Friday, 7 November 2014

Tarawera Eruption 1886 and the after years

Otukapuarangi ( Pink Terraces) before 10 June 1886 - Photo from Stewart Collection GV

In the first few days of June 1886 life went along at its usual pace. Tourists were catching the steamer s.s. Glenelg on the Tauranga run from Auckland. Captain Edward Stephenson was the captain of s.s. Glenelg - a Northern Steam Ship Company vessel at this time – Captain Stephenson being one of the first Captains with Captain William Farquhar in this newly formed coastal shipping company in May 1881. 

The steamer Glenelg was said to leave Auckland at 5 pm arriving about 8.30 am the next morning at Tauranga. Then it was overland by one of the waiting coaches to Ohinemutu and the Lakes District- George Crosby was one such of these coach companies – also delivering the Royal Mail from Tauranga to Rotorua and return. He advertised this run as being twice a week – Tuesdays and Thursdays -  also travelling to Taupo and Napier. George Crosby’s Royal Mail run also took in Thames via Paeroa – again a twice weekly run. 

There was an alternative route for getting to Rotorua at this time – via railway as far as Hamilton, then via coach to Cambridge followed by hired coach or buggy across the Mamaku on the newly constructed road. However this was more expensive and longer.  

 Most tourists evidently chose the steamer to Tauranga ,then the coach via Oropi even though it too was considered a rough ride.  The tourist traffic to this area was to see what was regarded as one of the natural wonders of the world then –Otukapuarangi (Pink) and Te Tarata (White) Terraces.

Te Tarata ( White Terraces) before 10 June 1886 - Photo from Stewart Collection GV

In June the Railway Camp people on the western shores of Rotorua at Puna Atua Hoe near Ohinemutu (known as  Camp Number 3 ) and made up of Engineers, Surveyors and their assistants were feeling pretty pleased with things. The survey of this last section of the railway, Henry Roche a Civil Engineer originally from Ireland in charge of personnel in this camp, was nearly at an end. James Stewart Snr. was also feeling pleased with progress and construction  of the railway to Rotorua as the first section Morrinsville to Tirau ( called Oxford then ) had opened on 8 March 1886 and was proving  increases  in tourist traffic on this route.

Stewart wrote in 1891:-

“There is no better constructed railway in the colony than this line. The rails are of steel, and the heaviest in use here. The stations and buildings are most ample in accommodation. The same remark applies with greater force to the water-supplies, which are fixed with regard to the necessary expenditure of steam on the various parts of the line. The water-tanks are brick towers, and are of a description to be found on no other railway in or out of New Zealand, unless it is true, as has been reported, that they have been copied in Victoria by a bricklayer who worked at all of ours.” (James Stewart, CE In Transactions & Proceedings NZ Institute, 1891)

Facing Page 100 Payton, E.W. 1888. Round about New Zealand: Being Notes from a Journal of Three Years Wandering in the Antipodes. London: Chapman & Hall.

Out at Te Wairoa near Lake Tarawera daily living continued. Joseph McRae Hotel Keeper ran a busy establishment – the Rotomahana Hotel. As did Charles Humphreys, Hotel keeper of the Terrace Temperance. Hotel guests were few in early June as it was the end of the tourist season. However both hotel keepers were expecting a bit of an influx with the pending Land Court sittings. Nearby Mr. Charles Haszard schoolteacher and family had two  guests staying with them – Government Surveyors Mr. Harry Lundius and John C Blythe. Both had been busy surveying  the Urewera Country road.

