Crofton – a 19th century NZ temperance town

In the early 1870s William Fox decided to subdivide a small portion of his land in the Rangitikei district to establish a temperance town. This social reason for establishing a town is unusual in New Zealand – most towns would have started for economic reasons – access to resources (timber, land, gold, etc), ports, as labour camps while making roads and railways, and so on.

I have written about Fox before – I got interested in him when I worked at Heritage New Zealand and researched a house he had owned near Wellington (built 1857), which he called Crofton. Confusingly, he also called the nascent town in the Rangitikei, Crofton. So, first of all, where is Crofton (the town)? The Rangitikei district is in the mid-to-lower North Island – and Crofton is between the towns of Marton and Bulls – see the Google maps below:

Crofton location 2  Crofton location 1  Crofton location 3

As you can see there are probably no more than 20 houses. I have probably driven through it without even noticing.

In 1873 the Wanganui Herald asked “Where is Crofton? What is Crofton?… Crofton is a village on paper and geographically might be found about 2 miles from Marton. There are no houses yet in Crofton, but there is a number of half acre sections laid off, and if any one will be kind enough to put up a house, the owner, the Hon Mr Fox, will make him a present of a section. Crofton’s finest building is to be a Rechabite[1] hall, 30 feet long by we forget how many broad. After the hall is erected it is generally supposed dwelling-houses and shops will follow…” You can tell from the tone that already there is scepticism about the venture.This is the hall and a Mr Riggs wearing his Rechabite regalia:

Crofton hall  Crofton rechabite

Left: Rechabite Hall, Crofton, Marton.c. 1870s. Harding, William James, (1826-1899): Ref: 1/1-000327-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22820777. Right: Mr Riggs of Crofton, with sashes and jewels of the Independent Order of Rechabites. Harding, William James, (1826-1899). Ref: 1/4-003906-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/23162766

The West Coast Times said:[2]

Crofton

This attitude may partly have been because Fox was a divisive politician and quite often the subject of vitriolic letters to the editor. In this case, some people were suspicious of his motives – assuming that he intended to make a profit from the land sales (despite offers of giving sections away).

I still like some of the descriptions of him in the Encyclopaedia of NZ biography entry: “Fox proved more able at bringing about the fall of governments than at governing… although impressive in opposition, Fox was not a policy maker and had few ideas about where to lead the country. … Fox had become such a permanent feature of the New Zealand political scene that he was elected to Parliament for Wanganui in the general election of 1875–76, even though he was still overseas. His political career was in its final stages. Temperance was his burning interest, but he was a reasonable local advocate and also contributed to debates on educational issues. He had long supported a system of compulsory state education… Fox was a very intelligent man, an excellent debater, but bitter, vituperative.”[3]

Fox himself paid for the building of the Rechabite hall, which was built by 1874, and the newspapers report meetings in it from the mid-1870s. Crofton had a school by the late 1870s and a post office was located in the store.

The town was a source of amusement to some reporters; the Westport Times saying in 1878 that the scheme appears not to have been a success, the number of “teetotallers has dwindled down to three, the Christmas holidays having witnessed many cases of back sliding.”[4] More seriously, the Wanganui Herald reported in 1883 that the town “founded 10 years ago has made little progress since the first buildings were erected and seems destined to be nothing more than a country village…without industries of some sort, Crofton cannot attain to much greater dimensions than the present.”[5]

The same year a reporter for the Fielding Star wrote of his travels by rail to Wanganui and the places passed and was quite disparaging about Crofton[6] and may have deliberately noted the number of hotels in nearby Marton –

Crofton news item

So does anything of that former town still remain? The former store and post office built around 1875 is still there, although no longer a store.

Crofton store (former)

Former Store and Post Office, Google street view

Doing a Google street tour, most of the buildings (apart from this one) look reasonably modern.

Footnotes

[1] The Independent Order of Rechabites was a Friendly Society founded in England in 1835 as part of the wider British temperance movement to promote total abstinence from alcoholic beverages. (Wikipedia entry)

[2] West Coast Times, 4 July 1873, Page 2

[3] Keith Sinclair and Raewyn Dalziel. ‘Fox, William’, from the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, updated 30-Oct-2012 URL: http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/biographies/1f15/fox-william

[4] Westport Times 12 February 1878, Page 3

[5] Wanganui Herald, 5 May 1883, Page 3

[6] Feilding Star, 9 June 1883, Page 3

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