Co-Founder of Hansen Brothers - General Merchants
Pollen Street, Shortland, Thames
John Ernest Hansen was born Johan Ernst Hansen on 23 January 1839 in Lorup, located near Ryslinge on the island of Fyn, Denmark. He was the son of Hans Johansen and his wife Karen Larsen, and according to the patronymic naming system in use at the time his surname became Hansen, i.e. son of Hans. Hans Johansen was a homesteader and small farmer with a few acres of land, and also a weaver. Aside from Johan there were three other children in the family - Abelone born 1835, Margrethe Henriette born 1836, and Lars born 1840. As young men Johan and Lars worked at nearby Egeskov Castle, one as a farmhand, the other as a stable boy.
Aged 18 years, Johan left Denmark and went to seek his fortune in the goldfields of Victoria, Australia. Family lore has it that he arrived in Australia with £20 in his pocket and not a word of English. He prospected in the goldfields near Bendigo and Ballarat with little success, before moving on to better paid work on the construction of the Sydney to Melbourne railroad. Johan worked on the railroad for two years and was proud to have held this job for so long because if he had straightened his back the next man in line would have taken his job. During this time he saved enough money to send back to Denmark to encourage his younger brother Lars to join him. The only directions given to Lars was to disembark at either Sydney or Melbourne and keep walking along the railroad till he found Johan. This is exactly what Lars did.
In 1861 Johan sailed to New Zealand on board the 'Tasmania' to join the Gabriel's Gully gold rush. Lars followed in 1863. Johan had no luck with his Gabriel's Gully claim, and joined another mining group further up the valley, only to hear that at the claim he had just left they found 90 ounces of gold in the creek immediately behind their tent. After this Johan and Lars moved to the Dunstan mine, then on to the Cardrona, Shotover and Hokitika goldfields. Having no luck with gold the brothers went to Dunedin where they worked for the produce merchant Charles W. Lorenzen, from Hamburg, whom they had first met in the Bendigo goldfields.
Johan married Lorenzen's daughter Louisa Christina Fredericka Wilhelmina in August 1868. Her wedding ring was made of a nugget of gold Johan had found in Gabriel's Gully, and inscribed with her initials. In the latter part of 1868 the couple moved to Paeroa, and then, because of Maori unrest in the area, on to Thames. With them went Lars, and Louisa's mother, Elise Lorenzen, after her husband died in April 1869.
In 1868 Johan and Lars opened a general store in Pollen Street named Hansen Brothers, selling groceries and hardware. The shop was situated on the north side of the Shortland Hotel in Pollen Street (where today 'Beverley-Anne Bridal's is located, between the information centre and K.W. Joes fruit and vegetable shop). The Shortland district telephone and telegraph office was situated in their shop. Johan no longer prospected for gold, but invested his money in gold shares and, unfortunately, lost all of it. At some point Johan Ernst Hansen became a naturalized New Zealander and anglicised his name to John Ernest Hansen.
In 1879 Johan and Louisa bought a house in Hauraki Terrace, Parawai from J.B. Stoney for £100. This was their family home for many years and was quite a land mark in the area as it had a tower on top. The house was originally built out of the timber of an old Thames hotel. The bath was made of kauri.
Johan ran the grocery business until 1900. By 1901 the Hansen grocery business was claimed to be the oldest established business of its kind in Thames, and was at this time run by Frederick Christian Hansen, the youngest son of Johan Ernst. In 1911 the store was bought by Coakley and Co. At some stage a second shop was opened further down Pollen Street, on the north eastern corner of Pollen and Willoughby Streets, where today a car yard is situated. In 1906 it was listed in a Thames directory as Hansen and Co. Branch Store.
Johan and Louisa had ten children, three of whom died young:
Johan had interests outside of his working life. He was a member of the Masonic Lodge, initially joining in Dunedin on 28th July 1868, number 931. The family were parishioners of St. James Presbyterian Church in Pollen Street. In 1879 he became a member of the Thames Borough Council, and was on the Parawai School Committee and the Thames Licensing Trust Committee for some years.
John Ernest Hansen, retired grocer, aged 88 years died on 1st October 1927 at Hauraki Terrace, Thames. He was buried in Shortland cemetery on the 3rd October, in an unmarked plot (number 441).
The following article appeared after his death in the Thames Star of 3rd Oct 1927, page 5, column 5:
'Mr. John Ernest Hansen
The death of John Ernest Hansen occurred at his late residence, Hauraki Terrace, Parawai on Saturday, in his 89th year. The late Mr. Hansen was a very old and highly respected resident of Thames, having arrived with the early pioneers.
Born in Denmark he came out to Victoria (Australia) in 1858, and remained there until 1861, working in the mines at Bendigo and on the construction works of the Victorian railways. After leaving Australia he came to New Zealand and took part in the Gabriel's Gully and other Otago gold rushes. After spending six years there he went in the later part of 1867 to Paeroa, and in the following year came to Thames, where he started a grocery business at Shortland. This he carried on until 1900, when it was taken over by his sons until 1911, when it was purchased by Messrs. Coakley and Co.
