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William Falconer 1836-1891

Oamaru in 1860 - 1863

The following account of Oamaru covering the years 1860 - 1863 was written by Mr. William Falconer for The History of Oamaru, and was printed in the North Otago Times during August, September and October of 1889.

The History of Oamaru by William Falconer ...contd


The year 1862 dawned very quietly in Oamaru; without any actual depression existing, things seemed dull. Although the wool season had again come round it did not appear to create the same amount of interest as that of 1860 - 1861, perhaps the cause might be that the novelty had worn off, as there is no doubt the quantity of wool brought to Oamaru was as large, I think rather larger than the previous year; and the bullock drivers as before made a point of having two or three days spell in town, and a small booze by way of realisation.

Taking into consideration the rough monotonous life led by these poor fellows, it being nothing unusual for them, when on the road, to sleep rolled up in their blankets under a tarpaulin thrown across the pole of the dray; carrying their mutton and damper with them, and boiling the billy of tea on the camp fire; turning out before break of day to gather the team together before they began to wander, and sometimes tramping many weary miles to find them, it is therefore not surprising that in order to relieve the tedium of their dull life they indulged in an occasional debauch.

Many amusing anecdotes might be told of some of these knights of the long whip - many of them possessing droll peculiarities. One individual bullock-driver for J. Lockhart of Hakataramea Station, had a talent for rhyming and when in town created a deal of amusement by his admiration for the fair sex, and his efforts to address the objects of his adoration in doggerel verse.

Another bullock-driver to Messrs. Stuart and Kinross, of Wanaka Station, William Elston by name, but whose usual soubriquet was Yorky, a big, boney, muscular man, but by no means endowed with a prepossessing countenance, noted for his ready wit and the volubility of his language, especially when anathematizing his bullock team, was the hero of a rather seriocomical adventure which he used to relate with great gusto; The bullocks having wandered, he started early in the morning to search for them, got benighted in the ranges, and lay down to sleep faint with hunger, having tasted no food all that day, as it was usual to gather in the bullocks before breakfast. Next day he found a patch of tutu, and ate rather freely of the ripe berries, becoming ill in consequence, and imagining that he was going the way of all flesh who partake of that poisonous fruit, he planted firmly in the ground a long piece of manuka scrub, and stripping off his clothes hung them on the branches to attract, as he used to explain, the attention of some benevolent passer-by who would give his bones a Christian burial, and then lay quietly down to die. Greatly to his disgust he did not succeed in dying, and finding that the ill effects of eating the forbidden fruit were gradually passing off, he resumed his garments and succeeded in finding his way back to the station, having been two days and one night on the ranges without food.

He also dearly loved a spell in Oamaru, and to indulge in the accompanying drink. At the close of the wool season he had a load of goods to take up to the station at Lake Wanaka, also a married couple, and a shepherd with his wife, who had arrived in Oamaru by steamer, and fresh arrivals from the home country. They could not understand what was the cause of the long delay in Oamaru.

One excuse which served Yorky for nearly a week was the fixing up of the gear by the blacksmiths, and when at length the dray was loaded, the bullocks got lost. About the ninth day the bullocks were got into the yard, when the following colloquy took place between Yorky and one of his female would-be-passengers; "A say man, whan are ye gaun tae start?"

Turning his face and eyes skyward, Yorky critically examined the zenith. "Well Missus I don't see as how we can start today no how, that there Boxer's got a bit o' glass in his foot, and do you see that there big fellow?"

"Yes, I see 'im reaght enuph, what aboot 'im?"

"Well, that there is a poller he is, a grand bullock is that there, I am going to scrape all his horns and polish them, I am, and Missus, have you ever got a pair of scissors?"

"Yes, I've got a pair of shears, what dae ye want wi' that?"

"Oh, nothing, Missus, I was only going to tell you to take care as how you don't lose it, as all you will get at the Wanaka is a piece of manuka scrub to rack out your hair with !"

"0 gae awa wi' ye; an ver no gane tae start the day?"

