Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 33, September 1989

One hundred and fifty years of the Thorp family living in New Zealand was celebrated last Easter.

The purchase of land by Joshua Thorp from a Maori Chief, the breaking in of farmland and the establishment of a diversified farming venture has seen the Thorp name established here for six generations.

Joshua's first land purchase in 1839 was at Te Kouma, near Coromandel, followed by land near Thames. His wife convinced him this was unsuitable and they bought land at Puke from Chief Taraia of the Ngati Tamatera tribe. It was called Belmont, giving its name to Paeroa's Belmont Road, and its location is marked by a roadside cairn near the Puke Bridge.

During those early days the family faced the challenge of the winds and tides when taking the sea route to Auckland in their cutter, of taming the land by plough, and of the tensions of living amongst warring tribes in the isolated interior.

Amidst increasing conflict over land issues, Joshua engaged in a battle with the colonial authorities over land claims and colonial policy which Joshua always felt infringed on the rights of the settlers by excessive concession to the "natives" in law courts.

Why did an educated surveyor and engineer leave his family in Yorkshire in the 1820's and travel first to Australia, then New Zealand? Writing in his memoirs Joshua recalls studying a globe with a liberal master at his Quaker school and dreaming of far-away New Zealand. He grew to dislike the English climate and conditions, and soon his desire for adventure was turned into a reality. He sailed for Australia in the early 1820's where he designed and engineered the construction of prison buildings in Sydney, while establishing a large farm there, and performing magistrate's duties. He married Sarah Garratt of Hobart in 1827, and in 1839 they sought a brighter future in New Zealand.

Joshua and Sarah's life of isolation surrounded by potentially hostile "savages" and with little contact with other Europeans led visitors to suggest that they live nearer to Auckland. This in fact they did when they bought land at Wairoa, now Clevedon. They continued transporting goods and livestock in their cutter "Scotch Lass'' between Paeroa, Wairoa and Auckland. Their children, then in their teens and twenties, had the task of developing both farms.

Joshua's early contact with the "natives" involving land purchases was aided by Preece, the missionary, as intermediary. In subsequent purchases Joshua didn't always succeed at first in satisfying all the chiefs involved, at times needing to make further payments to subchiefs who had a share in the land.

Chief Taraia, who held his last cannibal feast in 1842 when he took revenge on a Matakana tribe for their insults, treated Joshua as friend at first, and honoured land agreements with him. He ensured that "Ehoa Tapa, Rangatira pakeha" was treated with respect but then caused considerable trouble later. The Government required that the sale of all land made to settlers before 1840 be verified by the chiefs concerned, in order to protect the Maoris from the settlers (although it was these land laws which became predator of the original aboriginal inhabitants in a few short years). Taraia refused to go to the land court, but other local chiefs stood up for Joshua, when the weight of the law meant that Joshua may have been forced to walk off the land with nothing in return.

Joshua and his family must have spent many a lamp-lit evening or quiet Sunday afternoon writing of these events. They left detailed observations and clear opinions of life in those early colonial times of uneasy transition for both the new settlers and for the Maoris facing major social change.

Extracts from these many original diaries, letters and memoirs have been compiled in a book as part of the sesquicentennial of Joshua's arrival on March 10th 1839. There was a gathering of about one hundred and forty descendants of Joshua and Sarah Thorp to meet each other, share a dinner and a luncheon and have photographs of family branches taken. There was a family tree display with photographs and memorabilia. A thanksgiving service was held at St Paul's Anglican Church, Paeroa, and a barbecue at "Oaklands", Rotokohu Road, Paeroa. On the third day, many travelled to Clevedon to visit All Saints Anglican Church, built on land given by Joshua, and to see the gravestones, the land on which the family home "Beckby" was built and the historical areas associated with the family.

(Article supplied by Mrs Margaret Lynds, Secretary for the Thorp Family Sesquicentennial.)