Topic: How the Theobald Family Came to Manawahe

Topic type:

This story 'How the Theobald Family Came to Manawahe' was written by Anne Fenton. Anne was the step-daughter of Herbert Norman Theobald who made this journey along with his wife, widow Emma Kane (nee Marsh), whom he had married in 1901, and her surviving children from her previous marriage; Anne, Dan, Emma, Pat, and Catherine. Also on the journey were Herbert and Emma's toddler Maryann and baby Elizabeth. Anne would have been 15 years old when she undertook this journey.

Looking strange? see an archived version here

Late in the year 1904 the Theobald family left Mangaweka and moved to Manawahe.

Two sons and a daughter [Ann] were started off on the road on horseback driving the stock (cows) to Taihape. Mr and Mrs Theobald and four of their daughters (one very small and another a baby) with all their possessions and belongings, plus a covered in waggon, went as far as Taihape by train. Here they joined the children and stock and from there onwards they trekked the long journey together. Each day the family cooking and mere necessity of washing was done, the waggon overtaking the drovers and stopping at most convenient places for wood gathering and water supply etc. The hardships of this trop for a girl of 13 years and boys of 14 and 11 years is hard for us to imagine; cows eating tutu and dying of poisoning, also some had calves and had to be left being. The time this journey took has been forgotten, but it was very slow travelling and the route was very many more miles than it is today. The desert road was not there and the old route to Taupo was much longer. They came through Rotorua to Rotoma. There was not road into Manawahe at that time, therefore the family had to go down Rotoma hill to Onepu, through Braemar road to Awakaponga. The Manawahe turn-off was near the Awakaponga end, and through heavy sand patches, through fern, ti-tree, lawyer bushes etc., until the hill climb. This was as far as the waggon could to – the rest was only a track. From here onward horses were led and the family walked up into Manawahe.

Herbert and Emma Theobald

Herbert and Emma Theobald in c1945.

At this time there was no mill nor roads and Mr Theobald earned his living by doing road work. Farms were balloted by the Government and drawn in Manawahe by Mr Theobald and in October 1905 by Percy and Jack Fenton. Later their father George Fenton and their family joined them. These four men worked on road contracts for finance while they broke in the land – some fern country and a lot of bush. Percy and Jack Fenton took bush contracts for other settlers and felled a few hundred acres over the years.

Until the roads were completed enough to cart timber for houses, Theobalds and Fentons had to manage in bell-shaped tents. The cooking was done in camp ovens, and over open fires. One of Mrs Theobald’s daughters remembers the first cake her mother made in Manawahe. It was done with pigeon eggs and it was the best cake they had ever tasted. The washing was done in kerosene tins, even the boiling up of clothes, usually down by a creek.

By 1908 they were still in tents but did have neighbours and when Mrs Theobald had her last child, one of the older children was sent running over the rough bush fallen and burnt hills quite a distance over and under logs etc., up hill and down dale, to find Mrs Brett, a Maori lady who acted as midwife. Mrs Theobald did not spend long in bed, she had to do her own confinement washing as a 16-year-old girl was not considered old enough to do this, in those days.

Later the Theobalds shifted into a punga sided place with a tent top and eventually moved into their house built of timber, but by the time they had moved into a block of land further into the Manawahe bush area.

Travellers from Auckland firms called and stayed with the settlers, taking order for spplies, which were sent by boat to Matata. From there, supplies were transported by horses, across a Pikau; a sack stitched at the top and one side cut and bound, across the centre, was thrown across the horse’s back to form two good bags; these held quite a lot of stores and were heavy enough for the horses to still climb the hill to Manawahe.

One lot of supplies had been transported to Awakaponga. While awaiting the pack horses, wild pigs completely ruined the main items – flour, sugar, potatoes etc.

If anyone had to go to Rotorua, they had to ride through a bush track to Lake Rotorma. There was a good beach round most of the shores then (the lake level must have been very low at that time) and riders found it a good route to the main Rotoma road to meet the Whakatane-Rotorua coach.

