Boat-builder, fisherman, bushman, farmer, cycle-dealer, engineer, a man who knew jet-propulsion in the 1860’s, who for 20 years has smoked hand-rolled cigarettes filled with tobacco of his own making; a man who is old-fashioned enough to retain the beard he has worn all his life yet modern enough to wear a wristwatch and use a typewriter for all his correspondence; a man who reads the smallest print and handwriting without the aid of spectacles; blessed with a great sense of humour, 92 years old and a bachelor!
That is a description of Gerard Scudamore Huffam, a well-known figure in the life of Motueka since 1869, when, as a lad of 14, he went to live at Bark Bay, near Astrolabe Island, in Tasman Bay, accompanied by his father and three brothers. When I sat in his workshop and chatted with him last week he told me something of his experiences, drawing on a remarkable memory for happenings 70 and 80 years ago, tales he told me with all detail, without having to probe for them.
With his father and three brothers, Mr. Huffam went to Bark Bay in 1869, and there they set up their bachelor abode, engaging in fishing, bush-felling and a number of other things, but being chiefly interested in the building of small boats. They were there for some years before the family scattered. They apparently spent an interesting time, and Mr. Huffam can remember when-
But this is jumping too far ahead. We have to assemble this family in England before we get them to New Zealand in a tiny cargo vessel, so we start off with the birth of the youngest of the family – Gerard Scudamore Huffam. His father was Timothy Huffam, a brewer, living on the London Road at Yeovil, Somerset, and it was there that Gerard was born, November 10, 1855. His birth certificate is among several treasured documents Mr. Huffam showed me.
His maternal grandfather was also a brewer, living in Cowes, in the Isle of Wight. A quaint paper, framed behind glass, was brought out for my inspection. It reads:
“These are to Will and Require you forthwith to swear and admit the bearer hereof, Thomas Blake, of West Cowes, Isle of Wight, into the place of Purveyor of Ale and Beer in Ordinary to her Majesty. He is to have and enjoy all the Rights, Profits and Privileges and Advantages to the said place belonging during my will and pleasure, and for so doing shall be your warrant. Dated this 10th day of March, 1848, in the 11th year of Her Majesty’s reign.”
The signature is indecipherable. Brewing in those days, Mr. Huffam told me, was carried out with malt and hops only. Sugar was not permitted. If a brewer was detected using sugar he was heavily fined. The customs officials, excise men in those days, had keys to the breweries and could walk in any time of the day or night.
Mr. Huffam’s birthplace was where a great deal of glove-making was carried out, and in the manufacturing process, many eggs were used. These were a small kind and were imported from France. One of the manufacturers was named Raymond, father of Walter Raymond, the novelist.
A HOME OF YACHTING
When Mr. Huffam was six years old (1861, the year the Prince Consort died) the family moved to Cowes, where two of the brothers were to learn the art of building boats, and while the youngest of the family went to school, the others started work in one of the shipyards for which the place has always been famous. There were two specially prominent builders named White; John built the larger boats and his son, John Samuel, concentrated on the smaller craft. The Huffams worked for the younger White.
In the seven years they lived at Cowes, Mr Huffam took a lively interest in the shipping, nearly all sail, ranging from the largest kinds down to the smallest of yachts, which teemed in the water thereabouts. The Queen’s yacht, Alberta, a paddle steamer was visited by young Huffam one day and he was permitted to don a cloak which he was told belonged to the Queen. “It may have” said Mr. Huffam “but I’ve always had my doubts.” There was another Royal paddle steamer, Elfin, which was used a good deal, and a third (a small, ugly, screw steamer) that seems to have had very little attention.
At the castle there was an extremely deep well. Beside it was a huge wheel into which a donkey was led to work it like a treadmill to draw up the big bucket. This was a slow business and operated only for show, latterly. When visitors called it was a favourite pastime to let down a lighted candle on a string. When the flat bottom of the candle stick struck the water the sound came up like a pistol shot.
It seems the Queen made fairly frequent visits to Osborne, and Mr. Huffam has vivid recollections of some of these. He once saw her Majesty crossing from Osborne by the ferry bridge. Osborne was later given over as a training centre for naval cadets.
