Pukekura park - curators/custodians

Table of Contents

Charles Carnell: Custodian November 1876 – September 1878

Ian Hutchinson

Charles Carnell was a native of Ottery St Mary, Devonshire, England and the first custodian of the Recreation Grounds. He came to New Plymouth due to his service with the 65th Regiment, which was involved with the Taranaki Wars, and must have decided to stay on after retiring or being discharged from the service.

At the meeting of the Recreation Grounds Board on Friday 17 November 1876, it was resolved: “That Mr. Charles Carnell (being a resident adjacent to the grounds), be placed in charge thereof, in consideration of his being employed to work thereon for two days a week, and have full power to impound all cattle found trespassing thereon, and exercise the usual duties of a custodian.” (Taranaki Herald, 22 November 1876)

In his “Pukekura Park, its Origin and Development. A brief History” (Taranaki Herald 4 August 1916), Robert Clinton Hughes had this to say of Carnell: “He had a happy and placid Sancho Panza appearance, but his age and stoutness were rather against him.”  (Sancho Panza is Don Quiote’s short, potbellied squire in the novel Don Quiote.)

In the latter part of 1878 the Recreation Ground Board met and on 13 September discussed the position of Custodian. It was resolved: “That a permanent gardener and custodian be engaged at 20s per week, a three-roomed cottage being found him, and half an acre of ground rent free.” (Taranaki Herald 19 September 1878) The board advertised the position later in the month as follows: “Tenders will be received by the undersigned up to the 30th instant, for the SITUATION OF CUSTODIAN of the recreation Grounds. Salary, £1 per week, with use of a Three-roomed Cottage and Half an Acre of ground. R. Bayley, Hon. Secretary.” (Taranaki Herald 26 September 1878)

Mr Breidecker: Custodian October 1878 – April 1880

Ian Hutchinson

Mr Breidecker was obviously appointed as a result of the tender process and became the second custodian of the Recreation Grounds. Breidecker was already set up in the grounds, having leased part of it since late 1875 to plant and cultivate a vineyard and strawberry garden. The vineyard was situated in the part of the park now known as Stainton Dell and flowed up onto the eastern hillside behind the racecourse. Also, from the beginning of 1878 the board had employed either Mr Breiedecker or his son to weed flower beds in the garden, so his appointment perhaps ended up being an obvious choice.

In his “Pukekura Park, its Origin and Development. A brief History” (Taranaki Herald 4 August 1916), Robert Clinton Hughes had this to say of Breidecker: “…. Breidecker, a German lately out from the Rhine district. Breidecker was keen on planting a vineyard. Accordingly about an acre of ground near the racecourse was set aside. Part of this was deeply prepared, being deeply trenched, and choice cuttings, some from Australia, were planted. Owing however to some defect in the climate or soil, the winery was not a success. Breidecker remained two or three years and then went to the Hokianga District, where he successfully cultivated grapes and made wine.”

During Breidecker’s time as Custodian the main works were the draining of the swamp between the vineyard and the Main Lake by forming a ditch, and the construction of a bathing shed. This was for the newly formed swimming club that used the Main Lake and was situated roughly where the Tea House is. It was also during this time that the board decided on bylaws for the grounds.

Breidecker was succeeded sometime in the first half of 1880 by Darby Claffey. Breidecker, however, remained working his vineyard for another year until he surrendered his lease on it at the end of May 1881, before moving to Hokianga.

Jeremiah (Darby) Claffey: Custodian May 1880 – March 1896 

Ian Hutchinson

In his “Pukekura Park, its Origin and Development. A brief History” (Taranaki Herald 4 August 1916), Robert Clinton Hughes had this to say of Darby Claffey: “…. Mr. Darby Claffey, a young man fresh from County Cork. Darby, as he was generally called, knew little of botany or horticulture, but he was hardy and strong and not afraid of work. He was skilled in making sod banks, and most of his work of this kind stands well to this day. He was a good sample of an Irish peasant. His native wit and droll sayings amused visitors, and also brightened many an hour which the writer has spent working alongside of him. To him fell most of the heavy and rough work involved in turning a wilderness into a garden. He served the board for many years, but when the development of the grounds seemed to demand a better knowledge of trees and of horticulture and landscape gardening, Darby (to the regret of the writer) was superseded.”

During Darby Claffey’s employment a lot of his time would have been spent developing pathways around the grounds.  In 1886 he increased the area of the Main Lake south of The Poet’s Bridge by more than one acre. Other projects he was probably involved with were in 1893, the cutting of the paths on Cannon Hill and installation of the cannons on its summit and the creation of Fountain Lake.

Claffey was well known for the donkey and cart that he owned. Like its owner, the donkey was apparently well-liked by visitors to the park – especially children. The donkey and cart would have obviously played a useful part in many of the projects such as the creation of the sports ground, Fountain Lake and the new pathways around the two lakes. However as popular as the donkey was, there were times when it could also be a bit stubborn – as this item from the Taranaki Herald on 22 December 1894 shows: “There was plenty of fun provided in the Recreation Grounds on Friday afternoon by the antics of “Darby’s Ass,” who refused to be ridden. The Recreation Grounds pet dislodged several, including his owner, but at length three lads succeeded in keeping their seats and riding the animal around.”

Some of the significant plantings that occurred during Claffey’s time were the Maritime Pines on the Eastern Hillside in 1885, Monteray Cypress Cupressus macrocarpa and Torrey Pines Pinus torreyana in 1888, Norfolk Island Pines by Poet’s Bridge and the Curator’s office, a boxthorn maze in what is now Rhododendron Dell in 1892, the Morton Bay Fig Ficus macrophylla in 1895 (a planting curated by Francis Hamer Arden) and, in August 1895, Arbor Day plantings on land given to the Recreation Grounds by the Jockey Club (southern end of Totara Hillside).

Plant expertise was not necessarily Claffey’s strength, as indicated by this excerpt from Robert Clinton Hughes “Pukekura Park, its Origin and Development. A brief History” (Taranaki Herald 4 August 1916): “On one occasion a visitor, having heard there was a fine display of Native convolvulus in the grounds, asked Darby where it was to be seen. Darby, who made no pretence of botanical learning and yet had no desire to proclaim his deficiency, led the visitor to a lovely clump of furze in full bloom.”

Unfortunately three deaths occurred in the park during the time in which Darby Claffey was Custodian, which made the news. Firstly, the murder of Stephen Maloney on 12 April 1890, who lived in a small cottage in the grounds and was found dead under a pine tree on the path leading up to Rogan Street. Claffey gave evidence at the inquest and subsequent trial where a young Maori, Mahi Kai, was convicted of murder. An example of Darby’s sense of humour shows up in a report in the Taranaki Herald 10 October 1890 in relation to evidence he had given in trial: “A witness in the Maloney case was being interrogated the other day by Mr Fell as to his evidence. After hearing what he knew, the Crown Prosecutor said ‘Oh! You are a most important witness; you were the last person who saw him alive.’ Witness: ‘I was not!’ Crown Prosecutor: ‘Who was then?’ Witness: ‘Why, the man who killed him!’ Crown Prosecutor: ‘Oh; you are an Irishman, I believe.’ Witness: ‘I am.’ The dialogue here closed.”

The second was the accidental drowning of Mr J.T. Davis, who was chairman of the Recreation Ground Board and the donor of Poet’s Bridge, in the Main Lake in September 1891. The inquest into the death of Mr Davis was reported in the Taranaki Herald on 19 September 1891 and records the jury verdict as follows: “The Jury are of the opinion from the evidence produced that the deceased, James Thomas Davis, went to bathe in the Lake in the Recreation Ground, and was accidentally drowned.”

Thirdly the suicide/drowning of Mr George Duncan in December 1895. The circumstances of the Duncan suicide, which Claffey was witness to, contributed to his dismissal as Custodian as it was felt by some that he had shown a lack of action and had not done enough to try and save Mr Duncan, whom he had seen jump off Poet’s Bridge and subsequently drown.  The Taranaki Herald on 17 December 1895 gave a report of the inquest into Mr Duncan’s death and the jury’s verdict: “From the evidence the jury are of the opinion the deceased, George Edward Duncan, came to his death through drowning in the lake in the Recreation Grounds on December the 16th while temporarily insane. The jury regret that the custodian so far lost his presence of mind as not to utilise the appliances provided for these cases, and would urge upon the Recreation Grounds Board the necessity of instructing him to use the appliances immediately in future.” In January 1896 the board gave Claffey three months’ notice of his dismissal.

