Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Token History

Back in January, Darian Zam of the Long White Kid blog alerted me that someone was selling a Benjamin Gittos token on Trade Me. Unfortunately, I lost out on that particular token (final bidding occurred right when the Avondale-Waterview Historical Society’s February meeting was happening on 4 February), but — another one came up on the lists two weeks later. That time, I won the auction.

 I’ve been after a Gittos token for years, ever since first reading an article in the Auckland-Waikato Historical Journal from April 2001 called “The Money Merchants” by John Cresswell. In the earliest days of our country’s money system, while there were paper notes or their equivalent in circulation, there was apparently a shortage in coins. Businessmen took up opportunities provided by die-sinkers and coin manufacturers in Australia and England, such as Thomas Stokes of Stokes and Martin in Melbourne, his successor Joseph Taylor and Joseph Moore of Allen & Moore in Birmingham to order numbers of penny-sized tokens, as a durable form of early advertising. The Gittos token, for example, is nearly 150 years old! 

According to Cresswell, “The firm of B Gittos obtained supplies of their penny from Stokes of Melbourne in 1864 and once in circulation, these became a common feature of small change throughout the Province.”

Benjamin Gittos was a shoemaker in Auckland by 1854, entered into the leather and grindery business by 1857, built a new brick shop in Wyndham Street in 1863, and in 1864 both produced his penny token and took up land beside the Oakley Creek in Avondale for the first of the Gittos family’s tanneries.So,  this token is, to me, part of Avondale’s light industrial history — something I was dead-set on obtaining for its historical value alone. 

One side says: “ B. Gittos, Leather Merchant, Importer of Boots & Shoes, &c., &c.” The other: “Wholesale & Retail Leather & Grindery Stores, Wyndham Street, Auckland NZ, 1864.”

At the time of losing out on the first Gittos token, I went for a consolation -- which turned out to be this next one.



I think someone along the line may have worn this, judging by the hole at the edge. I was attracted to it as it served as a memorial to the late Prince Albert, consort to Queen Victoria. But Samuel Hague Smith had his own story to tell.


He was in Auckland from c.1859 to around 1876, leaving for Australia never to return after the death of his wife a couple of years before. But in the interim, he served on the Auckland Provincial Council -- so this piece is a bit of a hark back to that administration body. The date isn't known, but it would be after  1861 and before c.1970, after which he turned to sharebroking.



Finally, this. Tiny, made from aluminium -- this is said to be a penny token from the Dunedin Tramways. I do question whether this is real, or something churned out for later collector interest. But, as it didn't cost a bomb, I find it interesting.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

A slightly flawed "genealogy" of street names

Last Tuesday, Alan Perrott’s article “Stepping Back in Time” appeared in "Canvas", part of the NZ Herald. Online, the article has been headed up with a spelling mistake, “geneology”, but that kind of thing happens.

I know I have a Street Stories series of my own here on the blog, but – at least when I muck things up, the comments field is wide open, and I can be democratically and publically informed where I went wrong, in order to keep things straight. Unfortunately, Mr Perrott’s article will end up indexed by the library, and will remain around the place for some time, to trip up the unwary who think that, by the tone, (and the use, mystifyingly, of the word “genealogy”) it’s 100% accurate. Without feedback.

Well, it isn’t 100% accurate.

Governor FitzRoy 
Both the print and online versions of the article spell Governor FitzRoy’s name incorrectly. As learned friends of mine have told me, you do need that capital R in the middle.

Surrey Hills 
“Two English booze barons, James Williamson and Thomas Crummer, saw pound signs and bought up enough land to establish Surrey Hills Estate with the intent of grazing it until property prices shot up. Unfortunately, their long-term scheme fell foul of the 1880s depression and they had to subdivide for far less profit than they'd hoped.”

The extent of James Williamson and Thomas Crummer being “booze barons” was that they operated the Victoria Hotel on the Auckland waterfront (according to Williamson’s biography. Garth Houltham in “Toast the Ghosts” said Crummer’s co-licensee was A de Phillipsthal). But they also had a store, and Williamson, the son of a Belfast linen merchant and ship owner (more than one) was primarily a merchant prince in Auckland, rather than a “booze baron”. The farm at Surrey Hills was one 314 acre estate. Crummer died in 1858, and Williamson bought out Crummer’s sons’ interest for £11,000, so there was no “they had to subdivide” in this story in terms of Surrey Hills. Williamson, by the way, is better known as the owner of the Pah Homestead out at Hillsborough.

Perrott refers to a Mr “Pullen” as one of those after whom a street was named on the estate. I do believe he’s referring to Dr. Daniel Pollen. Both the print and online versions have that error.

Ponsonby Road 
“…Ponsonby Rd, or as it was known until the 1880s, Vandeleur Rd, for the divisional commander who served under Wellington at Waterloo. Colonel Ponsonby, in turn, served under Vandeleur.”

Ponsonby Road shows as Ponsonby Road on the 1866 Vercoe & Harding map of Auckland. No references found for Vandeleur Street or Road in the Southern Cross or New Zealander in Papers Past. Earliest reference to Ponsonby Road found: 1852.

The Council Library site probably added to the confusion, and led to Perrott’s Vandeleur reference.

“Formed around 1863 in the Herne bay area and around 1883 in the Ponsonby area, part was previously Herne Bay Road to around 1886, part now all Jervois Road from around 1886, previously Vandeleur Road. May have been named after an Officer who served at Waterloo. In 1937 it was described as 1 mile long, with 137 business premises and 200 residences, and named 50 years before (1887) after Lord Ponsonby.”

And …

“Vandeleur Street: Proposed road, Felton Mathew's town plan 1841 (Ponsonby Road to Wellesley Street)”

Franklin Road 
“Rear-Admiral Sir John Franklin was a heroic naval officer and Arctic explorer who became lieutenant-governor of Tasmania in 1836 … in 1843, they boarded the good ship Rajah and stopped off in Auckland on their way home. Being a rough-and-tumble type, Lady Jane left hubby at the hotel and set off up the track leading to Dedwood. That track eventually became Franklin Rd, our most famous boulevard of Christmas lights.”

