Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Binsted’s Corner

Story of the South St Judes Street Block (part 3)

At one point, in the first two decades of the 20th century, around half of James Palmer’s “Greytown” block of Blake Street land between St Georges Road, the railway line and the unnamed stream was owned by the Binsted family. This truly was “Binsted’s Corner” to many Avondale residents from a time shortly after we came to be known as Avondale, until well into the next century. The family name however survives only as the name of a road in New Lynn close to the location of an abattoir and farm they once owned.

The story of Lots 1 to 6 of Palmer’s “Greytown” subdivision begins with mortgages.

In July 1883, James Palmer, former hotelkeeper in Avondale, took out a mortgage with the Bank of New South Wales. He was soon in financial strife. The Long Depression was biting hard, land sales were slowing down, and he certainly felt the effects. In April 1884, the bank forced a £500 sale of Lots 1 to 5 to Frank Marriott Morley, an Avondale settler, where the bank received their mortgage money back (£362 10/-) and Palmer the rest (£137 10/-). The bank then cleared Palmer’s land at Lot 6 of any mortgage entitlements – but he took out two more on that remaining land, one from a Mr. Wastenays in October 1885, and another from a Mr. Stephens in October 1886. Stephens transferred his entitlement to Wastenays a few days later, and a month later Palmer had completely defaulted, with Wastenay’s assuming full title in December 1886. Wastenays himself took out yet another mortgage with Edward Wilhy in February 1888, and must have defaulted on this himself, as Wilhy had full title in September 1891 when he sold Lot 6 to Walter John Binsted, a steward, in that month.

The Binsted family

John and Mary Binsted arrived in New Zealand on 31 May 1873 on the Woodcock out of London with their six children: Henry (b.1851), James (b.1852), Walter John – who was to be the first to purchase on the Blake Street block (b.1856) -- and three daughters. Family members say that before 1879, the family had a butchery business on Drake Street in Freeman’s Bay, before the reclamations that created Victoria Park, “when Drake Street ran along and parallel with the foreshore of the Waitemata”, according to notes I received in 2001. Postal directory records of the time show that a John Binsted, coachbuilder, was in Freeman’s Bay in 1878–1881, and then by at least 1883 Henry and James had formed a partnership operating as butchers from Billington’s Buildings (which, because references vary between saying the address was Drake Street or Patteson Street – the present-day Victoria Street West – it may be that the shop was just to the east of what is now Victoria Park Market.) They apparently exported corned beef in kegs to the Pacific Islands from their Drake Street premises, advertising in the 1882 Auckland Directory. Hardly surprising that they took advantage of their location so close to what was then the foreshore and the harbour wharves. It is likely, however, that this trade was swamped by R & W Hellaby entering the field of canned meats, dominating the market by the mid 1880s.

The 1884 “Greytown” map does not show a store, or any building, existing on the corner site. Frank (or Francis) Morley is listed as a storekeeper in the Wises’ Directory for 1885/1886 in Avondale; there was then no record of H & J Binsted here. Three sections of an allotment in New Lynn, just across the Whau Creek from the racecourse, were purchased by Walter, Henry and James Binsted in March and August of 1887 from an Avondale farmer named John Simpson. The family records state that property was purchased in 1887 by the family “on the banks of the Whau River for use as a farm and abattoirs”. This was the site of the future Binsted Road Reserve, later Rewa Park, now Ken Maunder Park in New Lynn. The butchery business in Avondale may have started around this time, in conjunction with the establishment of the abattoir over the creek.

I would say that the business began in Avondale in c.1888. Morley had left the written record by c.1887, which would have meant the store was vacant. Most likely, the early 1890s was when the somewhat famous photo of the Five Roads intersection was taken, the one showing “H & J Binsted, Family Butchers” on the right hand side, and on the left, with horses and riders and buses in between, is a building graced with a Brown, Barrett & Co advertisement for their imported beverages (namely teas and coffees). The head of Brown Barrett & Co was one John McKail Geddes – who, it so happened, took ownership of Lots 1 through to 5 across the road, including Binsted’s Corner, in March 1889.

The old shop on the corner

Frank Morley, on purchasing the corner site from Palmer and the Bank of New South Wales, took out a mortgage on the property that same day with William Dallen. This may have been so Morley had the necessary finance to build his store. Dallen transferred his interest to William Cornes of Whangarei in August 1886, just as the Long Depression was starting to bite, and in the same year that Palmer defaulted on the adjoining Lot 6. Sometime after this, Morley must have also defaulted, leaving Cornes with the title, which he sold to Geddes in 1889 for £530, only £30 more than what Morley had paid in 1884, and including “all buildings thereon erected.” The earliest written record of H & J Binsted operating a butchery business in Avondale in the in Wises directory for 1892/1893. However, by October 1888, “Binsted’s corner” had become an Avondale landmark, as the Road Board authorised John Bollard to extend the culvert to that corner. This leads me to estimate that Cornes leased the building to Henry and James Binsted sometime around 1888, the year after the New Lynn farm was purchased. James and his wife Elizabeth moved from Richmond to Avondale in 1889, living in St Georges Road by 1910.

Henry Binsted died at his home in Cameron Street, Ponsonby, on 3 September 1895, of typhoid fever. The original Freeman’s Bay business continued until c.1909, when around that time a new branch was opened on New North Road at Mt Albert. In the meantime, however, James Binsted had purchased the Avondale corner site, all five lots, from Geddes for £750 in April 1902, and took out a mortgage from Geddes for £650 (repaid to Geddes’ widow in full by 1911, after the move from Ponsonby to Mt Albert.) In May 1901 James purchased Lot 6 from his brother Walter, and so the family owned the entire north-western corner of Palmer’s “Greytown” subdivision.

James Binsted is said to have been a small-built man, who wore a bowler hat most of the time (some have said he was balding). His Avondale shop had a cashier, where you would pay for the meat, and a counter where the meat was served. Binsted’s delivered to a wide area, and were known to “dress-up” cuts of meat for those who couldn’t afford the more expensive cuts. In old photos available, meat can be clearly seen hanging outside under the shop’s Blake St verandah. In the days before refrigeration, this was the best way to keep meat cool, in the hope of a passing breeze.

Fires, flyers and golden-toothed dogs

James Binsted and his shop were prominent in the beginnings of the Avondale shopping centre. His clientele would have come from miles around, serving West Auckland as well as Avondale itself. In September 1904, he donated 5/- towards the cost of forming a footpath in Blake Street, outside his shop. This was the corner which (two former residents recalled being told) people from the Auckland Asylum near Pt Chevalier would head for on walks from the asylum to the corner of Blake Street and Great North Road, sitting on the grass outside Binsted’s shop for a while, then walking back to the asylum again. Binsted was also one of the first four to share the first telephone line into Avondale (the others were the Avondale Road Board, Archibald Brothers, and Philp up on Browne Street) in 1913.

A photo apparently taken in 1905 (part of the Henderson Library collection) shows what appears to be stables behind the butchers shop along St Georges Road (Lot 3) and a large gable-roofed building immediate adjacent (possibly Lot 4). This latter building may have been the scene of the first of two fires on the corner site. In January 1907 in was reported that the boiling-down works building beside the butchery burned down, probably due to fat boiling over and spilling along the floor, igniting the fires under the boilers and setting everything alight. Three boilers plus stock of tallow and skins were destroyed.

The worst fire however caused the complete destruction of the 1885 store. One evening in December 1917 flames were noticed coming from the rear of Binsted’s shop. The entire building burned down; despite the arrival of the Mt Albert fire brigade nothing could be done because of lack of water supply. The only thing left standing was the brick chimney. “A few small items were saved but the flames spread too quickly to allow of much being done …During the day other premises across the road were made available and on Monday morning business was conducted as usual. It was only a few days since that Mr. Binsted had had the premises repainted and generally smartened up for Xmas,” the News reported.

However, James Binsted rebuilt the store and carried on. A 1958 Whites aviation photo (republished in Challenge of the Whau) shows a sole hipped-roofed building standing on what was otherwise a vacant section.

In September 1908 Thomas Elwood and Henry Wickman began the process of purchasing Lot 6 from James Binsted, but things fell through. The deal was completed in March 1911, with Elwood withdrawing from the purchase for a shilling, and Wickman (a builder and insurance agent) going on to take out a mortgage. In the tradition of this part of Avondale’s land ownership history, he seems to have defaulted sometime after 1915, and a Mr. Buchanan sold to property to a Mr. McGlone in 1920. McGlone may have subdivided the section into the present day numbers 9 and 7 St Judes Street. The larger section was owned by Alfred Cook by 1931. Today, it’s the site of General Equipment (from 1965).

McGlone sold the smaller section to a Mr. Farley in 1923, then came a Mr. Sharp in 1924. In December 1926, Sharp sold the property to Cecil Herdson.

Herdson was Avondale’s first true dentist, taking up business in the upper level offices in Allely’s Building in the early 1920s (there by 1925). He has left behind his share of local legends and lore, including the often reported one where his gundog, on losing all his teeth in a hunting accident, was duly fitted with a complete set by Herdson made entirely of gold. Quite a few believed the tall tale, because it is said that when the dog died, there was a “gold rush” of sorts by those determined to work out where the small treasure had been interred with the deceased canine.

The Binsted’s New Lynn farm and slaughterhouse achieved a measure of fame in August 1913 when the intrepid flyers Sandford and Miller had to make a forced landing on a glide after their engines failed, coming to a halt in the paddock and “against Binsted’s slaughterhouse” beside the Rewa Rewa creek in New Lynn. However accidental the connection, the land was to remain known as the site of the landing of the country’s first cross-country flight (all of 3 miles, at 70 mph.) In 1916, the road leading to the farm was dedicated and named by the New Lynn Town Board “Binsted’s Road” (the only remaining memorial to this enterprising family).