"No, Missus (emphatically) I can't see as how it can be done today!"

Two days afterwards, Yorky with his cargo and passengers took his departure from Oamaru, having enjoyed himself gloriously for rather more than ten days.

Another wag and general favourite was Barney O'Flea, who drove the team of the brothers Julius. I witnessed an amusing incident in connection with the arrival of J.Y. Ward (clerk to Dalgety, Rattray) in which Barney was the principal actor. On the arrival of the steamer on one of her trips in February 1861, I had occasion to call at Dalgety, Rattray's store. When I went in, the manager was absent, but walking backwards and forwards on the floor was a young man of very prepossessing appearance. As the day was warm he had taken from his head and laid on a large packing case well back in the store, a superb new bell topper.

Mr Ward and myself got into conversation and I joined him in his walk. Barney who had been delivering wool at the store adjoining, came lurching in through a small side door, and the hat, which in Oamaru at that time was regarded as a curiosity, at once took his eye. Sidling up to it he very cautiously placed his hand on it, smoothing down the silk; by and bye he took it up and had a look inside, examined it all round, placed it on his head, and laying his finger knowingly on one side of his nose, slipped out at the side door when Mr. Ward's back was turned. A few minutes afterwards we were startled by a loud war whoop outside, and going to the door of the store Mr. Ward had the pleasure of seeing Mr. Barney with the hat on his head scouring across the esplanade and some half dozen of his coferers tailing after him. As a matter of course he was caught, and in the scrummage that followed there were not two pieces of the hat left as large as the palm of one's hand. There was a hearty laugh at the sport, in which Mr. Ward, like a hearty good natured fellow was, heartily joining in.


In January, the Rev. Mr. Green, a clergyman of the Church of England, on his way to Queensland, was appointed curate at Oamaru, and remained for about five months. He was a welcome visitant, and his ministrations were highly appreciated by all classes of the community, and the church services were held in Mr. James Hassell's and were largely attended. He was the first clergyman that had visited Oamaru since the departure of Mr. McGillvray in November 1860, as the visits of Parson Andrews could scarcely be regarded as of a clerical character; and a considerable amount of regret was felt when Mr. Green removed from Oamaru.

On the completion of the survey in February 1861, of the part of the town north of the creek, the clumps of flax, tomataguru and cabbage trees that obstructed Thames St. were cleared away, and the street made passable for drays. This had the effect of diverting the traffic from the old road that wound along the beach where my smithy stood; and when James Wate's property was purchased by W. Carr Young, I rented the smithy from that gentleman and removed to it in August 1861.

Mr. Henry France also began to find that his position near the beach was too isolated, and that it would be necessary to remove nearer the centre of population. Up to this time, January 1862, no sections had been sold north of the creek and jointly with Mr France, I applied to have sections 1,2,3, 5,6,11 and 12, Block 4 put up for sale, as I was anxious to secure a site as near as possible to the bridge; and Mr. France also wished to obtain a section in the same locality, on which to erect a store. On 3rd March the first sale of sections north of the creek was held in Mr. Hassell's wool store.

This was the sale par excellence of all Government sales of sections in Oamaru. A reaction had now set in; numbers of the residents of the town and district who had gone to the Tuapeka gold diggings, returned during the months of January and February, and with money in their pockets. 5000 acres of rural land in the vicinity of Oamaru had been sold in the month of January, and things were getting much more lively in town. The sale drew together a large assemblage of townsmen, squatters, speculators and land sharks of all descriptions. The bullock drivers from Otepopo mustered in great force, and full up with money.

Section 1 Block 4 (on which the Bank of New South Wales now stands [1889]) was started by Mr. Adam Anderson at £50, and after a keen contest between him and Fairfax Fenwick was knocked down to the latter gentleman at £160. Section 2 same block, which was in a big hole, ana on which the National Bank of New Zealand is built, was knocked down to Henry John Miller at £140. Section3, on which James White afterwards built the Empire Hotel, went to Fairfax Fenwick at £150. Section 4 was, and still is, an education reserve. Section 5, on which the Swan Hotel was afterwards built, was run up to £120 by Mark Noble and another, when the bidding was taken up by H. France, and after a determined tussle was knocked down to Mark Noble at £225.

