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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 1863 was one of the best and busiest experienced in the town of Oamaru, and many events of importance occurred. Throughout nearly the whole of the year a large number of horse wagons and carts and many bullock drays and teams were engaged in carting goods from the port of Oamaru to the diggings at Cardrona, Shotover and Kawarau; and a number of the citizens of Oamaru established themselves in business in those places, and did very well, afterwards returning and settling in the town and district. A large influx of population to the town and district was the result of so much traffic to the diggings. Money was plentiful and work abundant at high wages, and in consequence a number of new stores were erected in the town in the early months of the year.

McLeod and Gibson, of Dunedin, building in January that store in Tyne St., now occupied (1889) as a luncheon and refreshment rooms. That firm did not, however, carry on business for any length of time in Oamaru, getting into difficulties. The store was let to Messrs. Fraser and Granger, of Dunedin, saddlers and harness makers, who established a branch of their business in Oamaru under the management of Mr. Joseph Waddell, who was one of the early residents, worthy of more than a passing notice.

He was a keen observer and possessed of a rather caustic wit; he was also of a literary turn, and was a frequent contributor to the Oamaru Times, more especially when Mr. Smaill was editor. His papers On the Parapet and On the Wallaby drew attention to them by their satirical humour. He took great interest in the Town Board matters, invariably forming one of the audience, and often being the only member of the public present at the meetings when held in the old courthouse and also entered into the political contests of the day with great ardour.

In March 1866 when Mr. Robert Campbell, then a young man of great promise, contested the election for member of the Oamaru district in the House of Representatives against Mr. Ingham, the ex editor of the Oamaru Times, Mr. Waddell was one of Mr. Campbell's most active partisans, and prognosticated that Mr. Campbell was to be the future Gladstone of New Zealand; and there is no doubt that during the contest for the seat Mr. Campbell displayed a considerable amount of energy and talent, and many of us who supported him expected to see him fulfil a brilliant career; but it would be too much to say that our expectations were realised. Mainly through the exertions of Mr. Waddell and Mr. Henry France, Mr. Campbell was returned by a substantial majority.

In 1873 Mr Waddell contested the election for member of the Oamaru County in the Provincial Council, against Mr. Peter Aitcheson and Dr. G.M. Webster. The contest was conducted with great humour throughout, until some mischievous individual let loose a whole legion of alligators on the devoted heads of Messrs. Waddell and Aitcheson, which caused a little feeling between the worthy candidates and the contest resulted in Dr. Webster being returned as member.

Mr. Waddell was also a member of the Borough Council, and until his death on 19th January 1875, at the age of 55 years, occupied a rather conspicuous place in matters social, political and municipal.

About the beginning of February 1863, Messrs. Hood and Shennan erected the first Drapery shop in Oamaru on the site where that large block of stone buildings now stands in Wansbeck St. and opened their establishment some time in March. Crocker and McLeod also started a grocery and bakery business adjoining. The builders on both premises being Robert and Henry Allan. On the opposite side of the street Mr. Robert McKay opened a Tailor and clothier's shop, and Mr. Luke that of a Chemist; Mr. H.J. Turnell erecting a long low iron building which he opened with a large stock of ironmongery; Wansbeck St. at this time promising to be the commercial centre of the town.


The Town Board Ordinance had been passed in December 1862, and in the month of February 1863 the election of the first Town Board took place. This event created quite a commotion in the community, it being the first occasion on which the residents of Oamaru had had an opportunity of recording their votes on any public question, very few of them having been registered when the contest for Superintendent of Otago took place, and there was no contest when the member for the Northern District in the Provincial Council was elected; but a large number were now on the roll, Mr. J.Y. Ward and Mr. David Hutchinson having been indefatigable in getting voters registered, the qualification for a vote being at this time a freehold of the capital value of ten pounds sterling, leasehold or household; that is, anyone possessing a freehold of that value, although not a householder, had a vote if registered; and a householder, although neither a leaseholder nor freeholder, when registered had a vote.

