Saturday, November 15, 2008

Rocky Road: The Northern Omnibus Company

In March 1883, a new company published their prospectus in the Auckland Evening Star. The Northern Omnibus Company announced its existence proudly, a first for the Avondale district and quite possibly that of Mt Albert as well. The list of provisional directors was a who’s who of movers and shakers in early 1880s suburban Auckland:

J. M. Alexander; A. Archibald; J. Bollard [Chairman of the Avondale Road Board, and Company Manager, 1883-1884]; J. Buchanan; J. Crawford; W. H. Connell; R. Dakin [owner of the Avondale Hotel]; P. Dignan; J. H. Daubeny; T Faulder; W. Forsyth; R. Garrett [of the Garrett Brothers tannery]; F. Gittos [son of Benjamin Gittos, of the Gittos tannery]; R. C. Greenwood [auctioneer and local land owner]; J. Holmes; N. G. Lennox; W. McColl; J. McElwain; T. Melville; W. L. Mitchell [Chairman 1883-1884]; W. Motion; J. R. Randerson [Secretary 1883-1884]; S. Stuart; A. K. Taylor [former Mt Albert Highway District Chairman, owner of Alberton]; E. Wayte

The prospectus advertisement stated:
“The rapid growth of the City of Auckland and its Suburbs have attracted general notice throughout the colony, and no suburb has made more evident progress than that of the important district of which the New and Great North Roads form the arteries of traffic. Three Omnibus proprietors have been running on these roads for a considerable number of years: but the want of accommodation to meet the increasing requirements of the public has suggested to the promoters, who are fully assured that this Company will not only supply a great public convenience, but also prove a financial success. It is intended not only to provide an increased Omnibus communication for the New North Road, Kingsland, Morningside, Mount Albert, Avondale and New Lynn, but also for Point Chevalier, Arch Hill, and Great North Road.

“The proposal of starting the Company has met with a most favourable reception, and the wide distribution of the shares throughout the District would secure the traffic. The intention of the promoters is to purchase the plant of existing proprietors so that as soon as a sufficient number of shares have been subscribed for, the Company may commence operations. Among the primary objects of the proposed Company are 1) more frequent communication, and 2) fostering the traffic by affording every facility possible for passengers.”
With a depot planned for Avondale, and 4000 shares at £1 each (2000 were issued), the promoters of the Northern Omnibus Company bought out the two existing horse-bus lines from the city to Avondale/New Lynn via Mt Albert, and one to Arch Hill (possibly, one of these was Phipps’). Within three months, however, it became apparent that the way to profit and efficient suburban public transport was rocky indeed.

The NZ Herald reported in July that there had been some complaint from Great North Road residents, and that “the company started with very limited plant, quite unequal to the requirements of the trade.” The company though, managed by John Bollard, planned to increase the Great North Road service to running an omnibus morning and evening, with an extra midday one to the Asylum “to suit the convenience of those who wish to visit their friends at the Institution. Sufficient time will be allowed to enable visitors to return by the same vehicle.” All very well – but the Company was to announce later that month that it was unable to continue with the Asylum service due to the bad state of the Great North Road. “Some of the ruts and holes are positively dangerous.” Later advertisement show that this route was reinstated.

In early February 1884, the NZ Herald told its readers:
“The Northern Omnibus Company have … purchased during the past week a triangular allotment (three-quarters of an acre), opposite Donovan’s Hotel, Avondale, and at the junction of five roads, for £250. It is the intention of the company to put up shortly on it the necessary coaching accommodation, a twenty-stalled stable, and the requisite granaries, etc. By the way, it is not very creditable to the railway authorities that the company is carrying a larger number of people to and fro in the Avondale and Mount Albert districts than the railway itself, and at rates (with the exception of first-class fares) below the railway fares.”
Three months later, however, came crisis. Personality clashes and accusations of mismanagement loomed. Two factions were to emerge – one led by John Bollard, chairman of the Avondale road district since 1868 and land agent, and another championed by John Buchanan, city merchant, local Avondale landowner and elder in the Avondale Presbyterian church. Both men were keen to see their land sold at profit in the district, but they hadn’t been able to see eye-to-eye apparently for quite some time before the Company was formed.

