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Š Copyright No part of this publication may be reproduced, to be used for commercial use, without the prior written permission of the Gordonton Woodlands Trust.

This book about the history of Woodlands Estate has been collated over several months with the input of many people. It is with pleasure and pride that it is presented to you. Special thanks to all those who gave their time, shared their knowledge, stories, research and photographs. The Woodlands Trust Board sincerely thanks Scottwood Trust for funding this project.



An Overview of the Early History of the Estate 1864-1988


The Peatlands


The Woodlands Homestead - Buildings & Alterations


Henry Reynolds


Dairying & the Anchor Brand


John Gordon


Thomas Stone


James Riddell


Gordonton - A Glance at the History


Events and Social Occasions at Woodlands


The Gardens of Woodlands


Inventions & Innovations of the District


Artwork of Woodlands


Stories of Woodlands





Conclusion of the Waikato Land Wars. Land confiscated by the Crown.


Property surveyed.


The Woodlands Estate arose from the purchase of 98,000 acres from the Crown.

1876 land title map

The Government was offering the land at five shillings an acre with a considerable reduction if the purchaser put in their own road. The Piako Swamp Company was formed and they spent ÂŁ35,000 on draining and improving the land. The Estate extended from just outside Taupiri to within a few miles of Morrinsville, across to Eureka and Tauwhare and to the outskirts of Hamilton in the Rototuna area. 1875

The homestead, situated at what was then known as Hukanui, was completed. Henry Reynolds, the manager and shareholder, immediately set about making it a worthy home for the extensive property.


The headquarters of the N.Z. Land Association (formally the Piako Swamp Company) was shifted to the Woodlands Homestead in Hukanui.


John Gordon took over management of the Estate. The district was named after him at a later date.


The first baby was born at Woodlands little redhead Archie Gordon.


Woodlands is nationally significant as the centrepiece of one of the largest private reclamation projects of its time. By 1902, roughly 27,000 acres of swamp had been converted into pasture, running 40,000 sheep and 3,000 head of cattle.

Henry Reynolds

Tea on the lawn. Archie Gordon, Mr Dawson, Eileen Fryer, John Gordon, Alice Gordon, Mr Dawson, Mr & Mrs Fryer, William Gordon

The Estate was subdivided by the N.Z. Land Association, after an unsuccessful attempt to sell it as a whole for £1 an acre. Thomas Stone bought 17,500 acres of the Estate. Tom Martin, the head shepherd, paid the highest price for 123 acres of the Estate (approximately £5 per acre). When the Estate was subdivided, where possible, an area of peat swamp was given to the purchaser at no cost. Thomas Stone


John Gordon purchased 1,700 acres and moved to the other main homestead on the Estate, Eureka. He later sold 400 acres of the swamp to Mr Isaac Coates for £20.


The homestead block of approximately 2,400 acres was sold by Mr Thomas Stone, to Mr James Riddell of Waverley - 600 acres of which was in grass and the remainder in manuka covered peat. The main trunk line had not been completed, so the Riddell family came by boat to Onehunga, travelled by train to Taupiri and then a wagon took them the rest of the way to the Estate.


John Gordon sold the Eureka property to Mr F.F. Pemberton.


Thomas, the fourth son of James and Mary Riddell, played a major role in the running of the Estate, with his 3 older brothers off at war.

1902 Steam Tractor taking wool to Taupiri

James Riddell

Following WW1 James Riddell divided up the Estate between William, Thomas (who took over the existing dairy herd of 120 cows) and Don. They were given over 300 acres each. 1928

Don Riddell, the youngest son of James and Mary, took up residence at the Woodlands homestead, with his wife Irene. The servants’ and the single men’s quarters were removed.


With the country still in depression, there was a Public Relief Camp established on Woodland’s land. Unemployed families were accommodated in up to thirty huts made of wood and canvas. Don & Irene Riddell

The men helped dig drains in the peatland. Neighbouring farmers did their best to relieve the families of their suffering. 1937

Owing to the serious illness of Thomas Riddell, resulting in his death in 1940, the original dairy herd was sold and the farm converted to sheep and breeding cattle.

WWII Every household had rationing books for food and clothing. Fuel was rationed and travel was limited. Farm production from all farms was affected. 1941

300 Army horses from Waiouru were sent to Woodlands Estate to recuperate.


Fire destroyed the shearing shed, originally the Estate stables. One whole year’s clip of wool was totally destroyed.


Don Riddell suffered serious ill health, leaving him in a wheelchair and blind.


Don and Irene Riddell employed Joe and Clive Tucker as sharemilkers. They stayed for many years and helped restore the Woodlands farm from its run down condition.


Don Riddell died. Irene continued running the farm with the Tucker family.


Property bequeathed to the Presbyterian Support Services. Agreed to be taken over on the death of Irene Riddell.


Irene Riddell died. A farm committee was formed with representatives from Presbyterian Support Services, farm consultants and Arthur Riddell representing the Riddell family.


The homestead and surrounding 15 acres was accepted by the Waikato County (now District) Council for public use and is now administered by the Gordonton Woodlands Trust Board.

1920s Wool shed

Present Day The historic and aesthetic value of the homestead and gardens has been maintained. Through donations of finance and time this magical place remains a testament to yesteryear. Woodlands hosts weddings, conferences, meetings, cricket matches and the like. To this day social gatherings continue to play a major role in the life of the homestead and gardens.

Irene Riddell in the Kauri Room 1960s

“Waikato” is the name of the province and the meaning in Maori has a strong association to water. It was the dewatering or drainage of this watery swamp land that was one of the main challenges faced at Woodlands and by those in the surrounding district in the early days. The peatlands were in the main a drowned forest formed by a cataclysmic eruption some thousands of years ago, in the BC era. Then in about 200 AD another eruption occurred, forming Lake Taupo and causing the Waikato River to change course. This was claimed to be the biggest explosion the world has ever known. With the changes in river course, sand and gravel ridges were laid down. The drainage patterns of the land were upset and this resulted in the formation of shallow lakes. Around the shores of these lakes peat formed and grew inward towards the centre of the lakes, creating deep peat bogs such as the Piako Swamp. Peat also grew outwards from the lake margins to form shallow soils of higher fertility over the gravel, sand and silt deposits. It was these more fertile soils that were drained and cleared first. What exactly is peat? Peat is dead organic material that increased in depth at about 1.5mm per year in the Waikato area. It is made up of plants that grow and die and are preserved in the very wet, acid conditions. The deeper the peat the lower the mineral content. Although peat needs to be drained, it can be overdrained resulting in very dry land, as some farmers in the area found to their expense. Peat is an acidic ‘sour’ soil, on which little grows after the initial goodness is taken out. There are about 260,000 hectares of peat in New Zealand - of which 200,000 are in the North Island and 170,000 are in the Waikato. Manuka peat is the most common form. In the middle of the Woodlands Estate swamp, where peat was about 15 metres deep, Manuka grew to only about two metres. After peat is drained, Manuka will grow much taller.

It was expensive to develop this land, especially if there were several layers of large logs and stumps. Henry Reynolds, the first manager of the Woodlands Estate, was one man who was very aware of saving on unnecessary labour costs. Being mechanically minded he arranged for the swamp water to be channelled, to turn a wheel which provided motive power for different kinds of work on the Estate. Through hard work and determination, approximately 27,000 acres of swamp at Woodlands had been drained and reclaimed as farmland by 1902. As time went by it became apparent that drainage could not be achieved by individuals alone, so the idea of Drainage Boards, in certain areas, came into being. Peat problems encountered by the pioneers ranged from buried trees obstructing drains; peat fires creeping through the swamp land; low lying land getting flooded by new drains above; to drains being blocked and overflowing in heavy rain. Swampland farming was not an easy task. Cultivating the land was often a matter of trial and error. Before any ploughing was done the horses feet were “bagged�. Three or four sacks were tied around the animals legs to prevent them from sinking into the bog.

