Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 12, October 1969


By Margaret (Mrs. J.P.) Gamble

The 1914-18 war had just ended and in the New Year the men who had away to serve were returning to New Zealand. Some were concerned about those men who were left behind holding their jobs. My husband had been called up, but having a son and a daughter was turned down until his category was required. He was due for Camp in Trentham in two weeks when, fortunately for us and everyone else, the Armistice was signed. My husband who was working in Macky, Logan Caldwell Ltd. in Auckland, decided to look for a small business. He would work on Saturdays from 3 p.m. until 10 p.m. at Alf. Moore's in Karangahape Road Auckland, to gain retail experience and he received 10/- for this. He also did odd trips of travelling in the Waikato, Thames Valley and King Country areas.

In June, 1919 Miss Kelsey of Waihi came into the Warehouse and during the course of business said she would like to sell out. She had married a Mr. Wright but was still known as "Miss Kelsey" in business. Her reason for selling - "Waihi was a dying town". My husband knew the set-up and inquired the purchase price. Mr. John Kelsey, her brother, took stock of the goods in the store, and in due course the Stock Sheets and purchase price arrived and an agreement was reached. We sold our home, beach cottage and all the household goods that were not required and had roughly £1,000 to start off in business with.


My husband preceded me to Waihi and on Saturday June 25th, 1919, I travelled by train to Waihi with my son Gordon and daughter Ruth, to set up housekeeping in the three roomed cottage and lean-to behind the shop. The next week my husband worked in the shop before the Take Over. On July 4th, 1919 the firm of "J.P. Gamble, General Family Draper, The Home of Good Value" opened at 8.30 a.m. When my husband was in the packing room at the Warehouse in Auckland, the Travellers' Samples at the end of the year became the property of the packers. He received his portion each year, and I had a large packing case of pieces of sheeting, pillow cotton, tea towelling and dress materials. Three pieces of sheeting made one double sheet, and when these pieces were done up into bundles and sold at 1/- the customers thought they were good value. This made our Opening Day a huge success.

I helped in the shop but was so shy that on the first morning I stood behind the fixtures for about 2 hours before I went forward to serve my first customer, who was Mrs. Bice. I said, "If you will have patience with me I shall try and please you. I have never done this before." Thus I was launched on the first step of my years in the store.


The staff that day who opened with us were, Mrs. Joe Currie, Misses Lily Gracey and Lily Manning. We thought at first we would be able to work with a staff of two assistants and a message boy, but the business grew until we had a staff of 14. As time passed many well known names of the town and district were on the pay roll. It was a family store in more ways than one, for mother and daughters, sisters, and sister and brother worked for us from time to time. Mr. Harper was our Accountant, Mr. Kenrick our Manager at the Bank of New Zealand, Mr. Beech our Solicitor and Mr. Richard Hudson our carrier with his horse and waggon. Other names whose owners served us well in the twenties were Misses Essie Christie, Esma Burke, Freda Earl, Lottie Pearce, Mona Hollis (now married and living at Waihi Beach), Bessie Middlebrook (now Mrs. Burk of Waihi), Emily Potts (now Mrs. Lee Hume of Katikati), May Burt, Mabel Speak, Mrs. Sutherland and her daughters Sylvia, Pauline and Vivienne, and Mrs. Coutts, Messrs. W. Gribble, W. Sussex, E.T. Speak, C. Carter, Mr. and Mrs. R. Tappenden. Mechanical goods were more in Mr. Tappenden's line and he eventually started the successful firm of Tappenden Motors Ltd. in Auckland. There were also Mrs. L. Morgan, Mrs. Rowe, Misses Ada Butler and Janet Wotherspoon, while Gladys Stephenson was in the dress making department. The wage for a senior dressmaker at that time was 35/- per week, intermediate 30/- and junior 15/-. The senior men's was £6 (married), £4-13 (single). The senior women's wage was £3-10, intermediate £2-10, junior 36/-, and 25/-.