The nomination was held in the Courthouse on the 26th, when 13 candidates were proposed and seconded and the following are the names of those elected next day, their names being placed in the order in which they stood in public estimation; William Sewell, James Hassell, Charles Traill, Michael Grenfell, Samuel Gibbs, Henry France, William Falconer, Thomas Glass and Edward Hudson. Mr. Traill refused to act, and Mr. George Quarrie, who had been proposed at the first nomination, was on the 15th April elected without opposition.

The Board did not appoint one of their number permanent chairman; at each meeting one of the members was voted to preside. Mr. J.Y. Ward was appointed secretary at a salary of eighty pounds sterling per annum, and discharged his duties with great ability, his books and correspondence being models of perspicuity.

The board had no power to levy a rate. Happy Oamaru! The only rating body in North Otago being the School Committee. There were no Road Boards then in existence in North Otago; and the County Council is an institution of recent days.

Taxation in the Province of Otago was at this time a thing almost unknown; the revenue of the Provincial Council being principally derived from the sale of the magnificent landed estate of the provinces (the proceeds of which they squandered in the most reckless manner) and a small rate per head levied on great and small cattle, on the various runs and hundreds. There were also the Custom duties, but that was colonial revenue, and it was in this year that the measurement duties were first imposed.

The meetings of the Town Board were held in the evening, and at first in the parlour of the Northern Hotel. The meetings on the whole were very enjoyable; a comfortable room, a bright fire burning in the grate, the whisky was as a rule fairly good and the cares of office sat lightly on each member. The meetings at the beginning usually solemn, then argumentative, by and by - well, not exactly inarticulate, and next, no, not drunk, but when the meeting broke up each councillor had a wee drappie in his e's.

One very dark night, the darkest night of the whole year, after a rather protracted sitting of the board, two members who resided on the flat near the beach were plodding their homeward way and when near where the Presbyterian Church now stands, a demon with horns and tail suddenly rose from the earth and came into collision with the elder and bulkier of the pair, causing him to make a semi-vault in the air, and then measure his length on the sward, while the cause of the mishap with a loud bellow disappeared in the darkness. It would be difficult to say which was the most frightened, the cow or the Councillor.

But it must not be supposed it was all play and no work, with the old Town Board. They performed a good deal of useful work, during their term of office. Their principal function consisted in dunning the Provincial Executive for money, which they did with an energy and persistence which was at length followed by results worthy of the efforts made to obtain it; Three hundred pounds being granted for the purpose of fencing and planting the Esplanade in front of Tyne St. At the meeting called to decide on the description of fence to be erected, it was proposed by one of the Fathers of the Board that half a chain in breadth should be taken from the Esplanade and added to Tyne St. This met with almost general approval, with the exception of the youngest member of the board, who diffidently suggested that as the Esplanade was Government property, the Board had not the power to appropriate it. "Haven't got the power" exclaimed the irascible old member, "BY ...... we will show them we have got the power. What are we here for?"

The half chain was accordingly added to the street, and it is almost needless to write, that when the Esplanade was handed over to the Harbour Board, that body repossessed themselves of the property. It was one of the greatest blunders ever committed by any community to allow, what would ultimately have been the very lungs of the town, to be diverted form its original purpose.

A grant of £100 was also obtained to begin a system of drainage that was to be carried out from the town, and a commencement was made by laying a drain from the Northern Hotel to the beach near the landing-place; and Mr. H. Brooking, Civil Engineer, was engaged to take the permanent levels for the streets of the town.

The Provincial Government Engineer, Mr. Dundas, had previously taken the levels of Tyne, Thames and Severn Sts., also the height of the Oamaru Plain above sea level and altitude of the hills north of the town. The board was greatly exercised, and a good deal of its time taken up resisting encroachments of Mr. Prendergast, manager for Dalgety, Rattray, on the Esplanade. He would persist in breaking down part of the fence erected opposite the store, as it closed the old track to the beach, and without even saying by your leave, he erected a large woolshed on the Esplanade, near the landing-place, and it was only by the determined and persistent opposition of Messrs. Gibbs and Falconer, backed up by a number of the citizens, that he was forced to remove it. The shed now [in 1889] stands in rear of the store of Fleming and Hedley and is occupied by Mr. James Reid, wheelwright and general blacksmith.

