Mobile Unit. Oamaru

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J. M. Forrester and W. J. Wylie discuss their memories of Oamaru, including its establishment and development, buildings, stonemasonry, railway, schools, elections, and building the Waitaki bridge.

The interview begins with both Mr Forrester and Mr Wylie speaking about arriving in Oamaru by steamer. Mr Forrester recalls the steamer “Wallace”, which he took from Dunedin. Mr Wylie’s mother also arrived by sea, in 1859. They then go on to discuss early Oamaru – the town layout, and notable buildings and landmarks, including the jail and the fire bell. The population was mostly farmers and tradesmen at that time.

Mr Forrester mentions the Scottish stonemasons and builders who built many of the town’s buildings - including Louie Godfrey, Dave Gibbon, Mr Dennington, and Mr Dixon. Mr Wylie says the first lot of Oamaru stone was ‘got out’ in the 1870s.

Mr Forrester speaks about Mr W. H. Danzie, who owned Otekaieke Station but then fell into monetary trouble and came to live in Oamaru, later working as a canvasser for the Oamaru Mail. Another early settler family were the Robinsons; and there was also Mr W. G. Fillial, who had the Papakaio Estate.

Travel was difficult in the very early days, before the advent of Sir Julius Vogel’s railway construction scheme. The “Brogdenites” came out to help build the railroads. Mr Forrester recalls the opening of the line from Oamaru to Waitaki. There is mention of a visit by Lord Kitchener.

Mr Forrester speaks about an expedition he made to the Sutherland Falls in 1888, to see if they really existed or not. The journey was by sea, and took five weeks. The party included a number of photographers; and they met Quintin McKinnon there (the McKinnon Saddle was named after him).

There is further discussion about the early architecture of Oamaru. Many of the buildings were designed by Mr Forrester’s father, Thomas Forrester. Mr Forrester says many of the buildings in Oamaru follow the Italian Renaissance style of architecture. He also speaks about St Lukes church, which was designed by an English architect.

Mr Forrester and Mr Wylie then talk about elections, mentioning Mr Joseph O’mar, Jerry O’Keith, and Mr Duncan. They say election time could get quite lively. There is then discussion about local engineers, and bridge building – including the construction of the Waitaki Bridge. Mr Forrester went on the first excursion to Waitaki in 1873. He also recalls the opening of the railway line to Duntroon.

Mr Wylie tells a tale about Joseph O’mar defending a man for a crime [unspecified – possibly theft]; his father was called as a witness. Mr Forrester then mentions Anthony Trollope arriving at the Star and Garter Hotel. They then talk about the “gathering of the Grants”. A local man, Francis William Ogilvie Grant, was a member of an important family in Scotland. In 1884, he was given the honorary title of Lord Reidhaven, and later became Earl of Seafield. He died shortly after becoming Earl, and members of the Grant clan who lived in Oamaru came together to take part in his funeral.

They then discuss entertainment in Oamaru in the early days, including theatre. Mr Forrester speaks about Captain Creagh, who was a well-known solicitor in Oamaru; and Major Evans. He also recalls meeting Julius von Haast when he was in the area collecting specimens for an exhibition for the 1887 Jubilee of Queen Victoria.

Mr Wylie speaks about his watchmaking work, which he has been doing for 65 years. He also talks about his schooling – he attended the Greta Street School, which was the first school in Oamaru. He speaks about the cost of attending, and the nature of the classes.

The interview concludes with Mr Wylie recalling the Queens Hotel fire [January 1880]; then a local character “Cabbage Tree Ned” (Ned Devine); and comments about the paddle steamer Samson.

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Year 1948

Reference number 5530

Media type AUDIO

Collection Sound Collection

Genre Oral histories
Interviews (Sound recordings)
Sound recordings

Credits Forrester, John Meggett (b.1866, d.1965), Interviewee
Wylie, W. J. (b.Circa 1862), Interviewee
New Zealand Broadcasting Service. Mobile Recording Unit, Broadcaster

Duration 00:52:33

Date 22 Sep 1948