History

The Pukerua Railway Camp

Pukerua Bay HomeHe Ara Pukerua ‣ The Pukerua Railway Camp

Samuel Brown. Photo: Wellington City Council Archives, 00138-12397.

Sudden death, stabbing and robberies: The Wild West? No – the Pukerua railway camp.

During the construction of the railway tunnels between 1884 to 1886 up to 400 men were employed at any one time by Samuel Brown the contractor. The No. 15 contract, for construction of the railway between Pukerua and Paekakariki including six tunnels, was “considered the most difficult and important [contract] on the line.”¹ Many of the men lived at Pukerua in what was known as “the railway camp” or “Brown’s camp”. They lived in tents, whares and huts or stayed in “boarding houses,” which were probably just tents with wooden floors.

The brick makers, bricklayers, tunnelers, quarrymen, woodcutters, stonemasons and navvies walked from Wellington round Porirua Harbour from Pauatahanui, up the Kakaho Stream valley then over the saddle and down to the camp. Contractors, managers, foremen and the better paid tradespeople travelled by coach to Pauatahanui and walked to the camp or took passage on one of the coastal steamers calling onto Pukerua.

With so many men in the camp there were incidents such as robberies of watches, money, jewellery and even clothing. During this time the New Zealand Police Gazette had fourteen entries for Pukerua including a one pound reward notice for a sixteen year old ship deserter. More dramatic was a fire in a whare which had dynamite and blasting caps stored inside. The two miners who lived in the whare made a very hasty exit. Although the caps exploded the dynamite “burned quietly” but they lost all their clothes.

Wellington Manawatu Railway plan for Pukerua
Wellington Manawatu Railway plan for Pukerua showing Bright’s Clearing and Waimapihi Stream. Photo: New Zealand Railway and Locomotive Society.

Generally the camp was peaceful but in June 1886 two miners who shared a whare had an argument. One was stabbed with a miner’s candlestick, a sharp pointed iron candle holder used in mines and tunnels. The charge of unlawful wounding was changed by mutual consent to common assault and both miners were bound by the Magistrate to keep the peace for six months.

Benjamin Thatcher, a man who already knew the inside of a Magistrate’s Court, ran one of the boarding houses at the Pukerua railway camp. As well as accommodation and meals Thatcher provided the workmen with alcohol. But he never had a licence nor was there any way to hide the barrels of beer rowed ashore from the s.s.Tui. Constable Roche from Paekakariki saw 120 gallons of beer from the Thorndon Brewery being landed at Pukerua for Thatcher on 16 May 1885. Thatcher was subsequently charged at the Paekakariki Police Court with sly-grog selling. Constable Roche said, “that the vicinity of Thatcher’s house was one of the most dangerous places in New Zealand for drunken men to frequent, as they had to pass a high and precipitous cliff going backwards and forwards.”² Thatcher was fined £20 and costs or one month in prison with hard labour if the fine was not paid. Later that same year he was fined 20 shillings, with 7 shillings costs for being drunk in charge of a horse at Pukerua. However, two months later the horse may have had its revenge. While Thatcher was riding beside the contractor’s tramway he was thrown from the horse with “great force” onto the iron rails. He was badly injured and taken to Wellington Hospital by train.

Running a boarding house at Pukerua during construction of the railway was a risky business. Three Pukerua boarding house keepers at the railway camp, James Edward Raistrick, Edward Robinson and Edward Henry Banks, ended up in court when each, at different times, was declared bankrupt.

In September 1884 a Post Office and Post Office Savings Bank were established at Pukerua with John Laughton, the works manager, as postmaster. Many men spent all of their first pay on alcohol and were absent next day. Samuel Brown announced that from then on anyone absent after pay day would be dismissed and he advised workers to make use of the Savings Bank. This advice was heeded and there were no more absences following pay day. Laughton encouraged workers to save and on one occasion over £300 was deposited by Pukerua workmen into the Savings Bank.

In late August 1885 the badly decomposed body of a man was found up a gully near the camp. He was identified as Richard Price, a striker who worked with the blacksmith Malcolm Mclntyre. The inquest heard that in June Price was planning to work on a bridge near Woodville and his mates thought he had left even though the body was only 150 yards from his hut. He was known to be a heavy drinker and this may have contributed to his demise.

The Pukerua railway camp was disbanded with the opening of the railway and so ended a most colourful time of Pukerua’s history.

By Ashley Blair, Pukerua Bay Heritage Group.