One of the strangest craft Mr. Huffam ever saw was a German, with an old style beam engine. This consisted of a long beam, pivoted in the centre and working like a see saw, the up and down strokes of the rods at each end driving the paddles at the sides of the vessel. The whole contrivance stuck up in the air about 20 feet above the deck.
AN ATLANTIC RACE
A thrilling finish to a yacht race across the Atlantic was witnessed by Mr. Huffam from an observation and signalling tower above the home of one of the White people. Three yachts set out within a few hours of each other, saw nothing of each other all the way across and came to anchor at Cowes within a few hours at night time. Mr. Huffam was privileged to let off a blue light as a signal when one of the yachts came to the harbour.
“On one of the yachts was Gordon Bennett, of the New York “Times”, and there was another man named Fisk, and another named Jerome, father of Jerome K. Jerome,” said Mr. Huffam. I spoke to all three of them and I heard them sing ‘Yankee Doodle’.”
There was only one railway on the Isle of Wight at that time, a five mile line running from Cowes to Newport. “Now they are all over the place, spoiling a good deal of the scenery,” declared Mr. Huffam.
Yacht races were the in those days, the craft being from 100 to 200 tons, “none of your boats a few feet long that are called yachts today.” The big race of the year was around the island, which was 60 miles in circumference. With a course well out to sea, some of the contestants did not get back to port till the following day.
EARLY JET PROPULSION
“I was reading in a magazine the other day about jet-propulsion,” Mr. Huffam said. The article claimed that jet-propulsion was first experimented with in 1886, but I saw it at work in Cowes in the ‘60’s. It was when the first of what they called the ironclads for the Navy. They had one of these working by jet-propulsion. Water was drawn in at the bow and was propelled out at the stern, and this made the ship move along, but apparently it was not giving enough speed, so they dropped the idea.”
Then came the time when the family decided to go to New Zealand. They arranged passage in a cargo vessel, the father and his four sons being the only passengers. The vessel was the barque Fanny, of 398 tons. The skipper was a man named Barge, ‘and built like one, for he was as round as he was long.’
RAMMING OF A BRIG
They boarded the barque one bleak, December afternoon, in the Thames, and tugs began to take her out to the open sea. Daylight had not long come the next day when the Fanny, still in tow of the tugs, charged into another vessel, a brig, that was coming up the river. Her bow hit the other amidships, and the latter must have been in a very rotten state for she sank in a few minutes, though not before all hands had time to get clear.
“How we came to run into her, I can’t imagine,” said Mr. Huffam, recalling the incident. “The skipper knew he would be detained a long time if he stopped, so he decided to go on. The tugs cast off and the pilot, whose name was Pidgeon, left us, and we started out into the channel. We had broken our bowsprit, but we got a new stick from shore and fitted it in. A case of grog was pitched overboard. The skipper was a very drunken man and he was in such a state that the mate had charge of the barque for the first two or three weeks.”
No sooner had the Channel been reached than a violen storm blew up. Most vessels ran for shelter, but the Fanny carried on and was three weeks in the channel. At last they left the cliffs of England behind and but for a glimpse of Tristan da Cunha as they passed, that was the last land they saw till they reached the vicinity of Nelson, four months later.
MEMBERS OF THE CREW
Among the crew was the 15-year-old son of the captain. There were two men named Jonsen, one a Dane and one a Norwegian, and the steward was a German, whose name was Schripper, but who went under the name of Williams. There was a Negro, and this man always started the chanties whenever the sails or the anchors were being hoisted.
Just before the vessel left it was joined by a Dutchman who had run away from a Dutch man-o-war because he did not like the rope’s ending he received whenever he arrived on board drunk. He had no clothing beyond what he stood up in and he knew no English, but he soon learned a smattering of the language. “And of course, as with all foreigners, he learned the swear words first,” added Mr. Huffam.
“In the tropics, when the pitch between the boards on deck got hot he would swear at it in Dutch. I don’t know what it meant – but it sounded very, very bad! He like sour bread, and though we did not get a great deal of it, the Dutchman always traded his lime juice for our bread supply. He was very quick in running up the rigging and as he took hold of the ropes and pulled at them to see if they were in order, the whole boat would shake.”
It was the captain’s habit to use the word “mit” for “with”, and one day, after he had threatened the Dutchman “with a rope,” the sailor asked the Huffams: “what mean this mitarope?”
