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In the years from 1888 onwards the rapid growth of rugby as a sport in New Plymouth saw numerous new informal teams of younger player forming as follows:
- The “Moonlighters” who practiced on Major Paris’s section in the vicinity of Weymouth Street
- “lrishtown” who practiced in Black’s paddock in Veale’s Estate – now known as Lynmouth
- “Tukapa” who practiced in the Dartmoor area of Westown – near Gladstone Road and opposite what is now Sanders Park
- “Starlighters” who practiced in a paddock opposite the Red House Hotel, now known as the State Hotel in the area now occupied by Cleggs’ Furniture Court in Devon St East
- “Pirates”, mainly messenger boys, who practiced in the same area as the Starlighters
Although the early informal games of the young boys in these years were treated in a light-hearted manner to start with, enthusiasm grew and keen rivalry soon developed between the various new teams. Written challenges with team names listed were issued and games played regularly on the racecourse on Thursday afternoons and some weekday evenings under the same arrangements as the Senior clubs.
In 1889 the older boys of the “Starlighters and Pirates” formed themselves into the Star Rugby Football Club and this club performed with such credit and received such strong support from players and supporters that it soon displaced the original New Plymouth Rugby Club as the biggest club in town. Significantly the majority of the members belonging to the Star Club were selected from players who lived to the east of the Huatoki river. A couple of years later a new senior club was to form based around players who resided mostly to the west of the Huatoki.
During 1891 the older and more mature young men who had congregated as part of the young groups known as the “Moonlighters” “Irish Town” and “Tukapa”, and who lived mainly west of the Huatoki river, found that there was no room for them in the teams fielded by the Star Club and so they eventually decided to have a meeting to discuss whether they should form another senior club which could field a team of players capable of measuring up to the standard of the other established senior clubs playing at the time i.e. Inglewood, Clifton, Star, Tariki, Maunganui and Stratford.
Accordingly, the first meeting was held in 1892 in the shed of Webster’s Store at the western end of the Salvation Army Barracks on the corner of Brougham Street and Powderham Street where the Salvation Army Citadel now stands. This shed was owned by W. D. Webster who was a general merchant and agent for the Northern Steamship Company and the name of Webster continued to feature prominently in the Tukapa Club from its formation right through to the 1990’s.
At this meeting it was decided to form a Rugby Football Club and officers were elected as follows:
- President: E. le G. Jacob
- Vice President: W. Francis
- Vice President: Fred Watson
- Secretary/Treasurer: J.C. Webster
From that meeting onwards there has been a rugby club in Westown known proudly as Tukapa which has flourished ever since.
The Word “Tukapa”
The origin of the Tukapa name (as told by an old Maori source) is that local whaler Dicky Barrett required men to stoke the fires under the whaling coppers he operated on Ngamotu Beach as part of his long established whaling station. The process involved stripping blubber off whale carcasses and then rendering the flesh down into oil by boiling it in large copper vats. Apparently one of the men who worked the coppers was a longtime resident of what is now Westown. Eventually this character became nick-named as “two coppers” after the work he was so well known for doing. Somehow over time the nick-name had morphed into the word “Tukapa” and gradually the district where “two coppers” lived also became known as Tukapa. Subsequently, the Geographical Board in Wellington made an inspection of the Survey Map on which this district was marked as Tukapa. No Maori word or meaning could be found for Tukapa so the Geographical Board changed the name on the Survey Map to Tukapo – a Maori word which later became the name of the main road through the growing district of what became known as Westown. The street continued to be spelt as Tukapo until 1968 when it was corrected back to become Tukapa Street.
Naming the New Club
Getting the right name for a new club could have been real challenge given that the new entity was formed by a merger of three existing groups of players. As legend has it the naming of the present club as Tukapa came about more by accident than design.
At the original 1892 meeting in Webster’s premises in Powderham Street, when the name for the new club was being discussed, Harry Langman who was an accomplished player on the tin whistle, said he would play a tune while the others concentrated on thinking up an appropriate name.
Harry Langman came from Westown, then known as Tukapa, and when he finished playing someone in the meeting shouted: “Good Old Tukapa.” Immediately it was unanimously decided that the Club would be known as the Tukapa Club and so it has remained.
The Club Colours
The first meeting which formed the Tukapa club in 1892 decided on colours of navy blue jerseys, white knickerbockers down to (and sometimes below) the knees and navy blue socks. The name, Tukapa, was hand stitched in white letters across the front of the jersey. However ,at the annual meeting in 1893, the navy blue jerseys were changed to narrow blue and white hoops, with the hoops being about 2 inches wide.