Eventually the original building was purchased from Mr. Lewis Eady of Auckland. This was separated from the other buildings by a right-of-way which led to the cottage at the back where we lived. As the business grew we purchased the big shop in 1921, which at that time comprised a fish, confectionery and fruit shop owned by Miss Ferry, and a stationery shop owned by Mr. Walters. My husband heard these premises were for sale and made a quick trip by taxi to Paeroa to catch the S.S. Taniwha, which left for Auckland via the River - an overnight trip. He saw Mr. Caley in the city early next morning, purchased the buildings and caught the 8.45 train back to Waihi. We eventually became general drapers and furnishers.

During the Xmas season of 1920 hams were in short supply, so my husband contacted our old grocer in Auckland who sent down 80 hams. So the people of Waihi had their hams for Xmas. On another occasion my husband, who was open to selling varied merchandise, bought some cases of wooden dummy rifles ex army stores, these having been used to train the soldiers during the war. The local boys had much fun with those. During this period many Sales were put on, and on one occasion business was so brisk that the Police requested us to close the doors four times in the one day as the road was being blocked and traffic disrupted by the crowd.


Another time we hired a car from Mr. H. Deverell and loaded it with merchandise and set off one Saturday morning for Katikati to sell the goods to the farmers of the area. We got as far as Athenree after having used many ti tree fascines to fill in the mudholes. Outside Mr. Staph Clark's gate the crown wheel of the car broke. A replacement was sent out and we returned to Waihi - no business done that day. On these visits we opened our goods on the Show Grounds at Katikati and the people served themselves. Again Mr. Sussex set off one Monday morning with a buggy and horse from H. Deverell's stables, loaded with goods, expecting to be away until the Saturday. My husband had warned him not to go to Matakana Island because of the quicksands, but the Maoris showed him the way over. However coming back on his own he missed the way and got stuck and Mr. Sussex thought all was lost until the horse made a valiant effort and got out of the quicksands, but not until all the goods were wet.

The ladies of Katikati knew Mr. Sussex was a good local preacher, so they said they would dry his goods if he would stay over and take the services on Sunday. This he agreed to do, and the fences were hung with various and many articles that day. The services were enjoyed, a very successful trip was concluded and we were the richer by £100.


My husband decided to branch out in 1921 and bought a section in Katikati from Mr. Blomquist and built a shop (the first I believe) and opened a drapery store. We had a Manager who bought us out, and later sold to Mr. Gordon McLeod. In 1923 we retired to Auckland, and employed Mr. Rainey as Manager, with his wife helping in the store. About March of that year a colleague wanted to buy Miss Keller out in Paeroa, but as he had not the deposit ready at that time my husband purchased the business and buildings and said he would run it until such time as the other man was ready to take over. The original buyer went back on his bargain so we returned to Waihi about May where we boarded with Mrs. Hamilton in Kenny Street for a time, travelling by train daily to Paeroa to run the store. Eventually a house was ready in Paeroa and we moved there in August. From then on my husband continued to run both businesses. Mr. Rainey resigned to open his own successful business in TE Awamutu, and later to become Mayor of that town. Mr. C. Clarkson then joined our staff as Manager, and Mrs. Darby became an assistant in the showroom.

About this time the business was turned into a Private Limited Company as the Income Tax Department would not allow me to be paid wages by my husband, but from a Limited Company I could receive wages, and I was doing all the book work. My husband bought an Oakland car in 1924 and after trial and error he learnt to drive. The car was used to take the goods which were sent to the Paeroa store, there to be broken down and some sent on to Waihi. The car made quite a "roar" and the ladies between the towns could hear it coming and would rush out putting on their coats as they ran down the tracks to the road to get a ride. When the Bus Service of Phillips & Bonnici started my husband had to be very tactful and point out that the bus was there for the women's convenience, and the bus proprietors had to earn a living.

In 1925 our son Gordon joined the staff in Paeroa, and as time passed he wanted a car. One day when we were in Auckland on a buying trip he found an old Model T Ford which had no floor boards or back seat. However he cleaned it up and had it outside the Paeroa shop when we returned. His next car was a new 3 seater Ford tourer - a big step from the message boy after school on his bicycle, and Gordon drove me daily to Waihi. Later a 5 seater Ford Sedan was purchased. This car, on our way home one winter evening, lost its rear wheel opposite Joughin's Quarry near the Old Rahu Road turn-off. The car had been serviced in the garage and. the wheel nuts not tightened. Later the wheel was found on the river bank by a worker from the Relief Camp at Karangahake - he was going to sole his boots with the rubber. Misses E. Lewis and C. Swann also travelled to the Waihi store with us daily. Friday nights were rather grim coming home in the stormy weather and fog, especially as the Gorge Road was being widened and the route was over the Old Rahu Road.


