Tuesday, May 19, 2020

"Good-bye now. I am off to Aussie": Frederick Demchy's short and disastrous flight, 1945


"Loading Lockheed Lodestar 'Karoro' aircraft." May 1945.Ref: WA-01296-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/30628079


(Auckland Star, 14 May 1945)
 AIR LINER LOST
£40,000 MONOPLANE
ARREST FOLLOWS FIRE
The total destruction by fire of Union Airways' 15-passenger Lodestar monoplane, Karoro, on the Mangere airfield about 9.30 last night, was followed by the arrest of a young man on a charge of stealing the aircraft. The big machine after taxi-ing on the field about 300 yards from the Auckland Aero Club's building, crashed into a dummy aeroplane and immediately caught fire. The single occupant extricated himself without injury. Later Detectives W H Cromwell and F G Fraser went to a house in Mangere and after interviewing a young man employed as a mechanic by Union Airways, arrested him on a charge of stealing the plane, which was valued at about £40,000. The incident caused much excitement in the district, a large number of Mangere residents being attracted to the airfield by the fire, which was visible for miles around.

Engines from the Onehunga and Otahuhu fire stations answered the call, but the machine could not be saved. Within an hour, after burning furiously, it was reduced to a heap of molten metal and twisted spars. Mr C R Osborne, a fireman from the Otahuhu station, suffered slight injuries when he was knocked down by another fire engine arriving on the airfield.

 The loss of the Karoro was the subject of the following official statement by Union Airways this morning:— "At approximately 9.30 last evening a junior engineer of Union Airways, without authority, broke into the hangar at Mangere through the garage and over the top of the oil store. He opened the hangar doors from the inside and took the Lodestar out, thereafter careering round the aerodrome with lights switching on and off, eventually hitting a dummy 'plane on the aerodrome. The aircraft burst into flames and was totally destroyed. "The hangar was securely locked by the station engineer before leaving the aerodrome at about 5 p.m. on Sunday.

 "With the aircraft available Union Airways will carry out every possible service to the original timetable, with only those alterations necessary, in the readjustment of which due notice will be given."

 The young man arrested was Frederick Demchy, described as an assistant air engineer, aged 19. He appeared in the Police Court this morning before Mr J H Luxford, SM, charged with stealing on May 13 a Lockheed Lodestar monoplane valued at about £40,000, the property of Union Airways. Detective-Sergeant Aplin asked that accused be remanded until May 21. Mr P B Fitzherbert, who represented accused, applied for bail. "He is only a youngster and he lives at Mangere with his mother," he added. "The facts will be admitted. It is a very serious charge that has arisen out of this incident.

 Mr Luxford: It is a most unusual type of allegation.

Detective-Sergeant Aplin said that in view of all the circumstances it would seem that the matter of bail should be dealt with by the magistrate in chambers. Mr Fitzherbert agreed, and the question of bail was discussed in chambers. It was later announced that bail had been refused. The Lodestar destroyed last night was Union Airways' first machine and the biggest civil transport operated in New Zealand.

(Auckland Star, 22 May 1945)
Mrs Fanny Irene Gardner said Demchy, who was at her home on Sunday night, May 13, seemed uneasy from the time the Air Training Corps' "quiz" came over the radio. He went out into the kitchen about a quarter past eight and when she followed shortly after she saw him by the sink, mumbling to himself, saying: "It's a good night for it, there aren't many stars." She asked him what he was talking about, but he wouldn't say. Witness described how accused went from the house.

After she saw the fire from the aerodrome she returned to the house and made a cup of tea. While she was awaiting Brain's return, accused walked up the steps on to the verandah. He was covered in mud and soaking wet. He was given a cup of tea and said something about it looking as though he couldn't fly after all. Later witness found a note on the table written by accused which said: "Good-bye. I am off to Aussie. By the time you get this I will be circling over the house." The note was signed, "Pilot Demchy."

To Mr. Fitzherbert witness said she had known Demchy for a long time. He was considered "one of the family" His behaviour that night was not his usual behaviour. It was not normal and she would say he was temporarily unbalanced.

Statement to Detective Detective W H Cromwell said he saw accused at Mrs. Gardner's home after the destruction of the Karoro. Asked if he realised what he had done that night, Demchy said he did. He said he was "fed up" and had taken the plane. Demchy appeared quite normal apart from being slightly upset after his experience. Demchy said he wished to make an explanation to clear up the whole matter. In a statement made on the night of May 13, accused said he was 18 on November 19 last and had a secondary school education. He lived with his step-mother in Watea Road, Mangere, and had been employed at Mangere by Union Airways for the last three years as a ground engineer assistant.

On Sunday afternoon Demchy said he went to Mrs. Gardner's place in Mangere Central. The family was at home, also one of the Air Force guards from Mangere Aerodrome. Bill Brain. After tea they all played cards. There was no drink in the house. Demchy said he neither drank nor smoked. "The conversation was general," continued Demchy. "I have been more or less fed up for some time past. I had applied to join the Air Force Reserve, but there had been some hold-up to my application. I spoke to Bill, half-joking, and told him there was a special trip to-night about midnight and I asked him if he would give me a hand to push the plane out of the hangar. I knew that Bill would be on guard at the aerodrome and I said this more or less to put myself on side with him. I told him I was expecting an urgent phone call from head office in Wellington in respect of this special night trip. I had not made up my mind about taking a plane, but after hearing the news on the radio I thought that I would take her up and show them that I could fly. As a matter of fact, I intended to fly to Australia in the plane.

"After hearing the news I kept on playing cards but I was not interested in them," accused continued. "I kept on chewing it over in my mind whether I should take the plane, or not. Finally I decided I would and I went into the sun porch where I wrote a note saying, 'Good-bye now. I am off to Aussie. By the time you get this I will be circling over the house.' I left the note on the settee, then climbed through the window and ran down the road. They must have found the note quicker than I expected, and I heard someone coming down the road on a cycle. It was Bill. I ran down a drive and hid behind a bush. He could not find me and circled about on his cycle. He came back to the corner and I heard him speak to someone. I got into a paddock and made my way towards the aerodrome. I found the hangar was locked up so I went round to the back, broke the padlock on the garage door with my hands, climbed over into the oil store and got into the hangar then switched on the lights and cleared all the engine trays away. Then I opened the hangar doors, got into the cockpit and started the two engines. I put my landing lights on to see where I was going and when I was taxi-ing out of the hangar I caught the star-board wing tip on the corner of the hangar.

I kept the engines running but I had to get out and get a small tractor to pull the plane clear of the obstruction. "I got back into the cockpit and locked the cabin door and pilot's door. Then I taxied out but could not find the runway for a while. When I finally found it I started to take off. When I thought I had sufficient speed up for flying I went to pull the undercarriage up but in doing so I accidentally knocked the port engine throttle, causing the port engine to go slower, making the plane swing to the left. I must have skidded across the ground sideways for quite a distance. I managed to cut off the port motor but the starboard motor was still going and the next I knew I had hit a bank and there were flames all around the cockpit. I had my safety belt on but I got this off. Then I had a bit of trouble opening the cockpit door. I finally ran backwards and opened the cabin door and got out of the aircraft, running towards the back of the 'drome. When I was about 75 yards away, one of the tanks blew up."

 Demchy said he had had no flying experience but had watched various men working on the plane and had a fair idea what to do. He admitted he had no authority to take the plane. "I don't know why I took the plane," he said. "1 was fed up and thought that if I took her and flew her to Australia they would take me into the Air Force. I have two stepbrothers in the forces—one is in the Navy and the other in the Army."

 (Demchy reiceived a fine of £100, paid back in instalments of 15s a week, and three years probation)

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Avondale’s Racecourse by the River Part 2: Surrounded by Change (1923-2019)


Spring racing at Avondale, from Auckland Weekly News 27 September 1923, AWNS-19230927-47-1, 
Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections

(Following on from part one

For a number of years in the 1920s, it seemed that the Avondale Jockey Club committee members had to constantly watch their backs, taking a group deep breath whenever opening the morning paper, in case something else had cropped up to try to end their endeavour. Having seen off the earlier threat of closure in 1922, it may have freshly rattled their nerves when it was reported early in 1925 that former Avondale resident Richard Francis Bollard, then Minister of Internal Affairs and son of first AJC president John Bollard, spoke of amalgamating Avondale with Ellerslie’s Auckland Racing Club. Bollard though later emphatically denied that such was the case. The coal gas explosion which wrecked part of the club’s totalisator house in October 1924 probably added to the tensions at the time. 

But the club had their plans, and they had a firm business basis with which to do them. The annual report dated 10 July 1923 proclaimed, in bold letters, that “the Club has no liabilities whatever.” During 1924, they purchased land between the course and Wingate Street; the land once leased from Moss Davis and the Hancock Brewery to the east, including the strip fronting onto Great North Road, Webb’s Paddock in the middle, and the western end from Ellen Barker. More of the former Bollard farm was purchased along Ash Street, the site today of Sandy and Nacton Lanes. The club’s fullest extent would be reached, as mentioned in the previous article, in 1943 with the resumption of Jane Bollard’s property on Rosebank Road, but – by 1925, most of what those living in Avondale from the mid-20th century onward recognised as part of Avondale’s recreational greenspace was together under the club’s ownership.

The buildings 

The layout of the main structures for the course had always reflected the divide between members of the club, afforded due privileges of that membership, and the general public. While situated at the Wingate Street side of the course, this divide was probably not so pronounced, due to space restrictions. But once the shift had taken place to the Ash Street side, onto Bollard’s former land, the spacing of the demarcated areas laid out in 1900-1901 remained at least to the mid 1980s. 

Closest to the Whau River was the public area. This was fenced off from the main area beside it, and it was where the old 1890s grandstand that had been shifted across was placed. At some point between around 1905 and the late 1920s this oldest part of the racecourse architecture was removed. Plans were drawn up for open terraced seating in its place in 1928. The new stand was roofed in 1937. This was known as both the “public stand” and the “Derby Stand” at various times. It was destroyed by fire in 1985. 

Next to the public area was the lawn enclosure, featuring the main grandstand, the 1900-1901 version designed by Edward Bartley, with its distinctive “jockey’s cap” roof shape. It was shifted forward, closer to the track, in 1936, and had concrete terraces added to it. From 1963 it lost its prominence due to the construction of a new main and larger grandstand immediately adjoining it. 