It is not necessary to follow the career of the Board later than the advent of the Oamaru Times in February 1864. After the first introductory leading article, the then editor of the paper, Mr. Spencer, in the next issue, poured the vials of his wrath upon the devoted heads of the members of the Town Board. This called forth a curious philippic from one of the city fathers, who threatened the offending editor with such a dose of cowhide that he would remember it during the remainder of his life. Horse-whipping or attempting to horse-whip the literati, was rather a favourite pastime with the city fathers in the early days. It was rumoured that the Hon. Sam. himself carried a stock-whip eighteen feet long under his coat tail for nearly a week in order to administer a castigation to an offending editor.


In March the Agricultural and Pastoral Society was formed, Alexander McMaster being elected President and John Young Ward appointed Secretary. On 9th April John Hyde Harris was elected Superintendent of Otago. This event created very little interest in Oamaru.

In this month a valuation of the property in the town and district was made, and a school rate levied which raised a perfect howl of execration among those who had no children to educate. Charity School, Education of Paupers were the mildest epithets applied and things were made pretty lively for the members of the School Committee, that is to say for those who took any interest in the affair, the whole business being mostly left to Messrs. Gibbs and Grenfell who had to bear the brunt of it. A day was appointed to hear appeals against the valuation, which were heard in the School house; and with the help of Mr. Hassell, who devoted the day to the assistance of Messrs. Gibbs and Grenfell, matters were soon arranged without bloodshed.

The next event of importance was the election of a member for the Provincial Council for the town of Oamaru, and Mr. Henry John Miller was returned on the 22nd May 1863. He proved a good, though not a popular representative, and manifested considerable aptitude for political life. He was secretary of Public Works in the Provincial Executive during a considerable portion of his term, and fulfilled the duties with much ability. He was also of great assistance to the Town Board in extracting money from the Provincial Treasury on its behalf, and took an active and intelligent interest in all matters relating to the welfare of the town and district.

Much surprise was expressed when he declined to come forward again for re-election. There is no doubt that if the sentiments of Mr. John Henry Miller had been more in unison with those of the majority of electors, and he had entered public life as a member of the House of Representatives, he would have churned up into a colonial statesman, greatly above the average. As it is, he has been simply somnolent in the Legislative Council and has scarcely kept abreast of times.

As Mr. Miller was essentially the squatters' man, or was thought to be so, the Liberals of old Oamaru - Gibbs, Sewell, W. Falconer, G. Quarrie and others - induced Mr. David Hutchinson to come forward and contest the election. Although Mr. Hutchinson was placed at a great disadvantage by not being able to come to Oamaru and personally conduct the canvas of the town, Mr Miller was only returned by a small majority.

Mr. Hutchinson, as early as 1858 had carried the mail fortnightly from Dunedin to Oamaru, the mail being delivered at Papakaio, the station of W.G. and R.A. Filliul, and when Henry France settled in Oamaru in August 1858, part of the mail was left at his store. Afterwards Mr. France was appointed Postmaster and the whole of the mail was delivered in Oamaru.

From the first, Mr. D. Hutchinson took great interest in the district of Oamaru, being greatly impressed by its capabilities and unceasingly represented its grand qualities of soil and climate to the Provincial authorities in Dunedin, and its suitability for close settlement. Mainly through his representations, the Superintendent of the Province, Mr. James MacAndrew, was induced to take a trip to Oamaru early in 1860, when, accompanied by nearly the whole population of the town he visited the landing-place. The day was beautifully calm, and sanguine as ever, Mr. MacAndrew declared there would be no difficulty running out a jetty at that spot. Mr. Hutchinson also opened up a limestone quarry and erected a lime-kiln in what is still known [in 1889] as Lime Kiln Gully in Oamaru.