Vaughan Jones using his Spinner Drain Digger, on Phyll Ryall’s farm

Stumping in peat country was one of the hardest tasks men and horses encountered in the pioneering history of New Zealand. As the peat consolidated, more and more huge trunks were exposed. Where possible they were removed and split for fencing or burned when they had dried sufficiently.

Diagram of peat dome formed over basin of the pumice and sand, typical formation of the Komakorau swamp area. Lagg = stream eg. Tauhei stream

After the war, tractors became available and although the work continued to be challenging, it was made slightly less arduous. Note the multiple wheels on the tractors that helped prevent sinking while work was carried out. Driving a tractor on peat has been likened to driving up hill all the time, as the peat is so soft. Cultivating on peat was indeed a skill. To all intents and purposes, the work was being done on the surface of a lake. The progress of the farms was closely allied with the adapting of the peat soils to agricultural purposes. This was a very slow process. It was not until the mid 20th Century that soil scientists Professor Elliot and Professor Van der Elst of Rukahia Soil Research Station found that lime and fertiliser were the key to conquering the peatland. Things then started to improve dramatically.

A common problem with vehicles on earlier roads in peat areas

As the peatlands have sunk over the past 150 years with cultivation and drainage, they have now progressed from some of the most horrific soils to some of the richest dairy land in the world. Its future seems certain with the addition of lime and modern fertilisers. As a true testament to the progress made, peat farms have been among the winners in the Fieldays Farm of the Year Competition over recent years. This is a competition based on profit per hectare, and open to all of New Zealand. Without the efforts of the early pioneers the Waikato would not have become the lush and plentiful province it is today.

Calves reared on peatland. The calf on the left was reared on peatland that was not fertilised and the other calf was reared on fertilised land. Gallagher demonstration farm.

Peat hazards on the road

Yet another vehicle overturned

Henry Reynolds took over the 98,000 acre estate as the first manager and a home and headquarters needed to be established. It needed to be central, within riding distance of both Hamilton’s and Taupiri’s proposed rail stations. The site was chosen and construction got underway (1872). The homestead is the grand remaining feature of the former “Great Estate”, which was once the social and economic centre of the district. Woodlands Homestead was built in stages. Although little is known about the actual architect, it has been noted that the ground floor with its wide verandahs, resembles Henry Reynolds’ parents’ homestead, Trecarne, in Cambridge, NZ. The second stage of building, saw another storey added, a feature of which are the dormer windows set into the steep gabled roof. The arched windows were a unique addition and were framed by the Victorian ornamental finials, with plain bargeboards between. The fretwork on the verandah was kept simple at Woodlands, with a circular pattern in the bracketwork. This detailing was a sign of fashion in the 1870’s. The designs used at Woodlands are not as elaborate as other Victorian examples. The house is built out of Kauri that was likely to have been milled in the area. The timber was used for the foundations, the floor, the staircase, exterior cladding and internal panelling (as can be found in the Kauri room today).

The kauri room of Woodlands Homestead

Looking through from the kauri room into the dining room

The steep gabled roof was constructed out of corrugated iron and, surprising as it may sound, some of the original roof remains in good condition today. The downstairs roofing was originally shingles. This however had to be replaced with iron in the early 1880s after an Act was passed in Parliament outlawing its use. This Act was introduced following numerous house fires in the Wellington region, and shingles were no longer thought to be safe. All windows of the Woodlands Homestead were double sashed and these remain in good working order to this day. Some of the original weather boards can also be seen. If one looks closely the marks of the pit saw are evident in places. There were about 3 acres of original garden, planted in a wide variety of imported and local trees provided from the Reynolds family nursery. As many of these trees were hybrids and not grown in New Zealand at the time, it is believed that the Reynolds imported these. Plantings were carefully arranged and the gardens added ambience and structure to the Homestead. Many of the original shrubs and trees are today still flourishing where they were planted over 125 years ago.

Wisteria covered the verandah of the homestead in 1949

The Homestead was surrounded by a ‘village’ of farm buildings, large two storied stables, woolshed, single men’s quarters, bakery, blacksmith’s shop, waterwheel and joinery shop, butchery, two-storeyed implement shed and extensive stockyards for sheep and cattle. These buildings were removed in 1928 when Don and Irene Riddell took up residence. They had no family and therefore no need for the extra space. The buildings were also an unnecessary expense, as the upkeep and maintenance would have been costly. The two-storeyed home which now remains is over 125 years old.

1920s garage implement and fertilizer shed with large barn above

1920s dining hall before removal

1928 alterations to the laundry

Until 1924, when electricity was introduced to Gordonton, power generated by the waterwheel was used by the mill and bake house. Kerosene lamps lit the Homestead. The original conduit wiring left exposed after restoration, for historic purposes. Woodlands in the 1930s was one of the first homes in the region to have a flushing toilet. The front entrance remains exactly as it was when built. It leads us to the renovated hallway and the often admired kauri staircase. The staircase was once painted black and then repainted cream in the 1950s. It was stripped back to natural wood in the 1980s and remains this way today. Each room has been carefully restored over the years to reflect the grand homestead of the past. Today rooms are filled with furniture, photos and memorabilia kindly donated by those who have a connection with Woodlands Estate in one way or another. Many sponsors have been found to assist with the restoration and renovation projects. Time and money has been given generously, as people have seen the significance of retaining such an historic and beautiful asset.

The Kauri staircase

The New Zealand Historic Places Trust classified the Homestead in 1983, as ‘A Building of Historical and Architectural Quality’. The Woodlands Homestead is one of the few remaining buildings of its era in the region. Woodlands Homestead 1920s

The Riddell Room

Woodlands Homestead 2005

The upstairs Master bedroom

Further development has been undertaken to enhance visitors’ enjoyment and appreciation of the historic and botanical features of the reserve. The Woodlands Trust has overseen many achievements and improvements including... 1993 1994 1995 1996


1999 2000 2001 2002 2004

Homestead restoration project New toilet block Music pavillion built Wedding marquee completed Kitchen and buffet room built Munro lookout built Old Te Rapa Bowling Club building purchased for cricket and restoration commenced Water supply upgraded Garden irrigation completed Shade and glass house installed Third bridge built over lake Cricket pavillion completed Oval toilet block completed Homestead painted Portion of driveway sealed Bathroom restored Cricket oval drainage improved and regrassed Security house and new function centre built New security system installed Gardening staff increased to 2 full-time Naming of trees in garden Major landscape changes to driveway and parking area Storeroom built

Today Woodlands Homestead proudly remains a social centre of the region. With tour groups visiting, wedding parties celebrating and cricket teams playing, one could say little has changed! Without the generosity of community funding and the tremendous team of volunteers who assist with projects and help with the day-to-day maintenance of Woodlands, this would not be possible.

1994 the marquee was constructed. Shown here is the preparation for the front entrance of the marquee.

1995 music pavillion was constructed

1995 new kitchen was constructed

1996 the bowling building was shifted onto the cricket oval. It was renovated and opened 1997 The 2nd Monet style bridge

The new kitchen was designed to fit the architecture of the Homestead

Henry Reynolds was born in 1850 in Camelford, Cornwall, England. On arrival with his family in Auckland, New Zealand in 1868, they travelled to the Waikato and settled near Cambridge. Their farm was called ‘Trecarne’ after their home in Cornwall. (This is where St Peters School now stands). The Reynolds family went on to develop a nursery of imported exotic and hybrid plants not grown in New Zealand.


Henry Reynolds Several years later, although still in his early twenties, Henry was appointed manager of Woodlands. He moved to Eureka and quickly established a homestead there on the hill. A splendid garden of 3 acres was beautifully laid out. With the sweeping drive and plenty of trees from his parents’ nursery this became one of the showpieces of Waikato farmland.

