Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 5, May 1966

[Part One - E]

1895 – 1965



I was born in Paeroa, and received all my education, apart from University and Teachers' College, in the old School in Wood Street. Twenty-three years of my teaching service were spent in Paeroa and at Netherton. For twenty-one years it was my privilege to render some civic service in the Volunteer Fire Brigade, endeavouring in some small measure to repay what one owes to his home town. I have long felt that there were worthy persons and important events that should be put on record and was glad to find that a Paeroa and District Historical Society had been established. The inspiration for my attempting the research for the writing of this History of the Paeroa Volunteer Fire Brigade came from a request by Mrs. Nell Climie, the Editor of the Ohinemuri Regional History Journal, that I should contribute to its pages.

My thanks are due also to the Fire Brigade for placing the records of the Brigade at my disposal for some months, I am indebted also to the Managing Director and Staff of the HAURAKI PLAINS GAZETTE for providing me with an office and access to their voluminous past files which I perused with very great interest for the best part of two days on a recent visit to the town. I shall be happy for the HISTORICAL SOCIETY, the BRIGADE, or THE GAZETTE to make any use they wish of this record.

(AUCKLAND 11.12.65 ) (Signed) C. W. MALCOLM.

The first minute book of the Brigade records the following in the handwriting of Mr. Charles Ashwin, the first Secretary:

October 1895. At a public meeting held in the County Council Chambers at the above date at 8 p.m. to consider the desirability of forming a fire brigade for Paeroa the following resolutions were passed -

1st Mr. Henry/M.J Ashwin. That it is essential that a Fire Brigade be formed in Paeroa at as early a date as possible. Carried.

2nd E.C.B. Moss/Chas. Ashwin. That the gentlemen whose names are on the list be authorised to form themselves into a Brigade with power to add to their number. Carried.

3rd M.J. Ashwin/F.L. Smith. It is desirable that a committee of members of the Brigade be formed to consider ways and means, and to canvas the town for support. Carried.

4th Mr.Henry/G. Avey. That it be a recommendation to the committee to place subscription lists in the banks and Hotels. Carried.

5th That it be a recommendation from this meeting to Ohinemuri County Council to give the newly formed Brigade the use of a room for the purpose of transacting business etc.

6th E.C.B. Moss/F.A. Smith. That in the opinion of this meeting a fire bell, 100 buckets, 12 axes, 4 hooks, 2 ladders with proper ropes should immediately procured. Carried.

7th Mr. Moss/M. Janning. That J.M. Robson Esq. be thanked for his letter enclosing cheque for £1.1.0 and offer of further assistance, also Edwin Edwards Esq. for his offer to advertise free of charge, Mr. Henry for printing and Mr. Bennet for offer of assistance. Carried.

Vote of Thanks to chair here terminated the meeting.

At the conclusion of public meeting the members of the Brigade remained to elect Captain, etc.

1st Chas. Ashwin/F.J. Smith. That J. Nathan be elected Captain pro. tem. Carried.

2nd J. Nathan/M. Harris. That Chas. Ashwin act as secretary pro. tem. Carried.

3rd S. Parker/F.A. Smith. That the Brigade meet on Wednesday evening next at 7.30 p.m. and that the Captain and Secretary engage the use of Council Chambers in the meantime. Carried.

Members' Names.


J. O’Hara

W. Houghton


R.S. Bush

J.P McGuire


F.J. Smith

Sam Wilson


A. Gibbs

A.D. McGuire


C. Ashwin

H. Jones


F.C. Griffith

A. Douglas

Fore Hose

H.H. Griffith

A. Donovan


J. Ansenne

E.L. Gavey


W. Craig

S.C. Parker


R. Henry

F.A. Smith


D. Henry

H. Moore


F.L. Avey

G. Marks


M. Harris

A. Japps


R. McGee



E. Cooke

W.J. Towers


Jno. McDonnell Oct. 29

C.F. Hansen


J. Earle Oct. 29

S. Towers

Fore Fire

W.J. Wilson Oct. 29

G. Dean

Fore Hook Lad

W. J. Hawk Oct. 29

G.L. Hunter

Fore Engine

G. Avey



J. Nathan


Signed: Joseph Nathan (Captn.)

