The Pleasant Point district had its European beginnings as part of the Levels Station, the first grazing run to be taken up in South Canterbury.
In December 1850, the Rhodes Bros. applied for three runs totalling 159,000 acres. They had heard about beautiful open plains in the area from men at the Timaru whaling station which had been set up in the 1830s. In August 1851, they made a further application for all the country between the Opihi and Makikihi, extending fifteen miles inland.
The Rhodes Bros. named the station after the place near Doncaster where their father lived in England.
The Levels run was originally supposed to cover all the country from the Opihi to the Pareora rivers and to extend from the sea to the Mackenzie Pass but it was later discovered that they had more land than they were entitled to. They then made over 22,500 acres to a relative, Mr. J. King, and this became Otipua Station.
The new southern boundary of the Levels ran from the coast at Saltwater Creek, in a straight line to the back of Mt. Horrible at Claremont. A subsequent survey cut off the Albury and Opawa runs, further reducing the area of Levels.
Despite these reductions, the run covered such a vast area that it was necessary to have ‘outstations’ on the property. Such a one was situated at Pleasant Point and named ‘Hodsock’ after George Rhodes’s birthplace in Nottinghamshire. It stood near the site of the present railway station.
As time went by, Pleasant Point became a popular overnight camp for waggoners travelling between Timaru and the Mackenzie Country so that the need arose for an accommodation house. The first one was opened by Wm. Warne in 1864 on a site where Atkinson and Dossett’s garage stands today.
The conditions then required for the establishment of an accommodation house make interesting reading by today’s standards. Published in the Timaru Herald of 25 July 1866, a report of the Annual Licensing Meeting for the year ending 30 June 1866, states the conditions under which a licence was granted to Wm. Warne:
At that time, Pleasant Point consisted of two distinct areas. A private township, named ‘Piko’ was divided into quarter acre sections and offered in September 1866, at seven, ten and twelve pounds a section. These were situated on the eastern side, presumably in Ameer, Kabul and Afghan Streets area. There was a poor attendance at the sale and no sections were sold 7 about a dozen were sold privately afterwards.
The following advertisement appeared in the Timaru Herald, announcing the sale:
AT AN EARLY DATE, OF WHICH DUE NOTICE WILL BE GIVEN, SECTIONS OF LAND IN THIS TOWNSHIP WILL BE OFFERED BY PUBLIC AUCTION.
The great necessity for a township at the place at present known as Pleasant Point, and the rapid peopling of the adjoining land, has induced the proprietors to lay out and offer for sale sections in the town of Piko.
The site of the town as laid out is close to the present accommodation house, and fronting up the main line of road leading to the Cave and the Mackenzie Country. Another main line of road also adjoins the township, which road opens up a splendid agricultural district, and also leads to the fertile bushland at Kakahu.
The township is about fourteen miles from Timaru, and is approached by one of the best lines of road in the district, quite flat and in good repair. There is also a main road leading from Temuka and Arowhenua.
The land in the town is good and no site can be found which contains the same advantages of dry, healthy situation, abundant supply of water, and which lies in the main thoroughfare to the Mackenzie Country and also on the borders of the principal agricultural district in this part of the province.
There is a never-failing stream close to the town and the river Opihi is only about half a mile distant. In addition to these advantages, water can be obtained upon the ground at a depth of a few feet.
The extent of agricultural land already under cultivation is such that the erection of a flour mill has already commenced about a mile from the township; a blacksmith is also about to commence business; and already a first-rate accommodation house has been finished and opened
The above town will not only become a valuable depot for the Mackenzie Country: but must, from its situation, be the centre of a large population of agriculturalists: and from its accessibility, carry on a considerable trade with Timaru.
Quarter-acre sections in this township will be offered at an upset price of 7 pound, 10 pound, and 12 pound.
According to situation.
Until the day of sale, plans can be seen and sections purchased privately, on application to F. LeCREN, Timaru.
The other area, named ‘Morton’ after a representative of the New Zealand and Australian Land Company, was situated on the Te Ngawai side of Pleasant Point. This was sold off on 27 January 1876.
The sale was on the understanding that the surrounding country was about to be disposed of in moderately sized farms but this did not happen until the government acquired and leased the land in 1904.
Within a few years of the opening of Warne’s accommodation house, a few shops began to develop to meet the demands of the increasing number of travellers.
By 1868, Pleasant Point consisted of Warne’s accommodation house, by then leased to J. A. McIlwrick; a blacksmith’s shop, two general stores and a boarding house. The blacksmith’s, owned by James Gammie, was situated on the western side of the cottage at 110 Main Road.
His residence was on the same property on the brow of the hill and two handsome Wellingtonias in Manse Road still mark the entrance to it.
The first general store was built and operated by James Strachan and stood on the now empty section on the Te Ngawai side of the Hotel. A second store, opened by Fraser and McLeod and later purchased by Morris and Mendleson was situated in the vicinity of the present Pleasant Point Motors. The boarding house, conducted by a Mr. Watkins, was situated where the telephone exchange now stands.