ARRIVAL AT NELSON
After a long voyage, the newcomers had their first view of Nelson on Sunday, April 30, 1869, and they were interested to see on the roadstead a vessel they had all seen before. It was the two-funnelled, Navy ship, Galatea, which had arrived just ahead of them. On board was the Duke of Edinburgh.
“There was so much excitement on shore because of the Duke’s visit that we were overlooked,” said Mr. Huffam, “and it was a few days before we could land, because of the jollifications. Eventually. the Lady Barkly towed us in.
“Almost at once the captain met an old friend and they started a celebration that lasted till the Fanny left for China, and on the voyage the captain died in the D.T.’s.”
There must have been a big attraction in China for traders, for I believe a number of vessels went there from Nelson in the early days. The Fifeshire, for instance, was setting out for China when she went on the Rock.
While the Fanny was waiting to be taken into the harbour, a school of porpoises came alongside. “One of them was a big pinkish thing and I’ve often wondered if it was the fish later known as Pelorus Jack” said Mr. Huffam. “They stayed near the vessel until the rattling of the anchor chain frightened them away.”
On this first Sunday they were in Nelson the Huffam brothers, accompanied by the German steward, made a visit to the reservoir, a place Mr. Huffam has not seen since.
Of the new arrivals, the father and the youngest son have been mentioned by name. The other were Messrs T. B. Huffam (who later conducted a music shop where Messrs Chas. Begg and Co. are now), F. W. Huffam (who was in partnership with Mr. G. S. Huffam for many years, and who died two or three years ago), and R. Huffam (who went to Wellington and engaged in boat-building. He died many years ago).
LIVED NEAR BREWERY
While they were finding their feet in the new country, the Huffams went to live in a house in a blind road near the brewery, in which Mr. Huffam senior was engaged for about six months as a brewer. He adopted the old style of using only malt and hops, and my information is to the effect that the resulting liquor was “rushed."”
William Harley had a house nearby and the youngest Huffam liked to go to the barn when things were quiet on Sundays to watch the mice at play. Close to this house was that of William Gibbs, later M. H. R. for Nelson. This man was a skilled decorater and the graining of the doors ion his home was unusually fine work. All the timber for that house was sawn on the section. It will be recalled that it was the moving of this man from Collingwood to Totaranui in 1853 that delayed the departure from Takaka of William Rout and his wife. Brief references to Gibbs at Totaranui will be made later.
It seems the main idea of the group was to settle where the two boat-building boys could set up business. Perhaps from accessibility of timber, Bark Bay was selected, and the five moved there.
THE MOVE TO BARK BAY
From Nelson, the Huffams went to Bark Bay in the 15 ton schooner Australian Maid, owned by a man named Gilbertson, who conducted a limekiln near the Port. Gilbertson had built the vessel in Australia and had brought his family and all his worldly goods across the Tasman Sea in it. It was a long, narrow affair that sailed much better than it looked.
So Mr. Huffam and his four sons settled down to a bachelor existence at Bark Bay, where they had the glories of the bush behind and about them, and the sparkling waters of Tasman Bay in front.
At the start they went to work cutting firewood in between making themselves a home. Heavy bush completely surrounded them and the only means of approach was by way of the sea. The firewood sales kept them going for a while and then a great demand set in for hop poles, many thousands of which they cut from the bush. Those were the days when hop plants climbed up thin poles, where now they climb up strings.
They went in for fishing in a rather extensive fashion, too, for the waters along that coast teemed with fish of all kinds, some species being present in such vast numbers that “you could stir them up with a stick” as Mr. Huffam told me.
Having established themselves by this, the Huffam brothers and their father turned to the job of making small boats, for which there was an increasing demand. Traffic overland between Nelson and the outer parts of the Province was greatly restricted because of the poor roads and the slow locomotion provided by bullocks and a few horses. Therefore nearly all the travel, especially the vast amount going round to Golden Bay, was by way of the sea, a traffic that called for many subsidiary craft.
PIONEERS AT BARK BAY
NAUTICAL ACTIVITIES OF THE 70’S
WATERS TEEMED WITH GOOD FISH
SOME EARLY RESIDENTS RECALLED
Some interesting tales of fishing in Tasman Bay in the 1870’s and of early residents who had association with the coast in those days were given by Mr. Gerard Scudamore HUFFAM, of Motueka, in the talk I had with him recently.
