Joshua Morgan's life was ruled by inconstant weather. In almost every entry in his diaries of 1892 and early 1893, he puts the weather first:
“21 Feb, 1893 Wind NW. Light showers. All the men, accompanied by G.F.R. and Mr Holdsworth, went to Putiki for a load of food.
22 Feb, 1893 Wind NE. Finished observing up to camp.
23 Feb, 1893 Wind NE. Light Showers. Clarry went to Tahoraparoa for a load of apples and did not get back before dark.
24 Feb, 1983 Showery. Blowing hard. The men split about 90 pegs.”
But such plain, economical notes hardly do Morgan justice. The first European to cross Te Urewera ranges, he had been an eyewitness to the Tarawera eruption of 1886. He spoke fluent Māori and often lapsed into the language in his writing. And he could turn his hands to most things, including building a home for wife Annie on their Kaimata South Road, Inglewood property. His diaries show a well organised builder and husband:
“The estimated cost of things required to finish off the house –
Corrugated iron for veranda 8 sheets
For wash house 10 sheets
Total cost 2.11.0
Chest of drawers and washstand plus furniture for front room = a total of 25.10.0"
After daughter Edith Leila was born in 1891, Morgan decided to give up surveying and stay on the farm. But chief surveyor for Taranaki, Sydney Weetman, knew an eastern road was essential to link Stratford to Taumarunui. A local road surveyor, Mr G.T. Robinson, personally recommended Morgan for the job.
The plan was to start at the Pohokura Saddle and work north, eventually connecting with another survey group coming south. But at Tāngarākau, it proved impossible to get a line over the Pakaru Range. The area was so remote that supplies were brought in from Urenui over the old Māori track.
Morgan worked wet and dry and took great interest in his work. His employers were soon so impressed that they increased his wages by 2/- a week.
Morgan made it home for his little girl's first birthday party around Christmas 1892, and after a bout of influenza went back to his survey party. On Friday, February 24, 1893, he was struck down by violent stomach cramps which he thought might have been due to green apples he had eaten. Nothing seemed to help, not even the hot poultices applied to his abdomen to ease the pain. Comrades Laing and Telfer hurried out to Urenui and three days later brought back medicine from Dr Leatham but this had no effect. Another from the survey party, a man called Thompson, set out again.
Deep in the bush, Morgan knew he was dying. He willed the farm to Annie before lapsing into delirium and feverishly mumbling his last words in the Māori he knew so well. Thompson, on his way back, met up with Laing and Willison who carried the terrible news that Joshua Morgan had died of suspected peritonitis on March 3, 1893 aged 35. The three men walked out of the bush and returned with Constable C.G. Bleasel who helped them bury Morgan where he had died, at the junction of the Paparata Stream and the Tāngarākau River. His loss was keenly felt. Leila was just 15 months old. Annie never remarried and waited 60 years to lie with her husband again when her ashes were placed on his grave.
Using the line that Morgan marked, the road to Whangamōmona was opened in 1895, though some of the first users had to walk through 72 kilometres of mud. In the same year, the county took over the finished part of the road as far as Douglas. To stop it being ruined by wagon wheels, they banned all bullocks between May and September. They also stipulated tyre widths for drays, carts and wagons for the rest of the year and the surface was laid with shell rock which made “a splendid road”.
Because of a lack of metal, the road over the Whangamōmona Saddle that Morgan had recommended a tunnel for was sealed with baked papa. Blocks of blue papa, 30 centimetres by 15cm by 15cm, were built into kilns with a square opening left for firewood. The outside was plastered with mud and the fire left to burn for two days. After four more days to cool, the inside blocks were taken out and broken up for road material and the outer blocks left for repeat firings. This formed the pink surface that can still be seen today. Though it was an expensive business, it was far cheaper than a tunnel which would have by-passed the Whangamōmona township. The kilns were used for the next 10 years, usually fired in summer when wood was plentiful and dry.
By Christmas 1897 a coach ran from Stratford to Whangamōmona for a fare of 14 shillings, though travellers were still expected to walk over the three steepest saddles. Tools, wire and rope were carted as emergency equipment.
According to local legend, driver Jack Hewer was something of a fancy dresser and he and his horses were unusually smartly groomed - at least they were when they left Stratford, but by the time they made it to Whangamōmona, the potholes and bogs had changed that!
In 1924 the road became Highway 40 and then Highway 43. By 1931 it was metalled and by World War Two it was sealed. The gap between the saddle and Douglas was completed in 1948, bringing the seal from Stratford to the western foot of Strathmore Saddle.
The road that Morgan marked is now called The Forgotten World Highway and covers 150 kilometres from Stratford to Taumarunui. On average it takes around three hours to drive it and at least three days to see all its features.
Joshua Morgan's grave lies next to the Tāngarākau Stream. Many feel it's a memorial to all the hard working men who forged trails through inhospitable blocks of back country. Near it stands a theodolite, similar to one Morgan used. Iron and tōtara pegs used by his surveying party can still be found today.
The Crest of the Stratford County Council reads Nulla dies sine linea (never a day without a line) because at one time surveyed road lines opened up land on almost on a daily basis.
Church, I. (1990). The Stratford Inheritance: A History of Stratford and Whangamomona Counties. Stratford, Heritage Press.
Puke Ariki Heritage Collection: Joshua MorganLink