James Binsted’s death and the years after

The next portion of land sold off went in August 1919 to the “Inhabitants of the Avondale Road Board.” This was the majority of Lot 3 to the Board, adjoining the Public Hall, for the purpose of “providing exits from the purchasers property … and also for the purposes of a yard and storage in connection with the said Board’s local public work.” Until 1924, this would have been a works depot, therefore, until the shifting of the old wooden Public Hall to its present position, beside the completed Town Hall (now Hollywood Cinema). The sliver of land left may have been the site of a tailor’s premises. According to Challenge of the Whau: “Before the old Avondale hall was moved there was a shop between it and Binsted’s butchery. For a time it was used by a tailor. In the early 1920s a Mr George used the premises. He advertised his services as a family photographer, a picture framer and a maker of guitars.”

James Binsted died 28 October 1920. In his will, dated 1913, his wife Elizabeth Mowbray Binsted and son-in-law Harold Bollard (son of John Bollard, noted Avondale early land owner and politician) were the executors and trustees, tasked to carry on the business in Elizabeth’s lifetime, with the business to come under the management of James’ son John Claude Binsted. On his mother’s death, John was to inherit the business, “also the plant, horses and carts, stock in trade, and book debts in and about the slaughterhouse, shop and premises.” (Elizabeth Binsted, by the way, was one of the daughters of noted 19th century Auckland architect Matthew Henderson, who designed the tower and portico for St Andrews Church in Symonds Street in 1882, and the verandahs and turrets for Alberton in 1870.)

In September 1920, the Avondale shop and land at Lots 1, 2 and the remainder of Lot 3 was sold to R&W Hellaby’s for £3090. James’ son John Claude Binsted continued to serve as manager of the Avondale R & W Hellaby’s shop. The business continued until into the late 1950s. However, from May 1946, the corner site was owned by Albert Graven. He was to have the old shop demolished and the present-day block of shops built on the site by around 1960.

The next land to be sold from James Binsted’s holdings was Lot 4. This was finally sold to the Avondale Borough Council in May 1923, but not without a great deal of negotiating. Harold Bollard as executor offered the section beside the butcher’s shop complete with stables, to the Council for £450 in 1922. In February, the Board felt the price was too high, and asked for a reconsideration. A lower price wasn’t forthcoming, and so the matter was left.

In November, the new Borough Council obtained option to buy the land, and by the next May the land had been bought, for the same price. It became the Borough Council Depot for storing their road-making machinery, and the City Council depot after 1927. By the 1970s, it was in light-industrial use. Mr Bob Browne recalled that in the 1930s-1940s there was a big shed near the depot housing the council’s wood-fired steamroller, which always had to have coal put in before it could go out onto the roads.

Next, the slaughterhouse in New Lynn was closed down in 1922-24. It is still uncertain as to what exactly happened to cause the closure. The Binsted family certainly held onto much of their New Lynn land until 1955 (before then, they’d placed objections in 1927 as to the site apparently gifted in the 1920s being used as a night soil dump, and in the 1940s it was the Council rubbish tip). In 1956 the remaining reserve land (part had been sold already for industrial use) was named Rewa Park, and renamed Ken Maunder Park in 1970.

Finally, Elizabeth Binsted died in 1937, and the remaining section, Lot 5 (number 5 St Judes Street) was transferred to Harold Bollard as survivor in 1958. In 1924 it had been leased to Catherine Kayes as what would appear to be, going by the memorandum of agreement of the time, effectively a market garden. It was finally sold in 1966; any connection the Binsted family had with the corner was thus at an end from that point.

Today, the corner is noted mainly for the motor mower and chainsaws shop on the corner (once a curtains store). It doesn’t really have a landmark name like “Binsted’s Corner” anymore, nor the sight of meat hanging in the sun under the verandah just feet away from the dust of the Five Roads intersection. Few would know that there is history there, stretching back more than 120 years. Few also remember the family who were so much a part of Avondale’s early story, who were also related by marriage to the Bollards, the Waygoods (Henry Waygood built the car garage which still stands, as T J Automotive today) and the Myers from the blacksmith’s and wheelwright’s yard just up the Blake Street hill.

Their story is just one of many yet to be discovered in this area so full of stories of what once was.

Additional information:

Audrey Binsted, who spent years researching the family history and compiled the timeline used in my article on “Binsted’s Corner”, has written to me that James Binsted owned Lot 5 of 8 to 10 section 41 Drake St Freemans Bay. Pulmans Register map of City of Auckland 1863 shows all the lots. The house where James and Elizabeth lived was just above the butchers shop in Blake St not St Georges Rd. There were other Binsted survivors still alive at time of Elizabeth Mowbray Binsted's death. Her son Henry Binsted headmaster died 1976 and his younger brother James engineer who died in 1974. Harold Bollard was a son in law husband of the late Rosa Binsted who died in 1955.

Also in St Judes St (Blake St) on opposite side of the road just above Geddes Tce was the home of John Claude Binsted and his wife Louise (Myers) at 12 St Judes St. They lived there from 1916. John Claude Binsted died 22 July 1950 and his wife stayed on there until she died in 1972 when the house was sold.

Pistons and Hoofbeats …

Story of the South St Judes Street Block (Part 2)

Former hotelkeeper James Palmer sold Lots 8 and 7 to James Forsyth of Whangarei on 16 January 1886. It’s doubtful that Forsyth did anything with the land, except tenant it out to others for income. One of these may well have been William Myers, who came to New Zealand c.1895, starting up a family blacksmithing business on Blake Street (now St Jude’s) that was to continue until the early 1960s. In two separate transactions in 1903, the Myers family bought Lots 7 and 8 from James Forsyth: on the 8th of August Thomas and Burton Myers purchased Lot 8 for £47 10/-, while two days later their father William bought Lot 7 for the same amount. They may already have been tenants of Forsyth’s, but with the price of the land so cheap there may not have been much in the way of buildings on the site at time of purchase.

The Myers family

The Myers smithy was not the first on this block. The 1884 subdivision map clearly shows a forge marked on Lot 6, present-day site of General Equipment. It is uncertain exactly who that early blacksmith would have been.

In 1908 William Myers was joined in the business by his son Thomas (1881-1967). Thomas Myers’ was more than simply a farrier (Thomas wouldn’t do a lot of work for the Jockey Club, his son Roger told me in 2001, as he considered thoroughbreds as “too flighty, a young man’s job”) – he also did a lot of work for market gardeners, both in Avondale and as far afield as Oratia and Henderson. He’d do repairs to plows, disks, and harrows. Farmers would bring up to the shed 3 or 4 spades at a time, to have handles repaired. In land transaction records, he’s referred to as a carriage builder, but he also made up wheelbarrows. As a wheelwright, he would repair wagons, virtually anything that could be drawn by animals, so his son says, including drays and milk vendors carts.

William Burton Myers (born c.1882), his brother, was a carpenter and builder by trade. He lived for a time in Blockhouse Bay, on the corner of Terry Street and Blockhouse Bay Roads, then shifted to live in St Heliers by the late 1930s. His nephew Roger Myers recalls that at one time Burton jointly owned the Allely Building in the Avondale shopping centre possibly with his brother Thomas and sister Louise, and that Roger did some painting for his uncle around the back of the building. He would often be given painting jobs to do by his uncle.

Possibly in the early 1920s, the original smithy building burned down. There had already been some close calls before this. Around Christmas Eve 1915 there was an apparent arson attempt made to destroy the property in a period of suspicious or mysterious fires on the block. From the mid-1920s until around the time of William Myers’ death, Lot 7 was shared by the Myers’ with Joe Willoughby, recalled by Roger Myers to have been associated with the Avondale Jockey Club, possibly even as a Clerk of the Course.

William Myers died in 1927, leaving his properties on Blake Street, Roberton Road and in Blockhouse Bay to his sons Thomas and Burton, and daughter Louisa Binsted. Thomas Myers already had full title to Lot 8 (13 St Judes St) from 1925 (after the two brothers sold the lot to their father in 1920 for £150, who then sold it back to Thomas for £170 in February 1925), and was a co-title holder of Lot 7 (11 St Judes St) with his brother and sister from 1939 until 1947, from which date he had sole title over both lots. Before William Myers’ death, however, he apparently rented or leased Lot 8 out to a number of occupiers right from 1911 at least, so a building or dwelling of some type must have existed there from that time. And then, around 1925, there appears on the local postal directories for that address - the Avondale Service Station.

Avondale Service Station (c.1925-c.1939)

In 1994, Challenge of the Whau referred to the owner of the Avondale Service Station, a garage “situated below the railway crossing on the hill above Avondale on the road to Mt Albert”, as a “Mr. Bamford.” His name, however, was Harlan F. Bashford, and as at 1925 date he was one of the earliest service station proprietors in the Avondale area. His only competition would have been Triggs’ and Stuart’s establishments on the Great North Road. For those travellers heading straight through to Mt Albert one way, and New Lynn and Henderson the other, he was the most convenient of the three. He didn’t time the emergence of his business well, for in March 1925 that the Great North Road was concreted. This would have severely diminished the trade to his premises, drivers being more likely to travel along the new road.

The buildings on the site may both date from this mid-1920s period. To the rear, tucked in out of sight behind the present-day Darby & Helm workshop, is an old bungalow, not painted for years, and only really visible from the section presently used by the used car parts dealers next door. This building seems to have been number 15 St Jude’s St. According to the postal directories, number 15 appeared to be occupied from c.1924, although there is no separate subdivision on Council’s cadastral maps. First occupier appears to have been Ernest H. L. Von Sturmer, a paper merchant, then Lawrence W. Bougher, a fireman (1926/1927), and finally Bashford.

