Topic: River and Rail - the story of Shannon

topic type:

A river and a railway both share an important place in the history of Shannon. From the river came the first settlers and from the railway - Shannon was born.


This work is an attempt to put the notes and information I have been collecting on our town, into some sort of order. It is not - and was never intended to be - a detailed study, but I have tried to include most of the main details of our history.

It was written with the younger person in mind - the child or student thirsting for information about the origins of his community.

Some subjects I have touched on only lightly - others more fully. This is mainly due to the amount of information I had at hand on a particular subject. My apologies to those who think I have left some important fact out.

In my opinion, the most important part of this work is the section at the end. Here, I have tried as far as possible to list the sources of my information: For those interested, this section may help you to fill in the gaps and add to the information given. Then, this work will have served its purpose.

Signed: R.D.Ayson, Minnie Street, SHANNON.

The words below are from Mr Ayson's paper - River and Rail - the story of Shannon:



A river and a railway both share an important place in the history of Shannon. From the river came the first settlers and from the railway - Shannon was born.

Starting as a tiny stream deep in the Ruahine Ranges the Manawatu river flows for over a hundred miles through the Manawatu district, till it reaches the coast at Foxton Beach and empties into the Tasman sea.

The most popular meaning of the word Manawatu is ‘depressed spirit’ or ‘heart stood still’, and according to legend it was named by an early Maori explorer and Wizard named ‘Hau’. During his journey up the coast he came to a wide river and he became sad at the thought of being unable to cross to the other side and so continue his journey.

The first people to settle along the river were the Rangitane tribe where they lived peacefully for many centuries. But their peace was shattered in the early 1800's when the Ngati Toa led by their great fighting chief, Te Rauparaha, swept down from the north.

The Rangitane armed with only stone and wooden weapons were no match for the invaders who were heavily armed with pakeha muskets. Many of the Rangitane were killed, eaten or captured for slaves, a few escaped and hid in the thick forest.

The victorious Te Rauparaha then claimed all the land from Kapiti to the Rangitikei and invited some friendly tribes from the North to share his new-won land.

The invitation was accepted by the friendly Ngati Raukawa and a sub-tribe or ‘hapu’ the Ngati Whakatere who travelled from the Waikato district to the Manawatu in a migration lasting between 1825-30. The Whakatere tribe chose to settle on the area of land we now call Shannon.

They named their tribe after their ancestor, ‘Whakatere’, and they are descended from a formidable array of chiefs who arrived in New Zealand on the ‘Tainui’ canoe.

In the early days, their powers of public opinion and speech-making were remarkable and had no small effect in the preservation of law and order. Matters of general interest were discussed, the building of a meeting-house, or church, or anything affecting the general welfare of the tribe. They possessed a marked sense of dignity which was seen to its greatest advantage at these tribal gatherings.

Men, women, and children worked together in some cases, as in the clearing of a piece of land for cultivation, but the men alone worked at any tasks which were covered by a tape, such as house-building or canoe-making. In fact, every activity was covered by some form of ritual or ceremony. The Maori could do little without relying on his gods for help or protection.

A considerable amount of their time was taken up in fishing and obtaining other food supplies. They were experts at fresh-water fishing and the eel, being plentiful in the creeks and streams, especially the Tokomaru and the Manawatu River, furnished a most important food supply. They were caught in ‘hinakis’ or eel-baskets, baited with earthworms. They were also taken with [barb] and spear, and surprisingly, often caught with their bare hands.

There was always a good supply of bird-life in the dense forest such as the Tui, Kaka, and pigeon. These were caught by spearing or laying snares. The birds were attracted by a call leaf, and as they came close, were killed with a spear or by a piece of hard wood thrown at them. Snares were set in the pathways of flightless birds, just above the surface of the water for ducks, and in trees for forest birds.

The most favourite method of cooking was the earth­

oven or ‘hangi’, in which food was cooked on heated stones

in small pits excavated in the ground. An ordinary meal would be cooked in about 2 hours.

The Poutu Pa built in 1876 on the northwest side of the Manawatu river, is still today the centre of the Maori community. On the ‘Marae’ is the church Turongo’, built in 1869 by Bishop Hadfield. In 1965 it was moved to its present position from its original site in Bowes Road.

