THE HISTORY OF NORSEWOOD:
By the end of the 1860's it was clear that the 'Seventy Mile Bush' which extended from Kereru almost to Mauriceville, was a major obstacle to communication between Hawkes Bay and the South and West of the North Island.
Julius Vogel was keen on more immigration and extensive land development and was borrowing heavily overseas to enable this to happen. The land was bough from Maori under the Government Plan.
A number of factors promoted the government to look to Scandinavia as a likely source of immigrants-
*The supply from Britain was falling away.
*The success of Danish settlers, who had already followed Bishop Monrad to the Manawatu, in clearing bush in that region.
*The people from Scandinavia had a rural/forestry background which would be appropriate for the work that lay ahead.
In their eagerness to attract the prospective immigrants the government officials were less than honest in describing the conditions the immigrants would meet. There was no explanation of the difference between the dense NZ bush with its heavy undergrowth and numerous hardwood trees and the more open coniferous softwood forests of their homelands.
An agreement was made with Winge & Co in Christiania, which would allow for 3,000 emigrants to New Zealand. In the years 1870-76 nearly 1,000 Norwegians moved to the Norsewood area.
The climate was described as mild sub-tropical-fruit growing in abundance and Norsewood in September can hardly be described that way. Nor were they warned of the area and the consequent high costs for foodstuffs, tools and medical services.
The Hovding with 328 Norwegian and 16 Swedish immigrants arrived in Napier from Christina (Oslo) on September 15th 1872 just a few hours after the barque Ballarat arrived from London with 71 Danish immigrants on board.
Four days later the women and children were left behind and the 84 married men left with agent Halcombe to head South. On September the 24th they arrived at Te Whiti a Tara, a clearing in the bush where a ballot for sections was held immediately.
Most men chose the Tua Tua block (Norsewood area) while 22 Danes chose the Omutaoroa Block (Dannevirke area)
The women were due to arrive in mid October, so the men had only a short time to clear space and build a shelter on their section. One account ofthe time said 'a feeling of despair pervaded the party when they saw the site of their future home and realised the tremendous task they faced in providing dwellings and bringing the land into production. Until slab whares were errected temporary shelters of tarpaulin and poles were general.
All the farms consisted of 40 acres and most men had to find work away from home, usually on public holidays, so that they could pay off their debt to the government. This left the women and children to work the land. They grew everything possible for home and sale.
Laden with baskets of produce and with small children dragging at their skirts, they would walk many miles to the nearest railhead to sell their goods. If they were fortunate they would sell enough to enable them to buy supplies and they would not have to retrace their footsteps dragging 100lb bags of flour as well as their tired children.
Many of the men worked on railway construction or roading, but by 1876 one or two logging camps had sprung up. Bullock teams became a familiar sight hauling timber to the railways or logs to the saw mills. The mills in turn gave rise to other enterprises such as blacksmiths shops and even a brewery.
In March 1888 there was a huge and devastating fire which wiped out most of the village and and many of the surrounding homes as well as sheds and fences. The settlers saw it as just another problem to be faced and overcome and they began the rebuilding process immediately.
The fire had cleared much of the remaining bush and of course the ashes fertilized the soil. Development from this point onwards was comparatively rapid.
A dairy factory was built and as more people arrived to develop the surrounding areas, the village grew. In the 1950's there was a sharp decline in butter production, with sheep being preferred to cows, but recently there has been a return to dairy farming in the area.
Norsewood today is a quiet country village, in Upper Norsewood there is a school, Information Centre, Health Centre, Caravan Park, Police Station and Pioneer Museum. Businesses include a Hairdresser and Beauty Salon, Backpackers, Cafe, Superette with Petrol & Diesel. Country Kids Pre-School Centre, The crown Hotel and Norsewood Clothing Shop.
In Lower Norsewood you will find the New Zealand Natural Clothing shop and Woodcarver, Garage, Fire station, Community Hall and Children's Playground.
Various Tradespeople are found in the village,including agricultural contractors. The local school is very well regarded and the children help keep alive the Scandinavian traditions of the district when they perform in costume the traditional folk dances. Just down the road 2kms North there is a Golf course,where there is a healthy membership.
The Scandinavian influence is apparent in the street names and in the names of the soldiers on the War Memorials or the early settlers who have been buried in the quiet cemetery looking out toward the often snow covered Ruahines.
In 1972 The Norwegian Government presented a Bindalfaering- a traditional fishing boat. To mark the Centenary and this is housed in a special glass building in the main street. Norsewood is a town which refused to die when the main highway cut the town in two in 1966 and thus reflects the indomitable spirit and determination of the early Scandinavian Pioneers.
Every year on a Sunday in May we celebrate Norway's National day. Our friends from around New Zealand converge on Norsewood to celebrate our mutual interests in Scandinavian heritage. Colour, music, dancing and tradition all combine into a moving experience for all.
Over the next several years, hundreds of other settlers also found themselves struggling to establish a new life on the many 40-acre bush-covered 'farms' in the vicinity of Norsewood. Which - in turn - became the district's main town. These people included many more Norwegians, as well as Swedes, Danes, Germans and Britons. Life for these people was very hard.
Promises made by the New Zealand Government, the Hawkes Bay Provincial Government, and their agents, were not always kept. Poverty was well known in the district, as were natural calamities such as the Great Flood of 1880 that isolated the district for a few days, and the major fire of 1888, that destroyed much of Norsewood and left around 170 people homeless.
The New Zealand Government had promised to employ these immigrants on various Public Works, such as building roads and railways through the district. However, things did not always go according to plan - especially when the country descended into economic depression around 1880. Also, when the long awaited railway eventually opened at the point nearest the town in August 1880, it had bypassed Norsewood and passed through the town of Ormondville, which is six kilometres away. Thus Ormondville's status rose, while Norsewood's status declined somewhat.
Norsewood's situation on State Highway 2 brought the town to predominance again with the rise in car use. The re-alignment of the highway in 1966 divided Norsewood into the "Upper" and "Lower" halves. Now travellers only see signs and the bridge joining the two halves as they travel on the highway.
Hovding is the Norwegian ship Hovding, after its subsequent conversion to a barque. It brought two large contingents of Norwegian settlers bound for Norsewood (and some for Dannevirke) in 1872 and 1873. Contrary to some claims, these two voyages involved the same ship but with different captains - the first having been accidentally killed during the trip back to Norway after the 1872 voyage.
The Kahikitea tree in Kopua Road is a remnant of the original forest in the district. Once the Seventy Mile Bush was covered with trees like it - and much larger versions of it. ANZAC Park, previously known as the Norsewood Domain, can be visited to get a sense of what the bush in the area was like.
The Scandi-wheel imagery appears throughout Norsewood. This wheel with a square inside was invented by the Scandinavian settlers for use in the forest. The spokes of normal, less sturdy wheels broke all too frequently in the rough forests so this unique wheel came in great use to the settlers for clearing the forest.
The Norsewood Cemetery, on Ngamoko Road, is possibly the largest predominantly Scandinavian Cemetery in Australasia. The first burial occurred there within weeks of the first settlers arriving in 1872, with the death of a small child. An oak tree was planted on the corner of Coronation Street and Ngamoko Road on 20th September 1897 to celebrate 25 years since Norsewood's settlement. A monument was added to the site for the 50th anniversary and another plaque for the 60th. Unfortunately, the oak had to be replaced in 1975 with another oak from the same stock as the original.
The N.Z Farmer, Bee & Poultry Journal, June 1898. - Norsewood Dairy Factory.
Dannevirke Advocate, January 1902. - The Beck Boer War Memorial.