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In the fourth of our ‘‘Best of The Wash’’ series, Dave Cannan sheds light on a potato king.
One of The Wash column's most popular tasks is to go searching for information from among its wide readership, the results of which can sometimes be quite revealing.
So it proved last September when our help was enlisted by author Dianne King, of Alexandra, for her compilation of an orcharding history, specifically about the Beaumont area.
Author keen to discover orcharding origins
The Wash, 16/9/16
This column, back in June, spent some days focusing on historic events in the Teviot Valley - Faigan's Store at Miller's Flat and closing the sluicegates at the Roxburgh Dam for the first time - and given their popularity, I'm happy to return there today.
This time I do so on behalf of a good friend, former ODT journalist colleague Dianne King, who has written to The Wash seeking some help with her latest venture - helping Ettrick orchardist Stephen Darling to compile a book marking the Ettrick Fruitgrowers Association's centenary.
Dianne tells me it has already proved to be a most interesting journey of discovery, with old minute books unearthed and most excitingly, a trunk found in an old shed by Neil Stevenson, of Ettrick, which was full of hand-written records and invoices from 80 and 90 years ago - back when fruit from the area was sent to the markets in Covent Garden, London.
However, Dianne's focus for the readers of The Wash, whose help she is seeking, is further south, at Beaumont, which was the southernmost area for growing fruit.
She writes: ''The furthest orchard at Beaumont was started by David Martin, who was a prolific exhibitor at Patriotic Apple shows (with vegetables as well as fruit), and at one Dunedin winter show is said to have displayed about 90 varieties of potatoes.
''He imported trees from Australia, about 500 each time, and eventually built up an orchard of 40 acres, which was later sold by his son Norman to Gifford and Shirley Brown. Would you be able, through your well-read column, to find out if there is a Martin descendant, or would the Brown family have any photos of that orchard please?
''He [David Martin] was quite a character and is supposed to have said he knew nothing about growing anything and selected varieties, from the catalogues, that caught his eye.''
Dianne says a lot of the early orchards were planted by Dunedin businessmen as investments, but, according to the Tuapeka centennial book, Tuapeka The Land and Its People, published in 1949 by W.R. Mayhew, Mr Martin was neighbouring farmer ''Robert Wood's farmhand and took up two 20-acre sections of flax, scrub and dredge holes on the Crown Land on the western riverbank''.
Dianne also says there has been no record of fruitgrowing in the Beaumont area, other than the Tuapeka County's centennial supplement , published in the Otago Daily Times, which has given records from 1914 to 1977, and updates sourced from the Peter Chandler's records at the Hocken Library.
''So, of course, it is very important to get all the facts correct and get as much information as we can. Unfortunately there is nobody left in their 90s with Ettrick history, that we know of, anyway. Who knows; if this query is suitable for the Wash, one might pop up.''
Our two photographs to illustrate this story today appeared in the Otago Witness on June 9, 1915. The scene outside Pearson's Bridge Hotel, in Beaumont, is of particular interest.
The caption, in part, explains how these loaded lorries from the Roxburgh area orchards took the fruit to Beaumont which was the railway terminus for the Lawrence extension. (The line to Millers Flat wasn't opened until 1925 while the next link, to Roxburgh, opened three years later.)
The Witness reported ''... despite the bad state of the roads in wet weather, caused mainly by heavy traffic, the perishable produce from the Roxburgh orchards is now despatched to the main centres under improved conditions.''
So there we have it.
Are there any descendants of the Martin or Brown families from Beaumont who can help Dianne with her book research?
Not long after this column appeared, a letter arrived from Joy Gray, of Paraparaumu, accompanied by several photographs.
Joy wrote, in part: ''Dear Mr Cannan. Re David Martin of Beaumont. He was my great uncle; my grandfather William Martin, was his younger brother. Great uncle David, I understand, came from around Earnscleugh way [Becks, in fact] with his brothers. After he married Mary Hyndman, David had the orchard at Beaumont. Whether he started the orchard on the land I don't know.
''They had two children, Norman and Margaret. Later Norman took over the orchard. Norman married Ruby Kay; they had three children, Hillary, David and John. Later the family moved to Richmond, Nelson.
''My grandfather used to tell me of how wonderful great uncle David was with horses. No one could handle a team of draught horses like he could.
''I have very fond memories of my stays at Beaumont in the house after David and Margaret moved off the orchard. The house was on the north side of the river, up from the bridge and left of the local store. The huge garden was full of veges and flowers, potatoes as far as the eye could see. He was known as the ''Potato King''. Our family were very proud of him.