If one wished to go to Whakatane, one road to Matata, crossed the Tarawera and Rangitaiki rivers, which ran out to sea as one river. (This was done by a ferry, a punt which the passengers used, while their horses had to swim). Then ride along the beach and cross the Whakatane river near the present Road Services Office, by ferry, as at Matata. This journey had to be arranged for crossing at low tides.

One the Rotorua coach trip it was not uncommon to meet the Maori Chief Rua, in his buggy, with six or seven of his wives, his long hair tied back with blue ribbons.

About 1912, Jack and Percy Fenton and Herb Theobald felled the bush for the first school site. This started with eleven pupils, three Theobolds, five Fentons and three Greys. The first teacher was Miss Doris Christmas and this hardy young lady never missed a day, in spite of her long ride daily from Awakaponga.

Accidents were quite a problem so far from doctor etc. One remembered well was a Mr Fred Windlay who was knocked unconscious by a branch of a tree he was felling. He had to be carried through the bush out to Rotomna and there wait for Dr. Wadmore to come up from Whakatane. Sister Clement from the Matata Convent came up to help. He did not recover.

There was not much opportunity for enjoying social life. To go to a dance, you rode down a road to Awakaponga. Part of this was so steep, that it was better for the horse and safer, to walk and lead the horse.

When the first sawmill started at Manawahe there was only one attempt to take timber down over this road; it proved too dangerous, as the bullocks couldn’t keep their feet from sliding and it was never attempted again.

There was an occasional church service held in private homes at Manawahe. The Rev. Chapman from Whakatane rode up and stayed with different residents in turn. Then young couples could be married at home, whereas, prior to that, Mr and Mrs J. Fenton had to ride to Whakatane to be married.

The Theobalds gathered bags and bags of fungus, which grew prolifically on new bush burns and when dried and sent to Auckland Chinese firms, it helped considerably with extra finance. Mrs Theobald bought all her fruit trees with fungus money and she planted a very good orchard and grew a lot of small berry fruits.

Horses sometimes ate Rangiora leaves and became drunk (or poisoned) and the men gathered any old rags they could muster and burnt them under their noses, the smoke sometimes proved a successful remedy and saved the horses’ lives.

Mr Herb Theobald had the first mail delivery contract from Matata in 1914.

Mrs J. Fenton who formerly was Miss Annie Kane went to live at Manawahe, in 1905. She has many happy memories of the early days when the settler depended so much on the help and companionship of each other. Everyone was hopeful of a successful farming community, each family being equally interested in the district’s progress and prosperity.

There were many enjoyable days and evenings spent together. Mrs Fenton remembers the sports days, where folk from other areas rode through to take part in events.

One of particular interest, which was held in 1908, was a chopping event. Bushmen felled a tree which must have been five feet in diameter and cut two blocks from it. The two contestants were Jack Fenton and Bob Theobald. They were both experienced bushmen and the prize money was the sum of £5. IT created great excitement, especially as it took about an hour and a quarter to cut through. Mend had ridden a long distance to see this chop. Mr Skipper rode all the way from Taneatua.

Jack Fenton had his brother Percy to push the chips off for him with a long stick and Bob Theobald had his brother Herb to do likewise for him. Men, women and children were cheering and barracking, and full of excitement when the contestants seemed to be running a dead head and no one could foretell who the winner would be. The crowd roared, when Jack suddenly stopped and ran round Bob’s block to see how far he had to chop through, then dashed back and set to with renewed vigour. Bob galloped round to look at Jack’s block and back to a fresh start. Both blocks toppled together, and Bob’s block fell only a fraction of a second before Jack’s.

Mrs Fenton remembers Jack and Percy Fenton putting the Pikowai filling in to complete the road around Lake Rotoma.

