A Letter Written just after
The Earthquake in 1931

Details of the house and restoration in recent years

Sam Begg Homepage

Details of Earthquake from Library Archives



(should be 9/2/31)

Dear Aunt Anna,

Here we all are at Kumeroa, quite pleased to be away from the almost continuous shakes, but rather anxious about the poor old house, and our remaining belongings. Everyone is very well, & Grannie really has been wonderful. Of course she was a bit bewildered down at Napier when we were all just camping outside. I think at times she almost forgot there had been an earthquake or at any rate didnít realise what a lot of damage had been done and wondered why we couldnít go inside to cook, wash up etc., And why there was no paper or water. Our old house stood the shock very well. Of course chimneys are all down, and we have bricks and mortar both inside the house & out, but fortunately they didnít crash right through the roof as so many peopleís have. The mantlepeices and fireplaces are all pushed out, the wallpaper is ripped, and the furniture is all over the place, but fortunately no serious breakages as far as one could see. The crockery of course is almost non-existant, except what was on a mobile tray, which apparently ran about the floor & didn't up end.

So we had something to eat & drink from. The whole house is in a most an unearthly mess.

It is hard to realise the mass of broken china, glass, flour, jam, sugar, tins, & everything possible, including bricks from the washouse chimney, there is in the kitchen.

Still, we all escaped damage, & the house itself stood up to it, so we have something to be thankful for.

Some peopleís houses are absolutely unsafe. Mother was in the kitchen when it happened, fortunately near the door, so as soon as she could keep her feet she rushed out & up to grannies. Granny was just coming out. She had a cut above her eye, but not a bad one, & it is now practically healed. Cara was at school, and they all got out safely. Fortunately it happened when all the schools were having playtime. I think the boys had the worst time -they were at westshore fishing, with two school friends, when the sand under them heaved up & the water came through. They were along a spit of sand some distance from the road. They abandoned all the tackle & went for their lives to the road which of course was all cracked.

The other two boys had their car, but it was bogged & the water started coming up so they had to leave it & set off to walk home -right past Petane.

Marsie & Gordan had their bicycles so they set off as best as they could. The Westshore Bridge collapsed & the long embankment along the side of it was crumbling away so how they managed it carrying their bicycles I donít know, but they got home safely, although they couldnít go through the town, as it was blazing. We were very relieved to see them.

I was fairly safe, as the office stood, being low and solid, but the H.B.Herald building opposite crashed down, so we stayed in the office, gripping the counter to keep our feet until things were quieter, & then made a dash for it. I had to come home in a round about fashion but got there. The poor office is still standing, but completely gutted by fire Iím afraid. Mr. Hetty got a few valuables into the strong-room, & was still in the office when I left but it was hopeless looking for anything in all that debris. We were also not thinking of fire or many more things could have been thrown in. However maybe the strong room has gone too, but I hardly think so.

There is not a single bank in Napier, our precious new post office is destroyed, the cathedral where they were having communion service. The whole building went flat. Poor old Miss Kate Williams from Huberere was among the victims. There is absolutely nothing left of the town. The fire was worse than the earthquake, & went through everything. There was no water so everyone was helpless, all they could do was to blow up buildings in its way. I didn't envy the firefighters.

That first night was rather nerve racking. We all slept on the grass in front of the house, and lay there waiting for the next quake. (i said slept by mistake) in the middle of the night the wind got up and of course started the fires again. We were terrified of it reaching the

Hills but of course we were really safe, although 4 or 5 large wooden houses up Madeira steps on the hill behind the education office and the Cathedral and deanery were burnt to ashes. We were all very relieved to see Uncle Sam on tTuesday night at about 9. He had been out of Dandrike, and didn't know about the earthquake until about 5, so came straight down - Aunt Connie too.

They took Mr. and Mrs. Tonkin back with them next morning, and Uncle Sam and Mr.Tonkin came down again on Thursday for us. The authorities were fearing an outbreak of disease from lack of water and broken sewers, but I don't think that evacuation was compulsory, although we thought it soon would be. Very many people had left & most of the remainder were going. Uncle Sam was determined we should go, so we went, although we would really rather have stayed.

It was horrible leaving everything in that state -- not knowing what we would come back to. I donít suppose there's much danger from fire now & there are supposed to be patrols to stop pillaging. There was a fairly severe earthquake here last night, and we couldnít help wondering how much more damage it had. Done at Napier. Poor old Napier.

I'm afraid it will be a long time before it recovers.

Mum & Grannie & everyone send their love & Mum says . "Thank you ever so much for asking to have the boys or anyone."

It was very good of you, but I think we are all staying here together in the mean time. As soon as we reasonably can, some of us anyway, will be going back to Napier. The boys, or some of them, will be coming to help clear up. Grannie and probably Cara will stay here until things get settled I think. There seems no shortage of food, nor of water, as they bring it round in tanks on lorries. We would just get a tent (of which there are plenty) and camp on the grass could for a while. We could look after what's left, and the shakes I suppose will be getting less. Although itís very nice to be away from it all, we feel that we would like to get back and see what's happening to the house, and try to clear up when we can do so without being shaken to pieces again. I am writing for Mum too. She will write later.

Our best love to Kathleen, Shiela and yourself.