Shipwreck bell hangs over door of pioneer home
One of Hawke’s Bay’s delightful old pioneer homes is “Taurapa,” the home of Mr and the late Mrs Michael Gordon.
Surrounded by tree shaded lawns and gardens, Taurapa is on the old coast road, about two miles from Ocean Beach.
At the front door hangs a well preserved ship’s bell, salvaged from the Go Ahead steamer, in 1887, was wrecked at Rangiiki, just south of Cape Kidnappers.
[The] walls of the spacious entrance hall are hung with many [trophies] of game shooting ex[cursions] in India, from where Mr Gordon’s great-grandfather, James Gillespie Gordon, migrated to New Zealand.
Mr Gordon bought Clifton Station, consisting of all the coastal land from Clifton to Ocean Beach, [most] of which was covered with [fern] about 6ft high.
Timber for the Clifton house [was pre-cut] in India, sent out by [steam] ship, and erected at Clifton [in] the late 1850s.
[After] a short time Mr Gordon [sailed] to India, where his two [sons] were serving in the army. He persuaded them to give up their careers, come out to New Zealand, and take over the management of Clifton.
One of these sons, James, was [..] at the Waitangi River [..] and his brother Thomas [left] to run Clifton on his own.
Because of the Maori dis[putes] most of the white [settlers] served, in some capacity, [in the] New Zealand militia.
[Thomas] Gordon’s experience in the Indian Army was invaluable [to the] forces in this country [and he] was soon granted a commission in the Napier Cavalry [volunteers].
[His] commission, certificate, [given] by Sir George Gray, is in the possession of Mr [Michael] Gordon.
[In 1860] Clifton was carrying a [considerable] number of sheep, [but beyond] their wool-clip they [had] little value. There was a [..] market for surplus or cull [ewes] and after shearing they sold, for sixpence a head, to [..] and tallow works near [..] to be boiled down for tallow.
[Thomas] Gordon eventually decided to return to England, where [..] were at school, so he employed Captain Hill to manage.
He never returned to New Zealand, but in the late 1880s his [sons] Frank L. and Charles L.T. [..] came out from England to take over the management of the property and concentrated on developing it fully.
They were both particularly interested in the gannet colony at Cape Kidnappers and were irate to find that vandals were visiting the cape, maiming and killing the birds.
At that time there was only one possible access to the breeding grounds, so the Gordon brothers cut the track away completely, keeping a hefty plank hidden nearby to span the breach for their own use.
In later years they presented the cape to the public, to be maintained as a sanctuary. It is now in the care of a permanent ranger.
An interesting entry in a diary of 1884 notes that during the lambing season the wild pigs killed so may [many] lambs that from 6078 ewes only 1654 lambs were docked. In that year 1600 pigs were killed.
In the middle 90s the brothers decided to divide the station into two separate properties. About 1600 acres of the land fronting on to Ocean Beach Road was taken over by Mr Charles Gordon and named Taurapa, after a hill of that name comprising part of the property.
In 1895 the kauri timber for the Taurapa homestead was brought from Auckland by boat, tipped overboard into the sea and floated ashore on the tide.
From the breakers it was pulled high up on to the beach, covered with sand and left for six weeks to season. It was then carted to the site by bullock wagons.
The chimneys were built of finest quality Swedish fire bricks which came to New Zealand as ballast in the sailing ships.
Mr Michael Gordon still has the architect’s plan for the original homestead, which had 12 rooms and cost £1600 to build.
For the drive the shingle was carted from the Tukituki River in huge drays drawn by three horses each. Two drayloads a day constituted nine hours haulage for each team.
The woolshed was built soon after the house – a six stand blade shed which, in 1907 was changed over to five machine stands. Later it was again increased to six machine stands.
Through all the years the shearing has been done by Maori gangs who return year after year. The “boss” of one of these gangs was Rev. Robert Mohi, Waimarama, who spent the week shearing and then returned home on Saturday night to prepare his Sunday sermon.
Pigs remained a menace on Taurapa for some years as much of the property was still covered with tall fern.
Mr Charles Gordon set fire to the fern along the banks of the Maraetotara River and as the fire raced up Okahu Hill the pigs ran in a terrified mob before the flames. Their squealing could be heard from miles away.
The only Maori settlement in the vicinity of Taurapa was Waimarama. The domestic pigs belonging to the Maoris ranged freely over the hills and interbred with the wild pigs to such an extent that the majority of the wild pigs were semi-tame and vice-versa.
“About 1904” said Mr Michael Gordon, “I remember a party of Maori men, women and children, banging tins and yelling and aided by innumerable excited, barking dogs, driving about a hundred or so pigs past the Taurapa homestead, apparently en route for a tangi or a hui at Waipatu Pa or Pakipaki.”
In the early days an old time whaler, Mr Newton, established three whaling stations along the coast at Rangiiki, Ocean Beach and Waimarama. His old tripods are still at Rangiiki, but unfortunately those at Ocean Beach have been destroyed.
The first sheep to be run on Taurapa were merinos, hardy and well suited to breaking in the land, but otherwise unsatisfactory.
As the fern was fired danthonia and other native grasses appeared and the merinos were replaced with English Leicester sheep.
Mr Gordon sen. [senior] sowed ryegrass and clover liberally and as the quality of the grazing improved changed his sheep to Border Leicesters, then to Lincolns when, at last, the English grasses were well established he gradually replaced his entire flock with Romneys, which proved so satisfactory that they are still used.
There was little native bush on Taurapa and shade was sadly needed for the stock in summer. The temperature of the Maraetotara River was almost lukewarm by the end of October because the lack of trees along the riverbanks.
Mr Gordon took prompt action to remedy the situation. He rode round the farm with willow saplings tied to the pommel of his saddle and planted them in strategic spots.
In a few years he had willow trees flourishing alongside the river and wherever they could grow to provide the maximum shade.
A big local flood in 1912 helped his project along considerably. The storm winds broke off pieces of his willow trees and the flood waters carried them downstream until they lodged in small backwaters, and took root and flourished.
For some years the wool was carted from Taurapa in Dick Lamb’s bullock drays as far as the Tukituki River where it was off-loaded on to “trotting-wagons” for the remainder of the journey to Hastings. From there it was railed to Napier to be shipped direct to England.
The trotting-wagons were huge four-wheeler wains, drawn by six or eight stalwart horses, and were owned and operated by Powdrell Bros.
Firewood, in 4ft. lengths, was backloaded from town on the wool-wagons, and handsawn at the station into sizes suitable for the open fire and the wood range.
Groceries were delivered by a carter twice yearly.
“Flour and sugar were not ordered by the pound” said Mr Michael Gordon, “but by the hundredweight.”
Meat was farm-killed, fruit and vegetables grown on the property, and the bread home baked in a large double-oven wood range.
This “do-it-yourself” principle was not confined to household catering.
Throughout the 1890s a chaff-cutter was erected annually and home-grown oats cut and stored for winter feed for the horses.
The cutter was a primitive looking machine worked by a horse harnessed to an operative beam. By plodding round and round in a circle he provided the “horse power” necessary to operate the cutting blades.
After the Tukituki bridge was built in 1903 it was cheaper to buy the chaff and although well over 50 years have passed since the cutter was used the circular path, trodden down by the plodding horse, is still visible.