The grand totalisator building from 1911 crossed the division between the public area and the lawn enclosure, and was divided off as well to reflect the separation of facilities between the two enclosures, which of course cost different admission fees as well. In September 1939 it cost 1-/ to enter the racecourse at the public enclosure, and another 1/- to park your car there as well. Entrance to the lawn enclosure (which included the general admittance) was 6/- for gentlemen, 8-/ for ladies, and all vehicles 2/6. Children under 12 were not permitted to the Grandstand Enclosure. “Men in uniform of His Majesty’s Forces will be admitted free.” 

The layout takes shape 

The greatest change was in the racetrack layout. Plans were drawn up in late 1925 for the old course to be completely obliterated, with a back straight now running nearly the full length of Wingate Street down to and including part of the old brickyard land. Alongside this, lasting until the 1990s, a steeplechase route was also added. The track was effectively shifted south as well as widened, leaving the members and public stands a considerable distance back from the track (a reason why both stands were eventually shifted forward, and the members stand realigned at an angle, to get the best views). H Bray & Co of Onehunga were the successful tenderers, and by February 1926 Avondale residents witnessed huge ploughs drawn by teams of ten and twelve horses engaged in the work of shifting topsoil and laying the foundation layers for the new track. Work was completed by February 1928. This didn’t include the mile/1600 metre start which was laid out in 1939, up by Great North Road and behind the block of shops there (as at July 2019, the site of the proposed new community centre and library), or the half-mile/800 metre start laid out in the 1950s at the Whau Creek end. 

Unfortunately, 1928 marked the end of the club’s nearly three decade long working association with architect Norman Wade, carrying on from the earlier plans drawn up in the 1890s for various structures by Edward Bartley. A legal disagreement over professional costs for the shifting and rebuilding of the grandstand resulted in a parting of the ways between the architect and the club.
Possibly, the oncoming Great Depression was the brake to any further work developing the racecourse facilities until halfway through the following decade anyway. As mentioned before, the work of shifting the members stand and the public stand took place in 1936, the public stand cut in half to complete the task. Ornate gates were added to the Elm Street entrance in 1937. In 1939, while totalisator earnings appeared to be lower than they were in 1928 for various reasons, it was still reported that the club looked forward to a brilliant 1940 season, with their racecourse facilities finally all in place, the new mile start in use, along with a training track in the infield.

But then, of course, along came World War II. 

The racecourse during the war 

Earlier full article here.

Up until July 1941, military camps on the racecourse were of a temporary nature, not really impacting on the club’s operations. But that July, construction began for a permanent camp, meaning that Avondale’s meetings migrated to Ellerslie for the duration. This was something that hadn’t happened before on the course – roads were laid down, rows of huts installed and erected. During the course of the camp’s existence, it was divided into army and naval transit camps, and even a POW camp for a time, after the uprising of Japanese prisoners at Featherston in 1943. There was also a temporary US Forces camp for a month only. 

From January 1944, the military camp was converted by the government into a Works Department camp. The Army vacated the racecourse in July 1945, and the Public Works Department finally evacuated in February 1947. The Jockey Club put in a £15,422 claim for compensation. They eventually agreed to accept £6000 cash plus some buildings (two mess halls, a recreation hall, and a cottage at the back of the tote building), and repairs to fences, latrines, stables, horse stalls, tote building, turnstiles and ticket boxes, outside stand, lawn grandstand, judges box, jockey’s board, steward’s stand and casualty room totalling £7500. The claim was eventually split between PWD and the Army. The club initially intended using at least one hut as a restaurant, but by March 1947 had submitted plans to the City Council for joining together and converting three ex-Army huts into an afternoon tearoom just in behind the public stand, along with a separate soft-drink stand using another ex-Army building just to the west. 

The City Council recreation areas 

On 5 October 1944, City Councillor Archibald Ewing Brownlie set in motion the process by which the Avondale community and surrounding districts came to be able to enjoy using large parts of the racecourse land on a long-term and permanent basis for recreation. At the time, the racecourse was still under government occupation. A full return to normal operations was nearly three years away. Brownlie asked the Parks Committee to look into the possibility of securing land at the racecourse for public use, without interfering with the racing and training there. The committee headed out to visit the course the following month, and by 8 December provided a report describing what was proposed to be acquired from the jockey club. 

The area beside the mile start was on the December 1944 list, with the exception of the Great North Road frontage to a depth of around 100 feet, so the club could have the option at a later point of subdividing and selling that part for commercial retail use as part of the shopping centre. That subdivision came about in 1961, with sales taking place from that point. (As at July 2019, this is the proposed site for Avondale’s new Community Centre and Library). The area ultimately vested as a gift to the City Council in 1959 curved around to have a Racecourse Parade frontage. Tennis courts were set up here, later becoming netball courts under the administration of Western Districts Netball Association during the 1970s. 

The other main area was around 19 acres at the western end of the racecourse, fronting the Whau Creek. Today, this is the residential area of Corregidor and Michael Foley Place, the Rizal Reserve, and the site sold in 2017 for the Tamora Lane development. Back in the 1940s, it was an area of broken ground, topsoil stripped off (possibly transferred to the main part of the racecourse during the work in the late 1920s), littered with remains from the earlier brickmaking operations there plus the club’s own rubbish tipping. Two power pylons were already in place on the site, but the City Engineer still remained keen, suggesting that part of the waterway could be reclaimed to provide more space for the required playing fields. In a lengthy report from February 1945, the City Engineer went on to speculate that acquiring the whole of the racecourse’s 124 acres would go a long way toward the calculated 210 acres required to provide for the expected future recreational needs of not only Avondale but the wider district, creating a regional reserve. 

“At the present time,” he wrote, in what would now appear to be a rather prophetic piece of report writing, “under the present conditions of Metropolitan Government, to acquire such a total area for regional purposes would be beyond reasonable expectation. It is possible that at some future time, the area might be considered for subdivision for urban development. In that event a portion at least will no doubt be acquired for reserve and in any case the opportunity would present itself for acquiring the whole area. Circumstances may then be different.” 

The report was adopted by the Council in March 1945. By the end of April, the jockey club put forward a further proposal: that the city council lease, for a term of 25 years, the infield area bounded by the training tracks for 1/- per annum. In March 1947, the Avondale branch of Citizens & Ratepayers convened a meeting at Avondale College, which came up with the suggestion that twelve playing fields in the area to be leased by the council be made up of: Rugby and League, seven fields; Soccer, two fields; and Hockey, three fields. Two concrete cricket pitches were also recommended. In June, the council authorised the laying out of ten playing fields in the inner part of the racecourse. There was a delay regarding the setting up of the playing fields, as the Auckland Rugby Union was using that space at the time, and asked to be able to see the winter season out. Drawn up in 1947 as part of the wider agreement covering that, plus the two outright gifts of land, the lease between the Jockey Club and the City Council was eventually agreed to and signed in 1952. 

As for the 19 acres by the river – some members of the Jockey Club committee had a change of heart by March 1948. They felt that “a mistake had been made as they thought that the area would be required for future extension [the 800 metre start] and the siting of racing stables.” The Council’s Town Planning officer assured them that there was provision in the agreement for the club to have land handed back to provide for the additional starting space, but the committee members were adamant. The gifting of that part of the racecourse land to the council was, from that point on, off the table. 

The lease for the inner field playing areas expired in 1977 without right of renewal. The Jockey Club required, as part of the agreement to renew the lease, the provision of a hard-surface car parking area at the north-eastern end, and underground toilets in the midfield. The council’s Department of Works designed the required toilets, male and female, in 1978, and these were built for around $28,000. The matter of the hard-surface carpark however dragged on, and the lease wasn’t formally renewed at that time, although the club and the council came to an agreement that use could continue while negotiations carried on. 

In July 1981, Councillor Jolyon Firth described the toilets in a memo to the chairman of the Parks Committee as:

“... a four-holer semi-submerged Clochemerle sited in majestic isolation in the mid-field area of the racecourse. This was considered necessary as, in want of such a facility, many people had no alternative but to make a convenience of the back of the Club’s dividend indicator board thus causing discolouration and rot to a most important raceday facility.
“In constructing this new facility, the Council was obviously mindful of the dictum of the late Chic Sale, author of The Specialist who, in his ground rules for these types of facilities, made famous the words “For every Palace a privy, and every privy a Palace” … There was no official opening. Such an event would have been embarrassing because no sooner had the edifice been put in place, then it flooded. A member of the Suburbs Rugby Club told me that it was “awash to the gunwhales.” Having got past that calamity the facility is now a great convenience for thousands of people. And, of course, the Club’s dividend indicator board is no longer rotting away …” 

The facilities into the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, 1980s 

After the five year gap, the Avondale Jockey Club’s return to racing at Avondale after the war did not go as smoothly as planned. Their spring meeting that year was to be their first, but before it took place, major repairs and maintenance were required to the buildings due to the military occupation. Although the government promised to undertake these repairs, these were deemed by the Auckland Carpenters and Labourers Unions to not be “essential” work, and the job was declared black. Presumably, some sort of compromise was reached between the government, the contractors and the unions, for in September 1946 the first post-war race meeting was held on the course. 

The racecourse’s 1950s story is told mainly in the developments made to the course and its facilities. The additional 800 metre start was added at the Whau Creek end. An addition was built for doubles betting at the auxiliary tote building at the rear of the lawn enclosure by 1951, along with a standalone indicator board, and an eastern addition to the members grandstand. Five small open public stands were built beside the old 1900 grandstand around 1951. 

An amendment to the Liquor Licensing Act was passed in 1960, and this allowed the club to once again sell alcohol from 1961, even though Avondale itself remained dry. The club replaced the old huts that had served as tearooms with a beer garden, and constructed a members bar and a garden bar attached to the outer public stand. Around this time, the old 1911 tote building was converted into a cafeteria. Liquor sales allowed the club to go ahead with the new public stand next to and overshadowing the old 1900 version, replacing the small 1950s open stands. The cost of the grandstand project at the time was £140,000, and it opened in January 1963. In behind the old stand, the club provided asphalt basketball courts for the use of 11 Western District schools from May 1964 until the old stand was also later replaced. 

The club raced for only six days a year (raised to eight by 1969), but had the third highest daily totalisator turnover in the country. It maintained three training areas beside the main track: the plough, the two-year-old and the No. 1 grass. The club’s success during this period shows in the further developments of a new members stand in 1964, and the installation of an infield indicator in 1967. A block of 18 loose boxes were built beside the Whau River in 1969. 

July 1969 saw the retirement of course caretaker Walter Willoughby. When he started working at the racecourse as a casual in 1928, it took a day and a half to mow the ten miles of the course proper with a horse-drawn manual mower. By the 1960s, it was mechanised into being just a four hour job.
  
