By Judy Waters
The diary of Joseph Rowe Gard, an early settler on the Mahurangi River, is considered to be of historic and social importance. Joseph, the son of the High Sheriff of Devon, came to New Zealand in 1855 on the ship Merchantman. He was friends with Governor Gore-Brown and could have stayed in Auckland where he would have mixed with the social elite but, instead, he chose to take up land near Duck Creek, in Mahurangi. The first purchase was Lot 42 of 80 acres. When he acquired the adjoining Lot 41 from Mathew Angove, he more than doubled his acreage.
The diary tells of his struggles to establish crops. In spite of his best efforts, as well as those of his friend Kensole, to surround all his plantings with ditches, there were frequent incursions, which caused him considerable frustration … ‘Extremely vexed to find the pigs had again been in the garden and the bullocks also had done much damage to the strawberries.’
Often he would report the visit of a neighbour looking for lost stock, and even his own bullocks, which he used to pull the plough, would abscond and resist capture by swimming the river to remain free. On June 5, 1856, he wrote:
‘Left home in company with Kensole in our dingy (sic) to row to Scotts to catch the steamer for Auckland. Found Angove and Allen also waiting for the Wonga Wonga. June 6th Still at Scotts till 8 o’ clock when she arrived in the harbour. Reached Auckland at 12. Found lodgings 5 in one bedroom.’
And 10 days later … ‘Started at 10 for Exe Creek per Wonga Wonga. Brought with me 3 turkeys and my dog Spot a gift from Capt Troop. Found Kensole at Scotts with dingy. Home at 7.’
Then followed several days of ditching, ploughing and planting. It is obvious Joseph Gard enjoyed social contact with the other settlers. His sofa would often be used as a bed if stormy weather or distance prevented someone from reaching home. A cooperative spirit prevailed and help was there in times of need. When a storm demolished the end of the newly-built pier at Exe Creek, taking the boat and oars away with the tide, neighbours rallied to help. After rowing the length of the river on both sides, the boat was finally found up Dyer’s Creek.
The diary makes note of such milestones in the district as the building of the church at Mahurangi Heads and the arrival of Rev. and Mrs McKinney. At times, it is the understatement of the brief entries that intrigue the reader. Frequent mention was made of visits to the Grange home and then the following … ‘Spoke to Miss J, she accepted, gave her the gnir’. Perhaps the misspelling of ring was a private joke. Joseph, late of Exeter, was married to Jane Stuart Grange, late of Ayr, Scotland, by Rev. McKinney on 31 March 1858.