Building the Aurora, Caesar Roose's launch.
Caesar Roose was born in 1886 on an island in the Waikato River, opposite the railway town of Mercer. The river was his road, and at the age of 18 he launched his first commercial boat. For the next 60 years Roose vessels traded along the big river and its tributaries, and also trans-shipped goods at Port Waikato. Caesar Roose became known as the Grand Old Man of the River.
His only child, Jeanette Thomas, has just opened her own museum in Mercer dedicated to her father’s memory and his place in Mercer’s history. These days Mercer is a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it kind of a place on the Waikato expressway between Auckland and Hamilton.
Jeanette herself was born in the same house by the river as her father, but that burned down in 1950. Tuoro island on which it stood, is strictly speaking no longer an island as the river on the western side has silted up. But the Caesar Roose bridge was opened in 1972 linking Tuoro to Mercer. The Roose Estate paid £100,000 towards its construction, as promised by Mr Roose before his death in 1967.
David Steemson spent a morning with Jeanette Thomas at the museum, strolling across the bridge to the place where she and her father were born.