Adrian James Coleman Interview
Claire: We have the 20th May 2016 and I am interviewing Adrian Coleman at the Knowledge Bank in Hastings. He was a lawyer and was born in Hastings. Could you tell us something about your childhood, Adrian?
Yes – I was brought up in a prosperous household even though there were six children, because in those days farming was very prosperous. I remember going with my father to an auction in the Municipal Theatre in Napier, and his lambs’ wool sold for £1 a pound, which means that it was $17 a kilogram in today’s currency. Of course a kilogram is just over two pounds – that would be $9 a pound, where at present it is only about a third of that so that farmers have had to rely more and more on the value of the meat that they produce rather than the wool.
When was [were] you born?
I was born in Hastings on the 11 December 1940 and something that has always annoyed me is that when I went to a fortune teller to learn my future she wouldn’t do it, because she said she needed not only the date but the precise hour of my arrival in the world. So my future remains a mystery to me.
So you were the eldest one or the youngest one?
I was the eldest boy. We had a neat symmetry. Babies arrived in this order. Girl, boy, boy, girl, girl, boy. I was the eldest boy.
So you grew up on a farm?
How was it?
It was a lovely up upbringing. We had all sorts of activities that we could do on the farm. We could go eeling. We could ride the horses. We could help our father go round the sheep. Of course in those days we went round the sheep on horseback, and coming home the horses would be frisky knowing they were going home so my father would give the signal and we would gallop back to the stable. He was pretending to gallop but he would hold his horse back because it was much bigger than our ponies. But we felt we were having a race with him.
So – your parents?
Yes, well now of course I know them well. My father was born in 1913 and I think it likely it was a home birth, in which case he would have been born at ‘Hillington’, which was my grandmother’s beautiful property in Kopanga Road which was on a large section given to her when she became a widow, by Mr Mason Chambers. He went to Wanganui Collegiate School; he went to Cambridge University in England which is interesting, because sons of well-to-do families very often went to Cambridge. I think Cambridge might have been more receptive of young men from the colonies than Oxford. There he took his BA. He studied a little bit of law, so one of his party tricks was to quote sections of the Sale of Goods Act, which is possibly the best example of beautiful, lean, fine drafting on the Statute book.
My mother came from Christchurch – was born into a family that was thick with lawyers. She was brought up in the equivalently beautiful home called ‘Gultmore’ on Fendalton Road. It was a particularly lovely home because a small stream ran through it and when she and my father married they walked hand in hand down the long drive which debouched into Fendalton Road. And directly across the road was St Barnabas Church where they were married. Her father was a barrister. It was said that he refused a judgeship because he preferred his work as a barrister. He acted for the Trade Unions which confused people, because there he was well off, living in the best suburb in Christchurch, acting for these troublesome people. His brother became a High Court Judge; was the first President of the Court of Appeal when it was formed in 1957. His son became a Judge so it was no wonder that my mother wanted me to become a lawyer, if not a judge. I disappointed her in that regard because I did not ever become a judge.
You might be puzzled as to the difference between a lawyer and a judge. There’s a marked difference. The status of a judge is very much higher than that of a lawyer – he’s more of a peacock, while your solicitors are more like the hens, in more subdued garb. In New Zealand we have what’s called a fused profession. You can be a solicitor and a barrister. In that regard barristers spend most of their time in court. In England solicitors can’t have audience in the higher courts, so that there’s a distinct separation between solicitors in England and barristers in England which I disapprove of, because I think it puts the cost up rather like the dentist who now has a hygienist standing at his shoulder, so when you are in the dentist’s chair you feel that you are paying one and a half times what you should.
How was the farm when you used to live with your parents? Where was it?
Well it was twelve miles south of Waipukurau on the road to Porangahau. It was well-chosen by my father when he got back from Cambridge because it had a good balance of flats and rolling hills. The flats were particularly useful for growing crops. And one of the nicest things I remember is seeing my brother, who had taken over the farm, getting trucks and harvesters in to harvest a crop of wheat. So these giant machines were trundling round the paddock and golden grain was pouring into the trucks getting into lovely mounds, and I thought that was a re-working of the biblical references to the harvest.
Your mother was working in the farm as well?
No, my mother never went out the back gate. Mothers didn’t in those days. Nowadays of course, my brother Peter who farms the farm, would have become insolvent if his wife hadn’t rolled her sleeves up, got in and drenched the lambs, crutched them, moved the stock. She became a vital part of the workforce. But because farming was profitable there was no need for my mother to go out to help and she confined herself to raising her six children. She would write to us weekly at boarding school – remember to put a paragraph at the end of the letter just relating to each one of us. And she arranged parties, tennis parties, costume parties. She also took Sunday school and helped in one or two community ventures.
Erica: Did she belong to Women’s Institute or the Women’s Division?
