Thursday, December 31, 2009

David Ross and his self-acting closet seat

Another of the oddities picked up from the old newspapers while looking for something completely different ...

"Mr David Ross, architect, formerly of Dunedin, has patented a double-purpose sanitary self-acting closet seat, a large working model of which may be seen on view at his office, Queen-street, by those interested in matters of sanitary science. The seat is self-acting as regards its rising motion, being hung on pivots at each side, and is made to rise up by having attached to it by two hooks or otherwise a counter-balancing weight. The advantages of it are: (1) Cleanliness; (2) economy, as it does away with the necessity for a urinal, and the cost of the same; (3) its compactness, as the "double-purpose" seat can be conveniently placed where there is not room for an ordinary seat and separate urinal. The advantage of its adoption in large hotels and public schools is very obvious, and requires no comment."
(NZ Herald, 22 September 1883)

Except to say that we don't have such toilet seats these days, except the ones we lift up ourselves. Well, at least not in common use. His patent that year wasn't the last for such contraptions.

Who was David Ross (1827-1908)? Quite a gifted architect, responsible for the Dunedin AthenaeumDunedin Club, Moray Place Congregational Church, NZ Clothing Company Ltd building, and Warden's Court in Lawrence. After Dunedin, he moved to Auckland, and went to America and Japan.

He also, apparently, tinkered around with plans for the perfect toilet seat.

Devonport Wharf

From the Avondale-Waterview Historical Society collection: Devonport Wharf, here in Auckland, June 1992, just before its demolition and refurbishment. I think I must have passed through here, most likely as a kiddy on school trips.


It was reopened 10 October 1992 by Prince Edward, after a cost of $9 million. Here is the interior today.




And part of the exterior. It went through a period at the start of this decade of being virtually as empty as the first two photos up above, shop space lying vacant after an initial burst. It's finishing the decade packed and full of colour. There's even as regular farmers' market near the entrance on weekends.


Another old shop sign

Roy Turner, Ladies and Gents Hairdresser, at the top of Williamson Avenue, Grey Lynn,  just along from Foodtown. It's on one of the bus routes I often take, so I've seen this shop as a trendy African hairdresser, then a curry shop -- but now all that has gone away with the flow of financial storms, some of the past is revealed. Probably post World War II. I seem to recall a lot of the older type hairdressers had signage like this.

The photo is another of my "take it from inside the bus" shots. Hard to get the timing right (this is close to the intersection with Great North Road), but good because I can take it fairly well level.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Testament to façadism

I was heading along Mayoral Drive, a road in Auckland's CBD responsible for scores of demolition sites in the 1970s, and spotted another one:

That's the remains of a former parking garage in Greys Avenue, from the days in the 1920s to 1940s when you either parked your car there, or out in the open, on another of Auckland's demolition sites. The main one in those days was close by, the site of the Aotea Square today (long story, I might go into it one day).

Onward to Queen Street, and a building (well, what's left of it) that I've had my eye on to photograph and blog about for a fair while.

I suppose it's fortunate, this Queen's Head Hotel. It could have ended up entirely as rubble, as with many of the lower Greys Avenue buildings from the 1960s. In the 1980s, a developer came along, and decided to keep the façade. A reminder to us all of what used to be there. This is what is there today:

That said, I do like the remains. (I would have liked to have seen a Victorian-style pub there still instead of another glass tower, but ...) Auckland City Council gave the façade a C2 protection rating in 1986. That's a low rating, and no longer applicable (there's only A and B scheduling now); it doesn't appear to be included on the list anymore.

Some of the elegance continues on. Bacchus is recalled (as he should be, considering this was a pub) in the decorations.

There's even an English-style sign, the young Victoria, but beneath a very modern canopy.

The actual Queens Head Restaurant (they've abandoned the possessive apostrophe, rendering it oddly plural) is next door.

From the outside, it appears more Cobb & Co than Victorian-Edwardian eatery, despite the boast of "Food and beverages since 1890". Ah, well. As I said, at least something remains.

