Some interesting sidelights on personalities and places in Paeroa in the 'nineties, and of the newspapers of those days, are shown in a breezy communication received by the Hauraki Plains Gazette some years ago from Mr. R. Henry, of Waihi, who spent his early manhood in the town. "I just scribbled this down," explained Mr. Henry. "Perhaps I stand open to correction here and there; and no doubt I have omitted to mention many people and places that should be mentioned. Alas, many of the ‘old-timers’ to whom I refer have passed beyond the veil." Mr. Henry continued:—
"When the writer first went to Paeroa in the year 1891, he travelled in the s.s. Ruby, a small steamer owned by the Hauraki S. S. Company. The first port of call was at Turua, where Bagnall Bros. owned a busy timber mill. Shortly after leaving there the boat passed through miles of beautiful river, skirted on both sides by drooping willow trees, the steamer going so close to the bank that the long, green branches actually brushed over the bow of the vessel. I quite forget where the different stoppages en route were, but the river was really a beautiful sight. The water was clear, there being no pollution from tailings in those days. The boat came right up to a wharf in the township, and passengers had only to carry their bag and pick their way through a muddy road a short distance before they were in the main thoroughfare — a road alongside the river-bank. There were five hotels, namely, the Criterion (not the present big structure, but a small building situated on the same site), owned by Messrs. Cassrels and Bennett; the Belmont, run by Mr. George Crosby (a new hotel called the Royal Mail succeeded this ramshackle old building); the All Nations, a small building almost alongside the Belmont Hotel, run by Mr. M. G. Power, and the Paeroa Hotel, of which Mr. John H. Moore was the proprietor. All these premises were touching the main street (now known as Cassrels Street) formerly on the river-bank. A new two-storeyed hotel (the largest building in the town) was the Commercial Hotel, and was owned by Mr. J. M. Coote. This hotel is now owned by Mr. E. P. Fathers.
Newspapers in 'Nineties
"It was during this period (1891) that the ‘Ohinemuri Gazette’ made its advent in opposition to the old-established ‘Hauraki Tribune,’ owned by Mr. Charles Featherstone Mitchell, one of the town’s esteemed identities. Mr. Mitchell was the coroner and a justice of the peace. The ‘Tribune’ was a Liberal paper, a staunch follower of the late Richard John Seddon, and the ‘Gazette’ was on the Conservative side. The ‘Gazette’ was established by Mr. Edwin Edwards, sen., and the small plant was taken from Tauranga by Mr. R. Henry, sen. (father of writer). The printing machine was an old-fashioned Columbia hand press, claimed to be over 50 years old. In those days the linotype was not even thought of, and old-time printers, especially those who ran ‘country rags,’ had to do everything under very primitive conditions. For instance ‘reglets’ (bits of wood used by printers in spacing out jobs or big advertisements) had to be cut out of an old cigar box or a lid of a Colman’s mustard box. Full stops running short, all the initials had to go in the paper without them, and there were numerous other inconveniences which only those connected with the trade would understand. Roller composition, which printers use in the making of rollers for working the ink on the type, can now be obtained without difficulty from several firms in New Zealand and Australia, but in the days of long ago, the printers made the composition themselves out of equal proportions of glue and treacle. It was one of the heartbreaks to find that the only roller had its middle eaten away by rats.
A Calm Customer
"During the boom years there were all sorts of human derelicts on the goldfields, and some of them, although drink or drug sots, still showed traits of culture and college education. There was one man in particular in Paeroa, and, of course, I shall not divulge his name. Mr. Edwin Edwards, then proprietor of the ‘Ohinemuri Gazette,’ and also interested in innumerable mining propositions, was in the post office one afternoon, filling in a telegram. In those days the post office was up on a hill beside the Anglican Church. While Mr. Edwards was fixing up his telegram the eccentric and dopey gentleman entered the building. He was neatly clad and wore a nicely-trained moustache, which he had the habit of twirling when addressing any person. Seeing Mr. Edwards, he made straight for him and spoke in a quiet voice: ‘Excuse me, Mr. Edwards.’ ‘Yes.’ ‘May I speak to you a moment?’ ‘Yes, yes, wait till I send this wire,’ replied Mr. Edwards. The drug addict stood by twirling his moustache, and Mr. Edwards went to the counter and chatted on some business matter with the postmaster. The man then got closer to Mr. Edwards and interrupted: ‘Excuse me, Mr. Edwards,’ Mr. Edwards got a bit nettled and turned to the man. ‘Can’t you see I’m busy. Please wait until I’m done!’ ‘Oh, all right,’ sighed the queer one, twirling away at his moustache. Mr. Edwards finished his chat with the postmaster, gathered up his correspondence and walked over to the peculiar citizen and said: ‘Now, Jack, out with it!’ ‘I only called in to tell you your house is on fire!’ Collapse of Mr. Edwards.
