Pukenui.jpg Pukenui Street sign (2016). Mike Gooch. Word on the street image collection.

Pukenui St recalls a Māori settlement in the area. The name, which translates simply as "big hill", was attached to land that in the late 19th century was Native Reserve No. 14, New Plymouth.

The name appears in political writing in the Māori Messenger of 1859, which appears to have the purpose of convincing its readers that Māori would be better served by giving up their old customs in favour of individual ownership of title to land.

In 1887 the Taranaki Herald reported that the Native Lands Court sat to consider business relating to reserves including No. 14, Tetahi wahi o Pukenui. Unfortunately the result of their deliberations is not recorded in the newspaper.

The area became associated with nurseryman James Mitchinson. Having begun his training in horticulture with Lucomb & Prince, of Exeter, Mitchinson worked for a series of specialist establishments, including the Oakhill Market Gardens, the Crystal Palace and the Horticultural Gardens at Kensington.

Arriving in New Plymouth in 1861, he set up a nursery with Mr Hulke before taking over the Egmont Nursery from James Laird. Regular advertisements in the Taranaki Herald promote his selection of seeds of Mangold Wurzel, the beet fodder crop also known as mangels.

It is recorded that a fine of £5 plus costs was levied by the court for his having unlawfully ridden a horse on a public footpath, after being warned by the police not to do so. In a letter to the editor on the subject, Mitchinson allowed that he might have been drunk, the fine for which would have been 5 shillings, but he claimed unfairness that he was fined so much for an unintentional trespass.

In 1876, Mitchinson leased No 14 Native Reserve, Pukenui, and established the Caledonian Nursery there. The nursery occupied land between the present Hobson and Watson streets, and straddled Lemon Street. Plants grown at the Caledonian Nursery were famous all over the country, and he supplied nurseries in other centres.

In October 1895, Mitchinson was fined for not paying the wheel tax before using his cart on a road in the Taranaki County, and he died suddenly on the 29th of the same month.

This story was originally published in the Taranaki Daily News.

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