Jade River: A history of the MahurangiDr Ronald H Locker
First published 2001; second edition 2001; online 2014—
This online edition is a work in progress.
Pages 183–187in printed edition
As mate of the Jane Gifford
When I was on Jane Gifford with my brother Reg, we would leave Warkworth if the tide was favourable at 3.30 am.
Reg would go down to the Collins’ home by the Masonic Hall, bang on the door to waken me, then return to the boat and heat up the diesel engine. By the time I arrived the engine would be going. Reg would get under way, and when we got down to the old kilns, he would go down to look at the engine and see everything was all right, while I was left at the wheel. He would then go down to the cabin and straight off to sleep.
I would be left a good hour at the wheel, on the outgoing tide towards Mahurangi Heads, which we would reach by daylight. As soon as we reached Saddle Island, we were in the open sea and the sails would be set. I wouldn’t call my ‘noble Reg Collins’ until 9 am, when Reg might say:
A damned sou’wester. Yes, you did well steering the way you did.
The jib topsail was a light sail, carried on all ships as an extra, and useful in moderate weather. Once we were running a bit late towards TiriTiritiri Matangi Island, or more probably Tiri Passage, colloquial for Whangaparāoa Passage. Reg had said ‘Don’t put that jib topsail on’. I thought ‘Damn it, we’re not going to do it. I’ll put up the jib-sail’. Off we went in style – it really made us go. Reg came up and roared ‘You’ve got that bloody topsail on and I told you not to’. ‘Where would we have been if I hadn’t?’ I answered. ‘Oh yes, I suppose you’re right,’ he said.
There was a knack to hauling up those big sails. The throat is pulled up first and then the peak. These had to be worked alternately, and while this was going on the ship had to be steered, which entailed running fore and aft all the time. Great care had to be taken not to fall overboard in the rush, for likely as not a man’s mate would be down below asleep. There really should have been three aboard, but more often we ran with two. On the rope halyards would be little worn pieces as hard as wire, which would pierce our hands, hardened as they were and covered with corns from shovelling shingle. The state of our hands made the job a torture. The anchor had to be hoisted while the boat sailed along. The chain was fixed on the winch, and when the flukes were out of the sea, the anchor had to be tied on the side, otherwise it would knock a hole in the bow.
Once, when we had an old chap called Ted Lake aboard, we had come up through Tiri PassageWhangaparāoa Passage with a load of shell and a nor’ east wind. That old joker let the centreboard down too far, leaving only about a foot holding in its case. The big leverage as the boat rolled opened up the planking. The boat began to take on water and a big list. We tried unsuccessfully to work the pump, and had to keep shovelling shell from one side to the other. When we ran into Waiwera, old Fred Kasper was there on Daphne. He had seen us alter course and go from one side to the other, and wondering what was amiss, had considered coming back, although he was skippering a Northern Co. passenger vessel. We continued shovelling shell and eventually put her on Waiwera beach. With her big load, her planks squeezed back into position and she tightened herself up. All, this because of old Ted, who although a lovely old man could never be trusted. Off and on he had been with Reg a long time, and was given a few pounds a month, mainly for living on board as caretaker. He had lived with the Māori a long time.
A lot of stuff got stolen in town. Once Reg came down to the wharf and there was a dinghy banging on the ship’s side. Reg rowed out. ‘What the hell are you doing with the boat tied alongside?’ he shouted, and found himself face to face with Darky White.
What the hell are you doing here? You’re getting away with all the stuff!
No, I’m just bringing back what my brother took from you.
In fact, he was robbing the ship, and caught in the act. Everything on deck had been stolen. Reg said: ‘You’d better come to the police with me’. Reg kept walking around the wharf until he saw a policeman. I’ve got a bloke aboard who has been pinching our gear’ said Reg. ‘Bring him round to the steps’ said the policeman. So Reg took Darky to the steps where the old policeman awaited them at the top. At the top step, Darky was off for the lick of his life. Reg said:
You’re a bloody beautiful policeman, you are!
