Sawmills closely linked with history

A house which is closely allied with the history of the Bartholomew sawmills in the Levin area is that at 45 Mabel Street.

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It was built on the corner of Mabel Street and Hokio Beach Road about 1910 for Peter Bland Bartholomew, the second. He was the eldest son of Peter Bland Bartholomew, the first, who came from Stirlingshire, Scotland to Queensland in 1862 in the Wanfall. 

Later in this feature by F.C. Swanwick, more detail will be given on the Mabel Street house, but first, some details on the Bartholomew fortunes, beginning with the senior Peter Bartholomew in 1862. 

He came to Wellington five years later, going on to Feilding and was engaged in the sawmilling business in that area. 

In March 1888 the sawmill machinery was brought from Feilding to what was to become the Levin area by bullock wagon. Then a sawmill was constructed of timber felled in the area, largely of pole type construction. 

At first the proprietors were named as Messrs Dunn and Bartholomew, but the Dunn name seems to have been deleted early on. 

The mill was sited on the east side of what is now Roslyn Rd. a few hundred yards north of the present railway crossing. The site is still an open paddock past the three houses north of the Newport St intersection.

 

First European settlement

This was the first European settlement in the Levin area except that a railway worker may have lived in the district. The Maoris did not live in the dense bush, but it was their foraging area for food. 

A group of Maoris living in the open country to the north were afraid of the steam and sparks from the steam engine, refused to let the mill operate. 

Mr Bartholomew appealed to the Government for help. Major Kemp (Kepa Rangihiwinui) came with some of his men and kept guard until the Maoris became accustomed to the machinery. 

As the Railway had been running since 1886 the mill had easy transport for its timber. The small station was on the west side of the line. The road to it from the road later named The Avenue is still visible as a mound across the south apex of what was until recently the nine hole golf course beside The Avenue. 

 The mill probably had a siding,as when the two sawmills were operating in Weraroa they had sidings. The mill owners were shareholders of the railway company so the directors installed these free to get the goods traffic. The first station was probably not built until the mill came in 1888, as the bush was uninhabited before. 

When Major Kemp left Levin he asked that if Mrs Bartholomew’s expected baby was a girl might she be named after his daughter, so the girl baby was named Whakahenictaterurgh (spelling said by original writer probably not correct) which some how became Rena.    

When the timber rights of the land were agreed on with Major Kemp as the sole trustee of the MuaUpoko tribe, the individualism of the tribal land was taking place.

Wiremu Hunia disputed Major Kemp settling the timber rights. He came with a party of Maoris and they began to chop up the tram. 

The mill workers wanted to drive them off but were told by their manager to leave the matter to the court. The Maori Land Court held a session in the Salvation Army Hall in Queen St West and the ownership was determined. 

The Maori applicants had to prove in some way their rights to a certain area, such as that when hunting birds they camped in the area. One Maori lady was so dissatisfied with the court’s finding that she hit the interpreter breaking his arm, and was fined heavily later. One applicant received the grant of one acre on top of the Tararua Ranges. 

Bush tramlines gradually extended for miles through the bush. The lines were of timber on sleepers of wood cut on the spot. One line ran south on the general line of Oxford St north. Another line ran east in the general direction of the present MacArthur Street.

 

Only access

This was the only access for the first settlers to arrive, the Ostler family, to their block in what is now MacArthur Street. The railway and these tramlines were the only thoroughfares for the settlers for some time except for muddy tracks gradually improving to rough roads. 

The mill site soon became a little settlement as cottages were built for the workers. A rough punga hall was built probably with a toi toi thatch roof, being used for concerts and dances. This hall was the venue for the first church services in Levin for several denominations. 

As the area became more civilised with the arrival of the settlers to take up their balloted land in the newly opened Horowhenua Block of 4000 acres, Mr Bartholomew decided to bring his family to the mill.

 

Morgan house

In1889 he built a house of large proportions for the first time. It still exists and is known as the Morgan house on Roslyn Road. It is still in fine condition being built of kauri and totara. When church services began in the punga hall Mrs Bartholomew and Mrs Stuckey formed a sewing circle thus forming the nucleus of the present St Mary’s Guild. 

At some time after 1891 or 92 Mr Bartholomew travelled to Australia and brought back a young female kangaroo. At first the people thought it was amusing to watch her leaping about the area and they even tolerated her in their gardens. She used to hop about over the sawdust heaps. 

Apparently being pregnant before she left Australia she soon produced a male baby. In time a herd of five kangaroos existed, or even seven, as written stories vary. A high fence was erected near the Bartholomew house, but this did not stop them as they leapt over the fence. The hunt to capture and confine them proved a great event for the people of the community, especially for the youths and the dogs. 

The buck proved to be a nuisance taking to leaping on the backs of cattle and horses and injuring them with his claws. He injured a bull severely on its flanks, so Mr Bartholomew had all the kangaroos destroyed. 

This must have been before 1895 before the mill was shifted. A photo exists of this kangaroo fence. This story was chronicled by three writers of the time though the stories vary a little.

 

Shifted to Weraroa

When the timber was cut out in the northern area the sawmill was shifted to Weraroa in 1895. Bullock teams were used to bring the logs into the tramlines. Also, by settlers who had cut the logs on their land to sell them to the mills or to have them cut into timber to build their own houses. Bullock teams were used until at least 1910 as photos prove. Horse teams were also used later. 

The site of the mill in Weraroa was on the block bounded by Oxford St, Keepa St, Mabel St and the then Beach Rd. The mill itself was behind where  Gypsy Caravans and Gypsy Hire Centre are now . The concrete foundations still exist behind the hire centre. 

