Passengers hurt in mail-coach races
Historic Hawke’s Bay
One of the characters of early Hawke’s Bay was George Rymer (1844-1917), who was born in Yorkshire, but came to New Zealand in 1863 to take part in the Otago gold rush at Gabriel’s Gully.
George came to Hawke’s Bay in December 1866, and travelling with him was William Stock, future founder of Stortford Lodge, Hastings.
Settling at Meeanee, George began a coaching service in 1866 which took passengers and freight from Meeanee to Napier and Ahuriri, and from the Shamrock Hotel at Awatoto to Napier.
Rymer’s coach service had a livery stable and horse bazaar in Hastings St, Napier, and also in Taradale (pictured).
When the Taradale to Napier road opened in 1873, his was the first coach service to use it.
The Government gave George £25 (2020: $3500) in 1875 to carry the mail from Napier to Puketapu and settlers on the route chipped in another £25.
George had a glass eye.
He had gone into the Taradale Hotel in June 1873 with friend James Lawton, who shouted George a drink for taking his wife to Puketapu.
The conversation took a turn for the worse when George was asked by James – a Fenian (Irish republic movement formed to gain independence from Britain) – if he was an Orangeman (Irish protestant society named after William of Orange who defeated the Roman Catholic King, James II).
After some talk on this matter had occurred, more drinks arrived. Then George raised his glass to toast “King William, the prince of Orange, the pope and the rest of them”.
Taking offence, James struck his glass against George’s, resulting in both glasses being broken. Such was the force, George’s nose was cut in two places, his cheek deeply wounded, teeth knocked out and his eye cut.
George was off work for three months and James was sent to the Napier gaol for six months’ hard labour. James was accompanied to the gaol by a large sympathetic crowd and welcomed on his release by a brass band.
Despite the loss of an eye, George never bore a grudge and the two men remained good friends.
When a road to Kuripapango (79km from Napier on the Napier Taihape Rd) from Napier was opened in 1881, two hotels were opened the following year. The fresh-air qualities of the higher altitude saw Kuripapango promoted as a health resort.
George started a service to and from Kuripapango and built horse stables and overnight-accommodation huts at the foot of the Gentle Annie (736m hill just pass [past] Kuripapango). He won the Royal Mail contract in 1893.
Rymer’s “Royal Mail” coach service would have competition from Alex Macdonald’s “special line” to and from Kuripapango. Alex, who owned the hotel at Kuripapango, was said to be one of New Zealand’s best coach drivers.
Once Alex was racing a Rymer’s coach to pick up some Maori fares, when he realised they were further down the Gentle Annie, walking.
He managed to turn his coach around halfway up the narrow, precipitous road without any damage to coach or horse – a feat never repeated. When a passenger, Harry Johnson, fell out of a coach on a trip to Kuripapango, Will, the Macdonald’s coach driver, kept going to race a Rymer’s coach behind them, despite calls from fellow travellers of “man overboard”.
Not long after the unfortunate man had fallen off, a wheel fell off the coach, forcing Will to stop. In the haste to leave Willowford for Kuripapango, the hub cap had not been securely fastened after greasing the wheels.
While the passengers lifted the coach and Will was busy screwing on the wheel, Harry, the overboard passenger, came towards them. Will seeing him approaching, roared to hurry and give them a hand otherwise the Rymer’s coach would catch up. Harry replied, “You didn’t even stop to see if I was dead back there”.
Settlers would watch with binoculars as both opposing coach companies raced each other on the flat stretches. At Meeanee, they learned to keep their children out of the way as the coaches sped by. Most passengers were bruised and shaken from such trips. Bookmaking took place to bet which coach made it into Taradale first.
Many river crossings were required to get to Kuripapango and beyond by Rymer’s and Macdonald’s coaches. It could be risky, with serious accidents.
Despite their fierce competition, on one occasion when an Alex Macdonald coach capsized in the Tutaekuri river with four passengers, a Rymer’s coach following came to its assistance by pulling it out of the river.
All passengers were saved, and a Moawhango Maori named Kingi Topi, a noted strong swimmer, saved a young lady, Miss Davis, trapped inside the coach.
A lucky escape occurred in July 1900 when crossing the Taruarau River, 19km from Kuripapango, driver of Rymer’s Inland Patea coach, Bert Brown, got into difficulties. The swollen river’s current was so strong the coach capsized, forcing Bert to swim ashore to safety. No passengers were on board, but four bags of mail for Mangaohane, Erewhon, Oruamatua and Moawhango were lost.
George Rymer placed an advert offering a reward to anyone finding the lost mail bags, but they do not appear to have been found.
The previous year Rymer’s Inland Patea mail coach also got into difficulties, but this time with loss of life.
When the coach went up a steep bank at the second crossing of the Tutaekuri river from Taradale, the king bolt broke and the horses ran off with the fore-carriage containing the driver, Ted Bradley, and the coach and passengers ran back into deep water.
Ted yelled for the two passengers to jump out, which one did after the second appeal, scrambling exhausted up the bank. The other passenger, A Mr Flanagan, refused to budge, and the rising water overturned the coach, which went down the river for nearly a kilometre. Despite a four-hour search his body was never found.
George Rymer sold his business in 1902 to the Hawke’s Bay Motor Company. They purchased for £10,000 ($1.84 million) the stables; 17 horse-drawn buses; 23 wagonettes, buggies gigs and carriages; 31 horses in Taradale, eight in Napier and 15 more at Kuripapango.
As well as his coaching business, George Rymer devoted himself to serving on the Hawke’s Bay County Council from 1878 to 1887, 1890 to 1896, and 1899 to 1902. He died aged 73 at his residence on Marine Parade, Napier. Rymer St in Meeanee is named for him.
Michael Fowler ([email protected]) is a contract researcher, and writer of Hawke’s Bay history.
Photo captions –
George Rymer, pioneering Hawke’s Bay coach service operator
Horse coaches leaving Rymer’s livery stables in Taradale.
PHOTO / GIFTED BY CHARLES GOLDING, COLLECTION OF HAWKE’S BAY MUSEUMS TRUST, RUAWHARO TA-O-RANGI, 1732