JOHN CALLAWAY of the COROMANDEL
A New Zealand Pioneer
The Coromandel is a peninsular of land, originally a
volcanic range, projecting from the north-east coast of the North Island
of New Zealand. It is noted today for dramatic scenery of bush-clad
bays and inlets, red flowering Pohutukawa (Christmas Trees), and Holiday
A hundred and sixty years ago, it was visually much
the same, there was a lot more forest, but very few buildings or
Not long after the first arrival of Captain Cook on
New Zealand shores in 1769, the Royal Navy began travelling the 12,000
miles here for Kauri spars, for a fleet that would do battle with
Napoleon. Giant Kauri trees offered long lengths of straight, knot-free
Before long Kauri was found to be a particularly good
building timber, and became the quality timber of the Pacific in the
nineteenth century. It is said that many of the buildings destroyed by
fire after the San Francisco Earthquake were built of NZ Kauri.
Called bush, New Zealand forests can be almost as
dense as jungle, and were difficult to access. Sadly the Kauri were
decimated, despite the difficulties, and the remaining trees are now
Although there was to be a Gold Rush there in the
1850/60s, it was for the Kauri that the Coromandel was noted.
Comprising two major islands, the North Island of New
Zealand was settled by Europeans earlier than the South Island, but the
settlement was by Missionaries and Traders after the 1820s, following
transient sealers and whalers. The terrain was difficult, the weather
often wet, and there were considerable numbers of Maori people living
there. Although the Missionaries formed very strong and valuable
associations with the Maori, land disputes with new settlers led to
violence and warfare in the 1840s and 1860s.
The South Island on the other hand, was settled
initially under selected immigration schemes in the 1840s and 1850s.
The settlers met easier terrain and weather, and there were few Maori
It was not until the 20th century that the
North Island, and more particularly the northern half, came to match the
prosperity of the South Island.
New Zealand has an extensive indented coastline, with
many bays and river inlets. Shipping was therefore the main means of
transport, particularly for the North Island, until the Main Trunk
Railway was completed there in 1908.
Roading in the North Island really remained poor
until after the Second World War.
Exactly when John Callaway arrived in the new
Colony is not yet known, or even whence he came, but it was probably
around 1840, maybe from the south of England, and it was into a
vigorous, testing environment.
Presumably a carpenter by trade, he was able to
negotiate timber cutting rights with a Coromandel chief, in exchange for
the construction of his house, and established a timber mill at
Kikowhakarere Bay, just north of the later Coromandel Township.
He also evidently had some association with, or
carried out work for, Frederick Maning, an early trader and timber
merchant, who became Judge of the Native Land Court. John built a house
for Maning at the Bay in the late 1840s. Through their family
misfortune, he was able to take over the house, and lived there for a
number of years. Callaway House.
He married the daughter of a Maori Chief, said to be
of the Arawa tribe from the thermal area of Rotorua, and became
well-known and prosperous in the region.
John would have cut Kauri logs in the hills behind
the Bay and, by means of Kauri dams and bullock teams, brought the
timber to the coast. Most would then have been taken by schooner or
barge across the Firth of Thames to the growing settlement of Auckland,
then small, today New Zealand’s largest city and seaport.
No date for the construction of the house is known,
but it may have been around 1848, making Callaway House the oldest known
structure in the region.
The oldest New Zealand building is the 1822 Kemp
House at Kerikeri, the oldest church, the 1831 Christ Church at Russell,
both Missionary structures in the far north Bay of Islands. There were
no planned settlements in New Zealand before 1840, the year regarded as
the beginning of our Nation, with the formal accession as a British
possession, and the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi.
It can be appreciated that there are few older
buildings in the Country.
As can be seen from pictures in the NZHPT Website,
Callaway House was a small low, single storey bungalow-type structure,
with hipped/peaked roof and verandah, smaller when built than seen
today. The roof would have been shingled, the walls weatherboard (US
Early New Zealand houses in the bush were fairly
basic structures, commonly of raupo/thatch, with temporary materials and
construction. This building would have matched the better houses in
Auckland at the time.
Callaway House had deteriorated badly over 160 years,
but the Kauri construction remained essentially sound, assisting the
restoration work. Unusually for most surviving houses, the plan layout
had been little altered.
John Callaway’s descendants, as with many of our
early settlers, have merged into the life of the Country. A son served
with distinction in the South African Boer War of 1899, and it is
believed there are family members living in Auckland today.
We do not know a great deal of him personally, and
there is a need for research into his background and life, but John
Callaway was a true pioneer of New Zealand.
~ Photo by
David Elliot, from
New Zealand Historic Places Trust web site