Thus began the Paeroa Volunteer Fire Brigade on 23rd October, 1895 with a roll of 36 members, increased at its second meeting to forty. Two years and four months later when it was resolved that the Brigade strength be 13 members, and in spite of the fact that in the meantime some twenty-six fresh members had joined the Brigade, losses had been such that only half-a-dozen of the original members were still on the roll.

At the second meeting held on 29th October, 1895, it was resolved;-

(1) that letters be written to 19 Insurance Companies asking (unsuccessfully !) for contributions towards the purchase of a steam fire engine;

(2) that the rules of the Auckland Fire Brigade with a few amendments be adopted as the rules of the Paeroa Brigade;

(3) that sufficient ribbon and gold braid be procured to make 40 badges; (Miss Morton was later thanked for her "gratuitous assistance" in offering to work the gold letters upon the badges);

(4) that the Secretary write to Churchwarden Anglican Church asking permission to ring the bell in case of fire as a temporary measure.

On 9th November, 1895, a letter from the Thames Brigade offered two manual fire engines, and Mr.G. Crosby of Paeroa was thanked for his generous offer to provide an Engine Shed and Bell Tower. He was asked "to push the work of erection on as speedily as possible as the Brigade were ordering a suitable for the tower." Obviously the word "bell" was omitted from the minutes!

At the same meeting the Secretary was authorized to procure 50 buckets at an approximate cost of 22/- a dozen and to write and get quotations for a 2 or 3 cwt. bell and fixtures. He was also to procure 3 ordinary wood axes and 6 firemen's hatchets. Procuring of ladders was left till after Thames engine inspector's report.

A sports committee was set up to arrange for "sports and other amusements to augment the funds and to submit their programme at the next meeting." Sports and concerts figure largely in the early minutes of the Brigade, football matches (friendly) against the Band, the Karangahake, Waihi, and Thames Brigades, and picnics indicate the social aspect of life in the town's early days.

On November 22 Lieutenant Griffith reported that the engines offered by Thames Brigade were unsuitable for Paeroa, Dr. Forbes was elected Hon. Surgeon to the Brigade, and Captain Nathan handed in his resignation "owing to his ends being defeated in trying to cast a stigma on the Secretary which 18 out of 20 members present who balloted, knew it was a false charge, and that he had exceeded his duty........Owing to there being dissension in the meeting no further minutes were kept." On December 6, 1895 JOHN O'HARA was elected Captain by 12 votes to 3 for the rival candidate Fireman H. Moore. The "dissension" which surrounded the resignation of Captain Nathan was soon forgotten and on numerous occasions he was honoured by the Brigade and his services used.

A SPECIAL MEETING was held on November 29 at G. Crosby's Hotel when it was resolved "that as the two senior members of the Brigade have to give security to G. Crosby that they will occupy the building for Brigade purposes as long as a Brigade existed in Paeroa, a rule be added compelling all new members joining as well as all present members to sign a guarantee that they will not cause in any way the removal of the Brigade from Crosby's Building." Surely a remarkable rule and a remarkable decision! In 5½ years, on June 21, 1901 the Brigade is meeting in its new "shed" in Belmont Road where it was located adjacent to the Coronation Chambers for many years. However, at the special Crosby's Hotel meeting the plans of shed as proposed by Mr. Marsden were thoroughly discussed and it was decided to accept them, the architect being asked to "erase the tower from the plans."

On January 15, 1896 it was decided that the Brigade join the "Fire Brigade Association" and that Captain O'Hara represent it at the Demonstration to be held in March at Christchurch. A week later the Brigade planned a "plain and fancy dress ball in the New Theatre" and also approached Edwin Edwards Esq. "to see if they can come to any arrangement with reference to building a tower in accordance with specifications." Six months later Mr. Coulson's account for £28.4.0 for the tower was passed for payment and on 1st July, 1896 the fire bell on the tower rang for a chimney fire, but the engine was not taken out!

On June 28, 1896 the FIRE ENGINE received from the Fire Brigade Supply Company of Napier was "taken out and practised with and found a very efficient engine." The Secretary wrote an unsuccessful letter to L.D. Nathan and Co. asking for a rebate on the freight of the engine from Napier to Auckland but at the same time a vote of thanks was passed to Mr. T. Parlby, Mr. Robson, and Mr. Mitchell for their donation for "christening the engine."