Mr. Robert Allen made to his order the first horse dray manufactured in North Otago. The naves, spokes and felloes of the wheels, the shafts and frame of the dray were hewn out of Goa procured in the Otepopo bush. Mr. Hutchinson also built that bluestone rubble house with dormer windows that still stands on Section 1 Block 54 Eden St. As early as 1861 he opened the Shag Point coal mine, blasting out the rocks at the mouth of the small harbour with dynamite. He also purchased a schooner, the Matilda Haves, to carry the Oamaru lime and the Shag Point coal to Dunedin. After the month of July 1861 he ceased to personally carry the mail, but held the contract up to 1864.

The high price of every description of farm produce in 1863 gave a great impetus to agricultural pursuits. Oats sold as high as 11 shilling a bushel and potatoes from 19 to 20 pounds a ton. The wagoners occasionally took a few sacks to the diggings, and usually paid 35 shillings a sack in Oamaru. All other kinds of farm produce were rather dearer than in 1861.

In 1862 Mr. Alex McMaster had sown a considerable area in wheat and oats. Mr. J.L. Allen had also a large field of oats, and Mr. Mark Noble had put in what would be considered a small patch. Mr. James Hassell at Cave Valley was far ahead of all other cultivators in the district at this time in the production of cereals, and had also grown a large quantity of potatoes which he shipped to Dunedin, where they realised from 20 - 25 pounds sterling per ton.

Farming operations had also commenced at Totara by Messrs. Holmes and Campbell and were being carried out on an extensive scale. Mr. Robert Hunter had also made a start at Ardgowan and was breaking up the land for crop. A number of small farmers were beginning to creep into the district; Peter Orr at White Rocks; W. Derritt on the beach near Awamoa; Alexander and George Graham at Waiareka; William Easton at Fortification, and some others.

The crop of 1862-63 was threshed by a horse-power threshing mill belonging to James Hassell, and driven by four horses. The price charged for threshing was one shilling per bushel, the owner of the crop finding the horses to drive the machine, also finding and paying for all the labour required except one man who fed the mill and looked after the machinery.


On the 26th September the first ploughing match in the district was held under the auspices of the Agricultural and Pastoral Assn. The match was held in a paddock north of the town on what was at one time the property of Mrs. David Gray, and is now [in 1889] part of the Redcastle Estate. The event drew together a pretty large concourse of people to witness it. The judges were; Alex Graham, F. Every and G. Quarrie Fifteen ploughmen competed.

The first prize, £7, was awarded to peter Orr of White Rock, ploughman and owner; the second prize, £5 to Colin Campbell, ploughman to Robert Hunter, Ardgowan; third prize, £3 to James Balfour, ploughman to Mr. W. Derritt; fourth prize £2, to William McIntyre, ploughman to Holmes and Campbell. For bullock teams, first prize, £5, John Frew, ploughman to Holmes and Campbell; second, £2.10s. Thomas Gorman, ploughman to Holmes and Campbell.

For best kept harness on the field, first prize £1.10s Mathew Miller, ploughman to Mr. Alex McMaster; second, £1, James Gibson, also ploughman to Mr. McMaster. For best crown, £1, William McIntyre; for best finish £1, Alexander McNaughton, ploughman to Holmes and Campbell. For the best team of horses on the ground, £2, Alex McMaster; second prize, £1 Mark Noble.

In August of this year, Mr. Henry France resigned the position of Postmaster for Oamaru, and Mr. Charles Lemon was appointed to the position, a part of Mr. France's store in Tyne St. being retained as Post Office.

On the 6th October the election of a new School Committee took place. A glance at the names of those elected shows that a greater amount of interest had been taken in the election; Samuel Gibbs, W.G. Filleful, H. France, William Falconer, John Lemon, Michael Grenfell, Robert Hunter, John Locke and S.E. Shrimski. The appeal to the pockets of the citizens had aroused the energy, all classes of the community being anxious to have a voice in the management of what they had to pay for so sweetly.

The new committee took office under highly favourable circumstances, the old committee leaving a sufficient balance to carry on the whole business of the school for the year, so that they were not under the necessity of levying any rate. Mr. John Young Ward was appointed secretary to the committee and a set of books was obtained for his use. The duties of the committee throughout the year were not of an arduous nature.


