Story: Curtis, Charles Stuart

Page 1: Biography

Curtis, Charles Stuart

1850–1923

Storekeeper

This biography, written by Kelvin Day, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1993.

Charles Stuart Curtis was born on 15 December 1850 at Omata, Taranaki, New Zealand, the son of George Curtis and his wife, Eliza Newsham. The Curtis family, originally from London, had emigrated to New Zealand on the Pekin. George Curtis left the ship at Wellington and walked overland to New Plymouth to make preparations for his family, who arrived there on 7 February 1850.

Charles's father took up a farm in the new settlement of Omata. In addition to farming, he was the senior partner in the firm of Curtis and Watt, wholesale merchants and Lloyd's agents in New Plymouth. He retired from the latter business in 1856. By the late 1850s the Curtis family had prospered and replaced their original raupo whare with a substantial house.

Charles was nine years old when war broke out in Taranaki in 1860. Eliza Curtis and her children retreated to New Plymouth, but as a militia man Charles's father remained at the Omata stockade, from which he saw his own home and those of the other settlers destroyed by fire. The epidemics that occurred in the overcrowded town were a greater danger to Charles than the risk of attack by Maori. In the winter of 1860 Charles, his mother, brothers and sisters were among the settlers compulsorily evacuated to Nelson. With the ending of hostilities a year later the Curtis family returned to Omata.

During the 1850s and 1860s Charles's father firmly established the Curtis name in Taranaki business circles. He represented Omata on the Taranaki Provincial Council in 1861–62. Charles probably attended Omata School, which opened as a private school in 1853, and gained his commercial skills as a teenager while working in his father's Omata store. However, it was not until 1878 that he commenced his own commercial enterprise; he was among the first to set up business in the newly opened bush settlement of Stratford. Along with his brother Herbert he began a store, butchery and bakery in temporary premises. Herbert also ran a butchery with another brother, George, in the recently established town of Inglewood. Showing faith in Stratford's future, Charles and Herbert replaced their temporary premises with a substantial two-storeyed building and bakehouse in January 1879. The store also provided the postal services for the town until they were transferred to the newly opened railway station. Charles's business was successful and he was eventually to own properties at Omata, Waitara, Inglewood and Manaia.

Charles Curtis and his brothers were major figures in the social and commercial development of Inglewood and Stratford. Charles took a prominent part in the town's affairs, serving as a member and chairman of the Stratford Town Board. On 3 April 1880 he married Emma Clara Low at Omata church. They were to have two children: Minnie Violet and Henry Stuart.

As a teenager Charles was known as a fine athlete. Later he spent much of his leisure time with his brothers exploring the eastern slopes of Mt Taranaki, and cutting the original track on that face. Over Christmas 1888, with T. H. Penn and Frank Arden, he spent five days making the first recorded alpine circuit of the mountain. During this climb they named a ridge on the eastern side of the mountain and the falls on the Manganui River after Curtis. Emma Curtis was also a mountaineer, and in 1891 she became the first woman known to reach the summit by the Stratford Road track.

In later life Charles Curtis was one of the pioneers of the Stratford Bowling Club. He retired to New Plymouth, where he died on 4 April 1923, survived by his wife and two children.

How to cite this page:

Kelvin Day. 'Curtis, Charles Stuart', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 1993. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/2c42/curtis-charles-stuart (accessed 22 November 2019)