Charles Edgecombe: Custodian April 1896 – August 1905

Ian Hutchinson

Charles Edgecombe was born in New Plymouth in 1843 and was the son of William and Mary Edgecombe, who had arrived in New Plymouth aboard the William Bryan on 30 March 1841.

In his “Pukekura Park, its Origin and Development. A brief History” (Taranaki Herald 4 August 1916), Robert Clinton Hughes had this to say of Charles Edgecombe: “… Mr. Charles Edgecombe, a gardener had a good knowledge of native trees. He served the board for some years.”

Following Claffey’s dismissal the board advertised the vacant position of Custodian. The Taranaki Herald on 7 March 1896 reported: “There were fifteen applications for the position of custodian of the Recreation Grounds. The names of Messrs C. Edgecombe and H. Tiplady were selected from the list, and the former was finally given the appointment. The salary is £1 5s a week with cottage, ground and firewood.” Edgecombe commenced duties on the 4th of April 1896.

During Charles Edgecombe’s time as Custodian some of the main works were the development/establishment and maintenance of plant nurseries in the park, building of the Queen Victoria Diamond Jubilee drinking fountain in 1897, the creation and development of Manhattan Island in 1899, the formation of the Vogeltown Walk (Scanlan Walk) in 1901, the redevelopment and enlargement of the sports ground between 1900 and 1908, the establishment of fish ponds (Hatchery Lawn) by the Acclimatisation Society for raising trout in 1902 (the Acclimatisation Society paid Edgecome and assistant custodian Robert Mace to feed the fry), the building of the Wiggins Memorial on Monument Hillside in 1903 and the path to the southern boundary of the park (Rhododendron Dell), and construction of the original Tea House in 1905.

Edgecombe went on a number of plant collecting trips on behalf of the Recreation Grounds Board, as reported in the newspapers (Taranaki Herald, 6 July 1896): “The custodian reported on the work during the month, which consisted principally of planting out. The Board decided to give effect to the suggestion of the custodian to work a couple of days at Ratanui for the collection of native trees and shrubs. An express will be employed to bring the collection to the Grounds. Mr N. King was thanked for his donation of native shrubs from Brooklands.” (Taranaki Herald, 7 September 1896): “The Custodian’s report was read and discussed. The report stated that during the month some 300 native plants had been set in the nursery bed – 200 from the Meeting of the Waters and the balance from Brooklands. The overseer was glad to say that all these are looking well, owing to the puddling treatment, not one of them having turned a hair. About 50 trees of a larger growth were planted out during the month.” (Taranaki Herald, 1 September 1899): “The custodian of the recreation Grounds has just returned from a visit to Tarata, where he has been collecting ferns and shrubs for the further beautification of the grounds. He speaks in appreciative terms of the assistance rendered him by Messrs Clifford and Hine.” (Taranaki Herald, 15 October 1900): “North Egmont Forest Board – Permission was granted the Recreation Grounds Board to take from the Forest reserve two loads of plants.” (Taranaki Herald, 19 August 1901): “In his report to the Recreation Grounds Board the custodian referring to his recent visit to Raglan stated: – ‘I brought back with me a quantity of Mangeo, Tanekaha, and Wharangi plants; also some specimens of native heath and the umbrella fern together with a quantity of Kowhai and Manuka seed’.”

Charles also made another plant collecting trip for the board to Raglan, even after having ceased being the custodian, as reported in the Taranaki Herald on 16 September 1907: “Messrs Edgecombe and Betteridge, who have been to the Raglan district for the purpose of collecting trees and shrubs, the former for the Recreation Grounds and the latter for Mr Newton King … a very nice lot of plants have been brought back.”

Edgecombe’s most notable planting would be on Manhattan Island at the south end of the Main Lake, which was reported in the Taranaki Herald on 3 June 1899 Recreation Grounds Board – “The Custodian’s report was read. He stated that he had completed the large island (known to some as Manhattan Island); the borders have been planted with native specimens from the grounds nursery stock, and the central part – a diameter of forty feet – has been sown in grass, a well-grown maire standing in the centre. The men are now engaged laying out and planting a piece of ground near the work just completed. Under Mr Skinner’s supervision a plot of grass, about eighty feet in diameter, has been pegged off for use as a picnic ground; surrounding this will be a narrow border of shrubs. The Custodian was instructed to spend a few days in the Ngatimaru County for the purpose of collecting native trees and shrubs.” (Tarata area.) It is possible, maybe even likely, that some of the larger trees existing today on Manhattan Island – such as kahikatea, matai and rimu – date from Edgecombe’s plantings.

The horticulture skills of Charles Edgecombe were also recognised in the wider community with his involvement with the Scenery Preservation Society. The Taranaki Herald on 11 August 1900 reported about the most recent meeting of the Recreation Grounds Board: “The custodian reported that a good deal of planting had been carried out during the month, 200 native trees being put down around the site of the old maze, and another 100, supplied by the Scenery Preservation Society, had been planted on the seaward face of Marsland Hill.” A few weeks later the Taranaki Herald (on 24 August 1900) published the annual report of the Scenery Preservation Society. Within the annual report was an item about the recent Arbor Day: “The society’s efforts were confined to the planting out of Marsland Hill. A valuable gift of native shrubs and trees was received from the Recreation Grounds Board who allowed us the services of their custodian (Mr C. Edgecombe) for the planting out of same.”

Robert Mace: Custodian September 1905 – December 1907

Ian Hutchinson

Robert Hyde Mace was born in Funchal, Madeira, Portugal on 10 November 1851, the son of Francis Thomas Mace and Isabella Broughton. The Mace family arrived in New Plymouth on 2 December 1852, on the sailing ship St Michael, and settled at Omata.

In his “Pukekura Park, its Origin and Development. A brief History” (Taranaki Herald 4 August 1916), Robert Clinton Hughes had this to say of Robert Mace: “…. Robert Mace, a gardener who also had a good knowledge of native trees. He resigned due to deafness.”

Robert Mace first became an employee of the Recreation Grounds Board as assistant custodian. The Taranaki Herald 6 March 1897 in a report of a meeting of the Recreation Grounds Board the previous day included an item about an assistant to the custodian: “The chairman, Secretary, and Overseer were appointed a sub-committee to call for applications and appoint an assistant to the custodian at a wage of £1 per week.” In the Taranaki Herald on March 16 1897, the decision of the sub-committee and board was reported: “The Recreation Grounds Board has appointed Mr. R. H. Mace assistant caretaker of the grounds.” The need for an assistant came about because the committee that had overseen the development of the original sportsground had been dissolved in February 1897 and the ground had come back under the control of the Recreation Grounds Board, which obviously would have meant an increased workload for the Custodian.

The small nature of the New Plymouth area at this time, and people probably knowing each other or being aware of one another, may have helped Robert’s prospects. Robert Mace was the brother of Captain Francis Mace who owned a property named Wairau at Oakura, was obviously already friendly with members of the board and had offered plants for the grounds, as the Taranaki Herald on 12 May 1893 shows: “So many seedlings of all kinds have come up that Captain Mace kindly invited the Recreation Grounds Board to send out some of its members to select any they thought useful. Mr T. K. Skinner, the Chairman of the Board and another member went out on Thursday and arrangements have been made for sending out an express which will return laden with treasures of all sorts, including also hardy flowering shrubs and creepers from all parts of the world, with which the garden adjoining the plantation is well stocked.” The thanks of the board for the donated plants was reported in the Taranaki Herald on 11 July 1893.