There was one event that created a small storm. A complaint was lodged against one of the pupils by the teacher, and a meeting of the committee was called to hear and discuss it. The teacher stated that the culprit, a young scamp of 12 or 13 years of age, had been in the habit of running after the girls to - no, not to kick, but to kiss them, he had also when his teacher remonstrated with him for not learning his geography, called him (the teacher) an old fool, and when he, the teacher, had pointed out to him that his pothooks and hangers were not what they should be, he had threatened to shy an ink bottle at his, the teachers head, and when shut up in the school house after school hours for some breach of discipline, he had levanted by lifting up one of the windows and making his escape.

Some of the members of the committee were inclined to laugh at the frivolity of the whole matter, but others took a more serious view of the case, one of them proposing to expel the boy from the school. This aroused the ire of Mr. H. France, and he rated the school master in good round terms on the absurdity of calling a number of people together and taking them away from their business to listen to such a paltry charge. Another of the members suggested that a rope's end applied to the breech of the offender, was the proper remedy, but the school master meekly replied that "he was not equal to that." It was at length agreed to call in the delinquent, and that the chairman, Mr. S. Gibbs, should administer a rebuke and caution him as to his future conduct.

This done, and Sam Hood with a most penitential expression of countenance appeared before the assembled wisdom of the committee, listened with great gravity to the address of the worthy chairman, and at its conclusion gave his word of honour to amend his ways, then making his best bow he walked to the door, which he had no sooner passed, when with the whoop and yell of a wild Indian he disappeared over the hill. This paltry affair afterwards led to a deal of angry correspondence in the local paper.

Throughout this year the Presbyterians of the town and district had been greatly exercised over the selection of a minister of their own denomination, and during the interval that had elapsed since the meeting in November 1862, a number of probationers had visited and preached in the town and district as candidates for the charge but without leading to any result. At length the members of the Presbyterian body succeeded in agreeing to give a call to the Rev. Charles Connor, which was accepted by that gentleman, and he was inducted into the charge of the Oamaru, Otepopo and Hampden Presbyterian Church.

He was very heartily received by the members and adherents of the denomination and for a time all was harmony; but Mr. Connor, while by no means deficient in ability, his qualifications as a preacher being quite equal to the average Presbyterian Minister of the colony, was not possessed of the tact requisite to successfully establish that mutual good feeling and community of interests necessary between a pastor and his people. He also lacked experience, Oamaru being his first charge, and did nor appear to realise that, more especially in the colonies, the days of cutty stools and long tedious orations on the occasion of christenings were out of date. The want of faith in his character showed greatly to his disadvantage in his relations with the office bearers of the church; while unable to gain their affection or esteem, he failed to impress them with his personality, and irritated them by his peevish fussiness. After a good deal of bickering between him and his congregation he resigned in October 1868.

The state of affairs referred to in 1861, were now in 1863 quite altered. English Church service was held regularly each Sunday in the Courthouse, and when the incumbent, the Rev. A. Gifford, was absent, Mr. T. W. Parker, lay reader, performed the divine service, and divine service was held in the School house in the forenoon by the Rev. Charles Connor, Presbyterian minister, and in the evening by Mr. Flamank, Wesleyan lay preacher, and during the afternoon, Mr. Michael Grenfell, who belonged to the Wesleyan body, conducted a Sunday School in the same building, the first Sunday School in Oamaru.


The first show of the North Otago Agricultural and Pastoral Society was held on the Esplanade in front of Tyne St. in the month of November of this year. The show of sheep, which has always been a feature of this show in the years that have passed since then, was good. Holmes and Campbell showing Leicesters and Merinos Robert Hunter, Ardgowan, Leicesters and Merinos; Mr. James Hassell's Merinos, taking the first prize for the best ram; Alex McMaster Fairfax Fenwick and others exhibiting.

The draught horses were also a good show. For entries, the first prize was awarded to Royal Oak a large upstanding dark brown horse with a great crest, the property of Holmes and Campbell; the second prize to Rob Roy, a compact dapple grey horse belonging to Mr. Alexander McMaster; the third prize to Hero, a nice nuggety little black horse, the property of the late Thos. Ferens.

