Wellington Province


RENALL, Alfred William, J.P.

Page 939

Mr. Alfred William Renall, J.P., who has more than once been elected to the honourable position of Mayor of Masterton, is one of the few old identities that are left still in the land of the living. He has had an eventful life, and the writer spent a very pleasant evening in listening to his thrilling stories of the early days of colonization in New Zealand. Mr. Renall is a native of Heybridge, near Malden, Essex. He came out to the Colony, per ship “Martha Ridgway,” in 1840, with a company of the fathers of the old Port Nicholson settlement Mr. Renall had considerable experience with his father, who was a miller and carpenter, before learning for New Zealand. On arrival in the Colony, he plunged into the bush, and took to the occupation of a farmer, in which capacity he found plenty of work for several years. He was speedily thrown into contact with the Maoris, of whom he has a fund of information, worthy of being placed on record. During the years 1841 and 1842 he was called upon to act as undertaker for no less than fourteen of the natives, among whom were several old warriors, such as Waireporo, the fighting chief of the Ngatiawa Tribe, and Te Puni, a great chief and ancestor of natives bearing the same name, now living in the Hutt Valley. Mr. Renall used to style himself at that time the Undertaker to the Black Brigade. About the year 1849–50, one Charles Mabey commenced to build a water-mill at the Taita. He was unable to complete the work, and Mr. Renall took the enterprise in hand. The mill was completed in the same year, 1850, and he commenced the work of milling, this being the first watermill erected in the Hutt Valley. Mr. Renall now prosecuted his new industry with great zeal, and worked the Taita mill for many years with large success. In 1853 he was induced to lend his abilities to his fellow colonists, and enter politics. The first Provincial Council for Wellington was elected in the latter year, and Mr. Renall was one of the candidates. In this, his first election contest, he was highly successful, as he has been many times since. His sterling integrity and stern determination stood him in good stead, and although he had popular men to compete against, he succeeded in reaching the head of the poll, though only by a single vote. For some years Mr. Renall sat in the Provincial Council. The chamber was erected on the site now occupied by the Government Printing Office, and subsequently was used for many years as an hotel in Lambton Quay, Wellington, which was noted in the early days for the frequency and violence of its earthquakes. On January 22nd, 1855, that convulsion of nature, known a “the great earthquake,” occurred. The Provincial Council was in session, but owing to the day being observed as a general holiday, in honour of the anniversary of the province, the council had adjourned. This was a most fortunate occurrence, as the oscillations of nature caused the upper floor, where the council met, to drop to the level of the ground floor. Had the council sustained so severe a descent, there would most likely have been several accidents, and probably some fatalities. Mr. Renall was a sufferer financially to the extent of £130 by damages to the Taita mill, where the foundations were upset and misplaced. It was, however, promptly repaired, and continued to work till 1858, when it was destroyed by a flood, in which no less than fourteen of the settlers were drowned. This flood had a considerable, though indirect, influence in the settlement of the Wairarapa. The settlers who suffered by the Taita flood petitioned Sir George Grey to grant some relief, with the result that a large tract of land was set aside on easy terms of selection. Mr. Renall and several others came up to the present site of Masterton and chose their sections. He had a good deal to do with the naming of Masterton and Greytown. He chose the site so long occupied by his mill, which he then built after felling the bush. Having splendid water-power, he erected a fine waterwheel equal to twenty-horse power. One pair of the three sets of stones placed in the mill are of historic interest. They were bought by Hopper, Peter, and Molesworth for a flour mill which was never erected. Mr. Renall bought up the remains of the Taita and Ngahauranga mills, the latter of which he bought to fit up the mill, which was completed in 1862, and was worked by him till recently, when he closed it up, since which time it has been destroyed by fire. In 1859 Mr. Renall was elected with Sir. W. Fitzherbert for the Hutt, as members of the General Assembly, which sat in Auckland. Sir E. Stafford and Judge Richmond were at that time members of the ministry. In 1863, Mr. Renall established the first road board in Masterton, of which he became chairman and acted as engineer, laying off the first road. He also built some of the bridges, which remain to this day. About 1875 Mr. Renall took a trip to the Old Country; during his absence a town board replaced the old road board. In 1877 Mr. Renall sketched out the boundaries for the borough of Masterton, of which he has since been elected mayor on two or three occasions. About 1859 Mr. Renall was sworn in before judge Arney as a justice of the peace, and has held the position ever since. At the time of writing (1896), Mr. Renall is in his eighty-fourth year, and, having enjoyed good health, he has been enabled to attend to his business till a few months ago. Of his confreres who sat with him in the Provincial Council at the time of the great earthquake, only one remains, in the person of Mr. George Hart, of Auckland. Mr. Renall has been a prominent figure in Masterton for nearly thirty five years; he has ever been forward to help every good cause, and has enjoyed a large share of popularity, which he has richly merited. He has brought up a family of sixteen children of whom four met violent deaths, one being shot, another burned to death, the third crushed in the windmill, and the fourth killed by a falling tree. Four others have also died, leaving eight alive. The grandchild number forty-six, and there is one great grandchild. The old gentleman has been a good colonist in every respect, and must certainly be numbered among New Zealand's successful settlers.

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