Topic: Fergusson Park and the Tilby Farm (Tauranga)

Topic type:

The following information is from the Tauranga City Council and Historic Places Trust sign about Fergusson Park and the Tilby Farm. Much of the information was written by Tauranga historian Jinty Rorke.

Looking strange? see an archived version here

The Maori History 

After the Tilby family bought their farm in 1914 they found signs of its former occupation by Maori in the shape of many old kumara rua (pits) on the higher part of the property. Discovery usually came when a horse, plough or motor vehicle sank into the ground. In 1914 the land that is now Fergusson Park was swampy and covered in manuka, fern, rushes, cabbage trees, sweet briar and wild peach trees. There was evidence that Maori had tried to drain the swamp.

From time immemorial Maori have taken pipi from the Wairoa river channel north of Fergusson Park. Near the Point (Kaiarero) in former times there was a cockle bed, harvested by Maori from time to time, as were the pupu on the seaweed, also near the Point, and in the lagoon nearby. A large snail-like shellfish, the pupu has a hare “eye” or operculum which is used for eyes in Maori carving.

Invasions from the North 1820-1833:

1820: In 1820 Matuaiwi Pa site was occupied by a powerful Ngapuhi war party from the Bay of Islands, some of them armed with muskets, who threatened Otumoetai Pa. Ngapuhi under the chief Te Morenga had just destroyed the Ngaiterangi Pa on Mount Maunganui (Mauao). This was to obtain utu for the killing and eating of his niece by the chief Te Waru and the Ngaiterangi of Tauranga, where the people had no muskets. Te Morenga’s niece had been abducted from Northland by the mutinous crew of the brig Venus in 1806 and put ashore either at Motiti Island or on the mainland nearby.

Out one day to spy on the Ngapuhi camp at Matuaiwi, probably somewhere on the present Fergusson Park, Te Waru saw Te Morenga coming along on a similar mission. Suddenly springing on Te Morenga, Te Waru bound him and drove him back towards Otumoetai Pa. When near the Pa he unbound his prisoner and invited him to treat him (Te Waru) in the same fashion. Thus Te Waru was taken to Matuaiwi, where Ngapuhi would have killed him but for the intervention of Te Morenga, who told them how he had been treated by Te Waru. Filled with admiration for such a noble gesture, Ngapuhi invited Te Waru to make peace.

1830: When the Ngapuhi chiefs Mango and Kakaha sought utu for the death of their father in the 'Girl’s War' they sought it in distant Tauranga. However, their small war party met with a bloody repulse at Maungatapu Pa.

1831: This required another expedition led by the old priest Te Haramiti early in the following year. But it was crushed and all but wiped out by Ngaiterangi led by Tupaea, supported by Te Waharoa of Ngati Haua.

1832-33: The annihaliation of Te Haramiti’s expedition demanded yet another utu seeking foray, this time on a grand scale. It was led by the chief Titore and supported by others such as Te Morenga, Tohitapu, Wharepoaka and Hone Heke. It took them two months to reach Tauranga. After entering Tauranga harbour at the Katikati entrance they sailed down the harbour in 80 war canoes and boats from Matakana Island with their flags flying on 7 March 1832. They landed at Karopua (probably on Rangiwaea Island). Ngapuhi had now some 600 men under arms, together with uncounted women and children and dogs.

At low tide the invaders exchanged musket fire across the Wairoa river channel, north of the present Fergusson Park, with the Otumoetai people. After midnight on 10 March, Ngapuhi paddled upstream to a camp near the Mataiwi Pa site. Next day while Ngapuhi launched attacks on Otumoetai Pa the Rev. Henry Williams, who was trying to stop the fighting, viewed proceedings by telescope from the top of the Pa site. Ngapuhi now received support from the trader Tapsell, who arrived in the cutter Fairy from Maketu. He offered them all the arms and ammunition they wanted and the support of the Arawa tribe. Henry Williams and the other missionaries sailed for the Bay of Islands on 15 March.

The missionaries were back in Tauranga on 31 March to find Ngāpuhi, having been unsuccessful at Otumoetai, although they used cannon  against the Pa, had shifted to Matapihi to attack Maungatapu Pa. In one of the skirmishing attacks on Otumoetai Hone Heke was wounded in the neck and sent home early. Shortage of food, war weariness and lack of success in battle dampened Ngāpuhi’s spirits. Most of them arrived home in their storm battered canoes in early August. Titore remained with 30 men at Maketu to carry on against Ngāiterangi at Te Tumu Pa. He was wounded and back home by 27 November. 
Dissatisfied with the utu obtained, Titore was off to Maketu and Tauranga again in February 1833. As the bulk of Ngapuhi stayed at home this time, he was followed by Te Rarawa from north of the Bay of Islands. About the middle of March they made attacks on Otumoetai Pa apparently from  Matuaiwi, but having no success moved to Maketu, where a fragile peace was made about the end of May.


Once when Ngapuhi invaders were caught in the quicksand near the Point at the northwest corner of Fergusson Park they cried out for food. To this the Otumoetai people responded contemptuously with: “Kaiarero” (Eat your tongues) by which the Point has since been known to Maori.


From Swamp to Sports Ground 

In the beginning 

When the Tilby family purchased a 111 acre farm in 1914 it contained the area now known as Fergusson Park, then a swamp covered in manuka, fern, rushes, sweet briar, cabbage trees and wild peaches. The peaches were probably planted in the mid 19th century by Maori from the nearby Otumoetai Pa, who had tried to drain the swamp. They had also cultivated crops of kumara, potatoes, maize and wheat on the higher land.
Otumoetai, including the area now called Matua, was part of the land confiscated from Māori after the battles of Gate Pa and Te Ranga in 1864. Over 200 acres between Levers Road and the sea were granted to two Māori chiefs, who sold them to Dr Joseph Henry of the 1st Waikato Regiment. 

