Monday, December 22, 2008

William Tullibardine Murray vs. the Chinese Growers

The early 1890s for Auckland was a time of (European) people's real concerns over a perceived takeover of Auckland's fruit and vegetable supply market by Chinese gardeners and shop owners, amid jibes against the "Celestials" which we would regard today as racist and illegal. The cartoon above from the Observer of 6 August 1892 summed up much of the feeling then, where a mis-shapen and heavily-accented "John Chinaman" has won the right to ship his cheaper produce via the shipping company (represented by a "John Bull" type character) over the pleas of the clean-cut European grower with his suffering family at the rear. To further inflame public opinion, the cartoon was headed, "The Chinaman On Top Again." Even so, Aucklanders had a fascination for the exotic products imported by Chinese and displayed in their businesses in the city, the culture and customs so unusual to Europeans, and the Chinese-owned restaurants.

On 14 November 1891, the Avondale Fruit and Vegetable Supply Depot opened in the southern wing of the old Auckland Market building in the city (today, this is Aotea Square). A Mr. W. T. Murray from Avondale was the instigator.
"The southern wing of the Market was crowded yesterday afternoon by visitors and purchasers attending the Avondale Fruit and Vegetable Supply Depot. The tug of war has commenced between Mr. Murray and the Chinese, who, finding him encroaching on their domain have lowered the price of vegetables one-half to their best customers, and restaurants and boardinghouses. He is confident that he will hold his own with them, and yesterday small growers were at the depot with cart-loads of vegetables from Mount Albert, Epsom, Otahuhu etc., which he purchased, relying on a large turn over to compensate for the small profit. Mr. Murray intends to adopt the same principle as regards fruit, and will, by large purchases, give the citizens cheap fruit throughout the summer, his motto being "small profits and quick returns." This evening a band will discourse choice selections of music in the southern wing of the market, purchasers at the Avondale Depot getting a concert thrown in with their purchases."
(NZ Herald, 14 November 1891)
"Auckland is just now the scene of a labour competition between Europeans and Chinese in the supply of vegetables, and as it is to be "the survival of the fittest," we back the Europeans. Tho Avondale Vegetable Supply Company have now established a depot in the City Market, and have numbered vans patrolling the city, so that the war is being carried into John Chinaman's country. The Saturday night promenade concerts at the Market are also a great treat."
(Observer, 14 November 1891)
It was portrayed by newspapers like the Observer as a full-on war between two racial stereotypes: "John Chinaman" and "Jock Scotchman". William Tullibardine Murray, bearing as his middle name the place where the clan chiefs of the Murrays of Tullibardine had their funeral services, certainly appears to have represented the Scottish side of the feud.

"The vegetable war is still raging in our midst, and John Chinaman is viewing with chagrin the profitable trade being driven by the Avondale Depot representatives. John believing that competition is the life of trade has cut down the price, saying, "Allee lightee, me makee fight."

(Observer, 21 November 1891)
One last burst from Murray came on 16 December 1891 when he and Mr. A. Aitken organised "the inaugural show of fruit and flowers" at the Greenleaf section of the City Market. This was not a success, however. "The show," the NZ Herald reported, "was hardly so successful as the promoters anticipated, and there was not sufficient competition ... Mr. Murray informed us that it is proposed to hold another show at the end of March, principally for fruit exhibitions." I couldn't find any further reference to either the Supply Depot or any fruit shows organised by Murray. It would appear he lost the war.

William Tullbardine Murray wasn't a gardener by occupation, oddly enough: he was a teacher, living at Avondale from c.1887, in which year he purchased part of the Aickin family's Avondale estate, a 10-acre farmlet fronting onto Avondale Road itself. He sold this piece of land to Thomas Jackson in 1893, which is soon after the Supply Depot's disappearance from the records. Thomas and Elizabeth Jackson renamed the house there on Murray's land "Meliora", and went on to found the Victoria Hall church.

[Update, 6 March 2010: Historian John Adam, while working on a Rosebank horticultural history project for the Avondale-Waterview Historical Society, came across an interesting article published in the Bee and Poultry Journal, of December 1891. In it, Murray's 35-acre market garden is described in considerable detail. I wondered how Murray's 10-acres at 103 Avondale came to be 35 acres. Last night, in a quick search before LINZ shutdown for the evening, I discovered that he leased land on either side, around the same time, the total holdings coming up to just over 35 acres, including the site of Hayward Wright's nursery in the 20th century.]

Murray's career is so far only known from circumstantial bits and pieces. In October 1892, he tried, unsuccessfully, to run for a position on the Auckland Board of Education. The next possible appearance after he left Avondale is via the Presbyterian archives, where there is a reference to a Rev. William Tullibardine Murray, formerly a teacher, who was ordained as a Home Missionary in 1917, serving in Hanmer and Normanby before dying in 1923, losing his life while climbing Mt. Egmont.

I'll be looking for more information on this intriguing character, that's for certain.

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