09 February 2014

Old New Plymouth

Early New Plymouth (click to enlarge)
The above map of the early days of the town of New Plymouth is taken from Reminisces of a Taranaki Surveyor by William Henry Skinner (1857-1946), published in New Plymouth by Thomas Avery & Sons in 1946. It was drawn by artist Fred Coleman, who shows the traces of the later roads that emerged between Queen and Brougham Streets. The site of the former Pukeariki pa is occupied by government buildings in this map, which were much later replaced with the excellent Puke Ariki museum that since 2003 has been as a focal point of the downtown area. Skinner was a keen preserver of New Zealand heritage and in his later life played a major role in improving the collections of Puke Ariki's precursor, the Taranaki Museum. Here he sets out the history of his earliest days in the town:

I was born in February 1857, at New Plymouth. My parents' home at the time and for many years before, stood on the north bank of the Mangaotuku stream at its junction with the Huatoki, facing Brougham Street. We moved to our new home in St Aubyn-Young Street in 1863, on the occasion of my father retiring from business. This was my home for the following fifty years, other members of the family either "passing on" or establishing their own homes. The Mangaotuku and the Huatoki were wider, deeper and clearer than the present narrow, silted-up streams. The banks were fringed with tree ferns and other native vegetation. The inflowing tide carried the canoes paddling upstream to the landing-place on the east bank of the Huatoki, below the native village of Mawhera on the high bank opposite. At the junction of the two streams there was a wide and deep pool (much wider and deeper than at present) in which were launched the small sailing craft of fifteen to eighteen tons, and large surf boats, built at the ship-wright yard of Brooking and Cocker, located at Currie Street and James Lane. The craft were taken down to the mouth of the river and the sea on the high-water spring-tides. 
This early home of my parents was situated amidst a scene of natural beauty and charm, with the added attractions of the infant settlement close at hand. Towering above the narrow line of Brougham Street, opposite and overlooking our home, was the eastern scarp of the great pa, Pukeariki. It extended north and westward along the sweep of St Aubyn Street to its junction with Queen Street (at the Cenotaph), and from there turned and followed the Mangaotuku Stream generally south and east to the junction of King and Brougham Streets. This great pa was named by the pioneers, Mt Eliot, and was the dominating feature of early New Plymouth. The massive hill has since been completely removed, the soil being used mainly for the reclamation and forming of the railway-station yards. At the time of which I write the pa was occupied by Provincial Government's offices, together with the Pilot Station for the port, signal staff and time gun, and quarters for the Armed Constabulary. The outline of the pa and its protective outworks were still well marked, and on its summit overlooking Brougham Street were many old kumara pits, hidden by a covering of fern, often traps for the unwary. 
- W.H. Skinner, Reminisces of a Taranaki Surveyor, New Plymouth, 1946, p.11-12.
Skinner goes on to reveal that as a small child he accidentally fell into one of those kumara pits and spent a whole day there until he was rescued. The earliest New Zealand Company settlers arrived at New Plymouth on 31 March 1841 aboard the William Bryan, to find a colony far less organised and inviting than they had been led to expect. (Both my maternal and paternal ancestors - the Tuckers and the Chilmans - were passengers aboard the William Bryan. For more on both families, see 'The last sight of Old Plymouth' below). For much of the town's first three decades the population remained small, but the later arrival of the railway from Wellington (1886) spurred urban growth. The 2013 estimated population of New Plymouth District was 74,700.

See also:
England: The last sight of Old Plymouth, 6 April 2009
NZ: Tawhiti Museum, 2 January 2014
HistoryIvy McWhirter - A Kiwi by mistake
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