Wednesday, April 29, 2009

"Exploring the Great North Road" exhibition

Some many moons ago, an artist and photographer named Brian Marsom gave me a call, and said he was fascinated by a piece which had appeared in the New Zealander back on 27 April 1861, a letter to the editor, written in quite flowery prose, by one J. C. Loch. Exactly who Mr. Loch was, is still unknown -- but I suspect he may have had something to do with estate agents, such as Michael Wood, the purveyor of Waterview at that time.

Brian took it upon himself to take a trip along the Great North Road as it is today, in the hoofprints and wheel ruts of Mr. Loch and companions, and record the road in a photographic record which has now become an exhibition to be opened next month at Henderson's Corban Estate Arts Centre. The exhibition opens on 21 May at 6pm, and runs through to 21st June.

This came today from Brian -- I was delighted to hear from him after all this time, and that his exhibition was soon to be a reality:

Opening Thursday 21st May 09 at 6pm- (informal)
Part of the Auckland Festival of Photography

At Corban Estate Arts Centre, 426 Great North Road Henderson, Auckland
Note access is from end of Great North Road, at top- turn left at lights, over rail crossing and drive back through the Estate to car park.

This exhibition was inspired by a letter in The New Zealander in 1861, by J C Loch and I have retraced the journey with some contemporary photo images.

Exhibition times- 22nd May-21st June. Open 7 days 10 am -4-30 pm.
Artist floor talk- June 4, 11 am in CEAC Gallery- all welcome.
I look forward to seeing you at the opening or hope you get to visit the exhibition.

Best regards
Brian Marsom
So, what is this 1861 letter all about? Here's the text, with some of my annotations.



To the Editor of the NEW-ZEALANDER.

SIR, -- Upon a lovely morning we started from Queen-street in the North Road Van, bound for Henderson’s Mill. It was a glorious New Zealand morning, and we enjoyed it. Our only companions at first were a hearty young settler, and a veteran bushman returning to the scene of his felling exploits. Once at Newton, we rattled along at a rapid rate, but soon to pull up for additional passengers, whose knowledge of the localities we were fast passing through contributed much to the pleasure of the drive.

Leaving behind us Newton and Ponsonby Road, with its magnificent prospect over city and ocean, islands and headlands, we speedily arrived opposite Richmond, and the pretty suburb of Glengarry, laying between it and the City, numerous and snug paddocks were interspersed in the space seaward, -- while toward the west the picture terminated in the house and cultivated grounds on Halstead’s Point.

Halstead’s Point? This may have been Herne Bay area, or clear across to North Shore. At this stage, I don’t know. Leigh Dines Halstead around this time was Auckland’s veterinarian, and owned land on the Shore in the late 1850s.

Having under us a capital road, we were soon at Arch Hill, around which our ancient friend Mr. Joseph Young has planted a belt of native forest and blue gum trees.

While expressing our strongest approbation of this tree-planting practice, a sharp descent – easily to be mitigated by a small outlay – brought us to the enclosed paddocks and farm-house of Mr. Edgcombe, where a deeper verdure and richer luxuriance gladdened our eyes.

After a few minutes’ run along the well-fenced fields on either hand, our horses made a voluntary stop at the Northern Hotel, where, taking the hint, we duly entered. Our stay, however, was but short, for we had sighted the pennons of Waterview, and were anxious to press on to the site of the new village. The extensive mills and buildings of Messrs. Low & Motion, almost concealed in the valley of the neighbouring creek, presented to our notice only their roofs and higher points, -- while the thriving cultivations that surround them were wholly concealed from our view. The handsome gardens of Mr. Cameron, more immediate and at hand, afforded us much gratification – all around teeming with a luxuriant vegetation, strangely at variance with the crabbed scoria which it covers.

Mr. Cameron could have been Richard Cameron, listed as resident at Meola Creek as a labourer in the 1860 Jury List. This could have been, therefore, one of the early farms at the Sutherland Estate – see Pt Chevalier Times, No. 4.

We crossed the bridge, and speedily found ourselves at Oakley’s Creek, -- and fronting us the entire village of WATERVIEW. The position of the village has been chosen with much judgement, having a slight declination towards both the harbour and the creek, but otherwise smooth and level.

Directly opposite, encircled by the sea, is the residence of D. Pollen, Esq., which, with its tasteful plantations and clumps of forest trees, imparts to the picture quite an old country look.

We now pass over Oakley’s Creek, with its sparkling waters high on either bank, and Thomas’ mill – for whose especial use its aqueous treasures have been hoarded up; and drawing along to the western end of Waterview we come upon the farm of Mr. McEwan, where considerable improvements are fast being carried out.

I still don’t know who McEwan was – but there is the possibility that Loch was referring to the Robert Chisholm farm. Chisholm, in Parnell at that stage, would have had a manager on his farm.

We have now before us the noble ranges of Titirangi, with their numerous sawing-stations and homesteads betrayed to us by the curling smoke, that tells of coming dinner, -- and soon arrive at the Whau.

The cottage and grounds of Mr. Elliott at the Bridge-end pleasingly present themselves, -- while around and far towards the Waitemata is studded with smiling homesteads and cultivated enclosures.

Elliott had a house and land on the New Lynn side of the Whau Bridge -- so Loch and his companions may have sighted this, and Dr. Aickin's house below from somewhere close to present day Victor Street.

The residence and property of Dr. Aicen likewise here become visible, -- and a few hundred yards brings to view, conveniently situated on the roadside, the Presbyterian School-house Church, lately erected by the zealous efforts of the Rev. D. Bruce. Here, on the afternoon of every Sunday, divine service is held by the Rev. George Brown, the pastor of the district.

This, of course, is our St Ninian's Church.

Now at length we enter upon the tenantless fern plains, through which we pass until our journey’s end, save where the roads leading up to the neighbouring bush cross our path, or the tempting waters of the Rewa Rewa Creek invite us, as many before, to stop and liquor. Denying ourselves this pleasure, we hasten along, and soon from an adjacent height Henderson’s mills and busy station burst upon our view. The lovely valley and glistening stream, the rolling wheel and snorting engine, the parent mill, with the little town of heaths and homes that it has given birth to and nursed into comfortable condition, the pleasing hum of active industry – all strongly recalled to mind the manufacturing homes and valleys of our native Yorkshire. Here we witnessed the monarch of the forest, after being treated to a ride on a rail, and a float on the river, dragged with a bulldog grape up to the inevitable saw, and there halved and quartered, like traitors on Tower-hill, at the rapid pace of about five thousand yards per hour.

After enjoying ourselves heartily, and partaking of the hospitality of the respected owner, we returned to our van, and speedily found ourselves repassing the site of Waterview, and soon in Auckland, more impressed with the permanent progress of our city on the western side than had it been shown to us in a blue-book.



  1. It sounds like it will be lovely!
    If it ever gets uploaded online be sure to let us know :)

  2. I've actually read that 1861 letter - it was reprinted in a history of Pt Chev (not a very good one, but the only one I could find) which I read when I lived there. I shall certainly see the exhibition. I have fantasised about doing a book about a walk along the length of the Gt South Rd, in the same vein as Iain Sinclair's book about this walk round the M 25.

  3. Sure thing, Jayne.

    A book about walking the length of Great South Road? That sounds like an awesome project, Maps. If ever that fantasy became reality, I'd certainly be in for buying the result.