He spoke of the great shoals of fish which used to infest the waters between Astrolabe Island and Totaranui, and of the difficulties he and his father and three brothers encountered when they went to live at Bark Bay in 1869. He told of the queer assortment of things the family tried as food such as penguins, and the eggs of penguins and seagulls, and porpoises, and how they made porridge out of flour and pea flour.
It was mentioned last week that Mr. Huffam snr, with his four sons were conveyed from Nelson to Bark Bay on the 15-ton schooner, Australian Maid, by Mr. Gilbertson, who was operating the lime-kiln at the Port. The Huffams and the Gilbertsons were great friends, and members of both families exchanged visits. There were 13 children in the Port family “so there was a great crowd to sit down to a meal when any of the Huffams went there to stay,” as Mr. Huffam put it. But one or two more made little difference in a household of that kind.
“Sometimes we went across the Bay and stayed for a weekend,” Mr. Huffam added. “When rough weather came up we just stayed on and no-one worried about us. There were no planes in those days to send out searching for us, and those at home knew we would turn up all right. We always did.”
The Gilbertsons had lived at Awaroa for some time before going to the Port and at the same time there were two Hadfields living there, William and Harry, whose father was a chemist at Nelson.
Both these men were taken by the Huffam’s cutter when they went off to be married, one at Collingwood and the other at Nelson.
OFF TO A WEDDING
It was about midnight when the cutter set out from Awaroa for Nelson, the time being planned so that Hadfield could land at a good hour in the morning. They had hardly got clear of land when the rudder caried away and there was a delay while repairs were carried out.
“With the poor bridegroom in a twitter?” I put in.
“Not a bit of it,” declared Mr Huffam. “These things were taken calmly, as they occurred. He did not get excited. Not like people would today. They get het up to easily these days!”
There must have been a fairly long delay over the repairs, for the party on the cutter, not having anticipated such a hold-up, had not brought any food with them, so they broke their fast on the wedding cake. Just where this delicacy came from, Mr. Huffam did not say, and I omitted to ask him.
Eventually, they landed their passenger safely on the wharf at Nelson.
“Then there would be a rush to get another cake, I suppose,” I chipped in.
“Oh no; they used the one we had brought. We didn’t eat much of it!” replied Mr. Huffam, with a twinkle.
Gilbertson built an 80-ton topsail schooner across the Bay, and it was bought by Mr. Cross, who was Pilot at Port Nelson for many years. After it was launched, and before the finishing touches were put to it, the craft was towed to the Port by the Lady Barkly.
It was a “flat-sided, awkward thing,” as Mr. Huffam described it, like several of the vessels built by Gilbertson. Mr. Huffam said he was permitted to drive two or three of the nails in the construction of the schooner.
ANOTHER SEA TRAGEDY
Bonny Lass, another topsail schooner was also built by Gilbertson, and it traded down the East Coast of the South Island with a man named Aitken as the skipper. It sailed out of Timaru with a load of wheat in very bad weather many years ago and was never heard of again.
This Aitken was a waterman at Nelson for some years before he took over the schooner. Mr. Huffam’s most vivid recollection of him was when he came across the Bay to the Huffam place with a goat and a quantity of goods in his harbour boat, which was very narrow, 25 feet long and looked like a barracouta.
An associate of Gilbertson was a man who every now and then fell under an urge to go fishing, sell his catch at Motueka, and live at a high rate on the proceeds before returning to his work. Of course, those were the days when a man could acquire the ingrediants of a terrible hangover for a few shillings.
The smallest hapuka Mr. Huffam ever heard of was one caught by the man Aitken. It weighed only 41/2 lbs. In his fishing experience, the smallest he ever caught was 15lbs, and the largest 102lbs, while his catches of fish averaged 52lbs.
