Perhaps we haven’t been venturing far from home this summer but for many New Zealanders it’s still prime holiday season, Covid or no. When I was wondering what to write about for this week’s post, I came across a photo I’d taken a few years ago and realised how overlooked these men (and they were all men in the early days, not so now) usually are.
So here’s a toast to land surveyors, without whom we wouldn’t be zipping all over the country on routes they mapped out. Our 19th century surveyors, who worked in tough conditions, are honoured with various memorials around the country. Here are a few I’ve come across.
John Turnbull Thomson was born in England, educated in Scotland and at the ripe old age of 16 set sail for Penang in Malaysia, where he surveyed estates for relatives before becoming Government Surveyor to Singapore in 1841. During the next 12 years he laid out the town of Singapore and surveyed the island. After becoming ill he returned to England in 1853 to recuperate and in 1856 came to New Zealand.
Although he intended to farm, his reputation preceded him and Turnbull Thomson was offered the position of Chief Surveyor for the province of Otago. After selecting and laying out the site for Invercargill, he began to explore, mapping (and naming places in) Otago as no one had before. On the abolition of provincial government in 1876, Thomson, who was the father of nine daughters, became New Zealand’s first Surveyor-General and introduced a uniform system of surveying. The Thomson Mountains in Southland were named for him in 1863.
The Red Post in Canterbury marks the junction of where tracks from Waiau, Hanmer Springs and the Hurunui River met (now SH7 and 70) and until the railway arrived in 1886 gave its name to the surrounding area (now Culverden). There is also a modern geodetic survey mark on the corner and an information board in the pulling-off place beside the Red Post.
Given the conditions they worked in, and under, it’s hardly surprising surveyors died on the job, either from accidents or illness. Joshua Morgan was only 35 when he died from what was probably peritonitis in remote and rugged country between Taumarunui and Stratford.
In charge of the survey party working in Tangarakau Gorge, Joshua Morgan was struck by stomach cramps on February 24, 1893. At once, two of his assistants trekked 50km to fetch medicine, which had little effect. A week later another assistant set off as his boss had now become delirious, but on the return journey met the chainman who had come to tell him Joshua Morgan was dead.
Two years later, the road to Whangamomona was constructed on the team’s survey line. And almost 60 years after his death, Joshua Morgan’s widow Annie had her ashes placed in his grave which sits amid bush above the Tangarakau River.