Today, secondary growth, historical mine workings and a few artifacts are all that remains of what was once the settlement of Punga Flat. It was situated about 1200 - 1500 feet above the town of Thames on the Coromandel Peninsula. Richard Taylor chose land under the Homestead Act near the once well-known Giant Kauri Tree, and close to the Second Lookout Rock at Punga Flat. Under this Act, Richard was expected to clear a minimum of 40 of the 240 acres allocated. The block was part of Karaka Block No 1 and notified in 1880. The first sign of a Taylor residence in Punga Flat was 1874. An attraction for Punga Flat might have been the promise of gold.
A correspondent in 1881, writing for the New Zealand Herald, described a Sunday afternoon walk to the settlement to view the Kauri, a tree reserved for public purpose. The writer and friends, including three women, walked upwards through a forest of rimu, kahikatea, kauri, tawa, rata, and birch. The track was described as an easy grade, with surrounding deep glens, valleys, broken country and many trees that were six to eight feet in diameter. The Giant Kauri was some distance from the track with the vegetation around it mostly cleared, leaving space to sit. Estimated to be between 2000 and 3000 years old, the kauri was said to be 13 feet in diameter, 40 feet in circumference and not a branch to be seen for 40 feet. These days the walk is through Department of Conservation (DOC) land with only secondary growth.
THE TAYLOR FAMILY
Richard Taylor was born 5th February 1835 Arundel, Sussex, England, the third child of James William Taylor and Caroline nee Lillywhite. In England, Richard’s occupation in 1851 was labourer, and by 1858, he was a bricklayer living in Stoneham, Hampshire. In the 1861 census, he was an able seaman on board the HMS Falcon, and enumerated, at and off Jenkins Town, River Sherbro, Sierra Leone on the west coast of Africa. The Falcon was stationed there from 1859 to 1862 and re-commissioned in Portsmouth late October 1863. Richard as a captain’s coxswain, was next posted to HMS Eclipse which went to Australia Station. The Thames Star notes Richard Taylor (HMS Eclipse) with eight years' service, held the New Zealand service medal. This puts Richard in New Zealand waters from 1863 to 1866 during the New Zealand Wars. On 28th September Richard Taylor of HMS Eclipse was discharged from the navy by purchase. It is unknown where Richard was located when he was discharged but was in New Zealand when his wife and two children arrived in 1869.
Richard married Fanny nee Taylor (no known relationship) on the 10th March 1858 at Holy Trinity Parish church, Southampton in England. Fanny, born 14 November 1839 was baptised at St John the Baptist Church of England, Boldre, Hampshire, England. She was the daughter of James Taylor and Sophia nee Buckett.
Fanny arrived in Auckland, New Zealand on 10 Sept 1869 on the Excelsior with their two children, Ursula (born 20 May 1858 - died 21 June 1890) and Richard (born c1863 - died 30 May 1929). Fanny was in Thames in time for their next son, William to be born there on 23 June 1870. At this time, Richard's occupation was dairyman. Charles, their third son was also born in Thames in July 1872. At about this time, the Taylor family settled a few miles north of Thames at Punga Flat. They were there in time for the birth of their daughter Emma Jane, who was born at Punga Flat on 14 September 1874.
After a gap of seven years, Fanny and Richard had a further seven children born in New Zealand:
Life might have been tough in England but a different kind of toughness was needed to survive in early New Zealand. If Fanny’s first home at Punga Flat was a tent made from calico or a whare built of punga logs, then conditions would have taken some adapting to. A whare generally had one or two rooms, minimal cooking facilities, a dirt floor and an outside long-drop toilet. A tin bath may have been used for the laundry, washing or bathing, or perhaps the nearest creek sufficed. It may never be known how they lived from 1869 until 1887 when there were reports of a new Taylor homestead. Getting used to such rudimentary conditions and managing an increasing family would have required courage and fortitude. Ursula and Richard, the two older children, were now of an age to assist their parents in the home and on the land.
