Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Widow making.

Jeremiah Jones and Andrew Clark, 1880.


Moving giants - a 'rolling road' of logs -


and a river of logs.


The last word Jeremiah Jones spoke was a simple "Oh!"  It was all he had time for.

Jeremiah, in his late teens, was working as a labourer in Bagnall's bush, Hikutaia, along with James Mann and Henry Moore.

By November of 1880 the Bagnall family of Turua  had a thriving business milling kahikatea.  There were two camps of about 70 men employed to cut for Bagnall's. The work was hard and dangerous and the bush particularly  thick.  Tracks with iron rails were laid as felling moved back from the river, branching into working areas.  Timber jacks were the only mechanical aid which manoeuvred  logs on to a 'rolling road' to  be taken by horse drawn truck to the mills.  An area of bush was adjacent to the village of Turua and connected to the mill by a substantial tramway.  Another area of bush was upriver near Hikutaia, and logs from here were rolled into the river, formed into rafts and floated down on the tide to the mill.

Jeremiah,  James Mann and Henry Moore had been draying timber from the Hikutaia bush.   They put a log in the skids but when it was about halfway out to the river the truck came off the rails.

Henry went back and called for James and Jeremiah to help him put the log back which had also slipped. They lifted the log up with jacks to put it on the truck. They then endeavoured to place the truck back  on the rails.  Suddenly the log fell and Jeremiah's mates called out to him to "look out!" but his only response was the short exclamation.

Jeremiah's head was jammed between the falling log and the stump of a tree.
Henry could see it was crushed and he immediately ran for help.  The log was jacked off Jeremiah but it was too late.  His fellow bushmen constructed a crude stretcher and carried Jeremiah to the river bank where he was placed on a boat and taken to Kopu wharf.  A spring cart was procured and the body taken  - in the blunt words of the time - to the "dead house."

Jeremiah's father was a shoemaker at Otahuhu, Auckland and the painful tidings were telegraphed to him.
An inquest was held at the Old Courthouse, Shortland, Thames after the jury had viewed the body which was terribly mutilated.

A juror asked Henry Moore how one man was capable of lifting two jacks. It was more than possible was the reply, and had been done before. 
Jeremiah understood his work well enough and Henry did not think anyone was "blameable" for the accident.
Albert Bagnall also gave evidence that the strength of the men employed was sufficient for carrying out the work. The jury found Jeremiah died an accidental  death.

Jeremiah Jones was taken home to Auckland by the steamer Rotomahana. He had been a fine, well educated young man who had won the esteem of his companions and was greatly respected by all who knew him.    Jeremiah had only worked at Bagnall's bush for four or five months.

Bush felling was the scene of many "painful accidents" as newspapers understatedly described them.

Four months previously,  in August 1880,  up the Kauaeranga Creek, Thames, Andrew Clark, aged 33 and another man were 'fleeting' logs - rolling them off the skids into the river prior to them being rafted to the Shortland mill.

Somehow Andrew, who was also known as 'Happy', got in front of a log which they were rolling down and was carried by it against another lying on the brink of the bank. He received a very severe jam between the two, being struck on each hip and was rendered completely helpless.

His mate and two other men working close by jacked off the logs to release him.  He was placed in a boat and taken to Shortland wharf then taken to the hospital on a stretcher.

Doctor's Payne and Huxtable were in immediate attendance and an examination showed Andrews' spine and hips were seriously injured.  The slightest movement caused him pain. "The medical gentlemen, however, believe that in time he will quite recover, and be able to resume his occupation," said the Thames Star nonchalantly.

Four days after the accident  Andrew Clark was reported as being much worse than when admitted to hospital and was suffering paralysis of the spine.  The house surgeon, Dr Payne, and warders were unremitting in their attention to Andrew but  "he gradually sunk till death ended his sufferings."

 An inquest at the Salutation Hotel returned a verdict of  accidental death.  There was no blame, no questions on safety just an acceptance of the inevitable dangers to those working in the bush.

Andrew was buried at Shortland cemetery.  He left a widow and three small children with a fourth expected, all "quite unprovided for."

"Probably something will be done by a generous public to soothe the affliction and provide relief where it is so much needed,"  said the Thames Advertiser of the widow.
Friends collected nearly 100 pounds which would "enable her to make a fresh start in life."  The Shortland Sawmill men also collected 34 pounds and 14 shillings.

Mrs Clark returned her sincere thanks in a newspaper paragraph for the donations and  also thanked Mr Aitken, of the hospital, for the attendance and kindness shown to her late husband, "Happy" Clark.


Logging accidents were common in the late 19th century.  Many men were crushed by falling trees.  Branches flying off   trees were so lethal they were known as 'widow makers.'
Saw milling was also dangerous - machinery had no safety guards and there were some ghastly accidents.  The conditions of  work improved from the 1890s as the sawmill and timber workers unions helped improve work environments.

Turua was once a Maori pa site surrounded by vast forests of kahikatea,  and was later known as Turua woods and  Turua's white pine forest. It stretched between the Waihou and Piako rivers. The Hauraki Sawmill Company erected a sawmill there in 1868. It was leased to the Bagnall brothers who eventually purchased the property.

 George Bagnall had come to New Zealand from Prince Edward Island, Canada in 1864 with his family.  George and his sons had been in the saw milling and shipbuilding business in Canada, and they began life in  New Zealand building ships at Matakana. When the Thames goldfields opened they moved there  in 1868.  After  several years at Thames, they settled at Turua and leased the Hauraki Sawmills  under the name of Bagnall Brothers.

 After George's death in 1889  his five sons formed the business into a company.  In 1897 the Bagnall brothers opened a factory in Wellesely Street Auckland manufacturing butter boxes and cases  - Kahikatea had no taste or smell and was a white colour which made it ideal for packing butter.

The once vast  Kahikatea forest was worked out by 1919.

 Turua means "twice seen" in Maori and refers to the reflections in the river.

 The Bagnall family descendants later regretted the demise of the kahikatea trees.   For more on the end of our kahikatea forests  go to-


and search Bagnall brothers.

 Bagnall's factory, Auckland. It also turned out casks and kegs as well as over 100,00 butter boxes annually. 

"Dedicated to the memory of George and Martha Bagnall and family who arrived in New Zealand from Prince Edward Island Canada in 1864.  After several years in Thames they leased the Hauraki sawmills in Turua.  In 1875, as Bagnall Bros and Co, they bought the sawmill.  They founded the township of Turua and were pioneers of the dairying industry in the area.  This plaque is donated by their descendants.  1st September 1985". - Monument in Turua.
(Photo M Hawkes)



(Sources Papers Past, Te Ara, Cyclopedia of NZ 1902, Ohinemuri Regional  History Journal #3, Enviro History NZ, Sir George Grey Special Collections AWNS- 19060222-14-3, AWNS-19250528-41-1 & AWNS 19010719-5-2.)

© Meghan Hawkes and Dead Cert 2013

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