Divots kicked up by horses on raceday however still took him and 21 helpers several hours to replace the following day, on top of the cleaning of the 146 lavatories dotted around the course. 

In 1976-1977, the old grandstand from 1900 with the “jockey cap” roof, was finally demolished for another public grandstand between the 1963 building and the members stand. A birdcage track was added in front of the members stand in 1979. A new tote building was constructed in 1983 for the introduction of the new Jetbet system where the same window could be used to place bets, as well as collect the dividends. A new parade ring was installed in 1984. 

The racecourse hosted the New Zealand Polynesian festival over the course of three days in February 1981, an event started in the early 1970s to encourage competitions among Maori cultural groups, known today as Te Matatini. 

In 1985, fire ripped through the 1928-1937 outer or Derby grandstand, and the remains were demolished, not to be replaced. Reports at the time erroneously described it as part of the old racecourse from the 1890s. In fact, the oldest structure of all, what remained of the 1911 tote building, continued on for another few years, finally disappearing when the course was later subdivided in the early 1990s. 

The Avondale Sunday Market 

The market originated as an idea for a method of fundraising used by the West Auckland Labour Party electorate committees. The Otara flea market had started for partly the same reasons, back in the late 1970s. In the early 1980s, flea markets were held by schools, and also by Suburbs Rugby Football Club in Avondale on Saturdays from 1978 – it doesn’t seem to have been all that much of a stretch to take the idea, once a rental agreement was arranged with the Jockey Club, to establish a regular event each week on the outer grounds, accessed from Ash Street. 

From 1983 to at least 1991, the market appears to have been run by a committee of trustees on behalf of the electorate committees. A minute book exists for that time period, but my information here comes mainly from the newspapers and the council’s property file on the racecourse. 

The trustees approached the City Council on the matter in May 1982, calling it the “West Auckland Market Day”, and an application to operate the flea market was lodged with the Council in July. This was granted in October that year for a period of six months before reassessment, with the conditions that the market operated only from 9am to 12 midday, with no stalls to be set up prior to 8am. Only second hand goods could be sold there. At the time, the principal planner reporting back to his department didn’t feel that the market, selling only second hand goods, would prove to be much in the way of competition for the retailers in the Avondale Shopping Centre area, and “moreover, the scale of traffic that would be generated on Sunday by the fleamarket would be considerably lower than that generated by Racecourse activities during the other days of the week … Avondale Racecourse, with its large area of open space, carparking and public facilities appears well suited to a fleamarket.” 

A later report stated that the first such market opened at the racecourse in November 1982, a month after the approval was given, and there are letters in Council files from January 1983 referring to traffic issues on Sundays in the Ash Street area, seeming to involve the market. But there was no mention made in the Western Leader in November 1982 – the earliest notice advising that stall holders could contact the organisers actually appearing in the newspaper on 22 February 1983.

In July 1983, a further three months was granted to the organisers by the Council. In 1984, an application was lodged with Council to allow the market to operate on a permanent basis, but the system remained of six-monthly approvals, on the basis of regular review. 

The market proved exceedingly popular, and despite the initial small scale continued to grow. By the week preceding Christmas 1984, 206 stalls were operating. By February 1985, rather than just “second hand goods”, the market had attained a similar flavour to that of today, selling fresh produce, meat, fish and shellfish, flowers and plants, homebaked goods, takeaways, new clothing and footwear, second hand clothing and footwear, craftwork, and “second-hand household effects.” Gates were opened to the public at 8 am. It rarely ran much over the 12 midday time limit, as most of the vendors had already sold out and gone home before then.

Permanent consent to operate the market was granted in 1989, with a variation of conditions in 1995, after the market appears to have ceased being controlled by community trustees and became a private business. 



NZ Herald 31 March 1987

Brand new ideas for the 1980s – night racing at Avondale 

The club’s night racing idea was very much something from out of the speculative era of the 1980s. It was a gamble by a club that had indeed made its business from gambling, but this time they well and truly lost the bet. 

According to George Boyle’s Highlights from One Hundred Years of Racing at Avondale Jockey Club (1990), it was outgoing Club President Peter Masters who suggested in October 1983 that consideration should be given to night racing, as well as meetings on Sundays, “to bring New Zealand racing out of the Victorian age.” His cue was taken up by club secretary John Wild, credited by Boyle as being the driving force behind the project to introduce night thoroughbred racing to Auckland. He and Don Marshall travelled to Hong Kong and West Germany to view other facilities, and checked out manufacturers of the required lighting systems. 

By October 1984 the project’s cost had risen from $2 million to $3 million. A request for a loan of $1 million from the Racing Authority was turned down. Nonetheless, the club plugged on, raised finance, sought and gained Council approval for the installation of the lights, and in October 1985 at that year’s AGM announced the appointment of Lobley, Treidel and Davies of Melbourne as the consulting engineers for the work. The first contract was let by June 1986, and the first of the lighting masts was in the ground by November that year. 

The club held a dress rehearsal on 9 March 1987, a trials meeting with no betting, but an estimated 3000 turned up anyway for the spectacle. The date of the first main meeting with full betting was, perhaps rather unfortunately in the light of what happened so soon afterward, April Fools Day 1987. Nevertheless, the official attendance figure was a crowd of 9380. The night was deemed a success, but John Wild shared in that success for only just over a week before he died from a heart attack. 

When things came unstuck – the beginning of the land sales 

In October 1987 came the sharemarket crash. The economy went into downturn, and financial markets were hard hit. General betting turnover went down as well. Some blamed the economy, others blamed the rise of alternative games for the gambler’s dollar, such as Lotto (and later Instant Kiwi). Certainly, the expected crowds didn’t come out to Avondale’s racing nights. 

By January 1988, the Avondale Jockey Club’s finances were less than completely sound, and the committee were faced with hard decisions. They had enormous debts from the night racing development, and not a lot of income from the venture to show for it. Less than a year after the inauguration of night racing, the secretary/general manager Stephen Penney had a meeting with the Council’s Director of Parks to discuss the possibility of Auckland City Council purchasing 10-14 hectares of the infield areas that they were leasing from the club, at $300,000 per hectare. Discussions also included provision of a $670,000 underpass from Wingate Street to the land should Council purchase it. There had still been no agreement between the Jockey Club and the Council regarding formal renewal of the Council’s lease over the playing fields area. 

By June 1988, the Council settled on just having a lease agreement rather than purchasing the land. The Club then offered a lease to last until 2002, with one right of renewal to 2027. Eventually, by March 1989, the Club and the Council came to an agreement, based on the greater of either 5% of agreed value of the land, or the total amount of rates charged to the Club for the racecourse. In 1990, this was around $75,000 per year. 

Back in October 1988, the loss made in the Jockey Club’s annual accounts of $1,282,080, plus its interest liability of $998,742 on the $5 million borrowed for the course improvements became public. At their annual general meeting that month, however, none of the 76 members who attended queried the club’s financial performance or situation, the sole question from the floor only being about “the scruffy standard of dress in the members stand,” according to one report. Apart from the attempt to sell a chunk of the infield land to the Council that past year, the club also had plans to develop the corner site at Ash Street and Rosebank Road as a casino, and develop more land along Ash Street for commercial use. 

Retiring president Laurie Eccles had just returned before the meeting from giving a paper on night racing at the Asian Racing Conference in Sydney, and told the AJC members they “should not hold any fears over the wisdom of the switch to night racing.” His successor, newly elected president Eddie Doherty is said to have stated, “The financial difficulties were short-term. In a year or two the club would look back and wonder what all the fuss was about.” 

By May 1990, when the City Council granted approval to the club to sell off a $600,000 strip of its Wingate Street property for state housing (this though fell through the following month), the club faced a $4 million debt to the Bank of New Zealand who refused to extend the club’s overdraft, and $2.3 million to the Racing Authority. Servicing the loans was costing the club $1 million per year. There was talk of forced amalgamation of the Ellerslie and Avondale clubs to stave off disaster. At the end of that month, Avondale’s race meetings were cancelled until further notice. 

The club tried once again to get the council to buy the playing fields, this time for $3 million, but were turned down. In July, discussions began with the bank to try to get them to agree to a rescue package put together by the Racing Authority (where the club’s financial control would be in the hands of an appointed board), but the bank refused. The head of their Credit Recovery Unit was quoted as far afield as Australia: “The Avondale Jockey Club must face the consequences of its own business decisions … It is a business in the same way as a corner dairy, and must accept full responsibility for its financial position.” 

A notice of default of payment was issued by the BNZ, set to expire 7 September 1990, at which time the bank would foreclose and sell the racecourse property to the highest bidder. An incredible situation, given that the reported turnover of the club, prior to the racing cancellation, was $50 million per year, the second highest in the country. The club at this point, though, couldn’t even afford to apply for planning permission to have its Ash Street land rezoned for sale, and the BNZ refused to lend them the money to do so. 

The Racing Authority and the BNZ eventually came to an agreement which staved off the foreclosure. After the October 1990 annual general meeting for the Avondale club, the bank provided the club with a three year term loan of $2.5 million. The Authority provided the Jockey Club with a further loan of nearly $2 million to pay off creditors and stay within the credit facility offered by the bank, and a three-member Board of Control was put in place to manage the jockey club’s financial affairs. The club resumed racing on 1 November 1990, after shifting a number of their scheduled night fixtures to daytime, with the cooperation of the Greyhound Racing Association and the Racing Conference. The stake for the Avondale Cup was reduced from $250,000 to $100,000, trainers and jockeys agreed to donate their winning percentages to the club, totalisator staff worked for free, and races were sponsored. 

The board of control had the power to dispose of portions of the club’s real estate that didn’t interfere with racing operations, in order to reduce the restructured debt. Land at Rosebank Road (Avondale Lifecare) andWingate Street (again, to Housing Corporation), was duly sold. By the time of the October 1992 AGM, the club reported a profit of just over $100,000. 

But still more land had to go. The club’s Ash Street property just west of the main entrance was sold in 1995 to Prominent Enterprises Limited, a company which intended to use the land as a golf driving range. This didn’t eventuate, and today the site includes a service station, McDonalds, and Nacton and Sandy Lane residential areas. The 1911 totalisator building finally disappeared. 
Most of the area of land that the club decided they didn’t want to gift to the Council back in the late 1940s by the Whau River, was sold in 1995 as well, becoming Corregidor and Michael Foley Place.