On July 10, 1896 Mr. G. Crosby was elected a Life Hon. Member and seven members were struck off the roll for non-attendance! In the same month a successful concert was held in the Criterion Theatre under the direction of R.S. Bush; Mr. J. Ansenne was M.C.; F.A. Smith in charge of the dress circle; S. Nelson the stalls; Messrs. Coutts and Maxwell the pit; Jaggs the curtain and Sephton who was deputed "to receive the cash." Paeroa was fortunate in the splendid theatre which it possessed until later destroyed by fire.

On August 18, 1896 at 7 p.m. a fire broke out at the "New Hotel in course of erection in the lower township." Adjoining buildings were saved in a two-hour fight; Mrs. Wick donating £5 to the Brigade for saving her property. This was applied to a "sick and accident fund for members" the Secretary writing to the Fire Brigade's Association for admission to benefits. A challenge to a match with Paeroa Junior Football club in Mrs. Greydon's paddock was accepted.

Before the turn of the century three things appeared to give a good deal of concern to the young Brigade - the engine, uniforms, and the piano! The engine was of the manual type carrying a tank from which water was pumped to the hose by hand. It was horsedrawn or could be man-hauled. In September 1896 "the rent for the engine (£6.5.0) and £10 on account of the Bell" were paid. Fourteen months later the rent for the engine and the balance on the bell were met. One year later, November 18, 1898, it was resolved that the engine be sent back to Napier the Secretary being instructed to "send engine by the Express Coy." On December 2, it was resolved "that the Engine be returned at once" also that "the piano be returned as soon as possible and that the Secretary wire Mr. Webbe." Frequent references to the piano occur in the Minutes: that members pay 1/- each per month towards it, that the Oddfellows be interviewed to see if they "cared to take it over", that the Secretary write to Mr. W.H. Webbe informing him that the Brigade are unable to keep up the payments and that they would give it up," and finally that the Secretary inform Mr. Webbe "that the Brigade did not hold themselves responsible for the piano and wished the matter to drop."

Though the engine "was to be returned at once" we find four days later that Lieutenant H. Moore and five men journeyed with the engine to a concert at Mackytown [Mackaytown – E] where several drills were gone through and "a most enjoyable evening was spent and the party arrived home shortly after 10 p.m."

Apparently at this time the Brigade was using a man-drawn hand reel for fires - this method of proceeding to fires being continued until 1926 when a fire engine was built by Mr. E.W. Moore on a Model T Ford chassis in the workshop of Brenan & Co. The hand reel, with firemen in the shafts, ran on two large wheels of about 5 ft. diameter, the hose being wound on a drum surrounding the axle and other gear being fitted on suitable brackets. It was on June 25, 1897 that the Brigade wrote to the Council regarding a reel, Lieutenant Moore and Branchman Parlby being instructed to see Councillors Cook, McAndrew, and Mitchell about the same. In December Councillor McAndrew was asked to write to the Thames Borough Council requesting the loan of a reel and hose. In 1911 there is correspondence with Mr. Billman who is to build a new reel, and in February 1914 the Boy Scouts are granted the use of the old reel to practise for events to be run at their forthcoming camp.

On October 2, 1896, with the Brigade not a year old, Fireman Hawk gives notice of motion that each member "advance £1 towards purchase of uniforms." By the motion passed, however, members were to "procure undress uniform at their own expense and the colour to be red with navy blue facings and French peak caps." Lieutenant Hawk, in February 1899, gave notice of another motion "that on account of this Brigade having been formed and in actual work for a period of over 3 years and during that time the Brigade not having been supported sufficiently to procure uniforms, that we this Brigade disband on the last Friday in March if not supplied with uniforms at that time."

In June 1899 it was decided "to adopt the present uniform as a working one and the new one to be for dress purposes." In January 1900 the Brigade was able to lend a full uniform to the Waitekauri Brigade for its delegate to proceed to the Conference in Blenheim the following month. In April 1901 it was decided to purchase the caps of any members leaving the Brigade so that the Brigade "will own the full uniform." In 1902 twelve helmets were provided. In 1906 the Fire Prevention Council is asked to supply new uniforms, the Brigade suggesting that tenders be called locally. On November 16 of the same year the invitation of Mr. F. Blyth of the Wesleyan Church to attend Church Parade has to be declined because uniforms are not in a fit state for such an occasion!

