JUST east of Eureka a 35 kilometre straight line of fences and hedges can be seen from vantage points on the hills of the Pakaroa Range. Now more than a century old the Confiscation Line is the boundary of the land confiscated from the Maoris by the Crown at the conclusion of the war in the Waikato in 1865.
Today it forms the eastern boundary of the Waikato Country and still serves as a reminder of Eureka's past.
The land confiscated from the Waikato and Maniapoto tribes was defined by lines from the coast at Raglan to Pirongia Mountain, to the junction of the Puniu and Waipa Rivers, along the Puniu to a point south of Kihikihi. It continued over Pukekura Mountain to the Maungakawa Hill, Pukemoremore Hill, Te Hoe and then to the Thames Estuary at Miranda. From Miranda the lines went to Port Waikato and then south along the coast back to Raglan.
Eureka was part of that confiscated area. Much of the confiscated territory was immediately thrown open for settlement: the great Piako Swamp, however, made the settlement of Eureka impossible until the land had been drained. Even in 1866 the swamp was likened to an inland sea by the Native Minister, Sir Donald McLean. He said the Maoris had told him that lives had been lost while canoeing across it. The vast peat swamp at that time extended from the edge of Hamilton East to the Piako River and covered most of the southern half of the Waikato County.
The very idea of developing the swampland was regarded in the 1860s as being foolish and hazardous. The originator of the bold scheme to develop the land was a valuer and real estate agent of Hamilton -Captain William Steele.
After several fruitless attempts o attract interest in the venture he finally persuaded a group of prominent businessmen to set up a company with him. Mr Thomas Russell, an Auckland solicitor and Sir Frederick Whitaker, a Member of Parliament, were two of the businessmen. The company, formed in London, eventually became known as the New Zealand Land Association. It owned many properties in the Waikato and was represented in New Zealand by the New Zealand Loan and Mercantile Agency.
Negotiations for the purchase of the land began in 1873. Just a year later the Crown agreed to sell the company 86,502 acres (35,033 hectares) of swamp at five shillings an acre. A condition of the sale was that the company had to construct 25 Miles (40 kilometres) of road across the swamp. The Crown would refund two shillings and sixpence an acre out of the purchase money for this work.
Eureka was part of this parcel of land and reclamation work commenced immediately. Captain Steele called for tenders for 10 miles (16 kilometres) of draining in February 1874. Mr Isaac Coates's (one of Waikato's pioneers) tender of four pounds and ten shillings per chain was accepted.
The drains were colossal, some of them measuring 3.5 metres at the top, 2 metres at the bottom and 3 metres in depth. The backbreaking work was hard on the immigrants recruited for the job, some of whom were totally unsuited.
Often the men were camped more than two kilometres from the worksite on dry ground. The long walk to work every day on top of the hard labour was exhausting. All drinking water had to be carried to the worksites as the swamp water was not fit to drink.
Slowly Captain Steele's vision of turning a great wilderness into a country suitable for settlement began to take form. Often the proprietors of the scheme had watched with deep foreboding as they sank thousands of pounds into the swamp development with no return, but their expenditure had provided work for a great number of early settlers who later managed to buy homesteads for themselves out of their earnings. The whole operation was in the long term of the greatest benefit to the Waikato as it attracted many wealthy settlers to the area. It also added 36,500 hectares of land that had been impassable wilderness to the agricultural area of the Waikato.
The Gordon homestead showing unclaimed swamp in the foreground.
As the relcamation work progressed, the company began to look around for a suitable site for its headquarters. On July 1, 1875, an interesting ceremony took place on the site of the future homestead.
Caption Steele, his daughter Elizabeth and some of their friends visited the area. In a lighthearted mood, after having had something to eat and drink, they formed themselves into a committee, their task being to pick a name for the place.
With Captain Steele as chairman, a discussion followed. Several names were tossed around. The outcome was a combination of the names of the ladies present in the party... EUREKA.2 After some political argument regarding the propriety of the Government's actions, ownership of the land was finally granted to The New Zealand Loan and Mercantile Agency Company Limited on the 20th July 1876. In 1879 a new Company - The Waikato Land Association - was formed and ownership of the original grant plus further land passed to this company. The Waikato Land Association changed its name to The New Zeland Land Association in 1890.
The homestead at Eureka became the headquarters for a large block of land owned by the company called the Woodlands Estate. It extended from just outside Taupiri, almost to Morrinsville, across to Eureka and Tauwhare and to the outskirts of Hamilton in the Rototuna area3. The estate's first manager, Mr Henry Reynolds, lived on Eureka Hill. This was for many years the property of Mr Lester Masters who believes the original homestead was built closer to the highway than his hous which is ont he site of that built for John Gordon. When his family moved to Eureka he found bits of old crockery and brick around the former site.
