Table of Contents

Robert Clinton Hughes: Board Member 1875 – 1935

A lawyer by profession and a staunch advocate for a recreation ground Hughes was an original Board member remaining on the Board for almost 60 years.

He was a strong swimmer and it is said that on occasions when the sea was too rough for ships to land the mail Hughes would swim out and bring it back to shore. He often featured in the accounts of swimming galas, his most successful event was the long dive.

A leading member of the member of the Temperance Movement in the region Hughes was a member of the Temperance Alliance and the Band of Hope.

Amongst other talents he spoke several languages and played the violin. 

Picture right: Ceremonial planting of a Kauri tree by Robert Clinton Hughes. April 5, 1934. The planting was requested by the Pukekura Park Board who attended the ceremony along with the superintendent Mr. Thomas Horton (seen kneeling down) and Mrs. Hughes.

The Board members at the time, were James McLeod (chairman), Robert Clinton Hughes, Victor Davies, Fred Parker, Percy Stainton, Frank Amoore, Eliot King, Charlie Bellringer, William Short, Edward Carr, Everard Gilmour and Hector Dempsey. (private collection, Warwick Horton)

James Thomas Davis: Board Member 1875 – 1891

Davis was a Trustee of the Recreation Ground from its inception until his unfortunate death in 1891. He owned an ironmongers business on Devon Street. He was an active member of society. He served on the Town Board, the Borough Council, prominent member of the Ancient Order of Foresters, Fire Inspector, member of the Horticultural Society, steward of the Jockey Club and various other committees.

His death was unfortunate. He had been to visit his sister one evening and on his return home around 10.30 pm he decided to go for a skinny dip, something went wrong and Dais drowned. The coroner found no evidence of suicide. 

He is well known as the person who donated the money to build the famous The Poet’s Bridge named after a racehorse that won him the money. Until recently it was thought that winning the money was a chance happening and when he got the money he came up with the idea of building a bridge. However, in an article published in the Taranaki Herald on February 19, 1936 Richard Cock shared the story of how the win came about.  Back then there was a national sweepstakes called “Tattersalls” which was nationwide and cost £1 to enter. He and Davis put £5 each into a pool and entered sweepstakes weekly with the intention of paying for a bridhge to be built if they won enough.  They had some small wins but eventually the money ran out. At that  point Cock pulled out but Davis carried on gambling and two weeks later hit the jackpot winning £500 which was a lot in 1883. He donated about £155 to pay for the brige’s construction.

Captain James Davidson: Board Member 1880 – 1885

Captain Davidson was born in Kelso, Scotland 1834. In 1865 he immigrated to the United States and enlisted as a second lieutenant in the 19th Maine Infantry Volunteers. In 1867 he joined the regular army as a private rising to the rank of first sergeant, after passing exams he was appointed second lieutenant. In 1869 his unit was transferred to Texas and Davidson assumed the duty of military commissioner of Red River County, where he quickly made a name for himself. Soon after the Governor nominated Davidson adjutant general of Texas with the rank of colonel. His role put him in charge of the state police. He also headed the state militia and in 1871 and gained the rank of major general. In 1872 he unsuccessfully ran for state senator. Following a dispute over finances Davidson decided to leave the United States. During his time in service there he suffered a sabre wound which caused him pain in the following years. Davidson arrived in New Plymouth in the early 1870’s and in 1874 he married Jayne Ryan and the couple had six children. He became a prominent figure in New Plymouth, serving on the Harbour Board, the Hospital Board and was the third Mayor of New Plymouth, serving two terms. 

Davidson was the chairman of the Recreation Ground Board of Trustees during the five years on the Board. His most notable action during this time was his attempt to rename the Recreation Ground, Egmont Park. He officially renamed the park but had to retract the action because it was deemed unconstitutional.

Davidson suffered a lot with depression said to be caused by his sabre wound and in 1885 following a dispute with his employer, he went home and committed suicide. 

Until now the name of James Davidson has not been mentioned in any history of the Park and it is assumed that is because of his suicide.

He was also a Captain in the local militia and was involved in the arrest of Te Whiti at Parihaka.

Thomas Kingwell Skinner (junior): Board Member 1881 – 1902

Skinner was a Board member from 1881 to 1901 but had surveyed for the Board from its inception. He trained as a surveyor under Octavius Carrington and amongst many other things he surveyed the New Plymouth to Hawera railway in 1882.