From just over 51 hectares or 127 acres at fullest extent in 1944, the racecourse property in 1999 was 36.6 hectares or just over 90 acres. 

The racecourse into the 21st century 

By 2001, the club held 17 meetings a year – but it was reported at that time that a plan for Avondale’s redevelopment, the Avondale Liveable Community Plan, proposed to rezone a third of the racecourse for multi-storey apartment blocks. Soon after, commercial enterprises began to approach the club with the view of leasing parts of the remaining land, including The Warehouse around 2003. By 2005, the club held 16 meetings, down from 22 in the 1990s, but still had an annual betting turnover of $22 million. 

Then came the message from New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing and the New Zealand Racing Board that they thought that it was better that Auckland have only two racecourses – and Avondale wasn’t one of them. From around 2007, the situation became more fraught, and by 2009 the club had only 13 “industry” meetings, most of them on Wednesdays and featuring moderate horses, and still had $2.5 million in debts. 

On 3 July 2010, the club held a final meeting before going into recess yet again. Many Avondale locals popped along, myself included, to say goodbye to what had been, up to that point, such a large part of the local area’s sense of place. We certainly hoped it wouldn’t stay closed. 

It didn’t. Racing returned on 25 April 2012, but the debts remained. More land just west of Saintly Lane was proposed for sale in 2014. This took place in 2017, with development yet to begin for 54 terraced homes at Tamora Lane as at the time of writing this article. Then in July 2018, the Messara Report to the Minister of Racing, Winston Peters, was released. In it, the recommendation was made that Avondale receive no further racing licences from the year 2020/2021. “Venue with 11 meetings in 2017/18. Training. Excellent location. Poor infrastructure. Freehold. Extremely valuable land with an estimated value of more than $200 million with rezoning and which should be sold for the benefit of the entire industry. Avondale JC should race at nearby Ellerslie or possibly Pukekohe.” 

Coming in a period where proposals had also been drawn up by Auckland Council’s Panuku property arm concerning plans for Avondale’s future development – including the possibility of great chunks of the racecourse land becoming residential housing should the racing cease and the jockey club wind up — the report alarmed not only the club but the surrounding community, many of whom feared that the Sunday Markets for one thing may well cease. But just as I conclude this part of the article, the Jockey Club sent a number of letters out to various parts of the community, including the Avondale-Waterview Historical Society, and posted diagrams on their website indicating that they still intend to have an operating racecourse, come what may. Facilities in their plan would be further squashed together, so that slightly more land could be sold to reduce the costs of maintaining the course. They are planning, they say, for “an even more exciting future.”

After nearly 130 years of racing, surrounded by change both in the industry and in Auckland as a whole, down there on the Avondale Flat it is still a matter of “don’t give up yet.”

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Avondale’s Racecourse by the River Part 1: Origins and first years (1890-1922)




The set-up at the Wingate side of the course, 1890-1900, showing the main stand (centre) looking toward St Jude Street in the distance. 7-A7334 (1897), Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections.


See also: Avondale races, the early days

Whether you have the occasional betting “flutter” on the horses, or you come out these days emphatically opposed to horse racing on animal rights and gambling issues, one thing can’t be denied: for well over a century, since 1890, the Avondale Racecourse has come to be part of the landscape of Avondale both in heritage terms as well as in the reality of its existence. Avondale identified with the racecourse through most of the 20th century, and thoughts of its closure from time to time elicit sadness, and concern. Especially regarding the fate of the much more recent Avondale Sunday Markets there. 

But, back in 1889, it didn’t exist. What was there, in the main area of the course, was the land owned by Charles Burke, a mix of swampy ground, paddock and, right at the edge of the Whau River, a brickyard which he’d leased out to various entrepreneurs since the 1870s. In 1889, the business there could have been Kane’s, or even J J Craig’s yard before the latter took over the St Georges Road brickworks in the 1890s. It isn’t clear which as yet. 

Burke’s land had no access to the Great North Road, being completely surrounded on the landward side by other owners and their properties. It is likely that those who paid him to use part of the ground for a brickyard didn’t mind that – the river was their way of transporting what bricks were made at the small kilns out to market. The brickmakers there didn’t last long, however. There was a considerable turnover at the site, probably due to that lack of direct road connection. 

So when, in 1889, after a meeting that apparently took place in the brand new Avondale Hotel that August, a consortium approached Burke with an offer to lease his ground apart from the brickyard, he probably saw a great opportunity. The partnership was Moss Davis, Henry Henwood “Harry” Hayr and Michael Foley

Davis, through his firm Hancock & Co, rebuilt the Avondale Hotel after the previous building was destroyed by fire in 1888. Later in the 1890s this became the Captain Cook Brewery’s land. The company had the hotel’s land, and the adjoining strip fronting Great North Road including the site of today’s Town Square and the “Dale the Spider” installation. Moss Davis stepped away from the committee by 1899. 

Hayr, a sports promoter, was friends with Davis. He was appointed Secretary for the new club in 1889, and was one of the early handicappers at the first races (a conflict that was brought up when it was pointed out that he was the handicapper for races where his own horses were starters.) He took over the printing business of Cecil Gardner & Co, and turned it into the Scott Printing Company – which wound up with the concession to print and sell all the club’s programmes. To top it off, he ran a totalisator company, and as secretary of the club was the one to apply to the government for a licence to run a tote on the course. In later years, he passed that part of his enterprise over to his son.

Foley was another friend of Davis’, very involved with the hospitality industry, and was the second publican at the new hotel (after Daniel Arkell, who went on to found his own brewery in Newton). Foley remained connected with the club from that point on, including serving for a number of years as president up to his death in 1922. 

A right of way giving access for the brickyard tenants to the main road via Wingate Street may have been provided in the undocumented 1889 agreement between Burke and the three partners – it was certainly laid out clearly in writing twice in 1898 and once, on the second deed, as an illustration. “The Drive” as it became known for the brief time it existed ran eastward along the southern boundary of the racecourse, then took a right turn, swept out on a curve, before exiting into Wingate Street, possibly somewhere near the grassy strip that still remains attached to the racecourse land between 21 and 25 Wingate Street. The Drive became a legal grey area in terms of the gambling regulations, not because of the racecourse but because individuals sometimes used it on racedays as a place for illegal games of “two-up” – and would sprint into the adjacent Webb’s Paddock in Wingate Street to evade the police in pursuit. 

Up until 1901, the early racecourse was little more than a third of its present size. The 47 acres leased from Burke, with an irregular boundary toward the river, meant that the first track had to be egg-shaped rather than oval, and smaller than later versions. Up until 1921, the Jockey Club itself had a small membership, even by the standards of the clubs of the day. The land dealings for the club were, up to 1923, always in the names of three trustees, rather than the club as in incorporated body. These were Davis, Hayr and Foley up until Davis’ departure from the committee, when he was replaced by Robert Humphrey Duder. 

Still, with the proximity of the Avondale Hotel and the railway line, the Avondale Racecourse proceeded, the first meeting held on 26 April 1890. Architects Burrows and Mitchell designed the first grandstand (located possibly just north-west of the Wingate Reserve), the first programme was printed by Hayr’s Scott Printing Co. in time for the day, including the first Avondale Cup of 1¾ miles, for a purse of 55 sovereigns. Easy access from the railway station was advertised, which indicates to me that the Elm Street gate was possibly the first main entrance (later used as a members’ gate). “The Drive” from Wingate Street was a secondary entry, but one where those arriving could also purchase entry tickets. 

Tracking the early history of the Avondale Jockey Club isn’t easy. The press didn’t cover what went on at the annual general meetings until 1898. They worked in closely with the Metropolitan Club at Ellerslie (which considered approval for Avondale’s annual programmes), and allowed coursing, cricket teams (“Publicans” vs. “Sinners”) and polo clubs to use their grounds by 1892. Also in that year, the club auctioned off “privileges” or concessions to certain providers: Foley had the publican’s booth for £17, a Mrs Hunt paid £2 for refreshment stalls, the Scott Printing Co (Hayr) paid £5 for the right to sell racecards, Mr Quinn had the rights to charge for stabling for £1 10s, and Mr L Adams controlled the gates for £27. The racecourse was a business upon which other businesses relied, right from the start. 

The saddling paddock was on the eastern side of the property by at least the mid 1890s, backing onto what was until recently the Suburbs Rugby grounds, taking advantage of stabling available both on the properties between the future line of Racecourse Parade and what is now the Avondale Central Reserve, and Thomas’ Paddocks on the other side of Great North Road. 

Each year, the club needed to apply for a license to run the totalisator; in 1895, they experimented with doing without the tote, sticking just to bookmakers instead, and saw their attendance numbers drop sharply as a consequence. 

1898 saw the club finally gain a formal lease agreement of seven years from Burke, and the following year another from the Captain Cook Brewery (then owners of the Avondale Hotel) for two sections on Wingate Street (as well as an access agreement for “The Drive”). The club set to with enlarging their grandstand. In August 1898, the press reported on their annual general meeting. Michael Foley chaired the meeting, with John Bollard MHR voted as President, steward and judge, and Edwin Mitchelson Vice-President. Hayr as Secretary was tasked with drafting a set of rules for the club (which makes me wonder if they were operating for the first eight years without any rules at all).

As part of the improvements completed by September 1898, the whole course was encircled by white wooden rails (something it lacked up to that point.) The old grandstand had doubled in size to 82 foot long, designed to accommodate 1500. A box was placed on top, for stewards and press representatives. Underneath the stand was a “spacious” dining room. Two separate bars, one inside and one outside the paddock, catered for the thirsty. In 1899, the club members agreed to make a new roadway at the main (Elm Street) entrance, add new loose boxes, and enclosed the saddling paddock with a galvanised iron fence. By September 1899, the saddling paddock was now just west of the grandstand, alongside Webb’s Paddock near Wingate Street. A new totalisator house was built from 1899. 

At the club’s 1900 AGM, there was talk of purchasing part of the Captain Cook Brewery land, possibly leasing an acre of Webb’s Paddock, and considering John Bollard’s offer of 18 acres of his land fronting onto Ash Street. In May 1901, Hayr, Foley and Duder obtained title of that part of Bollard’s farm for £1100 (Bollard’s land at the time under action of sale through mortgage default by the Auckland Savings Bank). A section at the corner of Ash Street and Rosebank Road, including the Bollard homestead, was transferred back to Jane Bollard, and only returned to Jockey Club ownership in 1943. 