Another extended family connection may also have possibly helped. On 23 April 1895 an advertisement was placed in the Taranaki Herald by Mr F. H. Arden, requesting plants for the park. Ficus macrophylla was amongst the plants requested. A few weeks later, working bees took place on the 9 and 16 May 1895 and it is likely that the Ficus had been received and planted on one or other of these dates. Arden had been employed by the board since April 1893 to plan and oversee plantings in the park. While the source of the Ficus macrophylla is uncertain, there is a possibility that it could have come from Arden’s brother-in-law Captain Mace, who had this species on his property at Oakura and may have had a spare. Captain Mace planted his Ficus macrophylla in 1865.

Robert Mace subsequently became custodian in 1905, following the resignation of Charles Edgecombe. At the August meeting of the board he was placed in the role temporarily and was confirmed as custodian at the next board meeting on Thursday 7 September, as reported in the Taranaki Herald on 8 September 1905: “Mr Mace has been appointed custodian of the grounds, and applications will be called for an assistant.” The board subsequently met again on Tuesday 12 September, at which meeting a new assistant was decided upon, as reported in the Taranaki Herald on 13 September 1905: “At a meeting of the Recreation Ground Board, held on Tuesday evening, Mr. W. Pycroft jun., was appointed assistant caretaker out of fourteen applications.”

During Robert Mace’s time as Custodian some of the main works were the completion of the redevelopment and enlargement of the sports ground between 1900 and 1908 (especially drainage, creation of the western terraces and seating), gorse and wattle control, two new bridges built over or near the waterfall (waterwheel site), the installation of a marble tablet with ‘Grounds Benefactors’ names inscribed, and the planning and commencement of the Main Lake’s serpentine project.

Mace was involved with significant planting programmes in both 1906 and 1907, which added to the range of plants to be seen in the park. In September 1906, Mace filed a report for the Grounds Board Chairman outlining that year’s plantings, which was reported in the Taranaki Herald on 28 September 1906: “The Custodian of the Recreation Grounds has reported to the Chairman the planting out of the following shrubs during the season just ended; Kahikatea 130, Totara 200, Ramarama 40, Rimu 30, Hinau 8, Maire 10, Kowhai 20, Manuka 50, Tawhiri 20, Tarata 15, Rata 6, Lacebark 10, Koromiko 15,Matipou 10, Miscellaneous native shrubs, 16 sorts, 151, Tree Ferns 40, Paratawhiti Fern 10, Mountain Toi 22, Tree flax 12, Flax various, 50, Ribbon Grass 15, Australian Gums 10, Arum Lily (clumps) 130; also 2200 young native trees planted in the nurseries.” While it is not clear where these were planted it is possible, considering some of the plants listed, that some of them may well have been on Monument Hillside and Totara Hillside, carrying on from the 1895 Arbor Day.

The following year, Robert Mace also furnished a report on the planting season. It was reported in the Taranaki Herald on 19 September 1907: “During the planting season just ended, Mr Mace the custodian of the Recreation Grounds and his assistant have set out in permanent positions a total of 540 trees and shrubs. These comprise 250 in connection with the new entrance from Gilbert Street, 50 at the John Street entrance, 130 in the newly designed belt along the Carrington Street frontage and 110 in other parts of the Grounds. As the result of Mr Edgecombe’s recent expedition to Raglan-Waitetuna country 390 trees, shrubs and other plants have been transferred to the Grounds, mostly in the nurseries. These comprise about twelve sorts of trees not met with in Taranaki, including some fine celery-topped pines. These trees number altogether about 340. There are 45 ferns of new sorts and 5 native tois or grasses.”

Robert Mace resigned towards the end of 1907. The annual report of the Recreation Grounds Board Trustees for the year ending 31 March 1908, published in the Taranaki Herald on 22 April 1908, in one part mentions the resignation of Mace as custodian: “Towards the end of the year Mr R. H. Mace, who had long been employed in the Park and had been custodian for three years, resigned his position owing to an infirmity, and the Board had placed on record its appreciation of his faithful and efficient services.”

Given the often short supply of money that the Recreation Grounds Board had for developing the park, it is without doubt that the first five Custodians/Curators who made a valuable contribution toward the board’s vision. The sheer amount of development in the first 30 or so years of Pukekura Park’s life is truly astounding. The legacy of fine bones created by the board and Custodians has lasted and aged well. Long live that legacy.

William Walter Smith: Curator 1908 – 1920

Taranaki Herald   December 17, 1932   Christmas Supplement

A Student of Nature

Many a time before to-day a wanderer from the beaten track in North Taranaki has been surprised to meet, perhaps in the cool of a patch of bush, perhaps on a wind-swept beach, an old man, grey of hair and beard. This could be none other than Mr. W. W. Smith, of New Plymouth, a naturalist known the world over and a true Nature lover if ever there was one.

It is this love of animals, birds and trees, that leads him at the great age of 81, to continue the tripe that make him happiest and to add ceaselessly to his vast store or knowledge from the treasure-chest of that greatest of all teachers, Mother Nature.

There are those who say that the town in which he has lived for the past 24 years hardly realises his worth. That is not surprising, for W. W. Smith would be the last one to court publicity. But whenever some plant or insect rarity requires identification the cry is “Ask W. W. Smith,” and a reporter intrudes upon his work to secure the answer he is so sure of receiving.  Those privileged to know this remarkable man have for him a great respect. His is a nature that could never do harm to man or beast. Children love him just as much as he loves to initiate those interested into the ways of those forms of life on this earth that are not human. No child, it is certain, ever thirsted in vain for the knowledge he could impart.

Correspondence with Other Countries.

This man has done much for posterity in adding to our store of knowledge. An extensive and broad reader, a painstaking student of New Zealand botany and zoology, he has for many years been a regular contributor to New Zealand and English scientific journals. On good authority he has been described as the man who knows most about the extinct moas, while his writings have also dealt with such subjects as native ants, earthworms, birds, insects, and plants. Nor is this all.  For many years, and still today, he has had extensive correspondence with English, American, French and Italian naturalists inquiring for specimens or information.  To them he has been able to send many new species of plant or insect life. Even to-day this correspondence is voluminous, and the veteran naturalist, who had received 14 letters on the day on which our representative called, finds that the demands made in this way are almost beyond him.

Right front his boyhood in Hawick Roxburghshire (Scotland),  Mr. Smith found an absorbing interest in the plant and animal worlds. On leaving high school he become apprenticed to the Forestry Department, after which he worked in big private gardens in England for some three years. He then spent about eight months in France, where he learned the language and later, attracted largely by the novelty of its plant life, came to a decision to take his passage to New Zealand.

Years in the South Island.

His first position in New Zealand was on the estate of the late Hon. J. B. Acland, on the Rangitata River, in Canterbury. Five years with this great planter of trees were very happy ones, and the years that have passed have served to enhance rather than dim the esteem which, he has for his late employer.  “He lives in my thoughts as much as any other man,” he said. It was while on this estate that he devoted much time to the study of moa remains, many of which were to be found in the Albury district. Investigations were also made by him into the life history and habits of the kea.

His next move was to Windsor Park, Oamaru, after which he became curator of the botanical gardens at Ashburton, a position he held for 10 years. During this time anxiety at the wholesale destruction of native bush led him to advocate vigorously the preservation of the country’s scenic wealth.  Partly as a result of these writings he was approached by the late R. J. Seddon, at whose request he became secretary of the newly set up Scenery Preservation Committee, which travelled for three years in both islands. Its business was to select for preservation areas including all classes of scenery, also ancient Maori pas, and to procure about the latter all possible data respecting their history.  As the result of the commission’s recommendations to the Government many scenic and historic places in Taranaki were proclaimed as reserves.

Thus it comes about that the parts of New Zealand he knows best are the ones many people never see in a lifetime.  Well might he call himself the last of the old school of field naturalists.  He was associated with the late T. H. Potts, of Governors’ Bay, Canterbury, for 15 years. With him, Sir Walter Buller, Guthrie- Smith and Dr. Petrie, he has penetrated Into the remotest districts of both islands on ornithological and botanical excursions.

Now, in the evening of his life, what he misses most is the congenial companionship of those kindred spirits who have gone before him. Some of these expeditions, for instance, took him up to the upper reaches of many Canterbury rivers in the bird-nesting season, but no more than one egg was ever taken from a nest.  He believes that he is the last man to report seeing a huia alive. He came across it in the bush at the back of the Tararua Range in 1907.

