Page 1: Biography
Blacksmith, farmer, coloniser
This biography, written by Florinda Lambert, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1993, and updated in August, 2011.
Felix Hunger was born in the remote mountain village of Safien Platz, Graubünden, Switzerland, and baptised there on 5 February 1837. His parents were Anna Maria Buchli and her husband, Christian Hunger, a farmer. In search of a richer life and a more congenial climate, at the age of 19 Felix sailed from Hamburg on the Gloriosa bound for Tasmania. He travelled extensively around Australia before moving on to New Zealand in the mid 1860s.
Eventually Felix Hunger set up as a blacksmith in Westport, where he was naturalised in 1870. Shortly after, he moved to the new township of Normanby in South Taranaki. After some time working as a blacksmith he acquired a property, possibly in lieu of wages, in the Ketemarae clearing. This he named Helvetia, the ancient name of his homeland.
In 1874 Hunger returned to Safien Platz, and was successful in persuading 23 of his Swiss compatriots to emigrate to New Zealand. He later repeated this immigration scheme, bringing out two more groups of settlers in the 1880s; most of these people settled in the Taranaki area. The first group arrived at New Plymouth on the Halcione on 2 September 1875. After an enthusiastic welcome on Ngamotu Beach, and a short stay at the army barracks on Marsland Hill, where they learnt the rudiments of the English language, most of the party headed for Normanby.
The group included agricultural labourers, farm tradesmen, young unmarried women and domestic servants: all were much sought after in the Normanby area. Among them was 24-year-old Margreth Gredig, along with her widowed mother, brother and two sisters. On 17 December 1875 Margreth Gredig and Felix Hunger were married at Normanby. There were six children of the marriage: Nina, Maria Anna, Felix, Margareth, Veronica and William. True to her Swiss upbringing and former farm life in Safien Platz, Margreth played an indispensable part in establishing the Hunger farm at Helvetia. She made butter and cheese, and delivered and sold milk in a bucket swung from a yoke in traditional Swiss style. The Hungers also kept bees and extracted honey for sale.
Felix Hunger was a member of the establishment committee of the Normanby Presbyterian church in 1879, and in 1883 inaugurated the Normanby Horticultural Society. The society initiated schemes for growing hops (1883) and potatoes (1900), both of which were hailed as viable industries for South Taranaki. In 1894 Hunger was one of the founding shareholders in the first co-operative dairy company in the Hawera district; the company erected its factory on the Tawhiti Stream near Helvetia. He was also a member of the first Normanby school committee in 1878.
A stocky, distinguished-looking figure, Felix Hunger was a man of vision who succeeded in fulfilling his dream of bringing small farming fraternities from the mountains of Switzerland to the plains of South Taranaki. He died at Normanby on 11 May 1918, two years after his wife, Margreth, and was buried beside her in the Waihi cemetery, Normanby.