From the end of 1900 therefore, the club with its architect Edward Bartley started to make plans to shift the existing grandstand along with judge’s building and some fencing clear across to the other side of the track, on the additional space that the Bollard land purchase brought with it. This sparked threats of a lawsuit by Moss Davis, who claimed lease rights to the buildings and didn’t want them shifted. In the end, he withdrew, the club promised to leave the old “Drive” entrance gate off Wingate Street where it was, and the focus for the racecourse shifted away from the hotel which had led to its founding. 

Now, on the Ash Street side, the club had a new grandstand built beside the older one they had shifted, the new building constructed by R R Ross for £1657. They also built a stewards stand and offices, also designed by Bartley, for £367. There were new horse stalls built, latrines installed, and new fencing, along with a drainage contract. The new layout proved attractive as a location for other events, such as local fruit and horticultural shows from 1902. The course also had its first telephone installed, with telephone poles and wires crossing the course through to at least the early 1930s.

In 1904, the main area of the racecourse, the land leased from Burke, was purchased outright by Hayr, Foley and Duder on behalf of the club for £2415 12s 6d, giving the club more firm footing in terms of land tenure. This was followed by purchase of the old brickyard site in 1906. 

In 1908, as a result of the Eden electorate going dry, the racecourse could no longer sell alcohol. Following on from that, the Avondale Hotel lost its licence in 1909 and closed in June 1910. I have heard stories though of jockeys secreting illicit stashes of beer and other alcohol under the stands in various nooks and crannies, until the liquor laws were relaxed in the 1960s. There were also instances of sly groggers operating on the course during race days, until they were caught. 

In 1909, the Jockey Club adopted new rules, which it retained through to the early 1920s. A new members stand was designed by Wade & Wade Architects in 1910. Around this time, the course started being used for military camps from time to time, right up to and including World War II. Tenders were discussed for a new totalisator building in 1911, and in 1913 the grandstand was extended. That year, the racecourse was used by Sandford and Miller for their aeroplane flights. A trainers stand was added in 1914. 

The 1920 Jockeys Strike was sparked off in Avondale at an April meeting. The dispute would come to affect other Auckland clubs, and involve even the local Railwaymen’s Union, before it ended three months later. 

A grand athletics carnival was held on the racecourse in May 1921, including motorcycle and bicycle racing, basketball, rugby, athletics, dancing, music, and lots of sweets to eat. Motorcylists would use the course in other events in the 1920s to 1930s, as would local harrier clubs. The Auckland Rugby Union, in particular, viewed the racecourse as a huge asset, with the burgeoning interest in the sport and the shortage of grounds on which to play. This support helped the Jockey Club face the most serious threat to its existence up to that point in 1921. 

In that year, a commission of inquiry recommended that Avondale Jockey Club be shut down. There were too many suburban racecourses in Auckland in the commission’s opinion. 

“Auckland at the present time has no less than five racecourses within a radius of ten miles from the Central Post-office, three for racing and two for trotting. Of what may be termed Auckland suburban clubs we have rejected the claims of two—viz., the Avondale Jockey Club and the Otahuhu Trotting Club. With reference to the Avondale Club, the position is most unusual. This club, from its inception, has had a remarkably small membership. It now has upon its roll twenty-nine members, of whom one has permanently left the Dominion.
“Of the remaining twenty-eight, no less than twenty-three are members of the Auckland Racing Club, and, according to the returns furnished, only twenty-one had paid the annual subscription. Of the sixteen members who fill positions on the committee and stewards, thirteen are members of the Auckland Racing Club. Not one of the members of this club lives in Avondale or its vicinity. The committee has obviously not welcomed new members, as is apparent from the fact that only thirteen have been elected during the last eight years, and the club has an exceedingly discouraging rule with regard to a change in the personnel of its committee.
“Little or no attention has been paid to the provision of training facilities, and it is therefore not surprising that there is but one small training-stable at Avondale. The totalizator was for many years worked for the club by the gentleman who was then, and is now, its secretary —under contract; but since a rule of racing prohibiting this came into operation the contract has been held by a firm comprising the son of the secretary and a partner- —the secretary himself, as we are assured, not being interested. This club is in a strong financial position, and has a very substantial surplus of assets over liabilities. The titles to the racecourse properties stand in the name of three persons, of whom the secretary is one. These persons were among the original promoters of the club. The rules of the club, adopted in 1909, provide that the properties of the club shall be vested in trustees. No declaration of trust could be produced. This club is unnecessary, and for that and other reasons indicated should not be permitted to hold down totalizator licenses, which are urgently desired by country and other clubs with infinitely better claims.” 
A vote to limit permits was lost in Parliament, Opposition member Michael Joseph Savage in particular remarking that “the report seemed to show a dead set against Avondale, though he was not sure the report contained anything in the way of evidence.” The Jockey Club received support from the new Avondale Borough Council, as well as the Auckland Rugby Union, and managed to weather the storm intact. However, the message had been received, and changes were made.
A new set of rules were drawn up, and the Jockey Club incorporated on 29 April 1922 under the Incorporated Societies Act 1908. From May that year, the existing trustee titles were transferred over to the Avondale Jockey Club, and the Club would obtain titles in its own name from that point on. It had been, though, a very close call.

Michael Foley, one of the original promoters, died in October 1922, and Harry Hayr was to pass away in 1923. Their passing coincided with the shift to a new phase of development for the Avondale Racecourse as the Jockey Club entered its fourth decade.

Part two at this link.



The racecourse in the 1910s. 35-R158, Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections

Two Avondale artists: W A Bollard and J W Ash

Once, there were two artists, both born in the late 1860s, both died in the 1940s, one was born in Avondale but would live elsewhere, the other born elsewhere but would live in Avondale. Today, they aren’t exactly household names but they were part of their respective artistic communities while they lived. 

The commercial artist
(Image below: Evening Star, 14 July 1941.)

William Allen Bollard was born, according to one family tree, 25 April 1869. His father was John
Bollard, and his mother Jane née Ganley. John Bollard had an 86-acre farm on Rosebank beside the river leased from William Innes Taylor since 1863. As a boy, William would have attended the Whau School in the public hall opposite the Presbyterian Church. As a teenager, he developed a flair for the artistic, and was apprenticed to John Henderson in Wyndham Street in the City. Henderson’s “Decorative Establishment” boasted services in painting, glazing, paperhanging, artistic decorating, and sign-writing. But William also studied under the tutelage of artist Kennett Watkins, master of the Auckland Free School of Art in 1880, and president of the NZ Art Students Association in 1884. Watkins was known for his landscape paintings, and this would later be William Bollard’s main theme of work. 

At 18 years of age, two of William’s works, a view of J M Alexander’s Mt Albert residence, and John Henderson’s Ponsonby home, were put up on display in the window of Phillipps and Sons in Queen Street. They were described in the NZ Herald of 25 August 1888 as “equal in distinctness of lines to photographs.” By June the following year, aged 19, William entered into a partnership with signwriter and decorator Robert Henry Froude; “Bollard & Froude” began to advertise their business as “signwriters, decorators and gilders,” “paintings of New Zealand scenery always on hand. Pictures mounted and framed,” at 177 Queen Street. 

In 1891, William married Harriet Sankey, and the couple would have one son: John Henry Allen Bollard, born 22 June 1893. Sadly, Harriet passed away just weeks later, and was buried in Rosebank Cemetery. 

Bollard & Froude worked on the signwriting for commercial premises in central Auckland, and as a highlight were appointed the official signwriters for the Auckland Industrial Exhibition of 1896. In 1899 however, they parted ways, Froude buying William Bollard’s interest in the business. Froude carried on the business in his own name until he went bankrupt in 1913. 

William Bollard, however, became involved with the Auckland Society of Arts, exhibiting his work at their shows but also attracting criticism from the press such as “not as good as his work of several years back.” By 1904, he shifted to Dunedin, where he set up a studio. There, two of his paintings exhibited in the window of the Dresden Piano Company shop attracted much more favourable comment, said to “attract attention on account of their effective treatment and harmonious colouring.” By 1906, his work was exhibited and auctioned at McCormick & Pugh’s Art Gallery in the city.

In 1910 he married for the second time, to Emma Hawkins Meadowcroft. The couple would have two children, Margaret Jane Ganley Bollard in 1911, and Albert Ernest Bollard in 1912. Emma, though, died 14 June 1915, aged only 37. There was more sad news just over a year later – his first son John was killed by shellfire in action in France 25 September 1916. The shell blast flung John 60 feet into the air. When his body was recovered, it was described as badly mangled, with the clothes stripped away by the blast. John Henry Allen Bollard’s name is included on the marble roll of honour prepared by Avondale Primary as a past-pupil of the school. When William Bollard died in 1941, the Dunedin Evening Star printed a considerable obituary. 
“A familiar and popular figure to many Dunedin citizens passed away suddenly on Saturday in the person of Mr William Allen Bollard, the well-known landscape painter and teacher of art. Deceased, who was in his seventy-third year, was one of the best known artists not only in Dunedin, but also in many other parts of New Zealand, and landscapes from his brush are to be seen in many different parts of the country … 
“For the past 40 years he was a regular exhibitor at all the exhibitions of the Otago Art Society, and his landscapes, characteristic in their broad and colourful treatment, were always a source of interest to visitors. Mostly his subjects were local beauty spots, with which he had a very intimate acquaintance, and his style and manner on canvas became readily recognisable. Though he has left in pictorial record many charming views of Otago landscape, he was also fond of the picturesque country of the northern Maori, which he knew in earlier years, and sometimes used his brush effectively in such scenes. Mr Bollard possessed the individuality of the artist to a marked degree, and this was reflected in all his work, specimens of which will be greatly missed at future exhibitions of the Otago Art Society, with which he was connected for so long. In oil and water colour he was equally at home, using both, confidently and convincingly. Three of his pictures of Dominion scenes are hanging in New Zealand House, Loudon, and work from his brush is to be seen in hundreds of Dunedin homes. 
 “As a teacher of art he was also eminently successful, and he was always ready with advice and assistance to those seeking proficiency in the use of pencil or brush. Mr Bollard was a great believer in a sane outlook on art, and, while he did not condemn initiative, he was definitely opposed to the modernistic school. Even during the last few years, at an advanced age, he had as vigorous and colourful a brush as over, his exhibits being painted with characteristic freedom and attracting the eye with their admirable colour tones and atmosphere. In the community generally Mr Bollard had a host of friends who admired his genial nature and sense of humour. He was also a reader and a thinker, and one of his favourite authors, whom he quoted freely, was Charles Dickens, with whose numerous characters he had an intimate acquaintance.” 
He lies buried in Andersons Bay Cemetery.



