Pipiriki

The River Rises Again

Looking up Victoria Avenue with the Post Office tower in the centre.  Unknown photographer, 1904 (W-F-053)

Looking up Victoria Avenue with the Post Office tower in the centre. Unknown photographer, 1904 (W-F-053)

As Whanganui recovers from the largest flood in recorded history, we are again reminded of the immense and untameable power of the mighty awa. There have been several events in the recorded past when the river has burst its banks and invaded the township, and even more before recorded history.

The first flood of note occurred in 1891 when rain fell continuously from Thursday 12 February until midday the following day. The river rose rapidly and was reported to have smelled of sulphur and carried a variety of detritus including timber, trees, waka, household furniture, grain and even sheep.

Whanganui River looking from Durie Hill towards Moutoa Gardens. Photographer: A Martin, 13 February 1891 (W-F-018)

Whanganui River looking from Durie Hill towards Moutoa Gardens. Photographer: A Martin, 13 February 1891 (W-F-018)

By 10.00am on Friday 13 February, the river water had invaded the boat sheds on Taupō Quay.  Hotels, which stored their wares in the cellar, and shop owners, had to remove their stock by boat to prevent loss. A growing crowd of residents gathered to watch the salvage work and the swelling river, and even observed some unlucky people attempting to get to their houses by boat, only to be capsized. By 2.00pm the river was only six inches from the town wharf and four feet below the deck of the Town Bridge.

Many boats and waka were washed out to sea, but the rowing clubs emptied their sheds to limit the loss. The Wanganui Harbour Board lost a dredge and a punt, and the steam launch Moutoa also came adrift, although it was later rescued at Pipiriki.

Flood water from Paul's Corner, Yarrows Fish Shop and Restaurant, Steam Packet Hotel, Prince of Wales Hotel, A Mason's Store. Photographer: A Martin, 13 February 1891 (W-F-011)

Flood water from Paul’s Corner, Yarrows Fish Shop and Restaurant, Steam Packet Hotel, Prince of Wales Hotel, A Mason’s Store. Photographer: A Martin, 13 February 1891 (W-F-011)

Residents recalled the earlier floods they had witnessed in 1858, 1864, and 1875, and Māori remembered earlier ones still, but this one was agreed to be the largest in living memory.

By 11.00pm on Saturday night Taupō Quay was dry, but the roaring river had left behind a lot of mud and a huge amount of clean-up work. The flood damaged the roads in the town, closed several rural roads, caused damage to the river bank, washed away sections of the railway and left others underwater, lifted telegraph poles and disrupted communications, and left parts of the Whangaehu Valley waist-deep in places.

Thirteen years later in 1904, the rain again fell for several days, and the unseasonable warmth of the rain melted the early snow upstream. The Whanganui River began to swell, and by 9.30pm on Wednesday 25 May, the water was on the road by the rowing sheds on Taupō Quay. An hour later the roads between the Metropolitan Hotel and Moutoa Gardens were submerged and people were canoeing in the flood waters.

Looking towards the Victoria Avenue and Taupō Quay intersection, James Thain & Co to the right Photographer: Unknown, 1904 (W-F-055)

Looking towards the Victoria Avenue and Taupō Quay intersection, James Thain & Co to the right
Photographer: Unknown, 1904 (W-F-055)

Despite the late hour, a crowd gathered to watch the drama unfold. Observers on the Town Bridge could feel it vibrating with the force of the water flowing beneath, and the police were called in to dissuade loiterers, for fear the bridge would be washed away and take them with it.

By dawn the next day the river was over a foot above the 1891 flood lines and almost three times its usual width. The massive and powerful flow washed some riverside houses away, invaded many more, and left streets underwater.

Flood waters near the Union Bank of Australia Co. Ltd on Victoria Avenue Photographer: Possibly W H T Partington, 1904 (W-F-063a)

Flood waters near the Union Bank of Australia Co. Ltd on Victoria Avenue
Photographer: Possibly W H T Partington, 1904 (W-F-063a)

Those who owned carts and boats made the most of the situation by charging a nominal fee to ferry passengers to the best spots to witness the flood, although those not licensed to carry passengers were later fined by the police. This was a time when amateur photography was really starting to take off, so those with portable cameras took the opportunity to capture the event. Water began to subside at 11.30am on Sunday morning, again leaving a huge amount of mud and silt behind.

On Friday 23 and Saturday 24 February 1940 the rain fell heavily in the back country causing the river to flood again. The hardest hit areas in the town included Taupō Quay, Wanganui East, Aramoho, and Pūtiki. In Anzac Parade the water was up to three feet deep, covering gardens and entering houses and drowning the rides in Kōwhai Park. Residents were given plenty of warning to evacuate their houses and try to salvage what they could before the waters hit.