It is said that an elder of the tribe dreamed that two big ‘Totara’ trees grew near the Manawatu river at Rangiotu. The trees were found, and with the help of a friendly tribe, were floated downriver, and the timber was used in the construction of the church.

War was always a threat in the life of the Maori and all able-bodied men were trained in war-fare. The Whakatere tribe were fierce fighters and employed strategy and decoy manoeuvres to outwit their enemy. So successful were they

in combats that other tribes believed in some mythical being or war-god was blessing them with assistance. Many tribes sought their help to avenge some insult or wrong.

The Whakatere tribe have been recognised as great

‘haka’ performers. In 1929 they won the N.Z. Haka Championship shield, held in Shannon, and in 1931, won the N.Z. Haka Challenge Cup in Wanganui, defeating six other teams.

In 1889 a Maori sports club was formed. One of the principal events was horse racing and a mile track was laid down near the Pa. Successful meetings were held for 18 years and competitors came from as far as Auckland and Rotorua.

The first white man to come into contact with the Manawatu Maoris was a runaway sailor named Bush. He was called Te Puihi by the Maoris and he married and remained with them for three years, and then left as suddenly as he had arrived.

However his presence marked a new era and soon after

the emigrant ships arrived in Wellington, the more adventurous of the pioneers established a precarious trade in flax and pigs in the Manawatu.

In August 1840, Jerningham Wakefield visited the Manawatu river with the whaler Geordie Young. They were taking supplies to the American whaler 'Horse Lewis, who was building a 30 ton schooner about 15 miles up the river. Lewis and his small band of helpers were the only Europeans known to have been living on the river at that time.

While there, Wakefield met a trader, Jack Duff who had just travelled upriver through the Manawatu Gorge, the first white man to do so.

Following Wakefield's visit, there was considerable interest in the Manawatu by the New Zealand Company. First the Company's Surveyor, General William Mein Smith, made a preliminary survey. The survey headquarters were set up at

Te Karikari and during 1842 extensive surveys of the district were carried out. As a result, a large block of land, 25,000 acres on the river's south bank was purchased by the Company.

The Company's draughtsman, Charles Heaphy suggested the company establish a town near the river. They chose Te Maire, the spot where Shannon now stands.

Plans for the new settlement were drawn up and a syndicate of Wellington colonists was formed. It was very optimistic and imaginative.

The plans included, a riverside esplanade, botanical

gardens, market and church squares, custom house, goal and cemetery. This was a great enticement to the settlers but the town was never to take root.

Investigations were made into their land purchases, with the result that they were only awarded 900 acres. Their scheme of a settlement had to be abandoned.

Of the 900 acres only 400 was taken up, a few miles downriver from Te Maire at Paiaka. Of these, Captain Robinson, a trader, and the Kebble brothers, John and Thomas, pioneer sawmillers, acquired 200 acres each. Later these holdings were doubled when Governor Grey came into office.

Other traders also established themselves at Paiaka, the most prominent being Thomas Uppadine Cook, and Charles Hartley.

For a time the little settlement thrived. The Maoris

were employed in rafting the logs down the river and hauling them to the mill on a tramway. A brisk trade of such goods as clothing, blankets, ornaments tools, tobacco, pipes and even the occasional horse or cow, developed with the Maoris who in turn gave pigs, potato, wheat and flax. By 1850 about 50 Europeans lived on the river's banks, while the Maori numbered about 3,400.

But progress came to an abrupt halt in Paiaka when on

the evening of January 29th 1855, a violent earthquake struck the lower half of the North Island. Strong shocks were felt in the Manawatu and the settler's frail houses at Paiaka collapsed and tumbled down around them. Kebbell's mill was damaged beyond repair and those houses left standing were pulled down and transported to Te Awahou, the site of Foxton. This was the beginning of European settlement in Foxton and soon the settlers had built stores and a wharf there.

Although, as has been seen, the township of Te Maire did not eventuate there was still some European interest in the spot as a trading centre and missionary station. As early as 1841 a Maori chapel had been built there.

