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Horse-drawn coach makes for a colourful journey


In early November 1867, the Hawke’s Bay Herald jubilantly informed the public that “Races! Races! Races!” were to be held at Waipukurau on the afternoon of 26 December. The organiser, William Goodwin (owner of Waipukurau Tavistock Hotel), trusted that the “public at large” would patronise the event.

To satisfy the needs of Napier’s racing fraternity, Cobb & Co organised a four-in-hand coach (four horses with one driver) to travel between Napier and Waipukurau for the event. To ensure passengers arrived at the start of the races, the coach determined to leave Napier punctually at 6am, returning the following day. Cobb & Co advised patrons to book promptly as seats were limited.

On 4 January 1868, a passenger ‘anonymous’ described the trip in the Hawke’s Bay Herald. At 5am, the coach arrived at Cobb & Co’s Masonic Hotel booking office and picked-up its first group of passengers. Coachman Andrew Peters then drove to the Spit while a bugler, “played some lively tunes much to the astonishment of the drowsy inhabitants of that quarter” to collect more travellers. The coach then returned to the Masonic Hotel for the remaining passengers, leaving punctually at 5.50am for Waipukurau.

The trip to the newly built Ngaruroro bridge, “supposed to be the best in the province”, proved to be very pleasant. The first stop was Walter Caldwell’s commodious Provincial Hotel, at West Clive where the horses were “refreshed with water and the passengers with beer”.

The writer prophesised that West Clive “the very name of which was unknown a few weeks ago” would soon rank highly amongst “our flourishing inland townships”. Eight months earlier this small township was in its infancy – the main road had just been formed with buildings on either side, including a blacksmith’s, the Provincial Hotel and the Junction Store, which was originally located next to Tareha’s Bridge but moved “to a more prominent site”.

Once refreshed the horses started along the “rough and dusty unmetalled road”, until reaching the small township of Havelock, which had sprung up around a “steam-mill in the bush”. Here the coach drew up at Peter McHardy’s Havelock Hotel, (located on the site of the present St Columba Presbyterian Church) where the horses were again watered, and refreshment provided for the passengers. 

Setting off, the coach travelled through “thistle flat’ until reaching Alfred Harrisons hotel at Pakipaki. Anonymous commented that inebriants were still celebrating the festive season as there was “an immense amount of noisy singing and dancing going on” and the “long-suffering landlord” was looking “very seedy” being unable to get any sleep for two nights.

At Pakipaki the exhausted horses were ex-changed for fresh ones. Once harnessed, they traversed around the base of the hills to Ellingham’s Hotel, arriving there at 10am. To everyone’s annoyance the coach had to wait half-an-hour for five tardy passengers. The coach then ascended the hill through Te Aute bush and passed “the gates of Reverend Samuel Williams residence”.

The next stop was Neil Campbell’s Kaikora hotel, where the weary horses were watered and from thence to Waipawa, arriving at noon. The horses were again switched, while more passengers boarded and finally the coach set-off at a brisk pace bound for its final destination.

This portion of the journey proved very daunting as there was a steep descent into the riverbed “which required great skill” by the driver, and “shewed immense neglect on the part of the engineer and road-makers”. After crossing the river, a “very sharp ascent, round the side of the hill” which was enough to potentially “throw the coach on its side” had to be carefully navigated.

Eventually the coach arrived at the racecourse, an hour-and-a-half later than advertised. Being such a beautiful day throngs of spectators “approximately 500 of both races” had gathered in lively anticipation. Six races were held, including hurdles, and the champion race run over 1 ½ miles. For the spectators there was a “foot race open to all pedestrians” as well as cricket and quoit games and, for the ravenous, the Tavistock Hotel put on excellent meal for two shillings, served in a large marquee. One of the most pleasing aspects of the day, wrote a reporter, was the “quiet, orderly manner” in which everything was conducted culminating in scarcely a “single case of drunkenness” and no untoward disturbances.  

However, our anonymous writer had a different viewpoint. He disparagingly described the racecourse as being badly laid out, especially the first turning which was so sharp that “most of the horses had either to run into a wire fence or bolt down the hill towards Goodwin’s hotel”.

The coach with its passengers returned to Waipawa at 6pm, having “happily escaped all risk at ascending and descending the riverbanks”, and just in time to escape a deluge of rain. After dinner several of the travellers took a stroll along the picturesque river “towards the Ruataniwaha Plains”. Later in the evening, the group, dressed in all their finery, attended “a grand and very merry ball at the Waipawa Courthouse” which lasted well into the early hours.

The coach set out after breakfast the following morning. At Pakipaki “where order had once more been restored” they stopped for lunch. Finally, at 3pm the coach arrived back at Napier and the gratified travellers weaved their way wearily home.  

Laura and the team at MTG wish you all a wonderful and safe holiday season.

Published in the Hawke’s Bay Today newspaper on 30 December 2023 and written by Gail Pope, Social History Curator at MTG Hawke’s Bay

Image: Napier from Mataruahou looking toward Clive, circa 1865. The Masonic Hotel is the large two-storied building in the centre of the photograph.

3 January 2024

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