Other Stories About Our People

John Grainger

Kae Lewis

The following article appeared in the Thames Star on 31 December 1946 on page 3.



By J. Grainger

As an annual visitor to Thames, I am delighted at the continued growth and improvement going on in the town. The old Thames of small wooden, and not very pleasing type of house is disappearing, and a modern style of architecture is now well in advance. More interest seems to be taken in beautifying, and, speaking generally, there is a real spirit of progress noticeable.

Now that the war years are over, the development of the tourist holiday traffic is bound to increase, and the Coromandel Peninsula will gradually assure its proper perspective as the playground of Auckland. At least 90 percent of this holiday traffic will pass through Thames twice - coming and going -and it is up to the town to offer attractions which will cause many of these tourists, or holiday-makers, to pause on the way through, and become better acquainted with the real Thames.

I do not know of another town in the Dominion which has such an historical gateway as Thames. Here, right at the town's front door, is the site of one of the most formidable fortresses ever erected by the early Maori. It was considered impregnable against any weapon known to the Maori race, and it withstood all assaults, until in 1821 Hongi, the Terrible, took it by black treachery. Further, on that fatal day, he did to death under most revolting circumstances, and again by basest treachery, two noble youths, both sons of chieftains. The manner in which they died, whilst almost incredibly fearful, brought forth an exhibition of fortitude and bravery which ranks high in the martyrdoms of all history.

To-day, the palisades have long perished, but the earthenworks remain on Totara Pa, gateway to Thames. What an opportunity to interest holiday-makers from the cities by running some sort of bus service to the site of the old pa, and giving a summary of its remarkable history. At least, some notice on the roadside, drawing the attention of motorists to the historic site, could be erected.

A short sight-seeing tour of the War Memorial, the sites of some of the famous old mines, etc., could be included in the itinerary. Other towns are exploiting their places of interest, and Thames has the same opportunity.

The old town has a charm all of its own. As it grows and becomes stronger commercially, it should foster in its citizens love and reverence for its historic and romantic past. It should collect the names and identify the sites of its once numerous old inns, with their glamorous names, such as 'The Old Commodore', 'The Duke of Edinburgh', 'The Thames Hotel', 'The Steam Packet', 'The Coach and Horses' and all the other 70 hotels built during the first five years of the opening of the Thames goldfield.

It should encourage its citizens to learn something of the history of that most remarkable man, James Mackay, who virtually gave Thames its start. Thames has a great history apart from its goldmining statistics - a history of great human endeavour, of differences between pakeha and Maori, of great failures and great successes. Some day someone will write a history of Thames for the first 10 years, and tell one of the most amazing stories in the life of the whole Dominion. Those glittering, glamorous, feverish first 10 years, when fortunes were made and lost, when men from all quarters of the globe trod the streets and swarmed over the hills of Thames, put into proper narrative form, would astonish the present generation of the Dominion and most of the English-speaking world.

The old school that the writer attended, just on 50 years ago, still stands, and is still used. The very house occupied during those school-boy years is still occupied. Grahamstown has become a ghost area only of those days, but the real Thames is emerging triumphant from its financial and other difficulties, and bids fair to become a very fine town indeed. Its great past, properly considered, can be the inspiration for its future. Therefore, I say, forget not its pioneers, nor belittle the pathway they made. Thames will be a great town because its pioneers laid the right foundation.


We can only speculate that the J Grainger who wrote this article is the John Grainger who wrote the book 'The Amazing Thames'. This book was published in 1951 - an essential read for anyone interested in the history of the town. Similar sentiments were expressed by John Grainger in his Dedication in the 1951 edition of 'The Amazing Thames' which reads:To my old friend W. Hammond who encouraged me to write this book, and to the memory of the thousands of pioneer men and women whose hopes and toils and struggles helped to create the amazing Thames, and to their descendants scattered over the world who still cherish kindly thoughts of the old town, and to all lovers of Thames wherever they may be, this book is respectfully dedicated.

We do know that a John Grainger born 26 November 1885 attended Waiokaraka School from 1897 to 1899. John Thomas Grainger was a journalist, an Editor of several newspapers, including some years at the Thames Star. John Thomas Grainger died in 1953 aged 67 years, at Onehunga and is buried at Waikaraka Cemetery, Auckland. At that time his occupation was 'printer'. He is buried with his wife, Emily Francis Grainger who died in 1968. Their address was 44 Church Street, Onehunga.

We each will have our opinions on the ideas above, recognise the strengths and weaknesses of the challenges presented; as well as the opportunities that exist to further develop and protect the history of Thames. May the words then spur you into offering assistance to the historical groups and organisations that exist. Together we can protect and build on the foundations laid by our special pioneers.

Thankyou J Grainger (whoever you are) for sharing your thoughts on Thames. I feel sure he would be very happy to know that the history of Thames is without doubt, receiving RECOGNITION and APPRECIATION.

If anyone should have a photo of John Grainger, we would love a copy to add to this article. Please contact The Treasury.


Auckland City Library: Waikaraka Cemetery Records
'Thames Star 1946', Thames
'The Amazing Thames' by John Grainger. A H & A W Reed 1951
Waiokaraka School Records: NZSG Index CD Version 5


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