Where did the story come from about Lady Jane hiking through the scrub? So far, I see an unverified Wikipedia page has mention of the tale. The link between Franklyn (the old spelling) Road and Sir John Franklin might be correct, as he was involved with derring-do explorations in the Arctic when he perished – but I’ll pass on the hiking tale.

Victoria Park 
“Once at the bottom of Lady Jane's road, I catch sight of that lush legacy of old Dedwood, Victoria Park, just one of many infrastructural tributes to the royal couple of the day still littering Auckland … Victoria's lovely park owes its existence to the complete lack of dunnies in its neighbouring suburb. Next time you're crossing its grassy expanse you might like to consider the 51,000kg of poop that was dumped there every week during the 1870s.”

Really? I don’t think so. Victoria Park up to the late 1880s was water – the bay in Freeman’s Bay, reclaimed during the 1890s to early 20th century by the Harbour Board. Rock and solid fill made far better reclamations than poo. Where else is this intriguing gem of information quoted by Perrott? Well, that unverified timeline on Wikipedia is one place … but there the writer said: “Every week during the 1870s 50 tons of "night soil" is spread over the ground in what will be Victoria Park.” Night soil wasn’t deposited near the city from the 1880s at the latest – the contractors chose places like Grey Lynn, Mt Albert, Pt Chevalier, Avondale and New Lynn to be depots.

The suggestions that Freeman’s Bay be converted into a recreation park named after Queen Victoria first seemed to appear in 1897, her jubilee year. Plans for the Freemans Bay reclamation and the proposed park were presented to the Harbour Board in February 1900 (Auckland Star, 13.2.1900) By 1901-1902, it was fairly well a done deal.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Wanderings at Three Kings


Invited to the reopening of the Fickling Centre in Three Kings today, I took the opportunity to do a bit of camera wandering for the ol' blog.

Above is a reserve with no name board -- but it does appear to be known in records up to at least 1988 as the Mt Roskill Rose Gardens. The triangle of land was once a residential property, before work began around 1959-1960 to create Warren Avenue's outlet with Mt Albert Road. So, possibly (I say this without calling up a land title) the Mt Roskill Borough Council had the land declared road reserve, bowled the house that had been there, finished up what they needed to do with Warren Avenue (most of which lies on land once owned as open paddocks by the Ranfurly Home to the left of this image), then created the garden to compliment their new municipal building across on the other side of Mt Albert Road (see below)



The sundial was unveiled in December 1972 to mark the 25th anniversary of the Mt Roskill Borough Council. The plaque at its foot commemorates the start in March 1988 of a 10 year project by Mt Roskill Rotary Club to raise funds there for Rotary Polio Plus humanitarian project, that plaque unveiled by the Governor General Sir Paul Reeves.

As happens with some nice things in our city, the top of the sundial is missing today, probably due to brass & copper thieves. Hopefully, with the rise of the local historical society to raise awareness of the district's heritage, that will be sorted out in the future.


The foundation stone for the Mt Roskill Municipal Chambers was laid in 1956, with the building finished in 1957, then added to over the years. In the 1990s it came to be the offices for Metrowater, and with the amalgamation in 2010 to the Super City, it came to house some council departments, as well as the Puketapapa Local Board. Then, last month, things got rather mouldy in there.


Around the back of the Fickling Centre is a gathering of volcanic rock in still and muddy water, surrounded by more rock. This is actually a water feature, "Three Kings Waterscape", donated by the Mt Roskill Rotary Club in 1985. The Club fundraised to help complete the Fickling Centre itself.


But what I was heading for was the old Three Kings pumphouse.


The Mt Roskill Municipal Band were granted sole use of the pumphouse building for their practices back in 1958. According to the Auckland City Brass website, their successors still call it home. Pity, then, that the old Auckland City Council sign (you can just see the last peeling remnants of the logo) hasn't been upgraded and replaced.


The Mt Roskill Road Board formed a Water and Gas Committee in 1899, and initially sourced the district's water supply from the One Tree Hill reservoir. Then, in 1911, the Board called in water diviner and Anglican minister Rev Harry Mason, who determined by early 1912 that "an underground river or reservoir of water would be found under the three Kings Hills."


Successful test bores later that year, producing 1000 gallons per hour, convinced the Board that Three Kings was a grand place to build their pumphouse. Construction was approved in 1915.


Trouble was, along came Mt Albert's typhoid outbreak in 1922 (which I studied in Wairaka's Waters).  That a small-scale municipal pumping station, using volcanic spring water, was involved in the outbreak convinced the powers-that-be in the Public Health Department back then to urge that the Road Board in Mt Roskill shut everything down at Three Kings, and sell the disused assets.


The Road Board shut things down -- but they didn't knock the building down. Instead, they adapted it, adding a kitchen, ladies' cloakroom and a porch to the northern wall (see image below). The pumphouse became Roskill's first community hall, where dances, parties, social gatherings, local theatrical productions -- all the things that helped knit together a community -- took place.


The Auckland Boxing Club used the building in the 1950s, under the brass band took over. The Mt Roskill Borough Council restored the building in 1988.


And -- here's part of the interior of the Fickling Centre, where the Mayor Len Brown and other dignitaries spoke at the official re-opening. The Centre opened in 1976-1978, but it was felt recently that it needed a bit of a revamp ($2.9M worth, according to the Mayor today), and extensions to the library. Well, yes, the library has more space, shared with the local Citizens Advice Bureau, and the new panelling in the interior looks nice, but -- when the air conditioner turned itself on while the speeches were being made, the ducts rumbled as if heavy rain hammered on the roof. Unless you've got a strong set of pipes, even with a microphone, you run the risk of being drowned out by the rumbling.