Yes … yes. And she always felt peeved that Lady Ormond was the President, and Lady Ormond contrived to delegate the work required and not do any of it herself – so that was my mother’s perception.
Claire: What about school when you were a child?
Yes, well in common with many farming families the children were sent early to boarding school, and I went to Hereworth School, which you might have passed in Te Mata Road, from the age of nine. And I quite enjoyed boarding school although we were always cold in winter, but in summer if we had a good day we got in five swims, which we enjoyed. I was in a special class and took Latin from the age of nine, and did well at Latin – can still remember some of it. And one year the Headmaster was teaching us, and he became so exasperated at our failure to make our adjectives agree with our nouns that he went and got the cane and caned one boy, after which there was a great improvement. So I treasure that story. I also did French. We had a really good hobbies night on Tuesday nights, and my favourite hobby was the printing hobby where we printed simple things like greeting cards, like titles off prayer books that had been wrenched apart. And our little presses would go round a little revolution each time we pulled the handle, the rollers carefully inked. You set your type by hand which was a pleasant thing to do … you set it backwards. So the computer has robbed us of a lot of pleasurable things. The pottery hobby was another popular one that always looked a mess to me, with water lying about and misshapen pots.
And so when did you leave this school?
I had four years at Hereworth. I got to know top people – Governors General, Court of Appeal Judges, Naval men – because I was always going up getting prizes at the prize-giving at the end of the year. When I was on the Board of Trustees at Hereworth I said that we should try always to get a person who would present himself or herself in full uniform, but my co-trustees didn’t get the message.
And what did you study?
I suppose the curriculum was based on schools in England. I think we followed almost slavishly, so you’d have arithmetic, English, French, history, geography. In those days your self respect demanded that you have a map of North and South Korea, because the teacher would read from the newspaper at the beginning of the English class and there was always news about the battle between North and South Korea, so it was a fight to get hold of the paper and cut that map out, until everybody had one. We felt uneasy when the Labour Party newspaper … it was our turn to have it in our class, because none of us … we knew that our parents would have nothing to do with the Labour Party, and we felt that the teacher was trying to indoctrinate us with the wrong sort of information. So that was that.
Then I went on to Wanganui Collegiate School on the other side of the Island – the climate nowhere near as good as in Hawke’s Bay. And I distinctly disliked football practice because we had to go down after school dressed in two jerseys for sure, pretty worn through washing and wear, and hang around for quarter of an hour or twenty minutes until the Master came down to begin the game. So I think it’s a splendid thing that boys now have tracksuits and be kept warm while they’re waiting. So that was one clothing item that wasn’t so good. We also had Cadets once a week, and we wore proper serge suits – sandpaper suits we called them, because they were very coarse. And once again, I enjoyed my time in Cadets. I selected the section that was the least strict and rose to become the Commander of the Air Training Corp, and I had my boots polished by my fag of course.
So I’ve mentioned the word ‘fag’. That was a boy in his first year at school who was attached to a prefect, and he had to do simple tasks like cleaning the prefect’s shoes or boots, collecting his mail, bringing him … I think you brought him his mug of cocoa in the winter term. One prefect impressed me by telling me that in the winter term he would send his fag out to the latrines to warm the lavatory seat after breakfast before he, the prefect, went to use the lavatory. I thought that was a wonderful thing.
Entering as a new boy the senior boys looked like giants, but gradually you realised that you were catching up and you’d find that the new boys are very small indeed. Discipline was strict. There was the cane for serious misdemeanours, and although it has its critics the boys accepted it as a satisfactory form of punishment. If you break the rules you get the cane, but after that it’s over. It doesn’t accumulate in order to give you a more severe punishment at some time in the future. The house prefects as well as the school prefects were allowed to use the cane, but had to keep a record of it in the Punishment Book. So that was usually attended to in the Prefects’ Room in what was called the ‘Big School’ which was conveniently large so the cane could be energetically swung.
Every morning we had assembly in Big School and announcements were made, the role was checked. One of the important ceremonies was awarding caps to boys in the very top teams who had done well enough to receive a cap, and all those who already had caps would line up on the stage while the Captain of sport would call up the lucky person, place the cap on his head. And of course the little boys who were in the front of assembly were overawed by this procedure. And I well remember when a new Headmaster came, Mr Bruce Lockhart, we were assembled in Big School and there was absolute silence while we waited for him to come in. You could have heard a pin drop. And in he came, looked around … “You! Go to my study door”, because that person might have scratched his nose or something. Anyway, the sound of the cane was heard and after that there was no problem in maintaining good discipline in the school.
