Category: Heritage

Mangaone Bridge on Kairanga-Bunnythorpe Road

Dale O’Reilly recently undertook a research journey using the City Council Archives at the Central Library to investigate the history of the Mangaone Bridge on Kairanga-Bunnythorpe Road. She shares her findings in the article below. 

While pondering the history of Bunnythorpe where I grew up, I became interested in our old bridges and one in particular which has stood strong for all of my life without any damage or having weight restrictions imposed, as others have.

In the book Bunnythorpe and District 1872 – 1952 by Roy E. Clevely I found reference to ‘the bridges’ – ‘originally constructed of wood, with the exception of an odd culvert or two, all have been replaced by concrete and steel structures. The two bridging the Mangaone and Jack’s Creek on the Kairanga-Bunnythorpe Road were raised in the centre causing horsemen and drivers concern whether they could safely negotiate the slippery boards. In 1908 it was decided to replace the Jack’s Creek bridge with one similar to the one on Milson’s Line with reinforced concrete piles and iron rails.’

I was confident from this reference that the bridge across the Mangoane had been replaced prior to the Jack’s Creek bridge because it had high concrete sides rather than ‘iron rails’.

Thanks to invaluable advice from the Heritage Team at the Palmerston North Central Library I found a reference in Papers Past to a Special Meeting of the Kairanga County Council held 5th October 1905 ‘to consider the state of the various bridges referred to on Robinsons Line and the Mangaone Bridges’. I sent an email to the Heritage Team requesting a look at the Minute’s Journals and found the meeting minutes where the motion ‘proposed by Cr Were and seconded by Cr Voss that application be made to the Colonial Treasurer for a loan of 800 pounds for the re-erection of the Mangoane Bridges on Rangitikei Line and Bunnythorpe-Kairanga Road’ was Carried. A Manawatu Times newspaper report dated 27th June 1905 under the heading ‘Bunnythorpe (own correspondent) said ‘I hear that the bridge over the Mangaone on Kairanga – Bunnythorpe Road is seriously injured by the late flood’. The reason for the re-erection now established.

From there I was able to track the progress of its build through the Minute’s, along with a ‘tracing of the road’ commissioned by Kairanga County Council after it was ‘proposed by Cr Monrad and seconded by Cr Thomas that the Engineers recommendation to erect bridge on the Bunnythorpe Kairanga Road on the old site be adopted and that he be authorised to obtain a tracing of the road’.

I was also able to view a copy of the Contract entered into with the builder – D Burke.

The Contractual progress payments were to be made October 13th, November 19 & December 19 1906, however the contractor was provided with a 1 month extension to complete the job and then the final payment was held back ‘until the timber in the stream of the bridge be cleared away’. It was completed early in 1907 – constructed with concrete over wooden framing, the impression and outline of the boards having been embedded in the concrete underneath.

In the 1907 flood it was reported in a newspaper clipping that the approach had been washed away. It’s safe then to assume that it was some time after this that the large concrete slab abutment was put in, designed to protect the road approach being undermined in future floods.

It has magnificently served its purpose, the bridge having remained strong after many flood events over the years. It was also a handy jumping off point for children swimming in the stream when the bed was much different than it is today – my partner and his siblings among them.

This bridge was an integral part of the road network for early settlers, farmers and workers in Bunnythorpe (many farmers also worked at businesses in the village), both to deliver their milk to the creamery and then to the factory, and to get to the many businesses they relied on for services, supplies, schooling and social and spiritual gatherings in Bunnythorpe.

The bridge is still in use today and remains an integral part of the local transport infrastructure.

From Bustling Cities to Farm Life: The Flock House Story

By Russell Poole

Image courtesy of Alasdair Bettles-Hall, Chair of the Flock House commemoration committee.

The Flock House story, like much else in Aotearoa, starts with wool. In the early decades of the colony sheep farmers ran huge estates in the back country, producing vast amounts of wool. During the First World War this wool was required in massive quantities in Great Britain. The merchant shipping that transported the wool was vulnerable to enemy submarines and so too were the Navy ships that protected them. Tens of thousands of sailors perished or incurred permanent injuries in the cause of defending New Zealand exported commodities. 

