Page 1: Biography
Carrier, coach company proprietor
Carrier, coach company proprietor
This biography, written by Shirley Tunnicliff, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1993.
Henry and Thomas Newman were the sons of William Newman and his wife, Eliza Hopgood, who had both emigrated as children to Nelson, New Zealand, on the Bolton in 1842. William Newman was a labourer at Waimea South when Henry (Harry) was born at Spring Grove on 15 August 1850. The eldest of 11 children, he went to River Terrace School until 1859, when the family moved to a farm (later known as Naumai) at Brightwater. Shortly before the move his brother Thomas (Tom) was born on 26 April. Both boys grew up on the farm, attending Spring Grove School and developing a keen interest in horses and a talent for handling them. By 1865 their father had begun transporting provisions to cater for the needs of the goldminers at Wakamarina and Canvastown.
After leaving school Harry Newman worked on his father's farm, and on 25 August 1874 he married Louisa Harriet Bonnington at Spring Grove. They were to have eight children. The couple went to work on Hillersden station in the Wairau Valley. Harry's younger brother, Tom, had left school when he was 14 and begun work as a wood boy, cutting firewood in the bush which surrounded Waimea South and hauling it into Nelson with a horse and cart. It was hard and unprofitable work and Tom had returned to work on the farm before starting another transport venture. He had become a driver of a timber wagon hauling timber from a mill in Pigeon Valley to Baigent's mill in Nelson, and from Price's mill at Belgrove to Nelson. He then joined his brother on the Hillersden station, helping him cart wool to Blenheim, until their father's accidental death by drowning while crossing the Wairau River in 1878 brought both sons back to the family farm.
When in 1878 the government called for tenders for the mail service from the recently completed railhead at Foxhill to Hampden (Murchison), the two brothers put everything they owned into having a new four-spring coach built in Nelson to their specifications. The coach cost £120 and was able to carry four passengers inside, with two more beside the driver. With it they won the tender and prepared for the first scheduled trip on 1 July 1879.
The newly completed road across the Hope Saddle was extremely hazardous, and after Tom Newman had ridden over the route to assess the difficulties the coach was made ready for the first trip to the Buller River. The mail bags had been brought to Foxhill by train the night before and were loaded in the coach as it stood outside Foxhill Inn. At 8 a.m., with Tom in the driver's seat and Harry beside him, the two horses took off, with a third tethered behind the coach. The first day ended at Kawatiri at 7 p.m., where the Newman brothers were welcomed at Rait's accommodation house. The road became rougher on the next stage of the journey and more deeply rutted. When they reached Longford they found a young boy, Alfred Flower, waiting to ride ahead of the coach across the treacherous Buller ford. On the far side of the ford the muddy track proved to be impassable. 'The horses were unharnessed, the coach left on the roadside, and the Newman Brothers made their triumphant entry, leading tired horses, with the precious mail bags slung over their shoulders'. For the tiny settlement at Hampden it was a momentous arrival, signalling the end of its isolation, and Harry and Tom were greeted with the greatest enthusiasm by the settlers. The occasion was appropriately celebrated at George Fairweather Moonlight's hotel.
This was the beginning of a reliable service which carried mail and passengers from Nelson to the West Coast for the next century. By 1881 the business had so developed that the brothers were able to replace the original coach with new thorough-braced coaches, known as Cobb coaches. These were drawn by four horses, enabling faster and more frequent trips. From the beginning the Newmans took great pride in their teams of horses, most of which were thoroughbreds. At first they trained and groomed them themselves, but when the expanding firm employed more staff, the two brothers kept a close personal supervision over every aspect of the driving and horse-training. Later, the horses were colour-matched for various stages of the journey: five matched greys were used for the last stage into Nelson, where they made a dramatic run down Trafalgar Street to the stables. While the service was confined to the Buller route the Brightwater farm was used as a base where the horses could graze and be cared for. When the Newmans secured the contract for a full service between Nelson and Blenheim beginning on 1 January 1891, a new base was established in Nelson city, and the Crown Stables in Hardy Street became the headquarters of the firm for a century.
For the next 30 years Newman Brothers built up services from Nelson to Reefton, Westport and Greymouth; Nelson to Blenheim; and Nelson to Motueka and Riwaka. For the first time the 'rugged scenic grandeur' of the Whangamoa and Rai valleys, and the 'primeval forests' through the Buller Gorge, became accessible to the travelling public. The firm was able to claim that tourists never failed 'to express the pleasure they experience while occupying the box seat of one of the firm's coaches, which are always driven in a masterly style by "whips" of many years experience'.
Despite an initial reluctance to admit that the motor car had come to stay, Harry in 1911 purchased a Cadillac. More motor cars followed and the demand for horses by New Zealand troops in the Middle East during the First World War led the Newmans to sell 50 of their coach horses to the army. The public had responded with enthusiasm to the first of the motor cars on the service, and more were added during the war. For some years the route was shared; the hills were crossed by the old horse-drawn coaches and the passengers changed to cars for the flatter stretches. In 1918 the last horse-drawn coach left Murchison, driven by Tom to the railhead at Glenhope. His brother Harry only survived the end of the horse-drawn coaches by a year; he died at Brightwater on 26 December 1919, just two months after the death of his wife. It was the beginning of a new era.
Tom lived on for another quarter-century and greatly expanded the motor service. He had married Christina Thomson on 14 March 1900 at Fern Flat, near Murchison, and the couple had seven children. On his brother's death Tom purchased the shares held by Harry's sons, and brought his own eldest son, Jack, into the business. The old stables were replaced by a garage on the same site for the fleet of service cars which now bore the Newman insignia. Tom Newman was on the first aircraft to fly from Wellington to Nelson on 11 November 1921. This well illustrates the progressive and enterprising attitude that distinguished the firm of Newman Brothers from the beginning. Tom died at Richmond on 9 March 1944, and like Harry, was buried in St Paul's churchyard at Brightwater, near the family home of Naumai. Christina Newman died on 23 September 1962.