''I remember being very sick on peas from the garden and another time giving Margaret and my mother a dreadful fright while we had a picnic on the river bank. I was playing by the bridge in the sand and got caught in the quicksand. I've never forgotten that. I was only small and to a small child it was not nice to be up to my knees in sand.
''Both great uncle David and my grandfather had a love of the land, as both had wonderful gardens. Great uncle David looked after two of his brothers after his mother and father died. There was a younger brother who died in a fire. There were girls in the family but were taken back to Australia by family.''
I was also sent an obituary for David Martin after he died in Nelson, on July 4, 1958, aged 86, which described him as ''one of New Zealand's outstanding agriculturalists and a prominent exhibitor at A and P shows for over half a century.''
It continued: '' Mr Martin owned the Riverside Orchard at Beaumont for many years and while his main interest was fruitgrowing, he made a hobby of raising flowers and potatoes. He developed well over 100 varieties of potatoes and on one occasion at an Otago A and P Society show had 100 varieties on display at one time.
''Altogether he exhibited at 52 Winter shows in Dunedin and also sent entries to the Hamilton shows as well as others in the South Island. He was one of the few life members of the Otago A and P Society and a past member of the committee.
''A justice of the peace, Mr Martin took a leading part in Beaumont affairs, both while he was actively engaged in orchard work and later in his retirement.
''He was a prominent member of the Beaumont Presbyterian Church and held every office possible, even on occasions taking the service in the absence of a minister.
''Mr Martin moved to Nelson about three years ago and was living with his son at the time of his death. He was predeceased by his wife and one son and is survived by a son, Norman, and a daughter, Margaret, both living in Nelson.''
But The Wash was not the only recipient of reader feedback. Dianne King reported it ''flooded in'' to her as well, either by email, phone or arriving at her home with photos to be scanned. She continued:
''Personal stories about pioneers and growers add to the interest of the Ettrick Fruitgrowers Association book for its centenary. There are no longer commercial orchards at Beaumont and some fruit trees are dotted around the area.
''I was given Martin family contacts in Nelson and know a lot more about David Martin since that first inquiry in The Wash. He was born in Becks in 1872 and attended school at Tinkers (later named Matakanui). He left home when he was about 15 years of age and worked on Moa Flat Station, where he met his future wife.
''He had been working as a farmhand for Robert Wood and took up two 20-acre blocks. He started off at Beaumont with a five pound note and two-roomed hut. As the family grew, and when they had the money, more bedrooms were needed so additions were made to the two-room 'hut' which is now in the middle of the house still on the property. David's grand-daughter Hilary Ford [Nelson] says the floors were on three different levels, one step up or half a step down.
''David grew more than 140 varieties of potatoes, names of course totally unknown for many, as he simply kept cross-breeding. He put bags on the flowers to breed new varieties and grew them in between the rows of apples in the orchard. His granddaughter says her grandmother never knew whether her potatoes were going to be mush or bullets.
''His children attended the Beaumont School. Hilary was at school with Shirley Brown (nee Pearson). Pearsons originally owned the Beaumont Hotel, as seen in the original photo in The Wash.
''The orchard comprised apples, pears, and plums. David imported his trees from Tasmania, and while the trees were growing he grew potatoes and strawberries between rows.
''He never learned to drive a car and went everywhere around Beaumont on a bike. He used a horse and cart to take strawberries to the train in Lawrence, until the railway arrived at Beaumont. His son Norman bought an International truck in the 1920s, which has been restored in recent years and is now at Milburn Lime Cement works.
''Norman also built a sprayer which Health & Safety would today ban. The photo shows the spray tank, topped with a stand on which two 40-gallon drums were secured for the men to stand in while they sprayed with the booms. No protective gear. No ear earmuffs.
''David and Norman Martin employed casual workers during the harvest and built a big block of bedrooms, with a kitchen and bathroom which unfortunately was burned down after the Martins moved to Nelson.
''Hilary recalls a time she was with her father and grandfather at an A and P show. 'I was at just a kid and I remember Walter Nash was opening the show. My grandfather was very arthritic and Mr Nash helped him up to walk up the steps. Grandfather told him 'I admire your Christian principles Mr Nash, but I don't like your politics'.''
''David was very involved in Presbyterian Church and was a Sunday school superintendent for 35 years.
''Norman lived in a nearby house and when he took over the management of the orchard, David looked after the large vegetable garden. He grew all the vegetables and also hyacinths, gladioli, daffodils, and dahlias in rows like carrots for the show. David was also trying to breed purple carrots.
''Norman sold the orchard to Gifford and Russell Brown and the family moved to Nelson but David stayed on in Beaumont for a couple of years before moving to Nelson. When he shifted to Nelson the first thing he did was buy an empty section close to the house and planted it in spuds.''