Residences were few. Mr Wm. Halstead’s house of limestone blocks was situated at 12 Halstead Road. The blocks can still be seen in the garden landscaping of that property today. Albert Smith’s house at 9 Halstead Road is still occupied; Kee’s home, opposite the Domain was on the site of DC. Clarke’s house in Rayner Street; The foundations of John Greig’s home at 101 Te Ngawai Road, are today utilised as a farm machinery loading bank; Thos. Young’s house stood at 131 Te Ngawai Road; Mr. Worthington’s sod house stood at 110 Te Ngawai Road (part of the old existing limestone homestead), and the home of Mr Inman Jackson at ‘The Gables’, Te Ngawai Road, is still in use as a holiday home. From this it can be appreciated why the first school was located at 60 Te Ngawai Road in 1868.
The 1870s brought rapid development to the township. The opening up of the railway brought construction workers to the Piko area where a ‘canvas town’ grew. Numerous cottages were located in the Morton area and, with the breaking up of farm land into smaller holdings, there was a demand for further necessary services to meet the needs of the community.
The accommodation house was no longer adequate and substantial additions were made to it in brick to cater for the increased trade. In a very short time, under the ownership of Mr Josephus Murphy, a further addition of an "Assembly Room‘ was made which served the community as a public meeting place and dance hall.
At much the same time, Mr James Strachan saw the need for a second hotel to be sited on the opposite corner at the junction of the Main and Te Ngawai Roads. Known as the Railway Hotel, it was built in 1875 of limestone blocks. Within two years, extensive additions had been made to it on the Main Road side of the building. The ground floor accommodated a billiard room and two shops and the upper storey had two private sitting rooms and ten bedrooms.
Besides this, Mr Strachan replaced his original grocery shop with a substantial brick building. The interior was divided into three departments — a front store with a grocery on one side, a drapery on the other, an office in the middle and another store at the back. At the time of its opening in 1877, it was described as being equal to any store in South Canterbury. The building is now in use as the local Scout Den.
Other important developments in the same year included Morris and Mendleson’s new store situated where the present supermarket stands. The original building was constructed of wood and iron and the back section of it still serves the present supermarket as a storeroom.
In the early days, the front part of the store was used for general retailing and the back section was a grain and produce store.
In 1878, Mr McKibben built the third grocery shop in the town which replaced one built by Fraser and Mcleod and later owned by Morris. It was situated in the vicinity of the garage presently run by Pleasant Point Motors Ltd. Some time later, McKibben purchased the other store owned by Morris and Mendleson and replaced the front section with the substantial two-storeyed brick building which now houses the supermarket.
A report in a Timaru Herald of 1877 announced the opening of an agency for the Bank of New Zealand with the comment that it was “good news for The Point and the neighbourhood.” It was situated in the Afghan Street vicinity but appears to have been short-lived at that stage as a report on the Point in the ‘Temuka Leader’ of 8 November 1879 criticises its closure.
In the same article, the businesses of the township are listed: “There are three general stores; Mr Morris’s shop, Mr Emmes’s large brick store built by Mr Strachan and Mr McKibben’s ...... ”
There was a baker’s shop owned by Mr A. MacDonald in the Railway Hotel building; a bakehouse in the back yard of Morris’s store skirting Morris Lane; Mr Acton’s butchery on the Main Road near the Point Hotel and next door to Mr Anderson’s wheel and millwright shop; Mr Hobbs’s tailoring establishment in Maitland Street, (now the property of Stowell Engineers); Mr Prentice’s shoemaking business, (thought to have been in the vicinity of the shopping mall opposite the railway station); Mr Bullock’s saddlery in Afghan Street, which was where the BNZ agency was located. By this stage, there were also two boarding houses in the township.
Two livery stables served the travelling public. The Point Stables had been established by Wm. Warne when, before the advent of the railway, he ran a coach service to Timaru. They were later owned by Mr Glen. The Railway Stables were owned by Wm. Halstead.
Residents of outlying districts would travel to the Point by horse and gig, leave their horses at the stables and continue their journey to Timaru by train. The stables also ran a buggy and saddle horse hire service.
In 1879, Mr Gorram Lambert opened a chemist shop on the site which was later to house the Post Office. The advertisement in the Timaru Herald announcing its opening stated that he had commenced business as chemist and druggist and that horse and cattle medicines of all descriptions were held in stock. It would appear that Drs Lovegrove and Hammond of Timaru used his dispensary as their consulting rooms on Mondays and Thursdays from three to four o’clock.
By 1897, Lambert’s Chemist had moved from Afghan Street and established premises on “one of the best sites in the township,” situated on the corner of Main Road and Halstead Road. In addition to his stock of “druggist sundries” he added “fancy wares of all kinds”.
The Timaru Herald reported: “Mr F . White, who has experience in Bookselling, Stationery Business is to supervise hand-books for farmers, a new departure for Pleasant Point and one which should meet with favour and encouragement.”
A residence was attached to the shop and behind it was a large tin shed which was a cordial factory run by Mr Lambert’s son Arthur. His lemonade and ginger ale were renowned throughout South Canterbury. Mr Wells tells how, as a child, he would join the other local children in the rush to help Arthur each morning to push the cart loaded with cordial up to the two hotels for the reward of a free lemonade. Once a week, Mr Lambert caught the local train to Fairlie and distributed his cordial to the hotels along the way.
