Templetons Blacksmith 1935

Albert Town History

Albert Town, on the confluence of the Clutha, Hawea and Cardrona Rivers, was the first to be settled in the remote Upper Clutha during the late 1850s. It was originally sited at the place on the Clutha river where could be forded in relative safety. (The only place over the length of the river that can be forded). It provided access to the farmers on the Wanaka Station (Started in 1858), which had a homestead close to the ford. Initially the pastoralists of Wanaka Station used the site to cross the river, their only access to the station.

George Hassing started a river crossing at Albert Town (initially called Albert Crossing after Prince Albert the husband of Queen Victoria who had recently died). Before becoming the punt which operated until around 1930, a dray box and a whaleboat were utilised. Also in 1861 David Robertson opened an accommodation house, later taken over by Mr and Mrs Henry Norman who also opened a store. This was initially on the Hawea side of the river and later moved to the Albert Town side when sections were offered in 1865. This hub of activity led to the establishment of accommodation and transport for the gold miners heading to Arrowtown, and later the settlement grew to provide goods and services for the wider community. 

In 1861 John Connell surveyed the area and named the district Newcastle, but as it was already known to the local residents as Albert Town after the Albert Crossing and they continued to use the name.

Like Pembroke (Wanaka) the street names on the original survey were named after coastal locations in Ireland from Dublin to Waterford, with streets named Wicklow Terrace, Kingston(derived from Kingstown), Kinnibeg, Carlow, Arklow and Wexford Streets. 

Albert Town was the centre of the Hawea/Wanaka region for almost a decade largely because of its role in communications. Until 1873 it was the post office for the district, and the arrival of the mail coach would see the town fill up with men from the outlying areas. The Post Office continued to operate well into the 1920s providing the same service to the district.

Floods late in September 1878 destroyed all evidence of Newcastle on the north bank, and the only reminder of the name is Newcastle Road in Hawea Flat which connected to the punt.  Guests at Norman’s hotel had to flee as about a metre of muddy water swirled through their rooms. Houses, trees, animals and punts were carried away. Lake Wanaka rose 4.26 metres above normal.

By 1878 Albert Town’s position as a commercial centre of the region was being challenged by Pembroke.

In the 1880s the town boasted a blacksmith, John Hardie, and later a taxidermist.  But its role as a river crossing kept it important, the punts remaining in operation until 1930 when the Clutha was finally bridged just above the town.

Around 1877 Henry Norman planted many of the Willow and Poplar trees which give the town its charm today.

In 1904 James Templeton became the first paid puntman by the Vincent County Council. He did have to operate the
Upper (beside the current bridge) and Lower Punts so it was sometimes a long wait while he walked between the two punts. The service was speeded up when the County purchased a bicycle to travel between the two punts.

Charles Templeton (James’s Son) took over the family’s blacksmith wheel righting business (started in 1906) in 1913 and gained a reputation of being able to fix almost any broken equipment. It is most likely that farmers came from all over the district to have work done that Albert town survived to this day. Templeton and Sons Engineering is the oldest continually operating business in the Upper Clutha and is the Bank of New Zealand’s oldest customer in NZ.

The Gunn Family was another family to have an effect in Albert Town’s growth. The farm they owned was subdivided in the 1950-1960s into sections forming Alison Avenue, Gunn Road, Lagoon Avenue, Tanya Terrace, and Dale Street. 

The remainder of the farm was sold to Norman Pittaway which now forms Riverside stages 3 to 7.

Albert Town was the site of the first school in the district opened as the Wanaka School in 1868 and continued until it closed in 1944. It was only called the Albert Town School in 1940 after Pembroke as renamed Wanaka. The school has various locations around Albert Town, around the Cardona River near the lower punt and in the dining room of the former Albert Hotel. Its last location was on the corner of State Highway 6 and Monteith Road. 

Albert Town Cemetery which was the earliest (around 1860) in the Upper Clutha. It is in the Camping area just on the Hawea side of the Albert Town Bridge. It is uncertain how many of the early settlers are interred there as a fire destroyed the wooden headstones and floods rolled away some of the stone markers over a period of time. The cemetery records were lost when the Norman’s house was destroyed by fire. Some of the markers were used over time as fireplaces by campers.  In 1952 some of the locals gathered up as many of the headstones they could find and set them into a memorial plinth. Around 1962 they added the stone pillars and chain fence. About 2007 the Queenstown Lakes District Council surveyed the area and fenced off a larger area that they found contained graves. At the same time they closed the cemetery for burials even though it was thought the last internment was thought to have been around 1883.

 

Sources

Templeton Family Archive

Wanaka Story-Irvine Roxburgh

Albert Town-Barbara Newton