Nau mai ki (welcome to) Location 5: Ngaio Bay
This commentary explores:
- In the area: points of interest
- The Lawrie family and the homestead that once occupied this site
- The former Presbyterian summer camp… the ‘orphanage’
- Peace, poetry and a touch of nudity
- The Regional Park and local efforts to restore its flora and fauna
Read on to explore the history of the area you see from this vantage point.
Note: This bench sits on a concrete plinth kindly installed in support of this Historical Trail project by Auckland Council. MERRA’s thanks go to Sue Hill (Senior Ranger Partnerships) for her support in enabling the bench to be sited within the park, and in a way that respects the archaeological record that may lie below. Accordingly MERRA’s ‘first draft’ commentaries for Locations 5 and 6 are to be refined with Council guidance.
Kia mahara mai (please note): MERRA’s Historical Trail commentaries are draft working documents compiled by volunteers. They will be revised through on-going consultation and research and as feedback is received.
We invite constructive feedback, wider perspectives, additional information, and suggestions for improvement. Please be in touch via the contact form on this website.
In the area:
This sheltered beach, no doubt once fringed by Ngaio trees, is steeper and therefore less tidal than many on the peninsular. Proximity of the water at low tide means it is a popular landing place for small boats. Waka, punts and other small craft, will have come ashore here for centuries. The current collection of dinghys, used to access moored boats, are a case in point.
From 1864 until the 1960s the gentle uphill rise here was the site of the original Lawrie family homestead. The current access road down to the carpark probably follows the Lawrie’s access path down from Ridge Road.
About half way along from Location 4 (near the ‘Reef Street’ walkway) you will have passed the site of the former Presbyterian Summer Camp or ‘Orphanage’. Associated tales of intrepid outings, peace activists, literati and even nudists add further texture to the history of the area.
Like much of the surrounding coastal land, Ngaio Bay Reserve is part of the treasure that is the Auckland Parks network. Local volunteers are working with Park Rangers to rid this area of both plant and animal pests and to re-establish its native vegetation.
The Lawrie family and the homestead that once occupied this site
(with thanks to John Waugh, see https://scottslanding.org/james-lawrie
If you were sitting here 150 years ago and turned your head to the slope behind you, this is what you may have seen:
Occupied between 1864 until 1936 (and demolished c 1961) the simple shingle and weatherboard cottage was the home of James and Elizabeth Lawrie (centre of the above photograph) and ultimately their 9 children.
James Lawrie (b. 1832) had arrived in New Zealand from Kincardine Scotland aboard the ‘Red Jacket’ sailing from Liverpool in 1860. He purchased a sizeable 31 acres in Mahurangi in 1862 for £15.10.00. It may be that this was a single block slightly north. Never-the-less the 1868 version of Denham’s survey map (see Location 2) is annotated to include James Lawrie’s name against 16 separate lots widely spread across the ‘township’ and previously owned by others. Lots 51 and 52 here were chosen for the homestead.
James married Elizabeth Jane Johnston (b. 1845 at Ponsonby) at her mother and stepfather’s residence nearby. Elizabeth’s father Hugh Johnston (a timber ship captain) and her older brother had been lost at sea in the Tasman before she was born.
James Lawrie and wife Elizabeth (nee Johnston) [standing] and Elizabeth’s mother Mary Ann Parker (formerly Johnston, nee Stewart) and her stepfather John Parker (both seated) c1880 (these photographs courtesy of Noelle Lipinski)
The children’s names were a ‘who’s who’ of forebears and related local families: Margaret Anne (Annie) named after her maternal grandmother, John Parker Lawrie (named after his mother’s stepfather), James Falconer Lawrie (named after his dad’s stepfather… James’ mother did not marry his biological father John Lawrie), George Darroch Lawrie (named after the local shipbuilding family see Location 2) , Charles Ludwig Kasper Lawrie (named after Elizabeth’s seafaring brother-in-law from ‘Pine Grove’ upriver see Location 1), Charlotte May Lawrie (named after her paternal grandmother), Elizabeth Jane Lawrie (named after her mother), Frances Col Lawrie and William Henry Alexander Lawrie.
