Famous bicycle maker Nicholas Oates has the singular honour of being the first person in New Zealand to be brought before a court for speeding, but in a car.
At the time, in 1901, there were only seven cars in the whole of Canterbury.
George Gould’s groom, horse and carriage were on Lincoln Road in Christchurch outside the hospital on May 1, 1901, when a car went past at high speed. The horse became frightened and bolted. The groom had trouble regaining control as the car went past.
Witnesses swore the car was going at least 10 miles an hour (16kmh) and that only the quick actions of the groom prevented a serious accident.
The car was driven by bicycle factory owner Nicholas Oates.
He was charged with driving a motor car within the city going a speed greater than four miles an hour. He told a Christchurch magistrate that his car had two gears and that he could go between 6-14 miles an hour.
He had the high gear on as he came into town but changed to the lower gear as he took the corner of Lincoln Road and Tuam Street. He saw the horses and sped up a little to pass them, pulling into Antigua Street but claimed he was was not going more than seven miles an hour.
It didn’t appear to help, he was fined 20 shillings.
It wasn’t the first time a vehicle had gotten Oates into trouble.
In 1888, he was fined for riding his bicycle on the footpath.
Not content with the criminal court, Gould sued Oates claiming £23 for damages to the carriage and injuries to the groom and horse. Oates disputed it but ended up being ordered to pay £15 in damages.
Oates was in business with Alexander Lowry. They owned Zealandia Cycle Works, at the time the largest bicycle factory in Australasia. He was the first person to import a small car in the South Island after he had seen one at the Paris Exhibition in 1899.
He was also the first person to construct a penny farthing bicycle in New Zealand.
Charles Nicholas Oates had been born in about 1853 in Cornwall, England the son of Nicholas and Mary. He married Catherine in 1875 and they came to New Zealand, shortly after settling in Christchurch. They had been happy for a while, having 10 children, of which six survived.
But in 1904 Catherine asked the Supreme Court for a judicial separation. She described a relationship that had been steadily breaking down, in part because of Oates’ friendships with other women. He had also spent months overseas away from his family.
The judge granted the separation.
Oates died on April 3, 1938 aged 85. He is buried in Bromley Cemetery, Christchurch.
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