For draught mares, Hr. William Craig took first prize with Darling, and Mr. Thos. Ferens second with Golden Drop; Alex McMaster and Mark Noble also showing in this class.

For the thoroughbreds; entries - Mr. Thos Ferens took first prize with Fergus, a fine upstanding chestnut horse; and Mr. Hugh Reid of Otepopo, second prize with Caliph, a little dark brown horse.

In mares, Stella, and Nourmahal, shown by Hark Noble. In hacks, Mr. Alex McMaster took first prize with Flour Bags; Mr. Peter Orr first prize for best dairy cow; for dairy produce, butter, Mrs. W. Derritt, Mrs. George Graham, Mrs. T. Robertson, Otepopo.

The firm of Matthews and Reid were the only exhibitors of agricultural implements, and got a prize for a farm dray, set of harrows, and a plough of very primitive construction, made by the late Robert Reid of Messrs. Reid and Gray; it was afterwards purchased by Mr. Thomas Morton of Otepopo, and is no doubt still to be found rusticating in some corner of the Otepopo bush. The show was wound up by a dinner in the evening in the Northern Hotel.

This busy and eventful year was now drawing to a close, and building had made such progress that it would be difficult to enumerate the different erections, but one or two are worthy of notice, as the old Waitake House built on Section 7 Block 4, Thames St., by Messrs. Shrimski and Moss about the end of the year. It was the first building north of the creek with and pretension to architectural style, and indeed had no equalling in the town. Messrs. Shrimski and Moss set a good example by erecting such a substantial stone structure, the first business premises built of stone in the town of Oamaru.

Mr. Samuel Gibbs, about the same time erected a large wooden dwelling house and store combined on Section 5, same block and street, which was some years afterwards converted into the Swan Hotel; and Mr. A. Barker had erected a long iron building alongside the Northern Hotel as a Public Hall.

There had been no further increase of the business firms of the town other than those already noticed; the number of hotels was the same as in 1860, but the Star and Garter had changed hands, Messrs. Armstrong, Payne and Newy, succeeding Mr. Richard Jones. The town was now very busy, the return of the wool season always bringing a large increase to the population and trade of the place during the time it lasted; and there had been a considerable increase in the number of tradesmen during the year, four black-smiths and three wheelwrights being now established in the town; Joseph Ogilvie, William Falconer. David Bruce, Mathews and Reid and Charles Ross, and other tradesmen in proportion, as carpenters, tinsmiths etc.

On the New Year's Day of 1864 athletic sports were held on the Esplanade. A secretary had been appointed and a programme drawn up. The various events were well competed, but as I was not present having spent the day with some friends in the country, I cannot describe them.

In the month of January 1864, Mr. Frank Pinkerton canvassed the town and district toward the establishment of a newspaper, and was so successful that he was encouraged to proceed with the enterprise, and as a result the first issue of the Oamaru Times was published on 25th February 1864.

It is therefore not necessary that I should continue these reminiscences further, as there are ample records to be found in the columns of that journal relating to all matters of local importance. A few inaccuracies may have, no doubt, crept into these pages as they have all been written from memory, as I have not a single scrap of memoranda in my possession. Two years ago I destroyed, along with my old day book, a number of papers that I had amused myself by writing in leisure moments, which would have been invaluable for reference at this time.

In writing these few pages I have not knowingly intended to hurt the feelings of anyone mentioned in them; I have tried to make as little reference as possible to the affairs or life of private individuals. What I have related, or tried to relate, has, as much as possible had reference to those who had taken some part in public matters during the years treated of. My estimate of and remarks on the characters of the public men mentioned may be thought by some to be out of place; but then by becoming public men, by giving expression publicly to opinions, and taking part in public affairs, they laid themselves open to criticism by the public at large, as I have done by forwarding to the public press my recollections of old Oamaru.

William Falconer 1889

Remainder of Article  1860 | 1861 | 1862