Saturday, March 7, 2009

The 1889 Avondale Railway Station burglary

A nasty surprise awaited a diligent government servant in Avondale one October Monday morning in 1889, in the days before we had a resident police constable. It could be said, however, that a basic form of country “neighbourhood watch” had come in handy back then.

Less than two months after he’d taken up his position as both stationmaster and post master at the Avondale rail station, Mr. Amos Eyes came to work to find the premises had been broken into during the night. He quickly sent a telegram to the Auckland police, and two detectives were despatched to the distant rural railway station: a Detective Herbert immediately by horse-cab, followed closely by a Detective Ede.

The safe was found, unopened, 70 yards from the station building by Mr. Eyes. From what the detectives could piece together, here’s what happened.

The burglars may have broken into the workshop of blacksmith George Downing and taken two hammers and a plough coulter. Downing found these put back on the premises, but not where he’d left them (his smithy was located where Civic Video is today on Great North Road, next to Avondale Primary School). If this was the case, these must have been thoughtful crims indeed! Then, heading back up the hill in heavy rain around 1am in the morning, the burglars tried breaking in via the station’s door, but found that job was making too much noise. Finding a window pane which had only just been replaced, and so the putty was still soft, they removed the glass, turned back the hasp of the sash, and got inside.

With their tools, they made short work of the door’s lock from the inside, and hefted out the safe. It was while they were obviously trying to open the safe itself, outside the station, when they came unstuck; the noise finally roused neighbouring dogs, and the dogs’ owners turned on their lights to see what was causing the disturbance. The burglars scarpered, their footprints lost in the heavy downpour, but without the object of the escapade. It isn’t known whether or not they were finally apprehended.

The unpleasant surprise for Mr. Eyes didn’t put him off his duties at Avondale – he went on to be our combined stationmaster/post master for another 11 years.


  1. Sounds like they bit off more than they could chew with that safe!

    Have just unearthed a book "Those Were The Days 1930's" with stories and photos from The Weekly News lol.
    The destruction of illegal whisky stills in 1930 at Invercargill was a bit sad lol.

  2. Sometime soon, I'll do a piece on the raid on Clement Crisp's illicit whiskey operation from the late 1860s. Plain clothes coppers creeping furtively through the brush under cover of darkness ...

  3. Maybe he was after the history of the lamington? -

    Okay probably not but I was trying to find some witty way to introduce that link.

  4. A search on Papers Past comes up with only Lamington cakes, not Leamington or Lemmington, and the recipe first turns up in the papers that are searchable online from late 1910. I have no dispute with Aussie over the origins of the lammington -- it isn't one of my favourites, anyway.

    Now, the pavlova is a whole different cilinary battleground, Marita, dear friend --! ;-)