Josef Wech and Dorathea Schott

The Journey to Puhoi

Josef Wech and Dorathea Schott were amongst the second group of Bohemians to emmigrate to Puhoi. Back in Bohemia the villagers had received letters from the first group of immigrants, which sang the praises of their new country, its beauties and the opportunities it had to offer to anybody who was not afraid of work. (These former immigrants ommitted to mention the first dreadful months they had experienced after their arrival: the difficult journey, their fear of the Maoris who transported them by canoe from the mouth of the puhoi river, then arriving to find their allocated land covered in thick forest). These villagers passed these letters around the others when they met on Sunday after Mass, the letters were read and re-read and the seed of the second immigration has been sown.

A total of 28 people, mainly from the Schischka, Wech and Wenzlick families, made up the second group of immigrants bound for Puhoi. Their train left Littitz at 9 o'clock in the morning on October 16th, 1865, for Pilsen. After a broken journey by train across Europe, they sailed from London on the 8th November in the "Liverpool", a ship of 1,454 tons with 192 passengers. They had several weeks of smooth sailing, then a storm. One of the group, Vincent Schischka, kept a diary of the journey. "A lot of water reached even the steerage deck and the ship rolled so that the water stood higher than the ship. We believed that the ship would founder and we had fear for our lives but all went well."

It is obvious that Sunday did not pass unmarked among the devout Bohemian people for the diary is mainly worked out, not by calendar dates but by the Sundays of the liturgical year: "On the Third Sunday in Advent we passed the equator." "On the Tuesday after the Second Sunday in Advent the first person died on the ship." This first casualty was a shoemaker and, a few days later, the passengers thought they had another tragedy to record in their diaries when one of the ship's officers fell from the mast into the sea. However, he was picked up and was unhurt. "On the 20th January in the night we had the biggest storm we have had so that a newly made boom broke off and nearly all the sails were reefed so that they would not tear." A 12 year old girl also died on 26th January. "On the 28th February, we saw the New Zealand Coast for the first time. The coast we could see was mountainous. On the 5th March, 1866, about noon we arrived near Auckland and anchored not far from the town. The sight of the town appears white with its small houses surrounded by gardens and fields."

After travelling through the cities of Europe, the Bohemians thought Auckland town a poor collection of shanties. They had not seen Puhoi yet! When the "Liverpool" rounded the North Head she was flying the yellow fever flag which was a source of great distress and disappointment to the waiting relatives. Their had been 17 cases of typhoid on board but only two of them had proved fatal.

The new arrivals were met by an Immigration Official and taken to the inevitable nikau whares which had been erected as Immigration housing among the ti-tree of what is now Albert Park. The Provincial Government was then very eager to settle as many people as possible in the Waikato, perhaps to consolidate against possible Maori reprisals for land confiscation. They pointed out that Puhoi district was unsuitable and almost unworkable. The new settlers replied stubbornly that their people were already working it.

When they arrived at Puhoi River's mouth there were no Maori canoes waiting for them this time - instead a punt which had been built by one of the first immigrants, Paul Straka. Their final journey was an improvement on that of the first arrivals for they were taken up the river in daylight. Their arrival at the landing place, however, was almost as daunting as that of the first group.

As the punt was poled in towards the wharf, their first greeting was a shout from a Waterloo veteran of the Prussian Army corps, Mr Pittner. "What tempted you to come out here into this wilderness? You have come from the frying pan into the fire." Lawrence Schischka's reply was brief but to the point ... "Your letters". The disappointment covered by that short reply can easily be imagined.

Perhaps the arrival of this new batch of hopefuls, so-soon-to-be-disappointed settlers reminded the original pioneers of their own high hopes which had been submerged in constant labour for they gave them a sad reception. Vincent Wenzlick, one of the new arrivals had left on record the unhappy atmosphere of the reunion. "A reception in tears, not of joy but of despair. They were pleased to meet us but, under the circumstances knowing the difficulties and burdens they were still struggling under, and knowing that we were about to share a similar fate, they reckoned that our safe arrival in Puhoi only meant a prolonged agony worse than death itself. As we looked upon the members of the first batch assembled to meet us, we could easily discern the three years' misery they had lived through written on their faces. What could we do? There was only one course open to us, to face the future as our predecessors faced it before us and to face it bravely."

