Human History: Part 2

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.” Peter recently lent me Ian Atkinson and Rowley Taylor’s 1991 report on mammals on New Zealand’s islands, and Puangiangi is listed as having formerly held rabbits, but that they died out or were eradicated some time before the report was compiled.

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, Philip, Ray, Tony, and Gabriel King-Turner.

Other sources:

http://www.theprow.org.nz/society/old-folks-hall-nelson/#.WmAilnnRXIV (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.

I A E Atkinson and R H Taylor, “Distribution of Alien Mammals on New Zealand Islands”, DSIR Land Resources Report 91/50, 1991.

 

Cook Strait Giant Weta

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Female Cook Strait giant weta, Deinacrida (“terrible grasshopper”) rugosa, Mana Island

What should a restored invertebrate fauna look like? Should we be fussed, or should we just be concerned that there is enough biomass of- whatever- to support more interesting higher animals? Is an obsession with charismatic macroinvertebrates a thing, and is it unhealthy?

Inverts have been short-changed in many ways: they are little studied, little-cared-about, sometimes actively disliked by people. It’s highly likely that many incredibly interesting insects, spiders, slaters, snails, slugs, velvet worms and centipedes have been lost for all time from New Zealand, before they were even known to science. We can’t fix that, but we can consider from within the extant taxa what invert biodiversity would be appropriate for Puangiangi.

If we can maintain the predator-free status of the island, prevent incursions of foreign insects like Argentine ants, and ensure that the native vegetation does not become any less diverse, and that its area expands, then we can protect inverts that are already there or that might be able to fly in, be blown in or float in. We are left to think about the ground-dwelling, flightless animals that might have been hardest-hit or extirpated by rats, and inverts that are known from the ecological district that could be expected to be there. So, I think that steers us towards the well known and interesting macroinvertebrates as a matter of course, rather than as a result of an obsession with making a bug zoo. Weta, Cook Strait click beetle, ngaio weevil, flax weevil, Mimopeus beetles, large snails, Peripatus, stick insects come to mind.

Puangiangi already has extremely strong numbers of tree weta; cave weta are present; ground weta might well be but given how cryptic they are, we don’t know. Cook Strait giant weta haven’t been recorded. Mimopeus beetles have recovered rapidly after rats were removed. Flax weevil were confirmed soon after we took over, and their feeding sign is everywhere. It’s interesting that they have little effect on the flax plants they feed on, given the mess the translocated population on Mana may be making. Ngaio weevil and Cook Strait click beetle we haven’t spotted yet, and they could be future targets for translocation. The divaricating shrubs are alive with mating stick insects during the late-summer nights. We have seen a peripatus and some centipedes; Powelliphanta snails are not there, and possibly never were.

As for Cook Strait giant weta, we know they are naturally present elsewhere in the ecological district- on Takapourewa, Kuru Pongi and Mana. They would also be worthy candidates for translocation as they are endemic to the region, and classified as range restricted and vulnerable. They have been translocated successfully to Maud and Matiu Somes (from Mana), Wakaterepapanui (from Takapourewa), Titi and Long Island (from Maud).

The population with the ideal combination of commonness, genetic diversity, closeness and accessibility is on Takapourewa and so, beginning in February 2014, the rangers on Takapourewa began night searches to capture suitable animals. Polly Hall and Andre de Graaf aimed for a range of ages of animals, rather than all big ones, as it is thought that they might only breed once and we did not want to move senescent animals.

Polly and Andre made a holding pen out of a mussel float and stocked it with soil, sticks and branches, topping it up with fresh taupata, tauhinu, carrot and courgette every few days. The animals were held for up to several weeks between supply boats, and batches were packaged up in modified tackle boxes and dropped off as the boat went back to Havelock past Puangiangi. Peter had selected a piece of country similar to their preferred habitat on Takapourewa, which just happened to be right by where the DOC boat could nudge on to the beach. Over three years, 300 weta (52 adult males, 110 adult females and 132 juveniles) were caught, and all but a few were taken directly to Puangiangi in ten trips finishing in September 2016. A few pairs were bred up at Eco World and Tui Nature Reserve, for the 17 progeny to be taken out to Puangiangi too.

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The release site. Tauhinu, Olearia solandri, Coprosma propinqua, low shrubland and pasture. Photo: Peter Gaze

The transfer was acknowledged by forty-odd Ngati Koata, project reps, friends, neighbours and DOC staff during a ceremony on 31 March 2017, which was also the 5th anniversary of purchase of the island. This was the easiest and cheapest project I’ve been involved in where DOC was a major participant. Polly and Andre would get in touch with us when something was happening, rather than us having to follow up, went out at night to catch the animals, looked after them and arranged to have them delivered and let go, wrote it down and reported on it, without any sweat at all being raised by me.

We have been out at night to look for them quite a few times. Numbers seen have been incredibly low, but are perhaps just starting to pick up, with one or two able to be found sheltering in the daytime also. Other translocations that have worked have also had very low encounter rates for several years and we are unconcerned, unless of course predators arrive.

A book everyone should have: Andrew Crowe, Which New Zealand Insect?, 127 pp, Penguin Books, 2002.