Exhibition Focus – Horse Transport in Across the Centreline


Image: Norm Mitchells parents in gig at Diamond hill, Aotea Utanganui Museum of South Taranaki Collection.

Horse Transport

Horses were brought to New Zealand by Europeans, which made the transportation of people and goods easier amongst the rugged landscape of Taranaki. The horse became the power behind Taranaki’s economic and agricultural development. Horses were so important that by the 1886 census Taranaki had the highest ratio of horse ownership in the country – 473 horses per 1000 people.


Image: Horse and cart outside Hawera’s Borough Chambers, Ref: 1/2-118132-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.

Horses were well-cared for, especially if they were important to a family’s livelihood. The more wealthy landowners had large stables with individual horse stalls.  In James Livingston’s stable there were feed boxes on one side holding six horses side-by-side.  On the other wall were padded racks for saddles and harnesses, and a shelf for currycombs and brushes.  Horses were groomed and harnesses kept immaculate with the leather well-oiled and brass of nickel-plated fittings polished to a high sheen.


Image: James McGregor Elmslie on ‘Redwing’, painting by Pru Hyland, 2015

Horse ownership in New Zealand reached its peak just before World War One. Many horses were shipped overseas to help the war effort, with few returning.  After the war the increase in motor vehicles saw the decline of the horse as Taranaki’s number one mode of transport. 

Video Credit: This film was produced by Anna Cottrell from AC Productions and was viewed by the attendees at the 2016 NZ Racing Hall of Fame induction event. Published on Feb 23, 2016

Passenger Transport

Travellers found road and weather conditions in Taranaki difficult and often dangerous. Most journeys could only be made by horseback or coach. Numerous rivers flowing off Mt Taranaki were treacherous, with steep descents and ascents to negotiate and crossings were especially hazardous after heavy rain. The wagons simply bogged down in the fast currents and passengers clung to the side rails as the horses strained to reach the safety of the opposite bank. Ferries on the larger rivers of Pātea, Whenuakura and Waitotara were used to transport passengers and goods across.


In 1870, Wellington businessmen, Shepherd and Young ran one of the first coach services in South Taranaki under the name of Cobb and Co. The journey took 8 hours to travel between Whanganui and Pātea, a lot of this being along the beaches and was tide dependent. It ran twice weekly with a £1 one-way fare and was later extended to Hāwera and New Plymouth. Their very first trip to New Plymouth was met by a guard of honour, and the two men were entertained at a banquet and received an illuminated address.   In October 1871 W H Shepherd was tragically killed on the beach near Kai Iwi when the stagecoach hit a boulder.


Image: Tom Kidd’s Eltham to Opunake coach, drawn by four horses, carrying passengers and luggage.

Accommodation houses were situated along coach routes, to suit horses as much as passengers. Many accommodation houses were very basic, often with narrow stretchers, rather than beds, packed tightly into small rooms. However in the larger towns, more comfortable accommodation could also be found such as Mr Quinlan’s hotel in Pātea. The bedrooms were large and airy, with first class furniture and fittings and every effort made to provide comfort for hotel customers.


For more about this exhibition view the catalogue below.


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