Wynne-Lewis, David Canning Interview

The 3rd of July 2017. I’m with an old school friend of mine, Mr David Wynne-Lewis of Waipukurau. His family were very early settlers in Hawke’s Bay and it will be a very interesting talk that we’re going to hear from David. So David, good afternoon and thank you very much.

[Radio in background]

Yes, thank you, Jim. My great-grandfather came out to Hawke’s Bay I believe about 1851 or ‘52, and they stayed at a place called Red Cottage out of Hastings near Clive somewhere. It was a well-known place, Red Cottage, and they lived there and they worked the land out at Porangahau.  And they moved out onto the farm at Porangahau, and have been there ever since.  And I have a son that lives there now at Oakbourne Station, Porangahau, just past Wallingford Station.  So we were neighbours of the Ormonds at Wallingford, and my family were brought up with them at the same time and everything, and so we’ve had a long association with the Ormond family next door.

See – my great-grandfather’s brother stayed in Napier whilst his brother went to Porangahau to farm.  And he joined the Napier Militia with Colonel Whitmore when Te Kooti invaded Hawke’s Bay in the north, and Colonel Whitmore and the chief of the Omahu Marae in Hastings, Kawepo … trying to think of Kawepo’s Christian name – doesn’t matter.  Chief Kawepo and Whitmore went up and pushed Te Kooti back up the Ruakituri River. The battle was fought on the Ruakituri River where Te Kooti retreated up towards the King Country, and he left his troops behind the rocks – not many, but enough to shoot my great-grandfather’s brother and some other members of the Napier Militia – Captain Carr, Captain Canning and about two warrants or sergeants or something – anyway about four and five, and they lie to this day in the river. They left them in the river, I think, up there.  Anyway, the stained glass window in the Porangahau Church, Anglican Church, was put by my family in memory of Davis Canning who died on the Ruakituri River.

About what year was that David?

Pass. Somebody will know that.

We came over … my brother and I and my mother … came over to New Zealand from Australia – I was born in Australia, in Sydney.  We came out at the beginning of the War when my uncles went to the War … three uncles went to the War.   Jack Canning went into the Air Force – he’d been in the first War and was called an Ace because he shot down five German planes in the first War. In the second War Air Marshall … forget his name …


… at the beginning of the War.  He called up my uncle and said “Jack, would you please come down to Wellington – the Air Force is in a frightful mess and I need to sort it out so that we can get going”.  So my uncle went down to Wellington and helped the Air Marshall get the Air Force going, and then later on he became Commander of one of the air bases – I think it was Wigram, or somewhere in the South Island.  And then he later became an Intelligence Officer in the Pacific during the War. And that was my oldest uncle.

The other uncle went into the Navy – Walmsley – and he was a Lieutenant in the minesweepers. He went to England and took his commission up in the north of Scotland somewhere and joined the minesweepers during the War.  And he was the Beachmaster at Oran, at the landing [at] Oran. He was up to his neck in water, facing the sea, his back to the shore batteries, and the shore batteries were firing into the sea around him and he was standing up to his neck in water facing out to sea, signalling in the destroyers and the landing craft.

The other uncle was in the Army and he was taken prisoner at one of the battles near Alamein somewhere and taken to Germany for the rest of the War … spent four years as a prisoner of war – not very nice.

So we came out, and before I came out here … I was nine years old when I came out here … I went straight to Hereworth School in Hastings and it was the best thing that ever happened to me.  I met so many wonderful New Zealand people who were kind to me for the rest of my life, and I really, really treasure the friends that I made at Hereworth School. The people there were just simply wonderful, and old Mr Buchanan, the headmaster, was an l man I thought. And I met many, many very good friends who’ve been with me the whole of my life.

What year was this?

1942 I went to Hereworth, to ’45.

And then to?

I went to Collegiate School after that in Whanganui.

