Saturday, March 7, 2009

Before Avondale’s Mosque: teachers, tanners and stationmasters

Here in Avondale, an application has been made for resource consent to replace an existing Islamic Centre with a full-fledged mosque at the top of Tait Street, close to the intersection of Rosebank and Blockhouse Bay Roads. This was once a Seventh Day Adventist church and school from the 1960s until around 2000.

I don’t object to the proposal myself. There’s already a place of worship there, and apart from traffic snarl-ups once in a while on a Friday, I don’t experience any adverse effects. Whether the proposal eventually will go ahead or not (there are a number of resource consent issues which have made it notifiable, with a hearing due from later this month) I don’t know. But, looking at the plans, I realised that I had a gap in my knowledge and information on the site’s history – especially when I looked back on the land titles, and found the names of Amy Caduceus Graham and Charles Eyes.

I’ll wind back to the beginning, when this was part of a surveyed allotment in the Parish of Titirangi, November 1845.

The Crown Grant title for Allotment 62 of the Parish of Titirangi (88½ acres) went to John Marmon in 1845. The ensuing owners were: George Frederick Russell (1846,) Samuel Norman, publican of the New Leith Inn in Onehunga (1847), Robert Willoughby Dickson (1853,) then George Codlin (1855). Codlin subdivided the allotment, and sold 21¾ acres to William Pilcher in 1857, and the following year Pilcher subdivided the allotment further, selling 10¾ acres to James Comrie. Comrie was one of the founding members of the Presbyterian church here in Avondale (see post on St Ninians history).

Comrie, on leaving for Pukekohe, sold the land in 1861 to Archibald Hitchens Spicer. Spicer in turn transferred the land, via equity of redemption, to Benjamin Gittos in 1864. Gittos proceeded to erect a tannery on the site, which came to include part of Allotment 65 (towards New North Road) and Allotment 5 ) towards Mt Albert).

In 1884, John and James Gittos sold the tannery site as the Ingleton Estate. It wasn’t until 1898 that Amos Eyes had title to Lots 8 and 9 of Block 1 of the Gittos estate (which included the old house, lived in by James Gittos and possibly by A. H. Spicer even earlier), but Eyes purchased Lots 1-3, 4 & 5 of the same block in 1884. This five years before Eyes became the fourth stationmaster and postmaster of Avondale. Much of the following information on Amos Eyes comes from his descendants’ family historical research.

Amos Eyes was born in Wolverhampton, England, c.1835. He married Sarah Ward in Stretton, County of Chester, on 30 June 1862, by which time he was already a railway inspector for goods trains, possibly for the London and Northwestern Railway Company. His eldest child, Charles (1863-1933), was born at Bushbury, one of the towns along the line, on 6 May 1863. (Charles in the 20th century was an early Waterview landowner). Amos, Sarah and young Charles arrived in Auckland for the first time on board the Golden City from London, 5 March 1864, and two children were born in Freemans Bay: Amos John Thomas (16 March 1867, died 1935 in Te Atatu) and Minnie (born and died, 1869). Then, around 1870, the family left New Zealand, only to return 23 March 1871, on board the Caduceus. As was common in those days, young Amy who was born on board during the voyage (17 January 1871, one day before the ship crossed the equator. She died in Ponsonby 1946.) was christened with “Caduceus” as her middle name.

For a time, the family lived in Epsom where, in October 1872, another child was born (and sadly died that year). On 7 June 1873, Amos Eyes wrote to the Railways Department asking for employment on the Auckland and Waikato railway. His letter is lodged with Archives New Zealand (Inwards letters, AGG-A/1/69/75/507):
Epsom Mt Eden
June 7th 1873

To The Hon Dr. Pollen

Dr Sir

I beg most respectfully to offer myself as a candidate for a Situation on the A & W Railway, as Station Master, Inspector, Guard or Signal Man.

I also beg to inform you that I am quite qualified to undertake any of the aforesaid offices, having a thorough knowledge of all Railway work as I was employed by the London & North Western Railway Comp upwards of seven years as Porter, Shunter, Pointsman, Extra Passenger, and Goods Guard, Parcels Clerk and in charge of a large junction, Bushbury.

I wrote to Messrs. Brogden & Son and they referred me to an office at Wellington called the A&WR. I have written to that office twice the last time with an enclosed stamped addressed enveloped Mar. 4th ’73 and they returned it empty copy herewith enclosed. I should feel obliged if you would be kind enough to see to it for me and if you should require any more local references I shall feel most happy to furnish you with them as I am well known by almost all the leading Gentlemen in Auckland.

I hope Sir you will pardon me thus trespassing on your valuable time and beg to remain

Your Humble and Obedient Servant

Amos Eyes


Epsom Mt Eden
Mar 4th 1873

To the Manager of the A & W Railway
Principal Office

Dear Sir

I beg most respectfully to repeat my application for a Station Master, Inspector, Guard or Signal Man on the Auckland & Waikato Railway as it is fast advancing and I wrote you some six months agow [sic] enclosing three Testimonials also W Cawkwell Esq. Manager of the L & N W Railway whose service I was in upwards of 7 seven years informs me he has forward to your [sic] my Character during the time I was in that Comp Service. I should feele [sic] greatly obliged if you would say whether you have received the same and if my application is accepted by so doing you will greatly oblige

