Topic: Stoves from the Back Blocks by Peter Henson

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Stoves from the Back Blocks by Peter Henson is a 2012 Memoir and Local History Competition entry.

Archived version here.

As a ‘seasoned bottle digger’ for many years, with an interest in anything historical, I have made various ‘expeditions’ into some remote places and because of our modern roading system, some not so remote places. While in search of that elusive beer bottle or jam jar, I have come across not only glass, but also various other bits and pieces which have made me want to carry out research and learn the interesting story they have to tell.

Whether in old houses, square rubbish holes, scatter dumps on flat ground or just ‘chucked’ over the nearest bank, I have come across broken pieces of old coal ranges. In most cases the dwellings are long gone and this rubbish left behind, attempts to tell the story of our often struggling and courageous pioneers.

But why are they almost always broken and discarded? The coal ranges would have been purchased from an Ironmonger in the nearest large town or ordered from an elaborately designed catalogue. They would then arrive by train and loaded onto wagons pulled by horses or bullocks. Also available in ‘kitset’ they were taken into remote places by packhorse and assembled on site. They were held together by a series of long threaded bolts and attached panel to panel etc. But of course after getting hot, and being in use for a number of years, the nuts welded themselves to the threads and were in most cases, impossible to undo. Cast iron ranges, and also cast iron camp ovens, after years of use with our native firewood were prone to breaking if knocked, or wood was dropped on them etc, so were thrown away.

During wintertime, the volcanic plateau of the Central North Island of New Zealand is dominated, in spectacular fashion, by the snow covered majesty that is Mount Ruapehu. Along with Mounts Ngauruhoe and Tongariro they offer a standout feature to the surrounding landscape.

The Desert Road to the east had been completed in the 1890’s. Then our pioneering settlers (including English navvies) from the ‘old country’ opened up the areas to the west and south in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries with a ‘concentrated push’ to link up the northern and southern railheads of the Main Trunk Line. This was achieved in 1908, and soon afterwards Premier Joseph Ward ‘drove the last spike’ just south of the Makatote Viaduct. This in turn started a burgeoning timber and farming industry, bringing jobs and prosperity to the Waimarino and King Country regions. As well as rail, the settlements along the coaching


roads from Taumarunui to Ohakune and Waiouru, and from Waimarino (National Park) to Tokaanu came into prominence, such as Manunui, Owhango, Oio, Kaitieke, Raurimu, Taurewa, Erua, Pokaka, Horopito, Raetihi and Rangataua etc.

In winter, the days begin with bitterly cold, severe frosts and escalate into sunny days …... if you are lucky. This can quickly change, with passing fronts bringing snow and also constant rain and wind for days on end. For people residing, and working in the area, being cold was ever present and of constant concern during those long winter months. The plethora of makeshift huts and tents with their corrugated iron and timber framework chimneys, scattered throughout the area were gradually replaced with more permanent buildings and houses in the settlements, farms and timber mills, with, in many cases brick and concrete block chimneys. There was an abundance of native firewood such as matai, maire, totara and manuka, and the only thing needed was a ‘good’ stove or coal range for cooking, heating water and warmth.

Decades earlier a young man, aged 23, emigrated to New Zealand, arriving at Port Chalmers in September 1862 on the ship ‘Bombay’. His name was Henry Ely Shacklock of Nottinghamshire, England and was the son of proud parents, John Shacklock 1803-1841 and Mary Ely 1812-1877. After completing his apprenticeship in the ironmoulding trade, where he learnt to make moulds for casting iron, he then worked in various foundries. Like many of his generation, he yearned for a better life and chose New Zealand to seek his fortune. On arrival however, the only work available was scrub cutting on the Otago Peninsula. Around ten months later his fiancée, Elisabeth Bradley arrived from Derby and they were married at Port Chalmers in July 1863. After first living in Oamaru, they eventually settled in Dunedin.