The larger building on the site may be a slightly enlarged version of the original service station from 1925. Certainly, the layout is similar to that of another former service station of the period that still exists (Trigg’s Garage, now part of the Avondale Spiders showroom on Great North Road) and Stuart’s Garage which burnt down in the late 1920s (but which can be seen from contemporary photos). Bashford may have had a simple footpath bowser type of operation, given the narrowness of the section, with possibly vehicle servicing in the main workshop.

Bashford wasn’t in Avondale very long. By c.1931, he was no longer living in the rear bungalow at no.15, and by c.1932, the Avondale Service Station had been renamed Avondale Motors, managed by Bert Ivil. Around 1937, the manager was an L. J. Preston, who seems to have only operated for less than two years before the workshop was empty. Roger Myers recalled that for a couple of years the building was unused, except as a storage area, “chock full” of vehicles belonging to a repossession company in the city.

Then, around 1941, Ossie Darby and Dick Helm came to Avondale, and started the business of Darby & Helm.

Darby & Helm (c.1941-2007)

According to John McIntyre, they met during the building of the Arapuni Dam (completed 1929). Ossie Darby was a master mechanic, clever with steelwork; Dick Helm was a storekeeper-cum-photographer employed by the government. He was also a very clever and competent welder, according to Roger Myers.

During the Second World War, they specialised in fitting “gas producers” to cars, in the time of petrol restrictions and rationing. These were “retorts”, cylinders mounted on the front fender of the car, used to burn char or charcoal to produce gases which were conducted to another cylinder on the other fender, cooled, mixed with air, then burned to power the engine. Darby & Helm tried convincing their landlord Thomas Myers to convert his Essex to the gas producer system, but he declined. It’s no wonder he did – with Ossie Darby’s descriptions of his trips down to Arapuni from time to time. He would stop along the way to stoke up the gas producer with coke, pulling out the embers as he did so; thus accidentally setting fire to the grass beside the road.

Darby & Helm are also said to have designed and built a muffler, built from a heavier gauge of steel than normal ones. When this was shown to wholesalers in the City it was agreed that the muffler’s design was so good it would probably outlast the rest of the car. But there was the rub: what good was that? Such an innovation, without the same obsolescence, would mean they’d sell less replacement mufflers. The deal fell through.

Roger Myers worked for Darby & Helm from the late 1940s. He described them as being great to work for – they weren’t just the bosses, they were part of the workforce, too. During his time they also specialised in building trailers and caravan chassis, as well as car towbars.

Lots 7 and 8 was finally purchased from Thomas Myers by Darby & Helm in 1962, when Thomas Myers retired. They must have leased Lot 7, number 11 St Judes Street, out to Mervyn C Hardy between 1962 and 1965. He was a car wrecker, part of the continuing 20th century heritage of light industrial land use on the block (with Darby & Helm to the east of him, and General Equipment to the west). John McIntyre recalls that Hardy had an Austin 7 up on a pole outside his business for some years.

Ossie Darby had a stroke and died, sometime around 1980. Dick Helm maintained the business for a while, but then sold everything to Pierre Halvic Piper in March 1982. Piper is the landowner of both Lots 7 and 8 today (2004).

Land of the "Paragon"

Story of the South St Judes Street Block (Part 1)

(Photo: "Dingle Dell".)

The lines on the old 1884 deposited plan are a bit of a hotchpotch. In an area of land bounded by the road known then as the New North Road (which we now know as St Judes Street), the Kaipara Railway line, the road to the brickyard (now St Georges Road) and one of at least two Government Roads in old Avondale (now called Chalmers Street) – the surveyor hired by former hotelier James Palmer drew his lines. For one thing, a curvy unnamed creek snaked its way across his plan, distorting the rear boundaries of all the properties. Also, a new street was dedicated, and marked out (but unnamed). This was in later years to become Ahiriri Street. Then there was the buildings already on the land, in one case going back to 1867 (the Public Hall, where now stands the Hollywood Cinema) and a blacksmith’s forge. These meant the lines that were normally straight across that pesky creek became oddly angled close to St Georges Road, and at the site of the old forge, Lot 6 made extra wide compared with the other parcels of land. The railway line, surveyed in the 1870s, land taken for the purpose by 1878, left the southern end of Layard Street cut off from the rest of the road (an unformed road now a green swathe leading to Chalmers Street today), and made the lots just below it jagged and irregular in shape.

This was part of the second “Greytown” sale, the auction advertised for December 9 1883 at noon at D F Evans’ mart in Queen Street in the city, on terms of “One third cash, the balance can remain for 5 or 10 years at 8 percent, or can be paid off at any time.” You can see a copy of that auction map at the Avondale Community Library today.

The surveyor and the speculator

This land was originally part of a great area of land, Allotment 64. This was originally around 54 acres, bounded (although these roads did not exist then) by Blockhouse Bay Road, Rosebank Road, Great North Road and Chalmers Street.

I thank Mr. Cullen Szeto of Szeto Visique Optometrists (2022 Great North Road) for donating to the Avondale-Waterview Historical Society a copy of a valuable historical background report by Infinite Enterprise International Ltd. completed c.1987 for one of the then-owners of the Page’s Building. It is a good summary of research into the early land titles for the area.

In 1845, Thomas Florence purchased Allotment 64 from the Crown on crown grant. According to The Infinite Enterprise report, he was a surveyor who came to New Zealand in 1834, one of the earliest surveyors in Auckland, working from North Cape to Castle Hill in the Coromandel area. He may have been the same Thomas Florence, a surveyor and settler in Tasmania in 1818, who had been asked by the Lt. Governor there to survey Macquarie Harbour. Whereas others bought land in the then-Whau District purely on the basis of land speculation, Florence owned his allotment until 1862. It was likely farmed, and possibly the land was leased out for use as grazing. It would have been sloping country (present day Avondale residents can testify to the steepness of the climb up Crayford, St Judes and Chalmers Streets), possibly best suited to cattle, foraging in the scrub.

The farm was sold to Daniel Lockwood on 2 September 1862. He was a hotelkeeper, licensee of the Prince of Wales Hotel in Hobson Street, and a landowner in the central city area. Not much is known about him at this stage, but he on-sold the farm to Thomas Russell seven months later.

There is a considerable amount of information known about Thomas Russell however (1830-1904). Four years before he purchased Allotment 64 he had founded NZ Insurance Co., and in 1861 he formed the Bank of New Zealand. He and his friends, among the number included shipowner Thomas Henderon (founder of Henderson’s Mill, which later became Henderson), (Sir) John Logan Campbell, (Sir) Frederick Whittaker, and flour miller Josiah Firth, all of whom were fellow capitalists and speculators.

According to the 1987 report, Russell appears to have immediately subdivided the farm into 48 lots, named it Greytown (likely after then-Governor Sir George Grey), and dedicated three new roads for the subdivision: Cracroft Street, Blake Street (these likely named after heroes of the Taranaki War), and Layard Street (the reasoning for this name is even more speculative – it could be after Sir Austen Henry Layard, a noted archeologist of the time).

I had believed that land speculator Michael Wood (earlier subdivider of land further north he dubbed “Waterview” in 1861) had been the organiser of the Greytown subdivision. Instead, according to the 1987 report, he had been the one to buy all except for 6 lots at the original 3 April 1863 auction. Ownership of these lots, which included those which make up the property today bounded by St Judes Street, Great North Road, Chalmers Street and the railway line, passed to Michael Wood on 4 May 1864, who the next day on-sold 32 lots, including the above area, to a friend of his, David Nathan. David Nathan is best known for being an extremely successful Auckland merchant in the mid-19th century, a scion of the Jewish community, and founder of a business that evolved into L. D. Nathan & Co. He had considerable involvement in land dealings in the Avondale and Waterview areas, either buying lots in speculation, bailing out his friend Woods, or providing mortgages (to John Thomas of the Thomas Star Mill in Waterview, for example). Here, we leave the 1987 report (which from this point focussed on the area of Allotment 64 around the present-day Page’s Store).

James Palmer (1819-1893) enters the picture in 1867. On 22 July that year, he purchased all the lots of the original farm south of the present-day line St Jude Street, bounded also by Great North Road, Chalmers Street, and Blockhouse Bay Road. Before coming to the Whau he was hotelkeeper at the Royal Hotel, Eden Terrace. He may have actually arranged to buy the land earlier that year, for it is noted, when the Whau Minstrels held their first fundraising concert for a public hall to be built, that “a piece of ground kindly lent by Jas. Palmer, esq., of the Whau, in a position well suited for the erection of a permanent public hall,” served as the site of the stage in early March 1867. However, the entertainment could also have been on the site of the Whau Hotel (second in the area) that he had erected by 1870, which was situated on the other side of today’s roundabout.

By April that year, Palmer had donated land for the public hall (site of today’s Hollywood Cinema). He went on to build the third Hotel in 1873 (after the second burned down the year before), donated land on St Judes Street for the Anglican Church in July 1874 (it was built 10 years later), and in creating the lot numbers recognised today in the St Judes to Chalmers Street block in 1883 later dedicated and laid out the path of the present day Donegal Street (once Palmer Street) and Ahiriri Street (April 1884).

On the same day, 9th of April 1884, he sold Lots 9, 10 and 11 to William Potter, a bus driver.

William Potter To Elizabeth Kelly and beyond – Lots 9 to 11 (1884 – 1970s)

This William Potter could have been the same “Mr Potter” which the 1994 book Challenge of the Whau stated ran a horse bus service from the Whau around 1882. Considering that the Northern Bus Company started in 1884, Potter could have been one of their drivers.