Monday, December 28, 2009

The "Murder House"

I'm in my mid 40s, so I remember the dental nurse's office at Avondale Primary School being called "the murder house". Thankfully, I'm too young to remember treadle-powered drills, they were electric in my day, but damned slow ...


That wooden seat would creak as you got in it. I still have forebodings about such seats, even though they aren't wooden anymore. The metal pick digging and pulling, the squirt with those rubber-bulb things, then the drill which seemed to go on for ever ...

Photos are from a display at the Auckland War Memorial Museum. The murder house equipment I remember looked exactly like this, except in a bright, sunlit room which was supposed to be healthy and cheerful. Yeah, right ... this is still the least-liked memory of my school years. I have the mouth full of amalgam fillings to prove it.

Signs in Parnell Village

Well done to Parnell Village,  which has not only preserved a specimen of the endangered wild Type D telphone box, but also includes lovely signs in the streetscape. Such as these.

Public telephones in the wild

Starting with my post on the telephone boxes of doom from 1924, things proceeded through to Jayne including a link to that on her blog (thanks again, Aussie):
"As we've just about lost all of our lovely old red public phone boxes *sniff* have a gander at the ones in NZ."

To which I responded over there:

"Sadly, the red phone boxes pictured are in captivity, ie. MOTAT, our transport and technology museum out at Western Springs. All we have on the streets these days are mainly those booth things, if we're lucky. Down country there might be pockets of difference tho' (more fingers crossed on that)."
Well, I found one a bit closer to home than that, yesterday.

When studying the public telephone box in the wild in Nu Zillund these days, there are usually three types -- the semi-booth thing where only your head and shoulders are sheltered from the sides (Type A), its cousin where at least your legs get a bit more shelter from the southerlies or the westerlies (depending on where the booth is) (Type B) ... 

Type Bs are changing their livery/plumage to this:

and the enclosed one (Type C) which is approaching extinction if not already there, descended directly from the classic, close-to-extinction in the wild, wooden telephone box (Type D-1). Type D-2 are Type Ds which are in captivity and have been struck dumb, their telephonic equipment removed (poor buggers).

But ... I found a Type D-1, in Parnell.


And ... the telephone's still there!

Sadly, though, this appeared to be a solitary specimen, so with no sign of any breeding pairs, this appears to be a one off. Nice plumage, though.

A plea for the St James Theatre

There's a good opinion piece in today's Herald by Bob Kerridge on the old St James Theatre, slowly decaying away in darkness, which I thought I'd bring to folks' attention.

Previous posts here are:
Goodbye, St James, goodbye.
The theatre's Facebook page.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Vedette -- a First World War postcard mystery

This came from the Avondale Sunday market as well. It was inside a shabby looking frame, but it caught my eye (as things can tend to do).

It is a postcard (says so on the back). Parts of the text at the back have been removed due to sellotape (wretched stuff), but it's something about ACTIVE SERVICE, No. 76 something-or-other Army Series, and G.P. & S. L.

"Vedette", means a mounted scout or sentinel, near as I can find out -- but is it just a description, or the artist's non-de-plume?

Not really NZ history -- but I do like the artwork. Suggestions/answers always welcome.

George Dixon and his Lion trade mark ginger beer

My favourite soft drink is ginger beer. I reckon it's a good choice as a favourite, considering ginger beer was around in colonial times, right alongside the spirits, beers and rotguts for the flourish of pubs and bush licence operations which sprouted like buttercups across an unmown paddock.

I also have a small collection of ginger beer clay bottles, to which I added another today from the Sunday Market. It had the above intriguing trade mark on it, first I'd ever seen on a local bottle of its kind. The "G D" stands for George Dixon of Wellington (1848-1883). [Update 28 February 2011: Jonathan Taylor, author of a research page on George Dixon, has corrected Dixon's birth year as 1848, not 1818 as the NZETC reference says. I've amended the date.]

Feilding Star 26 June 1883

The Cyclopedia of New Zealand termed his demise as just losing his life during a severe gale while on board the SS Taiaroa -- but contemporary reports had it that he committed suicide by jumping overboard.

