Cordt Bensemann

It was Germany’s loss and our gain when Cordt Bensemann and his family left in 1843.   He abandoned his regiment and was sentenced to death at a trial after his departure.  Germany, at that time, was group of principalities, each governed by it’s own nobility.  Next door in France, democracy had taken root, and the German people wanted the same.  Their own military forces were turned against them, and there-in lies the likely reason for Cordt wanting out.

Departure wasn’t to be plain sailing.  Due to foul weather, their ship, the St Pauli was detained for two weeks at the mouth of the River Elbe.  Small pox was running riot and there were food shortages in Germany.

 Cordt’s three-year old daughter died, and her body was consigned to the shallow delta waters.  The family now consisting of Cordt (32), Anna (31), and three children; Anna (8), Johann Albert (5)  , and Johan Heinrich (3) finally set sail on boxing day  They shared their ship, the St Pauli, with about 130 other emigrants including four Lutheran missionaries, Riemenschneider, and Wohlers (both ordained), and Heine and Trost (unordained). 

 

Bensemann first heard about New Zealand when he was in London in 1838  as part of a parade of honour at Queen Victoria’s coronation.    He saw promotional material prepared by Arthur Wakefield’s ‘New Zealand Company’.  Subsequently the company established an office in Germany, and attracted enough emigrants for two Nelson bound ships.

 

‘The Company’ built an empire settling emigrants.  Their choice of on-board agent, for the St. Pauli, a man called Beit,  was travelling with his wife and twelve children.  He harried and bullied the emigrants and at the slightest pretext reduced their rations to bread and water.  On one occasion he ordered the ship captain to put a man in irons.  In solidarity with the German emigrants, the captain refused, and it took the diplomacy the Lutheran missionaries to quell a violent uprising. 

Roughly half way through the journey, St. Pauli called for provisions at the port of Bahia in South America,  Heine sought out the Hamburg consulate in Bahia and delivered a  declaration out-lining Beit’s disregard for the passengers in his charge.  Beit was stripped of his position and was replaced by one of his sons.  After that the passengers were treated as human beings. 

The St. Pauli left Germany in the dead of winter, and arrived at Nelson Haven six-months later; also in the dead of winter (14 June 1843).

Soon after disembarking at Port Nelson about thirty Lutherans and the four missionaries were on the water again, but this time, for just a short journey on Tasman Bay, past Rabbit Island to  Bronte Landing on the Bronte peninsula.  From there they trekked to Lower Moutere and a low-lying tract allocated by ‘the company’ for their mission and settlement.  The settlers named it St Paulidorf.  

To drain the land, Arthur Wakefield had commissioned a ditch to the Moutere River, which flows out to the bay at the Moutere Estuary, just before Motueka.  Unfortunately, rather than take water away from the site, the ditch brought water to it.  The level of the ditch was below that of the river in flood.  Of this the settlers were blissfully unaware as they built a Mission House,  homes, and cleared land for cultivation. 

September 1943 was wet and twice water inundated their new Mission House.  When the ground had dried, the settlers pressed on, sowing seeds, and building a stop bank around two sides of their cultivated area.  Summer came and no further rain.  During January there were two fires.  The first was the result of sparks from a burning stump lit by the gang building the road to Motueka.  This was rapidly brought under control by Riemenschneider and a group of men with shovels.  The second was caused by sparks from a rubbish fire.  It burnt a larger area, but was also brought under control.

On April 4th, the drought broke.  Water re-entered the Mission House.  The stop-banks were breached, and logs and debris were carried onto the land.

The not- yet- beaten settlers decided, that it was time to build a church, and The New Zealand Company backed the venture, promising materials, and rations.  On 11 June, Riemenschneider went to Nelson to employ a German carpenter.  Bensemann would have been a good choice, but he was already employed as a sawyer in the Maitai Valley.

The settlers set to work levelling the site and laying the foundations for the church. Despite further floods the villagers battled on building their church.  Their crowning achievement being the erection of twelve- meter spire. 

In July there came a flood for which all previous inundations were but a prelude.  In the translated words of Riemenschneider: “About 11 pm I heard above the noise of the storm a dull sound like far off artillery.  The tumult grew much louder and I realised the strong stop bank build to protect our section had given way.  Like a long-angered lion who suddenly breaks his chains, the flood rushed roaring through our garden.  A second and third crash like the first followed and after each the raging of the water increased terribly.”

The New Zealand Company agent realised that it was time to evacuate the hapless residents of St. Paulidorf.  The men left first, to make alternative arrangements for their families.   Finally only Trost and Hiene remained.  The land was worthless, and they had no purpose.  To their dismay, the local Maori had already been evangelised by Wesleyans.

In 1845 all that remained of St Paulidorf was twelve rudimentary residences, and the framework of a church; all abandoned.   Most of the St. Paulidorf settlers quit New Zealand for Australia..  Today, all that remains is a plaque on the inland (Moutere) highway.