Potter’s purchase would have been a pasture falling steeply to the south and the winding creek. Sparks from passing steam trains would land from time to time in the part nearest the rail line. But it was ideally placed, if Potter was running his own, competing bus service, to be a paddock and shelter for horses, being situated on the main route used to get to the city via Mt Albert. At this stage, little more is known about William Potter.

In August 1900 Potter sold the three lots to Elizabeth Ellen Kelly. There isn’t much known about her, except that by 1916 the News referred to her as “an old resident of Avondale, but who for the last three or four years has resided in Te Aroha.” In 1905 she on-sold Lot 9 to William Kelly, a builder (it isn’t certain whether he was a relation, but he occupied all three lots in 1905 according to the Avondale Roads Board rates listing for that year.)

At some point between 1900 and 1913, the Paragon Boarding House was built on Lots 10 and 11. This was a nine-roomed house which was completely destroyed by fire on 13 January 1916. At the time of the fire, the building was occupied by the Schmidt family of four adults and five children. The Schmidt’s eldest child woke at around 2am on hearing a sound in an adjoining room on the eastern side. He woke his father, but by then a portion of the house was already enveloped by fire. The westerly wind fanned the flames, and with Avondale at the time having no reticulated water supply (and also, no fire brigade), the gathered neighbours could do little to try to save the house. Apart from some hastily-gathered personal items, nothing was saved, the Schmidt’s furniture and effects going up in flames with the building. A detached outhouse which had some items stored within was untouched.

As happens in Avondale after incidents such as this, the locals immediately looked for reasons why the fire happened. Sparks from a train engine were discounted, as no train had passed for at least three hours, and also there had been several sharp showers of rain that night between the departure of the last train and the fire. Thoughts turned to the possibility of an arsonist (the premises of William Myers the coachbuilder were nearly set alight in what the News at the time called “a deliberate attempt” the previous late December, and in 1917 Binsted’s butcher shop down at the St Georges Road corner was completely destroyed, that fire unexplained.)

It is doubtful that Elizabeth Kelly arranged to have another building erected on the site. In 1919, she sold the property to Charles Frederick Mackadam (a commission agent, from Te Aroha). The property remained with the Mackadam family until recently. “Dingle Dell”, the building demolished in late June 2005, could have dated, therefore, from the early 1920s. It became 21 St Judes Street.

Whoever William Kelly was, he sold his lot 9 (17 St Judes Street) to Selima M Murray by 1913 (she owned the property at least until 1920). The house there could be as old as 1905, perhaps built by William Kelly. In 1928 John Bentley (wharf foreman) was living there, and in 1929 a contractor named George Larkin, according to the directories of the time. No one else is listed until 1940, when it seems Fred W Percy (a labourer) shifted over from No. 15. By 1952, the house was occupied by a local butcher, Arthur Furse. He was there down to the 1970s.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Night of the Exploding Tote

Avondale residents and those in surrounding districts for several miles around were enjoying a peaceful evening on September 22 1924, when at around 8.45 pm a thunderous roaring boom filled the air, coming from the Avondale Jockey Club. It was immediately feared that the grandstand was on fire.

Houses shook, neighbours and volunteer fire brigade members came running, as sheets of flame tore through the centre of the roof of the totalisator building on the course. Pieces of galvanised roofing iron were parted from their fittings, strewn about the paddocks around, one even found a hundred metres away on the racetrack itself. An old roller-type of totalisator machine owned by a Mr. S Yates and used by the Jockey Club was completely wrecked. All but one of the windows were blown out, purlins measuring 3 X 2 lifted from the cross beams throughout the structure, inside toilets wrecked with “lumps of porcelain … scattered about the room”. Part of the front wall of the building was “shattered to fragments, leaving an aperture several square yards in extent,” according to an Auckland Star reporter.

Almost immediately, rumours that the explosion was deliberate, rather than an accident, began to circulate around the village. “There is not the slightest evidence which would suggest that the explosion was an accidental occurrence,“ the Auckland Star declared, giving as a reason for this deduction that only the gas and water mains could have caused an explosion, and both were found intact (part of the gas main, however, was badly twisted on the edges of the damaged area.) The reporter pointed to the fact that the door to the commission room was found open, saying that it suggested that a forced entry had been made as the door opened inwards. “The bracket of the lock was forced away and the tongue was still as it had been turned in locking.” However, the Star did add that the explosion could have accounted for the door being open.

Reports were made of “adverse comments” having been made of the totalisator system at Avondale up to the night of the explosion. Unlike the automatic systems to be found at the time at Ellerslie, Avondale still used old hand-controlled roller types, such as had been introduced by the first secretary of the club, Harry Hayr, back in the early days of the racecourse. According to Graham Reddaway, a former president of the club, Avondale had been at the forefront of totalisator technology in the early years, thanks to Hayr and his company (continued on by Yates). Up until 1903, there were only bookmakers on the course, but these were replaced by the totalisator. There were advances in the totalisators from Hayr’s time until 1924, but it still took up to seven minutes after the tote had closed to adjust and ring up the bets for each horse, in order to determine each bet’s share of the total pool. The Star noted that the delay was found “tedious” by the betting public attending the meetings at Avondale. The Star also reported an opinion about the town that there was a “difference of opinion” over the verdict on “two very close and exciting finishes” on the day of the explosion.

Six of the eight tote machines in the building were severely damaged, and belonged to Yates, while two others belonging to the club remained undamaged.

Despite all the rumours and speculation rife in Avondale, the official insurance investigation found that the cause was due to the escape of “coal gas”. Mr. Reddaway, who has done some study into the incident, said that the building was lit by gaslight, and it was highly likely that someone had forgotten to turn the gas supply off to at least one of the lights before closing the building at the end of the day’s racing, and a spark ignited the gas.

Those Daring Young Men in their Flying Machine: Sandford-Miller biplane flights at Avondale, 1913

An image taken by A N Breckon in 1913 and published in the Auckland Weekly News in December that year of the Sandford-Miller biplane on Avondale Racecourse. 1370-8-3, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries 

(Updated and added to 27 November 2016.)

December 4th 2003 marked the 90th anniversary of the flight of the Sandford-Miller biplane from Avondale Racecourse to New Lynn. As can happen in Avondale, the late spring weather had turned to heavy rain, soaking the plane and making movements in the air heavy and hard to control. Nevertheless, they landed in a paddock, and planned to return to Avondale later that day …

In 1913, Auckland was in a state of “aeroplane fever”. The novelty of heavier-than-air flight had caught the public’s imagination, fuelled by the 25 July 1909 first cross-English Channel flight by Louis Bleriot, after which planes where the engine was in front of the pilot were dubbed “Bleriots”. (At the 16 April 1913 meeting of the Avondale Jockey Club the principal race, the Avondale Handicap, was won by “Mr. T Hall’s filly Bleriot”.) In April of that year exhibition flights of a Bleriot-style plane were conducted at the Auckland Domain by “Wizard” Stone at which “nearly 30,000” crammed the area to watch a brief, unsuccessful, and in fact comedic flight.

All the while, Frederick Esk Sandford and William Stanley Miller worked at perfecting their flying machine on the Avondale Racecourse. Over much of 1913, they staged practice flights and tinkered with the 60 horsepower ENV engine of their “Farman” biplane (a “pusher” craft, named after Henri Farman’s design from 1907). According to Athol J McD Miller, in his book The Gardners of “Mataia” Glorit and New Lynn, John Owen Gardner (1973-1931) “… was renowned for his knowledge of engineering … [William] Miller … and his partner [Frederick] Sandford assembled a plane at the Avondale Racecourse, but could not get the engine to function satisfactorily. Someone referred him to Uncle Jack who spent some time disassembling parts and adjusting the timing of the engine and on the day that he thought he had mastered the engine I went to Avondale with him on the back of his motor cycle. He was standing astride across the plane and still tinkering with the engine which was running sweetly … Sandford who was at the controls took off, and they flew around the racecourse at a height of about 50ft and landed again. Uncle Jack had not altered his position during the whole flight and was still there sometime after it landed.”

Their biplane started out as a kitset “Howard Wright” biplane imported into New Zealand by a syndicate which comprised brothers Leo and Vivian Walsh, brothers Alfred and Charles Lester, and Alfred Powley. Such machines were meant for the then money-generating exhibition flights business of the day. Dubbed the Manurewa, the Howard Wright was used for a number of experimental flights from Glenora Park, Papakura, including a "first flight" on 9 February 1911, but later met with several accidents and was wrecked.

The Lesters and Powley took over the Manurewa from the Walshes and disassembled it, storing it for a time at a property on Dominion Road. Then, in late 1912 or early 1913, William Miller took it over.

Born in Otago in 1888, according to air historian Errol W Martyn, Miller was a tinkerer from an early age. He experimented and built things like a gas meter and toy balloons, and got swept up in the popular enthusiasm of the day for powered flight. In 1912, he tried his luck over in Australia, but wasn't able to secure a plane. Returning to New Zealand, he found out that the Manurewa was for sale, and agreed to purchase a half interest and lease the other half from the Lesters.

Frederick Sandford wasn't his first partner in the project out at the Avondale Racecourse, as many think -- that was engineer Noah Jonassen, sharing a room at an Avondale boardinghouse with Miller. The two didn't get on too well with each other, though. When Jonassen damaged the biplane during a ground run on 28 February 1913, colliding with the racecourse railing and damaging the propeller and one of the wings while Miller was away in the city, he was given his marching orders. And so, enter Sandford.