Various were the methods of raising finance ! On December 2, 11, and 21, 1896 it is recorded: "the Brigade flushed the main drain" the payment received being used for uniforms. In 1897 thirty "Hon. Members" were proposed, doubtless in the hope of financial recognition of the honour conferred; the imposing list contains the names of James Shaw, James McAndrew, Mr. Cock, Mr. Delaney, Mr. Wick. Dr. Buckby. Rev. Father Hackett, Hon. Mr. Cadman. Messrs Moss, Porritt, and Brenan. "Another concert" was also proposed and a plan brought forward that the bell tower be boarded in for advertising spaces on the outside and to be used for the washing of hoses inside.

All these methods, however, failed to satisfy the requirements of the Brigade which decided on 13th March, 1903 to write the Fire Prevention Council asking them to hand over "all books and balance (if any) by next Friday night so the Brigade may assume the management of its own affairs." This step was taken "on account of not getting any replies from the Council and as our Brigade is practically extinct owing to being in default with dues etc., to the United Fire Brigades Assocn., which practically means that members lose their time, service, etc." Nothing appears to have eventuated for, in October the Brigade's request that the Council attend at the Brigade shed is declined as "the request reads as a demand"! On November 20, 1903 the Annual General and Householders' Meeting is held, Mr. Hugh Poland, Chairman of the Fire Prevention Council being in the chair; he, together with Messrs. Porritt and Hunt were re-elected and Mr. F. Balcke elected for the ensuing twelve months. Beside the Brigade there were 8 householders present!

Three months later the Brigade called a special General meeting of the Householders also asking the Fire Prevention Council to attend as the Brigade were dissatisfied with their treatment by the Council. Forty householders were present to hear the Secretary of the Brigade, Mr. P.E. Brenan, describe the unsatisfactory relations between the Fire Prevention Council and the Brigade. After considerable discussion, Mr. T.A. Moresby moved and Mr. A. Law seconded that the Brigade should be represented on the F.P. Council. Mr. H. Searle moved an amendment, Mr. E. Priestly seconding, that this meeting have full confidence in the Council and respectfully suggests them to change their Secretary.

Within three days the Brigade calls another Householders' meeting "to consider the resignation of the F. P. Council." The chair is occupied by Mr. W. Forrest and the F. P. Councils resignation is accepted by 19 votes to 2. A new Fire Prevention Council is then elected consisting of Messrs T.A. Moresby, H. Searle, Bush, Howie and Quick.

During the early years, of the Brigade it entered wholeheartedly into the life of the community: On 9th November, 1896 the P.S.PATIKI was chartered for a river picnic, at Netherton the Paeroa Band providing music for the occasion. The Brigade called a public meeting and canvassed for funds to provide the town with a Night Watchman. In 1897 the Paeroa Rowing Club was granted the use of the "shed" as the Fire Station was always called, to store their "boat" for a short time. The Brigade meeting room in the rear portion of the "shed" was also allowed for Rugby Union meetings. On May 18, 1900, at 8.30 p.m. just as the rejoicings over the relief of Mafeking [Boer War – E] were in full swing and Rev. Wilson was delivering his address from the Criterion Hotel balcony, an alarm of fire was raised. The Brigade which had formed part of the procession was "quickly on the scene but a gale was blowing and the house which belonged to Mrs. McGeehin was totally destroyed." In February 1901 the firebell was tolled for two hours and the Brigade attended the Memorial Service in honour of the late Queen Victoria.

Again, on Sunday, June 8, 1902, a Peace Thanksgiving Service is held in the Criterion Theatre on the cessation of hostilities in the Boer War. (On an earlier Sunday, January 28, 1900 the Brigade had paraded at Church in honour of George Rowland Bradford from Paeroa, the first colonial soldier to give his life for the Empire in the Boer War. His memorial, a fountain, stands on Primrose Hill). It was in January, 1902 that the Brigade agreed to take part in the Coronation Procession for King Edward VII, the hand reel being used in the parade. On Coronation night fireworks were let off on Primrose Hill, the Brigade being in charge of this exciting part of the gay festivities.

(To be continued) [for part two, see Journal 6: Paeroa Volunteer Fire Brigade (continued) - E]