Benedict Remiger is another interesting early Puhoi settler. He was less than 12 years old when news came to his village in Bohemia that land was being given away in New Zealand. Families were daring to dream that they could become farmers on their own land and made plans to emigrate. Benedict caught the excitement. He could go, too, and become the owner of 20 acres! He argued that he was nearly a man. He could handle a team of oxen. He could dig. He could plough. He could make a farm. In the end, he got his way. The passage money was found and all arrangements made. His parents knew they would never see him again. But the leaders of the expedition, the Krippner brothers, were his mother’s cousins, so he wasn’t entirely on his own.
After arriving in Puhoi, and being confronted with the huge task of carving farmland from almost impenetrable bush on steep hills, Benedict returned to Auckland and possibly stayed with Mrs Martin Krippner, who had opened a school in Parnell. He worked for the Daily Southern Cross newspaper for some time to raise some funds. He then returned to Puhoi to work with other men who had banded together to open up some arable land for each family and shared the proceeds gained from the sale of firewood and shingles.
By 1877, the deferred payment scheme had been introduced to encourage families to settle. They could claim up to 320 acres of land, pay 10 per cent deposit and pay off the rest over 10 years, provided the family lived on the land and made improvements. Benedict had forfeited his original piece of land and now made his new claim in Puhoi. By 1880, he was grazing 70 sheep, the number increasing steadily each year. Every farmer also ran some dairy cows. Some of the orchard he planted is still producing.
Benedict married Mary Russek, who had emigrated with her parents on the same ship as Benedict. His family grew to 13 members and they all helped with the work. When Benedict retired, his sons received a share of the farm, which by then comprised 1400 acres. Benedict spent the rest of his life in Puhoi, being involved in almost all community and church affairs. He had a genial personality with a lovable nature and many friends.
Benedict somehow achieved a great command of English and often became the speaker for Puhoi on official occasions – welcoming visitors, proposing toasts, giving votes of thanks, presiding at concerts and, at the 50th anniversary of Puhoi in 1913, giving a full story of the group that emigrated in 1863, calling on the next generations to keep adding to the story.
After floods devastated Puhoi’s progress, newspapers carried impassioned pleas – possibly written by Benedict Remiger – for Government or Council to do something to improve the lot of these hardworking people. In 1924, the concreting of the road over Ahuroa Hill was suggested. Unfortunately, even now, a sealed road still hasn’t been achieved.
Jenny Schollum, Puhoi Historical Society