Wallath_Rd.jpg Wallath Road sign (2010). Mike Gooch. Word on the street image collection.

Wallath Road is named after the Wallath family, early farming pioneers of Westown, and family of the infamous New Plymouth highwayman, Robert Wallath.

Robert was born at sea in 1874 to German parents, Hermann and Catherine. Robert's parents were highly respected farmers after shifting to upper Westown in New Plymouth and his father was also a well known builder.

Robert spent his youth indulging in 'Robin Hood' style novels, his favourite character being Dick Turpin. All this reading of romantic renegades inspired young Robert to become something of a romantic highwayman figure himself. His first foray into mischief was on Easter Monday 1892 when he held up a settler, Henry Jordan, and demanded money from him. The list of crimes grew over the next 15 months, but nobody knew the identity of the highwayman.

On 20 July 1893, Robert attempted to hold up the Criterion Hotel, but his attempts were foiled. In the process his pistol fired and shot Harold Thomson, the publican's son. The trial started on 28 July with over 500 people coming to witness Wallath's trial. He was sentenced to 8 years hard labour, but only served  4 ½ years.

Wallath repented whilst in prison and kept a lengthy diary of his epiphanies which where published as A Highwayman with a Mission. After being released he married, produced four children and resumed his work of farming and carpentry. He died in 1960.

This story was originally published in the Taranaki Daily News.

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