James was clearly a sharp and enterprising character. He left the Mahurangi for a stint on the goldfields in Thames in the late 1860s and applied for a liquor license for the ‘8 room’ Ngaio Bay establishment here in 1881. The liquor license was declined in favour of one awarded to the Darrach’s in Marriage Bay (Cantyre; see Location 2). James also served on the Roads Board and local School Committee. James St and Lawrie Road on the approaches to Snells Beach highlight the extent of his landholdings.
Elizabeth died in 1888, aged only 43. James died 34 years later in 1922, aged 90; they are both buried in the Mahurangi Heads cemetery (Location 1).
It is said that ‘Rose Cottage’ at 35 Ridge Road was built by James Falconer Lawrie after James’ death. He had married Maria Baker in 1899. As discussed at Location 2 the tiny ex-Marriage Bay post office (see Location 2) was operated by the Lawries at no 35 until the 1940s.
George Lawrie, wife Marlene and two further generations of the Lawrie family still farm on the peninsular (see Location 1). George is a great great grandson of James and Elizabeth (via son James Falconer Lawrie, grandson Nelson, and great grandson Sandy). It is an extraordinary unbroken connection of a family to this land of over 160 years.
The former Presbyterian summer camp… the ‘orphanage’
Like much of the land here Denham’s Lots 143 to 148 near the ‘Reef St’ walkway passed through various owners from 1853 without being developed. By 1921 it was owned by John Marshall of Remuera. Marshall was prominent in horse racing and yachting circles and a founder of Tattersalls in Auckland. A noted philanthropist, John gifted these blocks to the Presbyterian Church for a boys’ holiday camp. A further £200.00 was gifted to build a dormitory for 32 as well as communal facilities and staff quarters upstairs. Before road access, boys from rophanages in Onehunga and Meadowbank would arrive by water for stays of up to 6 weeks.
The Auckland Star of 15 January 1934 describes one such adventure:
Peace, poetry and a touch of nudity:
The Presbyterian Church sold the summer camp property in 1964.
The buyer was John Male (1913 -2003). Male had many strings to his bow, among them: journalist, writer, soldier (gunner and intelligence officer in WW2), celebrated poet (including as New Zealand’s major war poet. ‘Poems from a War’), organiser for Corso, long time United Nations staffer, Eleanor Roosevelt’s private secretary, Secretary to the UN Commission on Human Rights, and peace activist.
Male and second wife Catherine retired to the Mahurangi and converted the camp into their new home. Here they enjoyed 35 years; growing fruit and vegetables, catching and smoking fish, gathering shellfish, sailing and making wine and beer. John became a local Rodney Councillor, founded Mahurangi Action, and was founding president of the New Zealand Foundation for Peace Studies which established the Media Peace Award.
Male was also a witty and accomplished raconteur who enjoyed hosting a potpourri of house guests in the ex-orphanage’s large sitting room overlooking the harbour.
Indeed the purchase of the ‘Orphanage’ was brokered by his good friend, the libertarian, bohemian poet Rex Fairburn (1904 -1957) who regarded the Mahurangi as his spiritual home and had a cottage across the water at Mahurangi West.
Like Heaphy’s cottage, parts of the orphanage building remain … now incorporated into a holiday home.
While the liberal John Male and friends might may have taken the sight of naked visitors in their stride, it may have been a different story for ‘Matron Furniss’ and the orphans in her care in 1938. As the Rodney and Otamatea Times of 12 January 1938 records:
Perhaps too the rock-oysters were not as prevalent back then!
The Regional Park and local efforts to restore its flora and fauna:
The foreshore reserve in this area is part of the Auckland Parks network. Backed on to by a number of Ridge Rd properties the area had become overrun with exotic plant species such as ginger, jasmine and bamboo. In recent years a group of local volunteers has been working with Council staff to eradicate both plant and animal pests and replant the area in natives… including of course Ngaio trees. If you would like to join this group please be in touch via this website.