Robert Clinton Hughes in his 1916 history of the park said the following about Skinner.

“Another person who deserves special mention is Mr T. K. Skinner, surveyor, who was appointed to the board on the resignation of Thomas Colson. With Mr. Skinner’s professional qualifications were united a great admiration for the grounds and a capacity to foresee and provide for their development on permanent lines. He cheerfully gave his time and that of his cadet to take levels and do such other survey and engineering works as were necessary. He laid out nearly all the paths.  A feature which he insisted on was to have a common level for the main paths, thus the level or altitude of the path at the Carrington Road entrance is the  same as that of the paths around the upper lake, even up as far as Brooklands. He also laid out and supervised the work of converting the swamp near the Liardet Street entrance into a Sports Ground.

He suggested and supervised the cutting away of the southern extremity of what is now called Cannon  Hill, which extended  almost to  the edge of the lake, to  provide a site for the Band Rotunda. The material was found very useful in strengthening  the dam of the large lake, the condition of which had given reason for much anxiety during many  a winter flood. The planting of the puriri trees near the rotunda was his idea. He also designed and supervised the extension of the large lake and the forming of the little islands at the upper end, and he converted the swamp beyond it into a long area of firm ground which was planted with a great variety of native trees. A love of flowers, a knowledge of native trees, unbounded enthusiasm, combined  with his engineering ability, enabled  him to render services to the public which deserve grateful acknowledgment. Mr Skinner resigned in 1902.”

Stevenson Percy Smith: Board Member 1902 – 1918

In 1849 as a nine-year-old, Smith arrived in New Zealand with his family. His mother’s brother was Charles Hursthouse who had persuaded the family to emigrate. He was an adventurous young man and in 1857  with five friends  including Arthur Standish and Wilson Hursthouse  did an ascent of Mount Egmont taking them five days.  In 1858, again with Standish and Hursthouse a party of five friends embarked on a two month trek of over 500 miles via Mokau to Taupo region and back via Wanganui. They used canoes and horses but the majority was on foot.

His career as a surveyor started in 1855 as a cadet with Octavius Carrington. In 1866 while on a field trip with Carrington they were ambushed and fired upon. Fortunately they all managed to escape unharmed. During his illustrious career Smith had many notable achievements around the country but locally he was responsible for developing the road from Opunake to Kaupokonui. By 1889 he worked his way up to surveyor general of New Zealand. On his retirement in 1900 he returned to New Plymouth.

He was also an amateur ethnologist and wrote several important books on Maori history including Hawaiki. He co-founded the Polynesian Society and when he returned to New Plymouth after his retirement the headquarters of the society moved with him. When the Taranaki Museum was opened in 1902 Smith was a major contributor and gave the opening address. Smith also headed a Scenery Preservation Commission set up by the government in 1904. The commission identified scenic and historic sites to be made into reserves. They identified 416 sites of which 61 were gazetted by 1906 when the commission was disbanded. Some notable reserves created were: Otari–Wilton’s Bush, Kennedy’s Bush, Motukaraka Island, Te Kawau pa, Turuturumokai pa and Ship Cove in the Marlborough Sounds.

In 1920 Smith was awarded the prestigious Hector Memorial Medal.

One of his most notable pieces of work during his time at the Recreation Ground was the development of the Serpentine which extended the main lake down to the southern boundary. He also came up with the name of Pukekura Park and felt strongly that the name should have Maori roots.

Harris Ford: Board Member 1875 – 1922

Harris ford was a Park Board member from its inception in 1875 until his death in 1922.

He arrived in New Plymouth from the UK in 1851, as a 10-year-old, with his parents and siblings. Soon after their arrival, his father set up a saddlery business in Devon Street.

In 1860 just before the outbreak of the First Taranaki War, Ford Senior was murdered at Omata while on his way to see some sheep. At the time Harris Ford was living in Auckland working in the grocery trade and was sent for to take charge of his father’s business.

During the 1860s Ford served in the local militia like many of his fellow townsmen.

In 1868 he was a pioneer in the search for gold in the Kaitake Range, and the following year he joined forces with Robert Hughes Senior to form the “Perseverance Prospecting Party”. They did find gold in quartz deposits, but the quantities were small and not commercially viable.

He was active in the community, and served for 50 years as the treasurer of the Egmont Lodge chapter of the Oddfellows. He was also Grand Master of the Lodge for a time.

During his time on the Park’s Board, he was the secretary for many years and also spent some time as chairman.