“In Pensive Mood”: Albert E Bollard’s study of his father William Allen Bollard, from Otago Daily Times, 15 May 1936


The art teacher 

The other artist was one John Willsteed Ash, whose former residence at 88 New Windsor Road was recently put on the market and attracted some concern as to its fate in this era of property development and apartment blocks. 

Born in Hampshire, England in 1868, Ash’s father was a bank cashier, but apparently could also afford a servant in the family household, according to censuses. In 1898, Ash married Hannah Beauchamp Bellows in Wales, and they settled in Dudley, a market town in the West Midlands, 10 miles or so from Birmingham. His art training is said to have come from Leicester, Birmingham and South Kensington schools, according to his obituary. By 1900, Ash became assistant master at the Dudley School of Arts. The couple had four children: Christabel (c.1902), Norah Bellows (c.1904), Margaret Beryl (c.1905), and John Stanley (c.1908). The Ash family in Dudley also had a servant, so John W Ash was likely relatively well-to-do middle class. 

In 1907, when the Dudley school of art’s headmaster died, Ash was not chosen to be his replacement (the position worth a £250 per annum salary). He remained as the assistant for the new man, but it must have been a disappointment. In 1913 however, a new opportunity presented itself: he successfully applied for the position of arts master at the new Seddon Memorial Technical School in Auckland, New Zealand. The family packed up, waved goodbye to Dudley, and sailed from Plymouth aboard the Ruapehu for Wellington, travelling via Tenerife, Capetown and Hobart, Tasmania, on 15 March 1913. The Ruapehu had a few delays, but but arrived in Wellington on 3 May, just four days late. Ash was present at the opening of the new school at Wellesley Street on 4 June 1913. He would remain as the senior art master there for the next 27 years.

The Ash family started to live on New Windsor Road c.1916. At that stage, the property was a two-and-a-quarter acre section which was part of the Methuen Hamlet, and by 1914 was owned by Henry John Watkins. The house at 88 New Windsor was probably either built or moved onto the section around 1915, when a land agent named Robert Brown lived there. Ash bought the property outright from Watkins in 1920, and he retained ownership until his death in 1943. Hannah Ash died there on 12 July 1927, aged 58, and was cremated.

By 1931, Ash was on the committee of the Auckland Society of Arts. Some of his landscapes featured in exhibitions held at the Auckland Art Gallery. It may have been him who planted so many trees on his section that the 1940 aerial shows it simply packed as an almost solid canopy, with his house at the roadside corner where it is today. His “Study in Pines” may have had inspiration there. He may have had a friendship with Arthur Athelstan Currey of the tomato greenhouses fame on the other side of the road near Bollard Avenue – Currey was one of the witnesses to the signing of Ash’s will. 

By the time of his death in December 1943, Ash was survived by his three daughters, and his son John who was an architect at the time. There were seven grandchildren. The Auckland Society of Arts held a memorial exhibition for him 31 August 1944. 

“His oil landscapes, carried out with careful attention to detail and texture in the trunks end of trees, and with a real feeling for New Zealand sunshine, were often to be seen in annual exhibitions of the Society of Arts. Among more exciting modern work they were apt to be overlooked by visitors, but the society recognised their merit in 1942 with an award of the Bledisloe Landscape Medal for a painting of rugged West Coast scenery. The special exhibition, which will be open to the public for three weeks, includes nearly 30 oils, loaned for the occasion, and showing the development of Mr Ash's art over half a century. There are almost as many watercolours, mostly executed in his earlier days, and two specimens of illumination.”

 (NZ Herald, 1 September 1944) 

The Auckland Star wrote much more about the man, and the memorial.

“One could see the artist walking across a field in England, along a country lane, or through a village street... perhaps he would stand on a clifftop, or on the rocks near a fishing village. He would be a quiet man and it would be hard to tell his thoughts. Then he would sketch out his idea for a painting, perhaps after some minutes of close concentration. He would not be the sort to go to work on a painting immediately. He would be very patient. And now, 54 years after that artist worked in a fishing village in Cumberland, or above the Tyne Valley, or in a valley above Devonshire village, or in the Waste Country of the Midlands, or in Ireland, or in Wales, the results of his work may be seen in a small room in Auckland, a long way from his birthplace … 
Many artists must have had similar training, must have painted much the same sort of subjects: "Fishing Boats, Calm Day, "Fishing Boats," "Cove With Boats, "Cart," "Cottage Near Waterford, and so on. But there is a difference with this artist, for somebody has written: "The art of New Zealand in general, and of Auckland in particular, is poorer by the death of John Willsteed Ash."
“That is a strong statement and the grounds for it must be found. His work in this country? It is the familiar material as far as subject matter is concerned. In 1914 he painted the Sugar Loaf Rock and Valley at Piha, in 1915 the Manukau Heads on a grey morning, in 1916 the Whau Creek, in 1918 Blockhouse Bay, in 1920 a scene near Mount Albert, and so on up to 1943, when he painted gums with the Waitemata in the distance. In 1943 he died. There is certainly nothing of a radical nature about his work in this period. One comment overheard at the present exhibition was: "Some of it's all right, but it's very Victorian, and some is worse than the rest. In fact, some of it's downright rotten." When one remembers the vigour of the work of the younger Auckland artists and their experiments, in line with world movements, that is possibly fair comment. It would be useless to deny that the greyness and quietness of the paintings of Ash are out of step with the modern way of things. But, for all that, there is the tribute paid to him in the society's catalogue and by those who knew him. And occasionally there are moments, when one views the exhibition, that arouse genuine admiration —"Study of Pines (Afternoon Light)," for example. There are fewer than half a dozen paintings, though, where the sunshine breaks through the gloom.
“It is in the teaching career of John Willsteed Ash while he was in this city that the value of his contribution to our art is to be found. He accepted the appointment of director of art at the Seddon Memorial Technical College in 1913 and remained there until 1940. He executed several fine back cloths for operas performed at the college. He was awarded the Auckland Society of Arts Bledisloe Medal for New Zealand landscape in 1942. The society's catalogue pays a final tribute: "Mr. John Ash was of a retiring nature who found his joy and satisfaction in the practice of arts and crafts. He was not greatly concerned with either popularity or applause." 

(Auckland Star, 9 September 1944)




The Ash family's home at 88 New Windsor Road in November 2015. Google streetview.


John and Hannah Ash’s cremains are in the Columbarium Niche Wall at Waikumete Cemetery. The trees are mostly long-gone, removed when the property was subdivided in the 1950s. Little remains of John W Ash’s time here except scattered mentions, and some works that appear for auction from time to time. 

But while Bollard and Ash are mere footnotes in the story of art in New Zealand, they are both connected to Avondale.

William Edgcombe, and his Northern Hotel at Western Springs




William Edgcombe (inset) and the Northern Hotel beside Great North Road (right), Western Springs. 
Detail from 5-209, and 7-A3076, Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections.

William Edgcombe was a man who took up the opportunities in life when they presented themselves, cannily invested in property and built up his income from rental housing and other land use, and successfully ran first a farm on Avondale’s Rosebank Peninsula, then a hotel on scoria-strewn grazing land at Western Springs. He should, by rights, have been as successful as the likes of Patrick Dignan, or John Logan Campbell, and be as well-known today. Instead, his final years were a haze of hallucination and paranoia, his rights to run his estate taken from him due to mental incapacitation, and the tragic circumstances laid bare after his death by an unseemly squabble in the courts over his last will.

He was baptised in 1814 at Milton Damerel, Devon, the son of Roger Edgcombe and Ann Hockin, but always claimed to be four years older, naming his birth year as 1810. He married Mary Ann Andrew in 1838, and the couple had a son, James, in 1839. In July 1840, the New Zealand Company began to promote “free passage to the intended settlement of New Plymouth, New Zealand” for “Agricultural Labourers, Shepherds, Miners, Gardeners, Brickmakers, Mechanics, Handcraftsmen and Domestic Servants, being married and not exceeding 40 years of age …” The Edgcombes took this offer up, made an application to the company, and joined nearly 200 others on the Amelia Thompson, sailing from Plymouth on 25 March 1841. On the way, young James Edgcombe unfortunately fell ill and died before they reached New Zealand, on 7 June 1841. It would be 13 years before William and Mary Ann would have another child.

Arrival in New Zealand

The ship arrived in Wellington halfway through August, and reached New Plymouth either 3 or 5 September 1841. We don’t know much about what Edgcombe did while he was there, although he appears to have been involved with the local Wesleyan church. A family history recounts that he took up farming, which would fit his later career elsewhere. It does appear that, like many others who took up the Plymouth Company’s offer of free passage to the new colony, they struck trouble when Maori landowners disputed the company’s “land purchase” from only a few members of the iwi, and so the government under Governor FitzRoy had to step in, purchase other land in the “FitzRoy Block”, and then encourage the settlers on the disputed area to swap over for the other land. Edgcombe did this, then in 1846 offered up five acres of the land he’d taken in the swap for a hospital site for the township. William and Mary Ann reached Auckland in 1846, and decided to settle there, offering up the remainder of his New Plymouth land to the government. William and Mary Ann reached Auckland in 1846. He set up a business in Mechanics Bay as a butcher by 1847, then the Edgcombes left New Zealand in March 1850 bound for San Francisco. Their time away wasn’t long. The Edgcombes arrived in Sydney in December 1851; William was back in Auckland from Sydney in February 1852, while Mary Ann Edgcombe followed in April.

The intervening time was probably when William Edgcombe made his plans for resettlement, and purchased land on Rosebank Peninsula (May 1852), stretching from present day Riversdale Road to Mead Street. In 1854, he was elected as one of the Wardens of the Hundred of Auckland, therefore one of the first of our local representatives on a territorial authority, even though Hundreds then were very limited to simply maintenance of roads with funds gained from grazing leases on Crown lands. On his Rosebank farm, he successfully demonstrated that the ground could be used for raising crops, such as turnips, and he and Mary Ann had two children there: William in 1854, and Mary Jane in 1856. In 1858, he sold his 200 acre Avondale farm, and shifted his attention and his family to Western Springs. I've previously written about his Avondale years.


The extent of Edgcombe’s 110 acres at Western Springs, made up of Allotments 173, 174 and 175 (white circles). 
Eden Roll 46 (c.1890) Land Information New Zealand.

