Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 6, October 1966
By JEAN (BELLAMY) GAMBLE
Mr. E.W. Porritt, Barrister and Solicitor, whose association with Paeroa dated back to 1896, exercised a great influence on the growing township which was then the recognised centre of the Ohinemuri Goldfields.
He had begun his career as a clerk in the Magistrate's Court, Wellington, and subsequently in the Magistrate's and Wardens Office at Thames, where he became a Mining Registrar. Mr. J.A. Miller of Thames, recognised as one of the best Mining Lawyers in the Colony, took Mr. Porritt into Partnership, in respect of his Legal Practice in the Upper Thames Valley District. About a year later Mr. Miller withdrew from the Partnership to allow Mr. Porritt to continue the Paeroa Practice alone, (later his elder son joined him). The first Offices of the firm were upstairs in the old Criterion Theatre, Normanby Rd., until, during 1897-98, Mr. Porritt erected "Eldon Chambers" with much more accommodation for the Staff. It was named after Lord Eldon, an eminent British Jurist, and the office is now occupied by Mr. W. G. Broadbent, Barrister and Solicitor who took over the Practice from Mr. R. Harris.
The first employee of the firm was then a boy of 14 years, now Mr. J.B. Beeche who retired from Legal Practice in Waihi in 1959. Others were Messrs E.A. Campbell and D.M. Cochrane. The former was primarily an ''Engrossing Clerk", whose skill could not be excelled with "Quill" or pen. Illuminated addresses were in vogue in those days and Mr. Campbell was usually called upon for this work. Both in appearance and in ways he resembled a character out of Dickens and was missed when he retired to Auckland. Mr. Cochrane later qualified as a Solicitor and practiced in Gore.
Immediately after the taking over of Eldon Chambers, a young man, who has recently said he was then scarcely out of his teens, sold to Mr. Porritt, on behalf of the "N.Z. Typewriter Coy", of Auckland, a brief-size "Barlock" typewriter. Previously all writing had to be done by hand, but the advent of the typewriter changed all that for John Beeche soon became proficient in the use of the "Barlock". It is interesting to note that the young salesman was none other than the renowned Author, Publisher and of later years, Walking enthusiast, Mr. A.H. Reed, who at the age of 91 years is still active.
For many years all applications for mining rights and litigation had to go through the Warden's and Magistrate's Court at Paeroa. Sittings of the Court were held fortnightly and a list of business to come before it occupied 3 or 4 foolscap sheets and two days of time. Solicitors in those early days included Messrs E.W. Porritt, James McVeagh, E.G.B. Moss, T.A. Morseby, W.G.K. Kendrick and W.M. Jackson (who soon removed to Waihi). Messrs J.S. Miller and W.J. Clendon frequently came from Thames.
That the law was no respecter of persons in the late nineties was illustrated by the following incident. Messrs Porritt and Clendon were returning to Paeroa from a sitting of the Court at Te Aroha. Mr. Clendon, always fond of a good horse, had driven his pair of "Spanking Greys" over the hill road (Rotokohu). These gentlemen of the law, regardless of the law on the subject, and ignoring the notice on the Criterion Bridge to travel only at a walking pace, proceeded to cross the Ohinemuri River at a "brisk trot". It so happened that Constable Fred Beattie, one of the most efficient, but least officious of officers, was standing near the old Bank of N.Z. corner, (Ohinemuri Motors Corner now), with a full view of the offence. A man with him dared the Constable to prosecute the driver. At the next sitting of the Paeroa Court, Edwin J. Clendon appeared in a new roll, having to answer the charge of driving over the bridge at other than a walking pace. Defendant was represented by counsel, Mr. E.W. Porritt appearing for him and pleading "guilty", and he was duly fined. Magistrate, Counsel, Police, Defendant and members of the Public all enjoyed the humour of the situation.
About l897 three houses were erected on a strip of land between the Waihi Road and the Ohinemuri river, below the Catholic Church, by Messrs J.M. Coote, E.W. Porritt and C.H. Vincent. At the rear of these houses was the river, and at the front was a small stream which, in times of flood, was sufficient to take off all surface water from the hillsides and empty it into the river.
Each house was serviced by its own bridge over the small stream. The subsequent erection of stop-banks to save the town of Paeroa and adjoining land from repetition of disastrous floods spelt ruin to these homes. With heavy rain the stream in front, on account of the stop-banks, could no longer empty into the Ohinemuri river, and the land became known as a "ponding area", the houses no longer being habitable, to the great loss of the owners. Mr. Porritt then built the home now owned by Mr. O. Hare in Ainslie Road, Paeroa. The spacious grounds were laid out in beautiful shrubs and trees and the stables and fine horses were notable. When she could no longer use them Mrs. Porritt sold her white Arab pony and her gig to Mrs. Dave McWatters.