On 10 June 1886 in the early hours of the morning about 2 am Tarawera erupted with a vengeance. Residents were awakened, including those in the Railway Survey Camp. According to Roche (who in later years wrote an eyewitness account) there was a cloud over Tarawera with “continuous showers of red hot scoria and masses of rock”. (Roche, H)  James Stewart Jnr. another engineer in that Railway Survey Camp was also never to forget what he saw and heard from that railway camp. The Te Aroha news reporting on his new life as a railway engineer in South America wrote  :-

“Writing over to his people, here Mr Stewart speaks of some of the country through which his line went as being very wild, as standing on end, and compares it to some of the rugged land on the Rotorua survey. He mentions a frightful thunder- storm that burst over his camp one night. The whole camp was overset, the tents blown down, while the rain came down in torrents. The brilliant flashing of the lightning, accompanied by the roar of the thunder, he could liken to nothing other than the eruption of Tarawera, which he witnessed. Bar this, he had never seen anything like it in New Zealand.” (Te Aroha News, 15/06/ 1889, P 6)

When morning dawned properly there was no railway surveying that day. Most of the men from the camp, including Roche and Stewart Jnr.  assisted with rescue recovery out at Te Wairoa. A number had sheltered in Mr. McRae’s Hotel overnight, the Haszard family had suffered much damage and  there was great loss of life. Everywhere for miles was mud and ash.

Old Mill Te Wairoa - after the eruption Photo Stewart Collection GV

Captain Edward Stephenson of s.s. Glenelg too was awake. At sea on the return journey to Auckland, it appears there was an amazing view from the steamer. The New Zealand Herald who also reported the s.s. Glenelg as leaving Tauranga at about 12.30 am the morning of the eruption wrote : -

At about half-past two a.m. Captain Stephenson had his attention drawn to a peculiar phenomenon which appeared over the land, and in the direction of Ohinemutu. The object had the appearance of large balls of fire, which suddenly appeared, and then broke into a thousand stars. These balls appeared at frequent intervals, and were witnessed by several of the passengers. All on the Glenelg came to the conclusion that some volcanic eruption was taking place in the vicinity of Ohinemutu. No noise was heard, although there was a great amount of electricity about. The sight is described as having been a grand spectacle, and continued in view until about four a.m. (The New Zealand Herald, 11/06/ 1886, P 6)

Professor A.P.W. Thomas in an extensive report on the eruption ( his own expedition being soon the eruption ) noted that ash had been found  on Mayor island, the Alderman Islands, Whale Island and on the steamers s.s. Wellington, Hinemoa and Southern Cross with a limit on the sea coast being near Tairua to the Northern. Professor Algernon Phillip W Thomas was also elected President of Auckland Institute - the New Zealand Institute for 1887 . It was a busy year for  in November 1887 Thomas married Emily  Sarah Nolan Russell - daughter of John Benjamin Russell who was a brother of Thomas Russell Chairman of Directors Waihi Gold mining Company in the 1890's.

Mayor Island from Onemana -photo CRB 2012
George Crosby the Royal Mail Contractor arriving the next morning also was reported in the Auckland Star:-  

that the road to Te Puke is unpassable, and that the roads at Te Ngae Mission Station are blocked with ten feet of volcanic debris.” (Auckland Star, 11/06/1886,P 2.)

As far away as Hokianga in Northland, down in the South Island and Auckland there were reports of residents hearing or feeling the eruption. James Stewart Snr caught an early steamer down from Auckland and a hurried trip across country with ash still falling. The purpose – to establish the safety of the Railway Camp personnel. 

Stewart Snr. organised an exploration to determine if there were survivors and the extent of damage to the terraces. By Saturday morning of 12th June a party of it was said twenty were organised and set out toward Wairoa. In this party were Stewart snr. H Lundius as guide, Harry  Roche, W.T. Firth, I Hopkins, William Berry, Thomson W. Leys, G Nicholson, Captain Way, Johnson, several other men and  following – Fairbrother, Dr. Hector.

