Wanaka Sun column by Pam Dovey - Upper Clutha Historical Records Society
A River to Cross – Albert Town
Albert Town was the first river crossing in the Upper Clutha area. It began as a ferry crossing, operated by the local pastoralists. When the goldminers began their rush to the Arrow and Skippers diggings, George Hassing placed a new boat on the river to cope with the demand.
In 1861 David Robertson built an accommodation house on the north bank of the Clutha just below its confluence with the Hawea. Later in 1862 Henry Norman, formerly manager at Roy’s Station, took over the accommodation house and the ferry service, naming them the Albert Hotel and the Albert Crossing after Prince Albert, Queen Victoria’s recently deceased husband. He also opened a small store.
The tiny settlement soon became known as Albert Town, despite it being given the official title of Newcastle (after the Duke of Newcastle) when it was surveyed in 1863 by John Connell. The survey covered the south side of the river as well, where Robert Kidd had a small hotel.
When new sections were offered in 1865, Henry Norman bought several, shifting his hotel and store over to the site of the present town. Like Pembroke (Wanaka) the street names on the original survey were named after coastal locations in Ireland from Dublin to Waterford and are now known as Wicklow Terrace, Kingstown, Rosslare, Kish, Nook, Kinniberg, Arklow and Wexford Streets.
Albert Town was the centre of the Hawea/Wanaka region for almost a decade largely because of its role in communications. Until 1873 it was the postal terminus, and the arrival of the mail coach would see the town fill up with men from the outlying districts. It was the site of the first school which opened in 1868.
Floods late in September 1878 destroyed all evidence of Newcastle on the north bank, and the only reminder of the name is Newcastle Road in Hawea Flat. Guests at Norman’s hotel had to flee as about a metre of muddy water swirled through their rooms. Houses, trees, animals and punts were carried away. Lake Wanaka rose 4.26 metres above normal. Across the Clutha River at Rocky Point between Luggate and Queensberry a new bridge had been built. The flood came on the eve of its opening. The river with an impish delight changed its course and left the bridge high and dry.
By 1878 Albert Town’s position as a commercial centre of the region was being challenged by Pembroke. In the 1880s the town boasted a blacksmith, John Hardie, and later a taxidermist. But its role as a river crossing kept it important, the punts remaining in operation until 1930 when the Clutha was finally bridged just above the town.
Sources: Ken Tomlinson: Aspiring Settlers John H Angus.
Cover photo: Albert Town Punt, New Zealand, by Burton Brothers studio, maker unknown. Te Papa (C.015158)
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