For section 6, on which Mr. W.J.A. Saunderson is now, (1889) building, the contest between Mr. France and Mr. Noble was renewed with redoubled ardour, but again the long purse of the squatter was too much for the worthy townsman, the section falling to the bid of Mr. Noble at £252. Section 7 was reserved in connection with Mr. James Ware's claim. The reserve was after wards withdrawn, and the section put up for sale by auction in 1863 when it was purchased by Messrs. Shrimski and Moss for £250. The next put up was Section 11, and went to Fairfax Fenwick at £132; Section 12 to Julius S. Jeffries at £125.

The whole of the first lot of sections sold in Thames St. were thus secured by speculators, the bona fide residents, anxious to purchase, being unable to obtain a single foot of ground. Thirty three sections south of the creek were also disposed of at this sale at the ordinary run of prices. After some fruitless negotiations with Mark Noble to obtain Section 5, I purchased from Julius S. Jefferies, who had fenced it in with a substantial fence. Section 12, for the sum of £160; and some time afterwards Mr. France purchased from Fairfax Fenwick, Section 3, Block 4 for the sum of £300.

The Oamaru Races of 1862 were held on the race course in this month. The gathering was similar to that described in 1861. Mark Noble was now to the front in racing matters, and the gentlemen from Canterbury who were present at the former meeting were conspicuous by their absence.

During the interval that elapsed since their election, the School Committee had not been idle. A site had been selected on which to build a school. Section 41, Block 73. The selection of this site led to a deal of strong feeling on the matter, many being of the opinion that the school should be erected on the flat, and not on the hill as proposed, and Mr. Grenfell had not a particularly happy time of it. The contract to build the school was let to Currie & Co. (the same firm who in 1861 had built the Thames St. bridge) for the sum of £791 on the 5th of April, and was finalised about the middle of August.

Mr. J. Paradise, of Akaroa, was, on the recommendation of Mr. Gibbs, appointed teacher on 13th September. It would be too much to say that he was an unqualified success, and to say that he could read, write and cipher, would not be underrating his attainments.

In May, the contract to build a court-house was let to George Gammell and Joseph Beattie for the sum of £899 10s. This was a long drawn out job, the contractors disagreeing and getting into difficulties and making a general mess of things, the erection of the building not being completed until the beginning of 1863.

It is now necessary to chronicle the advent in Oamaru of one of her most worthy citizens, one whom although he has never taken a prominent part in public matters nor held any high official position, has always held his finger on the public pulse (not purse) in all questions of social and political importance -John Thomson - stone-mason. He arrived in Oamaru on the 15th June of this year, when the building of Mark Noble's big square stone mansion was in full swing.

Mr. Joseph Ogilvie, who for a number of years carried on the trade of cart and wheelwright, iron-founder and general blacksmith, started business in this month, and occupied the premises now [1889] known as the Commercial stables and saleyard of Messrs. Fleming and Hedley.

Oamaru had again for a short time been without a clergyman, and the arrival of the Rev. Algernon Gifford in July supplied the want. Like his predecessor, he performed Divine Service in Mr. Hassell's wool store until the School and Court House were finished.


In the middle of August the great rush to the Dunstan took place, which led to the discovery of gold at Cardrona, Kawarua and Shotover and as the most direct and easiest route to these places was by Oamaru, a large influx of waggoners with six and eight horse teams was the result.

Goods for those diggings were brought in large quantities by steamer and sailing craft from Dunedin. The trade of the port was greatly increased and driving to the diggings at high freights was the order of the day. Farming, which had been making a little progress, was again neglected, the whole attention of the population being devoted to the goldfields.