Woodlands Homestead was built half way between Taupiri and Hamilton railway stations and was completed in 1875. Great credit is due to Henry Reynolds for his vision and planning in the laying out of this huge and challenging estate. This led in succeeding years, to converting marshlands and swamp to luxuriant fields of highly productive farmland. These developments also brought much needed employment to the region. The very idea of developing the swampland at all was regarded by many as foolish and hazardous. The original idea to develop this great expanse of confiscated land came from a valuer and real estate agent of Hamilton Captain William Steele. His name is to this day immortalized in Steele Park, Hamilton East. Henry Reynolds went on to marry Captain Steele’s daughter Elizabeth, in Hamilton East on 15 April 1879. They had seven children, four of whom died young.

Henry & Elizabeth Reynolds with their daughter

Woodlands Gordonton



Early 1900s view of the Woodlands Homestead diveway

Henry Reynolds was a man of great mechanical ability, who ensured that everything possible was done to save on unnecessary labour. He arranged that the swamp water be used to turn a wheel, which provided motive power for different kinds of work on the estate. Woodlands developed into a self-sufficient enterprise, where the needs of all those who lived and worked there were met. This included the need for fun and Woodlands soon became the centre of local social activities, such as dances and concerts.

On resigning his position as manager at Woodlands Estate, Henry Reynolds turned his attention to dairying on a large scale. On November 3, 1886, Henry Reynolds made his way to a single-storeyed little factory at Pukekura, near Cambridge. There he prepared for the arrival of neighbouring farmers with their morning’s milk. This was the day when butter was made for the first time in the factory system. On that day less than 100lbs of butter were produced. In his early years of dairying, Henry Reynolds gained much of his knowledge through experience. Packaging, production and promoting the product were some of the challenges faced and overcome. Henry Reynolds encouraged some friends to back his enterprise with capital. Several extra creameries were erected and export to London began, as the supply soon exceeded the need of the local market. The butter was transported to England by sailing ship, well salted in barrels. Henry Reynolds registered his butter as the ‘Anchor Brand’, which today is known world-wide. The inspiration for this name he took from the tattoo on the arm of one of the farm workers, who was an ex-merchant seaman.

1886 Pukekura Factory, near Cambridge

For 10 years he worked on building up this pioneer industry. Despite the depression of the early 1890s, his business grew to 2 factories and 8 creameries. Having seen the dairy industry placed firmly on its feet in the colony, he opened his cool storage depot in London. For the next 10 years he was in England for up to six months a year overseeing the disposal of factory produce as it arrived from the colony. 1886 Pukekura Factory, near Cambridge

In 1896, Henry Reynolds transferred all his interests to Wesley Spragg, of the Dairy Association and he moved to Argentina, to further develop his farming and dairying interests. From there he went on to retire to London, England, where he died in 1925, survived by his wife and two children. Associates of his day paid the highest tribute to his honour and integrity. He is said to have been a man who could be trusted. He was fair and gave suppliers the best price he could. By all accounts he was a true Cornishman, farmer, visionary and English gentleman. He made a vital contribution to the development of the Waikato region and the dairy industry throughout New Zealand and it was his drive and determination that was the catalyst for the success of the New Zealand dairy export industry.

Wesley Spragg

While Henry Reynolds had been developing dairying in the upper Waikato in the late 1880s, another organisation had been growing in the lower Waikato. Mr Wesley Spragg began his association with the dairy industry in the butter department of the New Zealand Frozen Meat and Storage Company Ltd. Mr Wesley Spragg was also instrumental in setting up a factory in Auckland, where manufacture began under the auspices of the Freezing Company.

Financial troubles of the period, led to the winding up of the pioneering Freezing Company. However Mr Spragg never gave up hope. Instead he gained interest from John Bycroft and together they helped establish the New Zealand Dairy Association. The Auckland factory was moved to Pukekohe in 1889 and the head office moved to Bycroft’s premises in Shortland Street, Auckland.

1920s milk boat run. Milk flowed down through pipes to awaiting milk cans in a boat. The milk cans were then shipped down the Waikato River.

For a short time the New Zealand Dairy Association operated in competition with Reynolds’ interests. Finally it was agreed that the district be divided at Mercer. Bycroft sold out to John Lovell in 1891-2. Then in 1896, the New Zealand Dairy Association bought the whole of Reynolds’ interests. Mr Spragg remained in control of the whole business for a further 17 years, until his retirement in 1913-14. His descendants still live in the Waikato area today. Around 1909 Mr William Goodfellow became involved in the dairy industry. He is known to have introduced, and was an advocate for, the home milk separation system. With increased mechanisation of the industry both on the farm and in the factories, larger scale organisations grew. In 1919, the two bands of co-operators merged, forming the New Zealand Co-Operative Dairy Company Ltd. Later this also included Thames William Goodfellow Valley Co-Op Dairy Company Ltd. With this grouping things began going from strength to strength. They developed over time into one of the largest Co-Operative Dairy Companies in the world. Around the same time the improved roading and motor transport stimulated the growth of bigger factories and flourishing towns.


1920s early milking machine

1920s Waitoa Dairy Factory

Further products were developed, such as milk powder, Ankoria Baby Food, cheese, casein, condensed milk and evaporated milk. All products required careful packaging as the bulk of the supply was sent overseas - to Britain in the main. Some products did however go to other parts of Europe, the East, the Pacific Islands, Canada and the United States. Packaging came in the form of tins and boxes made from kahikatea.

Pouring the cream cans for grading and weighing 1920s

Collection of milk by tanker began in 1950-51 in the Waitoa area, under the Chairmanship of Alfred Hayward. Vats and milk chillers were provided to the suppliers by the Company. As the advantages of this became known, the demand for tanker collection increased as did the milk produced. Additional milk factory capacity was therefore required, so factories such as Te Awamutu, Waharoa and Ambury’s were reconstructed. Growth and development of the dairying industry in New Zealand has continued over time. Production continues to increase as farming techniques and industry knowledge improves. The packaging of the products has changed from wooden boxes to paper and plastic, and the range of products can now be seen in the vast refrigerators and on the shelves of local supermarkets - a far cry from the small quantities of butter produced in the first factory in 1886. Taking the time to look back allows us to see and appreciate how far we have come. It is the pioneers of this industry who deserve to have their hard work and vision acknowledged. They laid the foundations on which New Zealand was able to build a very successful dairy industry.

1920s box factory for butter packaging

The Anchor milk truck 1950s

1920s packaging butter

Born in Aberdeen Scotland in 1846, John Gordon arrived in New Zealand on the sailing ship “Piako” in 1878, aged 32 years. Just seven years later he was appointed the manager of Woodlands Estate. His appointment proved to be a successful one as a socialite, agriculturalist and developer. His engineering skills and innovativeness were demonstrated as he further developed the sawmill that Henry Reynolds had started. April 6, 1889 was a day to be remembered by all. The first baby, little Archie Gordon, was born at Woodlands. Nearly eight years after John Gordon married Miss Houston of Glasgow, they celebrated the arrival of their son. This day was proclaimed a general holiday for everyone living and working on the Estate.

Hamilton City Library

The Gordon Family- John Gordon, Archie Gordon, Alice Gordon (Second wife) & William Gordon.

This wonderful event was shadowed only two years later by the death of Mrs Gordon, shortly after the delivery of their second son William (Bill). An Auckland doctor was quickly arranged to travel by train to Taupiri, then wagon to the Homestead (at a cost of £20). He was unable to save her, yet the baby boy was healthy and strong. He grew to become a man who provided a lifetime of service as a Land and Survey valuer. John Gordon certainly left his mark in early Hukanui and was very well-known for his involvement in community interests. One example of such activity was the building of Hukanui’s first public hall in the late 1880s. John Gordon was the original chairman. He was also instrumental in starting the Hukanui Public School.