Still, there are new touches. Orange, said to represent lava (this is on part of the now nearly all gone Three Kings volcanic zone).


Green for, um  -- well, growth, I think. Couldn't quite hear due to the air conditioning ...


Yellow kowhai flower detail on sliding doors, to symbolise the tree they say is found along the Manukau coastline from Waikowhai to Lynfield.


Plus the wooden pole entryways, reflecting the pa on Puketapapa or Mount Roskill. Perhaps uncarved pou?


The centre was originally named after Richard (Dick) Fickling, Mayor of Mt Roskill Borough from 1974-1987, and 31 years on the council. Fickling Hall opened in 1978, named after him. Mt Roskill, in the days of the Borough Council, has a tradition of naming rooms, buildings and streets after living, and in many cases still-serving at the time, mayors and councillors of the borough.




Anyway, well done to Mt Roskill for their revamped Fickling Centre and library. Wonderful to see so much heritage displayed today in the latter. Now, if Auckland Council could see their way clear to doing something about the (older) Avondale library ...

The tragedy of Captain Charles Lorraine, 1899

Image:  from Clarence & Richmond Examiner, NSW, 11.11.1899

In the spirit of the fin de siècle age of the late 1890s, when all seemed possible as far as progress and achievement was concerned, there stepped, briefly, into the limelight for NZ colonial audiences gathered on windswept reserves and domains a daring young man with guts, a balloon and a parachute – and, by gum, he was a New Zealander!

David Charles Mahoney was born 19 April 1874, in Parnell, Auckland. He was educated at Parnell School, then left school to work at Hoffmann’s music warehouse in Queen Street. After two years, he headed off for the horizons to seek his fortune, first down south, then across to Sydney, where he began a stage career. His persona as Captain Charles Lorraine originated while he was overseas.

He joined, first of all, Miss Emma Wangenheim's comic opera company, and subsequently accepted an engagement in Mr Dan Barry's dramatic company, playing small parts and travelling with it through the country towns of Australia. In 1892 he sailed for England, and while there he went one day to see a balloon ascent. He had only seen a balloon once before, and his curiosity was piqued. But, to his great disappointment, after all the preparations had been completed, the aeronaut did not go up. Young Lorraine saw enough, however, of the modus operandi to feel convinced the thing was easy enough. And his curiosity led him to seek out the aeronaut and offer to go up in his place the following day. The professional was impressed with the youngster's pluck and determination, saw in him an apt pupil, and, having accepted his offer, explained to him thoroughly how the thing was done, and arranged for his ascent next day.

Lorraine confesses that he did not sleep much that night. The tick-tick of an insect in the wall of his chamber put superstitious fancies into his head. He had heard the old story about the death watch and its habit of foretelling a person's doom. So, as that blessed insect kept on ticking, he arose in the dark at 4 a.m. and went out for a walk to shake off the gloom with which it had filled him.

At the appointed hour he was ready, and the ascent came off with great success. The spectators had no idea it was an amateur's first attempt. They were under the impression he had been up in the air hundreds of times before, and there was nothing about his performance to undeceive them. Once the ice was broken, Lorraine stuck to the aeronaut business. He remained with the professional until he had saved enough money to buy a balloon of his own, and then he launched out for himself, touring the United Kingdom and Ireland, and France and Germany as well. Ever since 1893, when he was 19 years old, he has been going up in balloons and coming down in parachutes. In London he made such a reputation for himself that his services were in constant demand at public gardens and fetes.

He made an ascent from the Alexandra Palace on Good Friday, 1898, and his last public appearance in London was on Sept. 15th last, when he took part in a great gala and sports in aid of the Music Hall Home, making two ascents. Five hundred music hall artists assisted at this fete, and the prices for admission ranged from 1s to 10s. He now holds the appointments of aeronaut to the Alexandra Palace, and of military aeronaut to the 1st Battalion Northamptonshire Regiment, under Colonel Lord Eustin and Colonel Sir Geo. la Hochpied Lapant, commanding the 16th Regimental District (Bedford). On October 13th Mr Lorraine left London on a visit to his relatives in Auckland, and on March 22nd he was married by Canon Nelson, at St. Paul's Church here, to Frances Fanny, eldest daughter of Mr Antonio Juriss, of Christchurch.
Observer 13.5.1899

He was a parachutist rather than a balloonist, using a balloon to ascend to a height from which he could drop, supported by the parachute, performing gymnastics with a trapeze on the way down. When he arrived back in New Zealand in late 1898, “Captain Charles Lorraine” had been doing his act in the Northern Hemisphere for five years, so reports tell us. (EP 30.11.1898) In England, he is said to have gone as high as 1500 ft – at the Auckland Domain, the ascent was noted as being up to 7000 ft. (Press, 4.1.1899) 7000ft above sea-level is a danger level regarding the body’s saturation of oxygen in the blood.

He met his end one afternoon in Christchurch, at an exhibition held at Lancaster Park. Some images from one of his earlier displays in Christchurch are available online. On 2 November 1899, at 4pm, the balloon he used called the Empress, was “well filled with gas”, and Lorraine himself was “in the gayest mood.” As usual, Lorraine fastened the parachute to the side of the balloon by a slender tape passed through a ring so that, once he was ready to descend, probably his body weight detached the tape and he could swing free of the balloon, which was meant to float on a way before descending and being recovered. His audience would thus see him rise up in air like this:

Observer, 21 January 1899

His last reported words that November afternoon at Lancaster Park were: “"Now, then, gentlemen, let her go.”

The balloon rose up, high into the sky – and then things went awfully wrong. The tape fastening the parachute to the balloon came loose, with the parachute unfurling beneath the balloon and Lorraine, so that Lorraine’s only means of returning to earth, short of deflating the balloon, was now useless. We have one image, the last known of Lorraine still alive, from that day (from Wingspread, Leo White, 1941, facing p. 16).




Lorraine tried in vain to hold onto the parachute, but then it collapsed, and slipped from his grip. As part of his act, he did not actually attach the parachute to himself.

