Page 1: Biography
Soldier, coloniser, postmaster, teacher
This biography, written by Nancy Swarbrick, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1990. It was updated in November, 2010.
Martin Krippner was born probably on 23 September 1817 at Mantau, Bohemia (Czechoslovakia), in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the eldest son of Johannes Krippner, a blacksmith, and his wife, Anna Pallier. Martin received a better education than his peers. After attending secondary school he studied law at Prague university. In 1842 he obtained a commission in the Imperial Austrian Army and rose to the rank of captain before his resignation in 1859. While stationed at Frankfurt he met Emily Longdill, a well-educated Englishwoman, whom he married on 12 May 1851. The couple had four children and also brought up a niece and a young girl whose mother had died.
Emily Krippner's brother, Pynson Wilmot Longdill, had settled in New Zealand; possibly he urged the Krippners to emigrate. Martin and Emily and their children arrived at Auckland on the Lord Burleigh on 22 March 1860. With them were Martin's brother, Johannes (Hans) Krippner, and his future wife, Elizabeth Turnwald; and the Pankratz and Scheidler families, Bohemian friends who were to assist the Krippners in a farming venture. Martin Krippner was naturalised on 10 April 1860 and settled at Orewa, where he was postmaster from August 1861 until October 1863.
Krippner was not a successful farmer. Nevertheless he was enthusiastic about the colony's prospects, and devised a scheme to benefit his compatriots. He received permission from the Auckland provincial government to organise a Bohemian settlement at Puhoi, with the promise of a 40 acre land grant for each adult immigrant and a 20 acre grant for each child over five years. He then wrote to his brothers in Bohemia, who spread the word.
The scheme had immediate appeal to farmers in the Mantau district. On 27 June 1863, 83 immigrants, including Michael Krippner, another of Martin's brothers, arrived at Auckland on the War Spirit. They were taken by cutter to the mouth of the Puhoi River and transported upstream in Maori canoes to the settlement site chosen by Krippner. Arriving at night in the middle of winter, they were dismayed at what they found – two nikau huts in a small clearing, surrounded by dense bush. However, there was no going back. Sections were allotted and the work of felling the bush began. In order to survive the settlers produced charcoal, shingles, fenceposts and firewood for the Auckland market. This trade was arranged by Krippner, who also acted as interpreter.
Krippner exercised considerable influence over the Bohemians because of their dependence on him. Soon after their arrival, he persuaded many of the men to join the Third Regiment of the Waikato Militia. He was offered a commission as captain if he could get 50 men to enlist; the commission was granted on 17 October 1863. In 1864 Krippner and his men guarded Maori prisoners being held on the hulk Marion at Auckland. At the conclusion of the war, some of the Bohemians accepted grants of land at Ohaupo, Waikato, where another settlement was established. Krippner himself received a land grant but did not settle there.
Meanwhile the Puhoi settlers struggled on, sustained by their physical strength, sense of community, and Roman Catholic faith. In letters home they bravely refrained from mentioning the hardships of their new life. Krippner, however, tended to exaggerate the benefits, possibly because he hoped the provincial government would reward him for inducing others to emigrate. Consequently, in 1866, a second group of Bohemians arrived. Although he lived at Orewa, Krippner maintained a proprietorial interest in the Puhoi settlement, and made use of his government contacts to obtain a grant for roadworks in the district. The newcomers were able to support themselves by forming co-operative parties to work on the roads. Krippner frequently suggested additional sources of income. At his instigation Puhoi settlers gathered tanekaha (celery pine) bark for use in tanning, and fungus for the Chinese market. These activities helped sustain the third group of immigrants, who arrived at Puhoi in 1873, and the fourth and fifth groups, who arrived three years later.
The Bohemians were disadvantaged by their inability to speak English. Aware of this problem, in 1869 Emily Krippner started a school at Puhoi. By 1873 the Puhoi Educational District was constituted. Because of his ability to speak English and Egerlander, the dialect of the settlers, Martin Krippner was appointed headmaster. Emily Krippner was made assistant teacher. Krippner was postmaster at Wade (Silverdale) from 1 July 1873 until 31 December 1874 and while resident at Puhoi he held various offices. He was chairman of the Puhoi Highway District Board in 1874, and in 1877 and 1878 served on the Rodney County Council. A post office had been established at Puhoi in 1870; Krippner was postmaster from 1 August 1875 until 30 June 1884.
By the early 1880s the Puhoi settlement was securely established. The community was strengthened by the arrival of the first resident priest in 1877 and the completion of a church in 1881. The settlers were more confident, more able to communicate, and perhaps more critical of Krippner's leadership. It became evident that the Krippners, now both well into their 60s, were no longer capable of adequately performing their teaching duties. In 1884 the school committee petitioned to have them removed. This action seems not to have caused any lasting acrimony. The Puhoi settlers had outgrown their need for Krippner, but they had not forgotten his help. They showed their gratitude by building a house for him at Warkworth. Emily Krippner died there on 15 December 1890; Martin Krippner on 31 January 1894.