A TRICKY COAST
In the 11 or 12 years of his residence at Bark Bay, Mr. Huffam learned to know the intricacies of the coast, knew its shoals and its tidal currents. Mostly he spent his time between Boundary Bay and Totaranui, and came to know the sequence of that ragged coast – Boundary Bay, North Point, Frenchman’s Bay, with Pinnacle Island standing off. Sandfly Bay and South Head at the southern end of Bark Bay, off which lies Big Reef as a sentinel. Then Mosquito Bay to Reef Point, with the big opening between that and Foul Point making up the Tonga Roadstead, with Tonga Island on guard. Then came Wharf Rock, Abel Head, Canoe Bay and Awaroa.
Up and down there in the small boats, often on his own, Mr. Huffam traveled when fishing, on pleasure bent, or carrying mail to and from the post office, which was at Totaranui, where Mrs. William Gibbs was Post Mistress. Mr. Gibbs had a good herd of cows at the farm on Totaranui and the butter he made went to Mr. James Wilkie, who conducted a store in Nelson, on the site later occupied by the Empire Theatre.
SHIPMENTS OF BUTTER
Shipment of the butter was made by the Lady Barkly, which called in on her way from Nelson, dropped mails and went on to Golden Bay. On her way back she would pick up the butter and return mails and have them in Nelson in three or four hours. Many times, when the steamer was due to call, Mr. Gibbs would sit up all night waiting for the blast from her whistle that indicated it was time for him to put out from the beach with his dairy produce.
Sometimes the steamer was long-delayed, which upset the farm routine, for the dairyman had to get his cargo out to the vessel in quick time or she would not wait. Then there were times when she called in long before she was expected, and that upset things, too.
Totaranui was the Post Office for the Huffams, but some of their mail was sent to Riwaka by mistake and when this became known there was a great accumulation of letters and papers to be collected. They included many copies of a publication well-known in those days, “Good Words,” which Mr. Huffam, snr, subscribed to for many years. The mail that time had been collecting for two or three years.
Boats built by the Huffams at Bark Bay were from 12 to 20 footers and a number of them were constructed from Kauri. Supplies of which were obtained from Nelson.
“I could never understand,” said Mr. Huffam, “why the timber merchants charged for super feet for one inch boards and the same for half an inch or less. White pine came to us at 8s a 100 feet, and half inch or 3-8 inch at 16s; but we could buy the inch boards at 8s, pay 5s to have them cut to thinner boards and it cost us only 5s for the cutting, making 13s. Puzzles me still.”
OLD ORCHESTRAL SOCIETY
Mention of timber merchants reminded Mr. Huffam that Andrew Miller took over from a man named Scott a sawmill in Nelson on what is now known as Miller’s Acre. Miller started what is now Stilwell’s Mill in Motueka. He played the violin and was very good at it. The orchestra averaged eight members and once reached 14. Mr. Huffam was also a member, playing the violin at first and then turning to the viola. He acquired this instrument for 2 or 3 pounds when the orchestra was disbanded and members shared the assets. He still has the instrument “but it is a job to get music for it, and I can’t get viola strings anywhere,” he added.
On the understanding that it played for all the dances there, the orchestra had free use of the hall, and use of the piano was included. The hall was built by Henry Baigent, founder of the Baigent sawmilling business in Nelson.
THE FOOD PROBLEM
Perhaps the most difficult part of life at Bark Bay at that time was the supply of provisions. Goods of all kinds could be obtained from Motueka, of course, but to reach that town meant a long pull in a boat over waters that were often difficult for the larger craft, tide and wind vagaries making such a trip a thing not at all certain as to its outcome.
There was an endless supply of birds and fish, which could be caught easily, and pork which was not so easy to come by. For one thing, the family had no gun, and the pigs they caught were snared after a great deal of trouble and danger. They had a Scotch Terrier which would bale up the pig but, having no weight, could not do anything else. There were other dogs later, like the Newfoundland breed, and these were better hunters, though two of them lost their lives when going after boars.
Knowing the run if the country, the boars would back into small caves, with just their heads poking out, and the Huffams, with much manoeuvring, would cast a noose of three-quarter inch rope over the head and haul the pig to a tree for killing. One boar snapped the rope like string.
For bread-making, they used a pollard and sharps (the latter never heard of these days) and porridge was often made from flour and pea flour. They ate some queer things. For instance, they boiled penguin and seagull eggs. They were not very nice, I am told, but “they are all right when you can’t get anything else.” Penguins were to be found in fairly large numbers about the Bay then, and the Huffams tried them as a food, finding them “not as greasy as most people would think.” The fat is all under the skin, and when this is cleaned away, the flesh makes a tolerably tasty meal.