After the war the sheep farmers of New Zealand, led by Edward Newman, a farmer and MP living near Bulls, resolved to express their gratitude by helping the widows and children of these sailors. One way the farmers could help them while also helping themselves was to bring some of the teenaged children to this country and put them through a farm cadet course. These young people, as well as gaining a livelihood, would then form a supply of labour for the farmers. The boys were accommodated at Flock House, a stately homestead near Bulls, and the girls at an equally grand house called Shalimar in Awapuni, now a suburb of Palmerston North. For these young people the transition from the bustling port cities of Great Britain to a country town like Palmerston North or Bulls must have seemed extraordinary. Altogether, almost 800 trainees were brought out, 128 of them girls. 

The course of training covered almost every imaginable aspect of farming, far too much to master in the prescribed six to eight months. As part of it the boys were set what can only be described as hard labour, planting thousands of trees in the sand dune country and grubbing out gorse on the main estate. Nevertheless, many of the trainees said they enjoyed the experience, no doubt buoyed up by the understanding that one day they might come into a farm of their own. 

Following the basic training individual boys and girls worked an apprenticeship for three years with a farmer selected by the trustees of the Flock House scheme. Some trainees got lucky insofar as their employers treated them fairly, gave them further training in farming and helped them to socialise with other young people in the district. You hear of networks of these people in, for example, Hawke’s Bay and Tairāwhiti who became lifelong friends or spouses. 

Other trainees were not so lucky. Some led lonely lives on back-country farms, eating their meals on their own in the kitchen. Eric Leary ran away from an isolated farm near Harihari and somehow got himself to Ōtautahi (Christchurch), where he spent the rest of his life. Edna Preston (not her real name) was sexually harassed by her employer and sought help from her brother back in Scotland, who got her released from her apprenticeship by threatening to expose the Flock House placement system in the British press. The trustees only slowly came to the realisation that they needed to screen prospective employers more thoroughly. 

How many trainees fulfilled their dreams and acquired a farm of their own? Only a few, it seems. Dorothy Hobbs married the owner of a large farm near Raetihi. Harry Saunders was balloted a farm near Pākaraka in the Whanganui district and ran cattle there for some years, though ultimately the property was too small to be economic. Roy Penellum worked variously as a farm labourer or farm manager. Harry and Leslie Hall moved to a country town after some years as farm labourers. Elsie Ring married and moved to Timaru. Allen Falconer got into the trucking business when the farm he was sharing with his brother at Panetapu, Waikato proved too small; he was briefly in the UK during the Second World War but opted to return to New Zealand, feeling that his native Scotland had offered him no prospects in his youth. George Hannah and Arthur Metcalf nearly starved as farm labourers during the Depression and returned to the United Kingdom as stowaways on the SS Coptic.

With such a variety of different life courses, it’s difficult to sum the Flock House scheme up. It seems, however, to represent a mix of well-meaning but perhaps rather naive benefactors and some definitely exploitative employers. Correspondingly, the descendants of the Flock House trainees testify to experiences that ranged all the way from success and prosperity to trauma and tragedy. 

If you can add to this testimony, whether on the positive or the negative side, with stories of your ancestors’ experience of the Flock House scheme I would very much like to hear from you. If you would like to attend the Flock House commemoration in July this year you can find out more at

Image courtesy of Alasdair Bettles-Hall, Chair of the Flock House commemoration committee.

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Blue Smoke

On Thursday 8 February, there’s a talk about the 75th Anniversary of the “Blue Smoke” recording release, and 28 Maori Battalion in the Second World War. This talk will be presented by Ruma Karaitiana, Rangitāne Kaumatua and Chair, Rangitāne o Manawatu Commercial Arm.

The talk is co-hosted by RNZE CT/ECMC and Palmerston North City Library.

Central Library, Heritage area (2nd Floor), 12:00pm-1:00pm.