The settlers enjoyed picnics at Rotoma and Rotoehu lakes when they all gathered wild cherries and blackberries. Jack Fenton made a special frame for his truck to carry some of the families and small folk, who could not ride. They were happy days for all.


Biographical Information

Herbert Norman Theobald married widow Emma Kane (nee Marsh) in 1901 in Hunterville. Emma had five surviving children from her previous marriage to Daniel Kane (1850-1900) whom she had married in Marton on 4 August 1887 (reg. 1887/1874). One of her children was Anne, author of this story. The children raised by Herbert and Emma:

  1. Anne Kane (1889-1974). Born in Hunterville in 1889. Married John Joseph Fenton (1888-1956) in Matata on 2 May 1908. Died in Whakatane on 15 September 1974. 
  2. Daniel Robert Kane (1891-1940). Born in Hunterville on 4 July 1891. Married Florence Muriel King (1895-1994) in Paeroa on 3 August 1921. Died in Whakatane on 5 July 1940.
  3. Emma Kane (1892-1986). Born in Hunterville on 12 August 1892. Married George Duncan McNee in 1913. Died in Pukekohe on 30 April 1986.
  4. Patrick Kane (1894-1977). Born in Hunterville on 5 April 1894 (reg. 1894 / 3294). Married Pearl Dorothy Estelle McCabe (1901-1979) on 17 June 1925 in Ngaruawahia. Patrick died in Hamilton on 5 October 1977.
  5. Henry Kane (1896-1896). Born in 1896 (reg. 1896/ 5105) and died in 1896.
  6. Catherine Kane (1898-1938). Born in 1898 (reg. 1898 /1413). Married William Reginald Elkin Walker (1891-1976) in 1919. Died in Opotiki on 20 October 1938.
  7. Maryann Irene Theobald (1902-1970). Born in Utiku on 1 July 1902. Married Pat Farrelly. Died in Whakatane on 23 December 1970. Buried in Hillcrest Cemetery, Whakatane.
  8. Elizabeth Emma Theobald (1904-1979). Born in Ruahine on 15 November 1904. Married Wilfred Marshall Rimmer. Died in Leamington on 20 November 1979.
  9. Violet Constance Theobald (1908-1972). Born in Manawahe on 1 July 1908. Married Robert Habgood. Died in Tauranga on 21 December 1972. Buried in Pyes Pa Cemetery, Tauranga.


Note: This story was added to in 1995 by Des Habgood and printed in the book The Theobald family: From West Mersea to Waimate. Book II. The early Theobald history and more descendants of George and Mary Ann Lamont Theobald (nee Shinn) by Ellen McCormack (pp. 206-207).

This page was archived at Perma cc April 2017

Discuss This Topic

There are 0 comments in this discussion.

join this discussion

How the Theobald Family Came to Manawahe

First Names:Herbert Norman
Last Name:Theobald
Date of Birth:1878
Place of Birth:Waimate
Country of birth:New Zealand
Date of death:24 April 1949
Place of death:Tauranga Hospital, New Zealand
Place of burial:Hillcrest Cemetery, Whakatane
Spouses name:Emma Susannah Kane (nee Marsh)
Spouses date of birth:26 February 1870
Spouses place of birth:Westminster, London, England
Spouses date of death:6 June 1945
Spouses place of death:New Zealand
Spouses place of burial:Hillcrest Cemetery, Whakatane
Date of marriage:6 March 1901
Place of marriage:Hunterville, New Zealand
Fathers name:George William Theobald
Fathers date of birth:25 November 1840
Fathers place of birth:Church Lane St, St Clements, Ipswich, Suffolk, England
Fathers date of death:31 March 1899
Fathers place of death:Utiku, New Zealand
Mothers name:Mary Ann Lamont Shinn
Mothers date of birth:17 December 1837
Mothers place of birth:York Road, Lambeth, Surrey, England
Mothers date of death:6 June 1917
Mothers place of death:Kaitoke, Whanganui, New Zealand