MOREPORKS AND PORPOISES
“We tried morepork too,” said Mr. Huffam. “Porpoises were not bad, but they were not as good as pig. Most of those we caught were skinny. We found that a weka can beat a pheasant for taste, if it is cooked properly. We tried all these things because we did not like pig-hunting.”
When store provisions were required, the Huffams went fishing. They caught sufficient for their own use for several days and put aside about 25s to 30s worth, which the youngest Huffam took to Motueka by boat. There he borrowed a wheelbarrow and began a house-to-house sale of his fish. He went well out into the country on occasion reaching as far as Pangatotara. Now and again he hired a horse and cart for country calls. When he had sold his fish he returned to Motueka, purchased provisions at the stores, and set off for Bark Bay – and apparently everyone was quite happy about it! At the west end of town at that time there was a store conducted by a man named Wilkie, brother of James who had the store in Bridge Street.
FISHING AT AWAROA
TRIALS OF A PIONEER FAMILY
DIFFICULTIES IN FELLING BUSH
WITH THE HUFFAMS AT BARK BAY
For the average pioneer family conditions were difficult at best, but when Mr. Timothy Huffam and his four sons went to live at Bark Bay, on the western shore of Tasman Bay, they were handicapped in additional ways. Theirs was a bachelors household, they went to a place difficult of access, they had no gun to help provide food that was in the bush in the form of birds and pigs, and they had poor tools with which to cut down the bush, from parts of which they built small boats.
Something of their life was told to me by Mr. G. S. Huffam, of Motueka, who was the youngest of the family, and only 14 years old when he landed at Bark Bay in 1869. Ninety-two years of age, he has a lively recollection of happenings during the twelve years he lived there.
Though a good deal of the fishing which seems to have filled up the family’s time between work in the bush and on the boats was carried out by line and hook, netting was also used extensively. Nets were put down at various places along the coast and for the most part they brought in good catches. Often, the nets were put down miles from their home and were left for some days. This was not always successful, as was told last week.
When a catch of fish was brought into Bark Bay, the portion not required at once was placed in a cage and kept under water handy to the shore. This cage was about 4 feet each way, with a scantling frame laced with supple jacks. Stones were placed on the bottom to keep the affair on the seabed. There the fish remained at call. One day, they discovered a cage that had contained a number of moki had been rifled; from the look of the battered side, they guessed it was a shark that had cleaned out the captive fish.
A trap was set for the thief, and, sure enough, into it came a 10-foot shark. As the net was being hauled up, the shark bit its way clear and swam off. “I’ve grieved over that shark ever since.” Said Mr. Huffam plaintively.
Nets were set at Awaroa Inlet in the course of fishing operations, and one day it was found that of two nets set a few days previously, only the ropes remained of one, but in the other were 40 to 50 moki.
A FISH A MINUTE
With one of his brothers, Mr. Huffam set sail for Awaroa one day, and while one rowed the boat the other fished. The haul consisted of no fewer than 42 dozen barracouta, and as the two men were at work for something over eight hours, it meant the catching of a fish every minute. The catch averaged 41/2 lbs. Back at the Bay, all hands turned to in cleaning the fish, a job which went on throughout the night. In the morning, the two boatmen set out again, while the three left on shore commenced the smoking of the fish. Catches such as this were taken to Nelson, where they met with a ready, if not fabulously remunerative, sale.
“That was a great day,” Mr. Huffam told me. “My brother caught two fish on one hook, they were so numerous, and at one time as I sat rowing, a barracouta leapt right over the boat, grazing my shoulder as it went.
“There is only one way to catch barracouta,” he added. “You get a rimu sapling six feet long and bend the top over. This is not necessary, but it makes for easier work. Then there is a short string to the hook, which consists of a piece of redwood, square and four inches long. At one end there is a notch for the string and a nail is driven through the other end and bent over, and that’s all. You’ll catch ‘em like that till the hook wears out, of course, its heavy, messy work.