Among those who arrived overland from Dunedin with horse teams and wagons, and who have settled in the town or district, might be mentioned; in the month of October, Thomas Shalders and the late James Thomas; a little later, Messrs. Peter Alexander and George Aitcheson. George Sumpter, who arrived in Oamaru in the beginning of 1862 also piloted a wagon to the diggings.

The Elder brothers were also on the road; Besides numbers of bullock teams and horse drays. Messrs. Shrimski and Moss now started a soft goods business in a small shop adjoining the Star and Garter Hotel, and did a very good trade. In November, Mr. Frank Robertson, veterinary surgeon, took up his permanent residence in Oamaru. He had been in the district as early as 1860, but left for the Tuapeka goldfield; as he is quite capable of writing his own life and adventures it is not necessary for me to record them, and I am sure his experiences and opinion of things in general, and of Oamaru in particular, would be read with much interest by the public.

Whether infected by gold fever, or attracted by accounts of the progress of the town of Oamaru, I am not prepared to say, but in the month of November, Dr. Stuart and the Rev. Wm. Johnston visited Oamaru, being exactly two years since the last visit of a minister of the Presbyterian Church to Oamaru. They received a hearty welcome from the Presbyterians of the town and district, and from the members of other denominations - Wesleyans, Baptists, and Church of England people vying with each other, who would show them the most kindness. On the Sabbath after their arrival. Dr. Stuart preached in the forenoon in Dalgety, Rattray's store; I do not remember whether it was by arrangement or not, but there was no Church of England service that day, and numbers of Church of England people attended the Presbyterian service. In the afternoon Dr. Stuart preached in Mr. Hassell's store and dispensed the sacrament, Christians of all denominations being partakers, and before the close of the service a number of children were baptized.

Shortly after the departure of the Rev. Dr. Stuart and Mr. Johnston a meeting of the Presbyterians of the town and district was held in Mr. Hassell's wool store, the delegates from Otepopo being the late James Oliver and the late John Campbell; from Hempden, Mr. William Craig and the late J. Bennett.

It was agreed that the town and districts should contribute pro rata for the support of a minister to supply the districts of Oamaru, Otepopo and Hampden; and committees of management were elected in the various districts. The members of the committee for Oamaru were; James Hassell, Henry Campbell, J.C. Gilchrist, John Bain, John Falconer, Henry Allan, David Bruce (secretary), Robert Hunter, James Bruce, John Hood, John Shennan and William Falconer.

Henry France was then erecting that large wooden building which still stands with its gable to Tyne St. (and in now, 1889, occupied by Mark Sinclair as a carriage factory). It was finished about the close of the year and Mr. France removed his business and the Post Office from his isolated position near the beach.

In reviewing the year 1862 what strikes one is the large number of sales of town sections in Oamaru, sales being held nearly every month, and large numbers of sections were sold; also a considerable amount of rural land in the district, which was sold in Dunedin. The high prices realised for the sections sold in March was one of the causes of this, but the principal cause was the impecunious state of the Provincial Treasury and the money received from the sale of the lands of the town and district were spent in beautifying Dunedin.

During the first six months of this year the town did not make much progress, only two businesses being established. In May, George Quarrie bought the business of John Hambleton, butcher, and James White started what is still the Tees St. butchery.

Mr and Mrs. White are two of the oldest residents of the town of Oamaru having arrived in 1859. Mrs. White, who is a woman of rare business tact and energy, managed the shop part of John Hambleton's business until he sold out to George Quarrie, and for many years successfully conducted the butchery in Tees St. Mr. and Mrs. White have fully experienced the vicissitudes incident to colonial life, and are now carrying on a thriving grocery business in Tees St., near the old butchery.

In the latter half of the year, two buildings were erected in Thames St. - the old Court House and my Blacksmith's Shop on Section 12 Block 4; but cottages now began to dot the flat, and others had been built upon the hill. The hotels were as in 1861 and the only addition to the stores was that of Messrs. Shrimsky and Moss.

Remainder of Article  1860 | 1861 | 1863