Image: Ruru Karaitiana (songwriter and composer) and Pixie Williams (vocalist)

Vale Paul Dibble (1943-2023)

In September 1888 a tableau vivant titled ‘The Sculptor’s Dream’ was staged as part of an All Saints’ Ladies Guild Evening at the Theatre Royal in Palmerston North. Eleven members of the community, dressed in flowing garments, held poses resembling those of classical statuary. These included young women pretending to be sculptures of Flora, Grief and an angel. We know of this tableau from a photo included in a scrapbook compiled by Louisa Snelson (c.1856-1919). Her husband George Snelson (1837-1901), the first Mayor of the Palmerston North Borough Council, is posed seated astride a barrel in the character of Bacchus, the Roman god of wine.

At the centre of the tableau, Miss Eva Haynes appears as a statue of Justice, wearing a blindfold and holding a sword and scales. More than a century later in 1992, a blindfolded figure, this time holding a plumb bob and globe, was unveiled outside the Manawatū Art Gallery (Te Manawa Art Gallery) – Paul Dibble’s iconic sculpture Pacific Monarch. For the Palmerston North artist, this 4.4 metre sculpture represented the realisation of a long-held sculptor’s dream, to produce a monumental work of public art in bronze. Julie Catchpole, the gallery’s director, described Pacific Monarch as “possibly the biggest bronze ever cast entirely in New Zealand” (Manawatū Evening Standard, 21 December 1992). Its creation was made possible thanks to a bequest to Manawatū Art Gallery Society from the late Gertrude Raikes.

‘The Sculptor’s Dream’ tableau [Manawatū Heritage, 2007P_Pg82_EPN_0290]

The exhibition, Paul Dibble: Continuum is currently on display at Te Manawa Art Gallery (until 10 March 2024). Organised to commemorate the sculptor’s eightieth birthday, following the sad news of Dibble’s passing on 5 December 2023 this display also serves as a memorial tribute to a well-loved Palmerston North artist. The survey exhibition predominantly features sculptures from the late 1980s onward made from bronze, the medium that Dibble loved best and with which he has become most closely identified. He considered bronze a sensual material and sought, in his own words, to “make it sing.”

Dibble is renowned for undertaking the physically demanding and risky process of casting his bronzes himself, establishing his own foundry in Palmerston North. However, during his first two decades as an artist, the prohibitive cost associated with bronze, together with the limited financial support for sculpture in New Zealand, meant Dibble was obliged to produce the majority his art from other materials. After graduating from Elam School of Fine Arts at the University of Auckland in 1967, Dibble moved to Palmerston North in 1976 to take up a position teaching art at the Palmerston North College of Education. Part of the attraction of this role was that it allowed him to spend a couple of days a week working on his sculpture. The 1970s and 1980s was a period of intense experimentation for Dibble, during which he engaged with assemblage, conceptual and installation art.

In a 1978 news article, Dibble asserted that when it came to sculpture: “You can work in anything. As far as I’m concerned any material has in it a certain poetry. Even cheap material, rubbish even, have poetry there” (MES, 22 March 1978). At the time, Dibble was working on a large figure of Christ made of fondue cement for the chapel of Liston College in Henderson. This was one of several commissions for church art, including liturgical items such as candlesticks and tabernacles, that Dibble received during the early years of his career. The artist regarded these projects more as craftwork, but the income they provided helped fund the more creative side of his practice. In Dibble’s later sculpture the religious imagery that appears most frequently are references to the Garden of Eden and fruit from the Tree of Knowledge.

In 1981 Dibble created the multimedia installation Concrete in the Garden at the Manawatū Art Gallery. He explained that this art form was concerned with creating an immersive environment for the viewer: “Instead of making an object, you try to utilise the whole space as an expression of statement.” The impetus for Dibble’s installation was his dislike of the recently-constructed PNCC Civic Administration Building and what he considered the oppressive heaviness of its brutalist concrete form. Instead, his art work “recreated a light fragile space using thin metal rods” which established “the limits of his ‘garden’ and convey that all-important lightness – in an abstract way” (MES, 9 November 1981). Wax figures recline on strips of artificial grass, while brightly-coloured parrots are perched on the metal rods. The birds were a reference to Aotearoa’s location in the South Pacific and a nod to wooden parrots made in school woodwork classes. Ever inventive, Dibble had weighted the sheet-metal parrots with lead-filled beer bottle tops. This meant that the movements of gallery visitors caused the birds to sway gently, animating the space.