Sandford apparently had been in correspondence with the Lesters himself. He came over to Auckland, met up with Miller, and struck up the famous partnership. Martyn believes that Sandford invested in the proprietorship of the Manurewa himself. Between the two of them, they reconfigured the Manurewa, transforming it into the Sandford-Miller plane. The two men had a trial flight together on Saturday 8 March.

On Sunday 13 April 1913, Sandford flew solo for the first time in his career (in Australia, he’d flown a well-known Australian exhibition aviator named Hart), taking off from Avondale Racecourse before several hundred people, rising to an altitude of about 50 feet, flying the length of the course, before making a “few more modest flights as far as the space available would allow.”

Leonard Pauling (whose sons George and Percy sold goods and fish in Avondale) kept a diary and made several references to the biplane and experiments out on the racecourse. One unfortunate incident that same April was reported as “Last Thursday the flying machine at Avondale cut a dog to pieces …” According to Peter Buffett, this happened during an attempt at takeoff, smashing the propeller and, of course, killing the dog. Short flights were reported in May. Buffett surmised that it was during this period that a Miss Lester was a passenger, and became the first woman in New Zealand to fly.

From Auckland Weekly News, 18 September 1913, AWNS-19130918-54-3, 
Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries

The Sandford-Miller plane also achieved the first cross-country flight in New Zealand on 31 August, taking off with Sandford at the controls from Avondale, leveling out at 250 feet and heading west. Possibly approaching West Coast Road, along Great North Road, Sandford turned back to make for the racecourse again, but the engine failed, and he made a forced landing on a glide in a paddock “against Binsted’s slaughterhouse” beside the Rewa Rewa creek in New Lynn. The flight was one of 3 miles, at more than 70 km per hour. Two weeks later, after repairs by Miller, the plane returned across the Whau creek to Avondale. In October, they made a five-mile flight to and from the racecourse.

Come December and the promise of summer months to come, Sandford and Miller, Sandford decided to test the flying capacity of the plane under the conditions of the recent heavy rains. At about 8.30 on 4 December 1913, Sandford took off, circled the racecourse, and then tried to head for Epsom. The plane’s movements were too heavy to control, however, and he decided to force a landing in what was then known as “Clark’s paddocks” in New Lynn. The Auckland Star was advised of Sandford’s great confidence that the plane would later be able to exhibit itself at Alexandra Park.

Unfortunately, his optimism was for nought. The paddock was only half-an-acre, not allowing the plane enough of a runway for lift. Sandford had the plane wheeled back, however, trying to gain maximum distance and then started the engine, racing for a gap in the paddock’s fence. The plane, however, failed to rise, and crashed into a corner post. “The pilot,” the Star reported the next day, “was thrown many feet into the air, falling on his head, and the forepart of the machine was reduced to splinters and tangled wires.”

Taken back by motor car to his boardinghouse room at Avondale, Sandford remained unconscious for some time, with a badly damaged shoulder and wrist. Miller remained optimistic, saying “we will not give in”, but had to face the facts that the plane would have required to be completely rebuilt again, along with a new engine (in those days, this would have cost at least £800).

Arthur Morrish, then the editor/publisher of The News from Avondale, made an impassioned plea for the two men and their project in a letter to the Herald. “These two men are the first local men to build a machine and make successful flights with it,” he wrote. “Aviation is recognised the world over now as the foremost science, destined to materially alter the standing of any country possessing the best-equipped and most modern machines. Would it not once more redound to the credit of New Zealand, which has led the world in so many ways, to show that in the field of science also she has men with the brains to keep not only abreast of other countries, but possibly outstrip them?” The Avondale Road Board raised a petition to Parliament asking that a grant be made to Sandford and Miller to rebuild the plane, but this, and Morrish’s plea, was unsuccessful.

Frederick Sandford recovered and later went on to fly in action in World War 1 with the RNAS and RFC, rising to the rank of Major. According to Martyn: "On his return to Australia he represented the Blackburn Aeroplane Company, but was tragically killed on 15 December 1928 when his car skidded and crashed into a fence at Glenrowan near Wangaratta while driving to Sydney to visit his mother.

William Miller is said to have later owned the Royal Garage at Khyber Pass (update, 3 May 2011: while the site, between the ASB building and Burleigh Ave is confirmed, the name of the garage isn't), farmed at Kelston-Glendene (Span Farm, named after a brand of petrol), and died in 1977. And because of both of these young men, Avondale has yet another legend to be part of.

1370-8-1, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries

A Passion for Flight: New Zealand Aviation before the Great War, Vol 2, Errol W Martyn, 2013, pp. 231-243
"The Sandford-Miller Biplane, 1913", by Peter Buffett, published in West Auckland Remembers, edited by James Northcote-Bade, West Auckland Historical Society 1990, pp. 103-109.
The Gardners of “Mataia” Glorit and New Lynn, by Athol J. McD Miller, 1983, pp. 25-26.
New Zealand Herald, 1913: 15 April, 17 April, 21 April, 8 December.
Auckland Star, 1913: 4 and 5 December.

Charlie Pooley & The Avondale Stables

The Avondale Stables (2059 Great North Road) had been an established part of the landscape of the township long before Charles "Charlie" T. Pooley came to the district by the late 1890s. In the 1880s, Pattersons ran a popular horse-bus service and hired "brakes" to the Roads Board (a large wagonette, carrying 6 to 8 people facing each other -- probably for the Board's regular road inspections around the district) from the same Great North Road site, until the original stables burned down in 1897. Before Pattersons, the Northern Omnibus Company made an attempt at running a successful transport business from the site -- but, due to the ill winds of the Long Depression and rivalries within the company, to no avail.

Pooley is recorded working as an occasional contractor for the Board by 1898. On 1 June that year he won a tender to provide “1- horse team @ 8/6 per day or 4/6 for half day, and a 2-horse team at 12/- per day (6/- per half day)" By now, he owned the Stables, and the land around it, (up to and including the site of the present-day Whare Kai Cafe.)

According to Mr Ernie Croft, whose father (Ernest Croft) was a close friend of Pooley's, Charlie Pooley used to cart logs from up the Waitakeres, and did roading work on Bollard Avenue in Avondale.

Locals found entertainment each week in the lofts of Pooley’s stables on Great North Road.
“There were dances in Mr Pooley’s loft on Wednesday nights. We drove there by horse and cart and what great dances they were! The girls took a basket and the Pooleys supplied tea. We danced the Scottische and Polka and Barn Dance to the accordion and mouth organ.”
[From Memories of early Avondale, by Tom Myers, Avondale Advance, 21/11/1960]

One of Pooley’s daughters had infantile paralysis, but would still get around the district in a little cart pulled by two large dogs. Sometimes, so some I have interviewed told me, the speed her cart would go along the footpaths meant pedestrians had to step out of the way smartly. Miss Pooley apparently was quite able to ride a horse as well, mounting by way of a special platform, possibly at her father’s stables on Great North road. At times, Mr Croft said, she would go droving.

From around 1919, the Stables became a service garage for Pooley's grandson Percy Keen. By 1924, the General Omnibus Company ran a bus service from out of the front of the Stables.

On 14 November 1924, the Stables burned down . Destroyed totally was a large motor-bus garage, 2 passenger buses, 2 heavy motor lorries (one a Republic lorry owned by CT Pooley himself), 2 motor cars (one, a 6-cylinder Cleveland, valued at £550 but only insured for £200, owned by Constable Douglas) , 2 motor-bus tops (1 owned by Mr M McCarthy, listed in the NZ Herald as “taxi proprietor of Avondale”, who was also the first funeral director) and the neigh-bouring house in which lived Lawrence Tierney and his family (who owned the local barber shop and billiard saloon). He, his wife and 10 children were able to escape unharmed, but weren’t able to save any possessions.

The front of the garage was occupied by the General Omnibus Company a firm only in existence 3 months, owned by Messrs E R Alexander and G R Horrocks.

The main telephone and telegraph wires north of Avondale to Helensville ran in front of the garage, and these were seriously affected by the flames. The services northward from Avondale were thus temporarily cut off. [NZ Herald, from M Butler report, 2001]

C T Pooley also apparently owned land behind the Avondale Hotel/Post Office in Wingate St. In February 1925 he offered “66ft frontage to Great North Road free for improvements on condition that any further land be purchased for £5 per foot.” It was resolved “that the offer be accepted and that a further 30 ft be purchased with a view to making a civic square.” [minutes, 18/2/25] The “civic square” idea didn’t happen exactly as hoped.

The disastrous fire of 1924 did not deter Charlie Pooley from rebuilding on the Great North Road Stables site. By the 1930s new brick and corrugated iron buildings were up, and served as the base and workshops for the Transport Bus Company and a taxi service.

Local Election Day 1922

As I write this, it is a few weeks away from yet another Local Election (October 2001). I thought I’d give you a glimpse at the way things were in 1922, just to compare the way thing are now (with postal voting etc.) with the way it was nearly 80 years ago.

On 29 April 1922, the first Avondale Borough Council was elected, and the first Mayor was Mr James Watkin Kinniburgh.

This from the News (courtesy of Mrs P Ferry and the Kinniburgh Family)

“Never before in the history of Avondale has such keen interest been taken in any local affair as was manifest on Saturday last, when the election of the first Mayor and Councillors was held. From the opening to the closing of the poll there was a constant stream of voters, wending their way to the various booths….

“Throughout the day motor cars and other conveyances were speeding along in the interests of various candidates, and a pleasing feature in that connection is the fact that partisans frequently gave lift to opponents when the “right” car was otherwise engaged …

“Soon after the booths closed (7 p.m.) little groups of electors began to assemble outside the Town Hall, eager to hear the results. As the minutes sped by the crowd got bigger and bigger, and the old proverb, “It is an ill wind which blows nobody good” was exemplified, for hundreds patronised Empson’s Pictures to pass the time away, the result being that before 8 p.m. even standing room was not obtainable outside. However, those disappointed at not being able to see the picture found little incidents to keep them amused, one individual who had been imbibing somewhat freely giving some “patter” which caused a good deal of good-humoured chaff, while the local weather prophet came out in a new role, obliging the crowd with a vocal effort – an effort, by the way, which showed that a few years ago he must have possessed a voice of more than average sweetness.

