Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 26, November 1982
Not a voice raised in protest, not a pen uplifted to demand a correction, not any effort made to put the record straight, not an attempt to put right the glaring errors in a prominently displayed article spread over a large half page of a leading Auckland newspaper concerning the early history of Paeroa's river! And only after three letters written to the editor of the paper have I been successful in having some of the historical inaccuracies put right.
Thousands will have read that article; Paeroa and district people must have seen it; school teachers surely would have had their pupils bring it to school for study as authentic local history; and how many will have noticed my brief letter to the editor? I had hoped that our splendid Historical Society would have been instantly articulate.
The article stated that Captain Cook "did it first, pushing the Endeavour up this fine, broad river." Any school pupils that I ever taught would know that he did no such thing. He left the Endeavour well out in the Firth of Thames and proceeded almost as far as Netherton with his pinnace and longboat. In any case, the Maori "did it first."
Next came the statement that "Samuel Marsden paddled his own canoe" up the river in 1820. This gives a false picture of a lonely saint pursuing his solitary course into the unknown, vastly different from the autocratic and controversial Marsden travelling on the "Coromandel" which, like the "Endeavour", anchored in the Firth. Marsden, together with a goodly company in the ship's launch, was rowed up the river. There were with him the ship's surgeon, the carpenter, the captain's clerk, as well as two Maori chiefs and fifty of their people in canoes. So Marsden came to Paeroa on the fifth anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo, the 18th June 1820, and not paddling his canoe beyond the frontier of civilization.
Then we are informed that the busy Paeroa wharf at which the well-known "Taniwha" and "Waimarei" [Waimarie – E] discharged their passengers and cargo for so many years was at a place called Te Puke from which Paeroa was "a few miles away". The main highway bridge is wrongly named Te Puke Bridge and my first attempt to have this corrected was countered in an editorial letter stating "despite the local residents" preferences Te Puke is correct Maori". From the Maori Language Department of the University I confirmed that "Puke" on its own is entirely correct Maori and has nothing to do with local preference. We have Puke Road, not Te Puke Road, and Paeroa is certainly not even a few miles from the old Puke Wharf. Indeed, Puke Wharf was always regarded as an integral part of Paeroa itself. I am glad this misnaming of "Puke" has been corrected.
Further, the statement that ships of 300 [corrected from 800 as per Errata, Journal 27 – E] tons used to ply the Waihou to Te Aroha and even well beyond it to Matamata, has been corrected. The record of the small vessels that preceded the advent of the 260-ton Taniwha may be found in a splendid, well illustrated book, "Servants of the North" by the late Cliff Furniss with whose widow I have discussed the article. She was a passenger on the trip described.
The largest ship on the river mentioned by Mr Furniss was the "Kia Ora" of just under 300 tons. It did the Auckland-Paeroa run for a month or two in 1897 but had to be taken off as it "proved too big for the winding river". Records show that very small vessels even as early as 1882 were stranded before reaching Te Aroha, groynes having to be erected in the river to increase the depth in several places. What chance a 300-tonner?
Younger generations may not remember the "Silt Works" - the battery of the Paeroa-Waihi Gold Extraction Company [Waihi Paeroa Gold Extraction Company - E] - reached by Mill Road or from Junction Road stated by the article to have processed "rock from the Waihi goldfields". This was not so; what was processed was the silt dredged from the river containing gold that had escaped from earlier batteries at Karangahake, Owharoa, and Waikino in days before the cyanide process ensured that none of the precious metal was lost. In its years of operation the Paeroa battery won gold worth over £270,000.
This would surely have been a more interesting fact for the traveller back into history than the statement that worn flint pebbles from the tube mills were sold as marbles for the innocent games of youth! Boys whose fathers, including my own, were employed at the river works and who had ready access to the smooth but often misshapen flints can remember no such trade but bought our marbles at the town's stationery shops. We frequently visited the Works and played there, some lived there, somehow we must have missed this source of revenue. One wonders how such stories are manufactured, for the delectation of tourists while the local history served to them is so garbled and unreliable.
One last statement for correction concerns the weekend trips on the Taniwha from Paeroa to Auckland, leaving the Puke on Friday evening and returning on Sunday morning. Never on Sunday! [From Journal 28: A Review. C. W. Malcolm: "This is incorrect and I apologies for my error. It was on a Sunday, 11 August 1912 that just such a voyage ended with the sinking of the ship on her arrival at the Puke Wharf." - E] The earliest one could arrive back in Paeroa would be on the Monday morning. The ship always came up river on the tide and had to be unloaded and re-loaded to catch the return tide. Work was never done at the Puke on Sundays, and the Northern Steam Ship Company never threw away profits by holding its ship and crew idle for a whole day away from its home port.
The article complained of was given splendid prominence, a bold attracting headline, and an eye-catching illustration; it was commendable publicity for the district, and a valuable record for students of a younger generation. It was just unfortunate that so many of its statements were historically inaccurate. I feel it needs more than a brief letter to the editor, lost in a page of print, to put the record straight.