Pendle Hill – a story of early HB
By Hilary Pedersen
Staff reporter, Waipukurau
Tomorrow at Pendle Hill, Wakarara, a book launch will be the focus for the latest family gathering by descendants of the district’s original European settlers, Samuel and Harriet Fletcher.
Samuel took up the 1000 acres in 1862 naming the property after a Lancashire hill Samuel was reminded of in his boyhood.
Together, from 1866, they raised 13 children in Wakarara at the foothills of the Ruahines building a clay house and later their main home, Pendle House.
Their life there has been well documented and has provided author and grandchild, Rona Davidson, Napier, with the basis of her book Pendle Hill and its People.
It is a story of pooled memories, old letters, diaries and took three years to write.
Arrived in 1857
It outlines the life of the Fletcher, Lomas and Pears families before emigration to New Zealand, follows with the eventual arrival in Wellington in 1857 and continues with their settlement in Hawke’s Bay, tracing events up to the present day 1990s.
As well as the central characters and their children, Rona says many other relatives and people who have contributed to the history of Pendle Hill, are woven into the story.
It includes snippets of relevant Hawke’s Bay history and a historical insight into the isolated life at Pendle Hill.
Harriet, nee Lomas, arrived there as a young bride of 17, fresh from the bustling small town life of Wellington surrounded by a close-knit family. The couple married, travelled by steamer to Port Ahuriri, and inland to Wakarara by bullock wagon.
“Imagine how she felt surveying the landscape of dense bush wilderness, with access by river because there were no roads, with the nearest neighbours the Maori sub-tribe at Hampden (the former name for Tikokino),” Rona recalls.
“To fulfill their dreams they both knew they had to look positively ahead and in all our family stories there has never been a hint of loneliness or discontent from them.
“Their ﬁrst night was spent under the wagon, on a bed of fern with the tarpaulin as shelter walls. Next day they made a makeshift hut and then set about building the clay house. All they had was a wheelbarrow, some primitive tools, “and a great deal of faith and courage”, their grand-daughter writes.
It took little time to become self-sufficient and learn to live off the land, with native pigeon, quail, fresh water eel and occasional wild pork as their food.
Mutton was out of the question until their small flock of sheep increased. A house cow kept them supplied with milk, butter and cheese.
Harriet learned many skills from the Maori women – what plants to use for medicine and dyeing bark and lichen for domestic purposes. In return she taught breadmaking.
An improvement in services came later when supplies were delivered annually by bullock wagon up the Waipawa River.
Harriet travelled to Wellington for the birth of their ﬁrst child, but the event was tinged with sadness. Harriet’s mother, also pregnant, died, so Harriet courageously brought back the infant, plus her own, and her young nine-year-old sister Mercy.
Sadly, Harriet’s infant sister Elizabeth Ann Lomas died aged four months, and is the youngest burial in the family cemetery at Pendle Hill.
Life was made easier for Harriet by the time of her eighth pregnancy when Samuel bought a sewing machine. Previously sewing was done by hand.
Mail from Wellington took six weeks to arrive and it was usually a year before world news reached them.
One evening in early June, 1886, a reddish glow was seen in the northern sky. Later they learned they had witnessed the Tarawera eruption.
As the family increased, it became obvious that a larger house was needed.
A site was chosen and plans made. Samuel chose, prepared and stacked much of the timber but unfortunately died before his venture was accomplished.
A child, number 13, was born soon after. He was Samuel James Fletcher, Rona Davidson’s father, who imparted a love of the family history which has a culminated in tomorrow’s book launch.
Despite not knowing her grandparents, Rona, and other family members, have always felt a great bond with Pendle Hill.
She remembers Pendle House as being “ all enveloping, and the scene of wonderful get-togethers”.
In 1926 Harriet Fletcher died. Pendle House and 148 acres passed into the hands of Sarah Douglas, nee Fletcher, and for a number of years it was still a great gathering place.
The bulk of the land then passed out of the family in 1939 and is farmed now by the Robottom family, under the name of Pendle Hill Station.
Pendle House passed to descendants, the Baker family, and was used for holidays. In 1964 Samuel and Harriet’s descendants held a family reunion to celebrate over 100 years of the Fletcher and Lomas families arrival in New Zealand.
The house then fell into disrepair, and four years ago, the present owners, and descendants, the Schaws, gifted it to the Department of Conservation which was looking for a building of historical significance to remove and use as the Ongaonga ﬁeld centre. The middle section was removed and restored for their purpose.
Pendle Hill however, has continued to be a gathering place for the family.
It’s heart, along with the sites of the two homes of Samuel and Harriet, is a cemetery. It stands on a hillside, overlooking the river, with trees planted by Harriet and Samuel. The countryside is dotted with yellow gorse – an unwitting legacy from Samuel who brought in the plants thinking they would make a good hedge. Totara and prolific bulbs also grow.
The cemetery dates from 1867 and is one of the largest private European ones in New Zealand. It has more than 40 graves and space to accommodate future generations.
It’s peace pervades the area, and recaptures the spirit of Harriet and Samuel, Rona says.
The family has permanent access to the area, which has a Historic Places designation.
A large gum tree planted by Elizabeth Nicol, their daughter, 20 years after her parents were married, is a feature of the area. At 92, Elizabeth Nicol is the oldest person to be buried there.
Tomorrow’s gathering follows on from an event last year when the family unveiled a cairn in memory of their forebears. It stands among totara and bulbs on the site of the clay house and is built from stone taken from the Waipawa River which was their road for so many years.
This year’s activities will be based on the site of Pendle House, lower down the hill. There will be a marquee, to accommodate the many descendants from around the country.
They will be summoned to lunch by a coaching horn brought to Pendle Hill by Harriet. She would blow it at nightfall when Samuel was in the bush so that he knew which direction to travel in.
The Fletcher history does not stop there. A great-great-great-grandson Angus Schaw, will be baptised, following on from the 1964 reunion there which saw the baptism of his father, Colin.
And the oldest grandson, Alan Fletcher, from Matatata, Hamilton, will celebrate his 80th birthday.
For the family, it matters little that Samuel and Harriet Fletcher are long gone.
What is important is that their spirit continues to live on at Pendle Hill.
Photo captions –
The great-grandson of Samuel and Harriet Fletcher, Dennis Schaw, left, stands next to author Rona Davidson at the cairn which marks the spot of the original clay house that Samuel and Harriet Fletcher lived in 1866 at Pendle Hill. At right are Debbie Schaw, wife of Dennis and Rona’s husband Bud.
Author Rona Davidson and Dennis Schaw in the family cemetery at Pendle Hill. The cemetery is one of the largest private European cemeteries in New Zealand.