Oh – I’ll just tell you that sport also – part of the ethos of a boarding school, the same at Christ’s College and at King’s College – sport was compulsory, and my summer sport which I really enjoyed was rowing. And now that Wanganui Collegiate is an integrated school the girls in particular are right at the top representing New Zealand, from my old school. So it’s extraordinary how they’ve taken to that sport. Winter wasn’t so good for me because although I was all right at football, I had to hang around feeling cold until the game started. Oh, and another thing was that lingering principles of holiness, I suppose, forbade us to play tennis on Sunday on the courts, which could be seen from the road. I mean that seems bizarre but that was the case.
So after the College you went to University?
Where was it?
Naturally I went to Christchurch because that was my mother’s city, and for the first two years I was in what we called a hostel which you now call a Hall of Residence, single sex. Now I think they are mostly both sexes on the assumption that girls will bring a better standard of conduct. When you see some of the girls, how they behave according to the newspaper, they’re worse than the boys at getting foolishly drunk.
It was not something usual in your time?
I suppose I drank a bit, yes. Yes indeed. We had a hotel just across the river from the College house – just a short walk – so we would go there. I never much cared for draught beer – stale and no life to it – but that’s what we were served because it was cheaper. And of course it was important that your girl friend understood that she was to drink beer because we didn’t want to pay for a fancy drink for her.
College House was traditional and you had to wear gowns for the evening meal. And it was a pretty rough collection of buildings but it’s now established at Ilam, where the current University is established. The move was made probably thirty or forty years ago in these gracious surroundings. The College House designed by Sir Miles Warren and his firm takes pride of place as the superior Hall of Residence, and they keep asking me for subscriptions – donations – because they say they’ve got to continue the rebuilding after the Christchurch earthquake.
And what was life like as a student? Well I worked hard at my studies. I envied others whom I met at parties who seemed more sophisticated and who never seemed to work. But it caught up with them at the end of the year, so they would return for yet another year, but make no further progress towards getting their degree.
In the Law Faculty we had perhaps seventy people at Stage 1, but when we graduated four or five years later those were down to about a dozen of which, say two people were women. Now it’s the other way round. Women just slightly exceed the men.
And in the old stone halls of the University, on its old site, we sat at tiered benches and everything was dark brick and white stone. And one time when I was in the French room of the library word spread like wildfire that the Security Intelligence Service were in the building, so we closed our books and peered over the rail just in time to see a student fleeing out the barrier. And quick as a wink the girl on duty locked the barrier so that the sleuth in his raincoat couldn’t get out and therefore whoever it was got away. We thought that was a triumph.
So finally you have your degree?
Yes. Yes, the Graduation is a wonderful thing, it’s a very nice day indeed, with your gown and your waterboard. The girls often had flowers walking down Cashel Street through the Arch of Remembrance, so that was a lovely thing to do. And of course the University was much smaller then – I think there were four thousand at any one time. Now I think its eleven – seventeen [thousand]. I read in the paper that Victoria University is now twenty-one thousand. Don’t know what they all do.
And when did you come back to Hawke’s Bay?
No, I took some time to return to Hawke’s Bay. My first job was in Hamilton in the Crown Solicitor’s Office, and then after a year I came to Napier and worked in a Napier law firm, and then I came across to Hastings where I’ve remained ever since. My work would be principally the buying and selling of houses, financing of orchards and farm land, dealing with estates of people who’ve died, a little bit of matrimonial work. I think it’s interesting to mention that in my early days, divorces were hard to get in that you had to do them in the High Court with all the associated costs. I remember three incidents to do with divorces, which the Judges didn’t much like. I think the Judges felt it was inferior work but they had to do it. Anyway, one of the grounds for getting a divorce was adultery by your partner. There was a celebrated man in Napier called Edwin Elijah Carpenter who would gather the necessary evidence. I was in court once where the lawyer was leading his evidence. Mr Carpenter explained he’d set up the ladder on the downhill side of one of those wooden houses in Napier Terrace, and just got up there and the lights in the bedroom were extinguished. Mr Carpenter said “I’m sure I’ll get the evidence”, and his offsider pleaded to climb up with him but the ladder broke so [chuckle] they didn’t get their evidence. [Chuckle] So that was that.
And then I had one with about a forty-seven-year-old woman, who was a pretty tough woman, and she wanted a divorce from her husband. But if she had committed adultery she had to file what was called a Discretion Statement admitting it and begging that the Judge let her off. And so I handed up her Discretion Statement. The Judge read it and his eyes nearly bulged from his head. “What?” he said, “you’re forty-seven and the co-respondent is seventeen”. [Chuckle]
And then my finest hour was when I had the most beautiful woman as my client and the other lawyers were sitting at their benches surreptitiously reading a magazine but as soon as she passed them they sat up, the Judge sat up, took his spectacles off, became really agreeable to my client, [chuckle] and the divorce went through like clockwork. So that people afterwards said “Where did you find her?” But I modestly said “I … I can’t say”. So that was divorces in the early days. Now they do them routinely in the District Court.
