Newspaper Article 1995 – Intriguing family history of HB family

Intriguing family history of HB family

THE WAYS OF WHANA WHANA, by Theo Herbert; 70 pages. Price $50. Available from Mrs G.P. Donnelly, P.O. Box 84, Hastings. Review by Jack Sulzberger.

History repeating itself

“In 1901 or thereabouts, Willie came up with what was probably the best scheme of his life, one that could, and should have worked, too. He became a partner and driving force in the establishment of a small private hospital in Hastings. Now this was not a silly idea. Bear in mind that the only public hospital in the Bay was in Napier … roads were but tracks … conveyances were horsedrawn … the sufferer took his broken limb or worse to Napier by gig, cart, or in the guard’s van of the train if handy enough.

“There were already various small local maternity homes, and GPs did a sterling job, but the fact remained that all major surgery or dire ailments had to go to Napier for treatment and what’s more (history is repeating itself) there was no way the Area Hospital Board (based in Napier) would allow Hastings to set up its own public hospital despite the pleas of the local doctors, midwives, even the whole community. No way. (Royston was set up by the locals in Avenue Road in 1917).

“Even when, in desperation, they built their own Cottage Hospital, Napier refused for two years to staff it.”

A member of the Beamish family wrote on the cover-flap of The Ways of Whana Whana “How lucky we are to have Theo Herbert write the story of our Beamish family”. That sums up this new book that encompasses an intriguing facet of the story of Hawke’s Bay.

The author, who has also written the history of hunting in New Zealand and the history of the Hawke’s Bay Hunt in addition to fiction and adventure stories, was lucky too. She had a fascinating wealth of material on which to work.

The Ways of Whana Whana, begins in London in 1588 when Phane Becher took up 14,000 acres of Clan O’Mahoney land in South Munster, now County Cork. Among the 85 families who went with him to occupy the land was a Beamish.

It is a long jump from Ireland of the 16th century to the famine of the 1840s which was a possible reason why Nathaniel Beamish began the four months’ journey to New Zealand. He arrived on March 26, 1850. The rest of the family came later.

Theo Herbert traces those early days and the marriages that linked the Beamish, Couper and Lowry families. In the beginning Nathaniel managed a Couper property at Turakina but eventually took up a 60-acre block on his own. That cost him £35 and later he added a further 365 acres at 10 shillings an acre!

It was all hard work and hardship and very little money. It was the pioneer setting with a huge backlog of debt that was costing him £1000 a year in interest on his loans.

After two years an offer came from Thomas Lowry to manage Okawa Station. Nathaniel accepted.

From Turakina to Havelock North was no easy journey. It took six days along beaten tracks through heavy bush with eight hacks and a packhorse. The Beamishes had arrived in Hawke’s Bay. Nathaniel was then 43.

Hastings was then a village and Napier was “town”. There was a wagon trail from Matipiro [Matapiro] down to Okawa and to Omahu and along the Ngarururo [Ngaruroro] to “town”.

This was the stuff of land settlement and Hawke’s Bay history. Okawa comprised 17,000 acres. There were only four properties west of Fernhill – Okawa, Matipiro, Tuanui [Tuna Nui] and Whana Whana, the latter a Maori lease run-off from Kereru Station.

If it was hard work, it was also a challenge and an adventure that rivals fiction. A lost horse and a 13-year-old boy sent to find it. He failed in his search but he came home excited about “the most marvellous tract of land away up the river that nobody owned.” He had seen Whana Whana.

Nathaniel was impressed and he kept the vision of developing that land alive. Three years later when the lease expired he took it over.

The 18,5000 acres cost him £13,500 including stock and plant and his son, George, now 18 years old who had “discovered” the place, was installed as manager.

Theo Herbert captures the atmosphere of pioneering days and the uphill battle to establish pastures among native grasses and fern; ploughing and burning off; building homesteads; erecting fences and planting shelter trees and plantations; and always improving the quality of stock.

There were unbridged rivers that became impassable in flood; a sometimes desperate lack of communication with the world outside; the mammoth task of getting the wool clip to the port. It is a story of ingenuity and struggle without ever losing sight of what the future might hold.

There were other problems. Manuka invaded hard-won grasslands. The rabbits came and multiplied. Sheep number’s dropped alarmingly.

By the turn of the century Whana Whana was feeling the pinch. It was time to clean up, to regrass and to sell the Otamauri block and put the proceeds toward saving the rest.

By 1906, with Nathaniel in ill-helath [ill-health], George Beamish bought the remaining 10,457 acres of Whana Whana from his father for £42,000 plus stock and plant worth a further £19,030. Whana Whana had entered a new phase.

In 1912 the station was further divided, one third being set aside for each of George’s sons and so came into being Awapai and Kohatunui – the homestead block retaining the original name.

Theo Herbert tells the story well. It is more than the story of the Beamish family and its trials and successes; it is an integral part of the wider story of Hawke’s Bay.

It is also the story of how one farming family, building its own traditions on the land, valued and respected the qualities of its staff, many of whom were regarded as members of an extended Beamish family.

The Ways of Whana Whana, becomes a personal and genealogical history of the Beamish family, but in reaching that point it gets to the heart of the early days of land settlement in Hawke’s Bay. That gives it a wider and important focus.

Photo caption – Whana Whana homestead early century, family home of the Beamishes

Original digital file


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  • Jack Sulzberger

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