References

  1. “Wellington and Manawatu Railway” New Zealand Mail, Issue 656, 19 September 1884, (Supplement) p. 1
  2. “Sly grog-Selling at Pukerua” Evening Post, Volume XXX, Issue 2, 2 July 1885, p. 3

Muri Station history taking shape

You might have noticed that the old shelter building on the southbound platform of the former Muri railway station has a new coat of paint and is looking pretty flash. This is thanks to the Greater Wellington Regional Council, which is handing ownership of the building over to the Residents Association. It’s the culmination of a long process that began when GWRC closed the station in 2011.

The plan is to make it part of He Ara Pukerua heritage project, and it will have the Pukerua Bay railway history on display in the shed. In the meantime, we have a temporary sign…

Temporary heritage sign on Muri Station shelter.
It was installed by our friend Bill Inge, Village Projects Coordinator from Porirua City Council.

Pukerua Bay 2019 calendars for sale

The first batch of 2019 calendars have arrived and been delivered to those who ordered them, thanks for supporting us! We have more still for sale. Below are sample images of January and July. This time we’ve marked handy things on the calendar for you, like school term dates, recycling days, and your friendly local residents’ association meetings, as well as the usual public holidays and lunar phases. All printed on quality stock and yours for only $18. Please indicate if you are local, and someone will drop them off at your house, otherwise its $5 extra for postage anywhere else in New Zealand.

Funds go towards the Residents’ Association, to help pay for things like annual insurance, the access licence across Kiwirail land for the community garden, and so on.

Buy your 2019 calendar(s) now!

Taking orders for our 2019 Pukerua Bay calendar

This year’s calendar is about the people of Pukerua Bay, some living and some who’ve passed on. All have contributed to the fabric of this lovely village that we share, and the photos and words reflect that. The calendar is A4 sized and would make a perfect Christmas gift for past residents, family, friends and neighbours, or even framing for posterity.

Print runs will be done in batches as orders accumulate, so please allow some time; we will make sure they arrive before Christmas. We are delivering them ourselves to Pukerua Bay and wider Kāpiti Coast addresses for free, and outside of that area please include $5 for postage for up to three copies anywhere in NZ.

Order now for Christmas!

He Ara Pukerua signpost opening

The He Ara Heritage Group of the Pukerua Bay Residents Association would like to invite you to the opening of 4 heritage bollards on the Ara Harakeke Way. The event will be on Saturday 19 May 2018 and start at 10.00am by the entrance to Whenua Tapu.

That might sound a bit official but it’s really a great chance to see and hear stories about our local history. The bollards have been placed alongside the walkway to mark significant events or places at those sites.

It’s a 2.5 km walk down to the Z Truck Stop and Mayor Mike Tana is officiating at all four of them. He will be ably assisted at each one by our selected historians who will give a potted history of the significance of each site.

A representative from the Hongoeka Marae will bless each one and Mayor Mike will unveil them with a flourish. As a bonus, Mike Jebson from the QE2 National Trust and a resident botanist will speak as we pass the Taupō Swamp sign which was recently rediscovered. The last time it was seen out in the open was when the Queen was here!

At the Truck Stop we will have available some ‘local’ refreshments. They will be non-alcoholic and child friendly. Actually they will be real fruit ice blocks made on the Kāpiti Coast by a couple of ladies just starting their business called Paekākāriki Pops.

Train station and heritage sign opening day photos

It was almost a day for hats and umbrellas last Saturday, but the rain was kind and merely washed the station so Ngāti Toa Kaumata Taku Parai could bless the new Pukerua Bay station building and the He Ara Pukerua heritage sign. Greater Wellington Regional Councillors Jenny Brash and Barbara Donaldson cut ribbons to formally open the station, and Porirua Mayor Mike Tana unveiled the He Ara Pukerua sign, which is the first to mark a Pukerua Bay heritage site. 27 May 2017 will also be remembered as the day well-known Pukerua Bay resident Ray Brown sang his song “Pukerua Bay” which he composed in 1958.

He Ara Pukerua is the name of the Pukerua heritage project, and recognizes the many tracks which are part of Pukerua Bay’s history. There are many other places of interest in the history of Pukerua Bay and the Heritage Group is seeking contributions or memorabilia towards recording them.

If you would like to share your memories please contact Margaret Blair on 021 1373 263, or email pukeruaheritage@gmail.com

Photography © 2017 Ivor Earp-Jones.