Caption: Ferrer's Golden Fleece Hotel 1855
The earliest Pākehā representations of Napier and environs in the Hawke's Bay Museums Trust collection are small pencil sketches and watercolour paintings. Although not necessarily seen as great works of art, they succinctly portray the landscape and inhabitants.
Artists represented in the collection include Robert Park who sketched Ahuriri, 1855; Alfred Chapman who documented his and his brother's daily lives at Edenham near Elsthorpe, 1847–1860; and D.R. Barnes who painted the Gore Browne Barracks on Mataruahou, Bluff Hill, 1861.
The earliest image of Hastings St in Napier is titled Ferrer's, Napier. The artist has not signed or dated the work, but it would have been drawn after 1855.
This small precise pencil sketch depicts a barely formed street with four buildings on the western side. Three figures stand outside Ferrer's Golden Fleece Hotel, the two-storeyed building in the centre. Two barely discernible people are seemingly involved in intense discussion in a fenced paddock to the right. In the foreground four cattle, bearing frighteningly large horns, lie sleepily in an ill-formed landscape. To give some sense of location - on the right, Hastings St curves towards Shakespeare Rd.
To the left of the Golden Fleece hotel is a small church-like building – it is in fact Napier's first school, run by Reverend William Marshall and his wife Jane. Money for the land and school was raised by settlers in 1855. The school was interdenominational and attended by children of all ages.
At a time when there were few public buildings in Napier, the school performed multiple functions beyond education. During the week, groups and committees held meetings in the evenings and on Sundays the building was used for church services and Sunday School.
As the population grew, Hastings St very quickly became the main business area, with commercial premises built on both sides of the road. By 1862 it would have looked very different from this sketch.
At 2.55am on Thursday April 3, 1862, residents living close to the business centre of Napier were awakened to the ringing of bells, indicating the "dreaded alarm of fire". In a town built entirely of wood, with no means of extinguishing or checking the flames, the residents would have been extremely anxious and frightened.
The fire began in Aaronson's jewellery shop, on the west side of Hastings St. These premises were separated from the Golden Fleece hotel by a lane. As the conflagration grew the flames became so intense that they leaped the vacant land and engulfed the hotel. Concerned onlookers bravely tried to save the building by vigorously beating the flames with wet blankets, but this proved futile. Encouraged by the northeasterly wind, the fire very quickly spread to adjacent buildings.
The Hawke's Bay Times reported that by four o'clock the fire was at its height, belching "a furious stream of sparks" and endangering the premises on which they fell. So fierce was the fire that buildings opposite the "flaming mass" were in danger. Nearly all the glass in the windows cracked and exploded in the intense heat. Other buildings were saved by the combined efforts of residents, using buckets of water and wet blankets.
Captain Newman's home, although a distance from the fire, was in danger of catching alight and every effort was made to save it by removing a fence that separated his home from the school. Fortunately, these precautions stopped the flames.
By five o'clock the fire was extinguished. But all the buildings from the Golden Fleece Hotel to the school were destroyed. This included the premises of Barraud & Bridge's, chemists; Mr Boylan, ironmonger; and Mr Williams, painter and glazier.
In the morning, smouldering remains and "seven spectral chimneys" were all that were left to denote "the fine block of buildings" that had existed the day before. The Golden Fleece hotel, built in native timber and valued at more than £2000, was destroyed. It was insured for only £1000 and the school was uninsured.
An inquest was held the following day. The jury could find no evidence as to the origin of the fire and strongly recommended that a fire engine be bought to prevent a similar catastrophe in the future.
Gail Pope is social history curator at the MTG.