The round lawn is set for croquet. Archie & William (Bill) on their ponies. John & Alice Gordon (Second wife nee Miss Wilson Smith) with new baby Seymour 1900, Mrs Fryer & Mrs Dawson

One of many Hukanui school picnics at the Woodlands Estate 1896

William Alexander Gordon & Archibald John Gordon

Woodlands Estate was managed well under Gordon’s careful eye. It remained a self-contained unit providing for the needs of all those who lived and worked on it. Stockmen managed the Shorthorn cattle, LincolnRomney cross sheep and a stud of English Leicesters from outstations on the Estate. All hacks and draught horses were bred on site and looked after by a head waggoner, who also had the job of caring for Bill’s Shetland pony and Archie’s Timor Pony. Shearing was one of the highlights of the time. It was an extremely busy time too for the 12 shearers, the shed hands and the waggoners whose responsibility it was to get the wool to the rail at Taupiri. All the shearing was done using blades. John Gordon was well-known for the shooting parties he organised at Woodlands, where pukeko, pheasants, quail and hares were in abundance. The entertaining didn’t stop there. There were also many dances and concerts organised and held in the Hukanui Hall over the years.

Transporting wool 1890s. In the background is the old wool shed that was destroyed by fire in the 1920s

In about 1898, when farming conditions in New Zealand were at an all time low, the Estate was put on the market. There were no buyers, despite John Gordon’s efforts to get a group of moneyed Aucklanders to form a syndicate to purchase it. The Estate was later subdivided and sold in blocks. In 1903 John Gordon purchased 900 acres, with 800 acres of peat swamp thrown in, for £4,601 - this included the Eureka Homestead. The house was old and had to be replaced, but all the outbuildings were serviceable and the land generally was well equipped with fences and water supply. He later sold 400 acres of the swamp to Mr Isaac Coates for a total of £20 . When John Gordon moved to Eureka in 1903, the name Hukanui was changed to Gordonton as a mark of respect by the residents.

Hamilton City Library

(Adults) Mr & Mrs Fryer (seated) Mr J. Gordon & Mrs A. Gordon (Second wife), Mr & Mrs Dawson(Children) W A Gordon, Bill Fryer (Killed WW1), Eileen Fryer (later Mrs Warren) Gladys Fryer (later Mrs W A Gordon), 2 Dawson children, A J Gordon

William Gordon on a rocking horse, Mr J. Gordon & Mrs A. Gordon (Second wife), Mr & Mrs Fryer, Mrs Dawson, Archie Gordon on a tricycle

Horse Buggy on left is Mr Dawson (Station Master at Huntly) John Gordon and Mrs Gordon (Second wife) in white dress, Archie & William Gordon, Mr & Mrs Fryer in Buggy

Many English trees such as walnut, monkey puzzle, chestnuts and wattle were planted on the Estate. On occasion, the pupils and teachers of Eureka School, would use the plantations as their picnic spot. Near the homestead stood a blacksmith’s shop, cottages for the married couples and bunkhouses for farmhands. A large two-storeyed barn housed the horses and buggies and the loft above it was often used as an entertainment area. The Eureka Homestead burned down in 1920. Several years prior to John Gordon purchasing the Eureka property, he had remarried at the age of 51. In December 1900 another son Seymour was born. Sadly he lost his life in a car accident at age 23 and was buried next to his mother Alice, who had passed away in 1908. 1908 was also the year that John Gordon sold the Eureka Homestead block to Mr Frederick Pemberton. Before he left, a grand farewell was held for him and was attended by more than 40 settlers at the school. John went on to marry for a third time on a visit to Scotland, in 1910. There he married Margaret Brown and they spent six happy years together before her passing at age 70.

Th Grand Eureka Homestead before it was destroyed by fire in 1920

John Gordon purchased the Bankwood Estate of 350 acres after leaving Eureka. This later became the property of the Diocesan Trust and now is home to a Private Girls’ School, Waikato Diocesan School for Girls. After his retirement, he died in Hamilton at the age of 86. John Gordon was known as a hardworking and generous man who put a lot of time and effort into all his farming and public interests.

Blacksmith shop at Tauwhare 1910

Thomas Stone was born in Somerset, England in 1852. At age 22 he travelled with his wife Mary Anne to Christchurch, New Zealand, on the ship ‘Hereford’. On their arrival they settled in Fendalton, Christchurch, where he worked as a farmer and speculator. Nearly 30 years later he saw an advert in the local Christchurch newspaper for land in the North Island. So in 1902 he went on to purchase 17,500 acres of the advertised Woodlands Estate, seeing it as a great opportunity in ‘a land of great promise.’ Only three years later Stone sold the Homestead block of 2,400 acres to James Riddell, doubling his money at the same time. The remaining land was eventually divided further and each of Stone’s four sons received an allotment. Around the same time Thomas and his wife decided to move back to the South Island, where he continued to work the land.

Thomas Stone & Mary Stone with their family

Steam tractor transporting wool to Taupiri 1902

James Riddle was born in 1857 and left Scotland two years later with his parents, James Snr. and Jane Riddle (nee Oliver). His younger brother William died on the voyage to New Zealand. On their arrival they settled in Wellington, where James Snr. worked as a shepherd for the next 14 years. From there the Riddles and their then 9 children moved to a farm near Waverley. It was at this time, when the documentation was drawn up for the transaction of the land, that the family name ‘Riddle’ was misspelt ‘Riddell’. The new spelling of the name was adopted by most family members from this point on.

James Riddell

Mary Riddell

James Riddell married Mary McLean in 1885 and went on to purchase the Homestead and farm previously owned by the McLean family. ‘Annani’ was a farm of 1000 acres, in Kohi, Waverley. James and Mary were well respected and a couple of high standing in the Waverley Presbyterian community. 1905 was another eventful year in the lives of James and Mary Riddell, as they migrated to the Waikato with their 10 children, having purchased the Woodlands Homestead and 2,400 acres at Gordonton. The move was indeed a well planned operation and major undertaking at the time. Their oldest son James and one other stockman were given the job of driving the draught horses and stock across the Taranaki province, all the way to the Old Raglan Rd and then on to Gordonton.

James & Mary Riddell’s Family John, James (Jim), William(Bill), Elizabeth (Lizzie), Dora, Jessie, Maggie, Donald (Don), Tom, Annie

The rest of the family left New Plymouth Port on a steamer bound for Onehunga. They then trained down to Taupiri and caught a wagon to Woodlands from there. The final leg of their journey would have been far from smooth riding, as the roads were hardly formed at this time. Their fatigue and anxiety about such a move would soon have been put aside when they arrived at the magnificent homestead surrounded by acres of Victorian gardens.

Mary & James Ridd

ell working in the


The farm buildings were equally as impressive, with a blade shearing shed, sheep yards, a two-storeyed stable and storage facilities. Power from a water wheel also went to a blacksmith shop and bakery. James and Mary Riddell settled into life at Gordonton and their school-aged children were enrolled at the local Hukanui School. It had been open for nearly 15 years by the time they arrived in the district. All the family were actively involved in the running of the Estate, none more so than their son Thomas, who loved horses. Working with them he ploughed many acres of Woodlands. During the 1st World War, Thomas’ skills with shepherding, ploughing and horses proved to be even more invaluable, as his three older brothers had gone off to war. He too was called up for service. However only a few days before his scheduled departure, he had a serious accident with the plough and was unable to go - much to the relief of his parents, James and Mary.

James Riddell & Son, cutting lambs tails 1920s

Two of James’ and Mary’s boys (William and James) returned from the war. Sadly a third son John was killed in Gallipoli (1915). James was rehabilitated onto a sheep and cattle farm at Te Kauwhata. Meanwhile, James Snr. prepared for his retirement. The estate was subdivided and William took over 300 acres on his return from the war. He developed this property into a dairy farm and his two sons, John and Walter, in turn took over the farm in partnership in the 1950s.

Thomas Riddell driving a tractor 1910

James also allocated his son Thomas 340 acres of the Estate, directly opposite the Woodlands main entrance. In 1924 Thomas married a local girl, Esselmont Martin, and they went on to build a new house on their farm. In 1925, Esselmont gave birth to a son Edward Lex. Sadly she was not happy with her new life, so left Thomas and the baby only 15 months later. This was a shock to all, yet with James and Mary Riddell’s support and blessing, Thomas went on to meet and marry Olive Morgan in 1931. This was a wonderful occasion celebrated by both the Riddell and the Morgan families. The safe arrival of a son (Arthur James) soon after was also rejoiced.

