Spectrum 140. And there was a great darkness

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Tono kōrero mai

Spectrum was a long-running weekly radio documentary series which captured the essence of New Zealand from 1972 to 2016. Alwyn Owen and Jack Perkins produced the series for many years, creating a valuable library of New Zealand oral history.

This programme recalls the eruption of Mt Tarawera on June 10th 1886. Includes readings of eye-witness accounts, including that of Rotorua telegraphist, Roger Dansey. Material is drawn from records in the Alexander Turnbull Library and the Radio New Zealand Sound Archives. Narrated by David Delaney. Compiled and produced by Alwyn Owen.

Dramatised reading of an appeal made by Captain Gilbert Mair (1843-1923) that begged the Māori community to support those left destitute by the eruption of Mt Tarawera.

Two hundred square miles of land was buried under ash and mud at a depth of between one and three feet, destroying homes, crops, water, food and any income as the popular tourist destination was wiped out.

An unidentified female gives an account of Te Wairoa village prior to the eruption. It is described as an orderly settlement with many services and facilities to hand with attractive green surroundings. The narrator continues describing the overnight stop for tourists and journey across Lake Tarawera to Te Ariki when visiting the White and Pink Terraces.

The ‘curious’ accounts of two parties of tourists sailing on Lake Tarawera on 31st May 1886. Mrs [Sythes] letter to her brother which describes the appearance of a large canoe full of Māori, was received five days prior to the eruption. From a second tourist boat, two passengers sketched the same identified decorated war canoe that then vanished into thin air.

A description by Guide Sophia [Hinerangi]recalls that day too, noting the lake level was unusually high. She remembers seeing a canoe in the distance being vigorously paddled, however not moving and witnessing the transformation of those who paddled into dogs, before fading away altogether.

She saw the vision as a waka wairua, a phantom canoe and a warning that something dreadful was about to happen. She relates how the tohunga and chief Tuhoto had placed a tapu on her whare only weeks before, telling her she would be the only survivor when darkness fell on the people of Wairoa.

Following the eruption it was remembered Tuhoto had railed against the young people of the hapū in a “thundering denunciation” and this was also seen in hindsight as an omen.

A dramatised account from the night of June 10th by a land surveyor for the government railway working two miles from Ōhinemūtu. He notes the initial movement of the earth, first thinking it to be the wind, before seeing a huge mushroom cloud filled with lightening and the sound of roaring thunder.

A dramatised account of a young woman living twenty miles from Tarawera. From his home in Ōhinemūtu, the telegraphist Roger Dansey writes that the volcanic activity was reportedly heard in Auckland and allegedly, also in Christchurch.

A dramatised account of a young woman, whose family lived seven miles from Rotorua and received fleeing residents.The experience of those being struck down by falling debris at Te Wairoa is compared with the accounts in a recently published book, ‘Last Days of Pompei’.

An archival interview with William Bennett who provides his account from that night, when he was a 12 year old boy working at the store in Te Wairoa. A dramatised account from a woman receiving fleeing visitors into her whare and a reference to notes made that night of a Mr Bainbridge who was stuck down whilst saving others.

At the school house Charles Haszard’s two elder girls, Flora and Ina were pulled out by two visiting surveyors as debris began raining down on the roof. After being trapped under the roof’s rubble for 12 hours Mrs Haszard lived to tell her story, but tragically the roof killed her husband and two youngest children.

The account continues from the government surveyor who describes the journey he and his party took to reach Te Wairoa and what they found on their arrival at 12:30pm. They were greeted with good news of the survival of Tuhoto who had been discovered alive after being covered for 106 hours.

Māori blamed Tuhoto for the event and, unwanted by his own people, he was received at the hospital in Rotorua. There he was bathed and forced to have his head shaven (much to his opposition regarding tapu) and consequently died.

A dramatised account from an unidentified local man reflecting on the aftermath. Te Wairoa was never rebuilt. The programme ends with a Māori lament.

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Year 1975

Reference number 33188

Media type AUDIO

Collection Sound Collection

Credits RNZ Collection
Dansey, Harry Delamere Barter, Writer of accompanying material
Delaney, David, Narrator
Owen, Alwyn (b.1926), Producer
Bennett, Willy, 1874 -1959, Speaker/Kaikōrero

Duration 00:27:35

Date 1975

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