And then I went up the East Coast and worked on a farm, way up the East Coast amongst the Maori people. I’d served in the Army in the first intake … of the military intake … and that was a wonderful experience.  And I served in the Army in the Territorial Regiment, the Hawke’s Bay Regiment, as an officer for some years.  And I met a lot of Maori families up the coast who served in the Army in the Hawke’s Bay Regiment and Territorials and I’ve always treasured that.  Met some very fine Maori families up the East Coast, the Ngati Porou – wonderful tribe of Maori people. And of course at Porangahau we have the Ngati Kere which is the local tribe, and the Kahungunu which is the Hastings tribe.  And Hawke’s Bay has a wonderful tribe of Maori people as well … as well as the Ngati Porou from Gisborne. Wonderful people.

My grandfather, Davis Canning, was the first chairman of the Whakatu Freezing Works, so he had a big bearing on Hawke’s Bay because they employed a lot of Maori people as well as Pakeha people.  And Whakatu was a very important works, which later went under like a lot of other businesses in Hawke’s Bay – Tomoana, the Hawke’s Bay Farmers stock company, Williams & Kettle’s stock company – all of those went by, and you’d hardly believe they could go under.  However, they did.

And so Hawke’s Bay has had a wonderful farming history, and I’m so proud that my family were in it. My grandfather had Clydesdale horses that he used for ploughing the paddocks, and he employed a Scotsman, out from England actually, and – Hobson his name was – and he looked after the Clydesdale horses and ploughed up the paddocks.

And my grandfather’s wife was James Busby of Waitangi’s daughter [grand-daughter].  And he was a very fine fellow. James Busby’s son – his daughter.  And he came down after the Treaty of Waitangi to Pourerere Station out on the coast of Omakere, which belonged to Mr and Mrs Nairn – very well-known early settlers in Hawke’s Bay, and wonderful church people … Anglican Church people.

And the missionaries of course, from the Bay of Islands, came down to Hawke’s Bay through William Williams and the Williams family.  And Samuel Williams of Te Aute … Te Aute College … a wonderful man who today has a legend in Hawke’s Bay.  He came down … Selwyn sent him down … Bishop Selwyn sent Samuel Williams down from the Bay of Islands to start Te Aute College. And at the same time he formed the H & W Williams Trust, which has made – he put the money into the Trust from the farms that he had around Te Aute, and today the fund has some twenty million dollars in it which has been built up over the years by some very special people who’ve run the Trust, one of whom died just the other day – dear old Bill Williams, Athol Williams’ son, aged eighty-eight, who died down at Mary Doyle – and he was a wonderful man and was in charge of the Trust for some years before the present owner … the present Chairman of the Trust, who is a man called Hugh McBain who came out – his mother was Samuel Williams’ daughter – and he came out from England.  He’d been in the Army in England, came out here to farm where his uncle was down at Te Aute.  And he’s carried on the Trust – done a wonderful job for the Trust.

My grandfather brought merino sheep up the coast from Wellington to Porangahau to farm them – quite popular in the early days.  The wool was worth a lot of money early on in the piece … in the early 1900s, I think.  My grandmother, Mrs Katie Canning, the granddaughter of James Busby, married William Williams, son of William Busby, son of James Busby of Waitangi.  And they went down to Pourerere Station when Mr and Mrs Nairn went back to England for a holiday and to meet their family again. And for ten years he leased Pourerere Station, and it was just when the wool prices were starting to get going and he made enough money out of the wool from Pourerere Station, when the lease was up, to go back up to Gisborne and buy all the land that the Jeffards and the Busbys owned up the East Coast which is quite a lot of land around Tokomaru Bay and places.  And the land now belongs to the Williams’ and the Jeffards and the Busbys. And that money was made by farming at Pourerere Station, when the early wool prices took off.

I don’t know what else I can say.  The farm is still there, we’re still farming the land and we’re very proud of the fact that our family came to Hawke’s Bay so early on, and the family seems to have made a mark.

I think … very lucky to be alive … I’m eighty-five.

Aren’t we?

I’ve lost a lot of friends, Jim – I’ve lost a lot of friends.

We’re losing them every day.

And Jim, we’ve lost some wonderful friends – Jakes White, Bill Lyons, people like that.