Visitors to Continuum will see that New Zealand native birds remain an important theme in Dibble’s later bronze sculptures. The exhibition also features a video showing a restaging of his art work Return of the Daffodil (1997). This piece was itself a reimagining of Spring Transfusion (1979), one of several conceptual works produced by Dibble during the late 1970s that utilised coloured dye crystals and transfusion bottles, recalling a hospital intravenous drip. In both the 1979 and 1997 works, water from the transfusion bottle passes through plastic tubing, seeping into an expanse of canvas that is gradually stained yellow. As the canvas is rotated, the amorphous stains come to resemble the petals of a flower. Despite their starkly different media and aesthetic qualities, Return of the Daffodil foreshadows and complements the sculptures of kōwhai blossoms that Dibble began producing during the 2010s. The bronze petals of these native flower glister through the addition of gold leaf, emphasising both the beauty and preciousness of nature.

During Dibble’s early years in Palmerston North, his creative practice utilised such disparate media as fibreglass, Perspex, feathers, driftwood and – in sculptures like Impossible Dialogue (1988, Massey University) – cut and folded steel plate. At first glance, these multimedia creations seem far-removed from his elegant and sinuous bronze sculptures. However, Dibble transferred the same freedom and inventiveness found in his conceptual and installation art to his later bronzes. Throughout his career, his art has been characterised by quirky juxtaposition, forms that appear precariously balanced, an emphasis on contours, and a tension between flatness and the illusion of three-dimensional volume. Like Dibble’s installation art, many of his public sculptures are designed so that viewers can walk through and around them. All Creatures Great (1996), takes the form of an arch or gateway, beckoning visitors into the Palmerston North City Library. Such works take art outside of the gallery, allowing Dibble’s sculptures to engage with and become an essential part of their surrounding natural or urban environments.

Paul Dibble left the College of Education (by then part of Massey University), in 2002 to focus exclusively on his art. In 2005 he was appointed a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit and in 2007 he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate by Massey University. By the final decades of his career, he had achieved international recognition, with overseas exhibitions and commissions for his work. Examples of his public sculpture adorn towns and cities throughout New Zealand, but nowhere more so than in his adopted hometown of Palmerston North.

All Creatures Great, Paul Dibble, photo by Heather Glasgow [Manawatū Heritage, COMM1488916484]

NZOQ: quest for quality for 50 years

For five decades one Palmerston North organisation, the New Zealand Organisation for Quality (NZOQ), has shown commitment to quality. Dedicated to providing leadership in the adoption of the principles of quality management and best practice in New Zealand, the NZOQ, has established an expert reputation – both nationally and internationally.

“Quality is one of those intrinsic concepts we experience every day,” says Dan Forsman, the local Board Director. “It effects our choices on what we purchase, the services we use and what we invest our time and money in. We may sight a quality promise poster or an ISO9000 certificate on a wall to ensure us of safe basic services or reliable products. But just look at the latest water supply woes in the Wellington region to see where quality has lapsed,” says Dan.

NZOQ Director, Dan Forsman [Image supplied]

Possibly one of Palmerston North’s best kept secrets, NZOQ origins date back to the 1976 conference organised by Massey University’s Department of Industrial Management and Engineering. “A national conference of industry and academia was convened to discuss the idea of a national organisation for quality assurance in New Zealand. A steering committee was set up with the aim of forming a professional body,” Forsman explains.

The following year the need for a professional body for quality assurance, in line with the American Society for Quality, was established. By early 1978, NZOQ was registered as an Incorporated Society, delivering a framework that became vital in its development and the role New Zealand would play in quality assurance. NZOQ is a society of organisations and professionals in many fields. It has both individual and corporate members, and provides training to its members and the public. 

