of New Zealand.  Accessed on various dates in October 2015

New Zealand Herald and The Auckland Star, Papers Past, National Library of New Zealand

http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~ourstuff/SettlementofCornwallis accessed ditto

“West of the Manukau”, Ben Westhead printed by Waiuku News 1948.

“Heads Harbour and Hills – An Awhitu History”, Edited by Rachael Hawkin and Lloyd Walker, Awhitu History Book Society, 1999

“Auckland – Waikato Historical Journal, No.54”, April 1989, Editor J. P. Webster

Photos reproduced from the Brian Muir Collection are courtesy of Mrs Valerie Muir

“Methodist Beginnings in the Manukau” by C. T. J. Luxton – Wesley Historical Society (NZ) Publication #17(4).

 

RCC 12/2015. 06/19, o5/20.