In 1929 “black pants” replaced the white “knickers”. In 1949 the “black pants” were replaced by white shorts. By the 1920’s the blue and white hoops had become a lot wider than the original hoops being approximately 4 inches compared with the original English-style of approximately 2 inches. In 1974 it was decided that the uniform of the Club should be blue and white jerseys and royal blue shorts.
The First Team
Through a combination of hard training and open play, the first ever Tukapa Club team won many hard-fought games in its first season, won the support of its local public and were the eventual winners of the Junior Cup for 1892, in their first year of rugby.
The thrill of winning this Cup prompted the President E. leG. Jacob to give a Free Banquet at the supper room of the Alexandra Hall (which was sited in Devon Street West opposite what is now the TSB Showplace). Both players and supporters attended and, like all subsequent Tukapa evenings, it was reportedly a great success.
The Cast Iron Chicken
One of the great distinguishing features about Tukapa is the club spirit that has existed throughout our 125 years. Our unique club chant ‘The Cast Iron Chicken’ has played a significant role in fostering those feelings of club spirit and togetherness. Led by the Juniors and the Colts, the singing of “The Chicken” has made something of a comeback in the last two decades and whenever it is belted out it still gets the blood running, whether on Old Timers Day at the Clubrooms, on the bus or on the occasion of a significant victory, especially against one of our traditional rivals.
Needless to say one of the key enjoyment factors in doing “The Chicken” is the fact that other clubs wince with dislike when they hear it, especially those traditional rivals who, apart from Okaiawa, have nothing to match it.
The only noticeable difference between today’s version of “The Chicken” and that of Club Patron Alan Boulton and his contemporaries and predecessors, is the tempo in which is rendered, with today’s version being bellowed out at a much more up-beat clip.
“The Cast Iron Chicken” had its origin (according to Tom Smith, oldest Life Member in 1967) in 1902.
Tukapa were playing Waimate at Manaia and, with a very strong side, the Tukapa boys were confident of success. They arrived in the township before lunch and were staying at Bill Slattery’s hotel, where the host had prepared a special meal for the occasion – a big flash chicken lunch. The “chickens” proved to be very antique birds and were so tough that it was impossible to even chew them. The team had a very poor meal and were still hungry when they went on to play. They were beaten by Waimate and so naturally blamed the chickens. On the way home, someone (the composer is unknown) made up a song, which from that day some 115 years ago, is known to generations of Tukapas as “The Cast Iron Chicken”.
During the1960s, 70s and 80s the number of clashes between Tukapa and Waimate at Senior A level became few and far between and finally ended in 1994 when Waimate combined with Hawera and Athletic to form the Southern Club. However, in earlier years visits to Manaia always seemed to have a certain glamour about them (often because the teams were meeting in a North v. South final) but win or lose the Tukapas always enjoyed this trip more than others. The Cast Iron Chicken was always rendered and often by request a small “concert” would take place in the band rotunda in the centre of Manaia. On one such occasion in the 1930’s, two live white leghorn chickens mysteriously made their way into the bus and were eventually presented to the Tukapa captain, Harry Boswell.