With its headquarters in Palmerston North, NZOQ is a New Zealand organisation with international relationships.

It is a founding member of the Asia Pacific Quality Organisation (APQO), a group of quality organisations in the region. New Zealander, Mark Dykes, was APQO President from 1992 to 1996, and current NZOQ President, Abraham Fenn, was APQO President in 2017. He will again be APQO President in 2024-2025. This provides prestige to both NZOQ and Aotearoa on the international quality stage. The Palmerston North office of NZOQ also hosts the registered international office of APQO – a significant coup for the city. NZOQ has direct links with quality organisations in Australia, USA, and the UK. 

Current NZOQ President, Abraham Fenn [Image supplied]

“The NZOQ’s strength has always been the diversity of our members. From its inception, the national board consisted of member representatives. Our members skills and experience span the spectrum of New Zealand industry sectors,” Dan says.

While short course quality education was being carried out by NZOQ, the organisation developed a Certificate of Quality Assurance (CQA). The certificate introduced different aspects of quality assurance as a more structured approach to quality education. This eventuated in the first year, of a two-year NZOQ Diploma, in Quality Assurance (DQA), currently offered by NZOQ.  

The organisation developed a Certificate of Quality Assurance (CQA). This eventuated in the first year of a two-year NZOQ Diploma in Quality Assurance (DQA). [Image supplied]

NZOQ continues to have a strong relationship with Massey University. In 1978, an initiative with the New Zealand Institute of Food Science and Technology (NZIFST) led to the development of the Massey Diploma in Food Quality Assurance, and later the Massey Diploma in Quality Assurance. It has continuing links with Massey University-based, Centre for Organisational Excellency Research (COER).  

The NZOQ worked to encourage and educate industries, organisations, and individuals that quality was vital to success in an increasingly competitive marketplace. “The NZOQ provided leadership in the advancement of quality management and best business practices. We supported our members through networking, information sharing and training initiatives,” Dan explains.

From a meeting at a conference and a quest to improve quality, the NZOQ has progressed to meet and inspire the needs of New Zealand industry, organisations, and individuals, from its Palmerton North base.

“It doesn’t matter how successful you are—there’s always room for improvement. The NZOQ identifies areas for improvement so our members can achieve world-class levels of performance, enhanced employee and customer relations, increased productivity, and greater profitability. Our leadership and best practice guidelines set the benchmark for excellence. Access our wealth of knowledge and collective experience through networking, information sharing, and training initiatives,” Dan says.

The latest training product from NZOQ is OLIA+ a short on-line course that delivers quality management skills and prepares for an internal audit process. It is delivered in small groups across the web with backup tutor support. This is a good starting point for your quality journey. Also, please read the NZOQ website for more information.    

“By the way, it would be great to have more local and regional members supporting NZOQ. Membership accesses discounted services including training and our excellent Quality Business magazine,” Dan concludes.

The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the participants and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the Palmerston North City Council.

Erna Ferry: local legend

Erna Ferry’s music career began in the 1980s, and nearly forty years later our local star has earned a national and international reputation.

Born in Germany, where her father (a Scottish Black Watch soldier) was in charge of helping refugees and displaced people in the Ruhr after World War II; Erna’s family moved to New Zealand when she was three.

After her father passed, when she was eleven, her mother remarried, and they started a new life in Palmerston North.

Growing up in the city, she attended Palmerton North Girls High School and developed her love of music.

“I formed a group with two of my friends called the Bluejays. We sang together and dreamed about music,” Erna recalls of her early experiences performing.

While she was a student at Palmerton North Girls High School Erna ferry and two friends formed the Bluejays, her first foray into music. Image courtesy of Erna Ferry

Post secondary school, she travelled and spent several years living in Wellington, before taking off on a seven-year OE in Europe.

After seeing the world, she returned home, got married and had children, but never envisaged singing would ever be more than a hobby.

