Lang – David 1859-1939

Birth: 29-7-1859 at Langs Beach

Death: May 1939


Third child of William Maxwell Lang, who married Ann McGregor in Auckland NZ upon their arrival in NZ. William was a ship’s carpenter from Scotland who came out to Australia by finishing carpentry on the ship. Here he met Ann, who was part of the migration from Nova Scotia. He fell in love with her, and followed her to NZ.

Davy probably worked on his father’s farm at Langs Beach, and possibly around the neighbouring farms also. He certainly helped his nephew William with the farm when his brother Charles died from an ear infection, aged 48 in 1904, leaving William aged 13 as the prospective owner. Davy’s help 10 years later certainly enabled William to serve in WW1.

Davy never married, and died in Whangarei Hospital aged 80 in 1939. He was a smoker who made the mistake of smoking in bed. The house caught fire one night and Davy did not survive the burns. Family stories also have him as a drinker – alcoholic optical illusions have been mentioned.

A reminiscence from Donald Lang, great nephew of David

To us he was a man in a garden. When the local sole-charge school was done for the day our five started on a three mile journey that could take us home. Dad always intended to meet us in less distance than that. In the meantime there were things to see. There was an occasion when discussion turned on a large eel reputed to live in a wide drainpipe that ran under the road, An older girl from a different family decided that she could walk through close to upright. She made a good start from one end and the eel, apparently by chance, started at the other. Neither was impressed by what they saw. They speedily emerged from opposite ends, where they had started.

The culvert of the eel residence was a bit past the home of Uncle Davy Lang, a first generation New Zealander & uncle to Dad. On the right of the road about fifty metres before the culvert Uncle Davy had a fenced area about big enough to keep him with vegetables and maintain a surplus. The surplus was available for barter. It was a traditional, old fashioned, garden. Even as late as 1940 some garden plants were only just making their way into the New Zealand diet. The fence also enclosed his corrugated Iron shanty.

On a normal afternoon Uncle Davy would be out in the garden wielding a four pronged gardening fork. As we came to roughly alongside him we would all say “ Hello Uncle Davy” He would pause and straighten up. He would greet us collectively, with salutation “G’Day. G’Day” He would spit on each hand in turn. He would then return to  his gardening in earnest. I am not sure if we had approval, but he was known to us as “G’Day; G’day; Tff; Tff”.   Elsewhere around Waipu he was referred to as”TuusDay”. [or “Twooose-Dy”]. My construction on that title assumed we had acquiesced in some mutant Gaelic phonetics. There was, as others asserted, a lot of it about.

When we were supposed to be ignorant of such items our ignorance was I think intended to accept that Waipu had been one big happy family. It was not so. The Reverend Norman McLeod took part of his calling in reaction against the heavy drinking that was common the clergy in Scotland at the time. A century later the settlement was certainly not dry. I once asked about the attitude of one of Norman McLeod’s successors to whisky. “There wasn’t enough of it”, I was told. That was, I suspect, an overstatement. Several pastors who followed managed their pastoral calls so that in the furthest home for the day they could be offered some refreshment and could nominate either tea or possibly whisky. Those to whom it mattered later in the day would never have been confronted by alcohol in the breath. There were always a few households near Langs Beach where whisky could be shared or left to the side without harming any susceptibilities.

Rumour always assumed that it was possible, at least initially, to bring spirits in under sail for local consumption anywhere along the coast. Such importation was officially banned. Many of the importers thought the powers-that- be had no right to disapprove. Duties imposed on such imports were regarded as an invitation/challenge to practise evasion.  Most people with a Waipu background knew of at least mythical voyages that brought spirits into Bream Bay and landed them somewhere around the considerable perimeter. In a narrative of such a move all concerned knew that nothing could be done to interfere beyond territorial limits. A ship that came in close to sundown unlit could choose a beach as its destination and get there well ahead of any pursuit. The number of the occasions and any other quantities involved is uncertain. There is a persistent story of a vessel coming in past Bream Head, and noticing that another ship had set sail from there {Smugglers Beach?} and was certainly giving chase. The lead ship was able to get to the chosen beach, Barrels of spirits were rolled ashore. Some were taken away and others were buried in the sand before the revenue cutter could arrive. When they did arrive access was denied by a herd of rather wild cattle which were being driven along the beach by some youths on horses, who chattered among themselves in Gaelic and apparently neither spoke nor understood English. Some of the narrators smile and say {“Uncle Davy?”} before continuing. The approved story says that the revenue people arrived again early next day but the barrels were gone. The Revenue People had a formidable array of gum spears and things to explore the beach, and no luck. The appropriate rumour still proclaims that one barrel is still missing, but there is a considerable area of beach to explore and no “authenticated contemporary chart”.