IN TOUCH WITH NELSON
To keep in touch with time, the family relied on the gun which was fired at noon every Saturday. This was the gun which the famed Billy Spain carted to the top of Signal Hill, at Nelson. Its great boom rolled across Tasman Bay under almost all conditions, and was easily heard at Bark Bay.
There was another way they had of keeping in touch with Nelson. This was by means of a homemade heliograph. It was by this mode of communication that they learned news of the death of Charles Darwin.
Their instrument consisted of a fair-sized screen with a hole in it. This was lined up with a general covering, also with a hole. Behind these was a mirror, an ordinary, framed affair, about 18 inches by 12 inches (Mr. Huffam has it still). In the centre of the mirror a small portion of the backing was scratched away. The beam from the mirror was directed on to the screen, through the covering, the whole thing being lined up by taking a sight through the three holes, on to a point at Nelson.
It was not an easy way of sending a message, because the contrivance had to be carted about 300 feet up the hillside, and this meant a labourious climb.
WASTAGE IN FISH
Mr. Huffam told me about the cooking of fish. Hapuka today, he said, were not so nearly as fat as hapuka of the old days. Those were roasted in front of a fire, when the fat just dripped out of them. Schnapper too, he believed, were not so fat now. He deprecated the modern idea of throwing away the heads of fish. The head of a 40 lbs hapuka, he declared, would give a good feed for four lusty people. It was a terrible waste, this throwing out of fish heads.
In the early days, it appears, the custom was to split a fish right down, head and all, and smoke it and this was the way in which many of the fish caught at or near Bark Bay were treated. Cod were salted and sent down the coast.
“We don’t see the sea birds fishing the way they used to,” said Mr. Huffam. “There used to be great flocks of them, hovering over the sea where, very often, millions of small fish not seen now were to be found. They were so thick that when we were out in a boat we could stir them up with a stick. They might have been used as sardines. I wonder nobody ever tried them as such.”
While he was still a lad, Mr. Huffam had a number of adventures by sea, often when he was alone, for from the start he used to go out fishing in a rowing boat, or “go messages” to Totaranui or Motueka.
STRUCK A ROCK
He capsized off Whale Rock, above Bark Bay one day, when he was taking two pigs to Totaranui. I think this must be the place marked on the maps today as Wharf Rock. The coast all along there is very rocky, many of the rocks being below water at high tide, and the more dangerous places were marked with sticks. There was a stick on Whale Rock, but the sea had swept it away, and the young seafarer was not thinking where he was going, so on to the rock he ran his boat. It was under sail and as everything was running smoothly he became careless.
The boat touched the rock and began to tip over. It went over slowly and emptied the cargo into the water. The pigs, tied one at each end of a rope, found a watery grave. The oars were washed away, and there was a general tangle of gear, but Mr. Huffam righted the craft and started to get it ashore. He succeeded, but not before the crooked master and trailing sail had caused two more capsizes.
After repairs, the boat was taken back to its starting point. “I had often seen sharks about there, but I never thought of them while I was in the water. But I had never heard of anyone being bitten by a shark in Tasman Bay. There were some blue sharks there; pretty, slender fish, nine feet long, with small jaws. They would come up to the boat and feed out of our hands – but I wouldn’t trust them too far!”
He remarked that he had seen so many species of shark that he believed there must be as many kinds of shark as there are of spiders.
As our interview progressed, Mr. Huffam referred to a sheet of paper on which he had made some notes in anticipation of my visit. These were neatly typed and I asked about them. He told me he always types his letters, “because they’re easier for people to read.” At the same time, I know lots of people who would like my handwriting to be as legible as his.
For their attack on the bush, the Huffams had axes of course, but all they had in the way of a big saw was the small end of a pit-saw! Nothing daunted, they tackled their task valiantly. All sorts of timber were available for cutting, and I was told of a red pine tree, four foot through, that was cut down and used as forewood. “Seems a crime now,” said my informant, “but, of course, we did not think anything of it then.”
AN AWKWARD TOW
With one of his brothers he went to Awaroa, and for several weeks they were busy pit-sawing timber for use at Bark Bay. Then, when all was ready on the beach they brought up a 16 feet boat with a sail, towing a punt 20 feet long, and the work of loading up the sawn timber started.
