Page 1: Biography
Hansen, Hans Peter Christian
Farmer, hotel-keeper, community leader
This biography, written by Sheila Robinson, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1993.
Hans Peter Christian Hansen was born in Assens, Fünen Island, Denmark, on 29 December 1851, the son of Marie Andersen and her husband, Peter Christian Hansen, a carpenter. Known as Christian, he was the eldest of seven sons and one daughter, but two of his brothers died young.
In 1873 Hansen emigrated to Australia, where he met, and on 1 March at Brisbane married, Kirstene Nielsen, also born in Denmark. In 1875 they came to New Zealand at about the same time as Hansen's parents and the other five children. Peter, head of the family, found immediate employment as a cabinet-maker in Gisborne, and most of the sons either followed that trade or worked as labourers. But Christian took up land at Makauri, a few miles inland from Gisborne, which he farmed producing milk for sale. During this time most of his six daughters and five sons were born.
Land at Motu, a bush-clad basin 1,500 feet up in the Raukumara Range and halfway between Gisborne and Opotiki, had been gazetted for subdivision and occupation with right of purchase in 1885. Hansen was impressed by its prospects for development and took up a 50-acre block; it then took some 12 months to settle the lease which was for 21 years rather than, as he had expected, perpetual. The dispute was still unresolved in 1906. One of the requirements was that he put up an accommodation house. A slab hut appeared quickly, which to one traveller in 1890 seemed a warm haven after a long, dark, wet ride. It could put up only three comfortably, but 'many more on a pinch.' The traveller reported that 'considering that packing costs £20 per ton, the charge of 2s a meal – good ones too – and one shilling for a bed are very reasonable. Horse-feed is, however, dear; there is no grass near, and a feed of oats costs half a crown.'
Motu was extremely isolated. The nearest pasture was 25 miles away and supplies had to be laboriously brought in through steep and rugged terrain; the horses were then ridden out, the men would return on foot, work their land, then walk back out to reload the horses. It was some time before the men began to spend winters at Motu or brought in their families to join them. Within 12 months, with help from Hansen's sons, bush was felled, timber was pit-sawn, roofing iron was packed up from Gisborne and a house of eight rooms was built. By 1902 the 10 children were living at Motu with both parents. Kirstene cooked and supervised the hotel, while Christian, who became known as 'the father of Motu', pursued his vision of the area's development.
Hansen was no idle dreamer, however, but a practical, many-talented man. He set up the first sawmill in Motu and built the furniture for the hotel, a boat for the little lake, and a flying fox to get across the Motu River. Extensive vegetable gardens and an orchard were planted. An annexe of three rooms was placed at the back of the hotel to cater for those who drank too much and needed to sleep it off, and a hall with a stage was added to the growing complex of buildings to provide a social focus for the district. Christmas dinner was free to whoever turned up. A piano was brought up by packhorse, the last 14 miles of the journey taking nine days.
Hansen acted as chemist and dentist to the district, and when limbs were broken he set them, placed the patient on a mattress in the back of his wagon and drove to Gisborne. He worked hard to provide a school, at first conducted in the hotel kitchen by Kirstene Hansen. When a teacher was appointed he made a personal contribution to the annual salary, as well as chairing the school committee for some years. He also became a staunch advocate of railway development. In 1908 he became chairman of the election committee of W. D. S. MacDonald, a runholder and local notable, doubtless because MacDonald was sympathetic to Motu's progress.
In 1906 Hansen built himself a comfortable home over the river, sold the hotel to a son and retired to look after his land and 'enjoy the fruits of a life of self-denial and labor well-done.' In 1910 an attack of appendicitis brought the doctor on a 13-hour mid-winter journey from Gisborne. He operated, but too late. Peritonitis killed Christian Hansen on 10 July 1910. Kirstene lived on to pass her 94th birthday, dying at Whakatane in 1945.