Newspaper Article 1938 – “Waikoko” – Calm Water

The Dominion

“Waikoko” – Calm Water

Lovely And Historic Setting Of Hastings Showgrounds

(By Jeanne Lander.)

SATURDAY’S Autumn A. and P. Show at Hastings again centres public interest in the old Nelson homestead, around which the beautiful showgrounds are laid. The old gardens about the homestead, and the house itself, are among the loveliest and most historic places in Hawke’s Bay, but only members of the Agricultural and Pastoral Association are privileged with entry to the grounds, and they go only on show days.

THE place is notable not only for its ancient, rambling old home in a setting of lovely gardens, but for its collection of English and other trees, many of which are older that Hastings. They have a story, as has almost every foot of the ground, but the story begins with the old homestead.

Robert Wellwood, first mayor of Hastings and father-in-law of the present mayor, Mr. G.A. Maddison, built the first portion of the house in the late ‘sixties. The 200 acres of land had been acquired by him as payment for ploughing 1000 acres for Mr. Thomas Tanner.

It was Mr. Wellwood who did the original planting. Some of the great old English trees which are always so admired by show visitors were put in by him more the 70 years ago.

In 1863 the Nelson brothers came out to New Zealand, and at Tomoana, nearby, started what was, in 1883, to become famous as one of the first freezing works in the North Island. Mr. W. Nelson acquired Mr. Wellwood’s house and property in 1884, enlarging it and adding lawns. They called the place “Waikoko,” “calm water,” from the lake on the property.

There were 11 children in the Nelson family, and they all had a fair share in the making of the property. They helped plant the trees and make the lawns, which are remarkable for their smoothness. Mr. George Nelson recalls how his eldest brother was told to make a lawn of the broad sweep before the house. He ploughed and reploughed it, smoothing and levelling it at last to his satisfaction. His father came to see the result of his toil. “Very good,” he said.” “Now put the plough into it again my boy.” And the whole had to be ploughed again and levelled to give perfect uniformity and compactness. Thus were the foundations laid for the perfect lawns of to-day.

Mr. G. Nelson can also recall the constant mowing the lawns required, which was his duty on coming home from school. He can also point out many fine trees which he planted. One of the strangest trees on the grounds is one he grew. It is the Indian cedar at the side of the house, pointed out as a curiosity because its trunk has split asunder to make two trees, and its lower branches form into the shape of human limbs. Its branches touch the branches of a red oak, and there is a story in that, too. Mr. Nelson can sit on the same seat he sat on years ago and recount how he told his father that the two trees were planted too closely. They were such a distance apart that nobody would believe him, but to-day, about 50 years after, his words have come true, and it may not be very long before one or the other will have to be sacrificed. Mr. Nelson hopes it will be the cedar, which has seen its day, for the red oak is just reaching its crimson prime. It is one of the handsomest trees on the property.

Another lovely tree is the great plane opposite the front of the house. It is exactly the same age as the house, and under the shady umbrella-like formation of its great branches many picnics have been held. For many years the Maori girls from the Hukarere School held their annual picnics under it.

Social life at the homestead in the “old days” recalls many happy parties. Tennis afternoons were a feature of every Friday afternoon and swimming parties were held in the 10ft bathing place in the lake which used to be a shingle pit. From this pit metal was obtained for all the Karamu roads.

To beautify the property, fountains were put in from the lake supply, and wells were sunk. They are still used. The supply for the lake still comes from four artesian wells sunk by the Nelsons.

Trout, perch and goldfish were established in the lake by the family, and it has never lacked for bird inhabitants. Many ducks as well as white and black swans still make it their home. At one time the little island in the middle of the lake was used for growing watermelons, but it is now overgrown with bamboo and used as retreat by the birds.

Hastings Established.

THE first sale of land in the district was made in 1873, and the foundation of Hastings dates from that time.

In 1867 there was only one house between Pakowai [Pakowhai] and Longlands. In 1882 Mr. Nelson built the Heretaunga school for the education of his sons and the sons of settlers. The school is now Hereworth, moved to Havelock. The move was made when Heretaunga school was combined with Hereworth school, Wanganui, when the two joined forces and names. Mr. Sturge was the first headmaster, coming from the Wanganui school and bringing all his pupils with him.

Mr. George Nelson can recall hunting hares with greyhounds on the piece of land between the start of the Hastings-Havelock road and the Havelock hills, which was then considered one big “paddock.” It is now one of the most thickly-populated part of the district.

He can remember hearing, on a clear evening, the Maoris singing karakias to frighten away evil spirits as they made their way to the pa past the homestead.

There were numerous pas in the neighbourhood, but closest was that of Waipatu, of about 100 Maoris. Mr. Nelson can recall the chief, Henare Tomoana, building himself a house in European style, but when it was finished he found he had forgotten the doors. The house is still there.

The Maoris made a good friend of the second Mrs. Nelson, who was a doctor and a daughter of the first Bishop Williams. They used to bring their babies and their ills to here and held her in very high esteem.

The grounds have been altered little since the Nelsons grew up in the old home. The vegetable gardens have been converted into flower beds and the orchards have disappeared. But for the most part the lay-out of the grounds is much the same.

The long rambling old house with its great shady wistaria-covered [wisteria-covered] veranda broods quietly over the place. It is like a shadow of the past, and it is gradually falling into ruin.

A memorial to the early settlers in the district and to Mr. Nelson has been discussed lately. Instead of the usual memorials in brick and stone, why not preserve this link with the pioneers for future generations? – B.W.S.

Photo caption – Looking across the waters of the lake at Waikoko to the old homestead. Some of the trees which are a feature of the showgrounds are seen in the picture.

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Newspaper article

Date published

17 March 1938

Creator / Author

  • Jeanne Lander


The Dominion

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