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April 12, 2021 April 2021 No Comments

South Wairarapa Rebus Club has held its AGM, electing a committee with members from all of our constituent SW towns. The President is Perry Cameron from Featherston, Secretary is Kay Paget from Greytown, Treasurer Ken Hyde is from Carterton, committee members come from Greytown, Carterton and Martinborough.

Our guest speaker in March was Mate Higginson, Martinborough’s historian, a fifth generation local, married for over 60 years to a third generation local, still living in the Cologne Street house they moved into as newlyweds. He gave us a rare feast of the early history of Martinborough and the South Wairarapa, so vivid it seemed he must have arrived here on foot round the coast in 1844 with Mr Bidwill himself, whose run was on the west side of the Ruamahanga, or Mr Weld and partners on the east side. 

In 1869 it was decided, in Greytown, that a settlement was needed east of the river. The Crown had bought land around Dry River and Waihinga which was in smaller blocks, adjacent to the Waihinga East Ferry and ford. The original Waihinga town plan showed three main streets, Ferry Rd, Weld St and Grey St and two cross streets, Bismark and Hirschberg, renamed in 1914 as French and Roberts Streets. Mr Bright, a blacksmith, bought the first section in October 1870. Of the four plots set aside for churches, only the Presbyterians built that early, in June 1871. Shortly after, Mr Regan, a shoemaker,  and Mr George Pain, storekeeper, also built. There was an inn and stables on high ground ½ mile upstream of the ford and ferry crossing but the ferryman had only a canoe and there were many accidents and drownings.

In 1873 the Ruamahanga toll bridge was constructed at Backwater, spawning a separate community – a hotel, stables, forge, toll house, saleyards, racecourse, dwellings and sheds. A dairy factory built in 1907 burnt down in 1949. The toll-free Waihinga ford continued in use until 1887 when the bridge toll was abolished.

In 1879 John Martin arrived, buying Huangarua Station and subdividing it into 334 small farms and setting out a township of 595 ¼ acre sections with roading based on the Union Jack. The auction sale in Wellington, although widely advertised, did not go well, was called off early and it was many decades before all sections were sold. George Pain was the first to build on Martin Square in 1881, followed by numbers of others, finally establishing where the business area should be.

The three communities amalgamated in April 1905, making a total population of just over 600, enough to vote in their own “Commissioners”. Martinborough was born. But the earnest promise that the railway north would run from Featherston to Martinborough, (or to Waihinga, or to Backwater with no need for another bridge, or there would be a branch line from Greytown) was finally frustrated by the outbreak of war in 1915. The first sod for the terminus had been turned four times, the whole town turning out each time. We’re still waiting.

The South Wairarapa Rebus Club meets in the South Wairarapa Working Men’s Club on the fourth Friday morning of each month and organises an outing in those months with a fifth Friday. Anyone in the retired age group who may be interested in SW Rebus Club is welcome to come along to a meeting as a visitor.  Please contact David Woodhams 306 8319.

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