They found they could not take much on the small boat and it was soon evident that the other would not take all the balance, so they decided to make a raft of what was left. This made a rather unwieldy tow, but they started for home. A good breeze took them along nicely, and “everything was going lovely” till they turned into Bark Bay and came side-on to the seas.
Then things began to happen. The raft started to go to pieces forst and the punt began to do things it was not intended for, and altogether the two young men spent a lively time. But they got the timber home, even if the sea did deliver a large part of it, scattered along the beach. “People would think you were mad if you attempted to do that sort of thing now.” Chuckled Mr. Huffam.
“WHY A TELEPHONE?”
Some time in the seventies, Mr. George Gibbs and a man named McAlister (from the Post Office at Blenheim) went along the coast surveying for a telegraph or telephone line, but Mr. Huffam, senior, was not interested, for, when asked if he might become a subscriber, he said: “Now, what would I have to say over it?”
Later, Mr. Gibbs and another man investigated a line for a road around the coast. “And there’s no road around there yet,” said Mr. Huffam.
One day, Mr. Huffam set out from Motueka for home, with only one oar (the other was lost or had been stolen) and he took eight hours to cover the distance. Another time, he left for Motueka on a Saturday evening, but struck bad weather and did not reach his destination until Monday, having camped in the boat in rain and a gale in the interval, but he only took an hour and 35 minutes to return home.
MOVE TO MOTUEKA
After about 12 years at Bark Bay, Mr. Huffam went to work on the farm of Mr. Charles Rhorp, and Oxford man, who was the father of Mr. F. W. Thorp, later Mayor of Motueka, and an uncle of Mr. C. W. Thorp, of Motueka.
He was there only a little while when two of his brothers decided to start boat-building at Nelson, and while they were getting theor shed ready at the Port, Mr. Huffam went back to Bark Bay to look after his father. Six months later he returned to his former job on the farm. The Thorps had a 6-ton cutter the Huffams had built and it was often sailed around Tasman Bay. They went in it to D’Urville Island once and spent a profitable fishing holiday.
It was while he was on the farm that Mr. Huffam saw a separator for the first time. It was the second one in New Zealand, the first having been installed, he believed, by a Chinese in Taranaki. A separator factory was started, the owner buying milk, and separating it in the weird contrivance that made up a separator in those days. It rattled alarmingly at fast speeds and at slow. People came from far and wide to see it in action, but always stood well back when it got to the rattling stage.
BUTTER FOR MURCHISON
There was one that was operated later by a jet of steam, and a butter-drier was installed, working on the centrifugal principle. A churn in those days was simply a square box, without the paddles that came later. Butter made at this factory was sent to England and sold at 1s a pound. It also went to Rockhampton and Brisbane and even to South Africa, while quantities were sent to a store owned by Mr. McNee at Murchison, where there were no cows.
Many years later, Mr. Huffam took up a cycle shop in partnership with a brother and they carried out engineering jobs of several kinds in the interval. The two of them, with the aid of a man named Senior, put down a bore for water where Messrs. Ivory Brothers premises are now. They had seen how artesian water was obtained at Christchurch and thought they would bring in similar wells at Motueka. They borrowed the necessary gear from Mr. Osborne, who had been so successful in the Cathedral City, and went down 400 feet before they decided there was no water!
DOWN 800 FEET
At another time, they decided to make sure there was water below they started boring and brought a clerical gentleman from Otahuhu to find a suitable place. The diviner soon pointed out where they should get to work. At 2 ft 6 ins they struck water, but as there was no water in a nearby ditch three feet deep, they felt they should go on down to the supply the diviner assured them was there. For 80 feet they put down 3 inch steel casing. They encountered all sorts of trouble, but they kept on, and on – and on. They went down 800 feet, and found not a drop of water. They gave up then.
“Boring for water is like going after gold,” said Mr. Huffam rather sadly. “All the time you think that in the next two or three inches you’ve got it.”
Many other stories Mr. Huffam told me, but eventually I had to leave to catch a bus. I checked the time with Mr. Huffam’s clock, one that was old when it came to Nelson in 1842. It keeps good time still.
So I bade this old pioneer farewell at his gate, and as I turned away down the road he called after me:
“If you know where I can get some viola strings, let me know.”
Gerard Scudamore HUFFAM Page
HUFFAM Home Page
My Genealogy Gateway