When rugby legend Davy "Pony Boy" Gage died aged just 48, commentators could not help but blur the line between his life and his sport: "Davy Gage, Maoriland's old-time champion toeballer, crossed life's goal line last Thursday..." one obituary began.
|Davy Gage's memorial stone.|
Despite the supreme fitness of his earlier years, he succumbed to tuberculosis - "the white plague"- at his home in Edge Hill, off Kent Terrace, Wellington, on 12 October 1916.
Gage was born in Kihikihi, Waikato, into a family of aristocratic heritage. His father John November Gage, of Ngäti Maniapoto, was one of three children of George Gage - son of Viscount Gage of Lewes - and Waana Pororua. John November Gage fought on the Päkehä side in the New Zealand Land Wars and became an assessor of the Mäori Land Court. Davy's mother was Annie Merritt, daughter of the artist Joseph Jenner Merritt and Maria Rangitetaea Koa, of Ngatikoura.
Gage attended St Stephen's School for Mäori boys in Parnell, Auckland, then earned a scholarship to the Mäori college of Te Aute, Hawke's Bay. Among his fellow pupils was Tom Ellison, his friend and later his international captain.
In 1893 Gage went to Australia with the New Zealand team, captained by his friend Tom Ellison. In 1894 he represented the North Island. In 1896 he played for both Wellington and New Zealand against Queensland, captaining the national side.
|Firle Place, Sussex - the Gages' ancestral home|
The drama wasn't all about rugby. In 1995 the TV film Savage Play dramatised Gage's doomed romance with the granddaughter of a Scottish earl during the British tour. There were simply too many obstacles and Gage was persuaded not to pursue the affair.
In Wellington Gage worked as an interpreter and liaison between the city council and iwi. He married Amiria Hemi of Ngati Kuia in 1899, and in 1901 the first of seven children was born.
Poneke did not forget their man and raised money to pay for Gage's headstone and support the family. The whänau is still heavily involved in rugby at many levels and, from Davy's graveside, his descendants can watch the youngsters play on the rugby pitches in the park below.
(CH ENG 307A, 86801)
Sources: National Library of New Zealand; Poneke RFC; Beneath the Mäori Moon - An Illustrated History of Mäori Rugby, by Malcolm Mulholland (Huia); The Gage whänau; www.firle.com