Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 4, September 1965
TRIBUTE TO MRS. LENA DENTON
PAEROA'S SENIOR CITIZEN
Mrs. Denton (nee Cock), is the last surviving member of a pioneer Paeroa family, and having been born here in 1882, has the honour of having lived here longer than anyone else - (83 years).
"Willowbank" her picturesque old home, which stood until recently, was built on the Rotokohu bank of the Ohinemuri River in 1875. Mrs. Denton recalls that the river was much wider then, and the family used a flat-bottomed boat for rowing across, to reach the Paeroa road below the Cemetery. They also had a Maori canoe which had been hollowed from a tree trunk and could be manipulated with one paddle. For picnics they used a large round-bottomed rowing boat.
Mr. Fred Cock, Mrs. Denton's father, was born at Putney, England, where his chief interests were centered round the River Thames on which he rowed and sculled, winning many championship trophies. Hence it is not surprising that his interests in N.Z. followed a somewhat similar pattern, so far as our Thames River and boats were concerned.
Having served an apprenticeship to the trade of builder and joiner, he came to N.Z. in the ship "Ernestina" in 1864, and shortly afterwards married a shipmate, Susan McElwee, a Medical Student from Belfast. They first lived in Auckland but in 1867 went to Thames. Mr. Cock's building activities took him to Ohinemuri, via the river which was later to provide his livelihood. After much negotiation he purchased from Te Wono te Paora the block of land known as Onerangi, to which he had a Crown Title. However when a punt load of timber arrived for his house Te Hira and Mere Kuru objected so strenuously that he was not able to build "Willowbank" till 1875. A large orchard was planted as well as many beautiful shrubs, especially Camellias, which remain as a rare memorial to the pioneering days of this family.
It was Mr. Cock who persuaded the Thames-Hauraki Coy., later the Northern Steamship Coy., to extend its service to Paeroa, where he became the first manager continuing to be a shipping agent for 27 years. He also took a leading part in the formation of the Ohinemuri County, becoming its first Chairman (1885-1887) and member (1896-1899). Mr. Cock was an extremely capable businessman, his Investments were always sound ones, and his interests were wide as his Diary proves.
When the family moved from Thames there were five children and four more were born at "Willowbank" (in the days when the lives of Mothers were extremely difficult). During part of that time, the Kennedy's lived in Geo. Buchanan's original house on the Waihi Rd., and Mrs. Cock and Mrs. Kennedy had a system of flag signals to acquaint each other with news such as the birth and sex of a new baby. The Littlejohns lived in the house which afterwards became the Roman Catholic Presbytery, but moved to a larger one opposite "Willowbank". This stood on the site of the recently closed "Alpha Works" and had been built for a Chief named Tarariki after whom the well known creek was named. Mrs. Denton remembers the Littlejohn family with deep affection, their artistic garden and their home which was always filled with music. Mr. LittleJohn was the Ohinemuri County engineer from l89l till his death in 1905, a period when major works, such as the opening of the Karangahake Gorge Rd., were being carried out. The family subsequently moved to Mackaytown and the old home was destroyed by fire. Now only one member remains - Mrs. Jean Timanus of Waihi - and Mrs. Denton delights in visiting her.
Miss Alice Cock became a Violinist and Flora an Artist, while their brother Fred, (later known as Clayton) died only a few years ago at the age of 94. Both he and other members of the family have left descendants who keep in touch with Mrs. Denton. The old property was sold in 1936, and the present owner, Mr. Greg. Jackson, built a new house which faces Rotokohu Road.
Mrs. Denton began her long business career in the office of Mr. Chinnery-Brown, Accountant, in Wharf St. Later for 20 years she served in Mr. Kellar's Drapery Shop (now Bygrave's). She has had built, and still owns town property, and she and her husband must be two of the most widely known people in the district.
We would, like to express our indebtedness to Mrs. Denton for her willing assistance in the gleaning of historical details. Her vivid memory has many times settled a point at issue, and as a true "Old Timer" her kettle is always ready to boil as the tale unfolds, (even when an alarming tape-recorder made its appearance in her home). We salute you Mrs. Denton.