Newspaper Article 2002 – The Colemans of Crownthorpe

The Colemans of Crownthorpe

Nola McAulay (nee Treseder) of Eskdale, whose father drew a block at Crownthorpe after World War I, looks back at one of the district’s pioneers.

Let us go back to the County of Norfolk.

Norwich, the capital of East Anglia, is one of the most delightful cities in England. It still retains much of the spirit of bygone ages. The hub of Norwich is its market place which is in the centre of the city.

Because the surrounding area of Norwich is flat, the fields produce grain wheat, corn, barley as their main crops, and also acres of cut flowers. The fields of tulips make you think you are in Holland.

Windmills with sails intact are rare now but at one time the flat eastern counties of England – just across the sea from even flatter Holland – abounded with them, and they could be seen gracing the skyline with their angular scarecrow arms. Some still operate, others are restored to do so, but more often than not the tower is now a residence.

They also grow reeds in Norfolk for thatching. They are a different type of thatch from the West Country. Norfolk reed looks similar to the combed wheat reed, but the eaves and gables are not cut to shape but are beaten into position with a “legget” to form a tapered look. It is a specialised craft now but years ago this was once the basic skill of a competent farm worker.

This was the area in which James Henry Coleman was born, at a small village called Crownthorpe, in 1833. He was the second son in a family of 15. His father John Coleman was a farmer and a miller. He therefore had an interest in farming, so at the age of 26 he decided to emigrate to New Zealand, and he sailed on the sailing ship Mataoka.

After berthing in Auckland he explored all sorts of possibilities, and late in 1859 he met with the Williams families in Northland, then decided to make his way to Hawke’s Bay where he became manager of the Te Aute Estate. With the assistance the Rev Samuel Williams he developed an efficient method of crushing fern. The fern in many parts of Hawke’s Bay was head-high and when it was crushed the property became malleable. His method was used by farmers for many years.

He stayed at this estate for six years and in 1865 he purchased 9500 acres of Longlands estate, near Hastings. He farmed it till 1872 when sold it to a James Watt.

After Investing in land – some of it in Central Hawke’s Bay – in 1878 he decided to retire to Napier due to ill health.

Because of his interest in local politics and with his quick and intelligent mind he made sound investments both in local business and in the land. This gave him a comfortable income for the rest of his life. He was still a bachelor at the age of 45 but that was to change however, for in March 1880 he married Hannah, the widow of James Watt to whom he had sold the Longlands block in 1872. So he inherited a son and two daughters.

A year after their marriage James and Hannah had a son Harry who sadly died three days after his birth. But in July 1883 they had a daughter, and in December 1884 a son Herbert Napier Coleman was born. Another son followed.

At last James was a family man in every sense of the with six children. They lived in James Watt’s old home – “Waititirau” – in its day one of Napier’s great homes.

James was always interested in people. This is borne out by the fact that he belonged to a great many clubs and societies. To name a few – the Hawke’s Bay Club, Caledonian Society, Agricultural and Pastoral

Society, he was a trustee of the Te Aute College Board, a director of Williams and Kettle and he also donated a ward – Coleman Ward – to the Napier Hospital. The family stayed in this beautiful old home in Napier for many years. It was from here that their children were educated.

Herbert had fair hair and blue eyes and was of stocky build (as was his father). He had always wanted to go farming and as far as we can ascertain, farmed on several properties in Central Hawke’s Bay.

He was shepherding on the Te Aute Estate in the early 1900s when he met a very pretty lass, Blanche Mary Swinburn. Blanche was born in Ballarat, in Australia, and was the daughter of the Rev Canon and Mrs W Swinburn. She arrived with her parents in 1906 when her father had been appointed to be the vicar of Waipawa. For several years she was companion-secretary to Miss Lydia Williams of Te Aute.

Herbert and Blanche were married several years later. January 19, 1910, dawned fine and sunny and the Anglican Church at Te Aute was the scene of a very happy wedding.

As far as we know they lived in a cottage on the estate at Te Aute. Then in 1911 James bought 3107 acres of Whakamarumaru, owned at that stage by the Nelson family. This was about 16 miles west of Hastings on the Whana Whana road. This land was covered in scrub and fern but had the potential to be made into good grazing land.

This homestead was only a few years old when they moved into it. They had extensive alterations made and their eldest child was born on August 22, 1911. They named her Helen Violet Napier Coleman. Two years later James Herbert was born and two more sons, Peter and Lloyd, followed.

Photographs show the family with their nannies and the children learned to ride at an early age. They had panniers on either side of the saddles so that two little children could ride together.