We were talking about divorce which the lawyers – like the judges – didn’t particularly like, because if you made a mistake with your pleadings with your papers the judge would reject the application for divorce and you would have to wait for the next three-monthly sitting, so everybody was a bit tense. Also tense were the unfortunate female witnesses who had to wear a hat and gloves. When they went forward to stand in the witness box the Court Cryer suddenly put the Bible in front of them … said “Place your right hand on the Bible” so there was a scramble to draw their gloves off with everybody waiting until that was done.
And so what was about houses and lands, as you said?
Yes, I can remember things about that. The State Advances Corporation was the big lender for people starting at the bottom, and £2,400 – which is $4,800 – was sufficient finance for you to get into your house, plus capitalising what was called the Family Benefit. So there’s been terrible inflation of house prices since then. And the Government did everything it could – both Governments did everything they could to make it possible for couples to buy their own house. Older people do suggest that younger people want too much – they want the carpet on the floor straight away, and a good washing machine.
What else does a lawyer do? I used to do a bit of Maori Land Court work too which was interesting. The Maoris have their own way of doing things and on the day that the Court sat, they would come in their throbbing old cars from all directions to have their day in Court. You couldn’t hurry them. Often it was … Succession Orders were the most common thing. When a Maori person died holding probably six bits of land through most of Hawke’s Bay, if she had six children then those six plots of land – the children would be entered as a one-sixth piece of each. And what I’m trying to say is that you only need two generations ‘til it becomes unmanageable. The Government still hasn’t solved the problem of fragmented ownership – a great deal of land remains unproductive. There was a propensity which I detected on the part of Maori men to marry twice or if the wife died to take another woman so that instead of having six children, you had twelve. So the question of the management of Maori land is just about impossible to solve.
And so you have been the witness of urban developing [development] in Hastings and Hawke’s Bay? You noticed a huge difference between when you start and when you retire?
Well it happens so gradually that you don’t see it happening, but areas of pasture on the Heretaunga Plains round Hastings that were once where sheep grazed, have usually got vines cultivated for crops like onions or squash, so you don’t see many sheep when you drive from here to Wellington. On the hills in Havelock there’s been an explosion of expensive houses. When I was younger it was considered that the land was unstable – could slip – therefore it shouldn’t be built on, but I suppose it has been possible to search for areas where there’s no evidence of slip. Up behind Woodford House you’ve got magnificent homes; stretching out across the Arataki area you’ve got nice homes. The Arataki area is on the north side of Te Mata Road. When I began, the Hawke’s Bay County was ruthless in preserving land as rural land, and even though it was demonstrated to them that the orchards that were there were feeble producers, hardly worth it, they wouldn’t yield. But finally their Chief Town Planning Officer, whose word was law, retired and sensible opening ups occurred.
I remember that Mackersey Construction – very prestigious firm – geared up to build a new freezing works at Takapau, down south of Waipukurau, and although I wasn’t involved we took pride in the fact that Mackersey’s could do such a big job. And now they’ve exceeded all expectations with a magnificent hotel being built in Havelock North, and I waste my time watching the crane swinging around. And I said to my wife “we must be the first to stay at the hotel”, but she wasn’t impressed so I tried again and said “why don’t we be the first to dine in the new restaurant?” But once again, she was disappointing.
You haven’t told so much about your wife and children?
Oh, yes – well Maureen is more shy than me. She grew up on a substantial farm in the Hakataramea Valley which is in South Canterbury, but the Waitaki River runs nearby and on the other side of the Waitaki River is Otago with a little settlement called Kurow. So she finds it easier to say that she comes from Kurow, but now and again if she’s talking to a farming person, he says “I know the Hakataramea Valley”. And it was a lovely place … downland … quite a substantial peak called Kirkliston which of course we climbed; the little Haka River which I fished in; we enjoyed those. What I haven’t said is we went down with the children every second summer for a long time. One year we made quite a substantial balsa glider, and this was a huge success because the land sloped just about the level of the glider so we could get long flights – two hundred metres – we were pleased with that.
She went to Rangiruru which is [a] Girls’ Presbyterian School in Christchurch – didn’t much enjoy her schooling because her parents were often overseas. Then she became a nurse in the days when the nurses wore an elaborate uniform, sort of apron, skirt, and when the Matron was a figure of awe. One of her contemporaries went round the Old Peoples’ Ward which they had in those days, collecting their false teeth to wash them and forgot to name them, so that [chuckle] when she came back everybody had to [chuckle] try to fit them until they were … So that wasn’t so good.