In New Plymouth for 24 Years.

  It was in 1908 that Mr. Smith came to New Plymouth as curator of Pukekura Park, a position he held for 12 years. In his little cottage overlooking the park he lived what might to others have seemed very lonely existence, but that loneliness was banished by his interest in his pets and studies, while a warm welcome always awaited his friends.  As a small boy the writer used to visit him, and can well remember how the mantelpiece in the living-room was loaded with a great variety of rare insects, butterflies, and other specimens.

For 12 years Mr. Smith cared for the beauties of the park, and since then he has been living quietly in retirement in New Plymouth, pursuing the studies without which his life would seem empty. Still he undertakes his little expeditions into the country. Many a night has he spent in farmhouses, and he gratefully states that in the course of 25 years of wandering over North Taranaki he has never been hindered or prevented by a farmer from going where his will took him.  W. W. Smith is also one of the original members of the Polynesian Society, founded by the late Mr. S. Percy Smith, with whom were connected in its early life Messrs. J. Parker, W. Newman, R. H. Rockel, M. Fraser, W. H. Skinner, P. J. H. White, and Captain Wm. Waller. For 10 years he was secretary of this society, whose work is well known.

Fairly recently Mr. Smith worked out the history of the ants of Mt. Egmont, 17 known species, some being remarkable forms. Later he intends to publish a work on the history of native ants. He considers that Mt. Egmont is the most magnificent region in New Zealand for the study of Nature.



It was in New Plymouth that W. W. Smith made his exhaustive study of the kiwi, continuing a work that he had previously started. In July 1908, the late Mr. Newton King gave him a large female kiwi which had been captured by some Maoris. Mr. Smith set to and built a house, but when he introduced a mate the lady proved to have ideas of her own on the matter. So fiercely did she attack her unwilling suitor that she nearly killed him. A second male was subjected to the same drastic treatment before the termagant finally admitted him to her good graces. Experiments in the years following proved it to be the rule with Madame Kiwi that when a strange male was introduced to her he had to take his “degrees” in the order explained before being accepted by her. When reconciled and mated, however, no birds pass a more peaceful life than do kiwis.  

Painstaking Study

After the pair had been mated for three months the female laid two eggs, with an interval of 10 days.  Then the male took possession of the nest and commenced to incubate the eggs. As Darwin used to stand in the woods and let the baby squirrels gallop up and down his back, so in the evenings Mr. Smith would sit or be motionless in the gloom of the place where the kiwis were, observing their habits and enjoying their sniffing at him and prodding him with their beaks.

For four whole weeks the luckless male sat on the eggs before the chicks appeared, the mother taking no interest in the task at all. When his long wait was over he had been reduced to a bag of bones, and it was just as well for him that the female then took the babies in hand, for it took the father all his time to feed himself back to prosperity.

“Of all the beautiful things in Nature nothing appeals to me like a young kiwi,” Mr. Smith confesses. They are little fluffy birds, pure white, and with preposterously long pink beaks. Mr. Smith found that the two babies being reared in captivity could run about and feed as soon as they were hatched.

When they were half grown one fell a victim to an English murderer, the cordially hated weasel. This particular one expiated his crime a day or two later, and the other young kiwi in five months grew to maturity. Mr. Smith had thus achieved the feat of raising the first kiwi in captivity.

Kiwis Fierce Fighters.

For its size the kiwi is tremendously strong bird, and with a blow from its powerful leg could rip open the flesh of a big dog. On several occasions Mr. Smith placed a full-grown Game cock in the yard in the evening. The female kiwi lost no time in assailing him and, before the melee was stopped, had kicked half the feathers off his back and breast, wounding him severely. When they were fighting, the ferocity and rage of the kiwis seemed unsurpassible. They rushed furiously at one another, striking rapidly with the right foot, and the impact generally caused both to roll over. Of the 15 kiwis which Mr. Smith had in captivity at different times, all remained irreconcilable to their confinement and unrelenting in their efforts to escape. No birds ever worked more persistently or determinedly to gain their freedom.

And now, to-day, it would hardly be an exaggeration to say that W. W. Smith knows the whereabouts of every family of kiwis within a large area in North Taranaki. In his keeping their secret is perfectly safe. Wild horses would not drag from him the information as to their haunts unless he were absolutely certain of the inquirer.



Passing from the kiwi to its much more imposing relative, the moa, we find that W. W. Smith is one of the greatest authorities on that extinct giant among birds. In 1890 the late Sir Walter Buller sent him to explore the Albury district (Canterbury) for moa bones. At that time ploughmen on the estate every day turned up large quantities of the bones, and he was able to make a large and valuable collection. There were among these bones six or seven species, including bones from the elephant-footed moa, a species of massive structure.

  Probably the most interesting phase of moa history, and that which has caused much speculation, is the question of when it became extinct. This problem has interested Mr. Smith for half a century. Seven years ago he published a series of articles on this aspect of moa research, and he states that all unbiassed students of moa history who have studied moa remains and their condition in the haunts of the bird know that no other decision could be accepted than that, in both islands, the bird was alive, in limited numbers, down to a comparatively recent period.

The large collection of bones which Mr. Smith secured in Canterbury were of various ages and stages of decay. Most of them lay on the surface, while others were half embedded in the soil. Observing the fresh condition of the bones, he realised that Mr. H. Hill’s theory and that of Sir Julius von Haast were incompatible with reason and fact. Mr. Hill, writing on the extinction of the moa in the North Island, stated “the history of the moa is the history of a race of birds that disappeared long anterior to the coming of the Maoris to New Zealand,” while Sir Julius also contended that the ancestors of the Maoris knew not the moa.

Lived Early Last Century.

According to the highest authorities, the Maoris have occupied New Zealand for some thousands of years. There can be no doubt, according to Mr. Smith, of moas having lived in the early years of last century. The late Mr. Taylor White, of Wimbledon, Hawke’s Bay, discovered the skeleton of moa lying on the surface in the bush. It was not in the least buried and, to the finder, the bones had not been there more than 15 years or so.

“Years of patient research and observation in the last haunts of the moas in South Canterbury profoundly impressed me long ago with the contemporarity of the Maori and the moa in all the districts explored,” said Mr. Smith.  “The vast quantities of well-preserved bones and small heaps of gizzard stones lying on the tussock lands, and those being unearthed by the ploughs, likewise impressed me with the recent occupation of the district by both moa and Maori. I have little doubt that for many years before the Ngai-Tahu invasion of the South Island the peaceful Ngati-Mamoe, living in their primeval painted caves and rock shelters in the warm, secluded inland valleys, would draw on the moas for food, if they did not actually farm the birds. All evidence obtained by digging and examining the floor and inelegantly painted walls of their primitive homes, camps and cooking places prove unmistakably that the Ngati-Mamoe tribe occupied the whole area of Canterbury for an exceedingly long period. The occurrence of identical chips, flake-knives, rude and polished adzes on the upland moa-hunter encampments, as those found in the Albury and Opihi caves and rock shelters, determine the periodical visits by Ngati-Mamoe to the remote nesting haunts of the moa

Comparison with Ostrich Bone.

Mr. Smith states ‘that no evidence is offered by advocates of pre-Maori extinction to explain the presence and fresh condition of the skeletons and numerous detached bones of birds of all ages and species lying exposed on the surface on innumerable sites when English settlement began.

Ferdinand von Hochstetter, the geologist of the Novara exploring expedition who collected moa bones in both islands, stated in “New Zealand” that “most moa bones still contain 10 to 30 per cent of organic (gelatinous) substance, and are not even in the state called semi-fossil. Fresh ostrich bones usually containe one-third organic and two-thirds inorganic substance.” When writing some years ago on the age of moa bones, Mr. Smith said “assuming that the dead body of an ostrich or emu could be procured and placed in a similar situation where the skeletons were found and left to decay and disappear, it would prove precisely the time required for such.” A year or so ago the femur of a full-grown ostrich was brought, to the New Plymouth Museum. The bird had died 18 years previously on Mr. John Wheeler’s farm, near Inglewood, and was left lying on the bank of a stream. The bone was honeycombed and in an advanced state of decay and would, from its condition have become assimilated in the soil in 18 more years. Naturally all bones would decalcify and decay more rapidly in the drier climates of Canterbury and Hawke’s Bay than in the humid climate of Taranaki.

