George Scotcher from Guilford to Patetonga
Extracts from an essay by Nina Herriman, October 2002,
Final research essay: Work, Leisure and Danger on the Hauraki Plains
George Scotcher arrived in Patetonga in the Waikato province between 1902 and 1904. His history prior to that is sketchy.
“According to [one of his granddaughter’s] Joan Hey, he ran away at age thirteen in 1871 from England and journeyed to New Zealand by working his passage. He made his fortune through being in the right place at the right time. There are two versions of the story, one set in the Coromandel, the other in Wairoa. Joan relates the story of a huge storm that flooded Lake Waikaremoana and the Wairoa River ‘ripping huge trees and floating them down’. Borrowing an axe he put his mark in as many trees as he could so they would become his property. Joan puts his age at the time at about thirty so this would have occurred around 1895.
The other version, told by [another granddaughter, Beverley Stewart], has George living in or near Thames where there was a great deal of timber felling. In order to get these logs down to the sea they were put into a dammed area in the creek and then released to sweep to the sea. They were then formed into rafts and taken to Auckland. On this occasion there were ‘continuous rain storms’ which burst the dams before they could be marked. These washed up on shore so George ‘took a hatchet and put his mark on as many logs as he could’.
He met his wife, Hilda Emilie Gunlock nee Hansdatter (or Hansen) than a widow, soon after this when he came to stay at her boarding house, which Joan locates in Wairoa. Greenmeadows in Napier is where Hilda and George were married and their daughter, Florance, was born.2
[These records lend credence to the location being the Wairoa River.]
“Other sources place George’s former residences as Shannon, in the Manawatu, and Florance relates that they lived in Thames before moving to Kerepehi and then Patetonga.3
There are indications that George Scotcher was a flax miller in the Manawatu and this was one of his business enterprises at Patetonga. Here he worked for F Bourke Flaxmills and appears to have owned a share in the business. The ledger for the period 1908 to 1910 shows substantial payments to George Scotcher, C Gunlock (George’s stepson), and M J Bourke. He also had flax mills at Kerepehi and Kaihere.
George appears to have had some standing in official circles that benefited him financially. In 1907 a report from the Commissioner of Crown Lands, J. Mackenzie, notes the success of an experiment undertaken with Mr. Scotcher to plant flax in the poorest part of the Piako swamp. In respect to the reclamation and drainage scheme of the swamp he worked closely with Mr Breakall, the engineer-in-chief. In 1909 George successfully placed a tender for the snagging and clearing of the Piako river as well as supplying the timber for sleepers. A scrapbook of newspaper cuttings records a fire in 1913 in which George Scotcher and his employees were fighting a fire and became surrounded by a ‘ring of flame’. They were forced to lie full length in the drains for several hours until the fire passed.
George owned a large amount of land with various crops planted. The Auckland Land minute Books record the transfer of 106 acres [in the Waihou survey district] from Michael Francis Bourke to George Scotcher on 25 July 1912.4 These same records note the sale of flax on an educational reserve to George Scotcher on 24 April 1913.5 Other writers attribute him as owning up to 750 acres of land in the Patetonga/Kerepehi area - ‘by 1910 Mr Scotcher himself had over 400 acres in grass, 100 acres in turnips, 200 acres under the plough and seven miles of fencing.’6 Early Land Information New Zealand records show G Scotcher as the owner of much land around the Patetonga township. He built a beautiful house on this property and named it after his hometown of Guildford in England.
The annual sheep returns show him as owning 226 sheep in 1909 with the area listed as Thames and from 1911 through to his death in 1914 he owned between 30 and 56 sheep in the Patetonga region. This is a very small flock compared to others in the area and compared with the rest of the country. [It appears the animals were kept to supply his butchery shop and the home pantry].
Aside from these enterprises George ran several businesses in the area. Post Offices in both Kerepehi and Patetonga were at some stage run by the Scotcher family. The Scotchers ran the store at Kerepehi for some time until it was rented to Mr Pateman on 17 August 1914 just after Hilda completed the move to Patetonga. At Patetonga George also ran a butchery shop, a bake house and a cookhouse. He supplied the butchery from his own farm and sold the meat at a flat rate of eight shillings a pound. ‘Thus the first buyer got the best joint while the last was rather unlucky’.
The running of these businesses was not, however, always smooth sailing. George had to lock and bar windows to hold off a group of drain workers and Waihi strikers who had decided to raid the store. ‘He was besieged in there and had to take refuge behind sacks of flour, when they took pot-shots at him.’ M. A. Whiteman recalls that ‘the Cookhouse was riddled with bullet-holes’ when she arrived in Patetonga in 1920.