The nurses were popular among the male law students because they needed to relax after what could be harrowing events, like laying out a dead person, so they would get into the raspberry nips or the equivalent – were very nice for people to have. So that’s where I met Maureen, and our wedding was held on the family farm in the Hakataramea Valley. There were two hundred guests at least I think, and because Presbyterianism still held sway there was no alcohol, so my father arranged with the Kurow Hotel to have any of the guests who cared to come there after the wedding, and that was a very successful function.
Then James arrived, our first-born, and then Anna arrived and then six years later Henry arrived. And James [has] done well by us because he’s a tax barrister in Wellington. My father always pointed out the importance of a good address, so James’ address is 1 The Terrace Wellington, which is the same as the Reserve Bank. And he’s astonished us. His wife, who was also a lawyer – she’s a small, dark woman – and she would go into Court and the other lawyer, perhaps my age, would just look … she doesn’t represent a threat … but then he would suddenly find he had lost his case. [Chuckle] But she turned her back on the law and she studied for the Ministry, and she’s now a Minister in the Anglican Church. James has got the bug as well – he studied for the Ministry – he’s now a Minister and together they’re the joint vicars of the St Mary’s Anglican Church in Silverstream. So I enjoy it every time I go down. If we go to their ten o’clock church on Sunday then James and Julia – they’re in immaculate robes, and their elder son is vocals and lead guitar, their second son is on the keyboard and [chuckle] you’ve got this pounding rhythm all generated … well, there are others with instruments and other singers too, but these are the sort of … the ones who stand out. So James does four days a week for his tax work and for one day he helps Julia. So that’s them. I’ll just mention that Silverstream – much more benign climate than Wellington, and they’re surrounded by bush, birds – they’ve got a lovely situation.
Anna, our next child, is a teacher of speech and drama and she’s come down from Auckland to Westshore to live and has a quaint little house that she’s renting which is ideal for her because her eleven-year-old son is excessively energetic. But we’ve got Pandora pool on one side where you can paddle and sail; the ocean on the other side; only four hundred metres to his school. So it’s been very nice and we are enjoying having her close.
And Henry lives and works in England. He married an English rose, and I think it’s unlikely that they’ll return. They have two daughters, ten and eight – rosy-cheeked daughters. The elder has diabetes Type 1 which has been a terrible trial, and they now have a dog called Willow who’s being trained to sniff the child’s abdomen to see whether she needs more insulin. So that’s interesting. Henry worked for some time at Oxford University in the accounts department, and he was asked to examine the use of gas and electricity in the University to see whether savings could be made. So he made an appointment to see the Vice-Chancellor, which astonished the other eighteen in the department who were all Englishmen. And the Chancellor was from Auckland University … I just can’t remember his name … anyway, in the eyes of the rest of the department this was a surprising thing. So Henry went along, met the great man coming out of the lavatory, went into his study. “Sit down Henry … what do you want to know?” Cht, cht, cht – and got the information. And then, when he was playing cricket for one of the University teams the Vice-Chancellor came past, “Hello Henry” he cried, [chuckle] so all the others – “what!!” [Chuckle] So now he’s a fully-fledged Chartered Accountant and he’s left that position and he works for a firm somewhere nearby. There is a place nearby where the buses all go to get fake designer clothing – Billinghurst [Billingshurst] or something.
Did you buy your own family home?
Where was it? Where did you used to live?
Ah – yes, in Havelock North. I always felt that my grandmother’s home should have been kept for me, but it wasn’t. [Chuckle] So the next best thing was buy one of my own, and we bought in 1968 – beautiful property, spacious, nearly three thousand square metres – an old house that [re]quired quite a bit of attention but a lovely family home, and tennis court of course, swimming pool of course. [Chuckle] I had the swimming pool put in and a lovely grove of trees. Sadly it’s been massacred when we sold ten years ago … buyer who professed to be a tree lover cut down all the trees, put up a horrible mock tudor house and sort of ruined the proportions of the place.
When I moved to Hawke’s Bay and took up a position in the Crown Solicitor’s Office in Napier, there were three partners in that firm. When I moved to Hastings to join David Penn Scannell, there was just him as a sole practitioner with a great reputation among the community for a strange reason – that he didn’t use a filing cabinet. And all round his quite large room were tottering piles of papers but when the client came in to sign a document Mr Scannell would dart to a pile, shake it around, pull out the paper to the amazement of the client. It was a very odd system indeed. I remember sitting across from his desk asking him to find a paper and suddenly the sharp leg of my chair punched through the floor board, making a little spiral of borer dust. This seemed to be consistent with the state of his premises which were very old. And it wasn’t too much earlier there was a grass paddock out the back, and horses could be tethered and enticed to eat horseradish which was planted there. Maybe that’s forty years before.
