Thursday, March 19, 2009

Finding gold in the midst of old legal wrangles: Alberton's beginnings

It is thought in reports on the building that Alberton, the 19th century Mt Albert home of Allan Kerr Taylor (Kerr, his middle name, became hyphenated and part of the family name after his died in 1890) was built in an early form in the 1860s, with the final verandahs-and-towers version you see here dating from sometime in the 1870s to early 1880s, designed by architect Matthew Henderson.

The other day I was trawling Papers Past, and came across the following article, Southern Cross, 21 March 1865:
INSOLVENCY COURT.— Monday. [Before his Honor Sir G. A. Arney.]

The sitting of the Supreme Court in its insolvency jurisdiction was resumed this morning, at ten o'clock, at which hour his Honor Sir G A Arney took his seat in Court.

In this case the insolvent, William Stephenson, builder, Auckland, sought the extended protection of the Court, and the further hearing of which was adjourned on Friday last for the production of books and documents.

Mr. Brookfield appeared to oppose the application on behalf of the trustees of the estate, Messrs. Marshall and Craig.

Matthew Henderson, examined: I am an architect, and reside in Auckland. I had the superintendence of the contract for the building of the house for Mr. Taylor. The contract had been taken by the insolvent. (Witness produced the plans and specification of Mr. Taylor's new house.) The first plan related to an addition to the old house. There were three separate contracts. The first was for £297 for an addition to the old house; the second, £320, for carrying on the new house to a certain stage of completion; then two more proposals or plans and tenders and not contracts, that were abandoned. Here is a third plan, which was signed by Mr. Stephenson. The contract for building the new house was £463. The tender stated that the house should be ready for occupation on the 1st January, 1864. There was a premium offered for completion within the time specified, but no penalty was mentioned. The bonus was £100 if finished at the specified time, and £50 if completed within a month after the time named. Mr. Taylor took possession in July, 1864. The house is not in reality finished. The insolvent was to have been paid £75 per cent, during the carrying on of the work, and the balance when the work was finished. I gave orders to the amount of £519 13s. There was an addition to be built to the kitchen, which makes the amount advanced more than the requi(s)ite percentage. It includes £100, amount of an order for timber and shingles. I therefore paid the Insolvent £419 in respect to the contact. On February 6th I paid £100 for timber. Mr. Stephenson was to find all material.

His Honor here remarked that the accounts should have been made up before the case came into court.

Examination continued: There were several moneys advanced. There were also several extras. The insolvent had advanced to him money at different times in sums of £60, £55, £40, £54 and £8. Thirty eight orders were given for timber, shingles, &c. There was a bill rendered by the insolvent for £63 including the sum of £508 12s, the sum for the two contracts, viz. the house and additional kitchen. The extra work that I can pass would amount to about £20. Everything beyond that sum is included in the contract. The insolvent has been fully paid, and I told him I would not allow the extras. I also told him that I would not pass the contracts.

By the insolvent: The first specification was abandoned, but the verandah was mentioned in both specifications, which I can prove by witnesses if required. The reason the specifications are so much alike is that the additions contemplated to the old house were also made applicable to a new building. As the matter now stands one of the verandahs ought to come down again. I gave no order to erect it and it has been put up wrong, and would be required to be lowered. You were not working for a week or month from this specification before you had it. The specification was received before you began to build. I did bring the specification to Mount Albert, but your foreman would not receive it. I had to bring it back again. The insolvent had been working from a sketch he had received from me the day he signed the contract. The verandah was particularly mentioned in the first specification.

By Mr. Brookfield: The sketch I gave the insolvent had a verandah marked upon it, and was marked upon the original plans from which the sketch was taken.

Allan Taylor, examined: I reside at Mount Albert. The building in question was put up for me. Mr. Henderson gave orders for payment from time to time to the insolvent. They amounted to £519 14s.- that sum was paid. The items for timber I gave cash for. I gave no orders for extra work, and I ordered Mr. Stephenson not to do any extra work without an order from the architect. I saw the account produced for £638 odd in Mr. Henderson’s office. It is an account for work done. I did not see the insolvent about this account.