“A welcome interlude in the long wait occurred about 9 p.m., when Mr Munns announced that Mr J. W. Kinniburgh had been elected as the first Mayor of Avondale, with the substantial majority of 159. Loud and prolonged cheers greeted this announcement, and “His Worship” mounted the steps of the hall, accompanied by the new Mayoress, and gracefully acknowledged the compliment paid him, and expressed his determination that no effort would be lacking on his part during the coming twelve months to show that the confidence reposed in him that day would not be regretted by the electors.

“Mr. W. J Tait, the unsuccessful candidate for Mayoral honours, heartily congratulated his opponent, and wished him a successful year in office. If, he said, the electors desired his services on some future occasion, he would always be at their service. Mr Tait was heartily cheered for the sporting manner in which he took his defeat.

“As the time sped on various rumours began to get circulated that so-and-so was “in”, the name being varied occasionally. Some people gave credence to the rumours, and rejoiced prematurely – or, maybe, were disappointed without cause. A little reflection would have shown that no authentic results could have been known until the returning officer made his declaration. However, by this means, some more time was “killed”, and when the picture show was over the ranks of the crowd were swelled until nearly a thousand people were straining their necks towards the upstairs windows of the Town Hall, inside which the votes were being counted up.

“At last, close on 11 p.m., Mr Munns announced the result of the provisional count, and as each name and number of votes received were announced the “backers” heartily expressed their jubilation. Several of the successful candidates and one of the unsuccessful ones mounted the steps of the hall, and expressed thanks for the support received; a few minutes later the crowd wended its way homeward in little groups, comparing notes as to how many “winners” they had picked. It was an occasion which will be long remembered, being quite unique as far as Avondale is concerned, for as stated above, never before has so much interest been shown in local affairs.”

Laurence Teirney: A 19th Century Hellraiser of the Roads

Some names from the 19th-century omnibus business that were based in the Whau or Avondale in the last half of the 19th century have survived to be recounted in past histories of the district, such as Challenge of the Whau (1994). We have known of Patterson's, the Northern Omnibus Company, Andrews, Potters, and Pooley's.

But, one forgotten driver could almost certainly, given the strength of two news reports from way back then, be termed as the most infamous. Ladies and gentlemen, girls and boys, I bring you tales of Mr Laurence Teirney, omnibus driver of the Whau.

Those who had to conduct business in Auckland City in the late 1870s used the horse buses, or omnibuses, that plied the routes either along the Great North Road or along New North Road between the City and the Whau and further west.

One of the horse bus drivers of the time was a Laurence Teirney, from out of the Whau district.

(I found some biographical information on Mr Teirney from his descendants. His first name and surname appear in differing forms in the newspapers and other records. As the family today spell their name as "Teirney", I have tried to continue that in the narration).

Mr Teirney apparently had an aversion to other users of the rutted roads passing him along the way. And he had a quick, pugnacious temper, going by what the newspapers of the day relate.

An article in the NZ Herald, 7th November1879 tells us:

“An accident occurred in Symonds St between 7 and 8 pm, which imperilled the safety of at least 1 person. A gentleman named Frost was driving a buggy, coming into town from the Whau by the New North Road, and passed the Whau bus coming in the same direction, and driven by Lawrence Tierney.

“The driver of the buggy kept close to the left side of the road after passing the omnibus. Tierney, in turn, improved his pace so as to pass the buggy, and the consequence was a violent collision, which smashed the lighter vehicle. Mr Frost was thrown out but beyond being covered with mud and a little shaken by the fall he has sustained no serious injuries. The damage done to the buggy is estimated at £20.”
(Article originally found by Mike Butler).

This may have merely been a case of Teirney having a really bad day. However. I found another report from 17 January 1882.

"Obstructing a Thoroughfare -- Rival Omnibus Men.
"Lawrence Tierney was charged with obstructing the passage of Patrick Collins, Henry Holloway and others on the Great North Road on 23 December 1881."
It seems that Patrick Collins,another Whau driver, had left the City before Mr Teirney and Teirney caught up with him at the Whau Hotel. Teirney left 5 minutes before Collins, and Collins caught up with him at New Lynn "near the stables where he stopped."

Collins called to Teirney to "give room to pass, but he (Tierney) kept to the centre of the road." Collins then drew his bus onto a siding and tried to pass Teirney's bus that way, but Teirney thwarted the attempt by drawing across himself, preventing Collins from getting any further.

Then Teirney used his bus and horses to block the middle of the Whau Bridge, causing Collins to pull up short.
"(Teirney) stopped there for half a minute, and stopped again at the end of the bridge, and then started to gallop up the hill (toward the Whau township) before (Collins) got up to him."
Teirney had been charged with obstructing a public carriageway under the Public Works Act of the time, but was discharged without conviction of that charge due to a technicality -- the police had chosen the wrong part of the Public Works Act on which to lay the charge.

The Herald report did not stop there, however.

Teirney was next charged with "conduct calculated to provoke a breach of the peace."

He was accused of taking off his shirt at the Whau, and challenging Collins to a fight. "Mr Lennox," the report advised, "who was subpoened, was unable to come in. He was an important witness, but he was suffering from an injury." According to Teirney, Collins picked the fight first, and he was backed up by a Charles H Smith and William Armstrong. Still, he was convicted and fined 20/- and costs of £1-4/-.

Of Hypnotists, and Chimpanzees

One of the puzzles every retailer faces at some time or other while they are in business is – how do I attract the customers? Where early butchers in Avondale would simply put a pig’s head in the window to advertise their wares, or as in the case of Watson’s Chemist decorate the front window with Ranfurly Shield paraphernalia, there have been others who took things to the next level.

Take Lawrence “Larry” Tierney, for example. From just after World War I, he ran a billiard saloon and barber shop at the corner of what is now Crayford Street and Great North Road. After local rivals opened their barber shops in 1923 and 1932, Mr Tierney may have felt the need to boost business. One day, inquisitive school children found to their delight and wonder – a man asleep in the window of Tierney’s barber shop, hypnotised by a visiting practitioner of the art, covered only with a cloth. Good enough to stick in the memories of a few of our local identities, and maybe good enough for business.

In the 1960s came Chimpanzee Week, at Stuart North’s Avondale Paints and Paper Ltd. To quote from Heart of the Whau:

“One of his more famous promotional campaigns involved a family of three chimpanzees owned by a Mr Alan Horobin, arranged through Dulux Paints. The father chimp did painting in the store during the week-long promotion holding a brush with a hind leg, or in the mouth. Local children from the school were so keen to see the chimps that the teachers had trouble controlling them”
A local television show of the time even took the chimps’ paintings and showed them to passers-by in Albert Park as a stunt. None seeing the paintings had the slightest idea that they were the work of ‘amateurs in the field’.

I wonder what the Avondale retailers of today will come up with?

First published in Spider's Web, August 2001

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Oruaiti Chapel

Earlier this year, I went on a Railway Enthusiasts excursion by train from New Lynn up to Whangarei. Very exciting to me, to have the opportunity of travelling along the Northern line which has been closed for so long to ordinary passenger traffic.

Once there, I went on the side-trip to the Whangarei Museum and Kiwi House. It was raining that day, a pity, as there is quite a few historical objects and buildings up there to look at -- but the rain did add a mood which wasn't entirely out of place.

A friend here in Avondale mentioned the Oruaiti Chapel, so I went looking for it. According to this site:
"One of the most remarkable Mangonui settlers was Thomas Ball, a chemist from Brigg in Lincolnshire. Born in 1809, he was the son of a bookseller. In 1834 he married Jemima Abraham who died before he left for New Zealand ... Some of the Ball Party, as it became known, remained in Auckland to seek employment and gather resources to purchase land. Those who accompanied Mr Ball to the north on the 'Dove' settled in and around Mangonui village, mainly in the Oruaiti Valley. Approximately 20 others of predominantly Wesleyan faith followed this party on the 'Phoenix', leaving England on 12 October 1859, some settling in the Mangonui area.

Methodism was alive and well when John Wesley blessed the walls of a large octagonal chapel in Heptonstall by preaching there in July 1764. Other such chapels followed at Rotherham, Whitby, Chester, Edinburgh and elsewhere. The buildings were designed as preaching houses. After attending the conventional church, dissidents covertly went to their 'preaching houses' for their preferred sermon. The logic was that the architecture dictated that the buildings could not be mistaken for churches. It was understandable that Mr Ball's group of Wesleyan adherents should set to on arrival and build an octagonal chapel for themselves in the Oruaiti Valley. This was achieved by 1861."
Quoting the museum site:
"Oruaiti Chapel, c1859
Believed to be the world's smallest Methodist Chapel, this building was moved to the property from Doubtless Bay, North of Whangarei. The octagonal chapel was built in 1859 from a single kauri log and services are still held here on special occasions."

The Rewa ... from composite

In 2007, when visiting the Maritime Museum in Auckland with a friend and historical accomplice (you know who you are, if you're reading this), I spotted the Rewa, a good example of a mid-19th century cutter. Similar to those which once entered "Thomas' Channel", the mouth of the Oakley Creek, servicing the cargo needs of John Thomas' Star Mill (and George Thomas, then Thomas & Barraclough after him) as well as the later Garrett Tannery.

