Wednesday, 26 December 2018

Bagnall Family and Turua - Timber town of Yesterday Year

Te Waihou River up river from the jetty, Turua  near Kopu  2014 - photo courtesy Chris Ball

Turua in the second half of the 1800's could be said to be  a Timber town for from 1877 the Bagnall family operated a timber mill in this place until the early 1900's. That was a part of New Zealand history before the nearby first Kopu bridge opened in May 1928. When the Bagnalls  operated the timber mill there was no bridge across the Te Waihou river at Kopu and there was a reliance on shipping to load  the timber and transport it to other ports of New Zealand and across the Tasman to Australian Ports.

The Wenona in unidentified port approximately 1877 - Wenona often visited Turua to load timber for Melbourne and Newcastle ) Part of A D Edwards Collection
photo courtesy state library of South Australia, Australia 

The journey to their Turua home 

Originally from Prince Edward Island, Canada , George Bagnall and wife Martha Bagnall ( nee Stevenson) left for New Zealand in December 1863. Passengers aboard the brig Pakeha, along with their children - eldest son Lemuel John and new wife Sarah ( nee Wallace),William Henry, Albert Edward, George Edwin, Richard Wellington, Elizabeth Cantelo, Horatio Nelson, Margaret Ann, and Charles Louis Bagnall. Via South Africa where more passengers boarded, the brig Pakeha arrived at Port of Auckland NZ on 26 May 1864.

Previously involved with sawmilling and shipbuilding on Prince Edward Island, George Bagnall and his family headed for Matakana, north of Auckland. Working with John Darrach- who was regarded as a fine ship builder and having built the brig Pakeha. The first vessel Bagnall was involved with on New Zealand shores was Black Hawk - a 44 ton schooner in 1865. This was followed in 1966 by Black Swan - a top sail schooner of 90 - 100 tons register.

By 1869 the partnership of Darrach and Bagnall had dissolved with Darrach continuing shipbuilding at Matarangi and Bagnall and family moved to Thames- a newly established gold mining town on the Coromandel Peninsula.

Looking across Te Waihou river from jetty Turua near Kopu 2014 - photo courtesy Chris Ball 
The timber years

Eight years later saw the Bagnall family at Turua - once a pa on the Te Waihou river until raids from the North in the 1820's. Turua was near the large Turua forest. Lemuel Bagnall a member of the Auckland Institute was to write and read a paper in which he described the Turua forest, writing:-

"The Turua Forest lies between the Waihou and Piako Rivers, and consists chiefly of kahikatea. A few trees of rimu and matai are occasionally met with, and two or three young kauri-trees, measuring about 30in. in diameter, have been found. The kahikatea-trees are generally large, some of them attaining to 8ft. in diameter, while many measure from 4ft. to 6ft. "  ( L.J. Bagnall, 1896

In this paper in which Bagnall discussed the presence of Kauri gum in the Turua forest, was also reference to kahikatea Captain Cook had found and measured.

 Five of George's  sons, Lemuel John Bagnall in charge, took over firstly the lease of the Hauraki saw mill company in 1877 , acquiring ownership a few years after. The Thames Advertiser reporting on Bagnall's sawmill in 1877, wrote:

" Mr. L. J. Bagnall is the business member of the firm, and conducts the correspondence. He also supervises the planing department, and it is his duty to make frequent tests of the tongued and grooved stuff to ascertain that it is smoothly planed and accurately matched, which enables the carpenter to maintain his equanimity and to execute his work expeditiously. Mr W. Bagnall keeps the whole of the saws in order, and effects repairs when required. Messrs Albert and Nelson Bagnall are in charge of the  bush, to ensure that it is properly worked, and that a plentiful supply of logs are always available, and forwarded to the mill; and Messrs R. W. and Charles Bagnall superintend the shipping of the timber and look after the stores. The  portion of the bush adjacent to the village is connected with the mill by a substantially erected and serviceable tramway, and tho timber is dragged to it by bullock teams, and thence to the mill along the tramway by horses. " ( Thames Advertiser 15/12/1877)

-Bagnall Brothers* Mill and Timber Yard, Turua, Thames, with Te Aroha Mountain in distance. Stacks s of white pine being seasoned Courtesy Trove newspapers National Library Australia  Australian Town and Country Journal Sat 28 Sep 1895   Page 21
Nine years later in 1886 Lemuel Bagnall wrote and read  to the Auckland Institute on Kahikatea as a building timber. Writing:-

" Sawn kahikatea presents a nice appearance. It is clean, and generally straight-grained, and, when dressed and polished, looks well in ceilings and for other indoor purposes. It takes a greater strain to break it than kauri, and does not shrink end-ways. Apart from the question of its durability, it is otherwise equal to any of our other timbers used for building purposes." ( Bagnall ,1886)

Contrary to a 2018 modern idea that Kahikatea was used mainly for butter boxes, it in fact had many uses back in those days. As Lemuel Bagnall wrote it was used for indoor interior work. Bagnall was also to discuss the properties of kahikatea with Thomas Kirk, a botanist and later  first secretary of the Auckland Institute in 1868 along with  first curator of the Auckland museum for five years,  and in December 1885 appointed chief conservator of forests.  Kirk in Forest Flora 1889 was to describe the properties of kahikatea floating in water: -