It was situated on an old cut off loop of the Manawatu river, on the left bank (about 12 miles west of Shannon). In the early days, before the arrival of the white man, the Maori had cut a channel at the narrowest end of the loop to provide a shortcut. Early settlers called it the Te Maire lagoon.

In 1844 the Reverends, James Duncan and John Inglis, from the church of Scotland set up a mission station there. Reverend Duncan taught the Maoris the use of figures and weights and measures, which made him an unpopular figure with some of the traders. He moved to Te Awahau in 1846 and with the help of the Maoris built a home and a church there. He was the first white man to settle at Te Awahau, and was there to welcome the settlers after the disaster at Paiaka.

Another European who settled at Te Maire was the Trader, Charles Hartley. He arrived in 1846 and started trading for flax with the local tribes. He was a fair and honest man and they often went to him with their problems and to seek advice. They called him ‘Haretere’. Hartley and his wife lived in a Maori style house but with one European touch - it had curtains at the windows.

He brought the first horse, cow, and sheep to the district, and it became a common sight to see two or three schooners anchored on the river opposite their house.

The settlement of Te Maire increased with other traders coming there and cherries, peaches and heavy crops of potatoes were grown. Also a mill for grinding wheat was built on the Otaura stream. This was owned by Hartley and T.V. Cook, as also were two schooners, the ‘Hannah’ and ‘Mary Jane’ built there on the river bank.

To Hartley goes the honour of being the first white man to see the clearing in the bush which was to become Palmerston North. From Te Maire they moved to Foxton about 1875 to a spot known as Hartley's bend and then in 1878 they moved to Palmerston North.

At a week long meeting at Parewanui in 1849, the 225,000 acre Rangitikei block of land between the Turakina

and the Rangitikei rivers was bought for £2,500. In 1858

the Awahau block of 37,000 acres from Awahau, 30 miles along the Manawatu river was bought from the Ngati Raukawa

also for £2,500. Talks then began for the sale of the upper

Manawatu or Ahauturangi block of 250,000 acres. This included the clearing ‘Papaioea’ (the future Palmerston North) bought in 1864 for £12,000 from the Rangitane tribe.

These sales opened up the Manawatu for European settlement and small towns began to grow at Foxton and Palmerston North. The many hardships these settlers faced and their efforts to conquer the land makes interesting and absorbing reading.

To give an idea of the thickness of the forest, which covered the entire area, in 1842 Charles Kettle reported that it took a survey party 8 hours to travel two miles. This, of course, caused many transport difficulties and the early traveller found the easiest form of transport was by Maori canoe un and down the river.

In 1871, however, a tramway was built from the river (near the Opiki bridge) to Palmerston North. The rails were wooden and the trucks were pulled by horses. In April 1876 the first train, nicknamed the ‘Skunk’ ran from Palmerston North to Foxton. The railway was extended to Feilding in 1877 and to Wanganui in 1878. The Foxton line continued for many years, but declined in importance with the opening of a new railway in 1886 - The Wellington-­Manawatu Railway Company's line.

A railway up the west coast had been a long-felt need of many early settlers. The only route to the Manawatu lay along the beach by coast or walking, till you reached Foxton and then struck inland or journeyed up the river.

In 1876 a line had already been started on the other side of the ranges, stretching over the Rimutaka's to a point north of Masterton. Bat when the Government were approached to construct a similar line up the west coast, they replied that the results would not justify the cost, as the Manawatu land was considered to be of not enough value.

However, after further discussions the Government decided to carry out a survey between Wellington and Foxton. This was carried out by the Minister of Public Works, Mr J. McAndrews, in 1878, who found there were no serious engineering difficulties along the proposed route.

A start was made on the line and steady progress was made. But after £33,000 had been spent on formation work, there was a change of Government and all work on the line stopped.

The new Government was repeatedly approached by the frustrated colonists but they pleaded that there was no money available to continue such a work. So the colonists realised that the only way they would get their much-needed railway, was to pay for it themselves - and they did.

