Richard Treweek (1840 - 1892)

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About Richard Treweek

Richard Trewick (Treweek) (c.1840-1892)

Richard Trewick was born Richard Treweek, (the surname is misspelt on the cemetery record as it frequently was during Richard’s lifetime) in St Just in Roseland, a parish in southern Cornwall. He was the third child of agricultural labourer John Treweek and his wife Honor. On 6th September 1840 Richard was baptised at the beautiful 13th century Norman Church of St Just. The church sits on the bank of the tidal creek of the Percuil River, surrounded by a semi-tropical garden. Legend has it that Joseph of Arimithea came ashore here with the boy Jesus (think of William Blake’s lines“......And did those feet in ancient times walk upon England’s mountains green, and was the holy Lamb of God in England’s pleasant pastures seen”). True or not, many people still feel the presence of God in this beautiful and tranquil place.

Although Richards’s father was an itinerant agricultural worker, the Treweeks came of yeoman stock. Many family members had owned or worked tin and copper mines in the heyday of the Cornish mining industry and John Treweek had received a good education at the school in Tregony where he grew up.

Encouraged by the prospect of better opportunities in the colonies and the incentive of an assisted passage, on November 15th 1841, the family of five sailed for New Zealand aboard the barque Timandra. Richard, the baby, was eleven months old. The vessel arrived in New Plymouth, New Zealand, on 23rd February 1842. Dr George Forbes, Surgeon General during the passage from Plymouth, in his summary of the voyage stated that amongst those travelling in steerage, which he described as “a little Ireland, or hell of swearing, filth, theft and pilfering” there were a few good men. One of only six to be singled out by name was Richard’s father John.

The Treweeks bought their first farm at Omata, south west of New Plymouth, and then as the family prospered John Treweek purchased, in January 1854, an estate of 1500 acres known as Kai-Iwi, eight miles north of the town of Wanganui. The birth of a further six children increased their offspring to nine. Young Richard was 14 years old when the family made their momentous 8 day journey south to the new property. A correspondent to the Taranaki Herald who travelled with the family describes the conditions, “no roads, no bridges, the whole country a primeval wilderness, the Maoris just emerging from a condition of savagery and cannibalism – it was an enterprise which only brave women could have faced. Our party numbered about 22 persons and some eight or nine horses and eleven cattle. Mrs Treweek rode on horseback, generally carrying two children; Mr Treweek also rode carrying two children; another of the boys was riding carrying a heavy pack. Others rode and either carried packs or assisted in driving the cattle, while others again tramped on foot.”

Richard’s father gained considerable wealth and prominence in Wanganui as a leading agriculturist. He was also to the forefront in civic affairs. During their years in Wanganui three further children were added to the family. When Gabriel Read had found gold at Tuapeka in May 1861, the news spread like wildfire through the colony and four of the older Treweek boys, Samuel, Richard, Thomas and William headed to Central Otago to try their luck at the diggings. The Treweek name had long been associated with mining in their native Cornwall. Others of their fellow countrymen were also attracted to the area by dreams of great wealth but riches eluded many, who found only “the colour of gold”. An index of the first 6,000 Miner’s Rights certificates issued at Gabriel’s Gully records that number 64 was issued to Richard and Samuel Treweek. The surveyor J.T Thomson visited the diggings in September 1861 and wrote “On coming in sight of Gabriel’s Gully, I was much astonished at the changes that had taken place. The gully was studded with tents from one end to the other, and the surface verdant with fine grass two months ago, was now gutted and ransacked in an extraordinary manner. Fully 3,000 people must have been at work in this gully, and numerous parties were seen spread out over the adjacent gullies and even hills. Altogether there cannot be less than 6,000 people on the diggings”.

The year of 1862 brought double tragedy to the Treweeks. Samuel, senior to Richard by two years, was struck down with fever and died at Tuapeka at age 22. Inclement weather at the goldfields was blamed for several deaths from typhoid fever at the time. Younger brother Thomas, 19 years of age, also succumbed, dying in June the same year. Richard had lost two of his closest companions in a matter of months.