During the War my father, Thomas Herbert Wynne-Lewis, a Welshman who went to the War at seventeen – the First World War – joined the Army, Lancashire Fusiliers, then transferred into the Royal Flying Corps as Flying Officer, and he went onto the Italian front.

But whilst he was in the Army they were in one of the battles – I think it was the Somme or one of those battles in France – and he came across a man called Lord … it’ll come in a minute. He was the Chancellor of the Exchequer of England in later years, and he ran the London School of Economics. And my father met this Lord in the trenches.  And he said, “Wynne-Lewis, what are you going to do after the War’s over?”   Dad said “I don’t know”.  And he said “come to the London School of Economics and I will get you an accountancy degree”.  So that’s exactly what my father did.

He was shot down on the last day of the War.  And there was a man called Sir Lancelot Chance who was a London surgeon who was at the front in Italy visiting his son, and he operated on my father and removed the bullet from his back which was alongside the spine. And my father lived to ninety-three.

And he married my mother – he met my mother in Fiji after the War, and he married my mother and they moved to Sydney, and he put his plate up in Martin Place in Sydney.  And he organised the Consolidated Trust for the Packer family, and my father and Sir Frank Packer were Trustees of this Consolidated Press Company of Australia which is still there today, and is the cornerstone of the Packer enterprise in Sydney.

When the War was over my father came back to New Zealand, and we were in New Zealand. We’d come there because my mother had come over to look after my grandmother during the War. She was in her eighties, and my mother came to look after her whilst the men went to the War. And when the men came back, then my father came back over here after the War and they moved up to the Bay of Islands and retired up there.

So I was going to tell you about my father and the Consolidated Press Company.  My father was a chartered accountant by profession and served in Australia for some years. After the War he came back to New Zealand and joined the United Distillers’ Company of Scotland under Sir Henry Ross, the Chairman I believe.  And my father was their representative in the Pacific, and he went round the Islands doing market surveys for them and sold them whiskey and gin and stuff. And Dad did that for quite a few years and eventually retired up in the Bay of Islands.

Now what else was I going to tell you?

You were going to tell about when you got married, who you married and then your family.

Oh yes.  Yes, that’s right. I married Shirley Todd of Waipukurau.  The Todds had a big station just out of Waipukurau called Mt Herbert Station, and she was born on the farm there. And her father died when she was five years old, which is very tragic, and her mother brought her up on the farm with the grandfather.  And I married Shirley in 19 – when was it, Shirl – ‘40 what?

Shirley:  [Chuckle]  No, we’d have been at school then.

David:  ’50 something. 1956 was it?

Shirley:  Yes, I think so.

David:  I think it was 1956.

Just after leaving school?

Yes, pretty much – and married very young.  And we had five children and we’ve got thirteen grandchildren.

Shirley:  And one great-grandchild.

David:  Yes.  Not a great-grandchild?

Shirley:  Yes.

David:  Oh anyway … we’ve just had a wonderful time and we’re still together, we’re still battling away and trying to help our family and things.  And we live here by the lake in Waipukurau and it’s very peaceful, and it’s very comfortable, and it’s just a wonderful scene out there looking out at the Ranges through the lake, simply wonderful. We graze a few stock on the paddock and we, Shirley has a very big interest in the Church of England and always has done.  And she used to take funerals and things.  She doesn’t do that so much now, but she still takes a big interest in the Church. And my family’s had a huge interest in the Church, all the Williams’ up at Paihia and the Bay of Islands have been missionaries for the Church Missionary Society and have moved right through the country into jobs in the Church.  So I’m very proud of my relationship to the Williams family and they’ve been simply wonderful in the Church in New Zealand.

Now your children are farming around?

I’ve got one child on the farm out at Porangahau, Oakbourne Station, which was originally settled by J D Canning in 1852.

And about what size is it?

It’s about five thousand acres, and it’s split up amongst various brothers.  And it’s … the land is still there, it’s still five thousand acres. Some of it’s gone elsewhere, but some of it’s still in the family. And … yes.