At a meeting held in Welling-ton on September 30th 1880, attended by some prominent business men, the proposal was put forward to form a private company to raise money for the line. Among the guests was a softooods retailer, Mr G.V. Shannon and his partner in business Mr J. Thompson.

In 1881, the company, named the Wellington-Manawatu Railway Company, was registered with a capital of £500,000. The Railways and Land act was passed which authorised the Company to proceed with the work and the Government also gave them a land grant of 215,000 acres in the Manawatu.

In September 1882 the first contract for construction was signed and four years and two months later in November 1886, after 84 miles of line had been layed involving an outlay of over three quarters of a million pounds, the work was completed.

The ceremony of driving the last spike, held at Otaihanga, near Waikanae, on November 3rd, 1886, although a formal and serious occasion, was not without its humour. The Governor of the Colony, Sir William Jervois performed the honour - but when he swung the mallet to strike the spike - he missed: He tried again - and missed again: Finally on the third attempt he managed the task, and the final link between the two centres of Wellington and Palmerston 'North were at last physically and symbolically, completed.

The line opened for business on November 29th of that year, when the first train consisting of ten carriages, ran through to Palmerston North.

It was an instant success. At first British engines were used but from 1888 onwards American engines and carriages were introduced, including the first dining car. And electricity provided by storage batteries was introduced in 1896, thirty years before the State railways. The engines were more powerful too and claimed a world speed record for a 3'6" gauge track of over 60 mph.

With the completion of the main trunk line, the company sold the railway to the State in September 1908 for £993.000.

Several of the small towns along the line were named after directors of the company, in recognition of their services. These included Linton, Shannon, Levin and Plimmerton.

In 1885 a small party of railway officials visited the country over which the line was being constructed. Included in this party was Mr G.V. Shannon, director. Their journey was made by rail, stage coach, and horseback and took 23 hours - the fastest return journey from Wellington to Manawatu made up to that time.

Many of the towns they passed through were only in the planning stage. Levin for instance was only a clearing in the bush. When they reached the Manawatu river they visited the ‘Shannon’ wharf. This was situated on the acute bend at the lower end of the present Buckley road, two miles west of Shannon. Small steamers brought their cargoes of railway supplies to this point for the advancing railway. A temporary line, a mile in length, joined the wharf with the main line.

The first and largest steamer to travel up the river to as far as Shannon was the three roasted, two funnelled, 207 feet long, ‘Wonga Wonga’ on February 12th, 1860.

When Mr Shannon was shown the site of the township named after him he was delighted and said it reminded him of his homeland in Ireland. The site covered 1200 acres - one square mile of forest having been cleared in readiness for settlement -and the suburban sections abutted upon the water. It was a very pretty spot. One of the party described it as "a sort of natural amphitheatre with a beautiful fringe of forest running round a basin formed by the water and bed of the river." Unfortunately they stayed for only 20 minutes before continuing their journey. Shannon, it was said, would become one of the most important towns along the railway's entire route.

And who was this Mr George Vance Shannon? He was born in Ulster, Ireland, about three miles from the town of Antrim, on August 17th, 1842. He migrated to New Zealand with his wife, Emily, in 1865, and was in business in Nelson for 9 years. In 1874, he and Mr J.S.M. Thompson established a drapery business in Wellington with branches in Christchurch, Napier and Auckland. When he retired from this business in 1887, he moved with his family to the ‘Totara’s Estate’ at Waituna West, Rangitikei district.

He always took an active part in public matters. He was Captain of the Wellington Rifles and was made a Major in the N.Z. Militia, commanding the First Battalion in 1887. He was a member of the Wellington Education Board; Commander of the Wellington Fire Salvage Board; and a customs expert.

But perhaps his most important work was with the Wellington-Manawatu railway. He was a member of the first committee appointed to report on the practicability of the railway; and was vice-president of the London Board; and a director, during his seven years service to the company.

He became one of the best known settlers in the Rangitikei district and died at his Totara's home on June 4th, 1920, leaving six daughters and two sons.

When the track laying gangs were working in the Shannon area, the only sign of European settlement was a small farm owned by Mr G.N. Woods. He came down the river from Moutoa and purchased his land from the Maoris, and built a tiny cottage with a roof made of raupo reeds. Tracks had to be cut through the bush so that the timber and - furniture for the cottage could be carted to the site by bullock wagon.

