|Majestic Kauri - giant of them all photo courtesy Chris Ball 2014|
Scene in the vicinity of Tairua, with a boom on the Tairua River. Ref: PAColl-5521-11. Courtesy Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/22701140
There are a number of old photos of logs at the wharf near the sawmill, up the valley at about Green point, or in the upper reaches Tairua River such as the photo below.
Showing kauri logs in an upper reach of the Tairua river, with a woman on a horse and men standing by the logs. courtesy Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections AWNS-19141217-53-2
A number of photos taken by William Beattie, a photographer working for the Auckland Weekly News in 1914, showed kauri logging activity. This then was a diminishing occupation in the Tairua Valley, which was giving way to farming along with a dairy factory at Tairua in the 1920's. George Turnbull Niccol had by 1914 acquired large acreage (said to be nearly the whole of Hikuai). Niccol, as an outcome of the death of his only son during WWI, sold in 1921 to the Government for returned soldier farms, said to be good cattle fattening country.
Hikuai farmland 2015 - still much as it looked in 1914 photo courtesy Chris Ball
Recently researching Papers Past NZ National Library found a short article about one of these giant trees of the forest being cut at Tairua back in 1883 . The Southland Times reported : -
" A Monster Kauri.— A kauri tree lately cut on the Tairua land of the Auckland Sash and Door Company measured 42 feet in girth and 70 feet from the ground to the first branch. It contained about 40,000 feet of timber." ( Southland Times 23/12/1883)
This tree would have been almost as large as another at the Ohio Creek, Upper Tararu, Thames, commented on the previous year in 1882. To give an idea of the size of these kauri from Tairua and Tararu , the following is a illustration from Kirk's book published in 1889 of the Tararu kauri:-
Illustration in Kirk, T. F.L.S. The Forest Flora of New Zealand. Wellington: G Didsbury Government Printers, 1889
Also onlne at National Library New Zealand https://natlib.govt.nz/records/31941582
Felling, logging and floating - down to sawmill and sea
In 1864 a sawmill opened at Tairua - no roads in those days so it was by a number of means - corduroy roads, tramways, wooden aqua ducts, hauled by bullocks, floated down creeks and the Tairua river using constructed dams, the utilisation of rainfall in these dams and transport by coastal vessels of cargoes of kauri to other ports in New Zealand and over to Australian Ports.
Wooden aquaduct for transporting logs, Tairua. Ref: PAColl-5521-24. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. records/22573924
At times a lack of sufficient rainfall meant that the dams could not be tripped to float the logs down to the Tairua River or move the logs on from the booms at Green point on the Tairua River. With gold mining and the timber industry both utilizing every bit of water available during the late 1800's and early 1900's, rainfall and no droughts were key to operations. January 1885 saw bush fires cause damage to dams and houses. Drought causing serious fires in 1897 on the Eastern Seaboard caused much damage to the bush contractors operations up the Wharekawa, Tairua and Whangamata Valley's. Particularly to cut logs and dams of well known bush contractor Leyland and O'Brien. Rain falling on the Tairua valley in February 1908 ,broke the bush fires and another drought.
Back in 1891, reputed to be one of the largest dams on the Coromandel, was built at the Wires, near the Tairua river source. Leyland and O'Brien worked the bush in this area and floated the huge kauri logs down the Tairua river to sawmill and sea.
Tripping no.17 Dam, Gregory, George, photographer,1890s-1912,PH-ALB-143
courtesy Auckland Museum Please do not copy
The working life of bush contractors and their bush workers was harsh and dangerous in the Tairua Valley. The New Zealand Census of 1881 males far out numbered females in the bush.
CENSUS OF NEW ZEALAND 1881 3rd April, 1881
In 1878 bush contractor R Webb, bush contractor became part of a committee at a meeting held of residents and bushmen of the valley to further a medical man n their midst. This because of their concerns over the high accident rate and grueling trips to the hospital at Thames. Both for the injured "bushman" and the team ,carrying by stretcher, across creeks and rough country via Neavesville to Puriri and on to Thames. By 1883 a Doctor Sinnock was living in Tairua.
The nature of the work felling, cutting and moving the kauri logs to the sea or sawmill at Tairua. Large kauri, dense bush in parts, broken slopes, heavy laboring work with axe and cross cut saws.
Use of timber jacks which moved the kauri logs to corduroy roads or dams and creeks. Serious bush accidents continued into the 1880's and still, despite a doctor living in Tairua by then , required transport across to Thames Goldfields Hospital. The Thames Goldfields Hospital was also concerned at the number, seriousness and length of hospitalization these accidents were costing.