The parachute now a fluttering piece of cloth falling to the ground, the balloon was unimpeded and rose up into the sky with a rush. Lorraine was seen clambering up the side of the balloon, clinging to the netting around the outside. This probably ensured his doom, for one witness later told the newspapers that, through a telescope, once the balloon had been blown by the wind over the harbour and heading out to sea, he saw Lorraine’s form lashed firmly to the netting as he tried desperately to deflate the balloon without the use of a knife. When he succeeded, the plunge of around 3000 feet was so sudden that the impact with the water probably killed him outright.

Still tangled in the balloon’s webbing, Lorraine’s body sank into the water when the remains of the balloon finally submerged. Searches went on for weeks looking for his body, including trawling of the harbour.
It is stated that once when Captain Lorraine was making an ascent in England the parachute got adrift, but he succeeded in hauling it up to the balloon, and after making it fast to the rope upon which he sat, he jumped down on to the trapeze and descended safely. Search was made to-day by a launch carrying police constables and relatives, who took drags, but the sea was too rough to use them. The police also searched the share, but no traces of the balloon or the body were found. A movement has been started for the relief of Mrs. Lorraine. A meeting of citizens decided to hold a sacred concert on Sunday night, and subscription lists have also been opened.
Evening Post 4.11.1899

Lion cubs at Wellington Zoo


Another postcard, this one of two lion cubs, simply called "The Cubs", which leads me to think these were somewhat special at the time of the photo. How old is the card?

The handwritten text on the back I think gives me some clues.


"Dearest Jean,
I expect you'll be wondering how in the world I have got down to Wellington. Well I decided all at once on Sunday to come down with Mr Brooks for a day or two & see about a few agonies. We are going back as far as Masterton tomorrow when I have promised to stay one night so as to sing a solo at the mission being held there by the Rev Val Triggs of Melbourne. I will be writing again soon dear to tell you all about everything ..."

That sentence in bold led me to look for a mission held by a Rev. Val Triggs, in Masterton, after 1906 (the year the Wellington Zoo began). The earliest instance I found was late August - early September 1913, when the Methodist minister Rev Val W Trigge shifted his mission from Rangiora on 28 August to Masterton, setting himself up there for 10 days from 7 September 1913. (Wairarapa Daily Times, 5.9.1913)

Now, I don't know if Rev Trigge ever returned to Masterton or not. He made several trips across the Tasman over the next few years, until just beyond the First World War -- but 1913 was a special year for the Wellington Zoo. A lioness on loan from Wirth's Circus, as consort to the famous King Dick, gave birth to twin cubs on 16 February that year.

The lioness lent to the Wellington Zoo by Messrs. Wirth Bros, for a period of twelve months has given birth to twin cubs. The lioness is under offer to the authorities for £100, and a movement is on foot to purchase her in order than she may not be separated from her spouse "King Dick."
Colonist 21.2.1913

The curator of Wellington Zoo, Mr Langridge, has discovered that the lioness in the zoo has added two cubs to the animal collection, instead of one, as previously stated. As the cubs are worth at least £50 each (says the "New Zealand Times"), naturally the authorities are greatly pleased at the turn of events. It is expected that in about three weeks' time the baby lions will be moving about, but in the meantime the mother and her offspring have been boarded in, so as to avoid any disturbance and the possibility of the lioness eating the cubs through annoyance from spectators. It is unusual for a lioness to breed in captivity, as shown by the experience of the London Zoo, though the Dublin Zoo has been more fortunate in this respect. "King Dick's" companion is a very quiet animal, and was one of the best performing lionesses in Wirth's Circus.

Press 21.2.1913

My good friend Liz would know way more about lions and their cubs and how to judge their age from an image -- but from what I've seen, the cubs on the postcard could be six months old. Which means the image dates from August 1913, if they are the twins ... just in time for our writer from Eketahuna to pick up the card while staying in Wellington, on the way to Rev Trigge's Masterton mission that September.

Well, right or wrong ... at least it's a possibility.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Ostriches and Politics: the Helvetia Ostrich Farm at Pukekohe


Another postcard with a story behind it.

Helvetia Ostrich Farm started out as a transfer of the Nathan family’s interest in ostrich farming from Whitford to Pukekohe. I’ve covered part of the story of ostriches in New Zealand previously here, here and here. But the farm dates back further than just from the promise of fulfilling the fashion needs of the women of the day.


John Schlaepfer (1864-1942) arrived in New Zealand from Switzerland, according to his obituary (Evening Post, 5.12.1942) in 1884. He came to own over 3,300 acres just outside Pukekohe sometime after 1887, in an area of sheep and dairy farming, calling the farm Helvetia after his homeland. By 1891, Helvetia Farm was well under way, described as “highly cultivated”. (Ad, Auckland Star, 25.4.1891) In 1900, he was elected as a member of the Karaka Road Board. (Star, 30.10.1900) In 1902 he entered New Zealand history by becoming part of the consortium which operated the Helvetia Ostrich Farm from 1902 to around 1916, managing at one point (according to reports) around 500 birds. He had sold his farm to the Helvetia Ostrich Farm Company for a hefty £9000 in shares (Poverty Bay Herald, 21.11.1914) – nearly $1.5M in today’s terms. (Image right from Wikipedia.)

 DP 5212, 1902, LINZ records, crown copyright
We understand that, encouraged by the success hitherto attending their efforts to acclimatise the industry of the production of ostrich feathers, Messrs. L. D. Nathan and Co. have arranged with Mr John Schlaepfer, of Pukekohe, for the formation of a private company, which will take over Messrs. Nathan's birds and Mr Schlaepfer's well-known "Helvetia" property of 3,500 acres. The position and area of this property as well as the nature of its soil afford much greater facilities for the development of the industry than were available at Whitford Park, and an attempt will be made to supply the colonial market, whereas in the past the supply of feathers has not been nearly sufficient to meet the Auckland demand. The dressing of feathers in all its branches will also be undertaken by the new company. The negotiations were brought to a successful issue by Messrs. Samuel Vaile and Sons, acting for both parties.
Star, 4.10.1902

Products from the Helvetia Ostrich Company. Display from Franklin Historical Society museum, Pukekohe.


