Barrie Smith: Hailing James Simmons, one of Taranaki's earliest pioneers

Life was tough for Taranaki's earliest pioneers.
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Life was tough for Taranaki's earliest pioneers.

OPINION: In my last column I wrote about the carnage on our roads caused by fast cars, booze, drugs and inattention but sadly mine, the police, St John and the fire service's message has fallen on deaf ears, as the death rate has continued to rise.

Then we have the carnage of murdering and terrorism happening around the world to contend with.

For 95 per cent of peace loving law abiding New Zealand citizens, all this makes very sad reading.

Settlers such as James Simmons, who settled and cleared the bush in Cardiff, laid the foundation for Taranaki's dairy ...
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Settlers such as James Simmons, who settled and cleared the bush in Cardiff, laid the foundation for Taranaki's dairy industry.

Christmas has come and gone and now as we enter 2017 I want to take our readers back in time for a moment or two and help forget the bad news.

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In many of my columns I have reminded us all of the early pioneers who settled in Taranaki and began clearing the virgin forests, turning our land into some of the most productive in New Zealand.

I want to relay the events around a Mr James Simmons who, in February 1881, arrived in Stratford at 8pm on a train from New Plymouth to become the first settler to take up his section of land at Cardiff.

Prior to this period Welsh surveyors had somehow surveyed the surrounding bush clad land, pegging out the various blocks, and this is how districts like Cardiff, Pembroke, Mahoe and lowgarth were named by the Welsh.

At some time earlier the Army had cut a track through the bush to Cardiff then eventually all the way to Opunake, which is why it is called the Opunake Rd.

So Simmons disembarked the train and headed for his room at Mr Mehaffy's Hotel for a much needed feed and sleep. He was no doubt helped with this by consuming a few beers with the locals.

These locals were laughing and joking with James about him claiming his land in Cardiff, saying "don't worry you won't get lost as the bush and supplejacks are that thick you won't wander off the track".

Next morning after a hearty breakfast he headed to see Mr Curtis, the local store keeper for advice and provisions. Mr Curtis said: "You are lucky as my pack horse has just been returned, so I will loan it to you to help carry all the provisions you will need.

"Believe me you will need the pack horse as you will need a tent, shovel, axe, saw, grubber and plenty of food."

This was duly done and James finally set off at 9am for Cardiff, five miles away.

When he reached the borough boundary some half a mile up Opunake Rd, he entered the virgin bush on a track no locals had been on before so it was like a track to nowhere.

About a mile and half out of Stratford he encountered his first major obstacle,  a deep ravine-type stream crossing, but as luck had it the weather had been fine and the rough track was reasonably dry.

Then he encountered some large logs on the track that he and horse scrambled over. But he took note of these large rimu trees thinking, 'Wow these will make good timber to build a house some time'.

Then as he neared his destination he encountered another deep stream crossing, finally reaching what he believed was his pegged section some five hours later, opposite where the Cardiff Monument now stands. Today, in a vehicle it takes some four to five minutes.

So he searched for block 68A which he had purchased earlier from the Crown in New Plymouth. The block was on the corner of the now Opunake, Cardiff and Climie roads so he immediately set to clearing a site big enough to build a punga whare on.

As you can imagine there was no shortage of pungas but he had a problem with roofing as there were no reeds for thatching.

His tent was his main accommodation until, sometime later, he went back into town and bought timber shingles for the roof from Mr Curtis followed by another trip to get bricks for his fire place.

Soon after Simmons had completed his whare, a neighbour turned up to claim his block next door only to find out Simmons had built his whare on the wrong section.

However this was quite common as the new settlers struggled to clearly identify boundaries, as history records some large areas of forest cut on the wrong block.

History also records that Simmons withdrew his three children from the Cardiff School (which had opened in 1886) to return to England in 1889. Unfortunately we have no records of his wife, who would have endured some very harsh times.

Simmons would have been typical of some thousands of those early pioneers that paved the way for what we all enjoy today and I salute them all.

They were the forerunners to an industry the envy of the world. 

 - Stuff

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