Mr Woods was Shannon's first J.P. and Maori interpreter. He also built the first woolshed and had the first four stand shearing plant and did most of the shearing for the farmers in the neighbourhood. Opposite Mr Wood's farm was the abandoned water driven flour mill built by Hartley and Cook, on the Mangaore stream, half a mile downstream from where the Shannon Woolscour factory now stands.

Mr Clark Dunn of the railway construction contractors, Wilkie and Dunn, owned the only real house in Shannon, a wooden bungalow. A general store was run by the contractors for the men who lived in tents. They could buy fresh meat and bread and did all their own cooking. The first permanent building erected in Shannon was the railway signal box in 1886.

A big land auction was held in 1887, selling blocks of land about Shannon for £1.5s and £2.15s per acre, the

terms being 10 per cent deposit and the balance at five per cent over seven years. The settlers set to work to fell the timber and clear their land and early photos show the ground strewn with huge logs and dotted with jagged stumps rising from the raw earth.

The first commercial development was the construction of a general store on Nathan Terrace, west of the railway line. The Store also served as the Post Office. This was followed by another commercial building (serving as auction room, Hairdresser, billiard room and boarding house) on the corner of Nathan Terrace and Sheehan Street.

The Town’s first hotel (Albion) was erected on

Plimmer Terrace, east of the railway in 1889. With the move in 1890 of the Post Office and the construction of a second hotel (Club) on Plimmer Terrace, the east side became the main commercial area, while the west side declined in importance.

One of the largest stores in the district was established in Shannon in 1890. This was owned by -­ Mr W.H. Gunning, who settled in New Zealand after returning from the Yukon gold fields in America. This building is still being used today and the year the business was established although faded by time, can still be seen on the front of the building.

Almost the only remunerative activity for the earliest settlers was that of bush clearing and sawmilling. The settlers were so active in this that by 1894 Shannon had become treeless.

Two early sawmilling companys were the Campbell Land and Timber Co. and the Shannon Land and Sawmilling Co. which took over the land and interests of the Campbell company in July 1906. The timber area was about 4500 acres and covered the area which is now the site of the Mangahao Power scheme. The timber consisted of rimu, totara, birch and hinau.

In 1907 the company erected the Tepaki mill, situated six miles from Shannon. The timber after leaving the mill was drawn up the side of the range on the Shannon side, a distance of about ⅓rd of a mile by a powerful steam hauler and was lowered down the other side and taken to Shannon on a tramway. The planing sheds were situated close to the railway station. The output of the mill was 10,000 ft of timber per day and the company employed 40 people.

The start of the dairying industry in this district consisted of milking a few wild cows in a yard of shingle­roof shed, and grazing the cows among the stumps and partly burned logs. The milk was set in large pans, skimmed, and the cream churned into butter for sale at the local store for 4d lb, or to be exchanged for a few stores. Later the herds of cows increased in size and all were milked by hand. The cow yards were unpaved and the milk was carted by horse and dray to the creameries.

The first creameries were privately owned. In 1874 the N.Z. Farmers' Dairy Union erected a creamery in Shannon and adopted the brand of ‘Black Swan’ for their butter. McMillan and Frederick (later taken over by Dalgety and Co) commenced in 1900 (brand -Rangitira) and the Fresh Food and Ice Company started in 1903. Their Brand was ‘Defiance’.

The prices paid for butterfat were in the vicinity of 6d lb and the dissatisfaction among farmers over this price, gave rise to the move to start a producers' co-operative company in the Shannon District, in 1908.

The factory grew to become one of the largest producers of butter in the lower North Island. The small churns first used turned out 700-800 lbs of butter per churning but later ones in use made 2½ tons at time. The first yearly output of the factory was 158 tons; in 1939 it was 1600 tons; and in 1949 it reached 2500 tons.

In 1910 a store for supplying shareholders with farm necessities was opened. The store is still operating today and is now open to the general public. The dairy factory closed in the mid 60's and today a wool scouring plant is operating on the premises.

