The first echelon of new land owners to Mangawai* arrived after land sales of 1856. There were huge trees to contend with but logging was underway and the pioneers were folk of mighty ‘mettle’, who set about creating a lifestyle that would become unique to this country. Property owners were often first time land owners, who arrived from through the British Isles, as well as some European lands.
Wendolin and Ursulina Albeitz, from Switzerland, made their purchase during the first public land sales of Mangawai in 1856, after registering with the Waste Lands cleric in Auckland. After deciding where to live, they were directed to a cutter or steamer that was scheduled for their district. The trip usually took three days if the weather was fine. On arrival they were met by Samuel Mooney, manager of the Mangawai Hotel. One of the many ‘hats’ Samuel wore was ‘agent’ for the Waste Lands Department. He held that position for several years, and helped new arrivals by directing and delivering them to their allocated land. He was a master at working his bullock team, and won a remarkable chair, donated by the Provincial Superintendent, who had set a challenge to find the best bullock handler in the province.
According to a roving reporter, the property that Wendolin Albeitz bought for 30 shillings an acre, ran for about a mile along the river on the Te Arai side of Mangawai. Wendolin had brought with him the knowledge of growing and processing grapes, and developed the land in true Swiss style. It was set out in squared off areas, with paths between. In one patch he grew corn, in another red clover that grew to “great heights”, and so it went with plots of maize, potatoes, and onions. An orchard was also planted and the earliest recorded vineyards at Mangawai were those of Wendolin Albeitz. He initially put about four acres of his property under vines.
The above-mentioned reporter described finding the Albeitz property, having walked some miles, “following along one of the tributary streams until coming to the farm of Herr Albertz, a Switz settler of some five years standing.” He continued, “A glance at his cultivation convinced us of what may be done by perseverance – much attention had also been paid to the cultivation of the vine, which in leaves, appears to flourish luxuriantly. The grape does not appear to ripen in NZ so well as in Australia, and the same rule applies to water and sweet melons, which here are tame and insipid – such is a specimen of what can be done with land properly worked, and with a will to succeed”. In spite of that reporter’s opinion, Mr Albeitz produced 1000 gallons of wine in 1875 with expectations of another 500 gals that same season, according to the Auckland Star. He is mentioned as having won prizes in the Auckland Show year after year for wines, grapes, passionfruit and clover seeds. Unfortunately, government taxations became so high he had to abandon his wine production. In 1883, he was elected on to the Mangawai School Committee. A community man not to be forgotten, Wendolin died on 1 June 1887 at his home in Mangawai, aged 82 years. His wife Ursulina lived on until 1904.
*Mangawai was spelt as such from 1850’s until 1951 when it was corrected to Mangawhai.
Bev Ross, Mangawhai Museum mangawhai-museum.org.nz