She credits a friend encouraging her to help with scenery for a local production of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, in the ’80s, as the turning point in her life.

Her big break came when the show’s director, Robert Rimmer, stopped her one day and asked if she could sing.

In need of a vivacious blonde for the starring role, Erna was encouraged by her friend to audition.

“We were travelling to Wellington in a car and I sang ‘Ghost Riders in the Sky’ to a tape of Tom Jones,” she recalls.

The director liked what he heard and wasted no time in casting her as the play’s lead.

What followed, was a whirlwind experience that she describes as one of the most terrifying, exciting and satisfying times in her life. Her commitment to the show continued behind the scenes. “I made the clothes my character wore, so I could keep them after the final show. They’re still in storage,” Erna laughs.

Bitten by the performing bug, more shows followed including ’80s favourite ‘A Slice of Saturday Night’. The show proved to be a vital step in her music experience.

Cast mate Simon Bowden, introduced her to the world of jazz, showing her a song book of jazz standards.

“This was music I knew and loved. Many of the songs were the show tunes of the ’20s through to the ’40s that my parents listened to when I was growing up,” she says.

The experience opened new opportunities. Her cast mate convinced her, and another young musician, to form a band called ’After Hours’. This helped her hone her skills.

Juggling her family with her new-found career, the trio ‘After Hours’, carved out a reputation with shows across Palmerston North.

By 1993, when her jazz repertoire and reputation as a singer had grown in Manawatū, a friend entered her in a national Jazz Quest competition without her knowledge.

Erna took it in her stride. On the night of the competition, she performed until 10pm at a local restaurant with the trio, before her father collected her and drove her to Wellington for the first heat. Erna remembers arriving at midnight and having just enough time to take off her coat before she hit the stage.

“I sang three songs including ’Mack the Knife’ and won that week’s heat,” she says.

Three weeks later she took top honours at the Jazz Quest final. That was the point Erna realised she ‘had arrived’ and was part of the jazz community.

Later that year she joined jazz legend, Al Jarreau, on his New Zealand tour as the support act.

“I realised there was no money in jazz unless you were the one who was headlining, so I developed a multi-genre approach to my singing,” Erna says.

Her approach enabled her to turn her talents to performing at a variety of events from weddings to conferences, product launches, special occasions, and gigs at local bars and pubs.

In 1998 she met New Zealand jazz legend, Rodger Fox, at a festival in Whanganui. The meeting led to both a personal and professional partnership, that has spanned more than two decades.

“We were both single and we clicked personally and professionally,” she says. “Roger tricked me into putting out my first album. He secretly collected my charts from small groups and sent them to an arranger in the United States, who rearranged them and sent them back as Big Band charts,” she recalls.

With all the hard work done, she agreed to the project, and her debut album, Devil May Care, followed.

The success of this album led to a second CD in 2004, Big Blues, that drew its inspiration from her part in a World Blues review tour throughout New Zealand.

In the years that have followed, the partnership has flourished both personally and professionally, with national and international tours and recognition as a formidable force in the music scene.

Throughout it all, two constants have remained in Erna’s life – her passion for music and her connection with Palmerston North and Manawatū audiences.

While her career sees her travel far and wide, Palmerston North is still her home and the place where her music memories began.

Brazen Hussies: rebels with a cause

Aiming to shock and create conversations on frequently sensitive subjects, the Brazen Hussies were born from the challenge to be brazen and outspoken in the 1990s. A group of friends, self-confessed feminists and political thinkers, were keen to make a stand against politics and confront issues such as benefit cuts and the Employment Relations Act.

Since their first performance, outside the old Palmerston North Post Office for International Women’s Day, the group has never shied away from topical issues ranging from climate change to Don Brash speeches, to women’s health.

While their line-up has changed throughout the years, the nature of their music hasn’t. The Brazen Hussies parody popular songs with lyrics revised to highlight contentious issues and the politics of the day.

A fixture at most annual Palmerston North May Day commemorations, the Brazen Hussies have reinvented such classics as ABBA’s Money, Money, Money – with lyrics criticising the rise of capitalism and right-wing politics. Other politically themed songs in their repertoire have included, Sink the Corporate Pirates song, These Boots are Made for Walking, and What Shall We Do with the Politicians.

