Mobile Unit. Wanganui history

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Tono kōrero mai

An oral history interview with David Barr who was born in Willis Street, Wellington in 1853. He says he was born on what is now the site of the Evening Post [Press House.]

His family moved to Whanganui by boat in1854, travelling in a schooner belonging to Taylor and Watt, which used to trade between the two towns under Captain David Bell. He went to school in Whanganui, under Mr George, followed by Mr Evans. Later he attended the Common School under a Mr McNeill and Mr West.

He is asked about early shipping into Whanganui, and recalls vessels such as the Wanganui, the Rangatira, Ladybird, Wonga-wonga and Stormbird. He then talks about the prices paid for produce in Whanganui and the part played by Māori in supplying the town with pigs and flour which they would bring down by river. The flour was ground at a mill at Kawana run by Peter McQuilliam. He says his father used to run accounts with Māori traders, which they would pay in gold. He is unclear where the gold came from, but believes it was from Tawata [Tawhata] up the river.

Mr Barr discusses the British regiments in Whanganui that he recalls from his boyhood: the 65th which was a Lancashire Regiment. Many of its men retired and stayed in New Zealand, with descendants in Whanganui. The 57th Regiment under Colonel Logan, were in the Rutland and York Stockades, which was near Mr Barr's family home. He says they were great cricketers and the children had the run of the camp. He relates some memories of eating with the soldiers and playing with them. He recalls watching Dr McKinnon operating on a soldier's eye in a tent hospital at Cook's Gardens. The doctor came from the same part of Scotland as Mr Barr's father and would visit him. He recalls seeing a soldier receiving 25 lashes for drunkeness, tied to the wheel of a gun carriage. The 18th Regiment under Captain Marsland [?] and the 14th are also recalled, also Captain Burke and an incident with Mr Taylor, an editor of the Wanganui Times who wrote an article the regiment took exception too.

He says people would walk everywhere - his family of five would walk down to Castlecliff for the day - four and a half miles each way. He recalls being at Castlecliff and what he says was one of the finest sights he ever saw. Māori used to come by canoe down the river from Tawata all the way to the sea to catch shark, terakihi and schnapper. One of the old pilots named Jenkins told his family to watch and they saw 35 canoes under sail, coming in from the sea with all kinds of kai moana. He names some of the men: Mr Kemp, the chief [Te Keepa?], Mete Kingi, Mawai - each had their own canoes. He says years later he asked the people at Pipiriki what happened to all those canoes. One was still at Parinui and one is in the museum, Te Mata o Hoturoa, a very big one, which he was told could take 30 people fishing and bring an enormous amount back up the river as far as Parinui.

He gives details about the walk made by his father and two colleagues, Mr Shaw and Mr Churton, who walked from Wanganui to Wellington in 1856, in five or six days, stopping at Turakina, Ōtaki, Waikanae, Paekakariki and Porirua. Mr Churton was very attached to the Māori and named many Whanganui streets after different chiefs he knew. He says the first coaches didn't start running from the town until the 1870s when Cobb and Co coaches run by Johnny Macintosh used to run to Wellington in two days. Young and Shepherd used to run coaches through Patea to New Plymouth. He is asked about Peter Inlay and early race meetings he used to hold in the 1850s, with horses imported from Australia.

Mr Barr is asked about the gold rush in the district, which he recalls was at Mairehau [?] in the late 1860s. Diggers came from Bendigo and other places. He was a boy at the time, but had a job at a shop selling pannikins used for panning for gold, which sold out, but no gold was found. He tells an unclear anecdote about Bully Hayes who visited the town in the 'Rona', with his wife. He says Hayes was 'a bad egg'. He also recalls Count Gotty who married a high-caste Māori woman [Puhiwahine] and had two sons, Jack and George, who were sent to Britain to be educated.

He is asked about the military redoubts built in the district. He remembers Wereroa Redoubt near Waitotara built around 1866 or 1867, with Wilmott-Powell [?], Edward Broughton [?] and Watt as the officers in charge. Stewart's Redoubt was at Brunswick under Captain Chells [?], where Mr Barr's brother was stationed, and another was Woodall's Redoubt at Westmere, Captain Woodall was from the 57th regiment.

He is asked about Major Brassey who he recalls was in an outpost at Pipiriki opposite Pipiriki House. In the 1860s he was cut off with 'rebel Māori' from Waikato in the redoubt below. The Major sent dispatches in bottles in the river, written in Latin, English and French. One was found and a vessel called the 'Sturt' came up the river to relieve him, but in the meantime 'friendly natives' got in and relieved Major Brassey, who was later teased about his poor French and Latin.

He remembers talk when he was young about the river being opened to the sea through the South Spit and explains some of the arguments for and against this. He says he first went up the river in 1866 when he went as far as Parikino in a tug called the 'Favourite', which his uncle skippered. He went up with a detachment of soldiers during the land wars to Parikino. He went up in 1906 for Hattrick and Co, who ran about six boats on the river, sometimes taking up to 250 tourists to Pipiriki.

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Reference number 4420

Media type AUDIO

Collection Sound Collection

Credits Barr, David, 1853-1951, Speaker/Kaikōrero
New Zealand Broadcasting Service. Mobile Recording Unit

Duration 00:54:56

Date [1946]