Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Avondale's Riflemen

Edited and updated: 3 October 2014.

In 1890, Lieutenant-Colonel Francis Yelverton Goring (1846-1923), a grandson of the 3rd Viscount Avonmore, assumed command of the Permanent Artillery at Auckland. This post was a carry-over from the “Russian scare” period of our history, and Goring was in charge of both the forts established, and the volunteer units. In 1894, he instigated the establishment of the Avondale Volunteer Rifles at a meeting held in the district on 18 December – something which did not fit in with the best suggestions for New Zealand’s defence as described by the government’s inspector, Commandant Lieutenant-Colonel Fox.

A meeting was held at Avondale last night to discuss the advisability of forming a volunteer rifle corps in that district. Colonel Goring was in attendance, and explained what would be required of the men in the event of a corps being accepted by the Defence Minister. Mr Foley said that unfortunately it had not reached the ears of those signing the requisition that a meeting was to be held, otherwise there would have been a larger muster. Colonel Goring expressed a wish to see the men previous to any further action, so it was agreed to call a further meeting after the holidays, due notice to be given through the press. There seems to be every probability of this corps being successfully formed, and with the prospect of acquiring a much-needed rifle range of about 1,000 yards.

Auckland Star 19 December 1894

The adjourned meeting was advertised for 8 January 1895, convened by Michael Foley and J B Birch, at the public hall. There was an Avondale Rifles formed by April that year.

In July 1895, however – the Observer asked where they were, and why they weren’t on parade. n August, a number of the Avondale Rifles were cited for non-attendance.

An inspection parade of the Victoria Rifles and City Guards, joined as one company, was held at the Drill-shed last night ... At the close of the drill, Captain Robertson read to the parade a district order notifying that seven men (whose names were mentioned) belonging to the Avondale Rifle Volunteer Company were dismissed from the Volunteer Force of New Zealand for non-attendance at their duties (vide paragraph 48, sub section 1, New Zealand Defence Act, 1886). The officer commanding the company is instructed to take immediate steps to collect from these men all Government property on issue to them, and failing to do so to report to the officer commanding the district, when proceedings would be taken. Officers commanding companies are requested to note the names of the men dismissed.

NZ Herald 21 August 1895

They were still rather scarce in September that year –
“Once again Auckland volunteers fare badly at the hands of Colonel Fox in his annual report on the defence of the colony. He passes some severe criticisms, and characterises the infantry as inefficient and unreliable. This, however, was only to be expected, and the few visits the colonel paid to Auckland must have shown him that volunteering was on the down grade. There are supposed to be three rifle companies in the City of Auckland, but of this number the Avondale Rifles have never yet been inside the Drill Shed. The remaining companies have run down so low that a joint parade is always necessary to make even a muster. For this state of affairs the colonel hasn't far to look for the reason, and whilst the artillery corps have received a little encouragement, those men in the infantry have simply been guyed out of the service. “
With the idea of military volunteerism languishing, Defence Minister (and future Premier) Richard Seddon’s ideas for re-organising the system were welcomed in October 1895. But Avondale seemed to be a non-starter.
“The volunteers of Auckland, and all others who have the interests of our citizen soldiery at heart, are anxious just now to hear that Defence Minister Seddon really intends to redeem his promise to come to Auckland and put the volunteer force, in this part of the colony, on a better footing. Some such action as this is an immediate necessity, if it is desired to prevent volunteering from becoming a mere memory of the past …

“As an antidote to the failing strength of the force in Auckland, the Colonel of the district went considerably out of his way recently to establish a rifle corps at Avondale, quite contrary to the principle already laid down by Colonel Fox that inland infantry corps were quite useless for the purposes of defence. But Colonel
Goring's enthusiasm broke out in the wrong place. Already, the Avondale Rifle Corps is almost as dead as the proverbial door nail.”
Perhaps this spurred the plucky Avondale riflemen on? By January 1896, they were on parade, and about to start a week’s camp at Avondale. They had another camp in in October that year. In March 1897 they were parading at the Drill Hall. Colonel Goring was obliged to retire that year and return briefly to England with failing eyesight. Archives New Zealand hold capitation records for the Avondale Volunteer Rifles at Wellington for 1896-1898. October 1898 is the last sighted record of them, a cricket match between Auckland Rifles v. Avondale Rifles. Then, nothing further.

(An update, 22 December 2008: The Appendices to the Journals of the House of Representatives in 1896, H19 p. 9, has the following information from Fox's report on the Avondale Rifles: 1 officer, 50 non-commisiomed officers and men, 38 qualified for capitation, 13 unqualified, 41 at inspection, "new company; promises fairly well.")