Thomas Riddell

Don Riddell

Bill Riddell

Thomas Riddell cutting grass 1930s

Jim Riddell

John Riddell

The Riddell sisters Maggie, Jessie, Dora, Lizzie & Annie

On Thomas’ block of land, the Estate milking shed stood. A herd of 120 milking Shorthorn cows were farmed on the 340 acres and this was considered a large herd in those days. The cream was collected from the gate by truck and the skim milk was pumped across the paddocks to the holding tank at the piggery - a smelly business indeed as the holding tank was never emptied! Thomas’ sons, Lex and Arthur, took over a part of the farm each after Thomas’ early death in 1940. The Homestead block of over 300 acres was sold to Donald (James’ and Mary’s youngest son), at the time of his marriage to Irene Anderson. Because there were no children of that marriage, the farm was eventually willed to Presbyterian Support. This happened long after Don’s death in 1962, as his widow Irene lived on until 1983.

Thomas and Irene Riddell on the round lawn 1960s

Presbyterian Support farmed the block well, yet they did not have the necessary funds to restore the original kauri homestead to its former glory. Therefore it was decided that the house and surrounding 15 acres be offered to the Waikato County Council. So with the help of an army of volunteers and additional funds from several public bodies, the Council oversaw the renovation of the Homestead and gardens over a 12-year period. Today we see the results of much hard work and dedication. Irene Riddell’s wish was noted in her will ‘that a descendant should have the opportunity to buy back part of the farm’. In 2003, her wish came true. The Woodlands dairy farm was sold to a Grandson of James Riddell. So the circle of life at Woodlands continues. Its long and colourful history is not only interesting, but something to cherish!

The Woodlands Homestead 1969

The first meeting of The Woodlands Trust 1989

Irene Riddell and great nieces

Donald Riddell

On arrival at what was once known as Hukanui and is now known as Gordonton, the first settlers could see swamp, scrub, rushes and kahikatea trees in every direction. As barren as it appeared, this place provided local Maori with an abundance of food. From kawiri (eels) and tuis, to kiore (rats). The kahikatea trees produced berries and the land was used for its natural resources. The Maori people grew and traded kumara, kauri gum and flax. The local Maori population named the area Hukanui - ‘Huka’ meaning foam or frosty and ‘Nui’ meaning big. Not all of Hukanui became part of the Woodlands Estate at the conclusion of the Waikato Land Wars in 1864. Other land owners of the time appear to have been soldiers, Hamilton residents and Maori - most of whom were descendants of the Ngati Wairere tribe.

Te Puke (Paora) Waharoa c1834 -1895, was a well-known and influential figure among Maori in the Waikato.

One of these was Hakopa Te Waharoa, a Maori man who was designated land in the area in 1864, yet full title was not granted until 1875. Another well known Maori resident was Iraia Papoto, one of the last fully tattoed chiefs of the area. At the time John Gordon was managing Woodlands Estate, he & Iraia had an altercation. With revenge being plotted by Papoto, Te Puke Waharoa stepped in and saved the Woodlands Homestead from possible destruction.

Ngarie Henry (nee Hopa ) Rapata Henry Worked on the Woodlands Estate

Major Drummond (soldier) and William Graham (surveyor) from Hamilton were frequent visitors to Gordonton. They were well-known as the interpreters in the area and communicated with the Maori people. At the time of settlement, the focus was on the draining of the land to enable cultivation to take place and on putting in roading to provide accessibility to the area. Many Maori families worked on the Estate - Pukes, Penes, Hopas and Henrys to name a few. This work was extremely time-consuming and costly. Yet despite this, by the end of 1880, Woodlands Estate had just over 800kms of drains and 30kms of roading running through it. Much of this work was supervised under the careful eye of the manager, Henry Reynolds - a man of great vision and resourcefulness. The distance to any other large settlement (approximately 2 hours to Hamilton on a good day) and the poor roading in the area meant that Woodlands Estate had developed into and operated as - a self-sufficient community within the region. John Gordon took over as manager from Reynolds and continued to oversee the property improvements until the time the Estate was subdivided in 1902. As a mark of respect by the local Residents, ‘Hukanui’ had its name changed to ‘Gordonton’.

Thomas (son of Rapata) & Mavis Henry worked on the Woodlands Estate in the Donald Riddell era.

Steve & Anitana Pene

Gordon Attwood with a team of horses. One of the European families that worked on the Woodlands Estate in the James Riddell era 1920-30s

At the time the property was subdivided in 1902, 27,000 acres had been reclaimed into pasture. 40,000 sheep, 3,000 cattle (both dry stock and milking cows) and crops now stood were there had once only been swamp and bog. The sheep introduced were Romney/Lincoln Cross breed, as they were thought to be less likely to suffer from the damp conditions. The cattle were mainly Shorthorn. The number of milking cows was limited to the number that could be milked by hand. Dairying in the region did not really become established until the Creamery at Gordonton was built at the turn of the century. Another great source of income in the area was flax, with mills established at Tauhei, Orini and Taupiri. The leaves were cut and used to make rope for use in New Zealand and some was exported to Australia and used in the shipping trade there. To get the flax to the mills a boat was navigated up the Komakorau Stream. Gordonton appears to have been centred around a strong sense of community spirit. In the early days the isolation and common interests shared by the people of the region helped to generate this. One common interest was the desire to provide the best education possible for their children. The Puke and Hopa families were largely responsible for the first school of the region being built in 1891. Prior to this lessons had taken place in the local Hukanui Hall (built in the 1880s). Before that children had to ride their horses to Taupiri to seek an education.

Hamilton City Library

Farming flax on the Chapman farm

Te Waharoa Te Puke c1869-1957, the son of Te Puke Waharoa was also an influential figure in Gordonton

John Gordon donated the land on which the first school was erected. It was agreed that if the time should come that the land was no longer required for educational purposes, it would be handed back free of charge to the public, for public use. So today Hukanui Park is where the original school still stands and a new school was built on a different site in 1960. The wooden Hukanui District Hall built in the 1880s was later pulled down and replaced in 1928. The third hall was built in 1998. The community hall has always been a centre of activity in the area. From the early years through to the present day, it is a place of entertainment and information.

Gordonton Hall 1928

Gordonton School 1905 Thomas Riddell begining of bottom row

Hare Puke brother of Te Waharoa Puke 1889-1966

Church too was a focal point for the community. The first church was a combined Anglican /Presbyterian one. Services alternated fortnightly, with the Ministers travelling from Hamilton to preach to those who had gathered and the organist played for both congregations. In the very early days, an Anglican Mission was based in Gordonton, adjacent to the present Hukanui Park. This was abandoned in the late 1880s. Sunday School was an important time of the week for the children in the area. A combined Sunday School service, for all denominations was for many years held in the Gordonton Hall. Church picnics were also a highlight in the community over the years. Health facilities in the area were limited in the early years, with a midwife and a visiting doctor from Hamilton forming the foundation of the care available to those who lived there. This was not due to the lack of need for such services. Many people in the area passed away over this time from diseases such as Tuberculosis and Asthma, due to the dampness in the district. There were no police or fire services in Gordonton in the early years either. Emergencies and law enforcement were left up to the community to combat.

Bringing power to Gordonton 1924

The earliest forms of transport were either pedestrian or equestrian in the main. There was a rail station at Taupiri, were mail and passengers for the region arrived. From there they were transported by horse and carriage to their final destinations. Roads in the 1880s and 1890s were gravel tracks. One of the roads was constructed from Claudelands to Gordonton around 1880. This is known today as Gordonton Road. The first motor car appeared in Gordonton about 1916 with the purchase of a Cadillac by Mr James Riddell. Other road names in and around Gordonton reflect the people and landscape of the area. Lake Road, for example, was once known as Lake Drain Road. Telephone Road marks the line of the early phone lines in the area (in the early 1920s).