“Canterbury has yielded the largest number of species and the largest quantity of well-preserved bones of the moas,” concluded Mr. Smith. The great concentration of species of those extinct birds, and the fresh condition of their bones lying on the surface when settlement began, has long convinced me that the Albury and Opihi districts in South Canterbury were the last haunts of living moas, with four exceptions, 125 years ago.”



Sixteen years ago, during the war, a well-known English writer who visited New Plymouth, contributed the following in a newspaper article afterwards:-

“I discovered him working away in Pukekura Park, of which he is curator. The morning sun was shining down on all sorts and conditions of men in New Zealand, but I am confident that the Dominion does not contain a more observant or reverent student of nature than W. W. Smith. As modest as the great Sir Isaac Newton; as gentle and thorough as Gilbert White of Selborne; as truthful and painstakingly accurate as Richard Jeffries; as wide in the scope of his interests as Professor Owen, and valued by New Zealand so little that he, with all his erudition, with all his painstaking first-hand work, with all his accumulated stores of personally ascertained fact, is actually employed in doing work which an illiterate muscular labourer could probably do as well. Not only so, but his careful scientific research and experiments are allowed to lapse or be but struggingly maintained because, forsooth, the small means necessary to continue them are not forthcoming.

“Yet how New Zealand can shout over what she means to do in the future in the cause of science that she may be advanced to a place among nations! Here, in New Plymouth, is a truly wonderful man—one to whom many secrets of Nature are revealed; a man, moreover, with whom to spend an hour is to receive such an insight into the heart of Nature’s workings that one realises that, having eyes, there has hitherto been no sight; that having ears thre has yet been no hearing until this hour came.

“The World Was Not Worthy.”

“In a poor, mean little cottage in the park this reverent scientist and naturalist works. He has none to help him, for the day labourer and the lad who constitutes his ‘staff’ have enough to do and are fittingly employed working in the grounds. It is a folly over which the angels might well weep that sees wasted on this work one who should be honoured, esteemed. and placed in a position where he would at least be free to observe, reflect, and put before the humble-minded, who are worthy to sit at the feet of Wisdom, his impressions. ‘Of whom the world was not worthy’ is the epitome I, at least, select for this man’s life character and achievements.

“Bear with me, oh dear, short-sighted New Zealand, if I point out that in any other country under the sun Mr. W. W. Smith would long ago have been recognised as a man of mind, a man of power, a wonderful observer, a scholar, and a Gentleman, a leader in scientific discovery and of advanced thought. This man should be treasured as one of New Zealand’s greatest assets, and truly his fame has gone out to the end of the earth. In the world’s great capitals the name and labours of W. W. Smith are wen known. Letters come to him from eminent scientists and naturalists in all lands asking his opinions on hundred and one moot points. He replies, but his careful and scholarly answers must needs be written while others sleep, for our great man is paid the wage of a labourer, and works with spade and for his daily bread.

“Among the seven abominations that Solomon, the wise Eastern sage, saw under the sun was of “beggar. on horse-back and princes walking.” There are to-day many impoverished minds whose owners drive about in motor-cars and spend money freely, while a prince among men, such as W. W. Smith is hard put to it to buy materials to enable him to carry on his invaluable work for the benefit of mankind.

The Most Interesting Man.

“The true history of the progress of a nation has ever been the history of her great men, her individualists, and it is via such men as this that a nation arrives. When I return to the Homeland and am asked to name one of the men who has most interested me in this country during my stay of some 18 months, my answer will at once be ‘Mr. W. W. Smith, of New Plymouth,’ and if I were an autocrat for but an hour, possessed of autocratic power and wealth, I would immediately evercise my autocracy to levy the sum of £10,000 which I would place in the hands of Mr. W. W. Smith that he might use it as his wisdom and judgment should dictate for purposes of research and otherwise, but absolutely as he thought best.  It is no secret that Mr. W. W. Smith has in his possession manuscripts which he has written, diaries through long years of trained and scientific observation which would be given to the world were the funds for publication available. With £10,000 at his disposal and a free hand, Mr. Smith would be able to give his undivided attention to observation and experiment and to secure for the Dominion and the civilised world incalculable wealth of the highest kind. Nor would the money be other than a wise investment. There would be nothing of a speculative nature about it; the yield would be sure and certain. It is to our men of science that we are indebted for the millions secured by commerce which they have made possible, and industrial New Zealand would find that in Mr. Smith’s soundly-based theories there is unlimited gold.”

Doubtless Mr. Smith himself would contend that this is a gross exaggeration. Those who know him best, however, could not agree with him on that point.

Charles Revell: Custodian June 1922 – December 1922

In June 1922 at the suggestion of the Sports Ground committee Charles Revell was appointed custodian at a salary of £4 5s per week. The agreement was that Revell worked two days a week on the Sports Ground and for this the Sports Ground Committee paid the board £75 per annum in quarterly payments. Unfortunately, at the age of 43, Mr. Revell died in December 1922 of pneumonia.

George Tunnecliffe: Curator January 1923 – May 1924

Following the death of Charles Revell George Tunnecliffe took over the role of curator. He was already employed by the board. He kept the position until May of 1924 at which time he retired due to ill health.

Thomas Horton: Curator August 1924 – March 1949

Thomas Horton was born on the 18th of October 1867, in Tysoe, Warwickshire, England. He came to New Zealand with his family in 1874 aboard the sailing ship the Crusader, during the voyage he celebrated his seventh Birthday. The family settled in Rangiora.

He married his first wife, Sarah in November 1888 and they had nine children, six boys and three girls. Unfortunately, Sarah died in 1917. He remarried at New Plymouth in 1931 his second wife May. They had one son. Horton by then was in his mid-sixties.

He made his entrance into the nursery business at the age of 11 when he started a 7-year apprenticeship with W.E. Ivory (Currently Riverside Horticulture) nurseryman Rangiora. During his apprenticeship he attended night school conducted by Mr. Elderton an eminent English scholar, receiving his principal botanical and general education. As a young man he played the Cornet in the salvation Army brass band and was band master for a while.

When he was 21, for health reasons he accepted a position of foreman at John Goddard’s nursery Havelock North and at the age of 27 accepted a job as manager of Fernleigh Nurseries at Mangatainoka, near Pahiatua where his job was to establish an orchard on newly felled bush. He needed to clear stumps, level the land and plant. Though hard work it was satisfying. But after three years he was given notice to cease operations, with the company still owing him several hundred pounds. Horton with a family of three children was struggling to make ends meet so ended up doing odd jobs, gardening and pruning etc.

Then he had some good luck, a friend offered to sell him 2 acres of newly felled bush, on easy terms, in the 40-mile bush at Pahiatua close to where a railway station was going to be built. Also close by was a railway yard full of thousands of Tōtara sleepers which had to be adzed and bored. Horton put in a price for doing this and spent many months working 8 hours a day doing this and then four hours each evening stumping his land. When his land was ready, he planted vegetable which he sold to the many railway workers. After two years he had paid for his land and bought a further five acres.

A chance encounter one day with Prime Minister, Richard Seddon while on his land stumping would prove very fortuitous. Seddon after seeing how industrious he was offered to help him in any way he could. Before embarking on a trip to Australia, Seddon gave Horton a letter of introduction which opened up many doors. Seddon insisted he see the premiers of the states he visited which proved very fruitful.

In 1898, when he set up “Premier Nurseries” Pahiatua, his family of children had grown to five. The nursery grew large quantities of hedge and shelter trees with 75,000 plants being advertised, but needed to expand to keep up with demand. In 1902 he was advertised 600,000 plants. Horton was a prolific advertiser, and in the six years from opening Premier Nurseries, he posted more than 3000 substantial newspaper advertisements.

By 1905 he had 24 acres, employed 28 men and in the same year he purchased 20 acres of the famous Frimley Estate near Hastings where he established Horton’s Frimley Nurseries whilst also maintaining his business at Pahiatua. By 1907 he had 85 acres, not only was his business and staff growing rapidly but also his global reputation. By 1910 he employed a permanent staff of 97 men, had seven travelers and had established agencies in various parts of New Zealand and abroad.

