Samuel Oates’ epic wheelbarrow journey over the Rimutaka hill and its association with the giant gum tree in Greytown’s Main Street has become legendary in Wairarapa.
Samuel Oates was born in 1814, in Codnor, Derbyshire, near the Nottinghamshire border. He was well educated - the Wairarapa Archive has his schoolboy copybook, filled with his juvenile copperplate script. He initially trained as a surveyor but later took up farming.
Samuel married Jane Bonsall. They first lived in Codnor, but moved to Woodthorpe, where they raised six children on their leased farm.
Times were tough and, following the bad winter of 1852, and the death of their youngest child William, Samuel tried his luck further afield, choosing the Victorian goldfields. He left his wife and five children behind, on the understanding that if things panned out well he would send for them. He left Liverpool bound for Melbourne in October 1852.
Things did not turn out as Samuel had hoped in Victoria and he was working as a labourer when he saw that the Wellington Provincial Council was seeking new migrants. He decided to try his luck in New Zealand.
Family legend says that Samuel Oates started working for Charles Rooking Carter almost as soon as he arrived in New Zealand in January 1856, assisting with the construction of a hotel and a butcher’s shop. Carter then asked him to take some goods to his Wairarapa farm. Samuel’s three-day journey over the Rimutakas, pulling and pushing a substantial wooden wheelbarrow, became Wairarapa legend.
Samuel, thirsty after his long journey, pulled up outside the Rising Sun Hotel, in Greytown. He popped inside to quench his thirst, and on returning to his barrow, found that three of the gum trees Carter reputedly brought back from Australia, had been removed from the barrow.
These three stolen gum trees were planted in various sites in Greytown. The one survivor is the giant Eucalyptus regnans in the grounds of St Luke’s Anglican Church.
Samuel worked on constructing roads for the government to save enough to purchase some land, and to bring his wife and family from England. He purchased land at Parkvale by April 1856.
Jane was reluctant to leave England, but family circumstances forced her to. She and the Oates children were living with her parents. Her brother Joseph became more and more antagonistic to the Oates family and Jane and her children left England on the Oliver Lang in September 1856, never to return.
Her life, and that of the Oates family on the 'Peachgrove Farm' on the Taratahi Plain, is well documented, as she wrote to her sister back in Derbyshire, and the correspondence to and fro has been preserved. The Wairarapa Archive has published these letters as Dear sister : letters between a pioneer Wairarapa family and relatives in rural England 1856-1883.
Samuel and Jane Oates owned 300 acres at Peachgrove. Although never wealthy they had succeeded in their new land, and their children were all well-established by the time Jane died in 1883. Samuel died in 1892.