The Thames Advertiser reporting on the Thames Goldfields Hospital monthly meeting, wrote:-
" Mr Ehrenfried said that about twelve months ago he had drawn attention number of accidents occurring in the neighbouring bushes and sawmills. He had now been able to get a list of the cases of this nature treated in the hospital, and found that there had been as many as 30 within the past twelve months, Accidents of this kind were generally very severe, the sufferers often staying in the institution as long as three months He thought it would only be fair to ask tho sawmill companies to contribute to the cost of treating these patients, and he thought the matter only required to be represented to them to secure liberal donations, the companies were in a position to pay dividends it was unfair, not to use a stronger term, that their maimed and sick should be palmed off upon a local institution, which was less able to afford it, He found that the Tairua mill alone contributed one fourth of the total, number of accidents, He moved that a letter be written to the companies drawing attention to tho position of affairs, and soliciting their contributions.—Seconded by Mr Radford, 'and carried." ( Thames Advertiser, 14/12/1882)
Two men work at rolling large kauri logs through light bush. Gregory, George. (n.d.) Skiding [sic] logs to creek. Auckland War Memorial Museum neg. C1639. courtesy Auckland Museum Please Do Not Copy
There were a number of bush contractors in the Upper Tairua Valley - names synonymous with kauri logging along with the " bushmen" who worked for them. Along with Leyland and O'brien were Robert and Thomas Webb, Fagan, Darrow, Kilgour, John Magill. Faithful and McConnell gained the reputation of being one of the largest bush contractors in the Tairua Valley - in fact in the North Island.
They moved around the Coromandel Peninsula and up North. Contracts were worked for the Union Steam Saw, Moulding and Sash Door Company Limited, providing kauri for the mills at Mechanics Bay, Auckland, Aratapu and Tairua. That was until the giant Kauri Timber Company absorbed the mills, bush and shipping vessels in July 1888. Then it became contracts for this company.
Thames Star 6 December 1912 Page 1
Courtesy Papers Past, National Library New Zealand
These bush contractors also gained contracts supplying, the then, Public Works Department and private companies with sleepers for railways and tramways. As well as " breaking out " contracts up the Tairua Valley and the Tairua river branches, the Kauri Timber Company also called for tenders at Te Karo, Lynch Creek and towards Whenuakite , Coroglen and Whitianga. Such as the advertisment appearing in the New Zealand Herald: - " Tenders for the Felling and Delivery of 2,600,000 superficial feet, more or less" ( NZ Herald, 15/09/1916)
Bush - between Tairua and Mercury Bay, N.Z. [picture] Charles Rudd 1849-1901 photographer.( 1892- 1902)
photo courtesy State Lbrary Victoria, Australia PLEASE DO NOT OPY
It would seem that droughts and fire led to a logging operation moving superficial timber to the sea via timber jacking, tramways and floating to waiting scows and other shipping vessels at sea. The following photograph was taken by William Beattie on his visit to the Tairua Valley and appeared in the Auckland Weekly News in December 1914 of the logging operation at Te Karo ( Sailor's Grave)
Showing logs being lifted into the sea near Tairua, preparatory to rafting them to the mill. With an inset photograph of a man holding a large saw Photo courtesy Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections AWNS-19141217-48-2
It is known that Bert Collins bush contractor, who later gained Kauearanga Valley cotracts, spent a short time on the Te Karo contract. Bert's other brother and Tudor also had links with bush contracts in rhe Whitianga area. Tudor married Annie McLeod from Whitianga whose sister Jean married Malcolm Niccol who was involved with dairy factories in Tairua and Whitianga. Family interlinks were also common amongst these bush contractors and bushmen for the communities in which they lived were small and social.
David Wilton, undertaking a survey of HMS Tortoise camp sites in 2015 with Neville Ritchie Archaeologist, found timber boom structures that concurred with Collins account in Reed's " The new story of kauri." The HMS Tortoise survey study can be found on the Treasury Journal of The Coromandel Heritage Trust.
The Te Karo operation was not long before kauri logging halted in the Tairua valley- leaving only a few hundred hectares remaining, of this fine majestic tree. The Tairua Sawmill closed doors and timber gave way to butter fat and dairy farming. By 1935 a new species of forest was being planted on the hill slopes of the Tairua valley to replace the barren slopes where one the mighty kauri stood. This
was pinus radiata - a new part of the past New Zealand History of this valley. Recent years have seen groups such as kauri 2000 and school groups planting kauri for future generations. Also the establishment of a WW1 Memorial Forest where plantings have also taken place- to remember some of those decendants of those bushmen and the bushmen who went away themselves in WW1 That is another story of part of our past NZ History of this valley.
Note: In the 1800's different terms were used for occupation in the New Zealand Forest. The forest back then was called the bush. Bush contractors and bushmen were the people " breaking out" the bush. There were the bushmen ( now loggers, and sivicultural).