Tawa Historical Society Incorporated


The History of Tawa


By Arthur H Carman

This article first appeared in a Tawa District Directory and was written by Tawa Historian, book indentor and retailer, Arthur H Carman.
[Published in the local community newspaper Kapi-Mana News, 26 October 1976, p16, and later reprinted in the Te Awa-iti newspaper as a series from 17 June 1988 - 1 July 1988.]

In the Beginning ……
The whole of the region between Port Nicholson and Porirua Harbour was dense forest in pre-pakeha days, with only the Maori tails penetrating through from Porirua to Kaiwarra and to Korokoro.
    Early surveyors and travellers give graphic descriptions of the nature of the valley and the following account appeared in the “New Zealand Gazette and Wellington Spectator” of 13th March 1841: “Last week we joined the Surveyor-General and with two men started from Wellington at about 9 o’clock and took the road by Kai Warra Warra to Porirua.   It is quite passable for foot passenger and is being rendered passable for horses as speedily as possible.
    “The whole distance from Kai Warra Warra to the mouth of the river Ki-na-poura (Kenepuru) is a little over 12 miles and with the exception of about one and a half miles may be made an excellent horse road or even a carriage road at a very trifling expense.
    By the present route the river must be crossed many times, but on horse-back this is of little consequence, the water being shallow.   The upper part of the valley is narrow, the hills in parts are steep but the soil, if we may judge from the growth of timber, is excellent.
    “Below the point where the path from Petone crossed the river (at Takapu Road) for the first time the valley becomes wider, though the hills occasionally come quite down to the water’s edge.
    “The widest part is nearest the mouth of the river.   The timber here, however, is not so fine as it is nearer Wellington, consisting mainly of Tawa.”
    The New Zealand Land Company had divided the valley into 100 acre lots and these had been balloted for in England.   The Company set out to widen the Maori track, first of all to a width of five feet and it was not long before settlers began to carve homes for themselves in the forest, clearing enough land to erect a log or punga and clay home.
    In 1846 Governor (later Sir George) Grey ordered the construction of a 15ft width road so that the military could move more readily to Porirua to meet the challenge of the warrior chiefs Te Rauparaha and Rangihaeta, and it was this road, completed in 1848 that one writer thus describes in May 1848:
    “The following morning I got a horse and on it sped in quickly and comfortably to Wellington.   The whole of the once dreadful road is now a fine highway, and as I cantered along I could scarcely believe that it was the same ground that I had toiled along so slowly and painfully less than two years ago.

    “Gardens, cottages and cultivations are seen springing up on all sides.   Large patches of cleared land are making deep inroads and whole aspect of the country is being rapidly changed.” (W. Tyrone Power).
    And there we glimpse the rapid development of farm settlement.   During the construction of the road several stockades were built to which the road-making soldiery would retire at night and one of these, McCoy’s stockade, was situated just north of the Takapu Road junction – about where “Maidstone Cottage”, the late James Taylor’s house stands, and another, Leigh’s stockade, was about the corner of the main road and Oxford Street, near Tawa school entrance.
    In early official gazettes, the address Porirua Road was that given to all those living between Kaiwarra and Porirua, but gradually Johnsonville became the name of one portion, and in 1851 there appears the first printed reference to “Towai Flat” in an entry in the Primitive Methodist Baptismal register of Alfred Mitchell, and the same address is given for James and Rachel Taylor in 1854, while the Parliamentary Electoral Roll of 1854 shows John Woodman as a sawyer, Tawa Flat.
    And so as settlement developed the folk grouped on the more open area north of Takapu named their area Tawa Flat.
    By 1842 Anthony and Susan Wall ran an accommodation house at Glenside, for many years known as the Halfway House, and it was the changing point for horses on the coaches between Wellington and Porirua.
    A Public School was started at Tawa Flat about 1855, classes being held in the home of John Mitchell until, January 1860, when a Schoolhouse with Master’s residence attached was erected in Oxford Street by John Morgan for 90.
    The building is still occupied.   About the same time 1851, Stephen Pilcher, who lived where Alex Cowan’s factory now stands, gave a piece of land on which the Methodist Church, the first in the district was erected in 1854.
    The first local governing body was erected the same year, a public meeting at the Half-way House electing the Porirua Road Board of eight wardens, Joseph Angell being the clerk and collector.
    Two years later the next Public Meeting elected Dr. S.M. Curl, W.B. Burgess, William Best, William Earp, C.J. Harrison, James Mitchell, James Taylor, and T.J. Drake as wardens and decided to levy a rate of 3d per acre.
    The names of other Tawa Flat settlers by this date, 1854, are Nathaniel Bartlett, Thomas Morgan, William Nott, William Peckham, Henry Taylor, Richard Taylor, John Wilmshurst, and John Woodman, and these could be said to be the original settlers.
    Other well-known Tawa Flat pioneer families were Francis Greer, who arrived in 1855; Friend Hook who was five years old when he arrived in 1840 and whose mother re-married Stephen Pilcher; William Catt, William Thompson, George Mexted moved from Johnsonville Road about 1856, Andrew Brown arrived from Scotland in 1850, Eli Allen from about 1860, Charles Stevens, Charles Duncan from 1862, Philip Roberts, Thomas Tremewan, Daniel Massey, William Valler.
    Many of the homes built by these families over 100 years ago are still occupied, especially those of Dr Curl, W Earp, J Taylor, N Bartlett, A Brown and the old school.
    One of Tawa’s famous sons was Elsdon Best born on Grasslees Farm, where his father William Best lived in 1856.   The approximate site of their home is now marked by a monument to Elsdon Best and the park is named Grasslees.
    For many years the main road through Tawa Flat, which still follows largely the route of the old Maori trails, was the only means of land communication with the rest of the North Island, and Cobbs coaches traversed this route from about 1858 and provided a regular service until the advent of the rail.
    An advertisement in 1872 stated that Prosser’s line of Royal Mail Coaches would leave daily from Porirua at 8 a.m., Half-way House at 9 a.m., returning from Wellington at 3 p.m.   The fare being Wellington to Tawa Flat 1/6 single, 2/6 return.   The railway from Wellington was opened as far as Paremata in September 1885.
    The next move was the sub-division of the portion of Linden between the railway and the main road in 1906, labelled as the Town of Tawa, 173 business and residential sections being offered for sale.   This area is that served by Findlay St., Beauchamp St., Luckie St., Nathan St., McLellan St., Davies St., Rossiter and Collins Ave and Handyside St.   A portion of Tawa near the school (75 sections) was sold in 1912.

Step forward
    But it was not until 1929 that the next real step forward was made, when Ranui Ltd (R.G. Mexted) sold the area in Linden north of Collins Ave.   The remainder of Linden and all Tawa Central (385 sections west of the Main Road) were sold in 1930-31.   Mr A. Leigh Hunt placed the Tawa Flat Garden Suburb area of 150 sections on the market also in 1930.
    The slump caused a hold-up until 1935, and then the war slowed things up further, but since then the growth has been phenomenal.
    Tawa Flat was part of the Porirua Riding of Hutt County from 1876-1908, James Taylor being a member of the Council until 1890 – he had earlier been a member of the Wellington Provincial Council for eight years.
    Tawa Flat was part of Makara County from 1908-1951 when the Town Board was formed, borough status being granted in 1953.