"Mr George Dickson, the well-known cordial manufacturer here, committed suicide by jumping overboard from the Taiaroa. When he left Auckland it was noticed that he appeared to be very unwell. When the steamer got out to sea, after leaving the Spit at 1 a.m. yesterday, he became violently delirious, and three stewards were told off to watch him in turn. About 10.40 yesterday morning, during a heavy gale, a tremendous sea was shipped. The steward left him in order to put things straight in the saloon, which was flooded. Dixon was confined in the ladies' cabin, the stewardess watching him. Dixon took advantage of an opportunity to rush on deok and jump overboard, sinking at once. A mountainous sea was running, and it was impossible even to attempt to rescue him. He leaves a wife and several children."
Wanganui Herald, 27 June 1883

It was rumoured that his state of "ill health" was alcoholic delirium tremens.

However, these reports were refuted by a letter published in the NZ Herald a few weeks later. Dixon had apparently dreaded the passage to Auckland on the Taiaroa according to the writer, knowing he would be affected by seasickness during the voyage. When the ladies' cabin was flooded by a surge of water, Dixon was said to have panicked, dived out of the cabin, fell striking his head, rose unsteadily on the pitching deck, and toppled over into the sea. (Evening Post, 6 August 1883)

The New Zealand Accident Insurance Company, however, wouldn't have a bar of it. They declared that Dixon's death was not an accident at all but suicide (backed up by testimony from the crew), and refused to pay out on the ₤500 policy. Mrs. Dixon took them to court in October 1883. The jury, however, decided for the insurance company. (Christchurch Star 18 & 19 October 1883)

Mrs. Dixon took over the reins of the company ably and well despite the set-back, expanding the business, and even winning awards.

"At the various exhibitions that have been held from time to time, Mrs. Dixon has been very successful with her Aerated Water and Cordial exhibits, and was awarded prize medals both at the Wellington and Sydney exhibitions."
Mrs. Dixon may have wallpapered over the past in the glowing tribute to the firm as at 1900 -- but one thing is certain: she proved herself to be a true businesswoman.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

An old relic on Geddes Terrace?

This may not look like much, and I've passed it by tons of times while heading along Geddes Terrace, both as a nipper in Primary School and now. Today, it appears to be just part of the boarding house facilities packed onto a narrow site between Great North Road and Avondale.

Something this past week, though, made me pause, and take another look at the tongue-and-groove exterior, the way it has obviously been altered and reused over the years. And I recalled something sent through to the Avondale-Waterview Historical Society for our files quite a few years ago ...

You see, this is the back of the old Avondale Police Station, a complex of three buildings completed in 1906, comprising constable's residence ansd office, a lock-up gaol, and stable. I'll have a look at the Council files (they only go back to 1927, but that'll do) to see just what this wee building might really have been, (1940 aerials indicate the building was there then) but -- it reminds me a lot of the blueprint for the stable, above. If so, altered  or not -- it would be Avondale's oldest surviving stable which we'd be able to date. The fact that a large garage-style door is at the end lends some support to the idea that it could have been a stable.

A bloke backing his car out of the carpark beside the building that day asked if I was looking for someone. I explained that the building reminded me considerably of the old gaol and stable buildings, and that I was just a history buff, wondering if I've come across more history. I tend to do that kind of thing -- stop dead, on a footpath, and wonder.

I'll update when I can.

Caution using "A field guide to Auckland"

A friend of mine showed me her copy purchased at a book sale recently, and I thought at the time, "Cool!". A field guide to Auckland, originally published in 1997 and redone in 2008 (the second edition is what I got my hands on -- but not on sale, dammit) is a tabbed area-by-area set of brief summaries covering the Auckland region as it says on the cover: "exploring the region's natural and historic heritage."

Because I'm in the process of piecing together stuff about Henderson's Mill, I turned to page 188, where summary no. 70 tells us about the Henderson's Mill Heritage Trail.

At which point, my heart sank.