Two months later, James Stewart Snr, Hunter and Roche repeated the Rotorua Railway Route Survey (a first NZ attempt to precisely measure earth deformation due to a specific geological event). The New Zealand Herald reported:-

“The course of levels completed on Saturday last prove that there has been no subsidence whatever of the ground up to the terminus. The lake has risen eight or nine inches, and it is just possible that some local subsidence has taken place just at the springs and ngawhas on the margin of the lake, but the levels just run prove conclusively that there has been neither upheaval nor depression of the Rotorua basin.”( New Zealand Herald, 16 /08/1886, P 3)

Rotorua Railway Relics in 2009 near Tukarenga - Photo CRB August  2009
The After Years :

The after years for a number of those in the Tarawera Eruption,  were then on the Coromandel Peninsula – for reasons of occupation or family they resided in the area.  

Some who had suffered loss of life of relatives and who were shattered were sent to Wharekawa near Whangamata for recovery. Some stayed and others returned to Rotorua.

Photo CRB 2010

Amelia Jane Haszard, widow of Charles Albert Haszard, stayed with J.B. Morpeth for a time and then moved to Waotu where her daughter Clara taught at a school.  Amelia died in 1925 survived by one daughter Ina who had married Arthur Hobbs. Clara who married Frederick Barnett in 1891 died at a comparatively young age of what was said to be pleurisy. Choosing to write of her experiences during the Tarawera eruption won Clara first prize in the Christmas number, Weekly News 1899.

In 1902 several of the Haszard family – Robert (brother of Charles Albert) and his sons took up residence in Waihi, as did H.D. Morpeth who became the first Town Clerk. The family contributed much via occupation and community to the area. Several of the sons were in the firm of Haszard and Johnston, Mining Engineers and Surveyors. Another son – Reg was an assistant metallurgist at the Waihi Grand Junction.

In spite of the first section of the Morrinsville Railway being opened by June 1886 as far as Lichfield, it was not until December 1894 that the railway was completed and opened at Rotorua.As to the surveyors of the Rotorua Railway at the time of the Tarawera Eruption, it was other railways and tramways on the Coromandel Peninsula and elsewhere.

Harry (Henry) Roche went on to Waihi Goldmining Company in 1896 as a Senior Engineer for the company. Working until retirement eighteen years later in 1913, carried out all manner of water races, dams tramways, railway and the hydro electricity from Hora Hora to Waikino. 

In 1891 Roche married Charlotte Amy Purchas, fifth daughter of early pioneer Arthur Guyon Purchas. Mrs Roche with the wife of Mr. Barry held the ribbon for the opening of the railway at Waihi in 1905. Also in 1905 a house was built for Mr. Roche and is still standing in Waihi today in 2014.   

The Roches’ lived in Waihi until the construction of the power plant took them to Horahora in 1910. Here Harry Roche was construction engineer for Horahora until his retirement as Civil Engineer for the Waihi Goldmining Company at the end of 1913. Roche then took up a private engineering practice at Cambridge as well as on the Cambridge Borough Council and the Electric Power Board until retirement in 1946.

Ashley Hunter was to carry out the Survey for a light railway for the N.Z. Exploration Company Paeroa to Waihi, with a branch line to Waitekauri. Hunter went on with engineering consultancy for Auckland Harbour Board, Paparoa Coalfields and the Auckland Electric Tramway Company.  From 1922 to 1923 Hunter was President of the New Zealand Society of Civil Engineers.

Goldmining at Waihi in 2009 - photo CRB 2009

James Stewart Jnr. left for South America in 1889 where he rose quickly to District Engineer there. Unfortunately he died of snakebite near Quelbrada Colombia, South America  in 1893 while on surveying work of the OcaGa Railway for the Railway and Works Company, Limited.

Three years later in 1889 James Stewart Snr. visited the Waitomo Caves with Mr. Thomas Humphries, Chief Surveyor,  who instructed by Government to make a careful inspection and survey and prepare plans and take photographs of them.  Mr. John Robert Hanna accompanied the expedition as photographer, Major Mair and others. One of the caves was named The White Terrace. Stewart was to say:-

“ in fact I  have never seen anything I have enjoyed more since the vanished White Terrace.”