There was a large scoop-like ditch about eight feet wide starting from ground level at the footpath line, deepening to about five feet at the mill site. This must have been for the tram system as I have been told on good authority that the railway siding was in a different direction. This ditch is still visible under the Hire Centre. 

In 1894 Mr Bartholomew subdivided his Weraroa block. This was bounded by Mako Mako Rd (named for the clearing near the lake), Oxford St and Beach Rd. The western boundary was at least past the racecourse, as this was purchased from the block by the Horowhenua Park Co in 1902.

 

Named for Major Kemp

Keepa St was named for Major Kemp. As Major Kemp had signed documents with his Christian name as both Kepa and Keepa it is uncertain which is correct. Mabel St was named for daughter Mabel and Rina St was named for daughter Rena. The street name has been wrongly spelt as long as I can remember.

 
Ward, Seddon, Balance, Reeve and McKenzie Streets indicate Liberal Party support. The block bounded by Keepa, Mabel, Oxford Streets and Beach Rd was reserved as the mill paddock. This Weraroa (the long burn hence Weraroa Rd) block was on the Weraroa clearing which stretched in an irregular shape from CD Farm Rd in the west on a line roughly of Beach Rd to a little over the railway and gradually tapering to its apex at Stanley St. This clearing had existed for hundreds of years prior to European settlement as apparently no logs or stumps existed. Fern, manuka, flax and other scrub were the only vegetation on it.

Tram lines were extended in various directions. One ran west to CD Farm of which the mill had the timber rights of the 800 acres and to a white pine bush. The Horowhenua Village settlement (south of Hokio Beach Rd) was surveyed at the same time 1894, as the land for the Weraroa Boys Training Farm east of the railway (now Kimberley Hospital).

 

Maori women protested

The mill had the cutting rights of all these blocks. When the mill began in Weraroa some of the Maoris were still disputing the ownership of various blocks of land. Maori women protested by lying on the tram lines. 

According to contemporary reports, the mill had very modern machinery. A system of several 20 foot long vertical band saws was used to cut a log into flitches. All sawmills of the period were driven by steam engines with the fuel being waste slab timber. The steam whistle sounding at work start-stop times was a feature of the period. 

In the early days of settlement, the whistle was sounded when people were lost in the bush in Levin (!) to guide them home.

 

The house at 45 Mabel St was built on the corner of the then Beach Rd for Mr Peter Bland Bartholomew, the second, about 1910-11.

The timber was all heart as befitted a sawmiller’s house. All houses of the time were not entirely built of heart timber. Ordinary building timber was used inside to the later delight of the borer. 

The section was about ¾ acre and still is, though it has been surveyed into five titles for perhaps future building of flats. 

The house was lit by electricity generated by a turbine driven by the high pressure water supply until power was available in 1924 from the power board. 

The charge for the water was probably the same as charged to Parker and Vincent, $18 a year, to drive their water driven lift and crusher in 1927 – they were complaining of the high cost. Apparently it was cheaper to use water power than to install electric motors. 

There were several sections fronting Mabel St to Keepa St that were part of the property.

Mr Bartholomew learned the trade of engineering in Wellington before taking over the management of the sawmill business about 1910 onwards when his father retired.

He married Miss Mary Agnes (Queenie) McDonald, the daughter of Mr J.R. Mc Donald of Heatherlea, whose father was Mr Hector McDonald who operated the coach accommodation house at Hokio from 1858.

Mr and Mrs Bartholomew’s family were Peter Bland, Bernie, Stuart, Beryl and Joan.  The eldest son of the Bartholomew family has been named Peter Bland since 1400.

The family moved to their Waitarere Rd farm about 1928. 

 

Long Service

Mr Peter Bland Bartholomew, the third, has been farming the property for many years milking 160 to 240 of a dairy herd according to season. He was rewarded for his long service as a director of the Levin Dairy Co. and long service to the Manawatu Federated Farmers by being elected a life member of the NZ Federated Farmers in 1982. 

His son is of course Peter Samuel Bland, the latter had to be added as an afterthought. 

The three sons, Peter, Bernie and Stuart worked the farm from the 1940s until later when Peter alone managed it.  The late Bernie was also prominent in the local Federated Farmers being President for some years. 

Mr and Mrs Bert Holdaway bought the property about 1927 or 1928.  They had retired from farming in Wairau Valley.  The wide front lawn served Mr Holdaway as a bowling green. He sold the section fronting Mabel St in the 1930’s or 1940’s. 

In 1959 the property was for sale.  It is uncertain but probably Mr D. W. Davies bought it as in 1967 he and his family occupied the house. 

In 1971 Mrs Long and her daughter Mrs N.W. Foster bought the property.  Mr Stuart Foster surveyed the section into five sections for flats. Later in 1971 it was for sale, and Mr John and Mrs Diane Chadwick bought it. 

Mr Frank and Mrs Beth Marlow have owned the property since 1980 living in the house with their children Clare and Richard. 

The house is about 1600 square feet and has six spacious main rooms and the usual auxiliary rooms. 

It has been extensively renovated in the interior with modern wallboard, wallpaper and panelling.  The stud is about 12 feet.  In what was the original lounge, now a bedroom, the ceiling has not been altered.  There is a plaster moulding six inches wide, three feet from the wall line and following it (including the ceiling curve of the wide bay window), with three-inch match lining across both inside and outside the moulding. There are three rooms with wide bay windows. 

The entrance hall has a carved wooden archway, which was often a feature in the older homes.

The corrugated iron roof is of a hip type with a short gable either side at the front. 

The trees and shrubs around the house are tall indicating original planting.  A Shetland pony grazes occasionally on the front lawn keeping it trim.

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Sawmills closely linked with history


Creator:Corrie Swanwick
Creation date:11/05/1983
Publisher:The News

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