And the War of course was a huge thing for us, because we came out … we left Sydney Harbour after the … the pride of the British Navy had come through Sydney Harbour, in the form of the Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mary, the Aquitania and the Mauritania – all four funnelled vessels that came into Sydney Harbour all at once to take the Australian Expeditionary Force to the Middle East. And then a year or so after that we left for New Zealand on the Wanganella I think it was.  And as the ship went outside the Sydney Heads it started to zigzag, and the HMAS Sydney, the cruiser from the Australian Navy, was out there guarding the ship and the ship went into zigzag mode.  We all stood at the boat stations in our stuff – what d’you call them?  Life jackets – stayed there for several hours until eventually the ship went in ordinary mode, ’cause they’d got clear of any Japanese submarines.  Yeah.

David, you haven’t touched on your sporting prowess, which is …


… of some note.

I’m very proud of my sporting things. I was a boxer, I won my weight at Hereworth at boxing. I swam, I was in the Whanganui swimming team and I came third in the swimming championships at Whanganui. I played a lot of tennis – I was never that good but I was quite adequate, and I played tennis right through ’til ’82, and played in England, and tournaments all round the place, and veterans’ tournaments, and … just a wonderful time playing tennis, right up and down the country.

What about other skills and great talents that you’ve got?

Rugby. I was quite good at rugby, and I got picked to play a trial for the East Coast when I worked up the East Coast, and just the week before I was due to play the trial, I broke my leg. [Chuckle] So that finished that up. But I played a lot of rugby for Porangahau over the years, and various other things. I played at Hereworth and I got mentioned in the despatches there against Huntly, for tackling … James Dearden and I got mentioned in the rugby at Hereworth for tackling in the Huntly match.   And I’m proud of that. And what else did I do?  I played – there weren’t many sports that I couldn’t play … ball sports and things.  Hockey – I played hockey – was the captain of the hockey team at Hereworth, and you were in that team.  And I remember you so well in that team.

What?  And you were the captain and I …

I was the captain, and you were the hitter at the fullback. I was the centre forward. I was the centre forward, and I used to score the goals and get the ball going. And you hit it up from the back.  And oh, I remember how comforting that was, when the ball went right back near our goal and you got onto it, and you put it up there very quickly.

David, were you involved in any other organisations?

Yes, I have. I’ve been Chairman of the National Party. I’ve been Chairman of Federated Farmers. I was Secretary of Federated Farmers for years and years. Secretary of …

YFC was it?  The Young Farmers ..?

No, I wasn’t in Young Farmers.

Did you go to Smedley College?

No, I didn’t. I went working on other farms, ‘specially up the Coast.

You’re a member the Waipukurau Club?

I was – I was a member of the Waipukurau Club for some years.

Have you done any travel over..?

Yes, I’ve travelled overseas. I went overseas very early on. Went over with old Nick Williams to England.  And – remember old Nick?

Yes. I do, Nicholas.

Yes, Nicholas Williams.  And we went over to England and Jake’s wife was over there, and Kerry Swinburn – all sorts of people from Hereworth – and had a wonderful trip over there.  Yes, wonderful.  And since then we’ve travelled – where did we go, Shirl?  We went to Honolulu;  we went to … what’s that country?  Tahiti.  We went to Tahiti for a holiday. We went to Australia once or twice I think.

Shirley:  Once.

David:  Fiji, we’ve been to Fiji – yes.

Oh well, you’ve given us a very good picture indeed of life, and thank you very much indeed. Now you’ll be hearing from the Knowledge Bank as well at a later date, so you won’t be left in the dark. I will make sure of that.

What do you do Jim – what do you do with all this information? You hold it in a bank, and who’s going to find out what’s in it?

You are.

Oh, I see.

What’ll happen, you’ll get a hard copy of the talk we’ve had today.

Oh, really?

It’ll be typed up.

And I pay for that?

No.  No, we run on donations.

Oh, I see.

So it’s over to people whether they …

Oh, well I’ll probably give a donation when the hard thing comes. I’ll probably pay for my share of it. How much would that cost normally – fifty bucks, or something like that?

That’d be very welcome.


Very welcome indeed.

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Interviewer:  Jim Newbigin

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