Peninsula Past - 1871

27 Jul 2021

Meghan Hawkes goes back in time for a look at the Mercury Bay news and events hitting the headlines in years past, this time 1871.

There were lamentable accounts about the state of Mercury Bay.  Gum diggers who had been working in the Upper Kauaeranga had begun drifting over towards the Bay, and about 400 men descended on the township on Saturday evenings to patronise the stores where drink could be procured. There was no magistrate or policeman, and rioting, fighting and drunkenness went quite unchecked. However, a man who had been employed in the vicinity of Mercury Bay for some time gave quite another account asserting that the place was most quiet and orderly and he never saw anything like fighting or rioting.

Easterly gales and heavy rain hit Mercury Bay flooding the whole area and ruining crops. Mr George White’s farm was completely submerged, his stockyards, palings and fences being washed away. Other farmers in the district were also great sufferers. All the bridges over the creeks, rails and shingles were carried out to sea and the entire plantation belonging to local Maori destroyed. The flood though was advantageous to the mills, carrying down large quantities of timber.

When William White launched his new cutter, about 100 settlers gathered in anticipation. Punctually, at 9:00am, the vessel glided gracefully into the water amidst great cheering from bystanders. She was christened by Miss Meikle, who gave her the name Mercury after the district. The Mercury was a timber trader and had a large cabin neatly fitted up with every convenience for passengers and was well lit with a skylight. After the launch, the workmen and a few guests sat down to a dinner given by Mr White. In the evening there was entertainment in Mr Carina’s new music hall by some young men in aid of the school library. Later, there was a ball, at which dancing was kept up till four in the morning when the settlers returned home, much pleased with the day’s amusement.

Whangapoua’s “Battle of the logs”, an ongoing dispute regarding timber ownership, culminated in a fight between men employed by Mr Thomas Craig and a party in the employ of Mr C A Harris. Mr Craig instructed his men to take possession of certain logs. When they went alongside the raft of logs, Harris’s men broke up three of Craig’s boats. In the scuffle, some of Craig’s men were thrown off the raft into the water. One man armed with a pike pole stabbed one of Craig’s men below the heart. The wound was very serious and Dr Payne was sent for. The man ultimately recovered but the “Battle of the logs” dragged on through the courts. 

A message in a bottle washed up at Mercury Bay - “Ship Adelia Carleton, of Boston, Captain Carleton, bound to San Francisco from Sydney, five days out, 34 deg 48 m.s. 164 deg. 14m.e., all well. Mr Montgomery flying a kite, goose and fowl for dinner, wife recovered from her sickness, things looking awfully jolly, did not practice the piano this morning, think of it presently. Send this to nearest newspaper. Alfred Hugh Havell.”

Pictured: A boom of logs and the engine used for hauling logs from bush to tramline, Whangapoua. Photo courtesy of the Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections.