November 2022

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After finding the winters in Canada too harsh, Thomas and Mary Jolly moved back home to Bath, England and decided to try their luck in New Zealand a year later. The family arrived in Hamilton in 1867 and not long afterwards they purchased land in the Waipa County. Thomas and Mary Jolly used the land for farming, naming it Frankton after their son Frank. Francis (Frank) Bertrand Jolly was only two years old when he came to live in New Zealand. He went to Hamilton West School and after his school years he went to work with his Father on the family farm. Financial success came to the family when the railways department was planning the route from Auckland to Wellington, and Thomas offered them some of their farmland for the Hamilton station.  

Frankton Railway Station

Frankton Railway Station was built in 1877 on the same site that it currently sits on today. The first passenger train arrived in 1878 to a crowd of 300, as part of what would become the Main Trunk Line between Auckland and Wellington. By 1888 the trains were also being used to bring patients to the new Waikato Hospital, from the station they were trundled to the edge of Lake Rotoroa on luggage trolleys and rowed across to the hospital.

On December 8th 1894 the new line to Rotorua opened and this saw Frankton Railway Station officially become a rail junction, with the Rotorua Express stopping for twenty minutes for lunch, even though the refreshment room was still to be built! By the early 1900s Frankton Juction was getting so busy passengers were having difficult crossing the tracks to the platform, so an overhead bridge was constructed from High Street. This later moved to Massey St when the station moved further north on the site.

A new railyard was completed in August 1909 with up to eighty trains passing through daily. By 1927 this yard was too small and extensive additions were made, however less than a decade later further extensions were required.

Expansion Continues

The Jolly family put up subdivisions of their land for sale near the new railway line. The land was peaty and low-lying which caused it to be swampy and in need of draining. The sections were sold cheaply and most commonly to wage earners and labourers. In 1902 there were only four houses in the area, but this increased to seventy in the next four years.

The nearest town was Hamilton but with the opening of local businesses Frankton started to become more self-sufficient.  A Post & Telegraph office was built in 1910 and the following year a town hall was built on land donated by Frank Jolly. Frankton Primary School also opened in 1911, sixteen years after the original petition for a school to be built in the area. The citizens of Frankton wanted to declare it a borough but since they didn’t have the necessary 1000 residents it instead became a town district within the Waipa County in December of 1907. The beginning of the next year saw a town board established and Frank Jolly was elected chairman, a position he held until 1912. In 1913 the population reached 1000 and Frankton was proclaimed a borough with its own council and Frank was elected as the very first Mayor.

HCL_00320 Frank Jolly

A lot of Frankton residents didn’t have gas, nor had they installed gas appliances in their home. The council saw this as an opportunity to invest in electricity, which at the time was considered a modern marvel. Frankton was lit up for the first time in April 1913 and residents soon became enthused by their cleaner and more efficient power source, which Hamilton had yet to adopt. The electricity in the borough was produced from coal gas which according to a report in the Waikato Times, “caused a terrific noise while the smell and smoke emanated from the equipment, gave rise to complaints from those living in the neighbourhood.” Nevertheless, Hamilton residents were envious of Frankton’s electricity.

HCL_02018 Frankton's Main Street, now renamed Commerce Street.

For many years there were talks of combining the two nearby boroughs of Hamilton and Frankton. While Hamilton residents wanted access to Frankton’s electricity, Frankton had nearly gone into debt from the improvements they had made on their town. Hamilton also had a reliable sewerage system which Frankton was keen to join as drainage was difficult in the low-lying land of the town.  In 1916 Frankton residents petitioned for their borough to amalgamate with Hamilton. Frankton council went into negotiations with Hamilton Borough Council to ensure Frankton interests would be looked after. A poll was taken in May 1916 with the amalgamation taking effect in April the following year a month before the local Hamilton elections.

By 1945 nearly 1000 rail employees lived in Frankton, many in the newly built railway cottages lining the residential streets around the Frankton Junction area. These cottages are the largest collection of railway cottages still standing in New Zealand.

Frankton Junction lost its importance to the freight network but the station is still used by passenger trains today, notably the recent Te Huia train to Auckland. The current station opened in 1975.

Explore more images of Frankton on our Heritage Collections Online.

Deborah, Oral History Librarian - Central Library & Pam, Glenview Library