Thursday, June 9, 2011

Picnics, strawberries and bears

The following came from the Auckland Star 25 May 1932, written by "Old Timer":
Mention of the fact that the Auckland Harbour Board has vested the old signal station site on Mount Victoria in the Devonport Domain Board, reminds one that in the days gone by “the Shore” was quite a popular place for a day’s outing, and the top of Mount Victoria was one of the viewpoints of the isthmus. In those days – 30 or 40 years ago – Aucklanders had not such a wide selection of picnicking spots as they have today. Young people of the present generation do not realise what a great change the motor car made in the habits of Aucklanders. With a horse and trap one could not, in a day, make a very long excursion into the country, and moreover it was not everyone who owned a vehicle.

The usual methods of picnicking by land was to club together and hire a brake or wagonette from Pullan and Armitage in Albert Street, Crowther’s at the corner of Wellesley and Lorne Streets, or Martin’s in Parnell, just above the Windsor Castle Hotel. As a trip into the country was thus rather an undertaking, the run across the harbour to Devonport was very popular on holidays. It gave one a blow on the briny and a chance to see the view from the signal station, and it was cheap.
Auckland Star 16 January 1873

An outing without eating is no outing to the average man and his family, and to cater for the trippers there used to be "The Strawberry Gardens,” somewhere on the north-east side of Mount Victoria. In those days ferries used to call at two wharves at Devonport, “Ghost” wharf, opposite the Masonic Hotel, towards North Head, and the old wharf on the site of the present imposing ferro-concrete Victoria wharf.

The walk from either wharf to these strawberry gardens was a pleasant country affair, and for the tired one seems to remember some sort of an ancient shandrydan drawn by lean quadrupeds. Later, of course, there were the quaint little horse trams that ran from the Victoria wharf to Cheltenham Beach.
Auckland Star 5 November 1886
The beach, however, was a secondary point of attraction in the very early days – the strawberry gardens were the more popular. Away back in the past Aucklanders did not seem so keen on swimming as the present generation – a fact which probably proves that the race is changing its habits, and that the present-day Aucklanders approximates nearer than his ancestors to the South Sea Islander who spends all his spare time in the water. When the strawberry gardens existed, the luscious berry was not grown in tons, as it is nowadays on the claylands across the water, and a “strawberry tea” was considered quite a treat by little Aucklanders. The gardens must have been just at the foot of Mount Victoria, if memory be correct, somewhere among the pine trees, for one seems to recall rustic tables made of tea-tree sticks, set about under the trees. Our ancestors must have been harder than their offspring, for outdoor gardens were a common feature of Auckland in the long ago …

Of course, many more thousands of people visit the Shore today, but they make a beeline for the beaches, and the idea of a “day in the country” has quite vanished from the outing.
"Old Timer" also included this bit:
At a later date than the strawberry gardens at Devonport was the bear garden, on the waterfront, long towards the Calliope Dock, where there used to be a bear pit, with real live bears – and, of course, refreshments. This used to be an evening as well as a daytime resort, but the rustic strawberry garden, with its picnic tables was a day resort.
Back in 2008, I looked at the story of the Devonport Bear Garden -- and found then that such was all it was -- a story. But, I decided today, reading this piece, to take a look again via the Star on Papers Past.

The earliest reference found was this:
Beresford v. Devonport.—This match took place in the bear garden, North Shore. During the first spell the teams were fairly matched, and no score resulted, but after the interval the superior physique of the Devonport men began to tell, and the game finished in favour of that team by four goals to nil.
 Auckland Star 22 August 1887

Then, there was this:

