Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Signalboxes, again

After looking at the comments from this post ...

Artforce in Brisbane has been rather busy painting traffic signal boxes, as have a group called Promenade Artists in Wellington (a $5000 project approved there last year). This from 2004 and the Gondwanaland Ministry of Culture blog:


Promenade Artists Call for submissions

Promenade Artists, in association with the Wellington City Council, are looking for artists who may be interested in participating in their Murals on Traffic Signal Boxes scheme. Artists receive a small honorarium of $75 and their work is placed on permanent public display.

A traffic signal box is that beige thing about 600 x 1200 x 400 mm that appears in the vicinity of every set of traffic lights in the city. They are currently decorated with delightful bright green stickers and bland brown paint.

To view the two examples extant walk by the corner of Victoria and Mercer Sts and up to the Willis/Mercer intersection. It is intended that this will be an ongoing project and that, over time, every box in the city will be adorned with original art.
So ... does dark paint only affect us here in Auckland? Can anyone else provide other examples?

"Exploring the Great North Road" exhibition

Some many moons ago, an artist and photographer named Brian Marsom gave me a call, and said he was fascinated by a piece which had appeared in the New Zealander back on 27 April 1861, a letter to the editor, written in quite flowery prose, by one J. C. Loch. Exactly who Mr. Loch was, is still unknown -- but I suspect he may have had something to do with estate agents, such as Michael Wood, the purveyor of Waterview at that time.

Brian took it upon himself to take a trip along the Great North Road as it is today, in the hoofprints and wheel ruts of Mr. Loch and companions, and record the road in a photographic record which has now become an exhibition to be opened next month at Henderson's Corban Estate Arts Centre. The exhibition opens on 21 May at 6pm, and runs through to 21st June.

This came today from Brian -- I was delighted to hear from him after all this time, and that his exhibition was soon to be a reality:

Opening Thursday 21st May 09 at 6pm- (informal)
Part of the Auckland Festival of Photography

At Corban Estate Arts Centre, 426 Great North Road Henderson, Auckland
Note access is from end of Great North Road, at top- turn left at lights, over rail crossing and drive back through the Estate to car park.

This exhibition was inspired by a letter in The New Zealander in 1861, by J C Loch and I have retraced the journey with some contemporary photo images.

Exhibition times- 22nd May-21st June. Open 7 days 10 am -4-30 pm.
Artist floor talk- June 4, 11 am in CEAC Gallery- all welcome.
I look forward to seeing you at the opening or hope you get to visit the exhibition.

Best regards
Brian Marsom
So, what is this 1861 letter all about? Here's the text, with some of my annotations.



To the Editor of the NEW-ZEALANDER.

SIR, -- Upon a lovely morning we started from Queen-street in the North Road Van, bound for Henderson’s Mill. It was a glorious New Zealand morning, and we enjoyed it. Our only companions at first were a hearty young settler, and a veteran bushman returning to the scene of his felling exploits. Once at Newton, we rattled along at a rapid rate, but soon to pull up for additional passengers, whose knowledge of the localities we were fast passing through contributed much to the pleasure of the drive.

Leaving behind us Newton and Ponsonby Road, with its magnificent prospect over city and ocean, islands and headlands, we speedily arrived opposite Richmond, and the pretty suburb of Glengarry, laying between it and the City, numerous and snug paddocks were interspersed in the space seaward, -- while toward the west the picture terminated in the house and cultivated grounds on Halstead’s Point.

Halstead’s Point? This may have been Herne Bay area, or clear across to North Shore. At this stage, I don’t know. Leigh Dines Halstead around this time was Auckland’s veterinarian, and owned land on the Shore in the late 1850s.

Having under us a capital road, we were soon at Arch Hill, around which our ancient friend Mr. Joseph Young has planted a belt of native forest and blue gum trees.

While expressing our strongest approbation of this tree-planting practice, a sharp descent – easily to be mitigated by a small outlay – brought us to the enclosed paddocks and farm-house of Mr. Edgcombe, where a deeper verdure and richer luxuriance gladdened our eyes.

After a few minutes’ run along the well-fenced fields on either hand, our horses made a voluntary stop at the Northern Hotel, where, taking the hint, we duly entered. Our stay, however, was but short, for we had sighted the pennons of Waterview, and were anxious to press on to the site of the new village. The extensive mills and buildings of Messrs. Low & Motion, almost concealed in the valley of the neighbouring creek, presented to our notice only their roofs and higher points, -- while the thriving cultivations that surround them were wholly concealed from our view. The handsome gardens of Mr. Cameron, more immediate and at hand, afforded us much gratification – all around teeming with a luxuriant vegetation, strangely at variance with the crabbed scoria which it covers.