A 1927 Auckland Star article noted the harsh conditions that miners living in the hills above Thames endured. Many couples on the Thames gold fields lived in atrocious conditions in tents or punga huts. During winter, tracks were churned to clay with supplies being brought in by packhorse along roads where the mud could reach the girth of the horse. Women giving birth were reliant on neighbouring women for assistance as the doctor or nurse could be hours away. An invitation to a meal meant bringing your own plates. A good Irish stew was cooked in a billy and a roly poly pudding in a pillow case and cooked in a nailcan. Candle holders were sticks in the ground and a cleft cut in the tip, where the candle was put for night-time use.
Homestead System participants knew their new life would not be easy. Land had to be cleared in order to erect a house or whare and to plant a vegetable garden, to run a few sheep, diary cows, fowls and plant fruit trees. Once producing and self-sufficient, a family could sell or barter extra produce. If the owner did not fulfill the conditions of the Homestead Act as set out, then the grant was forfeited. Because Punga Flat is south-west facing, the winter sun would be scarce, with cold and dampness a problem. In July 1874, the Taylors and other residents of Punga Flat shivered in excessively cold conditions when seven inches of snow blanketed the area.
Gold mining at Punga Flat was mixed. A newspaper report suggested ‘stone of a wonderful rich character’ had been struck. The claim was said to equal anything discovered in Thames. Speculation was high, and large sums were offered to holders of other claims in the area. As there were previous workings, it was considered by some to be a ‘rank duffer’. In 1870, reports suggested that the Flying Squirrel claim near Punga Flat had a decent yield but felt further investigation would curb enthusiasm. Other Punga Flat claims were Long Island, considered unprofitable and the El Dorado, Great Exhibition Company and Golden Drop. A self-acting tramway ran up through the Moanataiari Gully to Punga Flat, a distance of two miles, giving an outlet to several dozen claims. At a meeting in 1869, it was resolved to form a company to obtain water from the Tararu Creek for the use of the machines along the race line that extended from Moanataiari to Punga Flat.
For most of his New Zealand working life, Richard described himself as a milkman or dairyman. The life of a milkman at Punga Flat wasn’t easy as the terrain is not like the ‘dairy country' we know today. A number of milkmen with small herds of perhaps 20 cows farmed around Thames, and at least one other, James Donnelly, operated from Punga Flat. Milk in cans was delivered door-to-door by horse and cart, or often by the young son of the milkman. Thames newspapers reported complaints of watered-down milk and high prices compared to Auckland. In Thames, milk sold for eight pence (8c) a quart while in Auckland it was six pence (5c) a quart.
By May 1874, Richard was sufficiently established to require a ‘steady man to deliver milk in Grahamstown’. Feeding dairy cows adequately in the hilly terrain might mean cutting grass from anywhere it could be obtained and hand feeding it to the cows. When feed was short it was freighted at considerable cost by ship from Auckland. Complaints reached the Thames Star when a milkman was seen cutting grass from the Shortland Cemetery.
The need to communicate easily from Punga Flat to Thames and elsewhere must have exercised Richard Taylor’s mind. The Thames Star notes he imported pure bred English carrier pigeons from London in 1878: 'the finest of their kind and imported at great expense.' Once domesticated at the Taylor residence, they were to be used to carry messages around the district. The electric wire, the article added at the end, is now quick.
Accidents happened, and Richard Taylor and his family had a few that made the news. The Waiotahi tramway bridge included a horse road, and it became dangerous and neglected by 1876. Trusting it was sufficiently maintained, Richard rode over it. When he was opposite the Nonpariel mine, the horse’s foot went through the planking, and there was difficulty in extricating him. A day or two later, and after a rushed repair on the bridge, Richard drove his horse and cart loaded with milk cans onto the bridge. This time the horse fell through the bridge, dropping 15 feet. The horse, worth £15, was killed, and the milk-cans destroyed.
