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Historic Poverty Bay and the East Coast, N.I., N.Z.

First Strike in Gisborne

First Strike in Gisborne

The district was indebted to Read, on a number of occasions, for timely additions to its labour supply. When the immigrant ship Berar reached Auckland in September, 1873, he went down to her and his offer of assisted passages to Gisborne was accepted by a number of her passengers. They included carpenters, bricklayers and stockmen, and all of them were quickly placed in situations. In May, 1874, he secured a party numbering 46—26 single men and three single women, and four married couples with an aggregate of nine children. Some of the single men complained that, on the six-day journey down to Gisborne, they had “to shift for themselves as best they could among the coals!” When the carpenters found that the Gisborne rate of pay was only 10/- per day, they downed tools on the ground that they had been promised 12/- per day. This was probably the first strike by Europeans in Poverty Bay.

Read was ever ready to listen to a business proposition. If it did not appeal to him he would turn it down flatly, no matter how credit-worthy the suppliant might be. On the other hand, if he was satisfied with the merits of the proposition, impecuniosity on the part of its author would not be a bar to help being given. In a eulogy of Read which it published long after his death, the Telephone said: “He was remarkable for his willingness to assist those who were possessed of moral worth—indeed, any honest, straightforward and industrious man—but, in his day, there was not anyone else who felt greater abhorrence towards the shuffler and the profligate.”

Although the development of the district's resources was regarded by Read as of paramount importance, he was not unmindful of the growing social needs of the community. When his courthouse could no longer be used for dances, entertainments and public meetings, on account of the further inroads which the setting up of additional State departments made upon the accommodation, he advanced the money required to enable Gisborne's first hall to be built. The loss of the use of the courthouse—for dances in particular—had been keenly felt. That page break
Gisborne, 1873 (view from Kaiti Hill), Captain Read's first store is on the right.By courtesy F. W. Williams.

Gisborne, 1873 (view from Kaiti Hill), Captain Read's first store is on the right.
By courtesy F. W. Williams.

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Hon. William Gisborne, m.l.c. After whom Gisborne was named.

Hon. William Gisborne, m.l.c.
After whom Gisborne was named.

William Fitzgerald Crawford, First Mayor of Gisborne, 1877.

William Fitzgerald Crawford,
First Mayor of Gisborne, 1877.

page 193 form of amusement had been open to all classes. Even nondancers had proved welcome, for it fell to their lot, when instrumentalists were not available, to provide music ground out of a hurdy-gurdy.

It was firmly held by Read that a payable oilfield would be discovered in Poverty Bay. What might have assisted him to reach this belief was that he held considerable interests in the Mangatu district. In any case, twelve months before the first oil company was formed in the district, he agitated strongly in favour of steps being taken to test the area. The only stipulation that he made in connection with his offer of substantial financial aid was that the services of an expert should be obtained. He lived to witness the failure of only the first of many attempts to strike oil in the district.

When Read sold out to William Adair in 1875 the lower end of Gladstone Road was well lined with business premises. In 1873 businesses had been established by: Graham and Co. (successors to S. T. Horsfall), stock and station agents, general and wine and spirit merchants, etc.; A. Parnell, hardware merchant; Robjohns, Teat and Co., drapers and grocers; James Buchanan, draper, grocer and hardware merchant; Boylan Bros., grocers and hardware merchants; Townley and Large, furniture makers and furnishers, and also by some smaller firms. During 1874 Blythe and Co. opened as drapers, etc., and T. Adams as a stationer. Large additions to the business community followed in 1875.

As competition in the township had become more intense, and threatened to become even fiercer, Read made a wise decision in giving up his main business. In the country, most of the hotel-keepers had opened stores alongside their licensed premises. City firms had also begun the practice of shipping large consignments of drapery, etc., to Gisborne for the purpose of holding cheap sales. J. McDowell and Co., of Wellington, advertised in April, 1873, a three weeks sale of £3,000 worth of goods at “40% below current rates in Poverty Bay.” The establishment of branches of the Union Bank of Australia and the Bank of New Zealand in Gisborne on 11 March, 1873, deprived Read of much of his financial business. On 8 April, 1878, the Bank of New South Wales also opened a branch.