So Darky got away and went to the Huntly mines. He wasn’t seen for seven months. Then he returned on the 7 am express, and they had him. A search of his room in Nelson Street revealed oceans of stuff pinched off the scows. He had kept his rent paid by that rookery while in Huntly. Darky got six months.
Loading cattle at Kawau was an unforgettable experience. We went there with Ringi Brown from Leigh in a chartered scow to take off 40-50 wild cattle. We took 20 young steers to mingle with the wild ones as decoys. A big stockyard had been built in Schoolhouse Bay. I think Ted Harper was with us, and Ringi had brought a few of his Pakiri pals. Ringi was a real go-getter with wild cattle. There was a strong fence from Mansion House to Schoolhouse Bay, and we had about 20 cattle brought in, worth £20–25 a head in Warkworth. We left them overnight, and next morning went to load them. Suddenly they turned and went ‘ping-ping’ over the fence and into the bush. Ringi and his mates went chasing them, but it seemed impossible to round them up. By 2 pm they were on the south shore of Bon AccordBon Accord Harbour. The tide was right out and we had 25 running along low water mark with the dogs after them. They cut across Schoolhouse Bay. Reg and I watched from the scow. Would you believe it, they went straight into the yard, where a few of the young stock were. We had the rail across half an hour before Ringi and his men arrived.
One of the cattle got down on the way over and had to be shot. The rest were brought to Warkworth. They were big bullocks. Harry Stubbs the butcher was interested, and so was the North Auckland Farmers Company. They were unloaded on a Sunday morning, just above the wharf at high tide. The cattle got into the river and went round and round in the water. Reg got a paddle, to break them up, because if they so continued they would drown. After Reg had smashed the paddle on their horns, they went up to the wharf behind the dairy company. A couple broke away and the others followed. Poor old Bert Stubbs, then a young man, was standing, cigar in mouth and hands in pockets, when up over the bank came the cattle and made a dive for him, He fell over. The cattle ran loose in the town that Sunday morning and people were running everywhere—round the back of the baker’s—everywhere. Charlie Snow the policeman blew the hell out of Reg, who said it was not his responsibility. The cattle now belonged to Ringi Brown and Stubbs or whoever was taking them over. It took three or four days to round them all up. The one shot on board provided me with some undercut steak. It was hoisted with the derrick and put ashore for skinning there and then.
Reg was a very kind-hearted chap, who used to fall for most things put to him. During a railway strike, a Mr Carran came with some pigs to Warkworth wharf, where we were lying, while a gale was blowing from the nor’ west. Reg agreed to take them to Auckland. We started to load them, but a few got away—another Sunday morning. They ran all around the town, under buildings, everywhere imaginable, with townsfolk after them. At last we had them all rounded up, and once loaded we had to sail in spite of the gale. It was about 11 am. We put up some sail as the engine wasn’t sufficient with the wind on the quarter. Off Whangaparāoa the pigs were all in a heap with waves washing over them. I climbed the mast and took some photographs. We berthed in Auckland at night. We made a sling from a large box, put it against the centrecase, and rushed the pigs into the box, dropping a shutter behind them. They were hoisted with the winch. Hellabys had lorries waiting, arranged by Mr Carran. It was 2 am, and the squealing of pigs was frightful. A chap arrived from a nearby boarding house, bent on stopping it. In the end he fetched a policeman, who arrived when half the pigs were unloaded. The pigs had had nothing to eat or drink, and had to be unloaded quickly. The fellow from the boarding house went aboard to tell Reg what he thought of him, but fell back into the pig muck, about three inches deep on the deck. ‘You won’t see him again for a while’ said the policeman. We received £10–12 for the load of 150 pigs.