Mr Reynolds pushed ahead with the relcamation work. By March 1878 thousands of acres had been reclaimed through draining, clearing, burning-off and generally preparing the land for ploughing.
A Waikato Times reporter visiting the station that year noted: 'Passing through the entrance to the company's land we come to a canal twenty feet wide and twelve feet deep. Where once no man could move without sinking up to his armpits in the swamp, a buggy and pair may now be driven for two miles. The soil from the drain digging is being utilised and converted into a first class road.'
Summarising the Eureka property, we find there were then 5000 acres (2025 hectares) under grass, divided and fenced into paddocks; from 50 to 2000 acres (20 to 800 hectares) stocked with sufficient feed for 3000 head.
The expanse of reclaimed land gave the appearance of a majestic circle around Eureka Hill.4 In the autumn of 1881 the company moved its headquarters to Woodlands when 2000 acres (810 hectares) of the Eureca Estate was sold to an Australian from New South Wales - Mr Albert Bruce Suttor. In March 1881 he acquired the homestead, outbuildings, gardens and plantations and some of the most fertile land in the whole of the province for 18,000 pounds.5 The sale was regarded as one of the most important that had ever taken place in the Waikato as it heralded a new era in the history and colonisation of the area. It began the carving up of the company's vast property and it was hoped that before long the reclaimed land would be sold in small lots.
The Eureca Estate flourished under Mr Suttor. One Harry Bullock Webster, who travelled widely around the Waikato in the 1880's and kept several diaries on the progress of the area, visited Eureka in February 1882.
''... We came home by Eureka. Such a pretty station on a hill, good view and well wooded. The palce looked thirty years old but it wasn't in existence five years ago: every tree planted since then...''
Back again the the summer of 1883, he noted ``... On to Eureka, the adjoining station beloing to a man named Suttor. He'd often asked me to call and see him and this was the first opportunity I'd had of doing so, Pretty place, well laid out and planted. Hospitable man nice wife and children.
LAND FOR SALE
COMPRISING 7000 ACRES or
RICH SWAMP LAND & UNDULATING COUNTRY,
Situated int he Waikato, seven miles
North-east of the Town of Hamilton
on the drain line of railway to
IS NOW BEING SURVEYED FOR
SUB-DIVISION INTO DAIRY FARMS,
AND WILL SHORTLY BY
OPEN FOR PRIVATE SALE
On Liberal Terms.
Stayed thre for dinner and then drove with him into Hamilton shopping... very hot drive and Hamilton looking miserably dull and deserted - one of the dullest places I think I ever saw.''
Eight years later Mr Suttor sold up and returned to Australia. The New Zealand Land Association bought the estate from him in March 1892 and made it an outstation of the Woodlands Estate.
By this time Mr John Gordon who had come north from Oamaru had taken over the management of the estate. Each outstation had an overseer who reported to the manager and at Eureka a man named Arthur Edmonds was in charge. The company bred stud sheep at Eureka and there were several stockmen who staffed the station.
In 1898, a depression in farm produce prices caused the collapse of the New Zealand Land Association and the Assets Realisation Board was formed to sell the Association's holdings. The Woodlands Estate was first put on the market as a block, at one pound an acre, but no one was interested. Mr E. de C. Drury, a surveyor of Hamilton, then subdivided the estate into smaller lots.
These various lots sold for a total of about 250,000 pounds.
Mr John Gordon bought the Eureka homestead block, some 900 acres (364 hectares) with 800 acres (324 hectares) of peat thrown in for 4,601 pounds.
The borken down old homestead had to be replaced. Mr Gordon built his house on the site of the present Masters' home.6 All the outbuildings were still in good condition and the land was fenced. When Mr Gordon moved in Eureka in 1903, Hukanui, where he lived previously was named Gordonton, after him.
When the Association's land had been sold the other assets were disposed of.
On a beautiful sunny winter's day in Juye 1902, the Eureka Estate's livestock and implements finally went under the auctioneer's hammer. The estate's clearing sale, held on June 19, attaracted 500 to 600 people - a record attenandance for the Waikato.
Bidders came from all the Waikato districts, Thames, Whangarei, Waiuku and other places in the Auckland Province. The sale started at eleven o'clock sharp and the auctioneer was Mr H. O. Nolan, of the Auckland branch of the New Zealand Loan and Mereantile Agency.
He skillfully pushed through the heavy catalogue, disposing of the implements before lunch. A short adjounment was made for lunch which was laid in the large barn at the homestead.
Even allowing for the excellent reputation the Association had for the quality of its stock, record prices were offered that day,a Waikato Argus report of the proceedings stated. Among the buyers recorded were the names of several of Eureka's early settlers: Mr John Gordon, Mr James McClennanm, Mr W McHardy, Mr John Roche and Mr Tom Hinton.
"The sale was concluded at five o'clock and everyone was soon homeward bound after seeing perhaps the finest lot of stock every passed under the hammer in the Waikato in one day."