Home' Greymouth Star : February 25th 2017 Contents Saturday Afternoon
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6 - Saturday, February 25, 2017
Just last week Westpower installed the first fast-charge
station in Greymouth for electric cars. Westpower also
has the town’s first electric car, which is so quiet it makes more
of a whisper than the putt-putt of its ancestor.
The very first motor car on the West Coast, a Peugeot,
could not even drive here — it had to be shipped aboard the
ss Mapourika by the Schaef family and was unloaded without
fanfare at the Greymouth wharf.
“My grandfather’s brother Arthur Schaef brought it
down,” Greymouth’s Graham Schaef said.
“He was a photographer in Wellington. He was interested
in flying, he built a plane and it took off a bit at Lyall Bay.”
At one stage the plane managed three short flights of
some 20 or 30 yards, the newspapers breathlessly reported,
noting the tendency of the wind to heel the airship out to sea.
In 1914 it caught fire in the shed and was lost.
But in December 1903, those heady days of magnificent
flying machines were still in the future (though the Wright
brothers made their first flight that very month, above the
sand dunes of North Carolina).
In rural New Zealand, it was all about four wheels.
The Peugeot duly arrived at Greymouth, where furniture
factory owner Guido Schaef was waiting for the new
“His brother wanted to show it off,” Graham explains.
Were crowds waiting? It is hard to know as it appears
neither the Greymouth Star nor the Grey River Argus reported
on the visit. Incredibly, a year or so before then, when Mrs
Schaef attended the horse races, the Argus reported in detail
what she wore (grey satin blouse, sequin collar). At the time
the car arrived in port it did report that Mr Schaef was on
holiday in town, but made no mention of the car.
It is summer 1903, Queen Victoria has been dead only two years, and there is
a whiff of excitement in the air in this new century. A motor car has arrived in
Greymouth for the first time, heralding the start of a new era with the putt-putt of
its engine. As Greymouth welcomes its first fully electric car into the 21st century,
LAURA MILLS takes a look at the earliest days of motoring on the West Coast at
the start of the 20th century.
They took it for a jaunt down to Hokitika, which
was no mean feat in an era when there was still no road,
people preferring to travel by rail. So they had to go
through Marsden to No Name, and Greenstone to Kumara
following the old coach road, which linked up the old gold
towns. It is here we find the first written account in the
newspapers, the little Kumara Times: “On Christmas Day,
Kumara was visited by a real live motor car. The machine
which was driven by Mr A Schaef of Wellington, created
a deal of interest and was the centre of attention for the
On they went through Stafford to Arahura, eventually
The tyres were so expensive they were wrapped in heavy
sail cloth to protect them.
On December 30, the Hokitika-based West Coast Times
recorded the fact the first car had made its appearance in
Greymouth on Christmas morning.
“It travelled about Greymouth during the day and was
well under control — never travelling more than six or seven
miles an hour although capable of covering between 40 and
“The car was greatly admired and I believe several of our
leading citizens expressed their intention of importing similar
As a result of that pioneering visit, Guido Schaef was
hooked and he went on to get his own car in Greymouth
soon after. He also set up Schaef ’s garage, originally in Petrie
Avenue in 1924, where he specialised in importing Buicks
In time, Guido got the very first number plate for
Greymouth — GM-1
which Graham more recently donated
to the Vintage Car Club at Shantytown.
In 1903 there were still only 150 motor cars in the whole
of New Zealand. Two years later Gustave Schaef was the proud
owner of a Mercedes, which is famously photographed with
Premier Dick Seddon behind the wheel. Archives record it as
Marsden Road, near Greymouth, but Graham Schaef says the
family was told it was at Lake Kaniere.
And so began the great motoring era.
By 1905, the West Coast Times was complaining that,
“two of these locomotives have been tearing up and down
the front street, round other street corners and peregrinating
generally considering this means of locomotion has only just
been introduced, in a manner that should not be allowed. If we
are to have motor cars and the like, let the owners thereof go
easy, not show themselves off as though they were something
above the common.”
That same year, cars were on show at the Hokitika
A and P Show, alongside horse-drawn buggies with rubber-
wheeled tyres, and traps and drays.
It was also in 1905 that the first car made it inland to
Reefton, visiting from Auckland.
In 1909, Mr Schaef was one of a party who managed to
drive to Blenheim in one day; the car consumed 18 gallons
of petrol along the way. By 1912, Kennedy’s shipped to
Greymouth the first motor taxi — a Model T Fore.
In 1914, ‘Gustan’ Schaef was in court after a car crash
near Rapahoe. The defendant was Auton Falkenbach, whose
car had to go to Christchurch for repair as no one on the Coast
could do it.
The motoring honeymoon was over.
PICTURE: School Resources Film Strip on NZ Transport
A car imported from England and assembled at the Dispatch Foundry in Greymouth about 1904.
PICTURE: History House
Arthur Schaef and his Peugeot — the first car to arrive on the West Coast, in 1903.
The original Schaef ’s
Garage, in Petrie Avenue,
On Kaniere Road, near Hokitika, in 1904.
The first Greymouth number plate.
PICTURE: History House
Richard Seddon behind the wheel of Gustave Schaef ’s Mercedes, about 1905. Gustave Schaef took the photograph. Besides the
Premier is his granddaughter Ellen Charlotte Morice, and behind her in the back is Seddon’s sister Phoebe Cunliffe, with his wife
Janey Seddon in the middle and Mrs C L Morice, whose son Dr Charles Morice married Seddon’s daughter Louisa.
PICTURES: Courtesy Graham Schaef
Guido Schaef standing in his own car t Rapahoe before
number plates were issued.
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