Reg and I once went down to Motutaputhe island of Motutapu; motu = island to pick up cattle belonging to Mr Bull of Coromandel. We were not allowed to land at Emu Bay, a beautiful bay where the cattle were. They were polled Angus with calves at foot, wanted by Mr Bull to bring new blood to Coromandel. They were put into a yard until the scow could be brought alongsde with the tide. ‘Send them aboard’ we shouted, and they came down the race at a terrific bat, went around the centrecase and turned back towards the race, telescoping over those coming aboard. The cattle got bleeding legs from the rusted railway lines lining the race, and all ended up ashore and up the hill again. We didn’t get loaded on that tide. About ten at a time were put on next time, and eventually all were aboard, all meek and mild. Some were standing on others. The fallen were got up by pouring a bucket of water in their ears and pulling on a rope around their horns. A couple had to be shot or they would have been trampled to death.
We reached Coromandel wharf at 10 pm and went to the Golconda Hotel to find Mr Marshall, an old drover who had been expecting us since 3 pm. The cattle were thirsty, so he told us to let them ashore, and he would look after them. We had only a flare to light the way, and couldn’t see the cows clearly, but could hear their feet on the metalled causeway. Suddenly the noise stopped. Two cows were charging Reg and me. Reg leaped aside. I ran barefoot down the wharf with a cow almost on top of me and jumped into the sea, as the cow fell on its knees above. The water wasn’t cold. I climbed out and we got the cow into an old quarry above the wharf. We reached the creek coming out of Coromandel to meet an unforgettable sight. First we saw an old man and lady in nightgowns, with candles—there was no power there then. They were trying to get the ravenous cattle out of their vegetable garden. The pictures had just come out and the cattle were going for everyone. It was terrible. People were being chased up and down the street and into backyards. We roused old Marshall at the GolcondaGolconda Hotel; known since 1998 as the Admirals Arms Hotel and told him to get out of bed and do something. He confessed he had ordered the cattle off because they were short of water, and took all the blame. Some were down in the creek drinking. Everything edible was cleaned up. It was over a week before all were rounded up. We got £25 for the load and earned every penny. These Angus cattle were not really wild, but were usually driven by men on horseback. Unless taken gently they would become infuriated, stopping neither at fences or anything else.
This incident happened after I was married, and Reg and I were in shares in the boat. I was paid so much for every trip. Reg would tell me I was going to get £4, £5, £6 for this trip. Reg had to find fuel and everything, but like our brother Bert, was always generous and fair in his dealings. On the shell from Shell Bank he got £5 a load. With two loads it made £10 a week, which in those days1924–26 was pretty good money.
A final fragment of Tudor’s experience on the cattle scow describes a tour of duty to Little Barrier Island:
There was a flat of 10–12 acres on Little Barrier, built up by two or three small streams, flowing from ravines, carrying down boulders over thousands of years, and forming a spit between the northwest and southeast side of the island. A big pōhutukawa stood at its end, a landmark to mariners. The flat had good feed, grazed by a few head of cattle and house cows. Over four to five years the cattle had increased, and could not be adequately fed. A dealer, Mr Guy Ashton, used to call at the island, particularly when we were there with the scow. About ten head were usually taken off. Loading was a problem, as the scow could not be beached on the boulders, but had to be anchored in deep water. A long rope was run ashore by dinghy to the stockyard and fastened around the horns of a beast. One bull didn’t mind being taken from the yard, but on the beach, he dug his toes in. Even so, he could not hold out against the winch and was slowly drawn into the water and quietly wound up alongside. A cradle, made of rope and weighted, was dropped under his forelegs. I was in the dinghy beside the beast as he was slowly hoisted aboard, to be lashed securely to the rigging by a rope around his horns. Everything went well until old Ted Lake got the ropes tangled somehow, and the bull got loose. It charged the gangway and went over the side into the dinghy. Ted held on to its hind legs while the forelegs were in the dinghy. I dropped my camera into the boat and jumped backwards into the sea. The bull was eventually got back on board, with the rest of the cattle. Mr Ashton sold them on Great Barrier Island.