Brightwater’s chicken power

Robert (Bobby) Ellis is fondly remembered as an ingenious character of the early 1900s, responsible for the region’s first streetlights.

Bobby powered his Kōhatu farmhouse from his flax mill water wheel, using water from the Motueka river that ran though his property. A passion for electricity production was sparked.

Within a few years Bobby had bought the flour mill in Brightwater, mainly to generate power. It made flour by day, power by night.

The mill was soon supplying power to five streetlights in Brightwater, and 10 in Richmond.

In those days there were no time switches, and Bobby didn’t have time to turn the power to the lights on at night, and off again every morning. What could he do?

Bobby had noticed that the chickens roost every night when the sun goes down. Ingeniously, Bobby connected a switch to the perches in his chicken house.

The weight of the chickens on the roost switched the power generator on, and in the morning when they got off the perches, the spring switch was activated and turn off the power again.

Brightwater was eventually named after Bobby’s flour mill, itself named for the ‘bright water’ of the Wairoa River running past it.