Your Humble and Obedient Servant
A Eyes
Judging by the period of service, 25 years 1 month, noted beside his name on the first published list of railway employees in 1895 (AJHR), Amos Eyes began working for the department in May 1874. By January 1875 he was a ticket collector on the southern Auckland suburban line.
“Breach of the Railway Act. — John Adeane was charged with a bleach of the 10th bye-law of the Auckland and Onehunga Railway, by refusing to deliver up his ticket on demand of the porter authorised to collect the same on the 26th instant. — Mr. Thome prosecuted on behalf of the railway authorities. — Amos Eyes deposed that on Saturday the 26th inst, he was acting as ticket collector. After leaving the racecourse platform at Ellerslie, witness asked the defendant for his ticket. Defendant said he had lost his ticket, and he refused to pay the fare. - John Kernley was called by defendant, and stated that he was in the train, and heard the defendant say that if he did not find the ticket between there and Auckland, he would pay on arrival at the Auckland station. — The defendant was further charged with making use of obscene and insulting language on the 26th instant to James Stewart, a railway officer .— His Worship considered each charge proved on the evidence of the Railway Manager, ticket collector, and Constable Naughton. For refusing to give up his ticket, it being the first case of the kind brought before the Court, the defendant was ordered to pay 1s. and costs. For the second offence a fine of 40s. was imposed.”
(Southern Cross, 1 January 1875)

Amos Eyes was one of the stationmasters at Papakura south of Auckland (the station opened there in March 1875 and was for a time the last station on Auckland's suburban Southern line). He certainly owned blocks of land in the district: 2 blocks at Kirikiri, Opaheke Parish from 2 October 1879 (DI 7A.14, DI 16A.204), and another smaller block at Opaheke Parish from 20 June 1881 (DI A2.437), This is according to his will, made out on 26 September 1879, when he was stationmaster there. Three of his children were born at Papakura: Lily Antigone (1877-1950), Lois Mable (b. 1878) and Daisy Effie (b. 1882). So, he may have been at Papakura from c.1877 to at most 1889. (I made contact with the Papakura & Districts Museum today – they may have more info which I can add in an update.)

He had interests in Auckland, however, during the Papakura period – he loaned a mortgage to a Mr. Sykes for a Mt. Eden property in 1884 (DI 16A.541), and he took out a title over part of the Gittos family’s Ingleton Estate at Avondale also in 1884 (DI 19A.257). At the opening of the Avondale Post Office in August 1938, H. G. R. Mason recited a brief history of the post offices in the district and their postmasters. Amos Eyes was named as combined stationmaster / postmaster at Avondale Railway Station from 1889-1900, succeeding J. Leach (1881-1884), H. F. Howard (1884-1885), and H Bell (1885-1889). Why, if Amos Eyes was still in Papakura up to 1889, did he invest in property at Mt Eden and Avondale? According to the report of his funeral in 1901, he certainly had a residence in Papakura. While he was here, he may have stayed at the house once lived in by James Gittos, which had occupied the site of today’s Islamic Centre.

He was our stationmaster by October 1889, when the station was robbed. Little further is known about his time here in Avondale. He probably retired in 1900, perhaps from illness (he had been ill for 10 weeks before he died on 12 January 1901.) From the Weekly News, 18 January 1901:
“The funeral of the late Mr. Amos Eyes, late railway stationmaster, of Avondale, who, after 10 weeks of severe illness, died at his residence here [in Papakura], on January 12, aged 66 years, took place on January 14, and was largely attended by relatives and sympathising friends, who, by their attendance, and by many floral tributes, showed their last tribute of respect to the memory of one well known and much esteemed here. The Rev. O. R. Hewlett was the officiating minister, and he conducted an impressive service in the Anglican Church, where two suitable hymns were sung (Mr. A. G. Fallwell presiding at the organ), and at the grave. The deceased leaves a widow, two sons (one married), and four daughters (two of whom are married) to mourn their loss.”
The Avondale and Papakura properties was in Sarah Eyes’ name until she died in 1924. Her daughter Amy and son Charles inherited the estate as trustees, and in 1926 subdivided the Avondale property for sale. Tait Street was finally named by the Eyes family, after William J. Tait, the then-Mayor of Avondale Borough, and dedicated. Robert Earnest Steele and his wife Beatrice Adelaide purchased most of the present-day Islamic Centre site in 1929 – NA601/38 (the Seventh Day Adventist Church purchased part in 1937 where they built a hall – NA693/189). The church purchased the remainder, up to the corner of Tait Street and Blockhouse Bay Road, in 1955. The present buildings date from between 1960 and 1987. The old wooden house, if it still existed, was demolished.

Around 2000, the church sold the site to the New Zealand Muslim Association, and we are back to where this essay began.

(Above) The main house as at 1879 when the railway survey for the Kaipara Line was prepared.

(Above) Detail from 1884 Ingleton Estate Deed 37, showing the Tait Street/Blockhouse Bay Road corner. LINZ records.

Detail from 1926 subdivision map. House footprint outlined in red. (LINZ records)

1940 aerial of the site (outlined). This, and next two aerials, courtesy Auckland Regional Council website.

The site in 1959.

The site in 2001.

(This post updated, adding Amos Eyes' letters in 1873, 14 March 2009)


  1. The family has Lily Antigone's death as1950, not1960. She wa my great grandmother. Perhaps it is no coincidence that my brother is a train driver! Thank you for a very interesting post.

    1. Thanks for that, Lynley. I've corrected the post. :-)