The new group moved into the same nikau whares on the river bank and working parties set about building homes for them on the land they had been allocated in the Ahuroa direction. Joint effort bridged the gap between them. The new arrivals were a compensation to the settlement for those who had left Puhoi for the bleak undulating land of the Waikato. Instead of a number of individual groups having to struggle for themselves, it was added strength for the community; more hand and brains to work for the common cause, and ever better chance of survival for the community.

A third group arrived in Puhoi ten years later, entering a considerably rosier situation. They too threw themselves at once into the communal struggle, not now for mere existence, but for prosperity and for Puhoi.

Their life in Puhoi

Mr and Mrs Joseph Wech lived further into the bush than most settlers. With the long distance to bring their timber to the punt, the most they could produce in a month was 10 tons which brought them a profit of only 2 pounds sterling. With no money for food, the family quite literally lived on the bush and Mrs Wech existed for weeks on nikau palm alone, at the same time nursing a baby.

While the children of Puhoi held the impression of a homely atmosphere in their one-room shantys with a blazing fire and lights of flaring kauri gum, indicating that they felt secure inside their four flimsy walls, their mothers must have always been aware of the dangers that lay outside, particularly when the wind howled and roared through the tall kauris and the small house in the clearing of the bush was the centre of a sea of waving, thrashing and, sometimes falling trees; when the burning off of a cleared area set the bush on fire; when winter rains marooned them in a sea of mud.

Even today, Puhoi mud has a quality all its own. It is said that it can be used for glue in winter and cement in summer. It is also recounted that, in the middle period of the settlement, when Mr Joseph Wech was thrown from his buggy into the mud, he didn't know whether to burrow up or burrow down to get out! The mud may be a joke and a minor inconvenience today. It was a disaster to the woman who had to struggle through it dragging a load of timber on a sledge or carrying it on her back to the river or trying to walk through it on her way back from Auckland.

Dorathea and the other women of Puhoi were known for their excellent cooking and baking. In the very early days of the settlement, of course, they had little opportunity to use this skill for want of suitable material to work with, but it is certain that whatever palatability and nourishment there was in nikau and fern, stable articles of diet for a time, was well exploited by these pioneer women. As conditions improved, they performed culinary miracles with the aid of open fireplaces and camp oven and the kerosene tin. The recipes brought from Bohemia were used for many years, and Puhoi being noted for its hospitality, many people had the opportunity of tasting these exotic dishes and some became quite famous. There was a delicious cheese curd tart known locally as "Kochen" which was amongst the most popular. A gravy seasoning known as "Arbrentz", the first whiff of which made the mouth water in anticipation of a feast. Best known of all perhaps, was a doughnut, baked in boiling fat.

(This story was taken from excerpts from the book "The Story of Puhoi, 1863 - 1963" by K Mooney)

The family

Josef and Dorothea Wech had 10 children and at least 38 grandchildren:

Dorothea Wech, born December 2, 1885, married Peter Bayer on May 4, 1909. They had 6 children, Richard Bayer, Eileen Bayer, Norman Bayer, Dorothy Bayer, Nora Bayer and Charles Bayer (who died by drowning).

Joseph Wech married Catherine Bayer and they had 3 children, Magdalen Wech, Frederick Wech, Francis Wech (who died by drowning).

Katherina Wech, born June 20, 1879 in Puhoi, married Joseph Bayer on April 23,1901 (also in Puhoi). They had 11 children, Catherine Elizabeth Bayer, Nora Bayer, Thomas Bayer, Alice Bayer, Christina Bayer, Edward Bayer, Christian Bayer, Theresa Bayer, Anton Joseph Bayer, Mary Bayer and Doreen Bayer.

Frank Wech

Theresa Wech married Frank Flesher

Mary Wech married Ted Brunton and they had 2 children, Violet Brunton and Ernest Brunton.

Annie Wech married Walter Joyce and they had 3 children, Joseph Joyce, Frederick Joyce and Harry Joyce. She later married Wenzl Tolhoff.

Helen Wech married Henry Mason and they had 10 children, Tom Mason, Katie Mason, Mary Mason, Dora Mason, Annie Mason, John Mason, Henry Mason, Lena Mason, James Mason and William Mason.

Wenzl Wech was born in November 8,1871. The story goes that once, when a wagon went over Wenzl's foot and broke it, he got up and carried on, and when asked later, didn't he know when it was broke, said he remembered hearing a crack, but thought it was only his boot lace giving way. He married Anna Bayer and they had 2 children, Mary Wech and Alfred Wech (who died as a result of an accidental shooting).

John Wech married Annie Krohn and thay had one son, Michael Wech.