St Marys Church, Co-operating Parish of Chartwell

In the early 1920’s, in addition to the introduction of phone lines, there was another event in the district that had an impact. A tornado ripped through Woodlands and the farm yards, felling hundreds of trees and leaving a path of destruction. Several farm buildings were damaged and the Woodlands bakery was destroyed. In 1976 another tornado ripped through Lex Riddell’s property on Whitikahu Road, destroying two buildings, badly damaging three others as well as over one hundred trees.

Tornado destruction 1921 Woodlands

The World Wars and the depression also left their mark on the Gordonton area. Many soldiers were settled in the area on their return from World War I. They were each given 120 acres of land and this meant that the region became some of the most densely populated farmland in the Waikato. Because the land was so difficult to cultivate with limited knowledge and equipment, many of these soldiers failed to succeed as farmers and had little choice but to walk off the land that they had been given. About 1935, while the country was still in depression, there was a Public Relief Camp established on Woodland’s land between the main gateway and the Komakorau bridge. Unemployed families were accommodated there in about 30 huts made of wood and canvas. The men were employed digging drains in the peatland and in return they were able to put food on the table for their families. The community did their best to relieve their suffering as living conditions were far from ideal. When the country recovered from the depression and jobs became more readily available, many of these men throughout the country obtained responsible positions more worthy of their skills.

Mrs Booth a prominent figure in Gordonton, attends the opening for the war memorial 1924 in Gordonton

As the years went by and advances in technology continued, farming in Gordonton progressed significantly. With the introduction of milking machines, tractors, drainage machinery and improved scientific developments such as the introduction of top dressing after 1948, Gordonton became a predominantly dairying district. Diversification into other farming activities such as growing maize, potatoes and barley have all been trialled in the area over time. Today there are also several nurseries in the district. Ironically one can now walk into any one of them and purchase a bag of peat moss for the garden. Gordonton peat was regarded as higher quality than others and was mined down Woodlands Road for some years. With land values soaring and Hamilton spreading in every direction, particularly North, we see further evidence of subdivision in the district. However, now it is for the purpose of housing developments rather than vast Estates. This is indeed a far cry from the landscape that greeted the settlers to the area. Gordonton is an area rich in history and without the vision and passion of the pioneers we may to this day have been looking at swamp, scrub and rushes rather than lush green pasture and the many homes of the local population.

Hamilton City Library

Growing turnips on Chapman’s farm

From the time the Woodlands Homestead was built, it became the social and economic centre of the region. The Estate was run as a self-sufficient entity in the early years, due to the distance from any large settlement and the poor transport conditions. Not only did they need to produce things for their daily lives, such as bread and milk, the Estate’s residents and workers also relied on one another for their entertainment. The manager employed a workforce of at least 40 men and housed them and their families on the Estate. In addition to this, casual labour, many of whom were local Maori from the Pa at Hukanui, was employed to do seasonal work and to dig drains. The hard work of all these men was acknowledged and rewarded at the annual Woodlands Sportsday. It was held every Easter Monday, when everyone came together to participate and the spirit in which the games were played was inspirational. Prizes were won and fun was had by all. Dances were another very popular form of entertainment. Many of these were held on the second storey of the stables on the estate. After the Hukanui Hall was constructed the venue for such events was moved. The local hall also played host to many concerts and other forms of entertainment. There was no finer example than the Maori concerts which filled the hall to overflowing. The spirited Hakas drove the piles well and truly down! Another form of community gathering were the Parish picnics held on an annual basis. These big events were popular and held at different venues each year. The Estate provided the perfect backdrop for organised shooting parties. There was ample game to hunt in the form of pheasants, quail, pukeko and rabbits. The men would shoot all day and celebrate over the kill into the early hours of the following morning while the horses found their way home.

A Riddell family Christmas at Woodlands 1920s

A hunting party in action

Gordonton picnic races 1920s

On April 6, 1889 there was great rejoicing, as a son was born to the Gordons. A holiday was proclaimed and each year following, this day was set aside for one of sport followed by a dance. Weddings were also celebrations of significance at the Woodlands homestead. None more so than the double wedding held in the room that is today known as the Riddell Room. Margaret Riddell married Robert Gray and Annie Riddell married James Sharp on this memorable occasion. The dining room of the homestead was used to entertain special guests, over the years. The lady of the house at the time was able to signal to the servants between courses by using an electric bell (powered by a dry cell battery) and operated by her foot under the dining table. es Sharp Annie & Jam e 1912 Jun Married 12

Elizabeth (Riddell) & Sam Williamson married 1923

Robert Gray Margaret & June 1912 Married 12

To this day, celebrations such as weddings, birthdays, Christmas parties and activities such as cricket matches and sports days are still held on a regular basis at Woodlands, as they have been since the 1800s. Wedding 2003 celebrated at Woodlands

Waikato Times

Ready to play cricket Richard Riddell & Rex Haultain 1997

1997 cricket pavillion opening

A perfect location for such an occasion

The use of the homestead and grounds has now been extended to include the likes of vintage car fairs, antique road shows, performances of Shakespeare on the lawn, Christmas carol singing, flower shows, art exhibitions and arranged tours of the homestead and gardens. This historic venue can also be hired for corporate meetings, team building days and the like. Regardless of the reason for the event or visit to Woodlands Homestead, one thing is guaranteed...everyone involved is sharing in its history. So, may the fun, laughter and games live on in this picturesque setting for many more years to come. Christmas at Woodlands 2004

Product launches

Antique road show

Shakespeare on the lawn

Car fair

Where there is a beautiful home, so too should there be a beautiful garden. This must have been the vision of the creators of the Woodlands Homestead. There were approximately 3 acres of original carefully planted gardens, established at about the same time that the Homestead was constructed in the early 1870s. It is believed that the Reynolds family supplied most of the plants for the gardens from their nursery, just outside of Cambridge. Many of these were hybrid specimens that the Reynolds imported from England. It was an aptly named Mr Fred Forest who was appointed Head Gardener at the time. He planted most of the trees, many of which survive today. Examples such as the Liriodendron tulepifera, at a height of 34 metres and a canopy spread of 28 metres, is situated on the Theatre Lawn. Alongside it is a huge Liquidamber styraciflau, a Ligustrum lucidum, commonly know as the Chinese Tree Privet, and a Quercus ilex, the evergreen Holm Oak. Chamaecyparis lawsoniana, Cupressus pisifera “Squarrosa”, three Pseudotsugas - the “Oregon Douglas Fir” are also features. There are many other tall unidentified conifers, which add structure to the garden. On approaching the front door of the homestead, one cannot help but be impressed by the faithful Chinese Wisteria, with its massive trunk. Being a very agile climber, the Wisteria had for many years dominated the front and side verandahs of the Homestead.

The Homestead is dwarfed by the size of some of the original trees

Many trees, including this camellia, are over 125 years old

Still to be seen today are the magnificent London Plane trees, gracing the home back and front. There is also a commanding Eucalyptus tree, thought to be the largest in Waikato with an impressive 15 metres girth, a height of 32 metres and a canopy that spans 29 metres. Other trees of note are the Linden tree, Tilia europaea, the Coral tree Erythrina crista-galli and two very rare Fraxinus americana – the American White Ash.

There is an abundance of beautiful flowering plants that add to the beauty of the garden

These trees of historic interest can be identified as you roam the gardens today. One must acknowledge that it is these trees that contribute greatly to the scenic and historic nature of Woodlands. In the pioneer days of Woodlands, one may have had a little less time to stop and smell the roses - of which there were quite a number. Many are still growing in the garden today. One of interest is the “Cloth of Gold”- now so big and fragile that a frame has been built to support its out-stretched limbs. Because of the remoteness of Woodlands it was necessary to be as self-sufficient as possible. Hence the vast vegetable garden and orchard that existed in the early days, situated where the croquet lawn is now.

