Woodlands puts on the fun, then and now

Egg and spoon race historic pic
An egg and spoon race, c1927 in the Taranaki region. Thanks to History Always Repeats: Remembering New Zealand site and the Alexander Turnbull Library/National Library of NZ. Ref 1/2-017774-G.


With Woodland’s Pioneer Fundays fast approaching, N8N looks back at how the pioneers entertained themselves way back when.

A community sports day was held at the estate in Gordonton 133 years ago.  Headlined in block capitals THE WOODLANDS ANNUAL SPORTS, the article ran on Saturday April 4 1885 in the Waikato Times.  And a rousing write-up it received, too.

It shared space with advertisements for Pearson’s Carbolic Sand Soap – the sand was from the Waikato River – and artificial teeth – available in gold, silver, celluloid and vulcanite – at Auckland prices!

But the star of the day’s news was the wholesome recreation held at Gordonton, and “thoughtfully” organised by Waikato Land Association manager Mr H. Reynolds.

It was a way for the employees of the estate to enjoy the close of a busy season, held in a paddock adjoining the home station.

“The day turned out beautifully fine, with a cool breeze, and was emmently [sic] favourable to the day’s proceedings,” the paper reported.


Papers Past Woodlands 1885


Sadly, the turnout was not as large as previously, some of the most prominent athletes having left and others – the mind boggles – actually being debarred from taking part.

Mr John McNicol, the late sub manager at Newstead, was prevented from attending, and another well-known figure, known as the “Doctor” by his European friends, was also conspicuous by his absence – though he was an animated spectator.

“Nevertheless, those who entered for the various events went to work with the full determination to conquer or die, and though all were not conquerors it is as well to state that none of them were forced to accept the alternative.

“Some of the events were very exciting, notably the Hurdles, the Walking Match and the Obstacle Race.”

Young Wise made a splendid effort in the walking match, maintaining the lead until withing [sic] a couple of hundred yards from home, when Hocken put on a sprint and passed him.  Hocken, however, was disqualified for breaking, and the first prize went to Wise.

The Obstacle Race was very amusing.  The starting point was the lawn in front of Woodlands House, and the course lay across the gully, over a barbed wire fence, under a boom, which only admitted one at a time, through sacks, and over the grand stand.

Owing to the want of a good pole, the jumping events, while well contested, were second rate.

The great event of the day was the “Tug of War” between the station hands of Woodlands and those of Newstead.  The trophy, a pretty flag, was retained by Newstead after a plucky and determined struggle.  At first fortune seemed to favour the parent station, Newstead being dragged inch by inch over the line, but they hung on like grim death, and having allowed their opponents to expend all their spare energy, fairly pulled them over, amid the greatest enthusiasm.

During the day, and at the close of the proceedings, the visitors were hospitably entertained by Mr and Mrs Reynolds, while all and sundry who sought harmless refreshments on the ground were able to find it at the temperance booth presided over by Mr Pearson of Hamilton East.

The article then published a list of the events, which included:-

Maiden Race, 100 yards.  1st prize, cake-basket, 2nd, set of studs; 3rd, pocket book.

Running High Jump.  1st prize, writing desk; 2nd, scarf pin; 3rd, purse.

Hop Step and Jump. 1st prize, ring; 2nd, concertina; 3rd, tobacco pouch.

¼ Mile Handicap Hurdle Race. 1st prize, cruet stand; 2nd, writing desk; 3rd scarf  pin.

Throwing the Hammer. 1st prize; Gladstone bag; 2nd, pocket book; 3rd, match box.

200 Yards Handicap.  1st prize, teapot; 2nd, accordion; 3rd, tobacco box.

Putting The Stone. 1st prize, portmanteau; 2nd, saddle bag; 3rd, silk handkerchief.

Walking Match, two miles. 1st prize, saddle and bridle; 2nd, Gladstone bag; 3rd portmanteau; 4th, pin.  (Hocken was disqualified for breaking, it reminds us!)

The day also included a Married Women’s Race, which was competed for by the husbands.  First prize was a Kaiapoi rug, 2nd a bag of flour and 3rd a silk handkerchief.

For the original story in all its glory, click here.  Many thanks to Papers Past.


  • In the spirit of the above excellent entertainment, Woodlands is holding its Pioneer Fundays on Tuesday 17, Wednesday 18 and Thursday 19 April, from 10am to 2pm.    There will be vintage machinery, alpacas, donkeys, garden trail activities, Victorian Amusements and much more.   Click here for N8N’s story on the first fundays, held last year.


Photo of Woodlands with Victorian Amusements


Photo of donkeys











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