The author of the summary there makes the following points:

Reference to the "Dundee Sawmills" established by Thomas Henderson and John Macfarlane in 1849.
This isn't too bad. Some in-depth research would have pointed out to the author that the first sawmill there was more likely older that 1849, and that it wasn't called "Dundee Sawmill" until after 1855, when "Long" John McLeod and Cyrus Haskell leased and rebuilt the mill, even though yes, Thomas Henderson came from Dundee in Scotland. The date 1849 is one picked out of the box of possibilities by most commentators on the subject of Henderson's history, even myself up until recently. My current theory is that when researchers saw that John Macfarlane's will was dated 1849, that must have been when the mill was built because then there was something worth writing a will about. Perhaps -- but on examining John Macfarlane's probated will in the land records fromm 1860, it covered all the real estate owned by the partnership, including properties in the city, and even more likely the shipping fleet later dubbed the Circular Saw Line.

"Immediately above the dam site is the original mill manager's house restored in 1994 ..."
More contention, here. If you ask the West Auckland Historical Society about Mill Cottage (which is what the summary refers to), they will tell you it was the mill's cookhouse, not a "mill manager's house".  Considering the building was relocated from slightly further back on the site (something not mentioned in the summary) and altered considerably over the years since the 1860s, the liklihood that it was originally a residential house instead of a utility building is in doubt.

"...Falls Park, the site of the relocated Falls Hotel (1856), constructed using kauri from the mill."
Here's the real howler. The Falls Hotel was completed in 1873, not 1856. As the sawmill ceased being a timber mill from around 1868 (it became a flax mill) and was abandoned altogether by about 1873-1875, it is extremely unlikely that the kauri in the building was cut in Henderson. Ben Copedo, West Auckland historian, thoroughly researched and published his findings on the story of the Falls Hotel in 1999. This was two years after the first edition of the field guide -- but nine years before the second edition. Copedo's findings are backed up by contemporary newspaper sources. Whereas the origin of Mill Cottage may be down to opinion, that of the Falls Hotel is not. The statement in the Field Guide is wrong.

I took a look at page 190, summary no. 72, to see what that said about the Pollen Island Marine Reserve. The piece steers clear of most of the history of the area before 1996 when the Motu Manawa Reserve was established, but one sentence about the shellbank which is Pollen Island: stands out: "These vast depositsd of cockle shells were used for park pathways by ACC from the 1920s. For this a small tramway was built out to the north end of Pollen Island." Interesting statement, because it completely misses that fact of why Pollen Island is so-named (after Daniel Pollen, who set up a brick and pottery yard on Rosebank close by from the late 1850s, and would have used the shellbank for lime for the works), and that up until 1927 Avondale was an independent borough, and from the period just before World War I until amalgamation owned the shellbank, using the shell there for lime and footpaths. Still, it is just a summary, I suppose ...

Page 203, summary No. 81 on Judges Bay ...
Referring to the Dove Meyer Robinson Park: "The park contains many fine trees including an impressive pohutukawa planted by Robert Gillies c.1855 ..."
The only Robert Gillies I know of even remotely connected with the history of the park's site was a Dunedin surveyor (his son was Harold Delf Gillies) married to Emily Street whose parents purchased part of the site in 1878 (NZ Herald, 9 September 1878, p. 2). Emily herself joined her parents  on an adjoining site after Robert's death in 1886. Who on earth is the author in the field guide talking about?

Ewen Cameron is described on the back of the book as curator of botany for Auckland Museum, and Bruce Hayward is a research geologist and marine eciologist. The historian of the team is Graeme Murdoch, best known for his work with the Auckland Regional Council and Te Kawerau o Maki. I've heard Murdoch speak, and he offered the best translation I've heard of the little-known Maori name for Traherne Island, Te Kou (the fish hook), but -- based on what I've read from just these two pages, the rest of the book's historical information is cast into doubt for me. I'd rate the book as a tertiary source at best, for starters, in terms of the historic content. The summaries, although unsourced in the main, appear to rely heavily on other works (which, as happens a lot with Auckland history, simply follow on and repeat from earlier works without additional primary research). The NZ Archaeology Association have included it on their list of teacher resources as a "secondary source" which is a bit of a concern, as the information in the book, including the errors, could be repeated in classrooms without checking for accuracy.

It's even featured in a list published by the Sydney Morning Herald as "An excellent guide, virtually indispensable for anyone who wants to explore Auckland's natural and historic treasures."

