Friday, 17 November 2017

Turning First Sod Railways and Tramways Auckland Province NZ - Celebrations and Song

Rotorua Railway at Tukerenga - near spot of original Railway Survey Camp of Henry Roche and assistants, who saw eye witness of Mount Tarawera eruption 1886 from here  - photo Chris Ball 2009
Saw an article end of July 2016  in the Hauraki Herald, about the sod being turned for a new Council Library at Paeroa. Back in March 2016 according to a past newspaper  karakia/prayer and sod-turning ceremony officially launched construction of the Kopu to  Pukorokoro Hot Springs- Miranda  extension of the Hauraki Rail Trail. ( not that any railway had ever got properly completed on this stretch.)  Seems " first sod turning" have been busy occasions in 2016 , in local body election year, for local mayors and councillors :- a new subdivision at Ngatea; a Chinese owned ice cream factory at Kerepehi. Now, just over a year later, in November  2017, they are due to open the Kopu to Miranda extension of the Hauraki Rail Trail. Another opportunity for ceremony and celebration.

Pukorokoro Hot Springs ( formerly )Miranda Hot Springs and pools at  Pukorokoro- Miranda pool developed by Beddie Family and said to be largest thermal swimming pool in the Southern Hemisphere.Near the new
Kopu to  Pukorokoro Hot Springs- Miranda  extension of the Hauraki Rail Trail.
This photo courtesy -  Swimming pool, Miranda, Firth of Thames, Auckland. Ref: WA-79926-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/22448227

All this sod turning, got me to thinking about back, when railways and tramways were first constructed in the Auckland Province - the beginning being back in 1860. Then railways was the new technology of that era. For Auckland Province the occasion of the turning of the first sod marked an important milestone in the locality or community. First sod turning was also  an important occasion for those early railway engineers and construction labourers ,apart from the dignitaries and local people attending who generally also saw it as a milestone. Railways like steamers had occasions to mark the official “launching”. At these occasions speeches  flowed and the refreshments and company were enjoyed.

 The first of these was the first sod of the Waihoihoi Tramway, a tramway connecting the Waihoihoi coal mines ( Sir John Logan Campbell a director), with the sea at Slippery Creek, near Drury, Auckland. James Stewart, a civil engineer newly arrived to Auckland, designed this tramway, the first of many railways and tramways , he oversaw design and construction of in the Auckland Province.

Photo about 1860 - 1869 Showing the residence, general store, bakehouse and Post Office (run by Mr and Mrs J Middlemiss) opposite the Anglican Church at Drury. There is a poster advertising the services of photographer Charles Burton Hoare on the front of the building nearest the camera. Photo courtesy
Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, 7-A526' 
Opening two years later amid ceremony and celebration, the Daily Southern Cross, reporting on the Waihoihoi Tramway, wrote:- 

Daily Southern Cross 6 May 1862 Page 4 courtesy Papers Past National Library New Zealand

The very first railway of the Auckland Province was the, at first, ill-fated Auckland Drury Railway with Branch line to Onehunga. The first sod turning ceremony was held in Mr Dilworths paddock, Newmarket on 16 February 1865. With three marquees set up and an estimated group of 200 people, Provincial Superintendent Mr. Graham having turned the sod declared the railway commenced. Construction ground to a halt in the beginning years of 1867.

First sod of the Waikato Railway (Mercer – Ngaruawahia) turned at Ngaruawahia on the townside of the Waikato River on 10 January 1874 by Hon. Superintendent Mr. John Williamson, Esq. A thistle, shamrock and rose was placed upon three sods before it was turned. (representing the nationalities of those who were to be involved in this railway’s construction)A number from Thames had enrolled in the Engineer Militia and were very much involved with the formation and construction of this railway ( see   Thirty years later a song  about the flower emblems was published in the Otago Witness:-

Otago Witness  29 June 1904 Page 90 courtesy National Library New Zealand        
 First sod turning of the Kaipara Railway (Helensville – Riverhead line  ) took place  at Harkins Point 31st August 1871 by Hon. Deputy Superintendent Mr. Joseph May, Esq. It was reported that visitors arriving by steamer were greeted by a Maori Welcome, followed by many speeches led by Wiremu Rewiti. Following a luncheon the visitors travelled home via the steamer.
Locomotive from the Kaipara Line at Helensville. Locomotives back then had names - two of these on this line were “Schnapper" and "Kaihu"- photo March 2011 courtesy Chris Ball

The Thames Waikato Railway had first sod turning two ends. The first held at Thames on 21 December 1878 saw the first sod turned by Sir George Grey, the then Prime Minister. The other, the Hamilton end at the end of April 1879. At Thames  the little steamer Ruby bought Sir George Grey and party ashore from the New Zealand government steamer Hinemoa. It is said that 500 school children sun the anthem " My Own New Zealand home" penned by John Grigg - music shop owner, and who taught singing to schoolchildren at district schools along with establishing the Thames Choral Society.

A year later the Nelson Mail published a song said to be from Thames Electors.

Nelson Evening Mail 8 September 1879 Page 2 courtesy Papers Past New Zealand National Library

Twenty years later at the opening of this railway, Thames newly elected mayor, Mr. Greenslade was presented with a silver casket containing a piece of the first sod.

Casket First Sod - courtesy family photo collection
Also in 1879 the first sod of the Kamo Whangarei Railway turned at Whangarei on 1st March 1879 by Sir George Grey.

Whangarei from the heights  photo February 2014 - courtesy Chris Ball