I have no timetable for Uncle Davy becoming independent and deciding to visit goldfields in Australia. From that context there were at least two stories including some of his activities.

Rain had fallen overnight and the path from the tents of the hopeful diggers to the nearest stores was rather muddy and slippery next morning. Uncle Davy however noticed some sparkles in the mud and started collecting them. At the store he discovered that he had enough gold to pay for the supplies he was buying.

Uncle Davy was noticed by another digger to be following a particular aboriginal. Somehow it was noted that the aboriginal was progressing on some customary line and when the movement stopped there was a raid on a beehive. Challenged, Uncle Davy explained that the Aboriginal had attached a little material that was sticky and also fairly conspicuous to the back of a bee that had indications of a good load of honey. Uncle Davy shared the dividend, The extra load may also have helped to carry on with the tracking without losing sight of the ‘guide-bee’. I think I have heard both stories independently but also without an identified Uncle Davy. I think it may be significant that such stories could ‘come from somewhere‘ and attach to Uncle Davy.

I have little idea when Uncle Davy went on his travels, or when he came back. An indication of the start may be found in a framed portrait photograph that I understand he kept on a wall of his shack. The subject was General Gordon, the one who perished in Khartoum. Jumping ahead, that portrait was inherited by Hector, being the eldest male Lang in his generation in the descendants of William Maxwell Lang.. Hector also acquired then a pair of binoculars of a fairly standard size. They were if I remember correctly quite good but not of spectacular usefulness.

At the same time I inherited a rather smoky wall photo taken from close to a trig point near to the spot where the coast road on the way to Waipu goes out of sight of the beach. The coastline can be seen from there as far as Bream Tail. On the right are the hills that frame the bay and the view to the left extends well out to sea. In the middle is a house that was then new and which has now been removed. I think we were told when the photo first came to us that the house in the centre was, at the time of the photograph, still new. It was I understood on land that was then owned by Uncle Davy and constructed for his residence around the start of the 20 th century. Dad once told me of hearing Uncle Davy arranging to have timber delivered there, including a short ship trip being the longest leg. Uncle Davy asked for a quote for hiring a scow for that transport. His next utterance was apparently, “I asked for a quote to hire it, not to buy it!”

We have since copied the setting of the photo and our sequence of dated copies gives a rather terrifying view of the prospects for any part of currently unspoiled coastline views.

Nobody felt compelled to tell me three decades later what new living arrangements had to be made when our grandfather Charles Lang, Davy’s older brother , died suddenly in his forties. Their Mother was a widow and I think still living in a house close to the beach. Charles’s widow relocated to Waipu for some time, certainly until her mother in law also died. I presume that Davy came home about then and stayed for the rest of his life. I don’t remember being told how things were sorted out. I do have an understanding that Uncle Davy was a useful expert on the farm while Dad was growing up. He was also a stay when needed as Dad went to WWI and came back. He must have been not far away when Mum and Dad married but I don’t think I have seen his face in any of the wedding photos.

The coast road is now tar sealed. People who moved into the area before the improvement had to be able to manage their chosen vehicles under unsatisfactory conditions. Mum at some stage decided that the situation was outside the limits of tolerance. She wrote a letter to a local weekly paper setting out what needed to be done. Having been christened McKenzie, Edith Emily she was known to all the family as Doreen. She signed the letter, which occupied most of a column, “D. Lang”. A lot of people wondered out loud how Davy had come by such strong opinions. He apparently felt no urge to explain. Mum took an opportunity to own up to him. He was reported as greatly amused and still felt no urge to sort things out.

There is more space undocumented in the biography until the days when we saw him in his garden.. I have a hazy memory of an emergency at night and of Uncle Davy being taken to the Whangarei Hospital with major burns that killed him in about a week. Hector had a memory that in his hearing people had said that the burns would not have been fatal if he had been a few years younger. We were served up the moral that you do not smoke in bed. Years later I asked Mum if he had been drinking to which the reply was “I am afraid so”. I gathered later that he was known to have too much of that sort of thirst. It did however take 80 years to kill him. I have no idea how he would have summed it all up.

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