Book reveals background on Warkworth’s colourful past

Author, Bryan Jackson.

When former history teacher Bryan Jackson was looking for a place to retire about 13 years ago, he stood outside the Warkworth i-SITE and started an informal survey of passersby, asking them what they thought of the place.

Opinions were overwhelmingly positive. Moreover, his wife discovered there was an excellent golf course, so the couple decided to move to the area.

During retirement, Bryan became fascinated with genealogy and after writing four books on his own family history, decided he ought to have a crack at writing about the history of Warkworth. The result is the newly released book, Warkworth: Incidents, accidents and tragedies.

Bryan says when he looked into it, there were already some good general histories of Warkworth, notably Harold Keys book, Mahurangi: The Story of Warkworth.

“I thought it would be a bit boring simply for me to re-do it,” he says.
So, he set about looking for his own angle on Warkworth.

He got an idea after searching through the National Library’s online archive of New Zealand newspapers from the 19th and 20th centuries - paperspast.natlib.govt.nz.

One headline from the New Zealand Herald in 1911 grabbed his attention. “Horsewhipped by a Lady – a Warkworth Sensation.”

The story continued: “A sensation was caused in Warkworth today, when a lady resident entered a shop and horsewhipped the proprietor in the presence of a large crowd of persons …”

Bryan realised he could fill a book with such colourful characters and incidents.

Moreover, his interest in genealogy meant he knew where to look to get more background on the life and history of those who made the headlines, to explain why they behaved as they did.

The book covers the period from 1870 to 1953. Those featured include Margaret Brodie, the former Matron of Warkworth Cottage Hospital, who also happened to be a con artist and drug addict. She defrauded numerous Warkworth shopkeepers. At a court appearance in 1925, a reporter described her as “a larcenist, thief, pretender, forger, and imposter, a gaol-bird of the first feather …”

Another court story concerns three Syrian brothers – a barber, a tailor and a bootmaker who all lived in Warkworth. They were falsely rumoured to molest children. The brothers successfully sued for defamation and were awarded £250 each – an enormous sum, given the average weekly wage was a little over £2.

The first photograph in the book shows an elderly man living in a tumbledown shack.

“This was in 1905. I wanted to find out why people living in Warkworth lived in such dreadful conditions,” he says.

But other pictures in the book show how Warkworth developed over the decades. Bryan says despite the challenges, Warkworth appeared to have a strong community spirit that drove the building of roads and community facilities such as a library and Town Hall. The book ends on a celebratory note with a visit by the Queen in 1953.    

Warkworth Incidents, Accidents and Tragedies is available from Paper Plus and Warkworth Museum.


Book Giveaway

Mahurangi Matters has one copy of Warkworth Incidents, Accidents and Tragedies to give away. To go in the draw, email the editor at editor@localmatters.co.nz. Competition closes on July 29.


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