The Buried Village of Te Wairoa Blog

The last person to see the famous Pink and White Terraces

30 September 2015

Born May 5th, 1866 Edwin Armstrong Bainbridge was the heir of Eschott Hall, Felton, Northumberland. He was the second son to Cuthbert Bainbrige of Newcastle-on-Tyne, a prominent member in the Wesleyan Methodist Church.

Described by his uncle as “gentle, amiable, unselfish and sunny-faced”, Edwin was a well-rounded boy and popular among his peers. He had a love of sport and adventure; fitting traits of a young man willing to sail to the other side of the world at the age of 20.

Pink and White Terraces

When Edwin was only seven years old, his father died. His mother followed him to the grave a mere few months later. Together with his brothers and sisters, Edwin went to live with his grandmother in London where he stayed until he departed for New Zealand.

In 1885, Edwin suffered a series of further tragedies. His older brother was killed in a gunshot accident and he lost his sister to consumption shortly after.

At just 20 years old, Edwin had faced more loss than many would experience in a lifetime. The overwhelming grief sent him into a deep depression. He was encouraged to embark on a journey overseas to improve his health, which had never been great, and to recover from the immense sadness that had overcome him.

Having longed to see the Pink and White Terraces that he had read so much about, Edwin set sail on a long voyage to Australia, Fiji, and ultimately, the thermal region of New Zealand.

After a long journey, Edwin reaches his destination

Edwin arrived in Auckland on May 24th, 1886 exploring the city and staying for as long as the weather was perfect. When the weather turned, Edwin decided it was a good time to travel to the Lakes District. At first it had been arranged that a group of tourists would go together, but all except Edwin changed their minds at the last minute. Edwin continued the journey alone.

On his arrival at Te Wairoa, Edwin settled at Joseph McRae’s Rotomahana Hotel. As it was early winter and tourism was quiet, Edwin was McRae's only guest. During his stay, Edwin did as much sightseeing as he could. He visited the Pink and White Terraces with the famous Guide Sophia, walked the rugged landscape, enjoyed some football with the locals, and went pheasant shooting with McRae.

The sighting of the phantom canoe one week prior to Edwin's arrival was still on the minds of many of the locals, especially Guide Sophia. Sophia relayed the story to Edwin on their row towards the Terraces, along with her concerns about the unusual thermal activity she had witnessed on the lake. The story left Edwin feeling somewhat apprehensive about his journey across the lake, but his mind was quickly settled as the Terraces came into view. As he stood before the natural phenomenon, his long journey seemed all the more worthwhile.

Little did Edwin know that he and his group would be the last to see the Terraces. Only a few days later, the treasure would be lost forever.

The wrong place at the wrong time

The night of June 9th was cold, clear and eerily calm. When the earthquakes began shortly after midnight, Edwin and a group of onlookers moved uphill to watch as bolts of fork lightning shot above the peaks of Mount Tarawera. Edwin stood in awe of Tarawera as he watched the eruption unfold.


Mount Tarawera eruption

The night sky darkened as the stars were swallowed by thick ash, but the group were not threatened by Tarawera's fury. They believed the kilometres separating them from the eruption gave them a safe distance. But as the earthquakes and eruption became more violent, the group retreated to McRae's Rotomahana Hotel.

As falling stones and rolling earthquakes rattled the hotel, distress began to grow among the group. The hotel's fragility became obvious and its position was also becoming intolerable to the increasing force of the eruption.

In these terrifying moments, Edwin put his thoughts to paper - “This is the most awful moment of my life. I cannot tell when I may be called upon to meet my God. I am thankful that I find his strength sufficient for me. We are under heavy falls of volcanic...''

Edwin Bainbridge diary entry

It wasn’t until 6am that the group decided to move from the brittle hotel and take cover at Guide Sophia’s sturdy whare. Sadly, Edwin didn’t make it. He was killed instantly by a falling verandah overloaded with mud and stones.

Edwin Bainbridge was the only tourist to die in the Tarawera eruption. Papers from Edwin’s diary were found under rubble where the Rotomahana once stood.

From unfortunate beginnings to an unlucky fate

The touching story of Edwin Bainbrige is a popular tale from the time of the Mount Tarawera eruption. He never made it back to his home in Newcastle, England but he left behind an inspiring legacy to keep moving forward when faced with grief. Having experienced so much loss at such a young age, Edwin pushed himself to follow his dreams to visit the thermal wonderland. 

His death came as a terrible shock to Edwin’s relatives, especially the unlucky circumstances that caused it.

His family in Newcastle-on-Tyne sent funds to New Zealand to establish a Methodist Church in Rotorua. Twenty years after the eruption, a Methodist Church was built and named the Bainbridge Memorial Church in memory of Edwin. Edwin’s grave is held at Kauae Cemetery, Ngongotaha, near Rotorua.



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