The Hotel at the Springs

In 1855, William Edgcombe purchased nearly 71 acres opposite today’s Motions Road, forming around half of the area of the Chamberlain Park golf course. He also obtained another nearly 25 acres off Great North Road, to the east of the old alignment for Western Springs Road, and a month later around 15 acres in between the two sites, giving him a land holding opposite today’s park and MOTAT of 110 acres. He may have started building the 17-room stone house around 1858, two years after one of his children was born. Certainly by September that year he put his Rosebank Peninsula farm on the market, and in April 1859 applied for a new license for his “Northern Hotel” on “Cabbage Tree Swamp-road”. His was the only new application to succeed that year. The advertising campaign for his “large and commodious Scoria Inn” began in earnest from July 1859, offering well-enclosed paddocks for horses and cattle, and “wines and other liquors of the best quality.” At the time, apart from what scattering of buildings may have existed on the Arch Hill-Surrey Crescent ridge, and the flour mill run by Low and Motion over to the north-east at Old Mill Road, Edgcombe’s hotel was the only significant structure along the Great North Road from what would become Grey Lynn to Waterview. 

Due to the fact that it was such a substantial, landmark structure, from 1859 through to the 1880s the Northern Hotel was the location chosen for community meetings, from political get-togethers to choose candidates for provincial council elections, through to ratepayers meetings over the issues of road board boundaries (first Mt Albert in the late 1860s, then Arch Hill in the early 1870s, and finally Pt Chevalier from 1874) and general matters of concern in the area. Its proximity to the military target range and camp site leading toward Meola Reef, and the barracks on the Point Chevalier peninsula itself, meant that the Northern Hotel would also be closely associated with both the militia troops during the Waikato War of the early 1860s, and local volunteer corps formed in the 1870s.

In December 1864, Edgcombe transferred the licence to Jeremiah Bainbridge, who had another business as a carter. Around the same time as he was taking over the hotel, Bainbridge was in court over trouble with carting rejected bricks that had been made by John Thomas (of Star Mill fame) from the Asylum to Newton. His lease with Edgcombe expired in November 1866, and Edgcombe reassumed management of the hotel. 

James and Sarah Ann Woodward lived somewhere close to William Edgcombe’s hotel, at Western Springs. In July 1868, a scuffle between James and Sarah, and an old woman named Mary Cameron at Edgcombe’s hotel ended up in the courts. The case was dropped, but the judge warned all parties against such behaviour in future. 

Edgcombe and a number of his neighbours, it was a meeting place for the movement that, at first, set up the replacement Arch Hill Highway District from 1871 (taking in the hotel and Point Chevalier land south of Great North Road), then with a further shift of boundaries the Point Chevalier Highway District from 1874.

In 1871, the hotel was still surrounded by mainly open spaces. Edgcombe thus probably thought that letting his customers have a drink on the premises on a Sunday wouldn’t do any harm. That was, until Mary White went looking for her husband, and found him at the hotel, “lying on a form,” obviously the worse for wear. She went up to Edgcombe’s bar, ordered a glass of wine, paid for it, then “I drank the wine purposely to lay an information against [Edgcombe].” The following month, the court took a very dim view of this breach of the licensing act, Mary White further testifying that she’d begged Edgcombe not to sell her husband any drink. Edgcombe was fined £20. This led, in turn, to his licence not being renewed the following year. Edgcombe protested, saying that White’s action against him had been done “out of spite”, but the committee would not reverse their decision. 

Edgcombe’s licence became a cause célèbre in the district. Opinions were expressed in the newspapers that closing the hotel down was a blow against the working man, and that there was an additional injustice in both cutting off the income of the ageing William Edgcombe, and sharply reducing the value of his land. Two-thirds of the adult population of the Arch Hill district signed a petition calling for the ruling to be reversed. Another petition of 300 signatures, included the names of those who were members of Parliament and the Auckland Provincial Council at the time. The Arch Hill Board also added that, they needed the hotel for their public meetings, but now faced the dilemma of not being able to do so if the hotel was no longer a public house. At the review in June 1872, Edgcombe’s licence was restored. 

His son 19 year old William had an experience of the exotic natural history kind at the hotel, one night in 1873, according to the Southern Cross, and previously referred in an earlier article

“Strange bedfellows are sometimes met with. This was exemplified the other night in the Northern Hotel. A son of Mr Edgecombe, the proprietor, went to bed as usual in the upper story— three stairs up— but during the night, or early in the morning he was awakened by more than ordinary warmth on one side of his head and near his throat. He felt something unusual beside him and was slightly alarmed. However he got up and lighted a candle. On examining the bed he discovered an opossum lying coiled up in the bed, under the bed clothes. This is the first occasion on which such an animal has been seen in the neighbourhood, and how it got there is at present a mystery. Some time ago, however, an animal having the appearance of a cross between an opossum and some other animal was shot amongst the scoria rocks near Mr Edgecombe's hotel. Some people entertain the idea that opossums exist in the locality in a wild state, but this has not yet been proved. The animal was captured, and is being well cared for by Mr Edgecombe. The family were once of opinion that the opossum found in bed may have been the one belonging to the Acclimatisation Society's gardens, but it is stated that they have since learned that such is not the case, and the whence of the opossum at Mr. Edgecombe's hotel still remains to be answered.” 

It was while Curnow had the hotel that it began to be called the “Stone Jug.” There are a few stories that have floated around since the 1880s about the origin of the name, some pointing out that they were sure it was linked to an actual jug made of stone at the hotel, or linked somehow with the militia from the 1860s dubbing it so. The thing is, though – “Stone Jug” in terms of the Northern Hotel only appeared in the newspapers from mid 1881, pointing instead to it being an unofficial name Curnow had devised. He still advertised the hotel as the Northern in September that year, but two months later, came notices referring to the “Stone Jug Yards” around the Northern Hotel. Popular and common use of “Stone Jug” or “Old Stone Jug” were not far off from that point. 

What of the name, then? Well, “stone jug” was slang at the time for Mt Eden Gaol, also built of stone as was the hotel. There is a possibility that a similarity between the two structures may have struck someone’s fancy. 

In late 1884, Edgcombe came to an agreement with the Auckland City Council and sold his Western Springs property to them, including the hotel. The councillors were unaware that Curnow had an existing lease with Edgcombe with still another two years to run – so the council were, briefly, in the unusual and very much publically criticised position of owning the hotel as a going concern. Even so, the council voted to support Curnow’s licence renewal in 1886. By then though, with the rise of temperance movements, the licensing board felt the Northern Hotel, aka Old Stone Jug, was no longer required in the district. Edgcombe’s pub finally went dry, and stayed that way.




“Mount Edgcombe”, off Western Springs Road, in the 1960s. The library notes that it was demolished 1973. 
 255A-9, Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections. 

The Madness of William Edgcombe

What of William Edgcombe himself?

In 1860 he seems to have entered the real estate field, acting as a leasing agent for landowners in Mt Albert, and in 1862 purchasing ground on the slopes of Ōwairaka / Te Ahi-kā-a-Rakataura / Mount Albert. He also had a large farm at Waiau Pa, near Clarks Beach. He hired an overseer for the farm named William Flinton in 1864, promising him a place to live on the property which turned out to be a sub-standard mud floor hovel. Flinton walked out, so Edgcombe tried taking him to court, but lost the case.

 One of those who testified on Flinton’s behalf was Henry Edgecombe, no relation of William’s. He arrived in New Zealand in January 1864, the same year as the Flinton case. He’d heard on arrival in Auckland that there was an Edgcombe running the Northern Hotel at Western Springs, so headed there to see if they were related. They weren’t, but William apparently “displayed some kindness towards him” and lent him a house in Mt Albert. Henry Edgecombe was there for some time with his three sons, from February to the end of April 1864, and then William tried to sell him 640 acres of land at Waiau, which Henry refused. At that point, things turned nasty, and William gave Henry notice to quit. When talking to a friend at the Mauku Hotel a little later, William described Henry as “a London prig”, a “swellsmobsman … a common thief, and liar …”

William Edgcombe was no stranger to using his tongue to have a go at people. In 1860, George Owen Ormsby accused Edgcombe of yelling abuse at him near the Symonds Street cemetery while out riding on the road there. In 1865, it appears Edgcombe turned on the newcomer Henry, “accusing him of having stolen some cooking utensils and tools, and killed his bullocks,” out at the Waiau, in response to Henry complaining, in Queen Street’s Duke of Marlborough Hotel, about William’s own cattle straying onto his land there. Henry had, after refusing William’s land, bought someone else’s smaller farm. Henry added that he felt William had killed some of Henry’s sheep. It seems that Henry purchased his land at Waiau Pa, he then took on Flinton as overseer, which probably didn’t go down too well with William. When Henry took William to court in June 1865 for slander, the judge and jury found in favour of Henry and fined William £20. William Edgcombe’s behaviour here could be seen as being spiteful, nasty, malicious and childishly petulant – but not exactly evidence of a deterioration in mental health.

He would have been around 51 years old at that stage, and perhaps drank more than he should have done at the various hotels where he seems to have conducted his business, including at his own establishment at Western Springs. He took over the Northern Hotel again in 1866, and continued putting ads in the newspapers regarding land dealings.

Here and there we get some scattered oddities about life in the Edgcombe household. A man named Christopher was taken into Edgcombe’s service in February 1872, at 15s a week plus food, after having been in the vicinity of the Northern Hotel working informally for Edgcombe “for several months previously” in return “for tucker”. He later told a court that he had cured “56 lbs of bacon” for Edgcombe, loaned William Jr £5 (for the Whau races) and gave the daughter Mary Jane £7 to buy a dress and a ring as he claimed “he was engaged to be married” to her. Young Mary denied this, saying the money was “for a Christmas box.” It appears Christopher damaged a strap, was fired by Edgcombe, and thus went to court to seek wages, and the two sums of money given to the brother and sister. In the end, he was awarded 10s for wages, the rest deemed unrecoverable.

In 1873, Edgcombe via an engineer named Peter Joseph Dalton made an offer to Auckland City Council to sell them the springs on his land, plus 10 acres, to serve as the new water supply. After considerable reluctance on Council’s part, this offer was eventually withdrawn the following year, and the Council went with purchasing William Motion’s property instead, setting up the collecting pond, pipework and pumphouse on that side of Great North Road. In response, Edgcombe said he’d sell his land to a wool scouring operation or a slaughterhouse, this risking contamination of the council water supply. He actually did sell part to the Auckland Tallow Company in 1882. This probably sparked Council to agree to buy the rest of Edgcombe’s land outright in 1884, giving Edgcombe a 999 year lease on 10 acres which became known as “Mount Edgcombe,” which was probably already his home since he finally gave up running the Northern Hotel in 1879. The Council bought the Tallow Company’s land as well, sorting that issue once and for all.