" Many logs have the same specific gravity as water , and will only float when fully immersed; others will not float at all, and are termed " sinkers" by the bushmen." ( Kirk 1889,p42 )

Further on uses of Kahikatea, Kirk wrote:- 

" While readily admitting that kahikatea is greatly inferior to kauri, totara, and matai in durability, I am fully convinced that its actual durability is much greater than is generally supposed. At the Turua Sawmills on the River Thames, where kahikatea is the only timber converted, Mr. J.L. Bagnall drew my attention to several cottages erected in 1868, in which kahikatea was exclusively used for the framing and weather boarding: at in which kahikatea was exclusively used for the framing and weather boarding: at the date of my inspection they had been standing sixteen years,and had never been painted, but ground plates, studs, and weatherboards sound and in good condition: so fat as could be seen there was no reason why they should not last for many years longer." ( Kirk 1889, p43)

Bagnall's Mill at TURUA - photo prior to 1898 courtesy Alexander Turnbull Library, NZ
The 28 March 1886 census recorded the following for Turua Mills,  Thames River showing the extent of employment in this mill town:- 
Total :   86
Male:     51
Female: 35

The census was the year following a fire at  the mill in March 1885, causing extensive damage. It was also in the early 1880's that the Bagnall Brothers diversified into beehive manufacture. Into the 1900's and this operation was to move to Auckland. Isaac Hopkins, a leading New Zealand apiarist published an extensive Australasian bee manual discussing the various beehives and their benefits and uses. Bagnall Bros & Co.  advertised that all the articles illustrated in the manual were available from their Auckland Branch - the manager by then Harold Carleton Bagnall, Lemuel's son.

In Hopkins, Isaac. 1911. The Illustrated Australasian Bee Manual. Wellington: Gordon & Gotch.

In the second decade of the 1900's timber gave way to dairy farming  on the plains. Much of the large forest of kahikatea had disappeared to extensive logging, milling and exporting. In it's place came cleared swamplands and dairy farming on bought in farmland and paddocks of grass.  The timber ships no longer visited Bagnall's wharf to load with timber for other places in New Zealand and further afield to Melbourne and beyond.  Stanley Wellington Bagnall who farmed until depression years, missed those timber ships and wrote the following poem:-


O the river now is empty,
And the brave old days are done,
When the timber ships came sailing
Up the channels, one by one;
And the little town is lonely
For the ships and for the men
That went sailing to the northward
And ne'er came back again.
But if you know the secret,
If you love the little town,
You will see the deep-sea sailers
Come drifting slowly down:
You will hear the burly seamen
Tramping round the capstan bars,
And the wailing wind a whistling
Through the rigging and the spars.
You will hear the anchors rattle,
And the pilot's lusty shout
As the tugs draw up beside them
And the sailing ships go out.
You will hear the Old Mill whistle
Shrilling out a last good-bye,
As the last of all the sailers
Goes sweeping grandly by;
You will see the strip of bunting
Flutter gaily from her mast
As her flag dips thrice in answer
When the last old ship glides past.
But the river now is silent,
For the timber trade is done,
And the sailing ships have vanished
Down the channels, one by one;
And the little town is lonely
For the ships and for the men
That went sailing to the northward
And shall ne'er come back again. 

                                                         S. W. BAGNALL, Opaheke. 

  Yes those timber ships, amongst them, Jessie Craig , a three masted barque are but a memory of a time long ago on Te Waihou River. In those days before the Kopu Bridge ( firstly named Hauraki Bridge) was constructed across the river. Bringing with its opening in 1928, road vehicles and less and less shipping vessels up the river.                         

ONYX & JESSIE CRAIG. [picture] : at Tangowahinnie Mill. Timber Port.[between 1885 and 1946] Brodie Collection, La Trobe Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria. courtesy State Library Victoria, Australia
Into the early 1900's and 1901 saw Harold Carleton Bagnall ( eldest son of Lemuel John Bagnall, who had become Managing Director of Bagnall Bros ) and my second cousin Mary Morton Gorrie married. Harold , born in Turua and a former Thames High School pupil was manager of the box factory in Freeman's Bay. Harold was to die in 1918 - the year following his father, Lemuel.  My cousin Mary moved overseas.

 Reference Source:

  Hopkins, Isaac. 1911. The IllustratedAustralasian Bee Manual. Wellington: Gordon and Gotch
   Kirk, Thomas. 1889. Forest Flora of New Zealand. Wellington: George Didsbury, Government Printer.
   Art. LXXII.—Kahikatea as a Building Timber. By L. J. Bagnall, from Volume 19, 1886, NZ Institute
   Art. XXXIII.—Notes on the Occurrence of Kauri-gum in the Kahikatea Forest at Turua. By L. J. Bagnall, from Volume 29,1896, NZ Institute
   Dorothy Bagnall, Childhood at Turua Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 45, September 2001
   Turua - The Saw Mills -Kahikatea or White Pine Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 6, October 1966    
   New Zealander, 28 May 1864, Page 4 New Zealander, 28 May 1864, page 4  
   New Zealand Herald 1 November 1866, Page 4  
   Thames Advertiser , 15 December 1877
   New Zealand Herald 14 March 1883, Page 6
    Family papers