Mary Bendall was the only woman amongst the original Crown Grants awarded for settlement at Waiatarua. Mary’s land – which eventually amounted to 264 acres – was at the junction of West Coast Road and today’s Scenic Drive and ran westwards over the hill to today’s Quinns Road.
What distinguishes Mary as a settler was not just that she was the only woman, but that she was a widow with four children aged between 11 and 19 years when she emigrated and chose this remote high point of the Ranges as her new home.
Mary was born Mary Fatt in 1836 in Wiltshire where her father was a farmer. By the time she married in 1861 she was described as “proprietress of house” suggesting she was a landlady. Her husband James Bendall was a qualified surgeon and chemist, five years her junior. They set up house near Taunton in Somerset where they had three servants including a groom and a nurse to help with the children.
James Bendall died in early 1882 aged only 49. Whether the couple had been intending to emigrate we don’t know, but Mary bravely decided to come to New Zealand. Arriving in Auckland, Mary and her family went to live in a cottage owned by John Taw in Oratia, later known as Captain Theet’s cottage. In 1884 Mary obtained a position as sewing teacher at Oratia School which she held until 1889. Her youngest boy, William Nathaniel Addington “Willie” Bendall, was a pupil at the school. Mary’s daughter, Alice Mary, would have kept house, and the two older boys, Edward James Paget “Ted” Bendall and John Whittaker “Jack” Bendall, both in their early teens, would have set to work cutting timber on the Crown Grant to build a house for the family and earn a living. Coming from the gentle pastures of Somerset, these would have been skills they had to learn from the timber milling going on around them in the Waitakeres. In time the Bendalls became known for their bullock teams, and would have taken logs down to the mill in Henderson. They also picked up work at other milling operations such as the Nihotupu mill of Mander & Bradley, or working on the roads.
We do not know a great deal about Mary Bendall, but she must have been a determined, competent woman. The minute books of the Waitemata County Council record her many efforts, in person and in writing, to get improvements to the road to her property. A bridle trail opened from her property to the Henderson rail station in about 1887, but the route, its state and whether it was a priority, greatly exercised the council and the local settlers. A correspondent to the Herald wrote that “the road near Bendall’s is like a ploughed field”. In the 1890s the blame for this was put at the door of Mander & Bradley’s traction engine, used for pulling logs from the bush. By this period there was increasing talk of tourism and the need to get visitors to public parkland at Nihotupu and the attraction of the Nihotupu Falls. The idea of a scenic ring road was floated and in this connection it was explained that Mary Bendall kept an accommodation house for tourists and travellers.
Mary died of “inflammation of the brain” in 1896 at her home on the West Coast Road. This could have been encephalitis or dementia. Of her children only Ted married: he settled in Glen Eden where he was a foreman on road works for the council. Alice Mary continued to keep house for her brothers. Willie worked in a quarry and enlisted for the First World War and fought at Passchendaele. In early 1918, he was discharged because of illness. He suffered from tuberculosis and heart disease and was nursed by his sister before taking his own life in 1933.
According to WE Allen who wrote a history of Oratia “Jack was a gentleman. He gained respect as ‘the only bullocky around who didn’t swear at his team’.” Jack got contracts to metal the West Coast Road from Waiatarua to opposite the Nihotupu Auxiliary Dam (Ian Wells Track). Allen says “he was a good boss, but a tiger for work”. Jack Bendall died in 1936.
Alice Mary Bendall stayed on in the old Bendall homestead and was very involved in the interdenominational church in Forest Hill Road. Around 1940 she moved to live with Ted and his wife in Manukau Road. She died in 1943. All the Bendall children are buried with their mother in the Wesleyan section of Waikumete Cemetery. This is a substantial grave with an obelisk and Willie’s military headstone.
The Bendalls are also commemorated in Bendall Lane, off West Coast Road, and Bendall Esplanade Reserve, abutting the regional park at the end of Bush Road. Willie’s name is on the WW1 memorial gates at Oratia School. The family homestead was remodelled around 1920 but still stands in West Coast Road among oaks said to have been planted by Mary from acorns which she brought from England. Most of Mary’s original Crown Grant is now part of the Waitakere Ranges Regional Park and can be seen on the east side of Scenic Drive approaching the corner of West Coast Road from the south. The small lookout near that corner gives a good view over the former Bendall land which is now entirely forested. There is a Bendall Creek in this catchment which flows into Oratia Stream.