Mourning in Pirongia

There were no smiling faces to be seen in Pirongia during a grim week in November 1899 when two of the Te Awamutu district’s residents died within days of each other.

One was a popular storekeeper, Ernest Wickham, the other, Richard Bosanko, a celebrated sheep breeder.

Reverend Frank Latter

Measles and influenza had also been doing the rounds at Pirongia, laying people low and causing community events to be cancelled, adding to the sombre atmosphere. Life went on however – one of Ernest Wickham’s stepdaughters – Evelyn Prentice, postmistress, was appointed to a position at Ōtorohanga, to replace 23-year-old Sarah Davidson who was returning to Pirongia to get married.  Her marriage to 38-year-old James Macqueen was a bright spot in recent events.

But within days of the wedding James caught influenza and became seriously ill.  Much sympathy was expressed at the new couple’s misfortune. James, a very industrious and hard working settler, had the year before inherited a farm from an uncle and his future looked assured.  As the sting of grief subsided at Pirongia, news of the sudden death of James came as a sharp shock. It seemed almost inconceivable only a week before he had brought home his bride.

James was found to have had heart disease, the attack of influenza aggravating this and causing his death. Over 80 mourners left the Macqueen’s residence and followed James’ remains to the Pirongia cemetery, the majority on horseback. At Divine Service the young Reverend Latter, whose week had been busy with death bed scenes and funeral services, preached a most eloquent sermon in which reference was made to the demise of the three settlers. This was his first parish.

Instead of settling into marriage, eight months after his death, James’s widow Sarah sold the farm and everything that went with it. The clearing sale at Pirongia included all farm stock, horses, dogs and chickens. Drays, wagons and harrows went as well as carpenters tools, bullock chains, ploughs, guns and a boiler. Milk churns and cans and seeds and even potatoes were sold.

A house lot of furniture went under the hammer – bedsteads, washstands, tables, chairs, mirrors, rugs and clocks. A horsehair couch, oak chests, a rimu chiffonier and a mahogany writing desk with a secret drawer were bought. On the day of the sale the weather was dreadful – rain fell with heavy gales.  At one point some roofing iron was caught in the wind and blown over the heads of bidders like feathers.  Despite this there was a large attendance and the sale was most successful.

Ten years later Sarah remarried Ernest Redgate and settled at Mangapiko where they had two sons.  Within five years of her second marriage though Sarah died aged 38, after giving birth to a daughter.   She also was buried at Pirongia cemetery.





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