So far, I have one name of a member of the Avondale Volunteer Rifles – a Sergeant Turton who, the Observer said a year after his death in 1903, was the central figure of an inadvertent comedy at the old Drill Hall.
“He was illustrating to a squad of recruits, the method of "porting" arms with the Martini- Enfield rifle and for the purpose of better explaining himself, borrowed a gun from one of his men. He brought it to the "port," but noticing by the indicator (the Martini’s are provided with indicators), that the rifle was cocked, intuitively pressed the trigger. The result was hardly what he expected. There was cartridge in the chamber of the rifle and its explosion diverted the thoughts of the recruits to other channels than those of drill.”
The Observer went on to describe him:
“Belated recollections of Sergeant Turton indicate that he was not understood, and perhaps because of that, not popular with those thrown into touch with him. He was a soldier of the stiff, unbending sort, taciturn; and without great education. Nevertheless he could be trusted to do his duty, and with him duty dominated self. He had gained an active experience of the actualities of military life in the ranks of the British Army, and on settlement in the colony Turton devoted no inconsiderable portion of his declining years to volunteer work, serving as Sergeant of the old Avondale Rifles and later as Provost-Sergeant of the local infantry Battalion.”
“Sergt.Turton… was a well-known figure in connection with Auckland volunteering. He joined the Gordon Rifles on the formation of that company some five or six years ago, and was shortly afterwards transferred to the Battalion staff, with the rank of provost-Sergt. Before coming to thecolony, Turton had considerable experience in professional soldiering, and he was for many years a member of the Coldstream Guards.”
Could this have been James Turton, who featured rather unfortunately in the Observer in 1897? [Update as at 18 December 2008 -- yes. Link to new post here.]
“James Turton is a cordial manufacturer and hawker, who honours Avondale with his residence. And he has a large experience in the matrimonial line. He has survived two wives, and has quite recently been breaking in the third. But Mrs. Turton No. 3 does not like the breaking-in process. That is why James appeared before the beak at the end of last week, charged at the suit of the Society for the Protection of Women and Children with having on the 27th December, just by way of Xmas diversion, we presume, assaulted his wife by knocking her down, struck her with his hand and dragged her along the ground by her feet.

“The wife's story shows that it is much better to be housekeeper to some men than to be their wives. Mrs. Turton entered the cordial making James's service in February last as housekeeper, but he speedily popped the question, and a month later they were married. He thought so much of her that he insured her life. But that may have been James's provident way of making ready for the contingency of a fourth marriage, for Constable Brown at any rate understands that both the previous wives had been insured. However, the third wife soon found out matrimony was a very serious business in the Turton household. There were continual rows, and several forcible arguments from James’s fists, culminating in the affair which took the parties to Court.

“The magistrate inflicted a fine of 40s, with 29s costs, with the alternative of 21 days hard labour, and as James said he was unable to pay the fine, he is most probably just now taking out the alternative in the cordial factory presided over by Gaoler Reston. His effervescence will have time to cool down inside three weeks.”
The successors of the Avondale Volunteer Rifles, although not directly, was the Akarana Rifle Club. From 1901-1905, there was a piece of ground somewhere in Avondale used by the club for both their rifle shooting, and for meetings of the Auckland Rifle Club once the range at Mt Eden was closed in 1902. So far, I can’t say that anyone in the club was a resident of Avondale, but their lease expired in 1905 and they folded for a time, only to restart at a new range in Penrose from 1906.

From 1911 until World War I, at least, it is said that there was a practice range used by local school cadets at the end of today’s Holly Street, with some telling me of spent cartridges being found there and near the Avondale College grounds. Archives New Zealand appear to hold a record of a “miniature rifle range” at Avondale College, from 1948-1964.

Updated 11 February 2014 -- additional info.

Crack shots at Avondale, 1895-1903

In 1895, the Avondale Rifle Volunteers was formed. In 1896, they set up a series of camps at Avondale for instruction and practice, possibly on the original racecourse land near Wingate Street. “Yesterday (Sunday) was a red letter day at Avondale. The Avondale Rifle Volunteers who are in camp for a week held a church parade in the morning. The whole company, under command of Lieut. Potter, and headed by the Auckland Garrison Band, marched to the Anglican Church. The church was crowded to excess. The Rev. F Larkins, the vicar of the parish, conducted the service and preached an excellent sermon for the occasion. The service was bright and cheery, singing and music being exceptionally good. Several volunteer officers from town attended the church parade. During the afternoon a large number of people, including many ladies, visited the camp, where the band kindly played many appropriate and beautiful selections. In the evening the company attended the Presbyterian Church, which was also crowded to excess. The Rev. Mr McLean conducted the service.” Mr Ingram replaced Mr Potter as lieutenant for Avondale Rifles in 1898, but the corps disbanded later that year.

More successful was the newly-formed Akarana Rifle Club for recreational shooters , which took up a lease from Thomas Ching in 1897 for part of his land in Avondale – through which Holly Street lies today, including Avondale Intermediate’s grounds. Virtually all the land bounded by Holly Street, Eastdale and Rosebank Roads, four sections of around 55 acres total, was bought for just £18 in July 1882 by Devonshire-born Ching. Ching had very little to do with his purchase, living in Remuera and leasing out the pieces of farmland he owned around the Auckland area for income.

There, a proper rifle range was set up, 700 yards long. The range was officially opened on 26 February 1898 by the Mayor of Auckland Patrick Dignan. Miss Essie Holland fired the first shot from 500 yards (a bullseye). The club operated their rifle range there until 1903, when moves were made by Ching to sell that part of his land to the Government for workman’s homes (a scheme incidentally promoted by Avondale’s John Bollard, in Parliament). At first the club thought the range would stay in place, with interest in taking up the settlement lad quite low. But, in December 1903, the range finally closed, and the site was subdivided for building purposes in what was called “Kitchener Hamlet” (and later, for the future intermediate school and Avondale College grounds). The road passing through the rifle range ground was called Kitchener Road, until it was renamed Holly Street in the 1930s.

1 comment:

  1. Most interesting. In Parliament on Nov 14 1914 the Government discussed the matter of the rifle clubs not being permitted to have ammunition, the Akarana Defence Rifle Club having had permission to use the Penrose Rifle range withheld by the Ministry. The Ministry thereafter allowed the Akarana Defence Rifle Club to use the range on Saturdays when it wasn't required for the Expeditionary Force and when ammunition was available.
    See Hansard reports.