Spectators watching rowers outside the rowing clubs on Taupō Quay. Photographer: C F Newham & Co, 1940 (W-F-080)

Spectators watching rowers outside the rowing clubs on Taupō Quay. Photographer: C F Newham & Co, 1940 (W-F-080)

The Wanganui–Wellington road was blocked at Whangaehu, and the Parapara and Pipirīkī roads were blocked by slips. Rural bridges were swept away and witnesses recalled the Whangaehu Valley looking like an inland lake.  A dredge broke free near Wanganui East and smashed into the Dublin Street Bridge, then passed under the Town Bridge before crashing into the Imlay Wharf. And at the peak of the flood at midday on Saturday, the waters on Taupō Quay were over two feet deep; however, damage to stock and premises was not as bad as first feared.

Then on Saturday 10 March 1990, 30 hours of solid rain caused the river to burst its banks again. Kōwhai Park and Anzac Parade went underwater and Civil Defence evacuated many residents. Some tried to protect their houses with sandbags but the waters flowed over them, and the flow was strong enough to rearrange the furniture in several homes. Although high enough to submerge Corliss Island, the river only just managed to touch the road behind the old Chronicle buildings on Taupō Quay, sparing the business district from too much damage.

A car is stranded in flood waters. Photographer: Unknown, 1940 (W-F-134)

A car is stranded in flood waters. Photographer: Unknown, 1940 (W-F-134)

Part of the job of the Whanganui Regional Museum is documenting our community. In 100 years, people will want to know what the great flood of 2015 was like. We have archival photos of the flooding in 1904 and 1940, but many of the photos and videos created over the last 10 days might end up being lost or deleted or locked away in Facebook. We would like to add some to our digital collection.

If you have photos or videos of the flood that you would like to donate to the Museum for future generations, email them to the Archivist on sandib@wrm.org.nz. Remember to include in the email:

  1. Date, time and place it was taken, as best you can remember
  2. The (full) names of anyone shown
  3. What is important or significant about the photo/video; imagine you’re explaining it to your grandkids.

Sandi will contact you with any paperwork required, and the images will be accessioned into the Museum’s database with you noted as the donor. Help us record this event for posterity.

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Transforming Flow into Flour

Like most migrants, our earliest colonial settlers missed familiar foods from home, and in addition, New Zealand’s native food sources were often difficult to procure in edible form. Dairy and meat supplies were relatively straightforward to establish, but staples such as bread proved more difficult.
In 1813, Northland Chief Ruatara became the first Maori to cultivate wheat, which was ground using a hand-mill provided by Reverend Samuel Marsden. Hand mills were portable but broke easily, and were often thrown away rather than being repaired.

Mill at Pipiriki

Mill at Pipiriki

Mechanised flourmills quickly became the most widespread industry in New Zealand, and remained one of the largest local industries throughout the 19th century. Wanganui’s first wheat was grown by William Bell in Wanganui East in 1844, and the first local flourmill was built by Tom Higgie at Putiki in 1845. By the late 1800s, a further five mills had been built at Pipiriki, Matahiwi, Jerusalem, Koriniti, and Kaiwhaiki. They were among the earliest mills in operation in the country. A millstone from the Jerusalem mill is currently on display at the museum.

Kawana Mill, probably early 1900s

Kawana Mill, probably early 1900s

Kawana Mill, near Matahiwi, is the only one of these mills remaining. It is also the oldest water-powered flourmill still in existence in New Zealand. Kawana Mill – full name Kawana Kerei Mill – was named for Governor George Grey who donated the millstones as a personal gift to the Nga Poutama people. There was also a Kawana Kerei Mill at Pamangungu near Rotorua, although like most early mills this one has not survived.

 

The Matahiwi mill was built in 1854 by millwright Peter McWilliam using salvaged totara logs, millstones from Australia, and machinery and bearings from England. Canoes were used to transport the heavy millstones upriver. In contrast, stones for a mill at Waitotara had to be rolled from Wanganui by hand.
Richard Pestall from France was Kawana’s first miller. His son continued to operate the mill after his father’s death until the mill closed in 1900 and was abandoned in 1913. The mill has a 5 metre iron-and-timber high-breast wheel, with water supplied at above axle height. Overshot wheels (where water falls from above the wheel) are more efficient, but they are also more difficult and expensive to construct.

