Thomas Ball, J.P.

One of the most remarkable Mangonui settlers was Thomas Ball, a chemist from Brigg in Lincolnshire. Born in 1809, he was the son of a bookseller. In 1834 he married Jemima Abraham who died before he left for New Zealand.

It appears that Thomas Ball was something of an identity in his home, a prominent man on several committees, and deacon of the Congregationalist Church. With such a high profile it is unclear why he would choose to leave a comfortable life and head off to the other side of the world. Perhaps he was one of those people caught by his own pontifications when his audience accepted the plan. Other people in the area had much more fundamental reasons for wanting to get away from a social and economic structure that strictly limited their aspirations.

Early in March 1859 Mr Ball heard favourable reports of New Zealand and felt the working classes could make better lives for themselves in the colony than by remaining in England. He made arrangements for a group of about 80 agricultural workers, general labourers, tradesmen and others to join him in emigrating to 'Britain of the South'. Some paid their own fares and others surrendered their land orders for an advance of passage money. Several were single men and women, but most were husbands and wives with young families. With Mr Ball himself were his children, William, aged 24, Emily, aged 20, and Lucy Ann, aged 18. Mr Ball is sometimes referred to as a doctor, no doubt because, as a chemist, he was able to give medical advice. He is also written of as Reverend Ball, whereas he was a lay-reader.

On the American-built 'Matoaka' the group sailed from Gravesend on 15 June 1859, under the command of Captain Stevens. After calling at the Snares Islands on 10 August, they arrived in Wellington on 13 September, where around 100 passengers landed. On the journey immigrants were generally healthy, although there were five deaths, two of them children. Three babies were born on the way. At least two romances blossomed aboard ship. Alice Thompson and George Thomas were to marry later, as were Emma Skelton and William Garton.

Leaving Wellington on 17 September for Auckland, the vessel was struck by a gale which split the foresail, the fore-topmaststaysail and the mizzen-topsail and forced the captain to hove-to under close-reefed main topsail for almost 12 hours. In the evening of Sunday 18 September, a sea was shipped which stove in the main hatch and lee bulwarks. With relief, passengers disembarked at Auckland on 26 September.

Some of the Ball Party, as it became known, remained in Auckland to seek employment and gather resources to purchase land. Those who accompanied Mr Ball to the north on the 'Dove' settled in and around Mangonui village, mainly in the Oruaiti Valley. Approximately 20 others of predominantly Wesleyan faith followed this party on the 'Phoenix', leaving England on 12 October 1859, some settling in the Mangonui area.

Methodism was alive and well when John Wesley blessed the walls of a large octagonal chapel in Heptonstall by preaching there in July 1764. Other such chapels followed at Rotherham, Whitby, Chester, Edinburgh and elsewhere. The buildings were designed as preaching houses. After attending the conventional church, dissidents covertly went to their 'preaching houses' for their preferred sermon. The logic was that the architecture dictated that the buildings could not be mistaken for churches. It was understandable that Mr Ball's group of Wesleyan adherents should set to on arrival and build an octagonal chapel for themselves in the Oruaiti Valley. This was achieved by 1861.

While living under canvas, Mr Ball built a ten-roomed weatherboard house for himself and family. Of the 50 gorse plants he brought to New Zealand in small oak casks, 30 survived the sea journey, and were then carried by packhorse to Oruaiti Valley. There they were planted in rows and protected by a paling fence. Mr Ball also brought an iron stove and farm machinery to his property, which he called SOMERSBY. He had good soil and plenty of water and soon he had a fine lawn and a formal garden, while his grove of specimen trees included laurels and redwoods.

The surrounding land was covered with fern and manuka, but on the higher ranges large patches of bush remained from the early days of kauri fellings. No fences existed and the few Europeans already in Mangonui owned a handful of cattle which roamed freely.

Mr Ball wrote that the village was a port of entry with a resident magistrate, a post office, three or four stores and an inn, and added that the district was in a wild state, quite unsuitable for sheep, although the natives owned a few horses and pigs. The gardens were poorly cultivated owing to the high price of labour, and the sight of thousands of acres covered with scrub with no animals or humans to be seen offered a poor prospect for the lazy. His group would need courage, patience and determination, even ingenuity, to succeed, and they would need to exercise self-denial. Some immigrants expected too much, he felt, and were not equipped for the life of a pioneer. He contended that any good, hardworking farmer with sufficient capital to carry on his operation until he made a profit could expect to improve his position. And labourers and artisans and servants were assured of employment. He had no patience with the indolent, intemperate, grumbling migrants, or those who arrived with no calling. Such folk, he thought, should stay at home.

Although rats and mice were a nuisance in and outside houses, Mr Ball approved of the absence of wild animals and snakes. Stock was bought at Auckland auctions and merchandise through Auckland agents at 'capricious' prices.

Mangonui township had been surveyed only a few years before the arrival of the immigrants and Thomas Ball took the opportunity of purchasing several lots, and as others left the area he bought their land - on Paewhenua Island and elsewhere.

Mr Ball was so highly regarded that in 1865 almost every settler in the County signed a petition urging him to allow himself to be nominated as a candidate for the area in the forthcoming election of a member for the Provincial Council and for the General Assembly. As a result he represented the district in the House of Representatives from 1866 until he retired in 1870; and was on the Auckland Provincial Council from 1861, and a member of the executive in 1862. When he resigned in 1872, his son, William Thomas Ball, took his place until 1876. Thomas Ball was also a Justice of the Peace.

Apart from farming, and having Auckland business interests, Thomas Ball opened a large general store in Mangonui village in partnership with Mr Robert Wyles, with branches at Awanui and Whangaroa.

In 1880 he moved to Onehunga and died there on Christmas Day in 1897.

His son, William Thomas Ball, a surveyor, married Charlotte Plater Duffus, daughter of Reverend John Duffus of Hihi, in September 1862, when he was 26 and she 25. He built a home only 200 metres from that of his father. The couple's daughter was born in 1864, and their four sons in 1863,1865,1869 and 1870. William Thomas Ball died on 5 August 1921. His sister, Lucy Ann Ball, married Robert, son of Reverend Duffus. Lucy died in 1929 and Robert in 1907. Emily Ball did not marry and died in Auckland in November 1933, at the age of 93.

Reverend AM. and Mrs Thomson, Presbyterians, occupied the Ball home in Oruaiti Valley for some years after Mr Ball's departure. Mrs Thomson held night school classes in return for household chores, and she also taught children the Sankey hymns. Mr Ball sold the farm to Samuel Foster in 1892, and Samuel's brother, John, bought it three years later.