In 1879, Richard and his son escaped serious injury on the Waiotahi road when the cart rolled over. The cart, loaded with milk, struck a stone and both occupants went under the upturned vehicle. The horse lay on its back kicking its hooves in the air. The men, a little bruised, managed to crawl out. The cart had one slightly cracked shaft and strangely, not a drop of milk was spilt. The next year Richard’s son John, in the employ of his father, escaped death when riding down the Waiotahi Creek road. On passing the Victoria Mine, the horse staggered and lost its feet. It rolled down the hill for some distance, carrying John Taylor with it. Men working nearby saw the accident and ran to the spot, expecting to see a corpse. To their surprise neither Taylor nor his horse were injured by the fall.
In its hey-day, Punga Flat was home to about two hundred residents. The community supported the Punga Flat Hotel which in 1869 was licensed to remain open until 10pm. In 1874, Michael Driscoll applied for a bush license for the Reefer's Arms, Punga Flat, since resident numbers did not support a full license. Punga Flat also supported a school. In 1874, children were examined, and compliments paid on their work. Parents were reminded of the importance of their children regularly attending school. Emma, William and Charles Taylor were not examined in 1881 due to their irregular attendance. A measles epidemic hit the Thames district in 1875. Punga Flat school was belatedly affected, and the school closed for a few days when only two pupils remained. The cost of running the two-teacher school in 1880 was £110 ($220.00).
Fire is no respecter of people’s hard work. Destructive and fierce bush fires raged around Punga Flat and environs periodically. In February 1871, a number of huts and whares were destroyed with occupants just managing to escape. Few could sleep due to the need to keep watch.
In 1887, smoke surrounded the hills again as a bush fire spread through Punga Flat and further afield. The Taylor homestead, not long built, was initially reported to have burnt. The fire began in the valley near the Second Lookout Rock, close to the Taylor homestead. Richard Taylor Jnr. and others kept watch throughout the night because of concerns that sparks could find their way to the house. Fortunately the homestead remained intact, probably because the land around it was cleared for some distance, and there was a good supply of water. The famous Kauri Tree, admired by many survived the 1887 fire but was finally destroyed in a subsequent fire in 1898. In 1888, a neighbour, Mr Hawkins was not so lucky as a lack of water meant the Hawkins' house was totally burnt, costing him £200.
Fanny died on 20 Dec 1898 and is buried in Tararu Cemetery, plot number 362 with her daughter, Ursula. Richard remained living at Punga Flat possibly with Richard Jnr. By 1905 most residents had left the settlement, most likely because the gold had long gone. On 20th January 1909, Richard died at Thames Hospital aged 73 and was buried in plot no 265 at Tararu, the cemetery where Fanny was interred. Their descendants number in their hundreds and are scattered across New Zealand and Australia.
by David Wilton
TUMONZ map indicating the Taylor's Farm area at Punga Flat.
The red & green boundaries marked on the above TUMONZ map are the modern survey boundaries for those two blocks (which tend not to change from the originals). One of these two blocks must have been the Taylor Block. There are no other blocks around that area that are about 240 acres, which was what he was allocated in 1880. That was the standard allotment for land with good access, under the Homestead Act. The Crosbies blocks were 300 acres. There is also a survey map that shows the block east of the Punga Flat whare which was surveyed for Taylor. It was later allocated to Francis Vedder (then later Charlie Boxall). The Punga Flat whare is shown with a house icon in the bottom left hand side of the map above.
It appears that Richard Taylor was allocated a block in 'Karaka No 1 Block' in 1880, at the same time that Crosbie and others were allocated their blocks. Then in 1884 Richard Taylor was allocated a block in Karaka No 3, in exchange for Karaka No 2, as there was mining infrastructure on the original land (probably the Lucky Hit Mine) which meant there was not much land left for farming. An article about a big fire in 1887 implies that his homestead was just to the south of The Second Lookout Point (marked at 665 meters on the above map). No sign of the Taylor Homestead has been found so far and the search continues, either for the homestead or the most likely well-rutted track up to it. The whole area is now covered in dense secondary growth, making the search difficult.