As a club, Tukapa has much to be proud of in terms of achievements both on and off the field. We now have Clubrooms and facilities which are the envy of most other clubs. We have produced many leading administrators who have made huge contributions to the success of rugby as a sport at club, provincial and national level. However, it is also on field that we have become highly regarded for many outstanding achievements over our 125 year history, highlighted by the impressive list of top players the Club has produced, which include the following:
All Blacks: 13
Don Watson (1896)
Hugh Mills (1897)
Barney O’Dowda (1901)
Simon Mynott (1905, 1907, 1910)
Jack Stohr (1910)
Charlie Brown (1913, 1920)
George Loveridge (1913-14)
Gus Hart (1924)
Jack Sullivan (1936-38)
Kevin Briscoe (1959-60; 1962-64)
John McCullough (1959)
Ash Gardiner (1974)
Scott Waldrom (2008)
NZ Juniors/Colts: 7
Kevin Briscoe: NZ Juniors (1958)
Brian Gilhooly: NZ Juniors (1967)
Ash Gardiner: NZ Juniors (1968)
Tony Penn: NZ Colts (1999)
Neil Brew: NZ Colts (2000)
Chris Walker: NZ Colts (2007)
Blade Thomson: NZ Colts (2010)
North Island: 11
Hugh Mills: 1897
Simon Mynott: 1904, 1905, 1906, 1907, 1908
Charlie Brown: 1911, 1920
Jack Stohr: 1912
George Loveridge: 1913
Gus Hart: 1924
Jack Sullivan: 1936, 1937, 1938
Peter Burke: 1952, 1953, 1954
Kevin Briscoe: 1959, 1963
John McCullough: 1959
Ash Gardiner: 1974
NZ Sevens: 1
Scott Waldrom: 2007
NZ Maori: 7
Doc Ruakere: 1936
Jimmy Wetere: 1938
Tony Penn: 2002
Scott Waldrom: 2007, 2008
Blade Thomson: 2013, 2014, 2015
Jamison Gibson-Park: 2015
Mitchell Croswell: 2015
Leighton Price: 2016
NZ Women (Black Ferns): 1
Geri Paul: 1989
Filipo Toala: 1998
Faapulou Soolefai: 2001
Super Rugby: 10
Jamie Cameron: Hurricanes (1996)
Mepi Faogali: Hurricanes (1998 & 2001)
Darryl Fale: Hurricanes (1999)
Tony Penn: Hurricanes (2001- 2007)
Scott Waldrom: Hurricanes (2008-09); Chiefs (2010-12)
Laurence Corlett: Hurricanes (2011)
Blade Thomson: Hurricanes (2013-16)
Jamison Gibson-Park: Blues (2013-15); Hurricanes (2016)
Mitchell Crosswell: Chiefs (2015)
Leighton Price: Blues (2017)
Taranaki A: 162
The 162 Tukapa players chosen to represent Taranaki A in what is now the NPC competition include five who represented the province more than 100 times, these being:
- Peter Burke:117 matches
- Tony Penn: 117
- Dwight Murfitt:106
- Lindsay Thomson: 104
- Ash Gardiner: 102
Heading into the Tukapa Centenary in 1992, the Club had won 53 afternoon grade championship titles as at the conclusion of the 1991 season. Since then the Club has collected another 18 titles to bring the tally up to 71 in total in the years 1892 to 2017 inclusive.
Prior to 1980, the Colts (U21’s) were referred to as Third Grade; altogether the Colts have been our most successful grade with 18 Taranaki titles up till 2016 including six in a row during the 1930’s.
Winning championship titles tends to occur in cycles; the Colts had a dominant phase in the 1930’s with six titles in a row from 1934 to 1939 inclusive. Likewise, the Senior Thirds (previously known as the Senior 4ths and now called Division 2), enjoyed two purple patches: the first from 1973-75 (3 titles in a row) and the second golden run in the years 2001-2012 during which they won eight titles, including four in a row 2001-2004. The Senior A’s have won back-to-back titles three times; (1968-69 and 2010-11 & 2016-17); the Senior B’s (previously known as the Junior Open) won four titles during the 1960’s plus a back-to-back success in 1969-70.
Not to be overlooked either is the success of two other age group teams fielded by the Club back in the days when teenage sides were a feature of club rugby and not the monopoly of secondary schools i.e. our Fifth Grade (U16’s) team, who won championships in 1936, 1837, 1955 and 1961 as well as the Under 17’s who won championships in 1988 (with Lyndon Bell as coach and Greg Wood as captain) and in 1990 (with Hank Harrison as coach and Greg Plimmer as captain).
Also notable, has been the success of our Under 13’s (originally called 9th Grade and later known as 12th Grade) who won three championships in the 1950’s (1953, 1955, 1957) and another three in the mid-2000’s (2004, 2006, 2007).
Our two longest-serving afternoon grade coaches have been former All Black Charlie Brown who coached the Senior A’s for 18 straight seasons between 1922 and 1939 inclusive (winning four championship titles along the way) and Wayne Penn who coached the Senior Fourths (which became the Senior Thirds and are now known as Division Two) for 18 consecutive seasons from 1998 till 2015 collecting eight championship titles during his stint as coach.
Taranaki Afternoon Grade Club Championships
As noted above, Tukapa RFC has won an overall total of 71 afternoon grade championship titles in the 125 years 1892 to 2017, with the most successful teams being:
- Colts: 18 titles
- Senior A’s: 16 titles
- Senior Fourths (now called Div. 2): 13 titles
- Senior B’s: 9 titles