We invite you to read John’s memoirs of his remarkable life on the west coast and discover the fascinating history behind the Bethells' family farm.
His words provide a rich picture of life as a member of one of New Zealand’s pioneering families and the hardships and adventures they encountered over one hundred years ago.
We hope they inspire you to visit and experience this beautiful part of New Zealand and share in some of that great pioneering spirit. Trude and John continue as 5th generation of hospitality on the Bethell family land and honoured to be here in all aspects of the history and hospitality tourism.
John Neale Bethell was the youngest of the seven children of Francis Bethell, a wheelwright, and his wife Mary (nee Isaac), who emigrated from Wiltshire, England, to Auckland, New Zealand, aboard the ship ‘Kingston’ in 1858 under the “Forty Acre Scheme”. (b 1855 – d 1943)
Here are a couple of pages from John’s Memoirs as recalled back on 1st July 1937. They are the first two of eight pages – readers can read a further six pages in the cottages.
A RECORD OF EARLY DAYS OF OLD SETTLERS IN THE WAITAKERE RANGES BACK TO THE WEST COAST. FROM 1864 TO 1925. BY AN OLD WAITAKERE SETTLER ———-JOHN NEALE BETHELL
I arrived in Auckland in the ship “KINGSTON” from London in January 1860 (1859?) My father was a wheelwright by trade and started work in Newmarket.
To show the difference between then and now, he had a saw-pit on the public road next to the Royal George Hotel, and with the help of a man used to cut all the different sizes of timber that he required for his business.
Newmarket was then only a fringe of straggling houses with the Public Pound and Hunter and Dunnets’s saleyards and a slaughterhouse where the Railway Station is at the present time. Alfred Buckland’s saleyards were a little further up the road opposite Remuera Road.
My father came out under the ‘forty acre system’; each adult got 40 acres and children over the age of three got 20 acres.
Land was open for selection at the Wade and different places in the North, including Waitakere. My father decided on Waitakere, a district with only tracks 12 foot wide cut through the virgin forest – no bridges.
Most of the creeks had to be forded and carts were unknown after you reached what is now known as Oratia.
I went to a small school at the foot of Mt. Hobson kept by Emmanuel Hesketh, a very fine man who gave us good moral teaching. There were only twenty-five scholars; we paid 1/- per week. Soon my father got two or three cows and I was put to mind them on the run about Owen’s Road, Epsom and Mt. St. John.
School was soon over in those days. I was taken from school and sent to Waitakere at the age of nine years, and now commences the real struggle of life in the bush, and also happy days when everything was new and fresh, and the bush from Capt.
Theet’s to the West Coast was untouched by the hand of man. Leaving Auckland by the Great North Road we went through the Whau, now know as Avondale; once over the Whau River there was no more metal on the roads; some of the creeks had ramshackle bridges, some had none.
Just a track which is now the West Coast Road up to the Waitakere Ranges and through Wasley’s Kauri bush — the finest kauri bush I have ever seen.
On the way through this forest the kauri branches would meet overhead, giants of the forest, straight as a reed for 60, 70, of 80 feet without branch or knot. It should have been kept reserve for the city of Auckland. Here Mr Wasley started his home and destroyed a lot of the beautiful kauri by axe and fire.
From there the track went on and crossed the Waitakere River near its source where is now the Waitakere Dam that helps to supply the city with water.
One day going along this road near the river with the late Mr. Donnelly. His dog found a large boar and the only weapon we had was a long 1 1/2 inch auger.
The old man took the auger from me and bored down the pig’s throat till he killed it. The dog was badly ripped, but it was a proud man and boy that cut off hunks with a pocket-knife and carried them home to our camp miles further on.
Donnelly and his mate were cutting kauri timber for 8/- a hundred feet — all heart kauri — and carrying their food on their backs from fourteen miles.
He taught me how to make damper in the ashes – we had no camp oven then. John Lamb kept a small store then near where the Waitakere tunnel now is – flour, black sugar, salt beef, tea, soap and tallow candles. We did without matches as everyone carried a small piece of flint and steel with tinder and could always make a fire.
This brings to mind an old Scotch lady who lived in a cutty-grass whare and ti-tree near the road. She built a sawn timber house – I helped them with the logs, breaking down etc.
She lived in the house twenty years. She lit the fire with a match and it was never re-lit till she left it twenty years after. She always covered the fire with ashes at night and it was alight the next day. There was a door in the chimney to throw in logs of rata etc. Wood was of no value – burn as much as possible to get it out of the way.
My brother and I built a nikau whare on my father’s section near Anawhata River and started clearing the bush. Some of it was open fern-land, and the rest heavy kauri and ti-tree, and on the small river flats, karaka and kowhai. The bush was swarming with wild pigs, kiwis, pigeons and tuis.
We used to work all the week clearing the bush and Sunday was given over to pig hunting, fishing, gathering mussels, pipis etc. There were a few bushmen cutting the roads who had first-class dogs so we killed hundreds of pigs, and the pork was the only meat we had – salt and fresh.
I remember one day as I was coming from Newmarket to the Coast, walking all the way and carrying a small swag, I came to a bushman’s whare on the Piha Road about three miles from the Coast. The man had split his foot almost in two with his axe, which had caught in a supple jack.
He asked me would I go back to Auckland and get some dressing for it. I readily complied and started back on my tramp of over twenty miles, and I was only ten years old at the time.
I went to Mr King’s the chemist in Queen Street, who gave me everything I required, and then on to Newmarket, slept the night at my dear old mother’s and started back at daylight next morning on my lonely tramp.
How grateful that poor fellow was. Mr. King had sent needles to sew the wound and arnica and bandages. The man was laid up eight or nine weeks and was unable to wear a boot for a long time. I stayed with him one night and then went on to our own camp.
We got a few cows from Newmarket and built a stockyard and started milking the first cows on the West Coast. We made a garden and I planted some rata and pohutakawa trees – they are large trees now.
After we had been there a few months we went to see the native settlement at the mouth of the Waitakere River.
The Maoris were very kind to us and gave us kumaras, pumpkins, pork etc. I soon learned to play with the native children and two swim with them and paddle their canoes. My brother used to get lots of wild ducks, pukeko and teal.
I found the natives good neighbours and we were good friends right up to the time I left a few years ago. They were strictly honest.
For twenty years I had a large bin in a shed about two hundred yards from the native settlement and in the late summer I would fill it with 5cwt. of flour and about 4 bags of sugar, salt etc.