At one time flaxmilling was the most important industry in Shannon. When flax leaf was plentiful as many as 70 Mills operated along the banks of the Manawatu river. Drainage and reclamation of the swamps, however, greatly reduced the once prolific flax areas until today, no trace of the industry remains

The main flax growing areas in the district were the Moutoa and the Makerua swamps. The Moutoa swamp lay some three miles from Shannon on the way to Foxton. The swamp covered nearly 5000 acres end at one time as much as 40 tons of flax was cut to the acre.

The Makerua swamp was the largest commercial flax swamp in the country and extended from Shannon to Linton and followed the east bank of the Manawatu River. The area covered about 22,000 acres. Crops yielded about 70,000 tons of millable leaf yearly from which the mills dressed about 8500 tons of hemp and 1400 tons of tow.

A large number of men were employed in the mills. Those that interested Shannon were C.H. Spiers’s two stripper mill on the Kara creek and the Miranui flaxmill, the largest ever built to produce N.Z. flax fibre, situated about three miles north of Shannon.

There were seven stripping machines working in the main building and two more in a smaller building called the Welxa mill. The quantity of leaf cut per annum was on the average of 22,000 tons. To obtain this quantity over three acres of flax was cut every day and 11 chains of tramline were pulled up and relaid. The mill's output was about 2,500 tons of hemp and 400 tons of tow. It was owned by the A. & L. Seifert Flaxdressing Co., which employed over 300 men.

Another mill further north was the Mukapai flaxmill with two strippers. And situated over the Manawatu river was the Whitanui mill with four strippersand the Poplar mill with two strippers. Both these mills drew their supplies of leaf from the Makerua swamp and conveyed the leaf across the river by aerial wire rope.

For many years flaxmilling was a flourishing industry which provided around £250,000 worth of exports every year. But in 1914 a mysterious disease appeared in the flax and gradually spread over the whole area. This was the yellow-leaf disease; so called because it attacked the leaf causing it to turn yellow and die.

This disease which resisted all efforts to stamp it out, made flaxmilling unprofitable and after extensive drainage and flood protection work had been carried out in the swamp, changing it into a fertile plain, flax owners converted their land to farming. Now the former flax land is one of the finest root crop growing areas in the North Island.

The possibilities of providing electric power by utilising the water catchment aroma on the western side of the Tararua ranges behind Shannon, were first brought to the Government’s attention in 1911. But work could not begin on the scheme until after the first world war. In 1915 when surveys were made, the Government spoke confidently of completing the work in two to three years.

But the task before the engineers was not an easy one. The Mangahao river lay some seven miles back from the Shannon Plain, but in between were two giant ridges of rock over 1500 ft. high. Their job was to build two dams holding 117 million cubic feet of water, drive tunnels through the hills and bring the stored water down to the power house.

What makes Mangahao possible is not any great quantity of water, but the height of the fall from the dam levels to the power house. This artificial fall through the pipelines is nearly 900ft,, and water pressure at the bottom is 400 lbs per sq. in. or 30 tons per sq. ft.

In 1919 the work on the two tunnels began and the construction of the two dams, the pipelines and the power house followed. One tunnel which was driven through the rock between Arapeti and the Mangahao river is 1250 ft. above sea level and is one mile long and 7ft. in diameter. Another tunnel through the range behind Shannon is 1½ miles long and is 8ft. in diameter. This tunnel was the scene of an accident on July 3rd 1922 when six men, who were working from the Arapeti end, lost their lives through gas poisoning.

From the surge chamber built 1250 ft above sea level come the pipes which descend to the power house built on a bend of the stream on what used to be for the early settlers an attractive picnic spot. The building of the pipelines was an undertaking in itself, using 1600 tons of steel and over 2 million rivets. The line starts at the surge chamber with two six ft. diameter pipes; and then branches into four 46ins; and then into four three ft. diameter pipes lower down. The length of the pipeline is 3700 ft.

In the power house the water from the pipe is controlled by nozzles and the pressure of water drives the paddle type wheels of the generators. A needle valve in the nozzle can be made to open or close according to the demand for power. The velocity of the water through the nozzle is no less than 200 ft per second or sufficient to hurl the column of water a full mile.

