The Nicholls Story


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Nicholls Story

When Donald Hastie was a boy, he remembers visiting Claude Nicholls at his South Rd farm at Otakeho.

It was in the early 1950s, about the time his father, Andrew Hastie, was asked to be an advisory trustee of Mr Nicholls’ estate, which was to be administered by the Anglican Boys Home Society (Diocese of Wellington) Trust Board.

“I can remember him because he made plywood parrots that had a type of perpetual motion. He also gave me a plan for making them, which I eventually did,” Donald says.

“Also, I can remember he was a bit of an inventor and he was building a caravan at the time and before aluminium. He was building it of wood and I presume plywood.I remember my father saying ‘his car will never pull it’,” he says, laughing at the memory.

“That’s the only time I can remember seeing him.”

Ian Nicholls, Claude’s great-nephew, has other memories that support the inventor picture.

“He built a hedgecutter on a Fordson tractor, which had steel wheels,” Ian says.

“He claimed this was the first in the district. He had lots of problems keeping the belt on the pulley due to the jar caused by the flail arm hitting big boxthorn branches.”

The cattle stop on the road frontage was apparently also one of the first in the district and Claude’s own design.

“He had a dam, race and waterwheel providing power to the cowshed very early in the piece.”

He also bred and raced greyhounds, and one of his dogs once won the prestigious Waterloo Cup, which is still being contested today.

“He had heap of chooks once too, selling the eggs,” Ian says.

Claude Nicholls’ original will was signed 7 December 1951. It instructed the trust to carry on farming the land, but for his wife Eleanor to remain living there and collect the net income from the farm during her life.

The will then stated: “I direct my trustee upon the death of my said wife to hold my said farm for the purpose of establishing and carrying on a home or training farm for boys.”

Home for Boys

All profits from the farm were to go towards running of the boys’ home, which would be set up for agricultural education. But Nicholls might have had inkling the plan for his land was too ambitious, because clause 6F of his will offered an alternative.

It said that if the trustees had any trouble establishing the boys’ home, the land should continue to be farmed, with the net income used for “the education maintenance or benefit of such particular boys born or living in the Provincial District of Taranaki”. The will continued on to say that if the trustees saw fit they could extend the education benefits to boys living anywhere in New Zealand.

A first codicil, or alteration to the will, was made on 12 May 1953, giving the housekeeper, Charlotte Jane Aiken, his motor car and caravan, plus the proceeds of his £500 life insurance policy.

A second codicil was added on 16 August 1954. It gave his accountant and advisory trustee, Ray Henderson, the right to make the first offer to buy the Nicholls’ house in Liardet St, New Plymouth.

This home was where Eleanor Nicholls moved to after the death of her husband in late 1954. The offer to Ray Henderson had strict rules. It could only happen after Mrs Nicholls had died, and he had two months to take up the offer. After that it would lapse and the property would be sold on the open market.

Mr Henderson didn’t buy the New Plymouth home. But he did continue in his role of advisory trustee, along with Andrew Hastie. Eleanor Nicholls died in 1958.

Scholarship in Son's Name

On 14 March, 1961, the Anglican Boys Home Society held a meeting to discuss the future of the Nicholls trust. The society, together with the first advisory trustees, Ray Henderson and Andrew Hastie, determined it wasn’t practical to establish the training farm for boys.

Donald Hastie explains that there simply wasn’t enough land or money to do so. He also says that some of the capital gained during those early years, came from selling sandstone pit metal. The resulting scholarship trust set up following that meeting was named after Claude and Eleanor Nicholls’ son Royce, who died in 1920, aged 14.

The purpose of the Royce Nicholls Trust was to give scholarships to New Zealand boys, aged under-21, who wanted to attend an agricultural or veterinary college or school.

“The recipient of the scholarship or bursary shall be a boy who intends to take up practical farming as a career, or who shall be engaged in some occupation or calling directly concerned with primary production and for which specialised training is required,” official documents say.

Andrew Hastie and Ray Henderson oversaw the beginning of the scholarship trust. The Hastie connection with the trust has spanned more than half a century, from the early 1950s through to present day, and being passed on from father to son through loss.

Andrew Hastie died on 24 April 1967. About a year later, his farmer son Donald was asked to replace him as advisory trustee. By this stage Ray Henderson had been replaced by his accountant business partner, John Parker.

Battle of Generosity

During those early days, the trustees were forced to be quite frugal in their scholarships handouts.  “When I first started out we used to have quite serious arguments with the chairman of the Anglican Boys Home Society, which was based in Masterton,” Donald says.