Cordt had made better choices.  He and a few others, left their wives and children in Nelson, and walked to Hope,   There, they built manuka and rush huts before sending word for their families to join them.   It was a fraught journey for the women and children.  They got lost making their way across the mud flats, but found a settlers hut where they able to shelter for the night, before finding their way to Hope in the morning.

Cordt and his wife then swapped places.  She was left to make a home and grow what she could, while he went to work as a Sawyer up the Maitai Valley.  Each Saturday he would walk to Hope, and then return on Sunday.  When Anna was twelve years old she also started weekly trekking to Nelson, to house-keep for her father.  Leaving on Monday, and returning, with him, on Saturday.

Like the majority of the Settlers, the Bensemanns arrived with very little, but Cordt had better earning power than most.  He was a carpenter, and possessed a virtuous blend of strong physique, stoicism and good judgement.  A Quaker called Strong employed him as a ship builder at 10 shillings per week. To put that in perspective, good land was, at the time, changing hands at between 10 and 18 shillings per acre.  Bensemann,  was ever industrious,  so it was inevitable that his family would prosper.

Bensemann’s sphere of influence expanded In 1849 when Pastor Heine (35) married fifteen year old Anna.

Bensemann  bought 200 acres, in Upper Moutere, from Heine and built  what was to become the Moutere Inn.

A track had been formed from Redwoods Valley, over the Moutere Hill, so it was no longer necessary to boat to Bronte and trek to Upper Moutere.

Barnicoat, who did the initial survey,  made provision for a Waimea-Moutere road passing behind the Moutere Hill, bypassing what was to become Upper Moutere village and, of course,  the site of the yet to be built, Moutere Inn.  Barnicoat had good rationale behind his proposed route.  In the days of horse and cart, or bullock and cart, hills were a major inconvenience both going up and going down.  Indeed, they remain an energy sapping impediment for motorised transport.

When instating Barnicoat’s surveyed route became a possibility,  Bensemann  demanded a local poll, and he made sure of the result.  When the vote was to be taken, he put a barrel of beer by the road with a notice that a free drink would be given to every man who voted for the hill route.  Bensemann vote buying made sure that, to this day,  you are obliged to drive over the Moutere Hill.

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Moutere Inn approx 1900

Should a pre-1900 settler happen upon the Moutere Inn in 2021, they would instantly recognise it.  The way Upper Moutere has developed or more particularly ‘not developed’ is the main reason the Inn is still the same old building, with just one addition and one set of removals (upstairs dormer windows).  Upper Moutere has stayed fairly similar for over 100 years.  Most early pubs have been subject to urban development and the need remain viable on sites of ever-increasing value.   This sort of development has by-passed Upper Moutere.   Except that in the 1960s Dominion Breweries purchased the pub and replaced the veranda with a closed in area, which also extends around one side.

The dormer windows that the building originally had. Proved problematic when Cordt’s shingle roof was replaced by iron in the early 1900s.  At the time the skill and common sense required to make  water tight unions at a change in roof pitch were absent and there-after there were leaks at the dormers.

Rather than address the issue when the iron was replaced twenty years later, an easy fix was removing the dormers.  A travesty for sure, but nothing compared to what happened to countless  pubs elsewhere in New Zealand.

Vis:  

Duke of Marlborough, Russel:  Burnt down three times

Thistle Inn, Wellington:  One wall and a staircase of the original pub remains.

Horeke Hotel, Horeke, Northland:  Some flooring and nails from the original remain.

All of the above, plus others, predate the Moutere Inn.  None, however, are the same building that they were at the time of opening.  The Moutere Inn absolutely is;  and therefore has a valid claim to be New Zealand’s oldest pub.

 

The Moutere Inn is destined to remain just as it is.   Since 2008 new owners have invested in the buildings integrity, rather than changing her.  They have assured her future by attention to plumbing, electrical, painting, and leaks. 

Yes leaks!  Everything Cordt built has stood the test of time,  the Dominion Breweries add-on has had issues.

The Moutere Inn today

with Andrew Cole, one of the current owners

Cordt died in 1883, but he left behind a large family which continued to make a lasting impact.  Son, Fred built the Villa in the heart of the village, now the home and gallery for potters, Owen Bartlett and Katie Gold.

Indeed we have Cordt and Anna to thank for one of our staff at Eyebright.  It turns out Kathie Russel is a direct decendent.  She’s a few generation down the track, but when Kathie was a girl, her  grandmother used to  regale her with tales Johann Heinrich Bensemann; yes, the same Johann Heinrich who was three years old when he travelled to Nelson on board the St Pauli in 1843.  The comment that Katie remembers best was that Johann had hands like dinner plates.  Check out the photo of Cordt, and you’ll see that he inherited that from his father.

Thanks for Kathie, Cordt, and thanks for the lasting landmarks you and your family have made in our district.