On November 3rd 1924, the Prime Minister, Mr W.F. Massey, accompanied by Mr J.C. Coates, the Minister for Public Works, performed the opening ceremony. The function at the power house was followed by a banquet at Shannon.

Later, when it was found that the storage capacity of the two dams already formed was insufficient, a larger dam was constructed further back in the ranges. This dam was filled in April 1928.

Today, the station's output of 19.2 megawatts is about enough to supply Levin's power demand only, a very small amount by todays standards.

The power scheme meant much to Shannon and during the four years of construction the town enjoyed a boom period. Such was the influx of population (over 500 working on the power scheme) that a second policeman was needed. The majority of workers were law-abiding and peaceful but in the wilder element - often fights broke out. Tent towns blossomed in the hills, the tents arranged in terraces one above the other or dug into the hillsides. Mangahao is their monument - and in November 1974 the power scheme celebrated its 50th anniversary.

The Shannon school which was built at a cost of £50, was opened on Wednesday, July 17, 1889. It was a one room building with 16 dual desks, blackboards, easels and stationary. On the first day there were 17 pupils present, and the teacher was Mr. W. Voysey. From these small beginnings, in a building that was cold, wet and draughty, the Shannon people today can be justifiably proud of the school and the amenities it provides for their children.

Shannon people have always been interested in sport and community activities. Early residents were justly proud of their recreation ground which still today is the venue of major sports and community gatherings. The land was donated by the Railway company and was stumped and cleared by an enthusiastic working bee; with a team of bullocks doing the harder work. The ground was then drained and leveled and a crop of oats grown and about 1906 it was seeded down as a permanent pasture.

The recreation ground is the home of the Shannon Rugby club, but rugby was played in the town as early as 1893. The club itself dates from 1899 when it entered a junior team in the Horowhenua competition. In 1927 the Manawhenua team won the coveted Ranfurly Shield, with the local club providing five of the players.

In 1890 a cricket club was formed and a field was cleared in Plimmer Terrace. This flat was covered with stumps and thistles through which a herd of cows daily passed. Practice games were played there until Mr.G.N. Woods gave permission to use property in front of his house. Later, the club secured a field further up Plimmer Terrace and played there until the domain was cleared.

Other early sports bodies were: the Shannon Gun club, formed in 1912; the croquet club, formed in 1924; Miniature rifle club, in 1938; The Shannon Bowling club, in 1904; horse sports club, in 1933; Badminton club, 1936; tennis club, 1908; Girls marching team in 1946 - there were two teams one named the ‘Premiers’ and the other was ‘Broadway’. There were also two golf clubs, the Buckley and the Mangaore clubs, both with nine hole courses set in pleasant surroundings.

Shannon also had a horse racing club in the early days, with its track situated on the Levin Road. Race day was always a popular event and the names of some of the horses were: Marionette, Toby Tutumiro, Wild Irishman, Picture, Teddy Kissmere and Lady Carrington. The Club closed in 1910.

After a public meeting was held on August 2nd 1927 the Shannon Volunteer Fire Brigade was formed. The first fire fighting equipment to be purchased was a hose reel from the Palmerston Forth Fire Board at a cost of £7, and on August 10th the fire bell was obtained from the Wellington Fire Brigade for £8. The hand reel stayed in service until 1930, when a model ‘T’ Ford fire engine was purchased from the Feilding Fire Board for £35. This engine was sold in 1947 for the same price it was paid for. That same year the Public raised nearly £1,200 and purchased a new Ford V8 fire Engine. Today the Shannon Fire Brigade ranks amongst the finest ‘smaller’ brigades in the country.

The first newspaper in Shannon was ‘The Manawatu Farmer’ published about 1884. Another early paper was the ‘Shannon News’ a twice weekly publication. This began in 1922 and continued until 1940 when the shortage of newsprint due to the war forced it to close.

Shannon's first Mayor was Mr W. Murdoch who held the office from 1917 to 1926. Other Mayors were: Messrs E.J. Butt; A.E. Hyde; R.E. Downes and D.A. Fitzgerald and P.K. Robinson.