It is a guide, yes. Excellent -- no, it isn't.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Overdue Book Carried Greetings From Santa

Such was the headline of an article from 1 February 1957 in the Auckland Star which caught my eye today in the Auckland City Library.

Iris Smith wrote a book called The Santa Claus Book in 1948, in which a story from Admiral Richard Byrd was included, written for his own children one Christmas when he was at the South Pole. The Auckland Library had a copy in their children's collection -- and in 1955, it was borrowed. The borrower, learning that the Admiral was off soon back to the Pole, posted the library book to him, asking for him to take it with him to Antarctica in order for him to autograph it on Christmas Day.

The book was posted back to the Auckland Library, and arrived on 31 January 1957. In it, as arranged, Admiral Byrd signed the book, and wrote:
"I have been up to see Santa Claus and was asked by him to send his greetings to all the children of the world. And a Merry Christmas to all, from Richard E. Byrd."

Along with him, his son Richard, one of the children for whom the story had been originally written, now accompanying his father and joining him in inscribing in the book:

"In anticipation of World Children's Day, greetings to children of New Zealand from the bottom of the world. I have the good fortune to be sailing with my Dad on this 7th Polar venture, Operation Deepfreeze. I am sending these greetings on behalf of my Dad's four grandsons -- my youngsters -- the oldest of whom seems to be a born explorer and wants to come down next year on Operation Deepfreeze. Their names are Dickie, Ames, Levi and Harry."

The message was written on Christmas Day, 1955. Three others in the party added their signatures.

And all this was what met the eyes of children's librarian Miss Joan Lawrence when she opened the parcel.

A little more than a month after the book was returned to the library, Admiral Byrd died in his sleep, 11 March 1957.

The library at the time bought another copy for lending purposes, so that the special book could be kept for display. David Verran at the research centre today found the book on the digital catalogue, lodged with the Sir George Grey Special Collections. I haven't seen the book yet, but -- hopefully, I'll bring back an update soon, to let you know if that is the same well-travelled version of the book signed by explorers so very far away.

I also don't know if the unnamed borrower was given a massive fine or not ...

St Matthews-in-the-City and their billboard

The folk at St Matthews-in-the-City who brought you the "measuring fish" billboard earlier this year are now in strife over this sign:

There are newspaper articles about it. The church has already had to replace the sign once, after it was defaced with brown paint yesterday within hours of it being put up.

These are some shots of the interior of St-Matthews-in-the-City -- a true gem of Auckland, both in terms of its parochial history and the beautiful architecture.





To any of my readers -- if you, like me, think that the billboard is not offensive but just thought-provoking (and, I reckon, quite clever), send an email to the church. Give them a bit of support this Christmas (I already have done). I support their right to freedom of expression and freedom from vandalism.

Update, 19 December: The parish have had to give up, after an elderly woman slashed at the second billboard with a knife. Vandalism wins, sadly.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

A given-up-for-lost photo ... arrives

Just when I think the day is going to be ordinary ... someone sends through wonderful stuff inside an envelope which lands in my letterbox. Such happened today.

Above is a horrible photocopy-of-a-photocopy after who-knows how many generations of copying. This was copied from the old files at the Avondale Community Library way back in the 1980s when I was starting out on my mad quest to gather info on my home suburb. No one knew the Mrs. Mould who was supposed to have had the photo. All I got was shaking heads when I showed the photo to people. I even put a note about it in the very first Avondale Historical Journal in 2001. No go.

And then, while sitting waiting for a train at the station today, I open an envelope. Within, amongst other wonderful images of Avondale's past which came from the collection of a lady who lived here from the 1930s to 1980s (not Mrs Mould, though) ... was this:

Other normal people get excited about new gear at Christmas. Or sports heroes, or pop stars, or new restaurants etc. etc. Me, I get absolutely high and elated and over the flamin' moon on seeing an image I had hoped to see, in photo quality, for more than half my life.

