Martinborough’s first street lamps on bronze green posts were installed in 1907 with Mr Bill Smith being appointed the lamp lighter in 1908. However in the interim the Town Board had receive correspondence on problems with he proposed Acetylene Gas lighting and decided that ‘it was not advisable to proceed’.
Two years later the Town Board changed its mind and the go ahead was given. Then only to be confronted by a dispute between the Lamp Lighter and the Night Watchman, Mr Arthur Dohnt who put them out. Yes, the town had a Night Watchman who patrolled Otaraia Road (now Kitchener and Jellicoe Streets).
In 1914 Martinborough became the first town in Wairarapa to have electric lighting. In 1913 a ratepayer’s poll taken on a proposal to raise four thousand five hundred pounds ( 2012 = $682,068) for the purpose of installing electric lighting in the Martinborough area. The proposal was carried 84 – 10 and a loan taken out over 40 years.
John Martin gave a section in Cork Street for the building (now the rifle club) which was built by Murray and Rayson for four hundred and seventy two pounds (2012 = $71,168).
The Wellington firm Turnbull and Jones supplied the plant. A suction gas plant fuelling a Tangye Engine this belt driving a 230 volt generator thence to a large bank of glass cell batteries. The gas plant was fired by coke from either the Wellington or Greytown Gas Works.
Consumers paid twelve pounds a year, most only using the electricity for lighting and ironing. The Town Board erected 37 street lamps and, being frugal with the ratepayer’s funds, had the lights switched off five days before and after a full moon. The resulting load on the plant was small and only required it to be run between 5 and 9 pm each evening (or 10 on pictures nights Wednesday and Saturday). On a clear evening the boom of the engine could be heard all over town. In its first year the plant showed a profit of thirty one pounds ($4,415).
By 1920 250 houses were connected to the grid and other uses for electricity were being found – Dr Webb had electric heaters in his consulting room and Mrs Western and electric range at her tea rooms. Greater capacity was beginning to be required. A new 75hp Bruce-McBeth four cylinder engine was purchased for 3,300 pounds ( $283,907).
Engineer Ferris Dale came to install the new plant and enjoying Martinborough he stayed on to form the firm Grace and Dale with fellow engineer Ian Grace. This company did most of the electrical work around the town.
Also in 1920 the Wairarapa Electric Power Board was established and three years later power was being generated for its Kourarau Dam. In 1924 the Board purchased the Martinborough plant for 5857 pounds ($531,953). However the whole town had to be re-wired to change from DC to AC which did not greatly please householders who were faced with the cost.
The Bruce-McBeth plant was sold to Akitio Station in Hawkes Bay where it served for many years.