An absentee owner from the 1870s, Henry sold in 1893 to W. J. Douglas, who developed the farm and built a homestead later used by the  Tilbys. Douglas divided the farm, selling first 32 acres which included the Matua-iwi Pa site. In 1896 most of the farm, 130 acres, was purchased by Nathaniel Dickey, a horse racing enthusiast and racehorse owner, who developed a horse training track in the centre of the farm. It was probably Dickey who gave the property the inappropriate name of “Arawa”.

The Tilbys arrive

In 1914, after a further sale of land on the western boundary, Dickey sold the remaining 111 acre farm to John Tilby and his bachelor brother, William, of Buckland, near Pukekohe. They paid what was called the “ridiculously high price of 50 pounds per acre”, at a time when there was no electric power or telephones in the district. Then, as now, location was a deciding factor: Graham Lever, who farmed further down the peninsula,
had recommended the farm to the Tilbys as perfectly fulfilling their desire for a place by the sea for fishing and boating.
The Tilby family, including the children Charles, Ivy and Ray, arrived in Tauranga from Auckland on the SS Ngapuhi on 1st September 1914. 

Farming life 

The Tilby farm was a typical mixed farm of the period. It was based on supplying cream to the Tauranga Co-operative Dairy Company in 11th  Avenue. Thirty cows were milked by hand until a milking machine was purchased in 1917. The power for this and a separator were supplied by an oil engine for a short time until electricity came to the district. At first the cows were milked in the old cow bails in the barn, but later the horse stalls building was converted into a milking shed. By 1935 the herd had increased to about 80. Dairying was supplemented by the sale of pigs, together with returns from crops such as maize, oats, potatoes, kumara, mangolds, horse carrots, lucerne hay, rye and cocksfoot grasses, portions of which were consumed on the property. Oats were cut into chaff to feed horses. About 1934 the price of kumara fell so low they were not worth marketing, and could not even be given away because the government would not pay the cost of transport to Auckland. Maize was an important crop until about 1950, when it became unprofitable.
In  the  early  times  the  maize  crop  was  picked  by  Māori  from  Matakana  Island, who camped on the farm, and later by Māori from the mainland. Shelling the maize from the drying crib months afterwards was done by the Tilbys themselves, who also shelled the crops of neighbouring Otumoetai farmers. Helping the Tilbys on the farm at first was the hard working Rakau Hemo, who lived with his wife and children in two thatched whare at the foot of the cliff in the north west of the farm.

Tilby Point

Boating and yachting enthusiasts, the Tilbys built a boatshed at the northwest corner of the farm called, in their time, Tilby Point, but Kaiarero by the Maori. Early 20th century Catholics at Te Puna jokingly called the Point “The Pope’s Nose”, from the appearance of the land and the proximity of the old Catholic Mission Station at Otumoetai Pa.

Subdivision – the end of the farm

The Tilbys gave up dairying in 1961: the last suppliers in Otumoetai, the Dairy Company refused to collect cream from them any longer. On 6 June at a clearing sale on the farm 72 cows and 21 heifers were offered for sale. The dairy herd was replaced by beef cattle, which numbered well over 100 at one time.
In April 1963 the Tilbys deposited a plan of subdivision of their farm for housing. The first building section, on Levers Road, was sold at the beginning of 1965. Construction of Tilby Drive started on the southwestern side of this section in January 1967. The subdivision of the farm proceeded in stages, with blocks of sections offered for sale at different times, until the last was put on the market in 1987.
In 1965 discussion arose over the naming of the “Levers Road” peninsula, the Otumoetai West Ratepayers Association expressing a desire for a “more euphonious” name. Matua was decided on, from the Matua–iwi Pa site on the northwestern shore. 

Matua School

In 1964 the first portion of land from the Tilby farm was sold: some five acres intended for use as a primary school. Matua school opened on 6th  September 1965 on the site of the old Tilby homestead, which had been moved to Matua Road.

The Beach Flat

In 1914 the swamp had to be cleared and drained by hand. The mānuka was put to good use as field tiles. The wooden stems were laid about 50cm deep along the bottom of the drains, followed by mānuka brush to hold the layer of earth placed on top. The land was first cultivated by a swamp plough drawn by four horses. It was then planted for three seasons in maize, after which it was laid down in paspalum grass.
Behind the beach south of the Point there was a shallow lagoon with mangroves growing in it. Flood gates had been installed to prevent water coming in, but they were washed away in the cyclone of February 1936. They were replaced a little further south, but were rendered inoperable  by the 1954 cyclone. The lagoon gradually filled with sand from natural erosion caused by exposure to the prevailing westerly winds. 

Fergusson Park

Having earlier identified this low-lying land for development as a reserve, the Tauranga Borough Council, in March 1961, agreed to purchase about 34 acres for 26,000 pounds to be paid for by installments over 15 years. Spoil from Tilby Drive was later used to complete the reclamation of the lagoon area. Named Fergusson Park after the Governor General of the time Sir Bernard Fergusson, the park is used as a sports ground.
For more detailed information about the Tilby farm see Journal of the Tauranga Historical Society (June 1982), available in Research Collections at the Tauranga City Library.

This page was archived at perma cc February 2017 k89u-8tgc

Discuss This Topic

There are 0 comments in this discussion.

join this discussion

Fergusson Park and the Tilby Farm (Tauranga)

Year:1914 and 1830
City:Tauranga, New Zealand