(Image left from Wikipedia.)

From 1903, it seemed to be more and more linked with the political fortunes of the MP for Franklin (and future Prime Minister of New Zealand) William Ferguson Massey. He had spoken repeatedly in Parliament from around 1900 as to the virtues of encouraging the ostrich feather export industry, visiting the Nathans’ Whitford Park farm in 1901. (Star, 21.2.1901) From February 1906, Massey’s election committee held garden parties at the ostrich farm. (Wanganui Chronicle, 5 February 1906) The organiser of Massey’s opposition party was R R Martin, up until 1906 the manager at the Helvetia Ostrich Farm (New Zealand Free Lance, 26.5.1906). Until 1912, he was Leader of the Opposition, and from 1908 that opposition was the Political Reform League, renamed the Reform Party the following year (a constituent of the later National Party of today). The president of the local Political Reform League – was John Schlaepfer.

In early 1908, the Observer published some of its classic satire regarding politics orated amongst the ostriches.

STUFFING THE OSTRICHES.
A DAY WITH THE POLITICAL REFORM LEAGUE.
 [By Our Imaginative Idiot.]
A VERY large crowd consisting of 11 gentlemen, 2 dogs, 1 bicycle, and a quantity of edible and drinkable sundries, departed by special train for Pukeohe at 12.38 last Saturday to attend the garden party that was tendered to Mr W. F. Massey, M.P., and Leader of the Opposition, by the Political Reform League at the Ostrich Farm. The special train, which was kindly provided by Sir Joseph Ward, consisted of three cattle trucks and a horse box, sumptuously fitted up with sackcloth cushions and hay carpets. The party, having laid in a large stock of eau-de-Cologne, embarked, Mr R. R. Martin being accommodated with the privacy of the horse box, in which to carry out his secretarial duties. En-route to Pukekohe, it was resolved, on the motion of Mr W. F. Massey, M.P., seconded by Mr F. W. Lang, M.P., that a hearty vote of thanks be accorded to the Premier for the use of the train, and that, in the opinion of this meeting, the Premier is quite correct in his contention that no other country in the world has a railway system like that of New Zealand. And, further, that should it be discovered that any other country in the world has a railway system like that of New Zealand, a vote of condolence be accorded to that country.

Pukekohe was reached well up to time, just as the supply of eau-de-Cologne was running short. The party were rescued in fairly good order and condition, and, after having been fumigated, were driven to the Ostrich Farm, where they were welcomed, at a safe distance, by Mr John Schlaepfer, President of the Political Reform League, and by the senior Vice-President, Mr Charles Shipherd. In the course of his remarks, Mr Schlaepfer said that, in his capacity as manager of the Ostrich Farm, he had for some time been preparing the birds for this auspicious event. He had been educating them up gradually in the art of swallowing. He had started them on oyster shells, had then changed the diet to swan-shot, then to bricks, and finally to barb wire and dynamite. He had proposed to top off their education with some of Mr Massey speeches extracted from "Hansard," but the inspector for the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals had most unwarrantably interfered. However, he had little doubt that ostriches that could swallow barb wire and dynamite had a fair chance of being able to swallow even Mr Massey’s forthcoming speech without any really permanent injury to themselves.


"The garden party to Mr W F Massey, MHR., at Helvetia Farm, Pukekohe. Mr. Massey, listening to the welcoming speech by Mr R R Martin", 1906, AWNS-19060222-10-1, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Council Libraries
Tea having been disposed of, a move was made towards the ostriches' quarters, where it had been arranged that the speeches were to be made. Several of the older birds, who had been through the ordeal before, made desperate efforts to escape when they saw Mr Massey coming, and these were at once pinioned. The younger birds, being unaware of what was in store for them, were comparatively calm. The President (Mr J. Schlaepfer) called upon Mr R. R. Martin (secretary) to open the proceedings. Mr R. R. Martin said that having travelled up from Auckland in a horse-box, he naturally felt quite a little hoarse.

At this point, three veteran ostriches simultaneously gave up the ghost, and there was a wild panic among the survivors. A stimulant, in the shape of a coil or two of barb wire having been administered, peace was restored, and Mr Martin continued his address.

Mr Martin said that speaking as an old manager of that same ostrich farm, he knew a great deal about the art of stuffing both animals and men. In the exercise of his duty as secretary of the Political Reform League, he had a good deal of stuffing to do, but he was proud to say that he had been phenomenally successful at his task (applause) and would be pleased to receive a rise in salary (sensation). Or this occasion, he was not stuffing them (groans). He would not waste his own, or their, time any longer, but would call upon Mr W. F. Massey, M.P., to address the meeting. (Applause). Mr Massey, who was received with loud applause by the human beings present and with signs of fearful panic on the part of the ostriches, said that he was very pleased to be there. Mr Martin had said that travelling up in a horse-box had made him (Mr Martin) feel a little hoarse (groans). He (Mr Massey) had, by the courtesy of Sir Joseph Ward, travelled up in a cattle truck, and he (Mr Massey) felt quite bully. Here, seven middle-aged ostriches of Irish extraction, laid down, and died, the rest being revived by means of an antidote consisting of Government hash.

Mr Massey complained that the ostriches did not seem very strong this year. If they turned up their toes at a little joke of that kind, what would they do when he got on political matters. Mr Schlaepfer said that he thought the younger birds, who were well and strong, could stand it, so long as Mr Massey was careful. The older birds, he pointed out, had not yet got over last year's experience, and were therefore very weak in swallowing power. However, they were not much loss, and the younger birds would swallow almost anything. Mr Massey said that he was glad to hear it.