At Frimley his principal study was the growing and cultivation of pedigree fruit trees and he sent millions of these to fruit growing districts in not only New Zealand but also Australia, the Argentine and South Africa. Horton did a lot of pioneering work and catalogued no fewer than 700 varieties of apples alone.

Every year from 1899 to 1917 he visited Australia, exploring all the commercial orchards and fruit tree nurseries searching for new outstanding varieties.

In 1910 he accepted an invitation from the government of Paraguay to give advice on fruit culture and also travelled extensively in Argentina. He saw the trade possibilities that existed in South America and established a Buenos Aires agency through which he would distribute hundreds of thousands of fruit trees.

He revisited South America in 1914 and at Buenos Aires staged a comprehensive show of his various kinds of fruit. As a result he got many big orders for trees. Unfortunately, before the orders could be filled war broke out, and New Zealand ships that had previously called regularly into Buenos Aires and Montevideo were being diverted to other routes. To keep faith with his numerous South American clients he chartered a ship. The ship left Napier in 1915 flying Horton’s own house flag bearing the slogan “Horton’s Trees Grow”. However, the cost made it impossible to continue trading with South America and eventually trade was abandoned.

While at Frimley he also developed an orchard of 106 acres in Nelson, here concentrating on varieties of apples suitable for the export trade. In 1902 Thomas Horton was a foundation member of the Horticultural Trade Association of New Zealand.

In 1903 during the early days of the export apple industry Thomas Horton was appointed to the pomologist board to give advice on the best varieties of apple to plant in various parts of the country. The board decided to confine the number of varieties to twelve. Three years later he went to England and earned a Diploma at the Royal Horticultural Society and while there he won the championship of Great Britain judged by the Government pomologist, to be the best collection comprising 200 dishes of fresh fruit.

Besides his trips to England, South America and Australia he also made three world tours collecting new and rare plants he thought might be useful in New Zealand.

Thomas Horton was a foundation member of the Horticultural Trade Association of NZ in 1902.

Although Horton had been extremely successful, because of circumstances beyond his control he found himself in financial difficulties and in August 1922 he begrudgingly handed over his affairs to the Official Assignee declaring himself bankrupt. He wrote a letter to a meeting of creditors explaining his downfall,  and an extract from that letter shows clearly how unfortunate Horton was.

“In 1909 I was worth £20,000. In 1911 I bought my Tasman Estate for which I paid cash. I immediately started improvements and cleared the land and 90 acres in orchard, whilst the balance of 16 acres was sown in grass for horse paddocks. Believing there was a great future for the export apple industry, I spared no expense to bring this orchard to perfection and to make it a successful commercial concern. In 1914 the unfortunate war started and tree planting practically stopped. Two of my sons and thirty-eight men of our staff went to war, thus our staff of practical men was seriously depleted. I was at this time urged by the Horticultural department to continue and even increase the propagation of fruit trees, as the policy of the Government would be to put many of our returned men on to the orchards. Believing that large numbers of trees would be required we propagated extensively and with such a depleted staff we had to pay high wages for experts to do the work. After producing large stocks of trees planting orchards for returned men was abandoned by the Government and not a single tree was purchased by them.

Prior to the war I had established an excellent business connection with South America and our income from there was fairly considerable. Very valuable orders continued to come to us from there during the early years of the war but as all of our shipping was diverted from South American ports, we were unable to execute these orders. We were thus compelled to destroy about 1,500,000. Our losses from these causes were estimated to be at least £75.000 and under the circumstances we could not pay dividends and so the whole of my capital invested in the firm has not earned me one penny since 1914. To keep my orchard going at Tasman I had to run up an overdraft at the bank. Periodically I sold portions of my estate so as to reduce my overdraft and in 1920 I sold my home and grounds for this purpose. I made an effort before this to dispose of my Tasman Estate but did not succeed.

During 1917 I had a good deal of sickness in my family and my wife was for some time in a private hospital and after a very painful operation and much suffering she died. Soon after my wife’s death I had to go into hospital for an operation and was laid aside from active business for some time. In addition to this expense I was bringing up and educating a family of six sons and three daughters. In 1919 I made a very desperate effort to get back a great deal of lost trade and launched a great advertising campaign and sent out travelers amongst all our old clients, excellent business resulted, but just as we were in the middle of our delivery season the railway strike took place and it was impossible to deliver our good in time for that planting season. In 1920 I booked up record business in Australia and was about to make an extensive sale of our surplus trees to the Government of NSW for planting on returned soldiers’ settlements, when an “Order in Council” was issued by the Commonwealth Government absolutely prohibiting the importation of any tree, plant or fruit into Australia from New Zealand.” 

To make matters worse New Zealand suffered a mini depression in 1922. Following his bankruptcy Horton was left with his car and £50 worth of furniture and little else.

After a short spell of travelling he found himself in New Plymouth starting at Pukekura Park in August 1924. His intention was to stay at the park only one year but ended up remaining twenty-five years during which time he made his mark.

One of his first notable actions was the planting of Kauri, Tōtara and Rimu up the pathway now named “Horton walk”. Between 1926 and 1928 he faced the challenge of creating the fernery. Due to the massive amounts of earth dug out of the banks of the hillside to form the Fernery he had the foresight to simultaneously create Stainton Dell and Fred Parker lawn. During this construction the Duke and Duchess of York, the future King George V1 and Queen mother visited which must have caused some disruption.

Horton was a keen bowler and soon after the Fernery opened, he left on a lengthy bowling tour and holiday which took him around Australia, Sri Lanka, Europe, the UK, North America and Canada. He made effective use of this trip visiting many Botanical gardens and nurseries and arranging to have many new plant species sent to the park.

Between 1935 and 1939 he was responsible for the planting of the “Fillis Street Native Botanical Reserve” which was some four acres planted with approximately 1200 trees of over 200 varieties. Controversially many Pinus Radiata were felled during the development stage of this area between 1931 to 1935. During the period 1936 to 1938, not long after the addition of Brooklands to the Park, he promoted and successfully completed the planting of the Kauri Grove. This work transformed 10 acres of land in Brooklands that had be left to gorse etc. He planted some 3815 trees of 25 different varieties including 500 Kauri. He was also responsible in 1942 for the planting of the Kaimata Street shelter belt.

In 1938 Horton was made an Honorary Fellow of the New Zealand Institute of Horticulture.

During WWII work in the park slowed down significantly with men having gone off to war, and Horton by this time being in his seventies.

Thomas Horton finally retired in 1949 at the age of 81. His retirement however was not to be a long one, as he died in New Plymouth on the first of May 1958.


Alois Sconbachler: Curator April 1949 – June 1949

Alois Sconbachler was born in Switzerland. He came to New Zealand in 1912 and worked on the land before starting work in the park in December 1928 as a gardener. He worked in the park for 25 years until June 1954. He was acting curator during the period between Thomas Horton retiring and Jack Goodwin starting. For the last sixteen years of his time at the park he was the caretaker of the Sportsground and well respected for the way the pitch was presented.

Every morning for twenty years he fed the park ducks breadcrumbs at 8.0 am and admitted that “After twenty years I still can’t tell one from another”.

John W Goodwin: Curator June 1949 – March 1965

                                                                                                                                                            By George Fuller

On 8 Nov this man who possessed such an outstanding knowledge of plants and administration of parks passed away peacefully in Napier, aged 93.

Because he retired as Director of Parks and Reserves for New Plymouth as long ago as 1977 not many now working are likely to have known him or even be aware of his horticultural prominence. He was an exceptionally multi-talented visionary and there is little doubt that most who read this will, in the course of their interest in trees, come in contact with some aspect of his influence somewhere in NZ, even if not aware of it.

He was born in Waimate and quickly revealed a flair for and understanding of natural phenomena. His natural horticultural talents were to flourish formally in the inspired scene in Christchurch but prior to this during the serious worldwide depression of the early 1930s he had been obliged to ‘take to the road’ with cycle and backpack in order to find work. He took to any task on offer with great enthusiasm from gold prospecting, to being in charge of a large sheep station garden. His remarkable encyclopaedic memory (not confined to plants) ensured that every lesson learned in the great diversity of work undertaken while pedalling backwards and forwards over the territory between Dunedin and Nelson during the 1930s could be recalled and used to advantage later in life.