These sad events coincided with the outbreak of unrest among Maori tribes in the Wanganui region. Richard’s parents found themselves in the centre of the conflict. Settlers on outlying farms were advised to move to the town centre where garrisons of militia could offer them some protection. A distressed and frightened Honor Treweek left the farm and convinced her husband to sell their established property at Kai Iwi and to move south to Otago. At a farewell dinner held in their honour John Treweek said “Whether he would come back again depended entirely on his wife. Had she not left Kai Iwi, and come into Wanganui, he should never have left Kai Iwi, but he could not stop there without her”.

The Wanganui Herald 10th January 1905, noted that “Yesterday was the 51st anniversary of the settlement of the Treweek family in the Kai Iwi, their holding then, including what is now known as Rapanui”. By that date the station had been broken up into a number of small dairy units. In Otago the Treweeks took possession of “Bellamy” Station, 30,000 acres just outside Tuapeka (or Lawrence as it was later renamed,) and a 374 acre property at Tokomairiro, which they named “Meadowbank". Richard and his brothers assisted their father in managing these and other properties; some were used to run store cattle and mutton which was in great demand to feed those at the diggings. They also opened their own butcher's shop at Port Chalmers. The Treweek family had strong ties to the Church of England and much of their social life was centred on the church at Tokomairiro, the family contributing to fundraising events, the proceeds of which went to build the church dedicated to Saint John. The Sabbath day was strictly observed, as a notice inserted by John Treweek in the Tuapeka Times during 1868 illustrates: "All Parties seeking stray Cattle or Horses on Bellamy Station, are cautioned not to do so on the Sabbath Day; and if found trespassing after this notice, will be subject to the penalty of the law."

Some established farmers such as the Treweek family were able to accumulate wealth by supplying the nearby diggings with produce. Resentment developed over a perceived monopoly of available grazing by the large runholders. Meetings were held throughout the region and the “Land League was formed to lobby the government to throw open land for settlement and commonage. A new gold find in February 1867, on property adjacent to Treweek's Run, increased the demand for land. 15,000 acres of Treweek's Run (Run 137) was designated by the government for resale. Richard’s father was not opposed to the changes, expecting that he would be well compensated for the land and improvements. However there were many factions with a vested interest in the outcome of the sale and John Treweek became embroiled in protracted litigation with station agents and lawyers in which the eventual outcome went against him. Richer in experience but poorer in pocket, John made the decision in 1869 to sell up and return to old friends in Wanganui.

Richard Treweek was by then aged 29 but he gave no indication that he was ready to marry and settle down. In August of 1869 he was arrested by Lawrence police on a charge of “furious riding and property damage,” fined 40 shillings and costs, and ordered to pay damages. The following month the family attended the wedding of his younger brother William to Catherine, the daughter of James Evans of nearby Evans Flat.

When the appointed time came for his parents and siblings to return to the North Island Richard remained in Lawrence, residing for five years at Evans Flat, and later relocating to Clarkesville, the little hamlet at the junction of the roads to Lawrence and Milton. He lived there until his admittance to Dunedin hospital where he died, on 15th April 1892, of cancer.

Richard Treweek’s life spanned one of the most exciting periods in New Zealand history. He experienced the birth of the colony, Maori wars, took part in the 1860s goldrush, and witnessed the transformation of the land from a bush clad wilderness to one of agricultural prosperity. Yet Richard’s personal life was one of anonymity. He never married and eschewed the umbrella of his family for the solitary life of a farm labourer. It is tempting to speculate that he chose to remain in the south as it kept him close to the graves of brothers Samuel and Thomas, the companions of his youth. Even in death the misspelling of his surname disassociates him from other family members. Richard is buried in Block 180, Plot 25 at Dunedin’s Northern Cemetery.

While Richard’s death certificate gives his age at time of death as 45 years, birth records obtained from Cornwall Registry suggest he was in fact aged 51.

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Richard Treweek's Timeline

1840
1840
1892
1892
Age 52