The chairman was lawyer Henry Major, who was adamant that the scholarship recipients not be given too much. “He used to growl at us if we wanted to give more than $100 per student. We did occasionally sneak the odd one a bit over that.”

As the farm finances improved, more money was able to be awarded.

One of the recipients was a boy who biked from Masterton to Flock House in Bulls for his interview to get into the agricultural school, which is now defunct. “We paid his whole amount – $6000,” Donald says. The trust received a letter of thanks from that young man after he’d finished his course.

In 2008, the scholarships are much higher, with $3000 per year given to a veterinarian student, $1500 per year to a degree student and $500 to an agriculture ITO student.

“Until we opened it up to girls, we were struggling to get sufficient applicants to get rid of our annual money available.”

From 1998 to 2003, the trust recorded a cash surplus of $668,891, while the total grants made for the same period were $174,950.

Giving it to the Girls

It was at the 2003 hearing to alter the estate that the scholarship trust was opened up to females. The scholarship was also widened to include students aged up to 30 years.

“At the time Mr Nicholls’ will was made, it was not contemplated that students would be of all ages, rather than boys under 20 years of age preparing themselves for a lifelong career in either field. Nor was it contemplated that females would wish to pursue a career in these areas,” the trust board’s statement says.

The requested changes to the estate were agreed to by the courts.

“This last year, out of the Royce Nicholls Trust, we have given out $92,500,” Donald says.

The basis for all the giving is the farm estate left by Claude Nicholls, which provides the capital for the scholarships.

It also gave a family a long-time link with the land.

Sharing the Land

In 1962, Andrew Hastie interviewed sharemilkers for the South Rd farm. “He came and told me he’d employed a Dutchman and I queried why. He said he was the only one who had money to be able to buy all the Nicholls’ cows,” Donald says.

The man’s name was Theodorus Cornelis Verbeet, better known as Vern Verbeet. “The family sharemilked for the Royce Nicholls Trust for 40 years.”

Vern’s son, Peter, took over, but he died at age 53 of a heart attack. He was replaced by son Chris, who was the sharemilker until 2004. When Vern Verbeet was employed by the trust, he was milking 60 Friesian cows on the small farm.

In 1970, the new advisory trustees bought the adjoining farm – another 33 hectares – from the estate of Claude Nicholls’ brother, Herbert (Bert). The brothers originally bought the farm in 1908, and split it between them.

Herbert’s grandson, Ian Nicholls, explains: “They decided who would have which half by tossing a coin. The farm was split as it was so that they both had fresh water running through their properties (Taikatu Stream).”

Before that, the brothers lived on the family farm at Whenuakura, 5km from Patea. The 1970 move to buy Herbert’s land, meant the farm and herd both doubled in size.

A new house and herringbone cowshed, water supply and subdivision followed the purchase, and the backhouse was sold for removal. It now sits on the site where the old Otakeho Hotel burnt down.

Moving Next Door

The farm wasn’t perfect. It backed on to cliffs overlooking the Tasman Sea and was also cut by a gully.

Ian Nicholls remembers the terrain well and how his great-uncle had a fishing shed on the cliff on the back of the farm.

“He built this shed so he could so be out of the weather and stay the night if the fishing was good.”

Claude perfected the No. 8 wire method of fishing. This involved anchoring a coil of wire to a suitable rock just out beyond the spring low-tide mark and attaching the other end to a post on the cliff.

“On this wire was run a trolley which carried the fishing line down to the sea. The line was wound around a wheel rim which could be wound up and down. Uncle Claude had his line and rim in the shed. He also had a long-drop in his shed,” Ian says.

In 1996, the advisory trustees sold the farm to the Putt family and bought a neighbouring 86-hectare farm on Taikatu Rd.

“I always wanted to get off the cliff because of the drought conditions and to get more land,” Donald says.

To understand the buying and selling of the two properties, we need to convert back to acres for a moment. The 164-acre (66-hectare) South Rd farm sold just above government valuation (GV) for $8000 and acre, so went for about $1.3 million.

The 213-acre (86ha) Taikatu Rd farm was bought by the trust at the just-above GV price of $10,000 an acre, for a little over $2.1 million.

It continues to bring in money for the Royce Nicholls Trust, providing the means to help generation after generation of young New Zealanders follow their agriculture or veterinary dreams.

Claude, Eleanor and Royce Nicholls are all buried in the Otakeho cemetery.

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