Fearless ferryman recalled

22:34, Jan 24 2013
Safe crossing: Ferryman Wally Watson used to transport pedestrians and cyclists across the Wairau River at Renwick before the first bridge was built there in 1913.

Memories of a century-old Marlborough love affair that sprung from the banks of the Wairau River were rekindled this week.

Renwick man Peter Blick said his grandfather used to transport timber across the river on his horse and cart, before the first bridge was built there in 1913.

The old one-way wooden structure was officially opened 100 years ago yesterday.

Hard life: Renwick man Peter Blick’s grandfather sits atop his timber cargo while crossing the Wairau River before the first bridge was built 100 years ago.

Before the bridge, a ferryman used to take pedestrians and cyclists across the treacherous waterway at a charge of one shilling per head and six pence for a bicycle.

Mr Blick's grandfather, Gilbert Blick, married the ferryman's daughter, who worked the crossing's flag system.

They had seven children together but one died of polio at the age of 16.


They built a house in Renwick, at Blicks Rd, where Mr Blick still lives today.

"Granny would get up at 3am, light the range and cook him breakfast," he said. "Then she would go out and help him put the horses on the wagon.

"She was a great old woman who lived to 95 or 96 years old. They were hard working but enjoyed life and liked their beer."

The ferryman, Wally Watson, spent his last days at the Blick house and was buried at Kaituna cemetery, he said.

Mr Blick had archive material from Renwick Library that described his great-grandfather.

"As Mr Watson drove his white horse he liked to chew his favourite tobacco. His white whiskers and his chin were in continuous motion," it read.

Mr Blick's grandmother, Maude, told him about people trying to cross the river on their own.

They would get washed away, he said.

"They reckon that was a great horse that knew what it was doing."

Mr Blick's grandfather, Gilbert, worked for a Blenheim timber yard, he said.

Based in Renwick, he had to collect his cargo from either Wakamarina, in Canvastown, or near Pelorus Bridge.

The journey would take a week, he said.

"He would leave Renwick, go across the river, load all the timber by hand and come back across the river into Blenheim.

"Imagine that in winter."

The Marlborough Express