During the Depression years the mine was working and kept things going, and on Saturday mornings we were open for business, with a 48 hour week being worked. In those times job lines of goods were there for the keen buyer. My husband would buy 500 hats at a time and these would be sold for 1/- to 7/6 each. Women's velour coats with fur collars were 29/6 to 39/6, 2,000 yards of coloured bordered lace curtains sold from 1/11 to 2/6 per yard. These bargains were always appreciated by the customers.

By 1938 our son was married and lived in Paeroa, and he and his wife made a very memorable dash in his Vauxhall car to Waihi in 13 minutes on the night the Academy theatre was burnt, but there was little damage to the store. Later the Boarding House where Wallace Supplies Supermarket now stands burnt down early one morning.

In 1939 we retired to Auckland, but war broke out in the September and our son took over the management of the two stores. Eventually all the men went overseas and we returned to look after the business. We built a flat over the furnishing shop in Paeroa and worked from there. During the war our son Gordon, and John Woodland saw service over-seas, while Miss Ailsa Gordon served with the W.A.A.C [Women's Army Auxiliary Corps (1914-1918 War) – E]. Owing to the war period our 25 years Jubilee was not celebrated in 1944. Mrs. Elsie Mitchell was in charge during the 1939 -1945 period in Waihi, and her daughter Theo worked in the Paeroa shop. Other staff members at that time beside Ailsa Gordon (who later became Mrs. Alan Finlay, the mother of the celebrated Waihi triplets - 2 girls and a boy - which meant that with three other children she had six under five years old) were Misses Ivy Cunliffe, Betty Rosborough, Eileen Thorp (now Mrs. Spencer Dean). The men returned home and in 1946 we returned to Auckland. Our son Gordon acquired the Paeroa shop in 1945 and Mr. John Clark, who had been with us in Paeroa, came to Waihi, when he returned from overseas, to manage. By now the 40 hour week was being worked, and on Saturday morning the shop was closed.


About 1950 the old original building and cottage were pulled down and the new furniture store was built. My husband and I still kept an interest in the business, visiting Waihi on the 10th and 20th of the month to pay the wages and do the statements and cheques. In 1961 it was deemed prudent for the running of the business to purchase a van and this was to prove a great asset when jobs of carpet arid linoleum laying were done. Later still we procured our own machines for the sewing and laying of carpets.

When Mr. John Clark resigned in 1969 and bought out Mr. E.T. Speak to start his own business, our son returned to live in Waihi, and purchased a farm, and Allen, our grandson, commenced work in the business, Mr. John Woodlands becoming Manager at this time. My husband had been in ill health for the past ten years, and passed away on 11th November 1965. His brain was alert and active to the end, but over the last few years he had not been so involved in the running of the business. I continued with my Clerical work until decimal currency came in and then I relinquished my duties to my son. But I still take an interest in the running of the business. From time to time my daughter Ruth worked in the store on Sale days, Xmas and New Year's Eve. Over the years the sons and daughters of our staff have worked as casual hands at Xmas. Our present staff [1969] are Mr. Woodland (who has been with us 34 years) and Mr. Allen Gamble as joint Managers, Mr. M. McGahan, Mrs. McCracken, Mrs. McGahan, Mrs. K. Orchard, Misses Anita Thorpe, S. Pearce and Kerry Stewart. Of recent years Mr. A.W Hearn has been our carrier, Mr. G. Button the accountant.

It was with pleasure that I greeted old staff and friends and new customers at our 50th Jubilee. Our thanks are due to them and we hope we shall be able to serve the District faithfully and well for many years to come. Through good management and loyal staff we have always been able to give good service to the people of Waihi and surrounding districts over the past FIFTY YEARS.