Dressed to impress the Brazen Hussies. Photo: Image courtesy of the Brazen Hussies.

With a strong social conscience, the group has always been focused on ‘the message’ and expressing their opinion through singing. Over their two-decade run, these solely female singers have enjoy thinking up new and interesting ways to shock.

“I’m sure some people squirm when we come along, and others think ‘what are they going to do next?’ But that’s good and it’s what we want. Singing has given us a powerful voice,” says original Brazen Hussies member, Jean Hera.

Manawatū Music History

From Friday Oct 6-7, we celebrate Manawatū Music Makers (even more than usual). Come in and hear some great talks by some truly inspirational and entertaining characters!

There’s also the launch of this year’s Palmerston North Heritage Trust calendar, with — you guessed it — a musical theme.

Covering classical, to pop, to jazz, and including talks about some of our iconic local venues too, you’re bound to enjoy this series.

See the full programme here.

Sign up to the Library’s emails lists here.

Early influencers: George & Louisa Snelson

In the early years of Palmerston North one couple helped to forge the foundations of our city, earning a reputation as its mother and father.

George and Louisa Snelson are credited with founding and initiating many of the institutions and civic projects during the 1870s and 1880s in Palmerston North. 

George emigrated to New Zealand in 1863, from his home England, travelling to Wellington on 21 February on the Earl of Windsor. In Wellington, he was employed as a clerk by E. W. Mills, an ironmonger and general merchant.

It was there that he met his future wife, Wellington-born Louisa Matilda Buck. The couple married on 6 July 1865. 

In 1870 as the newly formed settlement of Palmerston was developed, the government began to make arrangements for the emigration of Scandinavians to the area. 

E.W. Mills agreed that George Snelson, who was by then his business partner, should go to Palmerston to open a general store and ironmongery.  

In mid 1871, the general store opened and Snelson was listed in the Wellington Almanac of 1873 as ‘Postmaster and Registrar’ and ‘ironmonger, general storekeeper, and land agent, Palmerston North, Manawatū ‘. 

The Snelson’s general store and ironmonger, circa 1878. This building was owned by George Mathew Snelson, the first storekeeper, auctioneer and land agent in Palmerston North. It stood on the western side of The Square between Coleman Place and Main Street west, the site now occupied by the City Library. [Manawatū Heritage, 2009N_Bc47_BUI_2315]

Early settlers to the township were often poor and had limited English.  To provide them with a better start, George offered credit on purchases while Louisa provided a letter-writing service at 6d. a letter. She also took in boarders and cared for children in the couple’s home. 

As the community expanded, and the town grew, Snelson’s name became synonymous with a wide range of civic undertakings. 

In 1876 he was elected to the Manawatū County Council, becoming its first mayor the following year.  He served four terms as mayor between 1877 and 1901 and was also borough councillor for most of the 1880s.

His civic duties during this time increased as took on new roles, serving on the Manawatū Highway Board (later the Manawatū Road Board) and the Wanganui Education Board, he was Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages, and a Justice of the Peace. 

Louisa was one of approximately 523 Palmerston North women who signed the Suffrage petition, submitted to Parliament in 1893.

While George’s success in local government is evident, his two attempts to be elected as a member of parliament, in 1879 and 1893, failed.

George Snelson was the first store-keeper, first Chairman of the Manawatū Road Board, first Chairman of the School Committee, first Chairman of the Hospital Board and first Postmaster but he is best remembered as the first Mayor of the Borough in 1877, and again in 1883. 

Poster by George W Shailer, circa 1890, advertising George Snelson’s campaign for re-election as mayor. [Manawatū Heritage, 2007N_Pi1_PEO_0339]

During Palmerston North’s formative years, the Snelsons’ campaigned to have land set aside for a school. George served as the first chairman of the schools committee in 1872 and a committee member for some years afterwards. 

