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Lodge, looking north towards the Taramakau River and Paparoa Range.
“It was about 1867 that Charles and Christiana and four kids came
over Harper Pass and settled at the mouth of the Taramakau,” descendant
Murray Montagu told the gathering.
Jemma Adams’ (nee Montagu) ears were pricked.
“Let’s mark the occasion with a walk across Harper Pass.”
And this week they did.
The Montagus on the West Coast can trace their name to the 15th century
and a yeoman farmer in England called Richard Ladde, who changed his name to
Montagu, possibly in recognition of an inheritance from a Montagu family living
Sir Edward Montagu served Oliver Cromwell in the 1650s, but then
commanded a fleet that helped bring King Charles II back from exile.
John Montagu was the fourth Earl of Sandwich (the man who, too busy
gambling to eat a formal meal, is credited with inventing the sandwich). His
wife declined into insanity and he started an affair with an opera singer. She was
murdered by a jealous suitor outside the Royal Opera House in London, and it is
from their children that the New Zealand Montagus descend.
Insanity, an affair, a murder and a hanging. What would the 1800s bring?
By the second half of the 1800s, Charles Basil was carrying the Montagu name.
PICTURE: Hokitika Museum
The Montagu family about
1906 outside the family
home at the northern end
of the Taramakau Bridge:
Edna Cheverton, Florence
Cheverton, Laura Noye (nee
Montagu), Dora Cheverton
with bike, Robert Noye,
Charles Montagu, Christiana
Noye, Christiana Montagu.
The Montagu home on the Taramakau
River circa 1906. The house on the right
is no longer standing, but the cob house
on the left is still there today. The gap
in the tress probably shows where the
terminal for the wire cage was situated.
On the southern bank you can see the
line of the tramway to Kumara, to the left
just past the bend in the road.
He was 21 when he left England, and the record — so scandalous just two
generations earlier — goes quiet.
He was married in Kaiapoi to Christiana Ellwood. Pictures show a man with a
drooping, luxurious moustache and a lady in a tartan dress, her hair neatly pulled
It is not clear why they left; he was well educated, and perhaps curious to see the
Probably in the summer of 1867, they headed over Harper Pass following the
old Maori trail to the West Coast with their four children, one of them just two years
old. How did they do it? How did they carry enough food? Where did they sleep?
Did someone carry the toddler?
They called the trail the ‘glue pot’, a half liquid marsh strewn with the skeletons
of pack horses, their bones picked clean by bush rats.
The family trek is reported to have taken two weeks.
Following the Taramakau all the way to the sea, the Montagus settled on the
north bank, where Charles bought 40ha of land. For the first decade they operated a
ferry across the river, and Charles mined for gold.
In 1877, his son-in-law George Cheverton designed and built the Taramakau
cage — a wire cable tram that crossed the river just a few yards upstream of the
current bridge. Charles and Christina Montagu’s cottage was the terminus on the
north bank, and the Tramway Hotel (now the Bridge Bar) the south bank terminus.
The cage operated for 17 years, until the current bridge was built.
Back then the surrounding area was densely forested. Weary travellers were
made welcome, the kettle always boiling.
Despite her small stature, Mrs Montagu would row the boat in an emergency,
even if floodwaters were rising. The Montagu children walked the four miles to Paroa
Charles was known as ‘Lord Montagu’ and, by all accounts, his heart was on the
Of their children, Charles Edward Montagu stayed on the West Coast and
moved a little further south to Kapitea-Chesterfield in about 1912.
Charles worked on gold dredges and drove locos. After his death in 1935, his
sons John and George built a small cottage at Chesterfield for their mother Ida,
to save her walking all the way from the nearby Kapitea home via the rail line to
They were made tough in those days. In 1945, after breaking her arm, Ida simply
cut off the plaster with a bread knife when it was time.
In World War One she lost two brothers, a nephew and her eldest son, sergeant
Ellwood Charles Douglas Montagu, who was killed in action at the Somme in April
1918 after serving for 910 days overseas.
In time, Ida’s cottage was shifted to 114 Gibson Quay, in Hokitika, where it still
The area once occupied by the Montagu cottage became a playground for a
young Murray Montagu. About 1970, Lands and Surveys moved into Lamplough
Road to develop the area into farmland, including a new, straight road on the top
of the terrace. Here, in latter years, he developed the Kapitea Lodge on the ridge,
looking directly towards the Taramakau of his ancestors. The pakihi ground behind
became a dairy-beef run.
As clearing work progressed on the family ground below they found Ida’s
powder flask, a baby’s bottle, old bottles and a couple of old tram lines, all near an old
walnut tree that Charles and Ida’s daughter Grace had planted.
So last week they did it. Eight descendants walked in the footsteps of their
Montagu ancestors, over Harpers Pass.
They ranged in age from 20 (great-great-great grandson) to 76 (great-
granddaughter) of Charles and Christiana.
It took five days, from Windy Point on the east coast to reach the car park at
“We had stunning weather the whole trip, which made a rather arduous trip
pleasant. The magnificent scenery was breathtaking,” Murray Montagu said.
The trip was not the same, though, as their ancestors had continued right to the
mouth of the Taramakau River.
“We were in awe of their accomplishments, given the terrain and having four
The oldest family member who retraced the journey was Wellingtonian
Marjorie Montagu, 76.
She praised her fellow climbers (the youngest was her 21-year-old Australian
nephew Parker Montagu) for their help and encouragement, without which “it would
have taken me an awful lot longer!”
Ms Montagu said it was the most demanding, exhilarating and satisfying
journey of her life.
It is 150 years since intrepid members of the Montagu family
walked over Harper Pass at the head of the Taramakau River
to settle on the new West Coast goldfields. Before long they
established the famous cage that carried people and freight
over the Taramakau, right up until the opening of the current
road-rail bridge and Hokitika-Greymouth branch railway in 1893.
LAURA MILLS shares some of their colourful family history,
including their link with the Earl of Sandwich, a murderer
and Oliver Cromwell.
A noble history
150 years of the Montagus in Westland
The original family
home at Kapitea,
where Charles and
Ida raised their
PICTURE: Bob Naisbitt Collection
The passenger and freight cage over
the Taramakau River, as viewed
from the north side, possibly in the
late-1880s. It was run by the Montagu
PICTURE: Janna Sherman
Warren Montagu, left, and Murray Montagu — the last two direct descendants still
living around Hokitika, 150 years after their pioneering great-grandparents settled at
the Taramakau River 150 years ago.
History taken from The Journey West — Celebrating 150 Years
Since the Montagu Family Crossed the Southern Alps.
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