By the insolvent: The order I give for £100 was in payment of timber which the contractor was to get at that price. There were 10,000 or 12,000 feet of timber on the ground, which the contractor could have at 16s. per 100 feet. I did not order you to move the house after the blocks had been put down. There were no blocks put down. There was a slight alteration made by me by men altering the facing of the house. The alteration was no expense to Mr. Stephenson, and it was done at his suggestion.

Insolvent, examined by Mr. Brookfield : There is no other property beyond which is mentioned in my schedule. There are two allotments— one in Chapel-street and the other in Hobson-street —mentioned in the account-hook. I received the rents for those for Connell and Ridings. Mr. Kunst has got the lease. It was mortgaged to him for £100. The £100 was lent at 20 per cent. There was a large piece of ground with workshops between the two which remained in my possession. The annual value of those would be— the shop 10s per week; for the whole lot I paid £30 a year. When I first took the contract for Mr. Allan Taylor’s house, it was only for an addition. After I commenced it Mr. Taylor decided to have it removed. There were several extra works done — additions and alterations. There was a second contract entered into. After the building had been removed to the new site suggested, Mr. Taylor wanted the position of the house altered after the blocks were put down. The notices I received from Mr. Henderson to do no extra work came after the extra work had been done. With regard to the timber, I could never get any account from Mr. Henderson respecting it. When I delivered my bill to Mr. Henderson for work done, including extra work, he said if I would bring the plans and specifications he would settle with me. It had been so much altered and added to I believed it impossible to settle the claim of the builder until it had been measured and valued by arbitration.

By the Court : I have not received the amount, for the timber that I ought to have received. I have given Mr. Taylor credit for £38 for timber. Mr. Taylor wants £100 for timber. I have been paid only £38 on account for timber.

Allan Taylor, re-examined by the Court: I paid, in two separate sums £100 and £55 in cash. I also supplied timber and shingles to the extent of £100.

Insolvent, re-examined : I admit the supply of the timber and shingles, but not to the extent of £100. I allow £38 8s. for the timber supplied. I have the account relating to that timber somewhere amongst these papers. I produce a memorandum in the handwriting of Thomas Murphy, which purports to be a list of timber received from Mr. Taylor. I examined and measured the timber. No other timber was received from Mr. Taylor except what is here mentioned. The items are given but not cast up. I make the several items amount to 3,030 feet. There are 925 feet to be deducted, which were returned to Mr. Taylor. That was all the timber I received. There were 20,000 shingles received from Mr. Taylor.

This closed the examination, and the insolvent, in reply to the Court, said he applied for further protection.

Mr. Brookfield opposed the application on the grounds stated at the opening of the case— that a false statement of assets had been made; that the insolvent had given no assistance to the trustees to realise the estate; that the evidence of the insolvent had been denied with respect to the claim of £250 set forth by him as due by Mr. Taylor; that the insolvent had failed to carry out the covenant to pay 10s in the pound to the trustees; and since that time the insolvent was earning large sums of money and had not paid anything to the trustees. He (Mr. B) submitted from the facts detailed in evidence the insolvent was not entitled to the protection of the Court.

His Honor then commented on the nature of the evidence submitted and the insincerity of the statements put forth in the schedule by the insolvent, and submitted that the insolvent had not evinced any anxiety or desire to assist the assignees in realising the estate. He (his Honor) did not think that the insolvent had shown that he was entitled to the special favour he had sought for, and the Court felt it duty bound to refuse the application for further protection.
This account of William Stephenson's unfortunate financial situation revealed that he was the builder of a house for Mr. Taylor in Mt Albert, and that Matthew Henderson was architect. All this, however, was taking place in late 1863 to mid 1864, and Henderson still advised the court, "The house is not in reality finished." Could this mean that Matthew Henderson not only the architect for the later, final version of Alberton, but the early one as well? It looks that way, at this stage.