An extraordinary meeting of the company was held at G. D. Smith’s workshop in Morningside on 18 April. Even the location of the meeting was a bone of contention, before the accounts could be presented, with several shareholders condemning the directors for not having it in the Mt Albert Hall. John Buchanan then waded in, accusing the company of losing 20%-25% of the capital. The secretary, J. R. Randerson came under fire for his salary of £1 per week for his services (“Mr Quick said that although he had proposed that the Secretary receive £1 a week, he did not mean the resolution to be retrospective as the Secretary had made it.”)

The Star went on to report:

“Mr. Bollard then made a long statement relative to the management of the Company, in the course of which he condemned the action of the directors. He had been insulted, as manager, and in one instance the directors ordered the discharge of a driver, in consequence of certain complaints about delivery of parcels. He (Mr. Bollard) positively refused to carry out his instruction until an inquiry had been made, and said the directors could dispense with his own services if they liked, but he would not be a party to this injustice.

“Mr. Jno. Buchanan explained why he resigned his position on the directorate. He blamed the other directors for not compelling Mr. Bollard to obey their orders, and said the manager was the cause of the failure. He had eat[en] the vitals out of a company when he knew it was going to the dogs.

“Mr. F. Quick twitted Mr. Buchanan with having tried to sell to the Company a piece of land that had a very small frontage and large back. Mr. Buchanan denied that the land had a small frontage represented by Mr. Quick.

“The Chairman said as the line was not paying the directors had reduced the expenses as far as possible, and had requested Mr. Bollard to resign, but he refused to do so until his year’s engagement expired. Mr. Bollard said a minority only had requested him to resign.

“Mr. Quick said he could run the service for ten years, and could frame a time-table which would make it pay. Mr. Peck thought the fares were too low, and the system of selling tickets in dozen packets should be discontinued. Mr. Quick concurred. In reply to a question, Mr. Bollard said he was willing to place his resignation in the hands of the new directorate.”
The new directorate, elected at that April meeting, came under fire at a July extraordinary meeting of the company shareholders. This time held at the NZI Insurance Buildings, the business was “To pass a special resolution removing the present directors from office, and also to pass a special resolution requiring the company to be wound up voluntarily, and the appointment of liquidators.” Once again, Mitchell had the chair, and was immediately challenged by director C Hesketh who demanded to know whether he had just sold his own shares before the meeting for 10s per share. Mitchell denied this, as no money had been paid. Bollard then stepped in to the fray, asking whether Buchanan had not sold his own shares. The response was “he agreed to do so and signed the transfer, but he found that he would by handing it over be doing a dishonourable thing, and he had it in his own hand (Cries of Oh!).” The matter was then dropped.

The directors’ report was then read out:
“The report of the Directors was a very lengthy one. It stated that soon after they were elected on April 18 last an attempt was made by a certain faction resident in Avondale to thwart and hinder the Directors in endeavouring management of the Company. Mr. Bollard, the then manager, who had, at the extraordinary meeting pledged himself to resign, upon being called upon to do so positively refused, but questioned the legality of the election of Directors, and withheld from them every information regarding the affairs of the Company.

“To still further hamper the Directors a letter was sent to them, claiming for Mr. R. Garrett a continuing seat on the Directory, and that the lowest on the poll [this was S. Stuart] should retire in his favour. Gentlemen in the interest of the opposing faction took advantage of a quibble in law to oust a newly-elected Director from his seat, and the Director had no option but to admit the claim.

“Although Mr. Bollard’s resignation was handed in, and a change of management took place, the efficient working of the Company was at once paralysed when Mr. Bollard and his party caused an extraordinary meeting to be called for the express purpose of removing the directors from office. Later, the resignation of Mr. Garrett was handed in, and accepted.