Mr. Cameron could have been Richard Cameron, listed as resident at Meola Creek as a labourer in the 1860 Jury List. This could have been, therefore, one of the early farms at the Sutherland Estate – see Pt Chevalier Times, No. 4.

We crossed the bridge, and speedily found ourselves at Oakley’s Creek, -- and fronting us the entire village of WATERVIEW. The position of the village has been chosen with much judgement, having a slight declination towards both the harbour and the creek, but otherwise smooth and level.

Directly opposite, encircled by the sea, is the residence of D. Pollen, Esq., which, with its tasteful plantations and clumps of forest trees, imparts to the picture quite an old country look.

We now pass over Oakley’s Creek, with its sparkling waters high on either bank, and Thomas’ mill – for whose especial use its aqueous treasures have been hoarded up; and drawing along to the western end of Waterview we come upon the farm of Mr. McEwan, where considerable improvements are fast being carried out.

I still don’t know who McEwan was – but there is the possibility that Loch was referring to the Robert Chisholm farm. Chisholm, in Parnell at that stage, would have had a manager on his farm.

We have now before us the noble ranges of Titirangi, with their numerous sawing-stations and homesteads betrayed to us by the curling smoke, that tells of coming dinner, -- and soon arrive at the Whau.

The cottage and grounds of Mr. Elliott at the Bridge-end pleasingly present themselves, -- while around and far towards the Waitemata is studded with smiling homesteads and cultivated enclosures.

Elliott had a house and land on the New Lynn side of the Whau Bridge -- so Loch and his companions may have sighted this, and Dr. Aickin's house below from somewhere close to present day Victor Street.

The residence and property of Dr. Aicen likewise here become visible, -- and a few hundred yards brings to view, conveniently situated on the roadside, the Presbyterian School-house Church, lately erected by the zealous efforts of the Rev. D. Bruce. Here, on the afternoon of every Sunday, divine service is held by the Rev. George Brown, the pastor of the district.

This, of course, is our St Ninian's Church.

Now at length we enter upon the tenantless fern plains, through which we pass until our journey’s end, save where the roads leading up to the neighbouring bush cross our path, or the tempting waters of the Rewa Rewa Creek invite us, as many before, to stop and liquor. Denying ourselves this pleasure, we hasten along, and soon from an adjacent height Henderson’s mills and busy station burst upon our view. The lovely valley and glistening stream, the rolling wheel and snorting engine, the parent mill, with the little town of heaths and homes that it has given birth to and nursed into comfortable condition, the pleasing hum of active industry – all strongly recalled to mind the manufacturing homes and valleys of our native Yorkshire. Here we witnessed the monarch of the forest, after being treated to a ride on a rail, and a float on the river, dragged with a bulldog grape up to the inevitable saw, and there halved and quartered, like traitors on Tower-hill, at the rapid pace of about five thousand yards per hour.

After enjoying ourselves heartily, and partaking of the hospitality of the respected owner, we returned to our van, and speedily found ourselves repassing the site of Waterview, and soon in Auckland, more impressed with the permanent progress of our city on the western side than had it been shown to us in a blue-book.


Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Update on the signalbox murals

Previous post here.

The update is: the vanishing signalbox murals won't be replaced. Something about the dark colour played havoc with the controls inside, so as the contractors work their way through, the murals are going and they'll stay gone, according to what came out at tonight's Avondale Community Board meeting. Unfortunate, but -- that's life.

Windsor Reserve to Windsor Castle: Hector Bolitho

Image originally from Dunedin Public Libraries. They have a page on Hector Bolitho as well.

Today, after I gave a talk to the Auckland branch of the NZ Society of Genealogists, I purchased the book Windsor Reserve to Windsor Castle from Joyce Fairgray, author of an essay which is the feature of the book

I promised Joyce I'd put in a promo for this very interesting book about one of our Kiwis who did well overseas. Besides, I have a soft spot for Devonport Library -- a brilliant place, and very helpful when I researched the Bear Gardens during preparation of The Zoo War. According to the North Shore City Libraries site, the Devonport Library Associates support the library and run evening events open to the public.

Here's the Association's information:

Devonport Library Associates present their latest publication ...