Trouble is, (a) the Rewa isn't a small boat, and (b) there's not a lot of room where it's housed at the museum for a classic step-back-and-take-the-wide-shot approach to digital photography. Hence, the composite image above. In no way perfect, and put together using time, patience and my good ol' workhorse for this sort of thing (MS Publisher) -- but, I think it conveys how cool the Rewa is. It dates from the 1870s/1880s, according to what I can find online at the moment.

Living heritage/hitori @ Avondale Primary School

Within the last couple of years, I was involved, along with another Avondale historian Ron Oates (head of the Avondale History Group and author of Challenge of the Whau, back in 1994) in Avondale Primary School's Living Heritage project. It was a blast. Avondale Primary is my old school (I was there from '68 to '74, just in case you're interested, and was the youngest person at last year's Primary School Reunion in November. Not that I cared about that!)

Local history should have a higher profile in our education system up to and including secondary level than it does today. Yes, I know, I'm biased because I love the stuff, but seriously -- a study of local history can and does involve knowledge in the subjects of and not limited to: social history, technological progress, geography, geology, computer literacy, and just out-and-out logical thinking. At least, there's more interest today regarding including the subject in the school curriculum than there was when I was younger. This is a good thing -- but it can be better, folks.

A brief history of … the Excelsior Chambers

In the Avondale of 1922, the only shops of note at the main intersection of Great North and what is now Rosebank Road were McKenzies General Store (where the Fearon Building now stands), the two-storey wooden shop serving as a fishmongers and confectionery shop operated by the Shaws, and Stewart’s Garage. The main centre for retail here was the old Five-Roads intersection, where the roundabout is now. The Great North Road was still uneven metal, an impediment to travelers from the city towards West Auckland through Avondale. This was the year of the start of the short-lived Avondale Borough, where the main landmarks of note along Mainstreet Avondale were the Page’s Building built in 1903, and the Avondale Hotel from the late1880s.

It appears, going from references in the Borough Council minutes, that one George Hosking, of a land agents firm Hosking & Hosking, owned the land at the south-east corner of the intersection of Great North Road and Browne Street (now Rosebank Road). Hosking built the retail shops at 54 and 56 Rosebank Road, and subdivided the corner section in 1926. By the late 1920s, his business had been taken over by W J Tait (who had the Unity Buildings constructed in 1932). The land was paddocks and blacksmiths’ outbuildings (the last blacksmith there being George Downing before 1915), and was still largely open in 1924 when Charles Collier set up his ironmongery store just up the incline from where the shops were later built in c.1925-26.

The NZ Herald reported in January 1926 on the planned construction of “two large blocks of shops” at the Great North-Rosebank intersection – one of these was most likely the Excelsior Chambers. The construction was obviously taking advantage of the newly concreted Great North Road

The original building was from numbers 1880 to 1886 Great North Road, with five businesses according to the directory of the time: Cecil Western, draper, at No. 1880 (he remained there until the mid 1930s); Harwood Clifford Hemus, chemist, at No. 1882 (there until 1932); a solicitor John V. Mansill and confectioner Miss Margaret H. Maddren at No. 1884 (neither there beyond a year); and Charles Collier at No. 1886 (he left by the time if the Depression, but opened up his own block of shops across the road, the Collier Buildings.

Around 1929, no. 1890 was added onto the original building, and no. 1892 added around 1937-1939.

Well-known shop owners in the Excelsior Chambers over the years have been the Martin family (Mrs. A Martin started there as a pork butcher in 1932, then Rebecca Martin opened up a furniture dealership in 1933); Charles Funnell from 1956 who bought the business from the Martins. He in turn was there to at least the late 1980s; and Sam Lowe, the fruiterer there from 1937 to the 1970s.

Seventy years of keeping Avondale one step ahead in style

It was around 1933 that Philip Toucich opened his bootmakers shop in the Excelsior Chambers, at no. 1886. The business was one of Avondale’s longest lasting in the footwear trade, passing to F. Zoricich by 1940, then to Vince Zoricich a decade later, and finally settling as the Central Shoe Store in the 1960s. I recall the shop when my mother and I would go on the annual hunt for shoes for school – the high step from the footpath was a climb for a youngster, and the shop was lined floor to ceiling with boxes of shoes in the narrow little area, with displays of shoes and shoe boxes in the front window. These days (2003), it is part of Pacific Gear. There never seemed to be a lot of room there to take time, try on shoes until you found the one that suited you best.

From around 1962, Allen Shaw Shoes opened at 1892, and is still a place for buying quality shoes in Avondale, since being renamed Avondale Shoe Store in the 1970s, and since 1997 being under the management of Hamant. Hamant, originally from Fiji, had a shoe shop there for 12 years before coming to live in New Zealand and taking over Avondale Shoe Store. His father was also in the footwear trade, so he has quite a vast experience in behind him when it comes to helping his customers find just the right shoe for them. “When a customer walks in, “Hamant says, “he won’t get out without buying shoes.”

I remember the store from my childhood as Shaws Shoes. It was my first experience with being able to sit on comfortable chairs, to try on various types of shoe until the right size and style was reached, checking for width across the broad part of the foot, and space for the toes. “Charlie Blacks”, shoe horns and a shop seemingly filled with an infinite variety of footwear are parts of my memory of the shop we now know as Avondale Shoe Store.

For over 70 years, the Excelsior Chambers has been the base for shoe stores excelling in keeping the feet of Avondale, young and old, both men and women, well protected from all seasons, and for a reasonable price.

The Early Days of Avondale's Law and Order

The Police

Avondale prior to 1906 had no purpose-built police base. Instead, the district came under the wider area of West Auckland, which extended up to Kaukapapa. By 1905, one Constable O’Grady was stationed at Avondale, although to date I haven’t been able to find out exactly where.

In that same year, a young woman named Rose Thomas, aged 18, was attacked about 200 metres from the then Avondale Hotel and grabbed by the throat by a man who had “rushed upon her out of the darkness, caught her by the throat, and making an improper suggestion threatened to blow her brains out with a revolver, which she said he held in his hand at the time.”

After dragging her down the road her down the road and throwing her into a ditch, he would have done much worse if not for some ladies who were walking by and disturbed him. He ran off but Miss Thomas “made a complaint to a passer-by, and information of the assault was conveyed to Constable O’Grady, who is stationed at Avondale. He saw Miss Thomas, and gathered a description of her assailant from her. Yesterday Inspector Cullen received information of the arrest of a young man who resides at Avondale, who, Miss Thomas alleged, was the man who assaulted her. He will be brought up at the Police Court this morning.” [NZ Herald, 30/1/1905]

The first purpose-built Avondale Police Station was erected on Great North Road, next to Page’s Building, in 1906. Initially there were 3 separate buildings: constables residence & office (still standing), lockup and stable. The District Engineer of the time, in charge of the work, was C. R. Vickerman, while the builder was Robert Kay. Total cost was £740. Dressed timber for the buildings was supplied from Government mills at Kakahi. The land was purchased on 28/8/1903 in preparation for the building.

Constable O‘Grady reported, “that the section purchased by the Police Department at Avondale for Police Quarters would be very accommodating for Troop horse here by it being fenced, as the present stable yard where he runs when out of stable is very small and of no comfort.” [“Report of Constable Thos. O’Grady, No. 649, relative to Police Station at Avondale suitable for Troop Horse accommodation by being fenced,” 15/12/1903, National Archives. Both items from Mike Butler report, Heritage Planning, 2001]

Rangers and Traffic Officers

In the 1880s, it was not easy being the Ranger. This was an unpopular position, despite being one of the first of the paid positions under the Avondale Road Board’s control. The Board expected the Ranger to stop cattle and horses straying into the roads, while the populace at large strongly objected to seeing their stock impounded for such misdemeanours. It was a common practice for farmers in the district to let their stock roam at will, grazing along the roadsides. In June 1887, there was a strong protest against impounding of cattle, and the Board capitulated for a time.

The Ranger was also expected to keep an eye out for human nuisances as well – gumdiggers seeking gum by digging up the public roads were warned off by prominent notices put up, and that the Ranger stood to earn £1 for each conviction.

By the end of 1887, the Ranger was Mr John Lupton, who lasted in the job only two years. Next came John Ellington who left by February 1890, after several run-ins with locals, replaced by Mr Owen McGuise.

At the turn of the 20th century, the Board and the Ranger expected full co-operation from the police constable of the time (Constable Crean, and his successors), in prosecuting owners of straying horses and cattle.

By the early 1920s, the Avondale Borough Council altered the position of Ranger to incorporate two further roles: that of Noxious Weeds Inspector and Traffic Inspector. The only man to fulfill all three roles during the period of the Borough (1922-1927) was George Thomas Chandler from October 1924, earning £1 per week for each position. As Traffic Inspector, Chandler was in charge of policing the speed limit (15 mph in the Shopping Centre), parking (no parking allowed on Great North Road after the concreting in 1925), no smoking on buses in the Avondale Borough, and by-laws related to vehicle lights.

As the Ranger, he frequently had differences with Constable Douglas of the Avondale Police Station regarding Douglas’ cow being impounded. These led to “foul words” and a civil action, ending with the Borough Council demanding the removal of Constable Douglas by the Commissioner of Police. It is uncertain whether they were successful with their appeal to the Commissioner.

From 1927, after amalgamation with Auckland City, traffic regulations in Avondale were policed by Auckland City Council’s own traffic enforcement division.

Shake, rattle & roll: the Avondale Earthquake of 1885

At around four minutes to 7 in the evening of 22 December 1885 – the ground shook violently and for a prolonged time beneath the feet of Avondale’s residents. One shocked settler headed straight for one of the district’s telephones and reported to the NZ Herald, telling them that the quake had lasted a full four minutes. It was distinctly felt by neighbours contacted by the informant, and “in two or three instances it had caused considerable alarm.”