“The report went on, commencing with a proposal that Mr. Bollard be elected to the vacant seat, and eventually recording the election of Mr. Phipps. Mr. Starkey was next engaged as manager conditionally. The directors believe that in the present manager they have a man who would eventually make the concern a success. Yet the harass and inconveniences in the way have well night determined its operations as one of profit. From the very outset the Company has not earned its expenditure, and the directors are dissatisfied with the management because of the want of economy, &c. In putting a stop to this, they received such persistent opposition that it was impossible to undertake the work of securing stabling on a site at Avondale under favourable terms. The directors concluded by suggesting that the best course to adopt in the interest of all interested was to cause an early and voluntary winding up of the Company.”
The meeting was adjourned until 15 July, at the Mt Albert Public Hall. Hesketh “delivered a lengthy address” stating that the directors since he’d joined them in April had done nothing but wrangle, and a section of them had one sole object: to get rid of Bollard. Hesketh praised Bollard (cheers from those present), and condemned the directors for appointing another manager.
“He denounced as false the allegations against Mr. Bollard that he had given preference to one firm in ordering grain and paying highest market rates, that he had over-fed the horses, and that he had kept too many horses for the sake of getting payment for grazing them in his paddock.”
The discussion came around to the matter of those directors offering to sell their shares. Mitchell, the Chairman, apparently didn’t go through with the April transaction with Hesketh. A Mr. Smith piped up that “anybody could buy his shares at 25s per £, but not for a penny less,” as the business was flourishing. Applause and laughter from those present.

Mr. W. Leys asked if Randerson, the Secretary, had refunded the £25 he’d received for the period before his salary was approved. When told he hadn’t, Leys expressed the opinion that Randerson should be removed from office.

Hesketh had said during his spirited defence of Bollard that “Mr. Buchanan and Mr. Bollard were at war with each other, and he supposed they would be so to the end of their days.” Indeed, Buchanan couldn’t let Hesketh get away with defending Bollard, accusing Hesketh of “unmitigated insolence” in his remarks about the Company’s bad credit. “The Company had been a good milch cow to Mr. Hesketh, and therefore that gentleman was anxious to keep it going, though it was losing £40 per week. He declared that Mr. Hesketh’s speech was altogether misleading.” Buchanan compared himself as a merchant and businessman to Bollard in scathing terms: “Mr. Bollard, “ in his opinion, “was an excellent man as a husband, a father, and a farmer, but as manager of a ‘Bus Company he was a failure.” Cries of “No!” from the audience.

Leys was in favour of forming a new Directorate, and giving Bollard another chance of making the Company pay.

Now, Bollard, a stout, burly man, was in his element – addressing an audience and speaking to the common man.
“Mr. Bollard … replied to the arguments. As to the charge of losing money, he pointed out that the new manager was drawing £10 less per week in fares than he had done. He disposed of the accusations that he kept too many horses in paddock. He alleged that the directors had tried to prevent this meeting being held by endeavouring to engage the hall; they were afraid to face the people of the district (Applause). He said the accounts were “cooked” in a way to induce them to wind up the Company.”
He added that Buchanan’s enmity stemmed from his unsuccessful attempt to sell the company his two-acre section of land as referred to in April, due to Bollard’s opposition.

The motion to wind up the company was lost by 26 votes to 12. The second motion to remove the directors from office passed by 35 votes to 6.

Smith shouted out, amidst loud cheering, “I’ll not sell my shares for 30s now!” Buchanan’s call for a poll came amid confusion and cries of “Half crown proxies.”

It was agreed to buy the shares of the late directors at 10s per £, with a number volunteering to buy them, and “the meeting, which was noisy and protracted, broke up amid the utmost good feeling with cheers for the Chairman.

This is the last meeting report found so far for the company. It fades away in history from 1884, to be replaced by the horse-bus company of Patterson & Co, and later Andrews & Co who organised tourist trips up to Nihotupu in the Waitakere Ranges. The stables on the triangle opposite today’s Mobil Service Station on Great North Road in Avondale apparently burned down in the 1890s, to be rebuilt by contractor Charlie Pooley for his use. The closed company files in Archives New Zealand, however, apparently go down to 1904, so things didn’t necessarily end as early as had been thought.

Update and more information here.

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