Walkways lead to many places of interest

Today one will find a wide variety of “Antique” Camellias growing in the gardens. It is hard to believe many of these were planted at least 125 years ago, and four of the oldest are Helenor, Bronocha, Lowii and the unusual Thompsonii/Thompsonii Rosea – a unique combination of white flowers on one side of the tree and pink flowers on the other side. Being of a great age and often left to grow too tall, these trees have required skilled pruning and fertilisation. Planting of notable camellias has continued and adds interest to the gardens, including the low growing camellia hedges and the extensive collection of Camellia species collected in China.

Hedges & established trees add structure to the garden.

Numerous volunteers and, more recently, paid garden staff have worked extremely hard to ensure that these beautiful plants and trees live and flourish for at least another century.

Formal plantings blend effortlessly with less formal areas of the garden

At the time the Woodlands Trust was formed the garden was redesigned with the assistance of Hamilton City Council’s landscape designer, Peter Sergel. It was transformed into garden themes incorporating the many trees and shrubs that had been planted over 100 years ago. The garden themes reflect the major changes which were taking place at the turn of the century and which would have impacted on the original garden philosophy at Woodlands. A woodland area leads us to the long lake, formed by damming across one end of the existing gully. A Monet style bridge draped in wisteria compliments the Monet style of botanical growth on its surrounding banks. The garden is also made up of a series of lawns and focal points, the largest of these being the Cricket Oval, which is used by the Woodlands Junior Cricket Club and many companies for team building activities. The Music lawn and Croquet lawn are popular for weddings while the Theatre lawn is the location of many community events like the Woodlands Christmas Carol night.

The team of volunters at work mid 1990s

In 2004 Woodlands became a founding member of the New Zealand Gardens Trust and was assessed as a Garden of Regional Significance – a reflection of its unique beauty and historic importance. Over the years much work has gone into the creation and development of this stunning and inspirational garden

The Monet style bridge

An abundance of blooms

‘Necessity is the mother of invention’... how true this saying was for those who worked the land many years ago. Woodlands Estate and the surrounding district was the home of many innovative thinkers who set out to make the lives of those who lived and worked there a little easier. One of the interesting creations at Woodlands was the water wheel, which was rather rare in the Waikato. The water used to turn the wheel was sourced from the peatlands of the Piako Swamp. Water was diverted down miles of mill race, from the swamp to the water wheel. The tapping of the Piako Swamp resulted in the lowering of the swamp land. The wheel itself was over 14 feet high and was housed in the mill building situated on the bank of the Komakorau Stream. The power generated was used for timber cutting, wood turning, grain crushing and chaff cutting. The whole setup was a tribute to the ingenuity of Henry Reynolds, the first manager of the Estate, followed by the skill and engineering knowledge that the second manager, John Gordon brought with him.

Henry Reynold’s dairy factory Pukekura 1886

Soon after he left Woodlands, Henry Reynolds established a small factory just out of Cambridge, in which butter was produced for the first time in the factory system in 1886. (See the dairying page for further information on this). Life was not at all easy for those who were given the job of digging drains in the swamp land by hand in the early days. Ploughing fields with horses was another challenging and time-consuming task, so imagine their relief as time went by and hard labour was slowly replaced by motive power. The first internal combustion engine tractor was placed on the market in 1893, but the steam tractor was still favoured at this time. Petrol tractors became a commercial success from 1903. The tractors that were used to work the land at Woodlands had to have modifications made. Wide, multi wheels were fitted to prevent the tractor from sinking into the peatland.

A worker with the reins in hand prepares the horses to roll the soil

New Zealand farmers seldom had the cash to buy things, so they ended up making them. Following are just some of the inventions of Vaughan Jones - a man who farmed peat in the original Woodlands Estate area between 1954 and 1987. In 1957 he created the Spinner Drain Digger. He took it to three companies who all said it would not work. How wrong they were, as he went on to buy a welder and make them himself. Vogal NZ Ltd later made them. Only one year later Vaughan Jones invented the Chisel Plough. This was used for deep peat cultivation. It increased pasture production and it is therefore no surprise to learn that he made and sold 12 of these ploughs on Piako Road alone, before 1966. Many more have sold countrywide since then. Vogal NZ Ltd later made these too.

Vaughan Jones using his Spinner Drain Digger

With the difficulties of spreading lime and fertiliser on peat, Vaughan Jones invented the Bulk Fertiliser Spreader, which fitted on the back end of an Allis Chalmers tractor. The spreader allowed lime and fertiliser to be put on raw peat where before 1963 - when spreaders were made - only aeroplanes could go. Later he built spreaders on large tractor wheels. The Sharp family were also innovative in their farming practice. Ron Sharp was awarded the O.N.Z.M (Queens Birthday 2000 Honours) for his invention of the Herringbone milking shed in 1950. This change revolutionised milking practice throughout the world. In 1959 Vaughan Jones designed the straight rail herringbone and everyone said it would not work. The Herringbone system allowed the farmers to milk their cows faster with less labour. Farmers were able to milk without squatting, therefore working to an older age.

Don Riddell’s Hay Stacker 1930s

Don Riddell was another man with an inventive mind. He set up a factory at Woodlands to make the Riddell Easy Lift Stacker. This machine was designed to lift a whole sweep load of hay onto the stack at a time. They were sold throughout the North Island. Don made the first prototype out of a set of dinky toys which he had purchased for his 5 year old nephew, Lex. Don’s innovative mind was not limited to hay making. In his later years Don struggled with the upkeep of the large grounds at the Homestead, due to his blindness and the fact that he was confined to a wheelchair. So he decided to erect a pole and attach the lawnmower. As it went around in circles the rope shortened and the lawns were mown effortlessly.

Don Riddell’s Hay Stacker 1930s

Arthur Riddell was also a family member with creative blood. In 1969 he and a neighbouring farmer, C. Clough entered the Combined Bale Loader and Stacker that they had made, into the National Fieldays Farm Built Equipment Competition, and won. This piece of machinery was mounted onto a tractor fitted with a front end loader. It was used to load a trailer with hay in the paddock and then could be used to unload the same trailer at the barn. This was a welcome addition to farmers’ working lives.

Ron Sharp inspects his invention while Lex Riddell sits in the cart. This could have been the first inspiration for the herringbone milk shed. However the sheep was spooked, took off and left Lex up-ended.

‘Kiwi ingenuity’ has been alive and well for many years in and around Woodlands Estate.

Over the years many people have been inspired by the history and beauty of the Woodlands Homestead and the surrounding gardens. Artists continue to capture the magic on canvas and paper, in their illustrations, paintings, etchings and photography. Following are several examples of such work, where we can see the beauty through the eyes of the artists.

Painting by Leonard Cobb (1988 Affco Christmas card)

Brochure design 1992

Ink illustration by David Henshaw ( produced a series of prints in the 1980s for charity)

Brochure design 1992 Painting by K. McBeath

The peat swamp of the Gordonton district has no doubt been the cause of much frustration and entertainment. Let us briefly look at several stories recorded about the lighter side of life on the swamp, over the years. Soldiers were allocated allotments on this not so lush and plentiful land. Private Hastie was one of them and he took a job at Woodlands to help provide the necessities for his family. While at work one day he asked his son to look after the cows. It wasn’t long before his son ran panting to the small house on the property yelling... ”Dainty’s bogged”. Mrs Hastie and her son Bill, made haste to where the cow was indeed stuck in the bog. Bill managed to gingerly make his way out to her by balancing on a log and tied a rope around her neck. They began throwing things at her to encourage her to move. She sure did! Dainty bounded free, leaving Mrs Hastie face down and Bill not so happy after Dainty came at him with her horns. She must have taken exception to the manner in which they had removed her. The men and their families who were given allotments of land in the area, took time to learn of the swamps’ ‘special qualities’. One example is a story told of several men who were doing their best to build homes for their families on their arrival. They spent hours digging posts into the ground only for the ground to swallow them. They were left scratching their heads in wonder! The home of many stories

