JULY 2019 POWA article by Bev Medlin

Now who among us does not remember the Union Steam Ship Company? Once the biggest shipping line in the Southern Hemisphere, it was New Zealand's largest private sector employer and survived right up till the end of the twentieth century. It began life right here in Dunedin in 1875, by Wellington born but Dunedin raised, James Mills. He was only 28 years old. In 1869 Mills tried twice to float a Union Steam Company of New Zealand Limited, but failed to attract enough interest from local investors, until he found backing from a Scottish shipbuilder named Peter Denny. Denny agreed to invest in return for Union Steam Ship Company orders for ships built at his Dunbarton shipyard. The first two Denny built ships, the Hawea and Taupo, large by local standards, arrived mid 1875 and entered service. James Mills' Union Steam Ship Company took over the Harbour Steam Navigation Company, once owned by the late Johnny Jones and now by his son John R. Jones, who became a director of the Union Steam Ship Company along with Mills. The company was so successful it became known as the 'Southern Octopus', due to its monopoly on trans Tasman trade.

James Mills was a valued and trusted employee of our own Johnny Jones. He started as a shop assistant and worked his way up to managing Jones’ Harbour Steam Navigation Company which served parts of Dunedin, Port Chalmers, and Oamaru, even trading with Hokitika on the West Coast. When Jones died in 1869, James Mills was his leading trustee, evidence of the high regard Jones held him in.

James Mills’ connection to Waikouaiti doesn't end there. He represented the district on the Otago Provincial Council in 1870 and 1873-1876, later representing Port Chalmers in Parliament from 1887-1893 when he retired. He was knighted in 1907 and appointed Knight Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George in 1909. The first native born non-indigenous New Zealander to be so honoured. He died in London January 1936 in his eighty-ninth year.

Your museum here in Waikouaiti, still standing proud on the main road to Dunedin since 1868, is on her winter hours of 10.30-2.30 Friday, Saturday and Sunday.


James Mills




June 2019 POWA article by Bev Medlin

Who was James Watkin and why does that name sound familiar?
Why Mount Watkin of course. That distinctive, beautiful cone shape at the back of Waikouaiti, at 616 metres is the highest peak.

In 1839 the Maori people of Waikouaiti asked John Jones to send them a missionary. Jones duly wrote to the Wesleyan Missionary Society asking if they would oblige and proposing to provide 100 acres at Waikouaiti to establish a mission station, free passage for the missionary and his family, and a donation of fifty pounds. I should mention here again that Karitane was called Waikouaiti in the early days. Their response was to send Manchester born, Reverend James Watkin. He had joined the Wesleyan Society aged 15 and was competently preaching aged 20. In 1830 aged 25 and newly married to Hannah Entwhistle they were posted as missionaries to Tonga. He was described as a man with considerable flair for languages, quickly becoming fluent in the Polynesian tongue. He must have been a determined and brave soul too as he faced the ever present dangers of tribal warfare. However, unbeknownst to Jones, Watkin had left Tonga in disgrace in 1837 after admitting to having an affair with his wife's Tongan maid. He was suspended from mission service and sent to Sydney to 'rehabilitate' himself.
He arrived with his wife and five children from Sydney on May 16th 1840 aboard Jones' vessel Regia after an horrific crossing which almost saw them shipwrecked twice over. However, this didn't stop Watkins from delivering his first sermon outdoor the very next day.

To Jones chagrin, Watkins insisted the local Maori abstain from work on the Lord’s day whether or not a whale was passing by, and insisted the European whalers marry their Maori partners. Thoroughly appalled at the drunken and licentious behaviour of the 'corrupted' Maori and disgusted at the brutality and vices of his fellow Europeans, he worked through deepening depression and exhaustion. He established his mission station alongside the whaling station in what is now Karitane. Within weeks local Maori had begun to abstain from work on the Lord’s day, and by years end Watkin was taking two writing classes a day. Hannah was successfully working with Maori women passing on domestic skills such as sewing. By 1842 many Maori were praying morning and evening, knew the Creed and the Ten Commandments, and had some knowledge of Christian Doctrine. Watkin found the local dialect substantially different to the dialect of North Island Maori and prepared a primer of South Island Maori, the first appearance of the Southern Dialect in print. Significantly, in 1843 a number of younger chiefs, including Rawiri Te Maire, Matiaha Tiramorehu and Tiare Wetere Te Kahu were baptized, and thereafter Wesleyan Christianity was in the ascendant among local Maori.