The quarantine authorities have so far relaxed as to allow the horses to have private quarantine at the North Shore in the "band contest" grounds, or, as some people know it, the "bear garden." Here the proprietors, who, it must be admitted, have taken their ill-luck pluckily, will be allowed to erect their tent, and the circus will open in due form and with a show of great attractiveness. The Company are famous for their trained horses, and they certainly seem to be clever equine specimens by the things they are advertised to do. Six of them drill together, working , like soldiers and obeying the word of command. They dance, waltz together and separately, one horse gets in a carriage and drives the others round and round the ring. Two ponies have dinner, or rather one has dinner, and the other waits. They play see-saw, in fact do everything that men do very nearly, except talk, and they understand well what is said to them. The riding will, is said, evoke surprise and admiration. Besides the stock feats there are a number which the allied Show alone know how to do. The ferry boats will run at convenient hours. The first show takes place tomorrow evening, and a crowded tent is anticipated.

Auckland Star 30 December 1891

Nary a word about bears in a pit -- and even this said only "some people" called the area the "bear garden." Still -- could this small circus be what sparked off "Old Timer's" memories of day and night special times at the Bear Garden?

Messrs Hayes and Brillianso's Allied Circus opened with complete combination on Thursday evening in the Bear Gardens, at Devonport, when there was a fair attendance, considering the strong counter attractions in the city. The greatest interest centered on the horses, and the manner in which "Damon," "Jim," "Harry, and the others answered to their names, and passed the handkerchief, caused prolonged applause. Professor Organ is to be complimented upon the excellent way in which the horses have been trained, their tricks being equal, to anything yet shown here. The clever ponies, Billy and Dandy, also performed their parts well, while the bucking horse scene was highly amusing. A new feature was a horse-sitting at ease in a waggon, and driving two others round the arena. Brillianso's hurdle act was a fine exhibition of riding, and when this artist appeared later on he was greeted with applause that showed his merits had been appreciated. The clowns, Messrs Hayes and Brown, kept things lively while they were in the ring, their comic absurdities being-well appreciated by the audience. Dick Hayes further displayed his ability as a trapezist, and little R. Taylor gave a sample of "globe trotting" up and down an inclined piano, besides performing on a slack wire. Messrs Hayes and Brillianso also displayed an amount of skill in the Olympian act. Altogether the performance was an interesting one, the trained horses alone being worth the entrance fee. The Circus opens at Newton on Monday evening, and Newmarket on Tuesday.
A similar performance was given last evening, and this afternoon there was a matinee performance. Another attractive programme will be presented tonight.

Auckland Star 2 January 1892

By 1898, whatever happened out there, it was all over for that particular pleasure garden.

The piece of property at Devonport at one time owned by Mr Quick, and known as the Bear Garden, has been purchased from Mr Geo. Holdship, of Sydney, by Mr J. Dunning. The property is about five acres in area.
Auckland Star 11 January 1898

FOR SALE, BEAR GARDENS, DEVONPORT. Building Sites in areas to suit Purchasers. Exceptionally easy terms. COOKE AND BUDDLE, Land and Estate Agents, 76 Victoria Arcade.
Auckland Star 5 March 1898\


  1. Obviously you know where the bear garden was but would the location be generally known?

  2. Seeing as I put up a link there to my original blog post, which contains the link to the chapter from The Zoo War published on Scribd, which names the streets in Devonport which bounded the area of the Bear Gardens -- yes, I think folks can figure it out.

    Plus, the local Community Board put up a plaque a few years ago declaring it to be the Bear Garden. Photo at the link.

  3. As long as it is noted and detailed, some people will know of it. I hope grandparents etc point out these parts of our cities to younger people and add a personal anecdote. A wider subject really.

  4. The problem has been, Andrew, all those helpful grandparents pointing out the Bear Garden to younger people over the last century, and inflating the whole story with little tidbits of "memory", until a veritable Noah's Ark worth of animals mysteriously appeared out of nowhere and somehow managed to get on by without (a) killing each other, (b) drowning in the Waitemata, or (c) sinking in the mud for which the Garden was really famous.

    As for the wider subject, already done. Campaign to your local library. Maybe they'll buy The Zoo War.