The first police station was situated in Nathan Terrace. The Bank of New Zealand building was built in 1913 but before that a bank operated near the Albion Hotel, and an even earlier one was situated in Ballance Street. The first public Hall was built in 1894. When the time came for Shannon to decide on what form the war memorial should take, after much discussion it was decided to build a, memorial hall and community centre. Some land was donated for this purpose opposite the school and the building was officially opened on August 28th 1954 by Major General Sir Howard Kippenburger, K.B.E., and the Rev. G.K. Norman dedicated the memorial plaque.

The Methodist Church was the first church to be built in Shannon - in 1891 by their own parishoners. Early members of the Anglican Church however, held services in the school rooms. Their Church was built in 1898 and was resited next to the parish hall in Stout Street in 1949.

The first Presbyterians held services in Fitchett's Hall, Stout Street, until the church was completed in 1904 in Nathan Terrace and in X953 a brick church was built in Stout Street.

Early Roman Catholics held their Services in the School rooms. A church was built in 1908, and in 1963 a new church was opened. In 1956 they built St. Joseph's Convent School, catering for the needs of some 60.

The first motion pictures to be screened locally were at the Druid's Hall. Later the ‘Maorilander’ theatre was opened and in 1921 under new Management it was renovated and renamed the ‘Renown’. The first ‘talkie’ picture was screened in 1930.

A stable was situated next to the theatre and it was from here that visitors could hire a horse and gig on a ‘drive yourself’ system. Later, when the Mangahao scheme started there were three or four motor taxis running as well as several motor buses.

The first aeroplane flown from Shannon was a home-made machine built by Mr Len Mangham. It took off from the race course, but when attempting to land, hit a cow, but fortunately the machine and the pioneer pilot escaped injury.

Following the Second World War, there were many men who received resettlement farms in the Shannon District. This, along with the upgrading of the State Highway through Shannon, brought a new lease of life to the community.

Business firms, realising the potential of this centrally situated town, started to buy up land and take over existing businesses.

The United Empire Box (U.E.B.) group of  ompanies situated here in 1949 and is now a multi million dollar industrial empire. A disastrous fire in 1957 destroyed their building but it was immediately rebuilt.

In 1937 Mr W.R.Clough bought the local blacksmith and farrier's business. Since then the business has flourished and is now an expanding engineering company.

The Holeproof Nylon Plant went into production in 1965. It was originally built by the Von Kohorn Nylon Company (brand-ENZLON) but was taken over by Holeproof in 1966. The plant and machinery - used for making nylon fibre - cost many thousands of dollars and the company provides work for many Shannon residents.

Today, the railway is still the most prominent feature of the Shannon landscape. The business premises cluster beside the tracks and the streets (many named after Wellington­-Manawatu Railway personalities) and houses radiate out from it. Perhaps Shannon didn't live up to its founders' reputation as being one of the most important centres between Wellington and Palmerston North, but there is a strong feeling of optimism about the town as if this goal is still in sight.

- END –




Most of the books, booklets, papers etc. I have obtained information from, are listed below. Those listings marked with a star are obtainable from the Shannon Public Library [1977].



*Old Manawatu - T.L. Buick


Palmerston North - A Centenial History - G.C. Petersen


*West of the Tararuas - D.Hoy


*City of the Strait


*Petticoat Pioneers (book 2) - M. Macgregor


*Adventure in New Zealand - J. Wakefield


Stirring Times of Te Rauparaha - W.T.L. Travers


*Early Steamships of N.Z. - D. Wilkinson


Reminiscences of Early Horowhenua - R. McDonald


*Horowhenua - G.L. Adkin


Transportation in Manawatu 1816-1846 – A.S.M. Hely


Introducing Manawatu - B.G.R. Saunders


­Golden Jubilee of the Shannon Co-op Dairy Co.


Shannon School Jubilee - 1949, 1959, 1964, 1974.



Shannon Directory - 1972.


*Copies bf Mr G.V. Sannon's own Press Cuttings. (In folder marked Wellington-Manawatu Railway).






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