To continue his speech, they must all be aware that the entire policy of the present Government had been feloniously filched from the Opposition. (Tremendous cheering, and the death, by suicide, of two ostriches). He (Mr Massey) had often taxed the Government with this, and they had always denied it. This conclusively proved that it was so. He felt sure that the people whom he saw there that day represented the intellect of the Dominion. (Loud applause, and eight more ostriches in death throes, three in a fit, and five delirious). The Opposition had been responsible for every Bill which had been passed in the course of last session. (Applause, and screams from an ostrich that had gone suddenly insane). All that the Government lad done was to alter the various Bills in one or two trifling particulars, and then palm them off as their own make. (Shame). For instance, the Land Bill had originally, as drawn up by him, provided for the giving of the freehold in every case. (Applause).

What had the Government done? They had, by altering freehold to leasehold, and by making a few immaterial alterations of that kind, changed the Bill somewhat, and had calmly introduced it as their own. (Sensation). But let the Government tremble. Sir Joseph Ward (hoots) had lately insulted Mr William Richardson (shame), and he (Mr Massey) had little doubt that Mr Richardson would now give the Opposition the benefit of his giant intellect. (Tremendous cheering, and three paralytic seizures among the ostriches).

He (Mr Massey) was sorry that Mr Richardson was not present that day. The quantity of tea provided was quite adequate to supply even Mr Richardson, and there was any amount of jam, which he (Mr Massey) understood, Mr Richardson liked to spread thick. He was trying to make arrangements to hold another garden party there in a fortnight's time, at which Mr Richardson would speak. (Loud applause, and, wild panic and general suicide among the ostriches). With an intellectual and polished orator like Mr Richardson at his back, he (Mr Massey) would fear no foe. Out of consideration for the disgracefully weak condition of the ostriches, he would say no more, except to prophesy that at the next election the Opposition would go in with an eight to one majority. This last assertion having finished off the last and strongest of the ostriches, it was decided to adjourn the meeting until a stronger assortment could be procured. The party returned to town in the cattle trucks, the atmosphere of which did much to restore the failing strength of the excursionists.

Observer, 22.2.1908


"Visitors at the Helvetia Ostrich Farm, Pukekohe, Auckland, on the occasion of the Garden Party to Mt Massey, February 16 1907," AWNS-19070221-9-1,  Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Council Libraries

The gathering, another in Massey’s series of garden parties, actually attracted over 4000 people to the ostrich farm, by some accounts, and Massey was presented with a silver salver, a rose bowl and a tea and coffee service by grateful constituents, for whom he fought for better road connections through the electorate from the public works budget. Especially a touring road to a certain ostrich farm …

… which Massey and fellow MP Frederic William Lang, along with Messrs C Shepherd, R Bilbey and John Schlaepfer would have benefitted from when they took over the Helvetia Ostrich Farm Company from the Nathans in May 1908. (Feilding Star, 11.5.1908) The garden parties became a regular party political fixture.


"Ostrich farming in Auckland District. Young Birds inspecting visitors, Helvetia Park, Auckland," 1905, AWNS-190500330-3-1, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Council Libraries

In 1911, two ostriches were donated to the Wellington Zoo, only somewhat successfully.

A pair of young ostriches has arrived at the Wellington Zoo from, the Pukekohe ostrich farm. Mr W. F. Massey, who is a shareholder in the company, asked for the birds on receiving & request from Mr R. A. Wright, M.P., and the company willingly complied. The birds, which are worth about £40 each, appeared to be in good condition, but unfortunately one of them has since died.

Feilding Star 14.3.1911

Between 1908 and 1914, the fortunes to be made from the ostriches at Pukekohe dwindled. In the latter year, near the end of the farm as a run for ratites, came the Waiuku Railway controversy.


"The Premier as a navvy: The Hon W F Massey wheeling the first sod turned in connection with the Waiuku Railway", 1914, AWNS-19140226-39-2, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Council Libraries
Mr. Massey said that the people of this district had been waiting for this railway for over thirty years. It was thirty-one years since it was first surveyed. The people had waited patiently, but if the Local Railways Act which had been passed last session had been in operation, the railway would have been built years ago. He was certain that the railway would prove to be one of the best paying lines in the Dominion … He had seen it stated somewhere that the construction of the railway would affect him personally, but as a matter of fact, it would not benefit him to the extent of a single farthing. Some years ago, in order to prevent a local industry, the ostrich farm, from being closed he had joined with others in putting some money into it. He believed that the railway would cut off from four to five acres at one of the corners of the property, but he would not, he repeated, be benefited by the railway to the extent of a single cent. He and others had held the land for a number of years, but they had not had a copper out of it. He believed that the land should be cut up and settled … "If we get back the money we put into it years ago, 1 shall be very glad indeed," said Mr. Massey in conclusion.

EP 12.11.1914

The Waiuku branch line became known as the “ostrich farm line”, as Prime Minister Massey batted away attack after attack over his apparent involvement with influencing the line of the railway through part of the ostrich farm’s land. Massey, for his part, declared that the railway line had been authorised in 1912, and that the farm itself, no longer as successful as it had been during the Nathan ownership period, was mostly under cultivation. But, it was put to Massey that with an initial purchase outlay to Schlaepfer of £9000 in 1902, a £10,000 mortgage by the company from the Public Trust Office soon after, and another mortgage of £2500 in November 1912, a projected £60,000 value on the property due to closer rail access seemed to be quite a potential profit for the shareholders in 1914, among whose number was included, of course, Mr Massey himself, to the tune of an investment of £1000.

The (ostrich?) feathers over Mr Massey and his railway drifted back to earth over Christmas 1914, and the issue was stone cold dead by the time 1915 dawned. Looking at the subdivision of the farm as surveyed later in 1915, it is almost laughable how much fuss was made politically over such a small area of the farm, and the wee corner affected by such a short line of the total railway to Waiuku.