Safe to say James and Hannah Watkin’s time in Otago was pastorally a resounding success. However Watkin himself hated his time here and viewed it more as a punishment for his earlier misdeeds. He was not a robust man and the long distances and challenging conditions had been a trial that sapped his energy and spirit. They left for Wellington in June 1844. Just before they set sail, he was replaced by Reverend Charles Creed, to whom he famously said 'welcome to Purgatory Brother Creed'. After Wellington they went back to Sydney where he died in 1886 aged 81 and Hannah in 1900 in her 94th year.
Even though Watkin felt unappreciated during his tenure in Otago, after his departure the young chief Rawiri Te Maire, whom he had baptized back in 1843, changed the name of his ancestral mountain Hikararoa, named after a great Kai Tahi Rangatira, to Mount Watkin, in his honour. Today it is formally known by both names Mount Watkin/Hikararoa and is on my bucket list to climb. Offering expansive views of Karitane and Waikouaiti estuaries the 650 hectare reserve is regarded as having the best remaining example of dry coastal forest in Otago. I think James and Hannah Watkin would be pleased.

The homestead built in 1843 for the Jones family.

October 2018 (Bev Medlin)


The day a Cobb & Co coach passed through Waikouaiti on 4 July 1864, the moment was recorded for posterity by The Daily Times.
“I think everyone who has witnessed the rattling of a coach and four up a street, loaded with passengers, halting, a short greeting of friends, change of horses, all done in a marvelous short space of time, and then the start again, will agree with me that it instills into one’s heart as it were a kind of spirited feeling that does one good, and especially in a place where nothing of the sort has been seen before” effused the paper’s correspondent.

Almost certainly, the man in the driver’s seat controlling everything to do with that stirring scene was the legendary Australian born Edward (Ned) Devine. He drove for Charles Hoyt (under the brand of Cobb & Co) in Otago from 1863 after earning his reputation driving in the Victorian Goldfields. Thought by many to be unequalled as a whip, a shrewd judge of horses, calm in emergencies, intelligent and witty, a showman and a prankster, this colourful character has his name stamped in the memory of Waikouaiti too. In 1865 he proposed starting his very own service between Waikouaiti and Dunedin. Coach services ceased in May 1878 with the completion of the Dunedin to Christchurch railway. In 1880 Ned was proprietor of the dilapidated Commercial Hotel here in Waikouaiti, once located on the Main Road about where the library is now situated. He never renewed his licence the following year. He was declared bankrupt in 1882. He died in Australia in 1904 aged 71. His obscure grave was relocated and a memorial erected with funds from both Australia and New Zealand and unveiled in Ballarat on 7th February 1937.

There is something just a little bit magical about the Cobb & Co coaches. They played such an important part in this country’s history and Waikouaiti is no exception. There is a fine example in the Settlers Museum. There is one in the Lawrence museum too. I had such a strong desire to hop up and sit inside it, despite the keep off notice (I did desist). When my grandmother was a very little girl she traveled with her mother from Canterbury to the West Coast on a genuine Cobb & Co coach. That impressed me no end. They stopped in Otira. My grandma and her mum were riding up high beside the driver when he flicked his whip over the horses and on its return struck my grandma in the eye. No permanent damage ensued, but she recalled it being “very painful and burying her face in her mother’s lap.” That service ended in 1923.

A great opportunity has presented itself for your museum to purchase a steel constructed, full sized replica of a Cobb & Co coach made (but not owned) by local man and museum chairperson Bill Lang. The plan is to install it outside the new museum build on the corner of Kildare and Main streets. It couldn’t help but look amazing, make a statement, draw tourists into the town, and in time become an iconic image for Waikouaiti. We need to raise $40,000. A Givealittle page has been set up and we have till the end of November. How marvelous if you could support this project by making a pledge and perhaps sharing the page with your social networks. It’s important to note that if we don’t reach the target no pledges will be redeemed and the project will not go ahead.


JUNE/JULY 2018 (Bev Medlin)

The name Orbell is synonymous with Waikouaiti's early development and success. It all began when John Orbell aged 47, his wife Catherine, their ten children and one servant arrived in primitive Port Chalmers in the winter of 1849 on the Mariner. Previously John had been a successful flour miller, grain merchant and gentleman, in Suffolk on the banks of the Stour River in Essex. Following the potato blight of the 1840's, a sharp drop in the price of grain and heavy debt, John and Catherine now looked to New Zealand to offer their family a brighter future. Arriving in Otago, they decided instead to head to Wellington, a more established settlement. Unfortunately persistent, unsettled weather prevented the Mariner from sailing. As the week's passed their financial situation became desperate.

