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Tuapeka Mouth,


Tuapeka Ferry: Ferry Road
Tuapeka Mouth,


The Rongahere Outrage 1899  by W J Cowan

 Turn right onto the Beaumont Road just after crossing the Clutha River, courtesy of the Tuapeka Mouth punt, and within a few kilometres you are in the Rongahere district where farming and forestry dominate the local economy. Further towards Beaumont the Black Cleugh resonates with bird song and the sounds of happy picnickers. Travel back down the main road to the junction with John O’Groats Road and there standing firm upon his stone pedestal is the trooper commemorating the local men who served and died in the World Wars.


Behind the resolute trooper is a level piece of ground on which, until recently, rested the Rongahere School building, one of those combined residence/school buildings which could be found in some country districts. But our story is concerned with the first school building on this spot. Erected in 1889 it was burnt to the ground during extraordinary circumstances ten years later in an act of religious bigotry which would not have been out of place in Ireland.


In April 1899 a Miss Alice Annett was appointed by the Otago Education Board to the position of Head Teacher, Rongahere. No problem so far, Miss Annett was regarded highly as a competent and personable teacher. But there was a problem: Miss Annett was a Roman Catholic and this was not acceptable to one or two local families. She took up her new position in early May and found on her first day that persons unknown had smeared the school door, windows, gate and water tank with the contents of the nearest lavatory.


Continuing threats against Miss Annett resulted in the school being set alight and burning to the ground during the early hours of the last Saturday in August. The police were soon involved in what would become known as the ‘Rongahere Outrage’ but, in spite of a rigorous investigation, backed-up by strong district indignation and a blistering editorial in the Tuapeka Times, could not locate the perpetrator(s). It was alleged by a member of the Education Board that only one family was involved, possibly one of the families who had withdrawn their children in protest when Miss Annett began work. Perhaps it was a case of families closing ranks; whatever, it became an unsolved mystery.


Miss Annett was boarding with a local family during the arson attack but she did lose some personal property in the fire valued at £50, which included a harmonium. Such was the unique nature of this incident that in November 1901 the Government’s Supplementary Estimates included £70 to compensate Alice for her losses. She did not return to Rongahere, instead resigning in April 1900 to take-up the Head Teacher’s position at Patearoa.


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