Sir Truby King Bridge

Track a memorial to Truby King

Don Sinclair belongs to a group that is building a track to the Sir Truby King Bridge in Tahakopa. The Walking Access Commission recently granted $8,000 toward information panels on the new walkway that tell the history and stories of Sir Truby King.

Sinclair is an aficionado of local icon, Sir Truby King. So he and other locals are building a walkway as a memorial to the man.

Dr King the renowned doctor and founder of Plunket was a resident of the Catlins village of Tahakopa between 1893 and 1929. During that time, the railway came to the Tahakopa district and King was instrumental in helping that happen.

Sinclair explains how his interest in a memorial to Sir Truby grew.

“What I done, I set up historical films. Because there was a lot of history here of the trains, sawmilling and farming. So I went out and found pieces of film that people had in their cellars, old bits of home movie and I made up heritage films and that how we get people to come down and visit the hut. And so we made a film of Truby King. Wellington Council made the first part but we’ve added to it since then - to add more about Tahakopa. And that’s why Eleanor [Sinclair’s wife] said we should make something, a memorial to him. That’s how that come about.  By making a film.”

Sir Truby spent his time in Tahakopa as a doctor a farmer and sawmiller. He was also Medical Superintendent at Dunedin’s Seacliff Lunatic Asylum and a lecturer at the university. So he used the train to get to and from Tahakopa.

 “He used to bring people these patients down sent down in the train to get them out of Seacliff,’ says Sinclair. “Out of the institution.  Seacliff was the biggest building built at the time in New Zealand. Huge Building. And he said ‘Nah, nah, nah. You got to get yourself out of that building and out in the fields, work in the fields. And you’ll feel a lot better.’ So he brought them down on the train and they worked on the farm and in the sawmill.”

King created a dairy farm to produce milk formula for infants. And he used his sawmill plant to power a boiler to super-steam and sterilise everything (including the cows).

One of the remaining structures associated with Sir Truby King’s time in Tahakopa is the railway bridge he designed.

“All this stuff – goods that he produced travelled across this bridge – the bridge was unique because it was the only bridge privately built and privately financed to the standard of New Zealand railways. And hence they allowed their rolling stock and locomotives to go across it,” says Sinclair.

“We’ll make this track in memory of him for his work here.”

Dr and Mrs Truby King

Dr and Mrs Truby King in the garden of their Seacliff residence, Dunedin. Ref: 1/2-043223-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/22721851

Don Sinclair reckons a track to the bridge will let visitors to the district learn about its history.

“We have Airbnb guests, and they say ‘Well, what’s to do here?’ And we reckon by having this track we give them something to do. And it’s more to commemorate him of course.”

“There are native trees and they are in very good condition. Forest and Bird have taken saplings and are going to replant some of the trees. And also there is the native long-tail bat, which they are going to take school kids down there to view the bats. And learn about the bats which are unique.  The trees are matai and black pine. And according to Forest and Bird, they are excellent absolutely excellent for the kids to learn about.”

The track travels across an unformed legal road and will have wheelchair access. It is a pleasant short walk along the Tahakopa River, through an established stand of native trees, to the historic Sir Truby King Bridge. Don Sinclair and the local community have done a lot of work on the track. They received significant support from the Walking Access Commission’s regional field advisor, and we are looking forward to seeing it finished and open to the public.

Page last updated: May 11, 2021, 4:39 PM