Human History: Part 2

The King-Turner whare, sheep dip in the foreground covered by timber. “Ross Webber’s Woolshed”, oil on canvas 71x91cm, 2006, by Kerry Walker,, used by permission of the artist.

…(Back to Part 1)…

The owner of Puangiangi from 1929 was R J W (Bismark or Biz) King-Turner, who was farming at Hamilton Bay. In 1888 his parents were among the first pakeha to settle in Waitata Bay, taking 18-month-old Bismark with them from his birthplace of Portage. There was no school and he was able to read and write by 16 only through private study. He also travelled to England for further education for a short time in the early 1900s.

Granddaughter Adrienne King-Turner writes that the four boys of the family would row from Waitata Bay to Havelock for provisions every few weeks. They would stay at the boarding-house, find a drink and perhaps a fight for entertainment, and row home the next day.

The younger Bismark King-Turner worked as a shearer and bushman. He was also farm manager for eight months at Port Hardy, earning two pounds a week and board, and had a stint as a commercial fisherman from 1920, around which time he was leasing Puangiangi and basing his farming at Hamilton Bay. In 1911 he had married Rose Reilly. Rose was out of an orphanage in Wellington, sent to the Sounds in the early years of the 20th century as a schoolteacher.

He was confident, clearly ambitious and is described by a descendant as free-spending and devoting a fair bit of time to “sucking up” in Wellington. It appeared that middle son Lewis left school at 12 because there was no money for boarding school as a result of his father’s spending.

L-R and Top-Bottom: Waiua, Puangiangi, French Pass, Hamilton Bay, Waitata Bay.

As early as 1922, Bismark had applied to become a Justice of the Peace and was recommended by Member of Parliament Harry Atmore. JPs were very useful people especially in out-of-the-way places. The application lapsed for a few years but eventually Police enquiries were made into Bismark’s character. Mounted Constable F H Healy of Blenheim wrote in 1925 that the “Turner brothers” were suspected of sheep-stealing with the aid of a launch. Right at Ministerial level, the Department of Justice decided not to appoint him as a JP despite there being no proof of any theft. Officials wrote that they had no obligation to provide a justification for the non-appointment, and that as long as the reason never came out, there was no risk of a claim for damages arising. It doesn’t look like King-Turner was best friends with Percy Douglas Hope after their contretemps with competing flocks on Puangiangi, so perhaps there was a pool of candidates to make sheep-stealing allegations, true or not. Daughter-in-law Elsie went on to become a JP in the area. Bismark did not miss out on public office either, later serving on the French Pass Road Board and the Marlborough Hospital Board.

Puangiangi was clearly only a small part of the wider King-Turner farming operation. Even for established families like the King-Turners though, times were becoming hard. Already they were farming a long way from where their wool and sheep needed to end up (Bismark’s eldest son Irwyn and brother Bert were recalled as driving sheep from French Pass to Christchurch by way of Molesworth Station during the 1930s). Then the Great Depression came along to make things harder.

Bismark King-Turner, right, in 1960. Photo credit Nelson Photo News, used under Creative Commons licence.

Puangiangi went in a mortgagee sale in 1939, as the after-effects of the Depression were still being felt. I don’t know if this was just one of the dominoes to fall, if it was sacrificed to save the better farming assets, or whether the timing had nothing to do with hardship. Perhaps it is significant that Bismark had moved from Hamilton Bay to farm at Waiua (possibly the Block IX mentioned in Part 1) a year previously. The strange thing was that the mortgagee (a company- the old title is very hard to read) sold the island to Bismark’s son Lewis Verdun King-Turner. I presume the mortgagee was under no obligation to conduct an open sale if they had been lending their own money, or perhaps there was and the son was the highest tenderer. Arguably the company name on the title reads as Lewis and Company, and that may point to this just being part of complicated intra-family transactions. Adrienne King-Turner says her father Lewis and grandfather Bismark did not get on, and maybe that is relevant. Lewis’ nephew Ray King-Turner recalls the mortgage being in the region of 70 Pounds.

Lewis’ daughter Adrienne King-Turner recalls that “my dad was apparently a dreamy child, yet intelligent and imaginative, who distinguished himself at school, yet had to leave at 12. Dad, like so many of earlier eras, simply ended up doing the only thing he knew. He was knowledgeable, opinionated and knew about mending and erecting fences to keep those wily sheep in, yet I suspect his inclinations were to be an advocate for others. He was passionate about injustice, no matter where it was found. He loathed big business, admired independent politicians, small businessmen and family-run operations, yet couldn’t work with either his own dad nor his father in law…”

If Puangiangi was peripheral to Bismark, it was central to Lewis. His son Tony recalls that Lewis talked of the island often and had loved it there. The War intervened, however. Lewis volunteered and served in the Western Desert. Father Bismark looked after Puangiangi.