A young shepherd and his new bride accepted offer of work at Woodlands. They travelled by train to Taupiri, but in their excitement they had neglected to inform anyone of their arrival. Therefore, they were left with no choice but to walk the remaining distance to Woodlands from the station. This was some 15 kms of challenging terrain. Their determination to get there, took them across bog, drains and lakes. Eventually they arrived looking less than ready to begin work for the Gordons. Instead, the Gordons would have been wondering what the cat had dragged in! Rapata Henry was another worker at Woodlands. He was a bit of a character and drove a team of bullock on the Estate. One day it is said that Maori King Tawhiao was sitting on his white horse and talking to some workers at the Estate. He was holding a stick of gelignite (used to clear the land for drain building) and said, “I will light this stick in my hand and if my hand is not blown off I have mana”. Knowing full well that if he held it at the base he would be safe, so he proceeded. Rapata saw this and rose to the challenge, however he held the stick in the middle and blew his hand clean off. He continued his hard work on the Estate, with just one hand. George Hopa wrote of a story that has been told in the Hopa family over the years. In 1886, the year of the Tarawera eruption, a group of men were digging the Millhouse drain. As they dug the channel, the ground was shaking so much that the drain fell in! A farmer from the district, had a truckload of cows arrive at his farm. They were unloaded from the truck into a paddock and began to run around a bit, which is not altogether uncommon. Then the ground began to shake and the farmer thought there was an earthquake. The cows got spooked yet they continued to run until exhausted. As soon as they stopped, the ground stopped shaking.

All these years later, the challenges of peat farming have continued. A more recent story shared by a farmer of the district, Vaughan Jones, illustrates this rather well. Seven sheep belonging to a neighbour got themselves stuck in the Half Mile Drain. With great difficulty Vaughan and his wife, Auriel, managed to pull one sheep out, as its long wool was sodden and very heavy. With its feet on hard ground, it took one look around only to see that no other sheep were with it, and promptly jumped back in to be with the others! There is another tale often told to new peat farm buyers by their neighbour. The neighbour would ask “Have you been to the back right corner of your farm yet? You’ll see a silver cap stuck to the radiator of the last owner’s tractor and if you dig down you’ll find the tractor. Good luck!” Sunday School was an important occasion of the week for many who lived in the Gordonton District. Thomas Riddell (James’ son) was the proud owner of a Plymouth car, that he bought for £375. That car had some stories to tell... One fine Sunday morning, the Riddell family (13 in total) set off for Sunday School in the Plymouth. They stopped to open a gate when there was a terrible scream from one of the passengers. There was a movement under the rug and someone yelled “Rats!” All four doors opened at lightning speed and with that there was a mass exodus. The rug was pulled up and a startled rat bounded out and ran into the long grass for cover.

James Riddell’s car 1920s

The Woodlands Homestead itself also played host to eventful times. During the Second World War, when Don and Irene occupied the house, The Waikato Battalion Headquarters were set up there. Much serious military discussion took place at the Homestead, but there were also many lighter moments. Soon after the formation of the Home Guard, an army officer came to inspect the Waikato Battalion Headquarters. A strong discussion took place between the men gathered there. The men were requesting further supplies and training yet the army officer did not agree with them or their requests. Without warning there was the unmistakable sound of rifle fire on the veranda. The men gingerly looked around, wondering if indeed there had been an invasion, only to find a rabbit barely breathing in the bushes and the lady of the house standing there with a rifle. One of the men commented “There, if the women can do that, what can the men do?” and with that the army officer took the point and left. Needless to say supplies and support were increased after this visit. Practicing manoeuvres formed the basis of the Home Guard and many stories have been recorded about how the farmers in the area came together to do this. On one such occasion, the men were learning how to move without being observed. They were crossing the property of a farmer who had a flair for inventing things, such as the electric fence! Some not knowing what this single wire was, grabbed it only to find out it’s effectiveness. Fortunately the enemy did not hear their yells and the attackers were almost able to reach their objective before being showered with blanks.

Without the use of the following reference material and the time given by the people interviewed, the collation of the information in these pages would have been an impossible task. A special mention should be made of Lex Riddell who went the extra mile to assist with the gathering of information that was needed to complete this project. Sincere thanks to all those who contributed. Auckland-Waikato Historical Journal #35 (1979) Published by the Auckland, Waikato Historical Societies. Auckland-Waikato Historical Journal #36 (1980) Published by the Auckland, Waikato Historical Societies. Clarke.I Provided information on the gardens of Woodlands David. M. Book titled: Eureka 1874-1984. Published by the Eureka Press (1985) Drummond. A. Article titled: A Pioneer Plantation at Gordonton. Garrett.H. Provided Homestead information Gordon. W.A. Article titled: The Woodlands Estate. Gordonton School Centennial Committee. Sponsored book titled: Gordonton School 1891-1991. Haultain. J.& R. Provided information for the project. Jones. M. Entry written for the Register of Historic Places (2001). Woodlands. Jones. V. Book titled: Farming Peat Profitably. An Environment Waikato Sponsored Publication. (1998). Available from www.farm.net.nz/store/ Mc Donald. R.R. Paper written for Waikato University: Gordonton; The Swamp, The Estate, The District. Orini Jubilee Committee. Book titled: Orini School 75th Jubilee 1908-1983; A History of Orini and District Puke. H. & W. Shared historic stories of the area and their families. Riddell. J. Unpublished book : Peeps Into the Past: Sidelights on the Descendants of James Riddell(le) and His Wife Margaret Goodall.(1973) Riddell. L. Unpublished book : The Thomas Riddell Story. Taupiri School Centennial Committee. Book printed and titled: Taupiri School Centenary 1878-1978. The Empire’s Dairy Farm Magazine. ‘Anchor’ Jubilee Issue. (1936) Printed by National Magazines Ltd. Wellington. N.Z. The New Zealand Co-operative Dairy Company Ltd. Paper written at the request of the Company’s Legal Advisers: Bell, Gully, Buddle, Weir (1984). Brief History 1919-1972. The New Zealand Farmer Magazine (1924) Published by The Brett Printing and Publishing Co. Auckland. N.Z. Waikato District Council. Management Plan For Woodlands Historic Reserve (1991) Waikato Times. Selection of articles relating to Woodlands. Waikato Times. Newspaper supplement titled: Our Story; A History of the Waikato (1999). Whitikahu Jubilee Committee. Book titled: Whitikahu School and District; A Jubilee Record 1912-1987. Williamson. E. Book titled: Rushes an’ Raupo To Cows an’ Clover. Published by V.M. Press. Auckland. N.Z. (1987). Woodlands Times. Newsletter Volume #1, Issue 4 (2004) Woodlands Trust Board. Provided information for the project. (2004)

Photographic Acknowledgements Cambridge Museum Historic Photographs Haultain. J.& R. Historic photographs Jones.V Peat Collection New Zealand Dairy Company Historic photographs NZ Home & Garden From Feature Article, May 2004. Photographer Patrick Reynolds Photography by Sasha. Sasha Lawson Wedding Photographer Riddell.L. The Stone Collection, Leland Collection, Attwood Collection, Riddell Family Collection Peat Photos (Tom Muir) Riverstone Design Studio Ltd Digital photography The Waikato Times Cricket photograph Waikato Museum & Hamilton Central Library Historic photographs Whitikahu Jubilee Record Peat Diagrams Woodlands ArchivesThe Gordon Collection

The Gordonton Woodlands Trust acknowledges the kind support of Scottwood Trust for the financial assistance of the archives project. Special thanks to Paul and Kerrie Martin of Riverstone Design Studio Ltd. for researching, collating and designing this important history of Woodlands.

Profile for Rick Davidson

Woodlands - A History  

This book about the history of Woodlands Estate has been collated over several months with theinput of many people. It is with pleasure and...

Woodlands - A History  

This book about the history of Woodlands Estate has been collated over several months with theinput of many people. It is with pleasure and...


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