In 1940 he was appointed Senior Gardener and Nursery Foreman for the Christchurch CC, where he became involved with street beautification then spent two years in the army, finally helping to train rehabilitating service personnel.

From 1944 -49 he was responsible for laying out the grounds, practical training of horticultural students and further rehabilitation of service personnel at the emerging Massey College (now Univ.) Palmerston Nth.

By 1949 his competence resulted in appointment as Curator of Pukekura Park, New Plymouth ‘to bring back the visitors’. Implementation of some very adventurous and controversial proposals soon achieved this, despite some raling to “have him sent back to the South Island.” Now, such features as fountain, waterfall, waterwheel, Festival of Lights in the summer (alone estimated to attract 200,000 visitors annually), etc, etc, etc are New Plymouth icons, enjoyed even by his early detractors.

His visionary brilliance and enthusiasm could not be retained within the confines of Pukekura Park. He was instrumental in amalgamating numerous disparate committees to form an autonomous Parks & Reserves Dept. within Council and was appointed its Superintendent then later Director as it expanded.

Even New Plymouth was too restrictive to contain all his energies. His voluntary input to horticulture was also vast and wide-ranging as evidenced by the following.

From 1944 – 64 he was Advisor to Douglas Cook in the establishment of the large Eastwoodhill Arboretum, Gisborne and from 1951 – 67 Hon . Supt. of the Pukeiti Rhodo. Trust, involving original survey, overall planning, development and layout. He served on the Executive Comm. and the Board, was elected a Life Member and in 200 I, Patron. Having moved to Napier in 1996, every excuse for return visits to New Plymouth and particularly his beloved Pukeiti were exploited and seemed to provide a new lease on life.

Pages would be required to record his contribution to the expansion of recreational and park facilities locally. Then there is his input into the twenty odd organizations from aquatic to avian of which he was a member plus the high distinctions he was accorded in most but if we restrict to horticulture and trees, notable are the following, His membership of the Royal Horticultural Soc. from 1950. In 1978 he was awarded their Veitch Memorial Medal, the rare, highest distinction given outside the U.K. From 1954 he was a member of the Int. Dendrology Soc. and established the N. Z. Chapter. He was also a Founder Member and N. Z. Delegate of the Int. Federation of Parks.

If we return to his work focussed on trees and arborists, two notable factors arise. The first was that as early as possible he established at Brooklands a highly envied departmental plant nursery.

Thanks to his international contacts and the high esteem in which he was held, the nursery became a channel through which plants, some rare and unusual, were exchanged in many directions. The second was that upskilling the workforce to service the nursery provided another opportunity to employ more

apprentices helping to fulfil his long held desire to pass on knowledge to a younger generation. To his great satisfaction New Plymouth subsequently became the North Island centre for apprenticeship block courses in which Parks & Reserves Dept. senior staff assisted as instructors in a wide range of subjects. Everyone was a winner.

In 1964 he required the services of an orchid grower. Coincidentally I returned from a 17 year OE with

orchid skills and was employed. Within a year I was upgraded to Curator of Pukekura Park. Although large blocks of geriatric pines had recently been felled and the monoculture replaced with an exciting diversity of species, little remedial work had ever been carried out on very needy mature remaining specimen trees. I had a great interest in trees but very little working knowledge of their care. He very subtly encouraged me to take a deeper interest and provided the means to improve skills.

Chainsaws were getting smaller and manageable at heights. Amongst the old trees much high work was involved and we may have been pioneers in this field. The skills of ‘tree surgery’ were introduced into the apprenticeship week curriculum. This introduced many students to the subject of care of mature trees and some of the techniques taught may also have been original. This is further evidence of both how innovative he was as a leader and of the level of trust he placed in his staff.

John Goodwin was elected by his peers to stand proudly on the world stage. They also bestowed upon him high accolades yet throughout his life he retained an unshakeable air of modesty and humility. His policy was to plan for needs well into the future and in his case that meant hundreds of years. He was a unique and inspirational role model.

George Fuller: Curator April 1965 – September 1990


                                                                                                                                                    By  Adrienne Tatham

George MacMurray Fuller was born at Henderson on 9th January 1929. His parents had a family orchard business and recently Fuller Lane was named after them. One of their neighbours was an orchid breeder who encouraged him to learn more about plant nurseries by going to New Plymouth, and to learn more about orchids by going to England.

He left school at the age of fifteen to work in Palmer’s first nursery at Glen Eden, and then spent time at Duncan and Davies Nursery in New Plymouth, the biggest nursery in the Southern Hemisphere. It was while he was there that he met Fred Parker who had a garden full of plants and was an orchid enthusiast. He worked weekends in Fred’s garden.

In 1947 George boarded a ship bound for England. Some members of the crew left these ships when they arrived in this country and deck hands were needed to replace them, so George became one of these, at first a naïve young fellow, he soon learnt a thing or two about the world and its people. It was not long before he was advanced to being assistant steward at the captain’s table on this voyage.

He began work in St Albans north of London at Sanders Nursery, the biggest and most famous orchid nursery in the world, and spent four years there. He helped stage a gold medal winning exhibit at Chelsea Flower Show, and found the whole experience a fantastic learning curve. This work made it possible for him to go to Kew Gardens as a student which he did for two years. During this time he became engaged to Doris with whom he had worked at Sanders’. The rules at Kew in those days said employees had to be single, so George decided to come home, having spent six years in England.

But a Swedish millionaire was looking for an orchid grower to grow plants hydroponically under glass, a brand new venture and part of this deal was that he represented the company on a visit to Australia and New Zealand, so George took this offer up and married Doris at Henderson on 29th December 1953. The Queen’s visit took place at the same time and this had an influence on their wedding transport, for they had spotted an old buggy which they wanted to use, but it was needed by the Queen, so was painted pure white, losing some of its rustic appeal.

Following their honeymoon the couple headed off to Båstad in Sweden where George worked for Elektroflora. There he learned new techniques being used for horticulture and enjoyed living in a Scandinavian country. He spent six years there before wanting to head home with his young family of two boys.

But an English man was starting up a big propagation nursery in Malta and invited George to pioneer the development of that nursery, an offer he could not resist. Four years later this nursery was producing one million chrysanthemum cuttings a week which were transported to England and sold from there to flower growers in Europe.

Sixteen years had passed since George left New Zealand and Malta was getting its independence from being a British colony and so he decided to return home. The family with their three sons returned to Auckland on the Canberra through the Suez Canal and expanded the household of his brother for a while. Here he obtained a job assembling Volkswagens in Otahuhu and declined another job offer as a lowly gardener in the Auckland City Council Parks division.

Thinking he would obtain a job in Palmerston North he travelled there and on coming back through New Plymouth he called on Fred Parker who was planning to donate his extensive orchid collection to Pukekura Park, but required assurances that they had a competent person to look after it. Here was the man Fred was sure would undertake that job.

So it came about that George moved in to Pukekura Park in early 1965 to induct Fred’s orchids into the fernery. He was made Curator of the Park the following year and lived on site in the Curator’s house on Victoria Road. His children Chris, Alec, Ivan, Claire and Linda all grew up with Pukekura as their playground and often accompanied George on his missions within it. He was rueful in declaring that the Park became his obsession and castigated himself that he was neglectful of his wife and family.

Some nights saw him out shooting possums, or following up some strange noise within the Park, for the Park never sleeps. One such midnight vigil was that of vandals throwing seats into the lake. George had a great way of teaching these ‘young hooligans’ a lesson and as a natural consequence of this behavior (with the help of the police) they had to return for duty the next day in order to retrieve the seats from the lake themselves. Another such lesson was taught by George to another group of young people who decided to take a midnight skinny-dip in the lake. That little twinkle in George’s eye lit up when he seized the opportunity for this lesson on water safety. While the group were busy dancing on the fountain platform in the middle of the lake, he quietly relocated their clothes and when the swimmers returned to retrieve their clothes they were gone. He strongly believed that the riding of bicycles within the Park was undesirable and was known to have thrust rake handles amongst the spokes of bicycle wheels to prove his point.