Lewis Verdun King-Turner in the Western Desert. Photo credit: Ray King-Turner

Nephew Ray recalls: “as a gunner, [Lewis] was the loader on the gun crew. He was stocky and broad shouldered and could perform incredible feats of strength and agility when his blood was up. I went to his funeral and met some of his old comrades and they told me he was acknowledged by his peers as the strongest and fastest loader in the 6th Field Regiment. They told me of a time when the regiment was attacked by a German armoured column. The attack was beaten off and some prisoners were taken.  As they were marched away some asked to be allowed to see the “Automatic 25-Pounder,” the one gun that was firing faster than all the rest. They were told that there was no “automatic” but they said “that one” and they pointed to Lewis’s gun. I asked a [former] artillery officer about it and he said “oh yes- if they were a very good gun crew and then only for a short time.” I can picture him in the heat of battle roaring and cursing and urging his mates on and showing the enemy how the D’Urville Island breed took care of business. [At one time] he was in action and the rammer broke. The rammer was used to drive the shells into the breech of the gun. Lewis kept the gun in action by using his right arm as the rammer and sustained severe burns to his arm in the process.”

At the end of the war, Lewis Verdun King-Turner returned to the area and on Puangiangi carved his initials into his new concrete sheep dip on 17 April 1945. The dip is still there and holds water, which collects off the roof of the adjacent “woolshed”. I can’t tell if the building is from that time or whether the sheep dip was a later addition.

Inscription carved into the sheep dip by Lewis King-Turner, the “L” not easily seen.

The yards, building and dip are a few metres from the sea, and on the rocks at water’s edge are some remnants of concrete, and some bigger chunks that have broken off and can be seen at low tide. This would have been to provide a better landing point for freight, and stock from the barge.


Remnants of landing block, presumably from the King-Turner era although arguably later.

Ray King-Turner recalls assisting uncle Lewis and father Irwyn in landing stock some time after the end of the war. Bill Webber of French Pass recalled that Irwyn was closely associated with Puangiangi along with Lewis. Lewis never lived on Puangiangi. The one thing he didn’t like there was the colonising shrub tauhinu (universally referred to by farmers as tawinnie, usually with a preceding adjective) and I expect many hours were spent on the end of a slasher or grubber.

Irwyn Bismark King-Turner. Photo credit: Ray King-Turner

By the early 1950’s, Lewis was living in Nelson with his wife Doris. Daughter Adrienne recalls that in 1954-5 Puangiangi was at least a day’s journey from Nelson, initially by coaster to French Pass (the road was completed only in 1957). Lewis, Doris and little Adrienne (who had whooping cough), stayed in the whare while Lewis sheared sheep: “…no electricity. We three slept in the whare, which has corrugated iron walls and a bed in a corner. All the studwork for the corrugated iron was used as shelving for candles, condensed milk and so on.”

“I was extremely weak and recall sitting, propped up against pillows with a colouring book, whilst the wind whistled around the shed. To encourage me to colour-in, my mother completed one of the pictures. I was so impressed with the uniformity of her shading and ability to stay within the lines, that I asked her to colour another and another. At some point I was well enough to walk outside and my memories are of steep slopes, sheep, Dad mustering them into a yard nearby and very strongly, Scarlet Pimpernel, a wildflower. Years later, I wrote to Ross Webber (after having read an article on him in the [New Zealand] Geographic magazine), mentioning this cheerful flower and he kindly sent me a dried, pressed sample.”

The whare in 2012. Inside, fold-down table, Shacklock stove remnants. Photo credit: Roy Grose

Lewis King-Turner, like so many who returned from the war, struggled with his health, and eventually on his doctor’s advice decided to sell up. Adrienne: “I recall my mother saying [in 1957] she felt like the richest woman alive, walking up Trafalgar St with £1,000 in her handbag from the Island’s sale. Later that year they bought approximately 50 acres near Nelson and the ‘Rabbit Island’ (refer to Part 1 for Puangiangi being referred to as Rabbit Island by another person) money paid for more than half its cost. Dad transported the island’s sheep to the Nelson farm…but he said many of them did not acclimatise well and died.”

Puangiangi’s new owner from 1957 was William Ross Webber, who will be the subject of Part 3.

Robert John William (Bismark) King-Turner retired to Nelson in 1950, and established the Nelson Senior Citizens Old Folks Association in 1951. He was the group’s president until he died in 1966. Rose had died in 1955.

Lewis Verdun King-Turner died in 1993 and is fondly remembered by his family. After Lewis’ death, son Tony visited Puangiangi and stayed with Ross Webber. Doris King-Turner died just last year. She acquired fame later in life when she married New Zealand’s oldest immigrant, Eric King-Turner (no relation), who was 102 when he arrived.

The whare and sheep dip are still standing- only just in the case of the whare. A macrocarpa fell through it a couple of years ago and it is sitting at an odd angle. Birds like to bathe in the sheep dip, despite having a shiny new water supply nearby. We assume the dip chemicals have long dissipated. The bloody tawinnie continues its march and is now sheltering bird-dispersed broadleaf saplings and even providing robin habitat.

Thanks to: Adrienne, Ray, Tony, and Gabriel King-Turner.

Other sources: (Biographical notes on RJW King-Turner).

“For appointment of RJW Turner of D’Urville Is., French Pass, as a Justice of the Peace”, National Archives, Wellington, Ref J11018, Record 1922/1232, Container Code C466285.