During the early 1870’s, he established the South End Foundry in Crawford Street, Dunedin. He gained a reputation for his skilled work making tomb railings, iron fretwork, grates and general castings. Also, during this time, after approaches from his customers, he began designing and building a coal range to suit New Zealand conditions. Periods of ‘trial and error’ followed before he perfected his masterpiece. This he named ‘Orion’ after his strong interest in astronomy (Orion, The Hunter, is a prominent constellation visible throughout the world in the night sky). The range was far superior to its overseas counterparts and the word spread from satisfied customers, after sales of the first Orion No.1 ranges. A vigorous advertising campaign in the newspapers of the day, helped to spread the word, throughout the colony.


The manufacture of the ranges required a special quality of Pig Iron which contained the full amount of carbon (making it one of the softest irons). By the 1890’s over 300 tons was being imported annually from the UK.

At this stage there were fifteen different sizes of ranges available for purchase. With the option of single or double ovens, they were designed with convenience, cleanliness and economy of fuel in mind, and various types of coal and firewood could be burnt. The range required no brickwork fixing, as all the flues are enclosed in the casing. It could be fixed in a recess, like an ordinary range, or projected in the room, or with a piece of iron stovepipe it could be used in the open air. The ovens were noted for their evenness of heat, with the bottom heating well also, which was excellent for bread making. The hotplate was large enough to hold several pots and kettles which could all be kept boiling at once. The range could also be fitted with a high pressure boiler for constant hot water, with the turn of a tap.

The formation of the limited liability company of H.E. Shacklock Ltd occurred on 25th January and was then registered on 1st February 1900. Thus, the domination of the New Zealand market for 30 years prior to the turn of the century continued and improved. Their closest rival was Nicholls Brothers of Auckland, who marketed their very similar ‘Orb’ range from the early 1900’s. These are also found discarded at old house sites, from time to time.

However, tragedy would strike on 17th December 1902 when Henry Ely Shacklock was found dead in an outhouse at his residence by his wife Elisabeth, having committed suicide by hanging himself. He had been retired from active business for some time, leaving it in charge of his sons. Having suffered from insomnia and depression over a long period, a verdict of suicide, while temporarily insane, was returned.

The fortunes of the company, again, dramatically improved during, and after the First World War, when thousands of returning soldiers were assisted to settle on farms in the North Island. Following this, the introduction of electric cookers took place in the middle 1920’s, also enameling and nickel plating of the coal ranges. Besides the most common No.1 Orion, there were ‘specialist stoves’, a hotel range adapted for marine use, an Air Heater, an Island Range. There was a 00, a No.2, a No.3, a No.13and an Exhibition No.1, The Centennial Orion, The 501and stoves with Maori names: Weraroa, Tui, Weka and the Miro with a price tag of just £3.00 for offices, schools and small shops etc.


A young, newlywed couple moved into a mill house with a Shacklock Range at National Park, during the early 1960’s. They adopted a white kitten, found on the highway at Otukou, who was deaf and couldn’t hear the sound of the sparks from the fire, so was not frightened. As it grew, it would lay on the floor in front of the coal range to keep warm, and when the couple retired for the night they would stoke the fire and leave the oven door open, to keep the room warm. During the night as the fire died down, the cat would start to get cold, so would get into the warm oven, curl up and go to sleep. The cat would still be asleep in the morning when the couple entered the kitchen.

Thus, Henry Shacklock became a pioneering manufacturer of a product which pleased countless families, who resided not only in the cities and towns throughout New Zealand, but also in the back blocks of our rugged bush and farming landscapes, like the Volcanic Plateau of the Central North Island of New Zealand.


This page archived ar Perma CC in October of 2016:

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Stoves from the Back Blocks by Peter Henson

Note:ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Peter L. Henson was born in Murupara, 1957. He has lived in Turangi for 53 years and works in the local forest industry (NZ Forest Service, Timberlands, NZ Forest Managers 38 years). An avid collector, researcher and genealogist, married to Glenys for 21 years and has a son Cameron 13.
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 New Zealand License
Stoves from the Back Blocks by Peter Henson by Tauranga City Libraries Staff - HC is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 New Zealand License