Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 5, May 1966
By JEAN CLARK
To reach Waitawheta you can take a road travelling southwest for a few miles from Waihi and as you approach this region you climb a slight rise and then suddenly as the road begins to descend on the other side, a view resembling a pleasant English countryside opens out before you. Here, sheltered among the hills behind which rises towering Karangahake, is a broad open valley of attractive cultivated farmland
A study of its past history discloses that, during the pioneering period of the seventies and eighties when it was approached from Mackaytown, via the old Rahu Rd and a ford across the Ohinemuri River, timber was milled here. Then the search for gold opened up the flanks of Karangahake with the shafts and drives of the Crown, Woodstock and Talisman mines, and the Waitawheta River was dammed to provide power for the stampers. But to-day and for many years past there have been trim grasslands, making it difficult to imagine the toil and struggle necessary before this result could be achieved.
An article in the first issue of "The Ohinemuri Regional History Journal" relates how the New Zealand Government in 1875 when the Ohinemuri District was declared a gold field, opened up the Waitawheta region for settlement in fifty-acre blocks. The hardships and privations that the first settlers had to face are described and the circumstances under which they adapted themselves to their backblocks environment.
One of the first settlers was Charles Franklin and he contributed as much as anyone to the creation of the pleasant landscape seen to-day. The following brief account of his life is based on the recollections of his daughter, Mrs. Clarry Whitehouse, and of his son, Mr. Fred Franklin, who still farms in Waitawheta Valley.
Charles Franklin belonged to a Hampshire farming family and came out to New Zealand in 1866 with his uncle. The uncle farmed land in Ponsonby and had his own smokehouse in which he cured bacon and ham. Franklin Road in Ponsonby is named after the family.
Charles as a lad of eighteen was unused to fending for himself. As his daughter put it, he was unable to clean his boots, but very speedily he turned his hand to a variety of occupations. The gold rush to Thames took him away from Auckland, not primarily to seek gold, but to find some way of getting on his feet. He managed to buy two cows and served milk to customers until he made enough money to develop a contracting business. From Thames he moved to Mackaytown where he set up a butchery. Then about l875 he took up land in the Waitawheta Valley.
The first farm he occupied was at the foot of the Pukekauri Mountain but as he was unable to obtain the freehold of this land he gave it up and secured the area long known as Franklin's Flat. It consisted of two hundred& fifty acres bounded by a loop of the Waitawheta River a fertile patch of alluvium surrounded by volcanic soils.
In 1879 at the age of thirty-one he married a young girl whose father had been first settler in the district, Mary Anne Robinson, and with her at his side, he continued the process of breaking in his farm. As the land was cleared, fences were erected with ditches dug alongside and clumps of native trees were left as shelter for the stock. Here he ran sheep and cattle and had one or two milking cows for the family's use. The house, originally of four rooms, grew into a twelve-roomed one to meet the demands of his growing family.
In addition to farming, Mr. Franklin catered for the needs of the Maori gum-diggers who came into the area to work the neighbouring hills. He kept alongside his home a store and from this would take food supplies and other necessities by pack horse up to the hills and then return with the gum he had bought. Later his eldest son, Jack, was to help him with the work of the store. A large tin shed was also built to provide extra storage space and it served on occasion as accommodation for the few Dalmatian gum-diggers who sometimes visited the area. Later the Waitawheta settlers were to put in a wood floor and to use this building as a dance hall. The present local hall, the third, stands on or near the site of the original one.
Mrs. Whitehouse, Mr. Franklin's eldest child, Sarah, was christened in the battery building at Owharoa. At that time it served as church and hall when needed. It was to the Owharoa School that the children came, riding a distance of four of five miles. There were then about twenty-eight pupils.
Mr. Franklin had a contract to supply mining timber to the Waihi Gold Mining Co., which had a sawmill at Waikino and tramway running south through the Waitawheta valley to the hills. He ran the horse-drawn trucks which conveyed the logs to the mill where he had them cut up. He had about twenty draught horses and Tom Cummings was in charge of them. Later the Kauri Timber Company were to take over the horses and lease the Franklin stables.
Local body work had its place among the interests which occupied part of Mr. Franklin's time. It was natural that he should be on the Owharoa School Committee but he was also to take his share in the work of the Thames Hospital Board and that of the Ohinemuri County Council.
In his seventies Mr. Franklin gave up the farm (now owned by the Mercer family) and went to Auckland to live. He died at the age of eighty-four. Of his thirteen children, only one son, Fred, is now farming in the Waitawheta valley, though another, Charlie, at one stage took up land across the river from the home farm. He was soon obliged to give it up on account of ill-health and died about a year ago. The eldest daughter, Mrs. Whitehouse, married and lived in Waikino, where her husband was an electrician. She is now in Waihi. The eldest son, Jack, after a very active business life, spent in various parts of New Zealand, has now retired and is living in Auckland. The other sons and daughters are scattered throughout the North Island.