Enter John Jones. He convinced them to come and work for him. "Mr Jones made such favourable propositions, that my father was induced to accept them. He was to provide a house for us at Waikouaiti, and lease us some land and assist us in other ways. Needless to relate, that led us to believe that we were very fortunate", reminisces Macloud Orbell in later life. "Had we had any knowledge of Mr Jones character, we should not have placed ourselves in his power”. Indeed, the house provided, at the top of Prospect Farm at Matanaka, turned out to be a two roomed weatherboard cottage, twenty feet by twelve, and open to the south west wind which "blew sand through the roof in showers. Supplies were purchased from Jones, but it was impossible to get any delicacy, or even a meal to put before an invalid”.

It's winter 1849. Having fled bankruptcy and creditors in recession torn England, the once comfortably affluent John and Catherine Orbell, their ten children (five girls and five boys) and an elderly manservant, have accepted an offer of work on Johnny Jones' Prospect Farm at Matanaka in Waikouaiti. Ten year old Macleod is sleeping in the granary with his four brothers, because the dilapidated, pint sized cottage, assigned to the family of thirteen, has not the room. They were locked in every night by the farm manager, no doubt on Jones' orders, to discourage any pilfering. Imagine if there had of been a fire, in that age of candles and oil lamps. Incidentally, have you been to see the historically unique farm buildings at Matanaka, open free every day to the public. Well worth taking a look. The afore mentioned granary is still there. You can enter it, along with stables, school house and a not so private three seater privy. It's an extraordinary feeling, as though John Jones himself had just stepped away for a minute.

In his later life, Macleod Orbell, on request of his family, consented to write reminiscences from his childhood, and the first twenty years of life in New Zealand. He wrote, "Naturally the family found the altered conditions of life most trying, and with disappointment after disappointment, but bravely accepted the position without a murmur. We were a most united family, and feeling that difficulties well met are half conquered, we determined to make light of obstacles". It's fascinating to hear what they survived on. " Our diet consisted chiefly of fat American pork imported in barrels, wild ducks, and potatoes grown by the natives. We made our own bread, the flour being imported from America, also in barrels. The pork, flour, and groceries were purchased from Mr Jones. The sugar was something to remember. We had to take it or go without. It came in great blocks, weighing from fifteen to twenty pounds, black as black, which we chopped with an axe before using". His recollection of John Jones up close is revealing too. " He was a man of many parts, very impulsive, and yet at times most kind hearted and generous. At other times most aggressive and almost brutal, his temper apparently uncontrollable. If anyone differed with him, or even had a slight altercation, he would knock him down, and subsequently repent and sometimes make a present of a horse or a cow for the injury he had done him. At the period of which l am writing, he was all powerful”.

Life was hard and isolated for fifteen months before Jones finally agreed to lease them 20 acres in Hawkesbury, where they set about building a substantial timber home. In 1851 Orbell constructed a simple wind driven flour mill to grind his wheat. In time they expanded their farm and business interests, even competing successfully against Jones. Relations improved when the two families were united through the marriage of John Jones' eldest son John Richard and Mary Orbell (both 24) in 1855.

John Orbell was described as an educated, intelligent and thoughtful man. Over the thirty years he lived in Waikouaiti, it was said he involved himself actively in the affairs and welfare of his community and parish, becoming a Justice of the Peace in 1863. Catherine Orbell died in 1875 shortly after their Golden Wedding anniversary. John Orbell died in January 1879 after a brief illness. They lie in picturesque St John Churchyard. Their sons carried on farming and in business, playing a significant role in the district.








Construction has begun on the new museum building. We are all very excited to finally see this happening. Substantial ground work to remove soil down to the subsoil has ensured that the new building will barely move in any future earthquakes. Many “treasures” were found during the excavation and will become part of a future display. Drains to remove excess water and electrical conjute has been installed to enable a future connection to the old museum building as well as for the new building. Retaining walls have been erected around the site, but mainly along the Kildare Street perimeter, as over the years the road level has been drastically raised, leaving a steep bank. Work on the foundations has also now begun and once the pad is complete the actual building construction should go ahead quite quickly. 

Please visit our FaceBook page https://www.facebook.com/WaikouaitiCoastHeritageCentre/ to see more detailed photos and information.


A lot has happened since February and we are delighted with progress towards the construction of our new museum.  The project was begun early in 2010 and many people have volunteered their time and expertise since then towards achieving our aims.  Since February we have been granted $120,000 by Lotteries and $100,000 by the Otago Community Trust, adding these amounts to approximately $180,000 raised by local volunteer efforts through a range of fund raising events, firewood sales and local sponsorship. This has meant that we can now proceed to the next stage, ie construction of the new building. To this end work has begun to clear the site and reduce the ground level back to what it was originally in order to improve drainage of the site and to also assist in drying out the old museum building. 

