Oral history is a wonderful source of information. As with written history, oral history is an interpretation of an event that can be tested and challenged for fact.
The story of the artillery wagon rolling down Russell’s Folly is a remarkable oral history handed down over 150 years and passing through three different century’s. One can only imagine the anguish of the men at the time, seeing their horses dragged screaming to the bottom of the hill by the rolling wagon. Good horses would be hard to come by in those early days of migration. Somewhere, letters would have been written “back home” about this terrible event.
However, in 2008, Mr Murray Henderson (now deceased) and Mr Phil Meyer were the only people living in Johnsonville who remembered the story of the artillery wagon rolling down Russell’s Folly.
These gentlemen were the living link that took a story from one century into another as they were also able to tell the story of these same cannons being hauled out of the swamp at the bottom of the Russell’s Folly and relocated to the recreation ground at Johnsonville. This event must be documented somewhere as it would have been quite sensational at the time.
When Field Road (now Moorefield Road) was widened, Mr Meyer and Mr Henderson corroborated each-others story as they recalled the sale of the cannons. There was strong opposition from the Johnsonville community to this sale.
Mr Henderson remembered that a cannon had been sold to Mr Bothamley of Gear Homestead. Mr Bothamley’s grand-daughter Felicity corroborated this memory, adding both cannons were purchased and passed on the story of the cannons leaving Gear Homestead, having been donated to their new home with the New Zealand Army.
The cannons were rediscovered at Trentham Military Camp in 2010 on the 50th anniversary to the very month that they were gifted. Photographing the cannons has generated a renewed interest in their history at Trentham. A search is on for the documentation associated with their arrival.
Mr Henderson’s oral history is a great piece of New Zealand history and I am pleased that it is now recorded in writing for others to enjoy. I look forward to adding to it as new information comes to hand.
Claire Bibby, Glenside.