Tragedy struck one afternoon when Mr and Mrs Coleman were in town. According to the newspaper of the day they left after lunch for town and at 4pm smoke appeared from the roof of the homestead. The farmhands were able to save furniture, paintings and silver but it was impossible to save the house. We do not know the year of the fire but the house had been built only six years before and it had 10 rooms. By the year 1915 the new home was built. This was also a large comfortable home owned today by Mrs Anne Magill.

War was raging in Europe and men were joining up by the hundreds. Herbert must have felt he should follow them – in spite of the fact that he was over 30 years of age and was married with four little children. He left New Zealand for the war zone in August 1917 and was killed on April 13, 1918. He was buried in a village in Englebelmer in the department of the Somme in France. There are now more than one hundred 1914-1918 war casualties commemorated in this site. Only nine of these are New Zealanders.

Herbert’s death was tragic with the eldest child, Helen, only six years old. Blanche was left a widow with four small children to look after. When the war ended in 1918, the Government requisitioned land for returned servicemen. Crownthorpe Station was one such property, so Blanche and her family moved to a beautiful two-storeyed home in Havelock North, “Hillington”. where she brought up the family alone. She became interested in the Red Cross and was patron of the Havelock Branch. She was also an ardent worker for the Hawke’s Bay Children’s Homes. Blanche died in 1954.

Of Herbert’s four children Helen never married, James studied economics and law at Cambridge and then farmed at Waipukurau, Peter farmed near Orange, New South Wales, Australia, and Lloyd, the youngest, also went to Cambridge and studied law but again war intervened and he joined the RAF as a bomber pilot. He received the DFC and bar, and later was killed on active service. So once again this family had to face the trials of war.

With the death of Herbert, James was devastated. He loved Crownthorpe, as possibly it reminded him of the flat lands of his birth, so a memorial church was his way of keeping Herbert’s memory near the farm.

The church is St George’s and it has been a wonderful asset to the district. In the Waiapu Church Gazette it reads, “The church was consecrated on April 10, 1921. There was far from sufficient room in the building for the numbers who were present, including returned soldiers from far and near. The service was conducted by the Rev Canon Cullwick assisted by the dean of Waiapu the Rev Telling-Simcox. The organist of the cathedral and nine choristers rendered the music of the service which was very beautiful.”

When the church was first built it had a Norman type tower with a crenelated top. This was slightly damaged in the 1931 earthquake but it wasn’t till 1949 that the steeple replaced it. Ivy was planted around it but it was decided to cut it down because it began to intrude into the windows. Personally I feel that the character of the church was lost when this was done.

There are stained glass windows behind the altar. These were ordered from England, and there was a plain altar. The seats in the church were unusual in that they had five wooden chairs in a row but they were all joined underneath by a long plank so that when you moved them to clean, they all moved together. These were replaced about 30 years ago. The font “cover” is made of oak and is a copy of one used in an English parish church. The altar has since been replaced by Mr Eric Beamish who gave it in honour of his first wife Mrs Lialla [Laila] Beamish, and the family of Mr and Mrs Noel Beamish donated a new organ in place of the old manual one.

Although this initially was an Anglican Church it is interesting to note that when the Rev Arnold Norrie knew that a church was being built he asked that the building be made available to the Presbyterians. The first Presbyterian service was held at Crownthorpe on November 23, 1921. Miss Rene Harper was a lass who was the first Presbyterian to be married there on October 14, 1925, to Mr Allan Bain.

On March 25, 1925, the marriage of Miss Gertie Lowry was celebrated. The bridegroom was Mr A P F Chapman of England. It was most appropriate as the bride was a relative of the Coleman family. In accordance with an old English custom the bride was presented with a Bible by the vicar.

Prior to the church being built the vicar had to travel to far-off places to conduct services, and in the Gazette it says that the vicar was pleased with the motorbike and sidecar, but was still dependant on the horse and gig which Mr George Beamish fixed up for him.

This pretty little church with its tiled roof and steeple is set in the quiet countryside with trees surrounding the gravestones whose names tell the history of the district. Crownthorpe Church holds special memories for me is I was christened there and also married in 1949. The district looks after the grounds and the ladies help with the cleaning of the church. Often I used to go over with my mother to help shine the brasses and the altar cross – it was a special time.

I’m sure if James could see how much joy and asset he has given to this district he would be well pleased.

Photo captions –

ST GEORGE’S church with Its original crenelated tower.

HORSES on the driveway at Crownthorpe between 1911 and 1918.



HERBERT and Blanche were married at Te Aute on January 19, 1910.

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