The first publican's license, the first one granted in Auckland for the sale of spirituous and fermented liquors to be drunk on the premises — so ran the legend, the preliminary to drunk and disorderly. In the very first year of Auckland's existence, how few people now-a-days will believe me when I tell them that the great wealthy man — the richest man belonging to Auckland — began life and fortune-building in the grog business! But such is life. And he is now — he who was our first grog merchant — one of the twelve so-called apostles of Mammon, who worship together in the big money-shop in Queen-street—the shop that rules the destiny of this colony.
The meeting of justices presided over by our friend, Captain Symonds, was held— or holden, as the official document has it— in Matthew's house, in Official Bay, near about where F, Whitaker, Esq. now resides. They had a very protracted, earnest consultation on this first license. Dame Rumour had got it about sowing wild oats at the Bay of Islands; but, at last, the ledger was produced, and youthful indiscretion was debited with the oats. The license was granted to the first tent-holder, and the first grog-shop in Auckland was erected on the allotment in Shortland-crescent, next above Hobson's Buildings — the one now vacant. This site was long occupied by the old Victoria Hotel, facing Fort-street, occupied by Walter Scott, a well-known and much respected old identity. The old Victoria was burned down in 1863, and the allotment remains blank and vacant to this day.I do not intend to give an account of all the grog licenses granted, as I might offend my friends the Templars; but old Field was such a well-known character for so many years in Auckland, I will give you some account of him, as he got the second license that was granted in Auckland; and his hotel—" Help me through the World," as he called it — had one or two original features in the structure and management of it that stood out bold and distinct in the gossip of the time. His first hotel was a very ragged makeshift of a tent, which he put up hurriedly at the special request of some "drouthy freens," and late one afternoon his bosom cronies were all invited to come and assist at the opening of the establishment. The first installment of stock, spirituous and fermented, was a cask of porter; and being something new to the twenty or thirty inhabitants of this infant city, he had a great run of trade, which continued beyond control till past eight o'clock, when old Field closed up the cask, and, for safe keeping, rolled it over to a raupo hut that stood about where Hassan 's boot and shoe establishment now is, and gave it in charge to the Government storeman, P. Harkins; and this closed the first act in the history of the cask of porter, Field went home and retired to rest, perfectly satisfied with his "day's doings," but not so the cask of porter; for Patrick having a few friends with him that night, jolly Tipperary boys, and for the sake of old times they determined to " wake " the cask of porter, by taking the bung out, and putting a tap in its place! And you may believe me when I assure you that they were all very merry that night, helping one another through the world.Field came next morning for his stock-in-trade — the remains of the cask of porter— and he was surprised, quite startled, at his strength and vigour; for, the previous night, he had had considerable difficulty in managing the barrel; but now it seemed so easy to move! So, after taking it over, he examined it more critically, and discovered a most alarming deficiency. There was a regular flare-up and a careful analysis was made of each other's private character, not complimentary to either; and in future the Government storeman was not asked to care for Field's casks of porter.
Field prospered, however, and very soon dispensed with the old tent and erected a very curious edifice of raupo, somewhere between the Post-office and the corner of Queen-street, and not far from where the old tent stood. I do not feel capable of conveying an intelligible picture of it to our young settlers; but, at all events, old hands will remember it well, for it stood just then in the centre of the town. It was a longish affair, with two windows, back and front; a door in the centre; and at each end there was a projection that looked for all the world like two chimneys, but were in fact only recesses for two beds. From behind the door, on the right hand, a counter ran across the building to within three or four feet of the back wall. This counter, to show the lack of sawn timber at this time, was built of the same material as the building itself (rushes). The floor of thin primitive habitation was merely levelled and left in its natural state, so that the floor and the counter in a few days got saturated with slops, and became exceedingly filthy. The old man kept boarders as well as grog. He had also a female servant to attend to the boarders, and in the chronicles of the house it is recorded that one night one of the lodgers took to walking in his sleep. This is certainly a very bad practice at any time and in any place, but doubly so in a house with no partitions. The landlady was very much put about and annoyed, and so was Field; at all events, the girl was blamed for mesmerising the sleep-walker, and she was accordingly sent out of the settlement— banished, in fact, for life— to Coromandel.
Poor old Field was always in trouble with somebody. He was by trade a cabinetmaker, but seldom did any work, and when the day came round for renewing the license, "Help me through the World "was shut up. The justices refused the license, because Field had in a moment of enthusiasm hoisted the green flag of old Ireland, with the old harp on it, on St. Patrick's Day. His wife was a good manager, and a very active woman. So Field took to breaking up allotments into infinitesimal doses. Field's lane — between Shortland-crescent and Chancery-street — is a specimen of his handiwork. The site of Low and Motion's stores in High street is another. I think it was on this corner lot that the late Alexander Marshall lent him some money, and had to take violent possession of it: which is, I believe, the only title now held by the present occupier.
Thursday, September 10, 2009
More from the Chapman letters -- No. 20, published in the Southern Cross, 6 November 1875.