By this time, a Post Office was functioning in the Railway Station and the 1880s brought further development to the township.
Mr John Crawford moved from his little cob cottage on the corner of Shere and Afghan Streets and set up house and boot-maker’s business at 7 Afghan Street, and his son Bill carried on the trade he had learnt from his father. (In 1942, the house was moved to higher ground on the section, renovated and is still is use today.)
Mr G. Dixon opened a fruit and confectionery business a little way back from the Main Road where the Jopp Buildings now stand and, in the late 1890s, Mr Collins opened a bakery business in Te Ngawai Road on the creek side of the present Scout Den.
At about the same time, another bakery, owned by Mr Adams, started up on the property now occupied by Shortus‘s General Store.
Growth of the township meant a greater demand for houses. Mr Henry Rogers was a master builder and, in 1874, took on H.C. Dossett, then aged 13, as apprentice. After serving his apprenticeship, he commenced business on his own account and carried on for well over fifty years. He also set up business as undertaker at 15 Te Ngawai Road.
Mr Edwards started a paint and paper-hanging business next door to Morris’s store and Mr Exell, who lived in a cob cottage on the corner of Shere and Afghan Streets, made sun-baked bricks for many houses in the district. He excavated the clay from the creek at the back of his property.
Early homes in the township were very simple cottages; Some were of cob or sod, others of wood and a few more substantial ones were of limestone. Few remain standing today.
Families were self-sufficient with a cow in the back paddock, hens at the bottom of the vegetable garden and, in many instances, a pig was housed on the plot to consume the surplus milk and provide the year’s bacon supply. Home made butter was the order of the day.
Life for the housewife was busy and basic, her entire life being centred round the care of the family and home. Amenities were scarce with most homes devoid of kitchen sink, bathroom and laundry. Water was pumped from an underground well by an outside hand pump and cooking was done over an open fire. Sanitation left a lot to be desired with a ‘privy‘ at the bottom of the garden path.
Many housewives would be left to cope alone while their men folk were away for days or weeks at a time working as drovers, shearers, mill hands or on road and railway construction.
In spite of their busy lives, it would appear that some people made time for sport and recreation. A tennis club, a football club and a cricket club were all functioning before the turn of the century.
A jockey club was formed in the 1880s and race meetings were held under the chairmanship of Josephus Murphy, the Point Hotel proprietor. In the Timaru Herald of December 11th 1882, notice of a race meeting stated the sweepstake to be one sovereign for acceptors with a sum of money added for the winner. The second horse was to receive three sovereigns from the stakes. The Race Meeting was scheduled to begin “immediately after the arrival of the 3.30pm train from Timaru.”
A meeting in 1886 was described as passing off “very quietly without at all taxing the energies of the preservers of the peace.”
A boxing match, described as one of the first in South Canterbury, was held in the Point Livery Stables. Candles along the walls of the loose boxes served for lighting and a large box was used as the ring. “Gloves were supplied by Mr Murphy, Mr Dossett and others.”
Mr Wm. Crawford relates how another sport was illegally carried on in these stables — that of cock fighting!
There must also have been a keen interest in fishing as, on 24 January 1877, John Knight brought two thousand salmon smolt from Christchurch and liberated them in the Opihi River seven miles from Pleasant Point. Also, Messrs Meek and Howell had acquired twelve young trout from the Otago Acclimatisation Society and released them in a branch of the Te Ngawai River near the Point.
Music, sewing and cribbage classes were organised by the Pleasant Point Mutual Improvement Association under the control of the Presbyterian Church. Fortnightly meetings were held and a journal of their literary pursuits was apparently edited in 1896.
Lodges were formed in the township for the purpose of providing sickness benefits for members. A man who was unable to work would receive from fifteen shillings to one pound with free medical attendance and, in the event of death, his family was entitled to about 20 pound. Should a man's wife die, 15 pound was allowed for funeral expenses. To secure these benefits, members subscribed from 6d to 1/- weekly.
The Lodge of Good Templars, named ‘Anchor of Hope‘, was first instituted in 1874 and the Oddfellows Lodge, with a membership of 21, was established in 1891. They built their own hall in Maitland Street (now Gospel Hall).
When the Orange Lodge was established in 1883, it was described as “the largest gathering of its kind ever seen at The Point.” Members set about building their own Orange Lodge Hall but their plans were fraught with disaster. Foundations were laid on the property between the Manse and Manse Road, now owned by the Presbyterian Church. Each time the building was commenced, the Irish catholics from Kerrytown would come and pull it down, so it never was completed.
A report in a Timaru Herald of 1897 says: “The history of halls in Pleasant Point would make an interesting chapter on ‘how not to do it’ — the Orange Hall, for instance, which is all foundation and nothing else, looks like a graveyard in the middle of the township.”
Many of the younger generation must find it hard to picture life as it was in those early days but it has to be acknowledged that the fortitude of these pioneers laid the foundations for the way of life we enjoy in the township today.