As the need for a hospital grew, the couple led the charge for fundraising. The first hospital opened on 21 November 1893, George served on the Palmerston North Hospital and Charitable Aid Board from 1892 and was chairman for at least two terms.

While these activities alone would have consumed many people, George’s community spirit grew year on year. He was involved with the Palmerston North Volunteer Fire Brigade, spent time as the president of the town’s musical union, was a founding member of the Manawatū and West Coast Agricultural and Pastoral Association, held the vice presidency of the local acclimatisation society, was chairman of the domain board and an avid promoter of the establishment of the city’s esplanade.

George Mathew Snelson and wife Louisa Matilda Snelson are shown here in the garden of their Fitzherbert Street home. George was the first mayor of Palmerston North and he and his wife are known as “the mother and father of Palmerston North.” [Circa 1885, Manawatū Heritage, 2008N_Bur13_BUI_1838]

Supporting her husband, Louisa Snelson’s name was as closely associated as George’s with social and religious initiatives in Palmerston North. 

In the early days of Palmerston North, Anglican church services were held at both their home and store, and on 29 September 1875 she laid the foundation stone for All Saints’, the first Anglican church in the town.

Of particular interest to her was the welfare and education of local Māori. Such was her involvement; she was believed to be fluent in Te Reo and developed close relationships with local iwi. 

In 1907 she was invited by Erini Te Awe Awe to share in the unveiling of the monument of her brother Rangitāne chief Te Peeti Te Awe Awe, which stands in Te Marae o Hine / The Square, Palmerston North. 

Following George’s death. Louisa Snelson moved to Australia in 1903. She returned to Palmerston North several years later and continued her community service and fundraising up until her death in 1919. Photo by Bunting Studio, circa 1914 [Manawatū Heritage, 2013N_Pi291_006926]

By the late 1890s, times of economic depression and poor health changed the Snelsons’ fortunes. Businesses and land holdings around Te Marae o Hine / The Square were sold, and the couple moved to Hokowhitu.

Reliant on income from his local government appointments as coroner, borough valuer, and secretary to the cemetery board, the couple struggled through harder times and occasionally sought relief from their rates charges.

In 1901 George campaigned and was elected to the office of mayor, however his return to public office was brief, presiding over only eight council meetings before passing away suddenly on 31 October 1901.

His funeral on 4 November was a major municipal event; all the shops were closed, special transport brought mourners from Feilding, and flags were flown at half-mast.

Following his death, Louisa was left in a difficult financial position which resulted in selling her home and moving to Sydney in 1903. 

Returning to Palmerston North several years later, Louisa filled her remaining years fundraising for various community causes, giving art lessons, and selling her artwork. She lived in private hotels and with friends.

On 15 December 1919, she passed away while visiting friends in Whanganui.

George and Louisa Snelson are buried at Terrace End Cemetery in Palmerston North. George died 31 October 1901 and Louisa on 14 December 1919. [Manawatū Heritage, 2020P_IMCA-DigitalArchive_030234]

The passing of Louisa and George Snelson marked the end of an early chapter in the history of Palmerston North and the reign of a couple affectionally remembered as the Mother and Father pioneers of our city.

Regent Theatre Family Tour

Curious about the stories that lie behind the Regent Theatre’s beautiful facade? Join the family tour for an hour and discover many nooks, crannies and spaces that make this jewel such a wonderful theatre. The Regent Theatre was built by theatrical and film company, JC Williamsons, in the 1930’s, during the depression. It was designed by Charles Neville Hollinshed, one of the top Australasian theatre designers. In the 1990’s the theatre was saved from demolition by the people of Palmerston North. Come and see and hear our heritage. 

Tours will run on Sunday March 26th at 11am and 1pm. You’ll be guided by Dr Tania Kopytko and Regent Theatre Manager David Walsh. Meet in the Regent Theatre foyer, Broadway Avenue. Tour is approximately 1 hour (it can be a little longer depending on questions). 

Up to 30 people per tour. Children must be accompanied by adults and stay with their group at all times, due to theatre health and safety procedures.