The late Mr. Hansen took a lively interest in all public affairs, being a member of the Thames Borough Council in 1879, the Parawai School Committee and Thames Licensing Committee for some time. During the last 15 years the late Mr Hansen has lived in retirement at Parawai.
He is survived by his widow, three sons and four daughters, the latter being Mesdames Haugard, Hawthorne (Wellington), Anderson (Swanson) and Price (Palmerston North). The funeral was private and took place today.'
Then in the Thames Star of the following day, 4th October 1927, page 5, column 5, appears -
'An Appreciation of the Late Mr. J.E. Hansen
'One Who Knew Him Long Ago" sends us the following:-
Many friends will note the death of Mr. J.E. Hansen at the age of 89. His life in Thames has closely touched very many of the older residents, who will long remember his gentle personality, together with his strong and steady endeavour to further any cause for the benefit of uplift of those around him. Words fail to speak of the patience of his long life, but we think all who knew him will feel it has not been spent in vain. Ever we think of his ready help and sympathy to those in need, and will remember him as living very much in the spirit world and leaving sweetness and strength behind him.'
Louisa Christina Frederika Wilhelmina Hansen, widow aged 85 years died on 25th July 1931 at Hauraki Terrace, Thames. She was buried at Shortland cemetery with her husband, and the children that had predeceased her. The following obituary appeared in the Thames Star -
OBITUARY 'Mrs J.E. Hansen One of the earliest of the old Thames pioneers passed away recently in the person of the late Mrs. J.E. Hansen, at her late residence, Parawai. Mr. and Mrs. Hansen came to Thames goldfields in 1868, after a short sojourn in Paeroa, where the troubles with the natives made them decide to move to Thames. The settlement at that time consisted mostly of tents, some of which housed large families, and Mr. and Mrs. Hansen's wooden house in Mackay Street was one of the first private timber dwellings at Thames. A long since vanished landmark of the neighbourhood was Mr. V. Savage's log boathouse, where many fine whaleboats were built, some of which took part in the now historic Hauraki vs. Waitemata whaleboat races on Regatta Days. The old millpond in Mackay Street was also a scene of great activity, thousands of huge kauri logs being handled yearly by the Timber Co.'s adjoining sawmill. At the extreme southern end of Shortland was the goldfields cemetery, long ago fallen into disuse. Mrs. Hansen was closely associated with her husband in the business he carried on successfully for nearly 40 years in Pollen Street South. Of a genial and kindly disposition she was ever ready to help those in need, and for many years was an active member of the Hauraki Ladies' Benevolent Society. The late Mrs. Hansen, whose husband pre-deceased her four years ago, leaves a family of seven grown children: Mesdames Haugard (Thames), Hawthorn (Lower Hutt), Anderson (Te Atatu), Price (Auckland), and Messrs C.W. and W. Hansen (Orini) and F.C. Hansen (Waitoa), also 24 grandchildren and four great grandchildren.'
The Hansen house in Hauraki Terrace was quite a well known landmark, known as the 'haunted house'. It was in a commanding position with wonderful views out over the Hauraki Plains, and distinctive because of the tower on top of the house. It was recently proposed that possibly the house was thought to be haunted because in the old days when visitors departed, the family would take bed sheets to the top of the tower and wave them to the departing guests as they crossed the plains in their gigs. Another story concerns Willie Hansen, son of Johan and Louisa, who lived in the house until his death in 1962. Willie was a bit of a recluse and, as the story goes, one day got his hands stuck when a sash window fell on them, trapping him. He couldn't move and had to shout out the window for help. Help was slow to come as people were scared off thinking it was a ghost at the window.
The house was finally demolished in August 1965 by a grandson and great-grandson of Johan and Louisa, Fred Hansen and his son Robin. An article appeared in the Thames Star of 10 August 1965 detailing the event -
'Haunted' House Disappears A prominent landmark in Thames, the towered house in Hauraki Terrace familiarly known as the 'Haunted House' is slowly but inexorably disappearing. Placed under a demolition order by the Thames Borough Council, the building is being removed plank by plank. The man doing the demolition plans to use its kauri timbers for boat-building. Built by the late J.E. Hansen, this building, according to Mr. G. Wood of Upper Grey Street, was not as old as was popularly believed. Mr. Hansen originally owned a grocery shop in the Thames Shortland area which he opened in about 1871. This business was later sold by his son Fred to the Coakley family. He then built a two-storey house in Grey Street, opposite the South School entrance, which he subsequently sold before building the house on the hill. The property has always been in the hands of the Hansen's, said Mr. Wood, and was occupied for some time by Mr. Hansen's daughter. Others in the last few years have occupied it, but never for very long. The Hansen's were a very respected family, and the property at one time included extensive stabling which was later destroyed by fire. Mr. Wood considers that the supposition of the building being haunted, probably arose from several factors. The whole of Mount Pleasant was originally tapu land, and at the top of the cemetery was a Maori pa which was 'pukerahui' - sacred land. Mr. J.E. Hansen was a spiritualist and, said Mr. Wood, sometimes went to the cemetery. These facts coupled with the unusual construction of the tower which dominated the house probably gave rise to the legend of the property being 'haunted'.