Anyway, I was in partnership with Penn Scannell, Dennis Hardy, myself, then as the years went by I formed a new partnership with Mr Kennedy, and then a new one with Mr Porteous. Partnerships appear solid from the exterior but they can be riven with feelings and discord which has to be suppressed, and in the end I practised on my own account for the last ten years of being in practice – just like my builder clients who would say to me “yep – I used to have several people working for me – now it’s just myself”.
Erica: Did you become a Notary Public at all?
I thought of that. I would like to have been but the procedure was elaborate and the fee was something like $12,000 – felt I couldn’t afford that. But Notary Publics did always intrigue me because I think your Grant was from the Lord Chancellor of England, or perhaps the [Arch]bishop of Canterbury – but some special official. And one of the things they did in places like Napier was, if a ship’s master was required to sail into a storm which he felt he shouldn’t – not safe to do – and if the cargo moved or was damaged, as soon as he got to the receiving port he had to go to a Notary and make a Protest – capital ‘P’. The other thing they did was – say you were acting for that woman whose lost her children to the Iraqi husband – if you wanted to prepare a sworn statement here you would sign it before a Hastings lawyer, but then you would have to go to a Notary Public for him to swear that he knows the lawyer whose sworn that he knows the client. So once something is materially signed – materially attested – then it’s accepted all round the world as being a valid truthful document.
Claire: When did you retire?
In December 2000.
Okay. Was [were] you involved in an Association during this period after your retirement?
Yes, well I found it very frustrating because I had to learn to use the computer which really made me angry, and so for a couple of years I was not all that happy. But I built a boat – that settled me down. I built a little boat, ‘From Me to You’ … a bosomy little … and used to wrestle with the problem of turning sheets of wood which expect to be treated flat – making them curve. Everything about a boat is curved, but wood doesn’t like to curve so you have to fight to get the wood to do what you want. So that was something I enjoyed.
What else did I do? I thought at first I wouldn’t have enough to do, but as it turned out I felt I had more than enough because I had my music lessons, tennis lessons, helping in the gully near where we live – yeah, and I couldn’t see how I could have spent time at work, the way my day seemed to slide away. So I think the chief thing is the feeling that deadlines are not important any longer … not got to leave the house at quarter past eight. So I do waste a fair bit of time reading the newspaper, the Dominion Post.
I want to mention one aspect of what I do – my wife having told me that I needed to increase my voluntary service, and I, realising that I was unlikely to receive my Knighthood unless I got into these projects, so I joined the Karituwhenua Land Care Group. Karituwhenua is a stream in a deep gully in Te Mata Road just beyond Durham Drive, just before you start to get out of the borough. Over about twenty years a team of volunteers has changed it from a wilderness – a near impenetrable wilderness – to a very pleasant place to walk or take your dog, because I think the dog can run free. And I was down there this morning watering little native plants. And there’s about sixteen of us, which I think we’re over-staffed, but anyway, we have to work only for an hour on a Friday morning starting at nine, so that retirees can be got out of bed in time. Then we have a lavish morning tea after our hours’ work. And when Dougal French was in charge, he would ask each of us what we had done that week or what was happening at home. I was always surprised by the detail, you know … “my wife’s goitre is playing up” … [chuckle] which I felt was better left unsaid. One day it got on to people’s teeth, and [chuckle] just about everybody had some problem with their teeth but it was too expensive [chuckle] to fix them, so a terrible dilemma. And the group is stuffed with ex-headmasters, and a class came through not so long ago and I noticed Dougal French standing on the bridge addressing them just as a teacher would about the difference between a podocarp [chuckle] or something. And I’ve been hoping that these retired principals would get together to put an end to the Kura and substitute a new primary school for all, but they haven’t – they’ve kept their thoughts to themselves.
So Adrian, one other important thing that you did is writing a book about your grandfather.
So could we …
Talk about that?
Yes. I enjoyed that. Towards the end of my time in practice, with my clients dying off or frequently leaving Hawke’s Bay to go to live near a daughter, I did have time on my hands so conceived this project. I had been given a deeds box – a metal box, very formal looking, J H Coleman Trust. Trusts is a difficult word. Trusts mean holding property for some other person, and there were some lovely things in there. There was Court papers, when Coleman Estate had to go to court. There were papers concerning the death of my uncle who was an Air Force pilot in Britain … died in the second World War … so there was plenty to start off with. But in addition, because I knew a fair bit about Maori land law, one of my Hastings friends would tell me gleefully if ever the subject was raised, that the Ngai Tahu settlement – Ngai Tahu are a South Island tribe – the latest one is the fourth full and final settlement that has been made because the Maoris don’t seem to understand those words, they come back for another nibble.