What's it all about? This is a photo from c.1919 (judging by the fact that the name on the cart is D. (Dan) Robertson, who ran a grocery business from a wooden store just across the road from that fine verandahed villa in the centre behind the horse's rump). The villa is that of the Collins family, who owned the corner site, Great North Road and Rosebank Road -- a massive one, which later became four shops and a brick post office over the course of the 1920s-1960s. In 2004, the same scene looked like this:

Monday, December 14, 2009

John Kinder's House

Image: Kinder House, 1995, from AWHS collection

Rev. John Kinder, and emblem of the Church of England school at Parnell.

I was privileged to be in attendance yesterday at Kinder House in Parnell (I am delighted and honoured to say that I'm a member of the Society connected to the House, although sadly I'm unable to squeeze in time to help them on a volunteer basis at the moment). Yesterday was a dual celebration: commemorating the 150th anniversary of the wedding of John and Celia Kinder, and a wonderful new booklet to add to the collection available for purchase through the Society, Maria Ellen -- the Other Mrs. Kinder, by Diana Stuart Masters. Maria married Rev. Kinder's brother Henry, and thus started a story well worth reading, laced with intrigue, scandal, murder in Australia and dark whispers in New Zealand.

Follow the link (also added to the left sidebar) to find out more about the house, Rev. Kinder and the early Church of England school to which he and the house were connected.

Display for the 150th wedding anniversary of Rev. John and Celia Kinder.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Corrugated Kiwi

A range of photos taken this week at MOTAT didn't turn out all that well, but this one did -- so I've popped it on the blog at the side, just to add a bit of Zealandian colour.

Renaming places of reverance

This is the Avondale Baptist Church, first main landmark in Avondale once the Oakley Creek is crossed (down underneath the road) as one travels up New North Road to the intersection with Bockhouse Bay Road. Photo was taken within a bus. I'd never have had that angle otherwise.

Here is the intersection adjacent to the church ...


... so someone made the decision to call the church now The Intersection. It's been that way about a year, now. The name Avondale Baptist Church isn't gone, though, it's just in smaller lettering near the bottom of the sign.

Now, I'm not religious, and I don't belong to any religious denomination. Folks could say, therefore, that I'm being a bit picky, and also that churches have the right to call themselves whatever they like. But -- even if you let history go, geography surely will come along and tap you on the shoulder, reminding you of one thing: sense of place is key. Folks like saying "I go to [Place] [Denomination] Church". It's also easier when explaining to someone where your church is. Well, at least that's my opinion.

The George Maxwell Memorial Cemetery suffers from the same problem. Recently, a much-loved member of my historical society died. Her funeral notices all stated she was to be buried at Rosebank Cemetery, a name which hasn't officially existed for the last couple of decades or so because the local Anglican Church decided to name their cemetery on Rosebank Road after the late custodian of the cemetery. Again, yes -- they have the right to name their plot of land whatever they feel like naming it. The good lady who passed away, though, never called it anything except Rosebank Cemetery, where she now lies in peace next to her beloved husband who died in the 1980s, from before the renaming. Even a columnist in the Western Leader just a couple of weeks ago referred to the cemetery as Orchard Street cemetery (not silly, as the entry to the corner site is off Orchard Street), rather than its official, signposted name. Why? Because a lot of people out West now where Rosebank Road is, and Orchard Street possibly -- but there are still queries of "Where?" when George Maxwell Memorial Cemetery is mentioned.

Then again, before Rosebank became so well established as a sub-district name from the 1920s or so, folks called it the Avondale Cemetery. Times, and names, do change ...

A brief history of our Avondale Baptist Church (taken from History of the Avondale Baptist Church at the 75th Anniversary, 1926 to 2001, by Dr. Stan Edgar and Burt Turley):

11 October 1925
More than 80 people gathered at the section near the corner of the intersection to a meeting regarding the building of the church on the site purchased earlier that year.

5 December 1925
Foundation stone laid.

21 March 1926
Opening services. The building's original architects were Holman and Moses, and the superintendent of work was Mt Albert builder (and fellow Baptist) J. A. Penman.

February 1931
Sunday School hall building begins.

Early 1960s
The church was enlarged, the New North Road frontage starting to look the way it does today.