Gumtown’s Granny (Annie) Hodge was one of the area’s best loved characters. She and her husband, Roderick, a boot maker, had over the years brought their enterprising spirit to Gumtown (now Coroglen), running a store, an eating house, butchery and stables. They also loaded provisions for pack horses to take to gum diggers and bush camps.
Rod’s boot repair shop had been next to their house and at the back of the shop, Annie ran a business of Saturday night seafood suppers. Gumtown weekends were busy with regular dances and hungry bushmen, and Annie’s shop did a roaring trade. In his spare time, horse riding was one of Rod’s favourite relaxations.
Annie and Rod had four children - Andrew, Owen, Hughie and Gregor. During their life together, they took up land at Oteao, then Kapowai and finally at Waione near Whenuakite. In time, a road would be named after the Hodge family. But behind Granny Hodges’ cheerful disposition were the terrible events of 1919.
In July of that year, 13-year-old Owen and his brother were riding round a narrow siding track when Owen’s horse slipped over the edge. The horse had Owen pinned by the leg, but as he lay downhill, his brother was unable to free him. His brother tied the horse’s head and went to get help from their father. Within 20 minutes, they had returned, but tragically the horse had worked further down the hill and fatally crushed Owen.
Owen, the second son of Annie and Roderick, was buried in the Mercury Bay Cemetery at Ferry Landing.
Ten years later, William Clune, a labourer, was riding from Kuaotunu to Mercury Bay when he came across a young man lying in a wheel rut. A saddled horse was grazing nearby. William rode to the nearest house for help, but no one was home. He immediately rode on to Henry Simpson's residence, two miles nearer Mercury Bay. From there a doctor was called.
Dr Hinds reached the accident site at ten minutes to three, but the young man was dead. Marks on the horse suggested it had slipped on the road and rolled on the man. He was identified as 20-year-old Ernest Pudney who worked at the Woodcock Estate in Kuaotunu. His parents lived in Taumarunui.
At the inquest William Kirk, lorry driver, said that while repairing his lorry on the Kuaotunu Hill, he had spoken to Ernest as he rode past on horseback and he told William he was on his way to play in the Bryce Cup football final. A few hours later, William had the grim job of conveying Ernest’s body to the hospital morgue in his lorry.
Dr Hinds, medical superintendent of the Mercury Bay Hospital, was of the opinion that Ernest had been crushed by his horse after falling. Ernest was known as a fast rider and had been cautioned about this. A verdict of accidental death was reached.
Ernest was very popular, and his funeral at the Mercury Bay cemetery gathered large numbers. Representatives of the rugby union and the Kuaotunu and Whitianga Football Clubs were present and laid wreaths on behalf of their members.
In 1922, Owen Hodge’s parents and brothers placed an In Memoriam notice for Owen in The New Zealand Herald. The poignant verse could well apply to the loss of both Owen Hodge and Ernest Pudney: Just a boy in life’s springtime, A boy to whom life was so dear. With a true boy’s sense of duty, A brave boy’s scorn of fear.
Pictured is Owen Hodge’s grave in the Mercury Bay Cemetery.