Anyway, since my great-grandfather was a well-known early pastoralist – farmer on a big scale, of sheep – I was able to ascertain what land he had bought and how he had become extraordinarily wealthy. And he also had married a widow. A Mr Farmer [Watt] had suddenly died aged forty-seven leaving a widow and four small children under five. J H Coleman had married the widow a year later, and like a cuckoo had moved into Mr Farmer’s [Watt’s] house on the Napier Hill – beautiful big home. But I think that probably happened because the position of a widow in society at that time was unenviable – unlikely to be asked out socially and so on – so it gave her security. It gave him a leg up socially, and those four stepchildren turned out to be extraordinarily interesting. As to the eldest, Gertrude, she met and fell in love with a man called Grogan who came out from England with her brother. Naturally her brother had been sent to University in England and Grogan asked the old man for her hand in marriage and the old man puffed up and said “Certainly not! You’ve been sent down from Oxford, you’ve been rejected, you’ve been expelled from Oxford. Go away and do something, then come back”. So he did. And he made this terrific trip from Mozambique through to the Sudan. All of the things we hear in today’s newspapers about massacres and so on in Uganda and Rwanda, were just described by him. Bodies floating in the streams, and you know – people ready to cut you to pieces. So there was a very good chapter on this exciting trip. Some of the guns he took were so heavy that a bearer had to carry them for you and when you fired them they were likely to knock you over. So the thing I most enjoyed was preparing a chart of the weapons that he carried to shoot the big game, and the different muzzle velocities and things like that. So Grogan did eventually marry Gertrude and they made their life in Kenya for the most part.
Then another married a Baden-Powell which is a famous name.
Erica: Baden-Powell, scouting.
Eddie … I said “Farmer”, I should have said Watt. It was Mr Watt who died. Eddie Watt, one of these four little step children, had an eye for property and made probably even more money than my great-grandfather, and was a famous racing man particularly in Australia. So there was a lot of colour in the book.
So where did he set out?
Well, he started off working for the Reverend Samuel Williams at Te Aute College, and they got on very well. And when he felt that he’d found his feet he moved to [a] cottage that he must have built near what’s called the Riverbend Christian Youth Camp. But when Mrs Watt became a widow he married her … moved into this splendid house – a far cry from the one that he had left.
When young men arrived from England they were determined to succeed, to make overs to be successful in their new land, and it was apparent that the best way was to become a sheep farmer on a big scale so the early ones snapped up large quantities of land. There were Gollans, Coleman, Pharazyn, Chambers – they went hard at it, and they had to buy it from the Maoris. Well to start with they just ran their sheep and didn’t care about the Maoris’ feelings, but then when order was established and the Maori Land Court was established they were able to buy from the natives – which was what they called them in those days – and get a proper title guaranteed by the Government. So some of the land holdings were very large. My great-grandfather – his was modest at twelve thousand acres, which is about five thousand hectares – but some of them were twice that … three times that. So you’ve got to get in first, and it was a pushier society.
And about his land now – it has been sell [sold]?
Yes … what happened? Before Mr Watt died, James had sold his property to Watt and Farmer – Watt and Farmer in partnership – and Farmer carried on after Watt’s death. Then Watt’s son Eddie came and took over the property – made plenty of money from it, I think by subdivision. Subdivision is usually the way that people build up their money in the bank. So one interesting thing is that when you drive south of Hastings it’s a long, straight road – there is a statue to a famous racehorse who Eddie Watt owned, and the statue is back in the plantation of trees. You can’t see it but it just a historical … we can find that in the book in a moment. He subdivided and sold all but eight hundred of the twelve thousand acres of Longlands, so he would have made a heap of money doing that.
But I just want to find about the horse. [Quoting from book] ‘He had a soft heart for horses as well as people. He erected a monument to commemorate the horse called ‘Merrywee’ who was destroyed on the 9th June 1909 on account of incurable paralysis. The noble plinth still stands in a plantation near the Longlands Road roundabout.’
So now we will talk more about your new book?
Yes – I’ll see if I can explain it coherently. James, my great-grandfather, was one of fifteen children of a farmer and a miller in Norfolk. He must have decided that if the father’s farm were [was] cut up among fifteen children no one would make a living, so he set off for New Zealand. I think he had had a good education because one of the items that we have is a framed page of paper on which his calligraphy is exhibited, and he won the prize in that year for the best calligraphy.
He enjoyed the long sail out from Britain on the ‘Mataoka’, a stout three-masted vessel, took about three months. When he arrived in Wellington he stayed on the vessel and went north to Auckland to look at land in Auckland but he was not satisfied with what he saw. He came back to Hawke’s Bay and walked – quite surprising, couldn’t afford a horse – so he walked here and there about the province until he by chance accepted the recommendation that he go to see the Reverend Samuel Williams, who was in charge of Te Aute Station. Williams took him on, and that was a fruitful partnership which lasted several years, and between them they developed [a] cattle stud which was the envy of the whole of New Zealand. When he felt that the time had come to make a move to farm on his own account, he purchased a block called Kakaoreka [?Kaokaoroa?] near Otane, and then he and his friend McHardy signed a contract to clear scrub … bracken … from a coastal property of nineteen thousand acres owned by the Nairn brothers. That must have brought in money for them because he and McHardy ended up buying the Station. Shortly after that his health began to fail so he sold his half share to McHardy and the brand ‘C&M’ on the wool bales still survives to this day on that coastal property.
