Morrinsville District Memories

Turnbull Homestead, Kiwitahi. John & Jane Turnbull, Mary Turnbull, Bessie Butler
I have been asked to write about the early days in the Morrinsville district, so will tell you a little about our family, the first white family to come to the district.




My father and mother, Mr and Mrs John Turnbull, and their little daughter Jean, aged five years, came to New Zealand with Mr Bell in the ship "Gertrude" in 1863. Within a week after landing their little daughter died after two days illness.

Father was in the Maori war. In 1872 he came to Te Au-o-Waikato, a block of land of over 30,000 acres, which he was to manage for Mr William Innes Taylor.

With the help of some Maoris he built a whare, he stayed about three weeks, then he returned to Auckland, where he bought some horses and a dray and with two men set out to find the best way to get from Hamilton to Te Au-o-Waikato. They brought long planks with which they were able to get the dray over the streams, they put facines in the gullies and so got the horse across. When they arrived at Te-o-Waikato Mr W.P. Chepmell had arrived and had his tent pitched about two miles away and was in the bush with his men splitting timber for to build a home. Father and his men started to do the same and in nine months there was a home ready for my mother. I would like to describe that home.

There was a large dining room, four bedrooms and a scullery, a verandah along the front and planks all round the back door. The roof was made of shingles which were carried on pack horses over the Maungakawa hills from Cambridge, the chimney was at the rear and it was made of timber outside and plastered mud inside which mother whitewashed with pipeclay that they got from the banks of a creek.

There was a large colonial oven with three bars on top - you had to put a fire under the oven when you wanted to heat it.

They had plenty of good water which was drawn up in a bucket by a windlass from a well over seventy feet deep. I think the well is still there, our home was where Major Walker now lives. Father then went to Auckland for mother and the family of four sons and one daughter - my youngest brother was a baby at that time, 1873 - it took them five days to come from Hamilton. At night they had to sleep in the dray. My mother was here eighteen months before she saw another white woman.

The Mr and Mrs Walker and family arrived and later Mr and Mrs Cochran came to the district.

On 15 March 1875 I arrived which caused great excitement for I was the first white baby born in the district. the Maoris came from far and near to see me and I was looked upon by them as something sacred. Two years later I had another sister.

The Maoris were good and kind to my people. Father said when he was out mustering if he could not get home the Maoris would give him a whare to sleep in and plenty of food to eat.

There were no fences in those days, it was all open country, the Te-o-Waikato block started at the School Bridge, the boundary was rivers on each side up to the Maungakawa hills. As there were only tracks it took some time to get around the stock.

Mr Ozane, Mr Chepmell's cousin, who loved with him, came to our home two evenings a week to teach my brothers.

All our provisions were brought by the Maoris up the river from the Thames. Mr Chepmell and father would go down in a boat and buy what they wanted and arrange with the Maoris to bring it up in their canoes. One time they did not arrive for three weeks, father got tired coming down to the landing (just below the school bridge) so he pitched a tent for them to put the provisions in. When they arrived they put everything in the tent, but that night it started to rain. When it stopped father came down and all he could see was about two feet of the tent. When the flood went down the sugar and salt had melted and everything else was spoilt - it was six hard months provisions wasted. Father took a pack horse and went over the hills to Cambridge for a supply of provisions till they could go to the Thames for more goods. Mother was four days without a cup of tea at that time.

When Te Aroha started there were more people about. Rev Calder (later Archdeacon Calder) went through from Hamilton to Te Aroha every three months. He could not make the trip in one day so stayed at our place, while there he held service which all the settlers attended.

One time it had been raining for several weeks so they had not been for the mail, which was carried over the hills to Cambridge. They lost count of the days but kept what they thought was Sunday. The following day Mr Chumley came from Hamilton and told us it was Sunday. Mother sent one of the boys out to bring father home as he had gone out mustering - it was considered wrong to work on Sunday in those days.

When the settlers made a road to Cambridge through Scotchmans Valley we could drive there so were able to go to the sports and race meetings in that town.

When I was about seven years old my second eldest brother, John, a fine young man aged twenty-two, was drowned while bathing in the Waikato River at Cambridge. His body was not recovered for nine days - it was washed upon the river bank above the traffic bridge at Hamilton, that was a dreadful time for all of us - 1888.

When I was about thirteen years of age, father leased about 800 acres from Mr Taylor, from the School Bridge to the second railway crossing, so we went nearer the town. My brothers and he made a racecourse in one of the paddocks. Two race meetings were held each year. For several years Easter Encampments were held at Morrinsville. Father lent them the racecourse paddock - 200 men came up about two weeks before to get the camp ready. On the Thursday night the soldiers and officers arrived on two special trains, the farmers met them at the station with their wagon and carted them and the luggage to the camp. They stayed about a week, they did not always bring their horses and big guns.

My mother who was of a kind gentle nature always had a ready welcome for all visitors and was noted for her hospitality and was very popular with everyone. Father served on boards and committees and always worked for the good of the district. In 1909 we bought four acres in Hamilton Road and went there to live in the same year. My father died on 7th May 1916, aged 82 years. My mother died on 13th December in the same year at the age of 79 years.

My eldest brother, James, lives in Australia. William in Gisborne and Peter at Otahuhu. My eldest sister, Mrs Marshall, has gone for a trip to England. Bessie, (Mrs Butler) lives at Papatoetoe. I have lived in Morrinsville all my life.

Too much praise cannot be given to Mr Chepmell, who gave both the time and money to help the district in every way. when the school was built Mr Ozanne and he held a Church Service Sunday School every Sunday. Most of the settlers attended. We all came for the 11am service, brought our lunch and stayed for the Sunday School in the afternoon, in later years they were assisted by Mr W, Green and Mr Fred Horrell.

the Horrell family helped with everything. Miss Jinnie Horrell played the organ for the church services twice on Sunday. They did not have a buggy and as they lived three miles out had twelve miles to walk on a Sunday.

another settler who gave his time to the district was Mr A. Bremner who lives in Morrinsville. Mr and Mrs John Wood opened the Nottingham Castle Hotel in August 1877. Mrs Wood was well know for her hospitality.

When I was about three years old mother and my little sister went to visit some friends in Hamilton. I was taken ill so father started to carry me to Hamilton, when we were coming down the flat a pheasant flew up and his horse, a big white animal, bolted. He knew he could not pull him up with one hand, so threw me as far as he could into some burnt tea-tree, he thought I might be killed, but it was the only thing he could do. When he came back you can imagine how surprised he was to see me sitting up crying. I was covered in black of the burnt tea-tree. He took me to Mrs Wood who gave me a bath and changed my cloths so mother would not get a fright when she saw me. The trouble was that I had had too many eggs.

Mrs James Rowe was another who was noted for her hospitality in the early days.

In Morrinsville 46 years ago the women had a good cricket team. Morrinsville had plenty of sports meetings in those days. Messrs Jim and Willie Innes, sons of Mr and Mrs James Innes, who lived in the town played the accordion so were in great demand. Morrinsville people were very grateful to them, they played for all the dances and made no charge. Mr Dan Hickey was another who did good work in the early days.

I could go on for hours but must not take up too much of your valuable book. Morrinsville was a good clean little town full of innocent amusements and those who left were always glad to return to spend a holiday.

By Mary Turnbull

A vote of thanks goes to Ena Watkins, of Papatoetoe, for bringing her aunt's reminiscences to the editors attention and for allowing the Journal to publish them and the family photograph was supplied.

Published in the Auckland Waikato Historical Journal, April 1988, No. 52, p 28.

Written in March 1937 for the book to be published by the W.D.F.U.