If the walls of "Eldon Chambers" could speak they would tell of many things concerning the association of hundreds of people with Mr. Porritt and his Staff, both during the mining boom and later in connection with the development of the farming industry. He could always be relied upon to look after the interests of his clients, and to be fair to others. Moreover, until prevented by illness he took an active interest in all matters concerning the welfare of Paeroa and the surrounding district. For a short period he served as a Magistrate in Otago. Perhaps he was most widely known as Lieut. Colonel of the 5th Hauraki Regiment, which was comprised of Volunteer Corps, at Paeroa, Waihi, Tauranga, Thames and Coromandel.
Mr. Beeche was, as already stated, the first employee of Mr. Porritt in Eldon Chambers and I was the last. Would it not be marvellous if we could hear some of the stories of those between us. Some of the earlier names were: Messrs Arthur St. John Forbes, Jack Hanna, Elias Martin, and Mrs. Silcock (nee Ray Edwards), Hilda Knowles and Mrs. Iris Smith (nee Taylor).
When I first commenced at Eldon Chambers, Mr. Eric Porritt was in charge, and shortly afterwards Mr. Porritt, Snr. recovered sufficiently from a serious illness to return to his desk. He was still a wonderful old gentleman, and we all liked working and doing anything for him. (Incidentally Mr. Porritt was an uncle of Dr. Sir Arthur Porritt so well known as a leading surgeon and connection with Athletics in England). Mrs. Jack Fleming (nee Iris Beaver) was leaving to be married and I took over from her. After Mr. Eric Porritt left, Mr. Ken Bullock came for a short time and then Mr. Stan Read who is now a Presbyterian Minister in New Plymouth. When Mr. 0'Neill took over the practice in 1930, I remained at Eldon Chambers for another four very happy years. Among Staff who were with me during that period were: Mrs. Len Sklenars (Marjorie Say); Mrs. R.E. Tye (Lola Buchanan); Bram Clark, Ernie Manders, Miss Jean Frazer and Mr. Bevan Sutherland who later had a high Overseas appointment. I left Eldon Chambers in 1935 when I married.
I cannot conclude this story without reference to Mrs. Margaret Porritt, daughter of the Rev. James Patterson, for many years Minister of St. John's Presbyterian Church in Wellington. She and her husband were closely associated with the local Church, and she played a prominent part in the life of early Paeroa, particularly during the First World War when she was crowned Queen of the Carnival held to raise funds for patriotic purposes. Mrs. Porritt was also a very keen worker for the Paeroa Golf Club and as one of the Senior Members was for many years Lady President. She had been a girlhood friend of Miss Maxwell of "The Elms" of Tauranga, and after Mr. Porritt's death, spent considerable time with her. It was on one of these visits that I had the privilege of meeting Miss Maxwell and spending a night at "The Elms". Miss Maxwell related how the Soldiers had gathered round her historic table and discussed what they intended to do the next day (at the Battle of Gate Pa). Anyone who had the pleasure of hearing this charming lady relate that story could never forget her face as she reconstructed the scene. When I was wakened the next morning with the opening of the window shutters I realised what a wonderful evening I had spent with two very outstanding women. It has always remained one of the gems of my loving memory of Mrs. Margaret Porritt who had known both great joy and great sorrow and maintained her serenity.
I gladly acknowledge my indebtedness to Mr. J. B. Beeche who helped me with much of the ealy material for this Article.
MR. J. B. BEECHE
Mr. Beeche has had a long association with this district, his family having moved from Reefton to Paeroa in 1896. During his early period in Mr. Porritt's Office, he not only studied Law but was so keenly interested in the work of the Methodist Church that he prepared for the Ministry, later serving the Church for several years. However, after a period of ill health he was transferred to the Waihi branch of Porritt & Mueller in 1914, taking over the practice himself in 1924. Throughout his Legal Career he was a fine example of the old time Family Solicitor whose reliable service was more friendly than monetary. Mr. H.L. Boughton joined him as a Partner in 1941 and since the retirement of Mr. Beeche in 1960 has conducted the practice now known as Boughton, Grant and Grey, Barristers and Solicitors, Waihi.
Mr. Beeche has been a tower of strength to Education, serving on School Committees for many years. He has been a member of the Upper Thames Circuit of the Methodist Church since 1898, and Waihi Trust Secretary and Treasurer since 1917 and 1919 respectively. His deep interest in the Church was recognised when at the 1949 Conference he was elected to the Office of Vice President. He was able to bring his experience and sympathy to a succession of Pastors, and worthily represented the Circuit at Conference or Synod. Now a widower, Mr. Beeche was married to a sister of Mrs. A.A. Jenkinson, nee Kitty Forbes, whose father Mr. Arthur St.John Forbes was formerly an accountant in Mr. Porritt's office. Since his retirement he has spent his time between his son Lloyd, of Waihi, and his daughter Mrs. Kepple of Tauranga. He has devoted much patient research to the writing of the History of the Methodist Church, We would venture to say that he is a natural Historian, his retentive and analytical mind delighting in the recording of facts. Our Historical Societies have much reason to be grateful to him.