He then must have worked hard to acquire land closer to Hastings. It must be said that he employed one of the most vigorous store keepers. In order to acquire land near Hastings he negotiated with one of the storekeepers with a view to getting the consent of the native owners. The storekeepers have a very bad reputation now – they weren’t small time. Sutton had a large establishment at Ahuriri in Napier, and he was the most aggressive. And he did succeed in acquiring the interests of all the natives in the Te Awa O Te Atua block near Hastings, and James became the owner of that and acquired further properties each side. James then sold to Watt and Farmer – sold his … what he called his Longlands Station … to Watt and Farmer, and it was then that Watt died completely unexpectedly, leaving a widow and four small children. The long and the short of it is that a year later James married the widow, Mrs Watt, moved into the beautiful home on the Napier hill that Mr Watt had had constructed. He, Watt, was a very wealthy man in his own right having made his money in the kauri log trade in Auckland.
Having sold out of the Pourerere property on the coast, owned by the Nairns originally, and having sold out of his Longlands Station, James was cashed up, and for the rest of his life he became what one might call a merchant banker, lending principally to other pastoralists. His wife saw to it that entertainment was provided on a grand scale. She was an accomplished pianist, and I treasure the fact that I have her piano now and I see that in the early 1900s she must have played so much that it was tuned about every six months whereas I can get by with having it tuned about every six years.
So there were very smart parties held there, and then the culmination of their socialising … their entertainment … was when the eldest daughter was married it brought Napier practically to a standstill. This was the wedding of Helen Watt. Now the marriage of Helen Watt was particularly significant because she married into the Lowry family, another of Hawke’s Bay’s top drawer families, so that was a highly regarded marriage.
The next daughter, Gertrude, is the extraordinary tale of meeting Grogan. Eddie Watt the eldest child of the widow, Mrs Watt, was up at Cambridge and he – wanting to return for his sister Helen’s wedding – invited his friend Grogan to come out to New Zealand with him. That is why Grogan appeared with Eddie at the Napier home called ‘Waitatirau’, and that is how he fell in love with Gertrude. But when he asked for her hand the old man rejected him – said that he had wasted his time at University; he would have to go and make a man of himself. So he did. And he made an extraordinary journey from Beira, a city on the coast of Mozambique, through Central Africa and down through the Nile. We can’t really conceive of the dangers of that journey unless we read the chapter on Grogan but he succeeded. He almost died several times of malaria and other diseases, but he returned to claim his bride and they were married in London with the full ceremony. It’s difficult to appreciate the money that the characters I’m talking about had. They had London homes, they had country homes – wonderful. I really feel I’ve missed out there.
Florence, the last of the daughters, married a Baden-Powell who was a brother of the Baden-Powell of the scouting movement. There’s not too much about her.
Then, if we leave those four stepchildren, we go on to James’ death and the administration of his substantial estate, about $3,000,000 in today’s terms. And because his Will had to deal with his own children and his step children it was a complicated Will, and it lead to trouble in the Courts, which of course is a great waste of money. But it’s fascinating reading the documents and seeing the names of the lawyers who were involved.
So after the administration of the estate we go to what I called the second generation which are the children of James’ son, Herbert. It was a devastating blow to James when Herbert was killed during the Second [First] World War, and out of the solemnity of that James erected a chapel at Crownthorpe, west of Hastings. James’ son Herbert had married and had produced four children, the eldest being my Aunt Helen; next being my father, James Herbert; next being my Uncle Peter Swinburne; and the youngest being Lloyd who sadly was killed in the Second World War. He was a bomber pilot for the Royal Air Force.
So Adrian, how did you manage to write this book – did you collect archives? How did you collect this history, your family history?
I started with my material in the iron deeds box. Then I became interested in how the acquisition of land was done, which I could do by going down to the Maori Land Court records in Hastings for instance. Then gradually it expanded, but it became necessary to bring it into order … had to be contracted again. Then I found that I could use Papers Past, the archive of newspapers, but I was inexpert and didn’t realise that I could make more precise ‘James Henry’ Coleman. So I looked at countless Colemans, some of whom had gone to jail. Then of course, with my father and his sister and his two brothers there was adequate material for me because they were much closer in their generation so that was that. Fortunately I had a secretary who did the typing which meant I didn’t have to use the computer, so I slipped through.
Original digital file
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Interviewer: Claire Peuvrier with Erica Tenquist
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