The Herald was quite perplexed and dubious. “The shock”, they advised, “if shock it was, must have been confined to Avondale, for although we caused inquiries to be made, we were unable to learn that it had been felt beyond that district.”

The Star, however, did some sleuthing and their inquiries found that a Mr. Thomas Reid had been working a quarry that evening on the Gittos tannery property (possibly part of the former quarry land at the end of Soljak Road off New North Road). It appears he fired “an unusually large blast” of 400lbs of powder. “This,” the Star informed readers, “no doubt explains the phenomena.”

Such was the Avondale Earthquake of 1885.

Stop! Look out for the engine!

Level crossings, where road crosses rail, have always been areas of potential hazard and danger for road users. In Avondale, we know of problems arising from the crossings at St Judes Street, Chalmers Street and St Georges Road – but before 1914, there was a fourth crossing, just to the east of the railway station, between the ends of Trent and Tait Street. These small stub streets actually started out as the detour connecting Station Road, leading from Great North Road, and Manukau Road (today’s Blockhouse Bay Road). The overbridge didn’t exist then; people and carts had to head down the side streets, carefully cross over the tracks, then head back up the other side. The rule was that the rail line had to be crossed as walking pace, so that drivers could watch for trains coming. At that point originally, however, the line curved considerably; trains coming in from Mt Albert were out of view until almost at the level crossing. In 1908, this almost proved fatal.

Henry Farrar was a young man operating a waggonette service at the time. This was an uncovered wagon with seats extending along the sides, designed in some cases to hold up to eight people plus the driver. It was summer, 13 January, and good weather to convey his two passengers to Onehunga from Avondale Station: Thomas Horton, a nurseryman from Pahiatua, and his friend William Shepherd, from New South Wales. The waggonette must have come down Trent Street, and started to cross over the railway line – when the train rounded the bend.

The engine driver, Frank Skillen, had sounded the usual crossing whistle, then saw the waggonette and applied the brakes. Farrar had almost completely driven over the line when one of the passengers panicked and reached for the reins, pulling the horses up. At that point, the rear of the waggonette was still on the line, and the engine smashed into it. Sheppard was the most seriously injured. He had been propelled from the smashed vehicle, and ended up “in a sitting position” on one of the pipes connected with the engine’s Westinghouse braking apparatus. He suffered internal injuries. Farrar had a dislocated shoulder; while Horton had a scalp wound (it may indeed have been Horton who panicked). The injured were carried by train to Mt Eden Station, and then on to Auckland Hospital.

A month later, Farrar appeared in court with one arm in a sling, on charges of failing to “Stop! And look out for the engine”, and driving over the crossing at more than a walking pace. As it was seen that he already suffered considerably due to the accident, he was let off simply with a conviction and costs. The Avondale Road Board campaigned for years to have that crossing replaced by an overhead bridge – and when the railway station was altered in 1914 to that of the island-type configuration we still see today, the bridge was completed as well and the crossing dispensed with.

Death in the rush-hour

David Daniels was a well-liked 73 year old married man in 1916, a resident in Avondale since the 1890s, still going to work in a boot factory in Kingsland at his advanced age. He lived in Brown Street, today’s upper Rosebank Road, and was closely connected with the nearby Methodist Church. Travel to work for Mr. Daniels was by train at 7 o’clock in the morning, and usually he’d walk up Station Hill to the overhead bridge and then down the pedestrian ramp to catch his ride, despite moving with a limp, some said because of his tender feet.

On Thursday 16 March 1916, however, he was running a bit late. He’d been a bit poorly recently, a touch of the ‘flu, and the train was soon to arrive. On that morning, he took the alternative shortcut, a pathway with a turnstile just off Layard Street (likely close to the RSA today) which led across the city-bound line on the northern side of the platform. By then, since 1915, there were two lines around the station building (the building most will remember, which is now at Swanson, was brand new with the redevelopment that year). The rail authorities created the Layard Street entrance for people to use, and around 100-150 people used it each day. Most kept their eyes open, and listened for trains before crossing the line.

David Daniels, however, not quite well, in a hurry, and partially deaf, didn’t hear the train making its way up the grade past Crayford Street, nor did he hear the shrill whistle when the driver saw to his horror what was about to happen.

He was struck by the engine’s cowcatcher, and dragged about a carriage-length underneath the engine along the tracks. His body was so entangled, they had to use jacks to lift the engine off his remains. The back of his head was stoved in by the initial impact. The coroner ruled that death was probably instantaneous, but witnesses claimed that Mr. Daniels saw the oncoming train when it was just a yard away and tried to flee.

In his ruling, the coroner laid no blame on the train driver, but said that the Layard Street entrance was hazardous. It may have been because of this tragic accident now long forgotten that the entrance was fenced off and only the ramp at the overhead bridge is the legal access to the station in 2008. Yet just before I wrote this, one Saturday afternoon, I saw a passenger who had alighted from the same train as I did make his way along to the end of the platform, past all the signs stating “No access”, and then across the same part of the line where Mr Daniels met his death, to head for what is now an unofficial shortcut to Layard Street and Rosebank Road.

As I said, David Daniels and his fate have been forgotten. While we forget tragedies such as his, we never learn.

Avondale's future/past railway

Above is the site of Avondale's future railway station. Part of Ontrack's Project DART, or "Developing Auckland Rail Transport". (I guess the acronym DARN, if they'd used "Network" instead of "Transport", didn't go down too well with the decision-makers.) Anyway ...

All the bits an' bobs about the project are here. They're still working out how best to plan out a pedestrian crossing across Crayford Street (it's been closed to vehicular traffic since the 1960s or so) where it is already a pretty steep drop from Crayford Street East to Crayford Street West. Anyway ...

I'm not here just to relay the blurb from the powers-that-be as to what they're going to do here in Avondale. See that photo? Imagine if the house with the blue roof just behind the vegetation on the left wasn't there. And the vegetation, the grass, the auxiliary box at the left -- and if a lot of that verdant slope was bare, and covered with ballast. Complete with four lines of rail siding.

Back in 1914, the Avondale Railway Station yards (at the present site closer to Blockhouse Bay Road) were redesigned. According to plans I've photographed (with permission) from Archives New Zealand, along with the now-familiar island platform layout, with our station renovated, enlarged slightly, and given not just one verandah as they'd done in 1908, but two verandahs. A signalbox was added, and the goods shed extended, as extra lines in the station yard were laid doiwn between the clay banks. An overbridge was constructed in 1913 across Blockhouse Bay Road, and a footbridge (still there) led from the road to the station platform. For a while, a pedestrian pathway led from Layard Street (I'll post another piece I wrote about a tragedy there which stopped that crossing. Ironically, the railway planners intended putting in a pedestrian subway from Layard Street, but that never happened.

Anyway ...

At Crayford Street (called Cracroft Street in those days), the railways also planned the sidings, and proposed taking another half-acre to accomodate them (hence why I said the blue-roofed house wouldn't have been there.) The reason for the sidings? The passion and the popularity in those days of going to the Avondale races. The sidings would have been for queuing up the race-day trains. It may have made it easier for folks to get off and go down to the racecourse via either Crayford or St Judes Streets. The local Road Board had already expressed disquiet at the practice of some trains to stop in the middle of St Judes Street to let off passengers, thus blocking the traffic (what it was then).

The sidings, though, were never created. The land was left empty, barring the trees which look very nice, but they'll go once the work begins soon during construction of the new rail station.

Just another of the "might have beens" of Avondale's railway story. We might even have had a direct rail link, from Chalmers Street, to Green Bay via Portage Road if a 1900 plan I was also able to copy had left the drawing board (can you imagine Green Bay possibly as a light industrial centre, serviced by the line which would have plowed through the land which later became Clark's Potteries along Taylor Street in Blockhouse Bay, so that would never have existed there ...)

Extra: This post has been updated here, regarding the raceday trains and a special platform in 1899.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Remnants of a Wolverine

Up until the late 1960s to early 1970s, part of the Avondale landscape included a wooden shed built by J J Craig in the late 1890s at his brickworks on St Georges Road, now known most commonly as Glenburn. In those days, if a supply of teak and oak timbers came floating into Auckland harbour and was there for the salvaging, why not take advantage of it, buy a stack of it, and then reuse it to increase output in what was then Auckland’s largest brick and pipe making operation?

The timbers came from a Royal Navy full-rigged corvette named Wolverine, launched in 1863. It was built from a composite structure of teak and oak planking, and was launched right when steam was rapidly replacing sail as the motive power for ships. As such, although she was a sailing ship, she also had a steam engine aboard. The ship served in both the West Indies and Australasia. In 1893, the aged Wolverine was retired by the Royal Navy and sold for £2200 to one Peter Ellison.

Under her new ownership, she was converted to a cargo ship, intended to convey coal, tallow and copra from Australia and the south seas. Her first voyage in her new role was to prove her last. Sailing from Sydney on 24 February 1895, a Tasman gale caused her to start leaking in more places than could be adequately repaired.

The Wolverine was diverted to Auckland in distress, and limped into the Waitemata Harbour. The news here from the shipbuilders who inspected her was not good – the old lady was beyond repair. Ellison sold the hulk to Devonport shipbuilder George Niccol for £1000, and she was broken up for salvage.

Along with J J Craig’s purchases for his Avondale brickyard, many of the ship’s girders were used in building the Shaw Savill & Albion woolstore close to The Strand in Parnell. Furniture and several small boats were built from her timbers as well. Once everything valuable had been stripped, the remains of the Wolverine were allowed to slowly decay into rust.