George was curator of the Park for twenty five years from 1966 to 1990 and left his mark. He was not only a plantsman, but an ecologist and engineer – he really understood the factors which were present to affect the Park. His environmental awareness came to the fore as he became ever more involved with the land. Much of his concern within the Park lay with the passage of water through the area and the deterioration in the condition of the pathways. He was unstinting in his praise for key developers of the Park and was very mindful of the fact that no one person knows everything about the Park. He began planting trees straight away, it was a personal mission with him and later he would be surprised that so soon he couldn’t get his arms around their trunks.

With the late Ian McDowell, George planned and built the waterfall, a project of which he was immensely proud. There was only a weeping elm to transfer from the site and when this was done work commenced with the help of a team of Park workers and some from the roving wider work force within the Parks team. Some of the squared blocks hewn by prison labour were laid in the area below the lower water curtain cascade and other boulders were donated and laid carefully. George marvelled at how things just sort of came together for the Waterfall. He discussed the concept with Ian McDowell who got out a pencil and a scrap of paper and drew up what he thought George had in mind – an artist’s sketch. They puzzled on how they were going to make it all hang together. Someone suggested they could use concrete Power Poles. A phone call to the boss at the Council Electricity Department and four brand new Power Poles turned up on site and were cemented into the face of the bank as the kind of backbone to it all. There were no engineering drawings or feasibility studies or consultants, they just sat down and talked over how best to do it and then got on with it.

There aren’t any big boulders in the construction because each rock had to be physically manhandled into position without the use of a crane. Their very limited budget did not allow for such luxuries. George and Ian handled and positioned each and every rock. Their progress was to some degree limited by how quickly the skin could grow back after being worn off their poor hands. He said they were very lucky not to have suffered a back injury as well.

Getting back to the basic concept and design philosophy, the fall of water was intended to be like a river maybe the Waiwhakaiho River, starting as a little trickle high up in the mountains then slowly getting bigger with rapids in places till it gets to the flatland near the sea where it flows smoothly over the last fall into the sea at the bottom.

Another clever design feature was that they wanted moss and green stuff to grow on the rocks to make it look natural and they knew that this would not happen unless all the rocks were wet every time it ran. To achieve this they had to build water channels from the pool on each tier down behind each fall to wet the rocks behind. They put in tubes and stuffed them with newspaper to keep out the concrete.  It worked really well and was all green and slimy looking within months of being finished.

They fortunately realised fairly early on, that if the falls at the top were going to be tiny, then it was not going to be possible to pump all the water to the top. It is kind of pyramid shaped and would have looked ridiculous with vast amounts of water roaring over the tiny first fall.  So they installed a second branch off the water pump, halfway up with a huge valve to allow them to adjust the flow. On the upper tiers they wanted the flow of water to be wild and raging and random, rather than orderly, a little like nature. Considering how little any of them knew about designing and building a natural looking waterfall the result is a truly remarkable achievement.  A plaque was unveiled to record this construction during October 1970.

With one successful project completed, George’s creative juices were ready for the next park project challenge; the water-wheel. This was erected in 1976. The wheel itself had been sourced from the Omata dairy factory where his son, Chris had a holiday job at the time. Once again George had completed another project to his usual high standard and had been hugely involved every step of the way.

Another memory George’s family recalls is of George telling of his efforts to provide interesting entertainment during the annual Festival of Lights. He knew that every society and club in town was capable of doing something that would interest the general public. But in those early days, in the 1970s he had to beg and cajole clubs and groups to come along and show what they do or what they make. He had the Machine Knitters Club knitting jerseys and the Crochet ladies doing workshops with the public and Marching Girls and radio control boats and aeroplanes as well as musical groups, brass band, kapa haka groups, anything to make the place buzz.  Over the years, it morphed and changed its form and focus and lots more musical groups were performing, many with big amplifiers and speakers and to some degree he resented all that big noise, for two reasons – it intruded on the peaceful serenity of the illuminated park at night and also because his bedroom window was just 50 meters from the stage. But he did realise that it was the sound of lots of people enjoying the free entertainment in his beloved park.

George was a man of many passions and deeply loved all the wonders of nature. No exception when he was doing his rounds in the park one night and heard an unusual sound coming from the trees surrounding the fernery lakes. This captivated him for many nights and his mission was to find out what creature was making these sounds. It must have been sheer determination and much patience that caused him to discover that a little tree frog was the culprit and in fact a previously undiscovered species of tree frog. Many nights were dedicated to trying to photograph and identify this little creature.

George was a very strong advocate for keeping the Park “natural” without structures, tar sealed walks and paths with edges. Praise was heaped on the endeavours of the retired farmers he was able to employ to keep the path surfaces maintained. These men had been working with water and soil all their lives and understood the effects of heavy rainfall. He fiercely resisted attempts to seal paths and fought plans for unsuitable development projects. He believed that progress should not come at the expense of the Park’s greatest assets. He also believed there should be no straight lines within the Park.

He loved all the trees and this became even more evident later on when he worked with Cory Smith to compile a book about those trees they regarded as significant, both within the Park and beyond it. George also wrote many descriptive articles, these were in great detail, very precise and were subjected to many crossings out and corrections before finding their way to a typist. Walks guided by George were always fascinating in their detail; he knew the history and possessed a huge depth of knowledge of the whole of the Park. The smaller side tracks were special to him, as he ran these for his recreation needs. Sometimes his tendency to let his stories wander meant the walks were much longer than he anticipated, but then the knowledge imparted was well worth the extra time involved. He was such an enthusiastic guide.

In 1966 he was the organiser of the Taranaki Floral Festival. His interest in orchids never waned and he became Patron of the Orchid Council of New Zealand and was a member of the Taranaki Orchid Society. He was successful in breeding a pure yellow Disa orchid after years of trial.

George also had a lifelong interest in photography. He meticulously photographed and recorded the details of orchids and many other things that he was involved with over his lifetime from the late 40’s in black and white on plates and film and then on colour slides from the early fifties. At Victoria Rd the laundry was often turned into a darkroom and he would process black and white film and photographic prints. These photographic skills were also transferred to his children as they grew up. This photographic treasure is significant (in size and history) and the intention is to digitise some of the material and make it available through the relevant organisations.

There are stories of George’s experiences with slide shows and every now and again he would have disasters where the slides cassette would be dropped or have to be transferred messing up the order and flow of the presentation or many of the slides would come up sideways. He even did one presentation backwards because of this phenomenon and recalled one experience where a couple of slides even popped completely out of the projector startling everyone.

He was awarded the MBE in 1990 for his services to the community and in 2009 he wore this medal proudly on his suit during his campaign to save the trees on the Bowl Road when the New Plymouth District Council decided to form a new road connecting the Racecourse with the Brooklands Bowl because recent stables development had blocked the entry to the current road. As proposed and passed in urgency by Council, this road would have wiped out a shelter belt and destroy a large puriri tree estimated to be about 400 years old, as well as some twenty five other mature native trees. He dubbed the puriri tree “Enigma” and stood vigil at lunchtimes for seven consecutive days, explaining to the public about the need to preserve the tree and its roots, as he had painstakingly probed the road surface for root structures and found that this tree had grown on the edge of a cliff. He traced the roots of other native trees and taped the area which would be affected and was protective of a kohekohe which arched over the present roadway. While various Friends of Pukekura Park supported him at these times, it was because of his tenacity that in the end a compromise was reached. George was overwhelmed by the Council turnaround and he stated “It’s proved that an individual with a little bit of logic, enthusiasm or obsession can move people in big ways.” He was unique, he put his heart and soul into the Park and his fight, his “last stand” was typical of his strength of mind and dedication to the Park.

In 2010 The Taranaki Daily News voted him Person of the Year, a merit he richly deserved.

For those of us who have known him, George was a man with sparkling humour, who knew his subject and was prepared to stand up for what he believed in. He was a man of integrity who had a vast array of knowledge about his precious home, Pukekura Park. We will miss him.