Topping that find off, a day or so later, again in Papers Past, I found this, also from the Southern Cross, 13 May 1873:
DISTRICT COURT. -Monday. [Before his Honor Thos, Beckham, Esq., District Judge.]

M. Henderson v. A. K. Taylor. — In this case a jury of four was empanelled. Messrs. Joy and Greenway for the plaintiff, and Mr. Hesketh for the defendant. This was an action to recover the sum of £99 3s., for work and labour done, the plaintiff being an architect. The defence was that the work was done under special contract, by which the plaintiff agreed to do it for £17 10s., which sum had been paid into Court. — After a good deal of discussion it was decided to let the question of contract or no contract go to the jury, and if they decided that there was a contract the plaintiff should be non suited, and, if not, the case should go to arbitration. — Mr. Hesketh proceeded to prove the contract, he called the plaintiff, who deposed that he acted as draftsman and foreman of works for the defendant in respect to the repairing and altering a house at Mount Albert. The work was commenced in January. There was no agreement. On the 6th April defendant wanted to know what the additions, etc , would cost. Witness could not give an estimate, but said he imagined that the cost would be from £350 to £400. It was not true that he first gave defendant an estimate of £250. On the 6th April defendant asked witness what he would charge. Witness said the usual charge of architects was 5 per cent, on the total outlay, and then offered to give the defendant plans of the alterations at that rate. Defendant did not say anything. Witness offered to prepare plans and give partial superintendence for the 5 per cent. He also told the defendant that he would charge extra for all extra labour. Witness wrote to Mr. Taylor on the 9th July, and on the next day Mr. Taylor offered him 5 per cent, on £350, which he refused as payment in full. The work ceased on 20th June. On the 13th July sent an account to the defendant for £47 18s., being 5 per cent, on what witness considered to be total outlay and extra work. In August following sent in an account for £75 12s. 6d., containing some additional charges. The outlay in his opinion was increased by about £350 from April 6th to the 1st July, making the total about £700. In the month of August witness proposed arbitration. — The defendant deposed that the plaintiff when first spoken to in January estimated the cost of the alterations and additions at £25O. In April following he estimated it at between £350 and £400, and then agreed to furnish plans, superintend the work, &c., for 5 per cent, on £350. The work altogether had not cost more than £500. The deviations from the original plans were owing to the plaintiff not being able to carry out his first design, and not to witness having changed his intentions. In his opinion the alterations could have been carried out, if the plaintiff had adhered to his original plan, for £350. —This was all the evidence. — The learned counsel on both sides having addressed the jury, his Honor briefly summed up, and the jury, after an absence of about half an hour, returned into Court, and found that there was an agreement on the 6th April to perform the work for 5 per cent, on the total cost, which, at the time, it was understood would be £350. They, therefore, by direction, returned a verdict for the plaintiff for £18 5s., the amount paid into Court by the defendant, costs to be paid by the plaintiff.
This appears to have put the additions and extensions as happening in 1873. At least some of them. Mind you, that was a lot of money being quoted in the court case. Again, Taylor used Matthew Henderson as an architect.

This isn't the first time I've found valuable detail from out of legal cases as reported in the early newspapers. A lot of new information on Daniel Pollen's brickyard on Rosebank came from his own court squabbles with suppliers and James Wright the potter. It looks like the semi-hidden mine that are the reports on Auckland's legal cases in the police court, district and supreme courts has struck some gold again.

Oh, and the photos with this post are mine, taken one fine sunny day at Alberton, today a heritage building operated by NZ Historic Places Trust.

1 comment:

  1. Beautiful pics of a beautiful building!
    An awful lot of to-ing and fro-ing but, yes, they were large sums of money in those days!