Kawana waterwheel prior to repair in the 1970s

Kawana waterwheel prior to repair in the 1970s

The 1.2 metre diameter millstones are made from quartz pieces fixed together with a cementing compound (the French traditionally used plaster of Paris), and trimmed to interlock and work as a single stone of even quality. They are bound with an iron hoop around the outer edge.
The bedstone is fixed with a flat but grooved upper surface, while the runner stone above it has a concave lower surface and rotates via a central shaft geared to the waterwheel outside. The bedstone’s dressings are carved in ‘French burr’ (cheese segment) fashion and allow flour to flow via centrifugal force from the central eye where grain is fed from the hopper above, out to the stones’ skirt and through a chute to a sack below.

Dresser at Kawana with internal rotating brushes for grading the flour

Dresser at Kawana with internal rotating brushes for grading the flour

Stones are ‘dressed’ using a small pick to ensure grooves remain clean. Blunt or clogged stones produce poor-quality flour – and can cause machinery to jam. The stones are housed in a wooden tun, with a wood-framed ‘horse’ above to support the feed hopper. Wooden cogs in the cast iron wheel reduce operational noise, and a leather strap across bottom of the hopper rang a bell to alert the miller when grain ran low.

 

 
After grinding, flour was cooled before being returned to the upper floor for grading using a wire mesh cylinder with waterwheel-driven internal brushes. Kawana Mill had three dressers positioned one above the other – Grade 1 flour was collected from lowest level.
The waterwheel and millstones at Kawana are authentic, but the mill building is a replica designed by architect Chris Cochran and opened by Governor-General Sir Keith Holyoake, in October 1980.

 

Article by Karen Wrigglesworth, local engineer and writer.

Time Travel…

Tooth of the Carcharodon megolodon, a giant shark, over 1 million years. Found near Pipiriki

Tooth of the Carcharodon megolodon, a giant shark, over 1 million years. Found near Pipiriki

An assignment with the geology collection in the Whanganui Regional Museum has given local teacher Keith Beautrais a walk through time that goes back even beyond the formation of our planet.

The Mokoia Meteorite, dated at over 4.5 billion years

The Mokoia Meteorite, dated at over 4.5 billion years

Ichthyosaur teeth from the Mesozoic period 252-66 million years

Ichthyosaur teeth from the Mesozoic period 252-66 million years

“This has already been a mind-expanding experience; to work with an amazing collection, and with scientists engaged in cutting-edge research”, Keith commented.

 

 

As part of a science-teacher fellowship run by the Royal Society of New Zealand the Wanganui Intermediate specialist has been sorting through the Museum’s collection of rocks and fossils, discovering just how much material there is.

Three lumbar vertebrae of a Dolphin, likely over 3.5 million years

Three lumbar vertebrae of a Dolphin, likely over 3.5 million years

Ammonite, relative of the Nautilus

Ammonite, relative of the Nautilus

Some of the specimens are 100-year-old rock samples acquired as teaching tools. Others are local fossils collected by palaeontologists or amateur rock hounds. Some have data on where and when they were collected, and most importantly, which rock stratum they came from; others have no label at all and will take some detective work to identify. Keith will be helping to register, photograph and rehouse the very best of our specimens in archival boxes while he is at the Musuem and will, no doubt, uncover some overlooked treasures too.

Phialopecten triphooki, ancestor of the scallop, 3 million years

Phialopecten triphooki, ancestor of the scallop, 3 million years

Because the Museum was without a curator of natural history for many decades, it has relied on sharp-eyed members of the public for specimens. If someone finds an interesting fossil, it is important to note down not just the time and place, but its exact location, even getting the latitude and longitude from Google Maps, including where exactly on the cliff face or stream bed it was found. A photo or sketch can also help. In 50 years’ time, after all, someone might want to find the exact spot and look for more. The all-important label needs to go in a plastic bag with the fossil; if they become separated, the specimen loses all its data and most of its value to researchers.

Teeth of a Pilot Whale, from Kakatahi

Teeth of a Pilot Whale, from Kakatahi

Well over a century of collection and donation has amassed a geology collection that can help young and old appreciate the deep time in evidence around us. Geologists call most of our local fossils “young” because three million years is only 5% of the time since dinosaurs died out. One thing these silent witnesses to our turbulent past remind us of is that, from the perspective of a million years ago, our daily priorities seem very short-term.

Dolphin skull from the Pliocene 5-2.5 million years, collected near Hawera

Dolphin skull from the Pliocene 5-2.5 million years, collected near Hawera

Mike Dickison, Curator of Natural History

With help from Keith Beautrais