Topic: Wellington to Tauranga's Rescue

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Henry Clarke Letter 

As ash fell from blackened skies the residents of Tauranga ran naked through the streets and were gripped by ‘panic and terror’. These reports, printed in newspapers throughout New Zealand in the days after the Tarawera eruption, did not impress the good citizens of Tauranga. Indeed they were strongly refuted as ‘utterly untrue’ by disgusted correspondents in The Bay of Plenty Times, who claimed truth had been sacrificed for the sake of sensation.

Perhaps the source of these exaggerated reports was the Mayor’s telegram to Auckland on the morning of the eruption requesting ships for the town’s immediate evacuation. The Wellington was quickly despatched but when it arrived the following day the ‘panic’ was over. Reporters on board, hoping for a story and few good pictures, were disappointed. The Wellington returned to Auckland with no passengers.

A month later The Herald published a letter penned by the Mayor of Auckland attacking the citizens of Tauranga for non payment of the charter. Tauranga’s reply was swift. The Council accepted full responsibility and stated it would pay when the issues of price and government assistance were resolved. In the meantime the Mayor of Tauranga personally paid the £21. Although some residents were unhappy with the Mayor’s actions claiming they were ‘too hasty’ many felt that he had been in a difficult position and he was later reimbursed.  

In the Tauranga Heritage Collection there is a jar of ash which was scraped from a resident’s roof after the eruption. An action repeated by many, including Adela Stewart at Athenree. She writes in her book My Simple Life in New Zealand that her jar was later divided into tins and sent around the world as presents. Also in the Collection is a letter sent from Rotorua two days after the eruption to a loved one in Tauranga. It is a detailed eyewitness account by Henry Clarke who was the Tauranga Magistrate for fourteen years. In the letter he despairs for the fate of local Maori and wishes to be able to ‘go home to Tauranga’. 

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