In February 1875, William Jr was almost brought up in court on a charge of threatening to kill his father. Three months later, Mary Jane Edgcombe, aged 63, died at the Northern Hotel.

In January 1876, William Jr was found guilty of assaulting his father. He tried to offer an explanation, but the court would not allow him to speak, other than to say he was guilty and that he was sorry. Edgcombe told the court his son William had “on several occasions attempted to strike him.” The son had to come up with £100 in sureties, and promised “to keep the peace for six months towards his father and all her Majesty’s subjects.”

In October 1877, William Jr again assaulted his father, on the Great North Road. He pleaded guilty, saying “he was drunk at the time, and did not know what he was doing.” He was fined 20s and costs, with the alternative being 14 days with hard labour, and again had to come up with £100 in sureties and a 6-month promise to keep the peace.

 In February 1879, William Edgcombe snr remarried, to Mary Tutty, widow of William Tutty of Remuera, and this may have led to him setting up his new home on the other side of his Western Springs property. In March 1879, his daughter Mary Jane married Walter Stimpson. But then his son William died at the Stimpson’s house two months later, and six months after that, his daughter Mary Jane was dead as well. William Edgcombe’s only two children who survived to adulthood were now both dead.

At the age of around 70, Edgcombe was facing increasing memory loss and senility. A grocer named Charles Campbell Godfrey Moore who had known Edgcombe since 1869 later testified that he considered him “feeble mentally and bodily” during the period of this second marriage, especially after a trip to England in 1886. John Bollard spoke of Edgcombe’s “intemperate habits” up to and including the period of his second marriage. A Dr George T Girdler who was a passenger on the Aorangi on the homeward bound journey with the Edgcombes that year later described William Edgcombe as “bright and collected in the mornings, but was sometimes stupid after lunch from drink.”

Job Humphries, a former warder at the Auckland Lunatic Asylum, felt that Edgcombe was “of unsound mind” in 1889, and became worse in 1891-1892. Samuel Finch, a neighbour of Edgcombe’s, said the latter “used to accuse people of stealing his things, and removing his walls, and taking his ground, and … suspected these were delusions … [Edgcombe] said the neighbours wanted to burn his house.”

In September 1883, William’s nephew George Edgcombe arrived in Auckland with his wife and family from America, their passage paid for by William. For a while, George Edgcombe stayed at a cottage owned by his uncle, working initially for him, and then for the Tallow Company. He later recalled in court that his uncle had told him “the Edgcombe farm was to be for 999 years in the Edgcombe family”, to be inherited by George’s father Roger and then himself, so he was likely talking about the 10 acre “Mount Edgcombe” remainder that Auckland City Council had leased to William Edgcombe. George also had the idea that the Pukekohe land his uncle William owned would be inherited by himself as well, and for his children. But then, George’s wife died in January 1890, and seven days later his daughter Ann Laura was committed to the Industrial School. Three younger children were sent to the Costley Home, but their father didn’t contribute toward their upkeep, by his own words. This situation apparently did not sit very well with William Edgcombe, who had at least one violent row with George over the matter, and was struck by his nephew. In January 1893, George Edgcombe headed to Taranaki.

Edgcombe’s second wife Mary died in July 1890, aged 75, but in February 1891 he married wife number three, Flora Turnbull, 25 years his junior. In 1892 Edgcombe entered into his last contentious court case, this time against John Swinnerton Duke who had acted as Edgcombe’s rent collector for 18 houses Edgcombe owned on College Hill in 1891, then leased them from Edgcombe in 1892. Duke didn’t keep up with the terms of the lease – paying the rent, and putting the houses into good repair – so the lease was terminated.

Before June 1891, Edgcombe used James P King as his business agent, but after that point the responsibility passed to Flora. Six months after her marriage, Flora later testified that she noticed a difference in her husband, that “he was not so bright or capable as he used to be … He was short of memory, and very irritable.” Over the next year, Flora said, Edgcombe’s memory gradually faded, and his behaviour began to become erratic. “In 1892 Mr Dawson, coal merchant, used to keep his horse in Mr Edgcombe’s paddock, a person named Mitchell bringing it on Saturday night and taking it away on Monday morning. On the last occasion when Mitchell took the horse away, Mr Edgcombe hearing a noise about five o’clock in the morning went out to the balcony and fired off a revolver, being under the impression that Mitchell was a burglar.” Edgcombe told Flora afterwards that Mitchell had no right to be there, but Flora reminded him that Mitchell had collected the horse many times before.

In August 1892, Edgcombe made out the last version of his will, stating that he was, of course, of sound mind and body. This replaced an earlier will from March 1890. Flora later said “he was in the same state he had been for some time previous – forgetful, and a falling away of business capacity – and he changed his mind two or three times about the terms of the will …” Still, Flora attested that “when they reached Mr Burton’s [the solicitor] office, her husband gave instructions to have a will made … he was entirely uninfluenced by any person there.” J P King apparently felt Edgcombe wasn’t in a good state to make the will, however. In response, Edgcombe arranged for a certificate from Dr Arthur G Purchas to the contrary.

Thomas Faulder who lived nearby and had known Edgcombe for 30 years, said that around the time Edgcombe made his will, he’d met up with Faulder but seemed unable to identify him until Faulder provided his own name. According to Faulder, Edgcombe often confided that he was sure he was being poisoned by his second wife. After June 1893, Edgcombe told Faulder he thought Flora was poisoning him as well.

Edgcombe attended the October 1892 jubilee of Scottish settlers in Auckland who had arrived on the Jane Gifford and the Duchess of Argyle in 1842, but the festivities included those who were New Zealand colonists of 50 years or more. Edgcombe more or less did fit the bill. So, he had his photo taken with the rest (including John Logan Campbell) on the steps of the Old Choral Hall in Symonds Street, and a pen and ink portrait appeared in the NZ Graphic.

In June 1893, Edgcombe had a bad accident when he was thrown from out of his trap at Western Springs after his horse bolted. His right arm was dislocated, his nose broken, and he suffered a wound to his temple. This incident seemed to have accelerated Edgcombe’s decline.

In October 1893, Flora applied to have effective power of attorney, with John Bollard, over William Edgcombe’s affairs, citing mental incapacity. At the time, he held an estate valued at over £9000. Edgcombe was judged a lunatic, and Bollard was authorised to approve expenditure of up to £6 per week to maintain Edgcombe, his household, and the wages of Edward Hughes, a retired police detective who then worked in the household as Edgcombe’s manservant, “employed to take care of the said Lunatic” as the judge described it. Apparently Hughes came to work for the Edgcombes after Edgcombe started to accuse Flora of poisoning him. Hughes had been made redundant from his job with the police before November 1892, and was employed at Mount Edgcombe from 15 August 1893.

Flora described William Edgcombe as “now perfectly childish and unable to transact or undertake any business whatever.” She stated that he “manifests unsoundness of mind by a supposition on his part that persons are present in his room who are not there; that people obtain ingress and egress from his house by secret doors and passages which he alleges that I have caused to be made and which do not in reality exist; that the manservant at my instigation did by some means cause the said accident in order that I might elope with the said manservant in the San Francisco mail steamer; that I am in the habit of encouraging male persons to visit his house and of admitting them and letting them depart by secret entrances …” Flora went on: “… William Edgcombe exhibited a more violent outbreak than usual by picking up a grate and therewith breaking two windows in the dining room situated on the ground floor of his said house and further breaking one window on the first floor … two days after the last … the said William Edgcombe remembered nothing of the said occurrence.”
On December 7 1895, William Edgcombe died at his Western Springs home, aged, by his reckoning, 85. His will was probated on 17 December, and his death was officially registered on 6 January 1896, with cause of death given as “senile decay”. In his will, Edgcombe’s estate was divided between certain members of his family living in England and his wife Flora, so the process of selling his real estate portfolio began in earnest in May 1896, including the College Hill property, two houses in Grey Lynn, around 209 acres at Pukekohe, and land in Hamilton.

Then, in June 1896, his nephew George Edgcombe from Taranaki registered a legal challenge to the August 1892 will and against Flora Edgcombe, John Bollard and Grace Larkworthy (one of the English heirs), on the grounds that William Edgcombe had not been “of sound mind” when he had it made out. George had not been the only relative left out of the will, but he was one with an ax to grind.

The case came down to whether Edgcombe’s senile dementia had been with him from around 1890, or had simply been oncoming senility before the 1893 accident, at which point full-blown dementia, along with paranoia and delusions, set in. After 27 witnesses were called over six days, the judge summed up the case for the jury from 10 am until 2.45 pm on 7 July. The jury came back 45 minutes later with a verdict for the trustees. George Edgcombe tried claiming costs for his case from the estate, his lawyer contending William Edgcombe’s conduct caused the whole court proceedings to take place. This application was refused. He wasn’t alone – Larkworthy, Bollard and Flora Edgcombe all claimed legal costs from the estate as well, as George Edgcombe was unlikely to pay up.


Location of the Mt Edgcombe homestead, Western Springs Road, 1959. Auckland Council aerial.


Flora lived out her days at Mount Edgcombe, dying in 1907. In her will, she set aside £30 for the upkeep and maintenance of the Edgcombe family grave at Symonds Street, which still exists today. The Mount Edgcombe homestead was leased to members of the Riordan family through to the mid 20th century, and the site sold by Auckland City Council, along with the rest of the 10 acres there beside Western Springs Road, in the 1960s.

As for Edgcombe's Northern Hotel, its story from 1886 was that of a series of temporary leases. Samuel Meekan had use of the 100 acres (the other 10 acres was leased to Edgcombe on a 999 year agreement). By the 1900s, the old building was mostly empty, the grounds used for occasional and illegal games of “two-up” by locals. Briefly, a chemist leased it as a chemical factory in the 1920s, and made much of making a historical feature of the interior. But, that didn’t last long. In 1938 Auckland City Council demolished it, as part of their redevelopment of the precinct. Only some of the stones with which it was built remain, as a gateway, and as part of the base of the Horticultural Society building (the former Chamberlain Park golf course rooms).

Demolition of the Northern Hotel / Old Stone Jug in progress, from NZ Herald 24 November 1938.

The only traces that remain of William Edgcombe and his settler's tale are articles like this, for with even the old Stone Jug/Northern Hotel erased, its constituent parts reassembled as a parody of what was there before in the form of the stone gateway — who really gives him much of a thought? As his sanity sadly dwindled away from him, so the memory of the man now fades away into history.