Detail from DP 10337, 1915, LINZ records, crown copyright

By 1923, Walter and John Schlaepfer held title over parts of the former farm’s area, including the site of the main buildings. (NA383/175). The area today is known as Helvetia – Ostrich Road and Ostrich Farm Road serve as part of the memorials surviving for the country’s largest ostrich farm, the political garden parties there, and fluffy feathers produced for fickle fashion.

A cage for a Teddy Bear


I spotted this on Trade Me, and it struck through to the heart. A bear behind bars, front paws raised up to the metal like a bewildered prisoner, mouth open on a cry in the silence of a postcard from long ago. I've forwarded the image over to my great friend Liz of Mad Bush Farm fame (who announced on a Radio NZ interview yesterday that she is definitely working on a book on the history of Wellington Zoo -- yay, you go, Liz!), and she's working on a definite identification of the bear's species. We both think at this stage it's highly likely at this stage that this is a brown bear, aka American Grizzly.

A sad photo -- with the story of Wellington Zoo's first bears behind it.

Proposals were put forward at Newtown Zoo for bear pits as early as 1908 (Evening Post 11.12.1908), just two years after the zoo originated with the donation of King Dick the lion. By early 1910, however, the plans were still only on the drawing board: “A kea aviary at Newtown would delight some people more than a bear garden.” (EP 26.1.1910)

In July 1911, Wellington City Council’s reserves committee “adopted the recommendation of [Mr A S Le Soeuf, director of Sydney Zoo] in regard to the construction of a bear pit.” (EP 5.7.1911) By early January 1912, a Malayan bear had been presented to the zoo by a Mr Kersley. (EP 6.1.1912)

Then came the incident which led to the Zoo obtaining its first brown bear -- possibly the subject of my postcard. In late 1911 and early 1912, Wirth's Circus was travelling around the country with an act that included two species of bear -- incredibly, a polar bear training act, and "Teddy Bears", likely American brown bears. One became notorious and filled the country's newspapers with shocked headlines.
SENSATIONAL CIRCUS INCIDENT. AUDIENCE GREATLY EXCITED. The following are further details from Christchurch about the attack by a bear.

A sensational incident occurred at the first performance by Wirths' circus, which opened here on Monday evening in the King Edward Barracks. All went well until towards the end of the second turn, an act in which a young man named Syd. Rose made a dog, a, goat, a lion, a lioness, and a bear perform. The first-named animals went through their business well. The lion and lioness were fed with meat from a fork, and the bear ate its meat from the trainer's mouth, its jaws almost touching his lips. Then the lions went to their accustomed places on platforms a few feet above the trainer's head. He took the bear by a fore leg and led him for a promenade. They were halfway round the cage when the bear hit suddenly with its free paw. The man went down with the bear above him, its teeth fixed in his arm. While they were on the floor of the cage the animal savaged him, while the man held on to the collar about the beast's neck so that it might not have a chance to get full play with its dreadful claws. The lions sat aloft watching the struggle and taking no part in it.

Mr G Wirth, who was near, was the first to act. He seized a great billet of wood and rushed into the arena. He struck the bear once on the head, and then lost his weapon. A menagerie hand had followed him armed with an iron bar. As he belabored the beast, Herr Schmidt, trainer of the polar bears, came to the fight with a heavy pitchfork. At the same time a half-caste entered the cage, and beat the beast with a piece of piping. Ready hands drew the trainer out. The lions still sat aloft snarling, but offering to take no part in the brawling. The bear was beaten to his cage, and the lions, who had come down from their high places, to their dens.

The wounded trainer meanwhile was being given first aid, two nurses, who were in the audience assisting. While the bear was being beaten for its guilt, its victim was being taken to the hospital. Amongst the audience there was great excitement. Women shrieked and shuddered where they sat, men rushed towards the cage, which was already surrounded by many circus hands, and there was some difficulty in clearing them away. The sight was a sickening one, but the spectators realised that they were safe, and there was nothing approaching a panic.

Rose, the injured man, is a native of Christchurch, and has been with the show for eight years. He had trained the animals. The bear had not performed since; the circus was at Invercargill, and on Monday afternoon Mr G Wirth asked Rose whether he desired a rehearsal. Rose replied that it was not necessary. The animal, an American Grizzly bear, had been with the show practically all its life. It had never been a vicious brute, but was always uncertain, and needed careful watching. Rose's injuries proved to be limited to wounds about the arm and thigh, the latter being deep cuts. He had also heavy scratches about the .body. No vital spot had been touched, and his injuries were scarcely dangerous in themselves. The programme was gone through as usual.
Poverty Bay Herald 10.1.1912

I've boldened parts from the article above. Hard to imagine what the bear went through that day, and afterward.

Well, that was it of course for the bear's show business career. It's surprising that Wirth had offers to pay and take the bear off his hands -- but he decided that the Wellington Zoo should be the end of the line for his misbehaving asset.
THE WIRTH'S CIRCUS INCIDENT BEAR TO BE PRESENTED TO A ZOO. (Special to ''The Colonist.") Christchurch, Jan 9. Mr Geo. Wirth has decided to present to the young man Maclnnes a gold medal for the courage he displayed in coming to the rescue of S. Rose, the trainer, when he was in grips last night with the brown bear. Since the incident of the struggle became known over the Dominion Mr Wirth has received several offers for the animal, one of as much as £60, but he decided to decline them all. In deference to Mrs Wirth's feelings in regard to the brute it has been resolved to make a present of it to the Wellington Zoo.
Colonist 10.1.1912

George Wirth paid a visit to the zoo on 17 January, after the bear attack at his Christchurch show. 

With regard to the bear, which mauled its trainer in Christchurch, it is understood that the Rev. John Crowes, president of the Wellington Zoological Society, is interviewing Mr. Wirth on the matter. The offer is for £50, and this sum, it is hoped, will be raised in time to secure the animal before the circus leaves New Zealand, Probably some definite announcement will be made tomorrow. 
 EP 17.1.1912

The Zoological Society began campaigning for subscriptions to buy the bear from Wirth.