A contract has been agreed and signed with the main contractor and local sub-contractors identified who have quoted for work to be undertaken. On August 24th 2017 an informal ceremony was held to mark the beginning of the work and several local identities with long time involvement with the museum were present on the day. We hope to have our new museum open for business by early next year.

February 2018 (Bev Medlin)



There is something deliciously familiar and strangely comforting about our authentic kitchen here at the museum. Yes, in another life it was an austere bank built by that great Scottish born New Zealand architect Robert Lawson in 1869. However, he also designed the building for that other great purpose, the practical home, and for, in this instance, the bank manager and his family. Home and hearth is where the heart is, and where better to find that welcoming hearth than in the kitchen. At the back of the museum, the last door on the right is that all important room. Centre stage sits a wonderful old black Shacklock coal range. I go a tiny bit weak at the knees over these. I cooked on one for almost seven years as a young married mum. I remember the sweet smell of burning wood and the cosy warmth it created, especially appreciated during winter. I was living in Hanmer Springs, famous for its high country skiing as much as the hot pools. The Shacklock Orion cast iron coal ranges were produced here in Dunedin by English born Henry Ely Shacklock in 1873. He designed them especially for the New Zealand lignite coal. Henry Shacklock named his design Orion to reflect his abiding interest in astronomy.
He famously introduced appealing new features such as curves and angles to enhance aesthetics. He improved its strength. Fire doors would stay open by themselves horizontally. The chimney and flue damper could be removed for cleaning. He also made the door with varying degrees of thickness in order to distribute the heat evenly. By late 1880's, his Orion range had been expanded to offer different models, including double ovens and a feature he called 'destructor' firebox, which was marketed as a safe, hygienic method of disposing of kitchen waste. Tragically, after suffering from prolonged bouts of depression, Henry Ely Shacklock hanged himself in his Dunedin home December 17th 1902. He was 63. The company went on to produce New Zealand's first electric stove in 1925. In 1955, Auckland company Fisher and Paykel Ltd acquired H. E. Shacklock Ltd.
Also on display is an electric stove, which is a Moffitt Ltd. It has a 230 volt oven with 3 hobs and temperature gauge. This item was donated in 1987 by Mrs A. Hagan. Truthfully, there is a plethora of treasures big and small in our domestic household collection here on display, and this is only one room in this remarkable and historically significant building. I promise you won't be bored. Our summer hours are 2-4pm Wednesdays and Thursdays, and 10am-4pm Friday. Saturday and Sundays.



Waikouaiti has seen its share of industrious and fascinating characters that have left their mark on the district. My favourite remains the indomitable, somewhat controversial and larger than life protagonist that is John Jones. A self made man and legend in his own life time. Born in modest circumstances in Sydney around 1808, by 1844 he was the settlement's primary landlord, employer and merchant. There are several fine books on him. I can recommend one in particular, by his great granddaughter Diana Harris, titled Johnny Jones, A Colonial Saga. Through canny negotiations with tangatawhenua such as Tuhawaiki, the paramount chief of the Kai Tahu tribe, Jones set about taking ownership of the entire South Island. However, he had his ambitions deflated and bought back down to earth by the British Crown. As part of the signing of the 1840 Treaty, an immediate stop was put on flagrant buying up of land without the Crown's permission. Jones was denied most of his earlier purchases. He fought bitter litigation through the courts for years but was largely thwarted, with the Crown conceding some of the titles. His influence in the district continued after his death in 1869 and even into present day. For example, though not a profoundly religious man himself, he never the less gave generously to all the denominations. He gifted the land and paid for the construction of the beautiful Anglican Parish of St John, built in 1858 (significantly today, the oldest functioning parish in Otago and Southland). Money and resources bequeathed to the parish in his will is what keeps its doors open to the community, and almost 150 years after his passing. Pretty impressive.
Here at the museum, as you might expect, we have a few interesting items associated with the great man. Some are touching and distinctly personal. On display in the bank chamber is an exquisite nightgown worn by his granddaughter Beatrice Victoria Robinson Jones. Next to this item and for another granddaughter, Florence Jones, we have pieces of beautiful silver cutlery manufactured in Edinburgh called The Royal Collection. Touchingly monogrammed JJ to FJ, it was commissioned as a wedding gift. We have an additional 20 pieces, which returned from Toitu Museum in Dunedin last year. They await the opening of the exciting new building for display.
Manned by friendly, knowledgeable volunteers, our summer hours are Wednesday, Thursday 2-4pm, and Friday, Saturday and Sunday 10am-4pm.