The Wild West

Brunnerton, Wallsend, Dobson and Taylorville

The first evidence in NZ that we have of William Harrison Hill in New Zealand is in August of 1887 (a couple of weeks before his wife and child arrived in NZ). William attended an auction at Brunnerton and successfully purchased the leaseholds for two Dobson town sections, (as did Mr Perotti) and a W Bainbridge!

Looking South back across the bridge from the Brunner Mine Site you see the original settlement of Brunnerton, The population around the time William and Mary Jane Hill was about 500. To the right of Brunnerton is Wallsend (the commercial and service hub of the area) and further downstream to the right came the newer residential area of Dobson. There was marvellous bridge across the mighty grey river on this site connecting the Brunner mine site with Brunnerton. It was made of Kauri and it had two levels, the top for the people walking to and from work and the bottom level for the for the coal and brick wagons.

All of Brunnertons’ buildings were covered in the soot and even in the pit pony’s paddocks there was no green grass. Brunnerton was a gloomy dirty town, nothing much would grow here, and all the vegetation had either been cleared or couldn’t grow so died off in the polluted conditions.

Dobson was much cleaner and sunnier with green bush, lush paddocks and many miners had flowers and vegetable gardens. The emigrants much preferred these conditions of “free living” rather than the company housing provided back in the old country.  A swing bridge was erected across from Wallsend to Taylorville in 1888 to connect the two villages. William and Mary Jane Hill lived in lower Dobson, so we presume the Greymouth side of Dobson village rather than the Wallsend side.

The poverty and hardship deeply affected the woman of the area as their husbands incomes were uncertain, sometimes only enough work for 1 or 2 days per week. However, there was fun to be had too….the areas many hotels were busy, especially on Saturday which was pay day. Men played sport, joined lodges and bands while woman were involved in church and educational organisations. All the established churches had meeting places in Brunnerton.

1888 was the boom years for Brunnerton in terms of growth and full employment with 4 mines (Brunner, Tyneside, Wallsend, & Coal Pit Heath) working at this time but this was short-lived and by 1889-90 there was an overstocked labour market and men (especially single men) began to leave in droves. By 1896 there was only the Brunner mine left open and our William was employed there.

Rachel Dawson nee Woodward’s grave at Black Ball Cemetery – photographed 2017

Its possible there were already distant family living in Brunner at the time. There are already two Bainbridge men (his step-fathers last name) living in Taylorville at the time of William and Mary Jane’s arrival. I’ve yet to prove a link though. It’s also very likely that Williams brother Nicholas also emigrated to New Zealand and electoral rolls show there is a Nicholas Hill living in Blackball in 1900 but this needs further research to confirm.

Mary Jane’s sister Rachel moved to Blackball in the early 1900s too. She was widowed in December 1888 just a year after Mary Jane left England. Rachel’s husband Charles Beadling died aged 28 when crushed by fall of stone in a coal mine back home. Her grave is easy to find up at the Blackball cemetery.

Mary Jane and William Hill were blessed with a total of 16 children over a 22 year period. Following Mary Jane’s arrival in NZ in September 1887, the Hills announced the arrival of their second child Mary Jane in May 1898, followed by Robert in 1889, John George (George) 1891, Lillian 1892, James Leslie, 1894, Rachel Ann 1895, Daisy 1897, Albert Victor 1898, Newearest 1900, Rose Mary 1901, Ernest Cecil 1902, then came twins Charles & Isabella 1904, Charles II 1905, and finally Florence Violet 1907.

 

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