In event of a successful campaign to raise funds for the purchase of the bear, a temporary cage, will be provided. A proper bear-pit will then be built in a clear space near the lake and close to the monkey-houses. It will be lined with concrete. The floor will be on a level with the path near the lake, while visitors will be able to look down on the bear from the upper path.
EP 18.1.1912

Ultimately, the Wellington Zoological Society raised £41 towards the cost of the bear, the city coming up with the remaining £9.

In April, the city’s Baths and City Reserves committee recommended than plans prepared by the city engineer for a bear-pit at the zoo, costing £200, be carried out in that financial year. (EP 19.4.1912)

THE ZOO 
TO THE EDITOR. 
 Sir,— On passing through the Zoo today I stood and looked at the little bear and the dog. I noticed that the bear is now getting far too rough a playmate for the little dog, who is now in danger of getting seriously hurt. The bear has a very unpleasant way of squeezing the dog up against the side of the cage, and there is no shelf or ledge where it can get out of the way. Hoping you will kindly let this be known, as it may help the dog. I am, etc., 
A LOVER OF ANIMALS. 9th July.
 EP 12.7.1912

This could have been the Malayan, smaller bear.

In November 1912, the Zoological Society were reported to be making enquiries into obtaining “another brown bear”. (EP 22.11.1912) Still, in January 1913, the zoo definitely had just two bears, “a big brown bear (the notorious one that clawed a man in Christchurch)” and “a playful little Malayan bear.” By 1916 there is reference to “bear pits” at the zoo, (EP 18.12.1916), so these were probably constructed sometime late in the 1912-1913 financial year.

Then again, the zoo had a black bear in a cage in 1918. These might have been in the “old bear cages near the entrance gates” as they were described when it was proposed that they be the temporary residence for the zoo’s first polar bear in 1924.

Although barriers have been erected round the cages of the larger animals at the Newtown Zoo, the small boy bent on seeing as much as possible is not content unless he stands right at the bars of the cages. George Kensington, twelve years of age, who is on holiday with his father from Palmerston North, yesterday afternoon poked his right hand into the black bear's cage. The animal is not of a fierce disposition, and will take nuts and sweets out of a person's hand without any risk to the donor, but occasionally boys and others have teased it, and apparently the bear was taking no chances yesterday, for it seized the boy's hand and chewed it badly before the boy was able to release himself. He was taken to the Hospital, where it was found necessary to amputate the first and second fingers. He is now reported to be progressing well. 
EP 22.4.1918

This may have been the black bear which was reported to have died during 1922. (EP 26.1.1923)So, depending on the species identification, my postcard my date from 1912 (brown bear, before the £200 bear pit was constructed), or 1917-1922 (black bear, caged near the entrance gates).
The polar bear must have thought volumes, for his quarters are very cramped and his swimming pool is merely an unsatisfactory hip-bath; the smaller black (or brown, according to taste) bear gave up thinking about it some time ago, for he was found dead one morning. 
EP 1.12.1927

In May 1922, the Zoological Society presented a “Japanese bear” to the zoo. (EP 19.5.1922)

There is reference to a brown bear still extant in 1924, (EP 21.1.1924) a “Himalayan bear” and a “Cinnamon bear” mentioned by the secretary of the Zoological Society. (EP 14.2.1924) By 1928, when the new bear pits were constructed for the polar bear, the neighbouring pit was for black bears, plural. (EP 3.10.1928) 

So, from out of the early formative years of our country's first zoo, comes a poignant image of a bear behind bars, pressing itself hard against the metal, mouth open on a cry.


How this particular bear ended up, I have no idea. Probably found dead one day in a bear pit, and replaced for the next visitors' attraction.

It would be fitting, I think, if among the last man made tracks on earth would be found the huge footprints of the great brown bear.-- Earl Fleming

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Sunrise's remains

For quite some time now, I've been itching to photograph an old vineyard sign in Henderson, up on Great North Road's rise from the township. Until yesterday, I'd only see it while going past at speed in buses, and muttering "Damn," under my breath. Until yesterday, when I had the opportunity to pop into Henderson Primary School, and then thought "That sign's just up the road. Time for a stroll in February's heat up the hill." 


The sign is one of the last remnants of Sunrise Vineyards, owned and operated by Mirko Ozich (1895-1964) born in Rašćane, Splitsko-dalmatinska, Hrvatska (Croatia). The property was purchased by Mr Ozich in 1932, in two parts: the western side from James Hepburn (NA454/68), and the eastern (including the site of the gate and adjoining shed) from a Mr Lawson (DI 27A.448).


So, for at least 32 years, the Ozich vineyard called Sunrise was a landmark for travellers making their way down the hill towards the Oratia Stream bridge and the Henderson township.

1940 aerial, Auckland Council website.

I've circled the total land holding owned by Mirko Ozich in yellow. The red square marks the location of the shed and sign.

After Mr Ozich's death, his family subdivided the property in 1978. At that point, Henderson Borough Council planned to widen Great North Road -- and a strip including the sign and two-thirds of the old shed beside it became council property (NA 566/202). To this day, that has remained as part of a road reserve owned by Auckland Council.

2008 aerial, Auckland Council website

Which means the sign is owned by Auckland Council now as well -- and would be great if, hopefully, it could be recognised as a heritage item, and restored to preserve the Ozich name as a local landmark and celebration of the vineyards which made Henderson's name in the 20th century.


I've contacted Auckland Council's call centre and left a message with the West Auckland heritage advisor. Hopefully, I find out more from the council as to their possible intentions. Meanwhile -- I'd love to know more about Mirko Ozich and his vineyard. Any assistance would be greatly appreciated.


Additional: Grant Cole, president of the West Auckland Historical Society, has just mentioned a blog on the remains of West Auckland's vineyard heritage called Wine Out West. Worth a look.