The Mining Boom
"The great mining boom came along and the paper (which was published once a week, and later twice), had on several occasions no fewer than a hundred applications for claims in one issue. Money flowed like water, and mining engineers, company ‘planters,’ etc., came from all parts. No fewer than ten solicitors started their profession in Paeroa, the ‘pubs’ were open from 6 am. to 11 p.m., and there were all-night billiard saloons. For a short period it seemed as if Paeroa was going to be a great city, but alas! the boom bubble burst. Business went as flat as a pancake and for years Paeroa was a quiet dormant village until the farmers came into their own.
"The cutting up of the Hauraki Plains swamps has Phoenix-like put Paeroa again on the map! Look at the old town now. Beautiful buildings, lovely streets, and it is still going strong!
Some "Old Hands"
"When the writer first went to Paeroa, Mr. William Gray Nicholls bad not long retired from the chairmanship of the Ohinemuri County Council, and Mr. Nepean Kenny was the county clerk, a position which he filled previously for many years. Mr. R. W. Evans, who had been acting as assistant clerk for a number of years, subsequently got the position. Mr. W. Littlejohn was the county engineer.
Competition in Shipping
"Shortly after the writer came to Paeroa, the Northern S. S. Company decided to enter into competition with the Hauraki Shipping Co., and a ‘war’ commenced. Passengers were carried from Auckland to Paeroa for 2/6 by one company and the other retaliated by charging 1/-. The end came when the Northern Company bought the other company out, and the fares went up to normal again.
Keen County Elections
"The County Council elections were always keen in those days. Paeroa riding had three members and Karangahake, Waitekauri and Waihi also had their representatives (the number of members I cannot recall). The footpaths and roads were wretched affairs. Normanby Road was a quagmire, and it had to be blinded with fascines from one end to the other. Pedestrians had to have long planks to walk on, or they would stand a chance of being bogged to their knees.
"Vot Aboudt Idt?"
"I remember — on one occasion — it was an extra rainy year, like the one we are at present enduring — when Mr. Asher Cassrels, who was a member of the County Council, was bailed up by an irate resident, who dealt out his views about the shocking state of the roads. Cr. Cassrels shrugged his shoulders and exclaimed, palm upwards: ‘Vell, vell, vat can ve do ven ve have two vinters in the middle of summer!’
Some Old Identities
"As far as my memory goes here are some of the old-time business people of Paeroa : — James Barrett, John Vuglar, and Earl and Son, butchers; John Bramley, bootmaker; John Phillips and Son, storekeeper; W. J. Ellis, blacksmith; J. Brenan, blacksmith; J. M. Robson, storekeeper; Chas. Vincent, saddler; D. Snodgrass, baker; Owen Griffiths and John Goonan, carriers; Quinlivan Bros., carriers; Hugh Butler and Nat Dickey, contractors; Fred Cock, farmer, and agent of Northern S. S. Company for many years. Mr. Cock was one of those gentlemen connected in the formation of the County Council, and, I believe, was the first county chairman. This article would be lacking if I did not mention the names of the Shaw family (Tom and his son Ned, also Jim Shaw, brother of Tom,) who took active part in the building up of the district; the Ritchie, McGuire and Sorensen families, A. J. and J. W. Thorp, J. Silcock, F. Lipsey, H. C. Wick, W. Marsh, G. Cooper, W. Tetley, J. C. Hubbard, John Kennedy, J. Dean and J. Goonan.
"In conclusion I must not fail to include Mrs. John Pennell, whose name for goodness was a by-word in Paeroa.
"Mr. Charles Rhodes was manager of the Bank of New Zealand. He was an assayer and purchased gold from prospectors for the bank. Mr. Rhodes was a leading member of the Church of England choir and was a 'cello player. He resigned from the bank and later on became New Zealand director of the Waihi Goldmining council [Company - E]".
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