Stewart went on to make a feasibility survey for Government for a light railway Rotorua – Gisborne. This reported was attached to the Public Works Statement 1899. A route via Opotiki was recommended. This led to calls for a railway linking all the way to Gisborne – the East coast Line. Stewart was then to go on with engineering consultancy with Auckland Electric Tramway Company Limited – laying of tracks and tram depots. Joining the Auckland Institute in 1868 he remained a member, apart from a short break, until his death in 1914. He was President of the Institute in 1890 and again in 1901. In addition he represented the Institute on the Board of Governors of the New Zealand Institute from 1903. In 1906 he was appointed Trustee.


George Crosby continued on with coaching activities and added hotels to his occupation. A hotel at Rotorua with a coach service Tauranga – Okoroire. In 1894 Crosby moved to Paeroa establishing the Royal Mail Hotel and purchasing several coach lines. Crosby was member of the Ohinemuri County Council for nine years along with other community bodies.

Page 1 Advertisements Column 5 Bay of Plenty Times, 10 January 1894, Page 1
In Papers Past National Library NZ

Captain Edward Stephenson remained with Northern Steamship Company from its inception in 1881 until his death in 1914 as master. Stephenson was for a greater part of that time on the Auckland Whangarei run and served on the coastal ships - Argyle, Wellington, Ngapuhi, and Manaia.

Harry Lundius went on to be a Crown lands Ranger with the Government. He remained in this occupation until 1925 retiring just after the death of Amelia Jane Haszard.

None of the survivors or rescuers ever forgot the Tarawera Eruption in those after years. A part of the past New Zealand history.

Reference Sources:

  • Payton, E.W. 1888. Round about New Zealand: Being Notes from a Journal of Three Years Wandering in the Antipodes. London: Chapman & Hall.
  •  Lawn, C.A. F.N.Z.I.S. The Pioneer Land Surveyors of New Zealand Part IV. Auckland:     N.Z.I.S., 14 October, 1977.
  • The Cyclopaedia of New Zealand, Vol 2, Auckland Province. Christchurch: Cyclopaedia Company Limited, 1902.
  • Thomas W. Leys, A Weird Region: New Zealand Lakes, Terraces, Geysers and Volcanoes, with an account of The Eruption of Tarawera, New Zealand Newspapers Ltd, reprint 1953.
  • Keam, R. F. Tarawera The Volcanic Eruption of 10 June 1886. 1988.
  • Roche, H., Eyewitness Account Tarawera Eruption qMS- 1714, The Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington. 
  •  Appendix to the Journals of the House of Representatives, 1887 Session I, E-02 EDUCATION: NATIVE SCHOOLS. (In Continuation of E.-2, 1886.)
  • Appendix to the Journals of the House of Representatives, 1889 Session I, H-18
  • Thomas, A.P.W. Volume 68. Report on the Eruption of Tarawera and Rotomahana, N.Z. In The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Wellington: Victoria University of Wellington Library.
  •  By James Stewart, C. E., “Art. LVIII.—The Rotorua Railway and District. .” In Transactions and Proceedings NZ Institute, from Volume 24, 1891:
  • Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 8, October 1967 CENTURIES OF PIONEERING The HASZARD Family by David Haszard
    Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 41, September 1997 THE ROCHE HOMESTEAD, WAIHI
  •  AN AUCKLANDER ABROAD. Auckland, June 11. Te Aroha News, 15 June 1889, Page 6
  •  The New Zealand Herald, 11 June 1886, Page 6
  • TE PUKE MAIL ROUTE IMPASSABLE. Auckland Star, 11 June 1886, Page 2
  •  MR. STEWART'S ACCOUNT. Hawera & Normanby Star,17 June 1886, Page 2
  •  REPORTS BY OUR SPECIALS  Otago Witness , Issue 1804, 18 June 1886, Page 20
  •  MISCELLANEOUS.  New Zealand Herald, 16 August 1886, Page 3 
  • THE HORAHORA PLANT. New Zealand Herald, 1 May 1922, Page 3