Windsor Reserve to Windsor Castle

A biography of Hector Bolitho.

Brought up from the age of 10 in Devonport, Hector Bolitho went on to have a remarkable career as a writer, becoming well known in Europe and America, particularly for his royal biographies. In 1919 he published two short books, "The Island of Kawau" and "Devonport on the Waitemata". Facsimilies of these are included in the book, as well as a lengthy biographical essay by Joyce Fairgray, and an extensive bibliography.
Obtainable from Devonport Library, Windsor Reserve, Victoria Rd, Devonport, North Shore, New Zealand $20 each.
Mail order: Packaging and postage within New Zealand add $3
Aust add NZ$7, Other areas add NZ$10.
Payable by cash, cheque, money order
More details, email:

The book is A5 in size, softcover, 113 pages, illustrated throughout. A very attractive and informative work -- I'm delighted I met Joyce today, one of those who worked to put it together.

Avondale's Musical Sharps

On coming home yesterday, I find another intriguing email in the inbox.

Robert Perry has a website called -- "Preserving the music of yesterday", devoted to music from player piano rolls. According to his site:
"The player piano had its heyday between 1900 and 1930, when it brought music to the home prior to recorded music becoming widely available (and of acceptable sound quality). During this time, literally millions of piano rolls, recorded and arranged by some of the most famous pianists of the era, were produced by dozens of music roll companies. Music to suit every taste was available, from classical to ragtime to the popular hits of the day.

"Now, over 100 years after the player piano was invented, time has taken its toll on the paper music rolls. Thanks to the dedication of enthusiasts worldwide, the technology now exists to preserve this wonderful music for all time, using custom-built optical scanners and software. What you hear on your computer is exactly what was recorded or arranged onto roll, in many cases over 90 years ago."
Of special interest to Avondale's heritage is that Robert has information and midi files of music from the rolls produced by the Reliance Music Roll Company -- actually two brothers named Reginald Albert Sharp (c1897-1977) and Frederick Arthur Sharp (c.1899-1980). They lived with their father Albert Henry Sharp at 38 Canal Road during the 1920s producing their rolls, and were, according to Robert, the first and only music roll company to operate in New Zealand. I spoke to a former resident of Canal Road last night, now well into his 80s -- he told me that he well remembered the two Sharp brothers and their father, and that people came from far and wide to the house on Canal Road for the music.

From Robert's email:
"I guess this must be some of the earliest recorded New Zealand music. I was lucky enough to acquire from an estate sale many of their 'master' recordings, unsold stock, roll-making machinery, and various other bits and pieces. I've also had a machine custom-built that scans the rolls into computer format and preserves them archivally, with the side benefit of creating a MIDI file that can be listened to on computer.

"If this interests you, you can take a look at a little more information (I haven't yet collated all the data I've gathered, but it's a small start) at my website.

"If you wish to listen to some of the piano recordings made by Reliance in Avondale, you can visit this section:
and fill in Reliance in the 'roll brand' field and press 'submit query'."
By the time the two brothers died, they had become eccentric hoarders. Some details about the contents of their houses here.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Goodbye, St. James, goodbye

In 2007, while walking down Wellesley Street and approaching Mayoral Drive, I spotted a small rectangle of paper. Picking it up, I saw that it was a soiled stalls ticket from the St James Theatre on Queen Street. There had just been a fire – this was part of the damage.

This morning, news coming through on the NZ Herald website says that the tower development next to the 80 year old cinema is to go ahead. The article is headlined: “Towering over history”. They will be moth-balling the old theatre, sealing it away from water, entombing it. An impression of the developers’ plans is here.

The theatre opened 5 July 1928, constructed for John Fuller & Sons Ltd. According to the late Jan Grefstad (Auckland Cinemas, 2002), it was formerly the site of Auckland’s City Hall in the 1860s, replaced by premises for home furnishers Tonson & Garlick which caught fire in 1896. Then, a three-storied brick building replaced that, which was in turn demolished for the theatre, built at a cost of over £70,000, and designed with live vaudeville acts in mind. J. T. Julian & Sons were the builders (also builders of the Majestic, Everybody’s theatre, and the Auckland Railway Station on Beach Road.)

The first “talkie” was shown 26 December 1929, and by the early 1930s vaudeville was phased out. The theatre became the base for the Mareo Orchestra by the mid1930s, conducted by Eric Mareo who gained fame for something other than his musical prowess. He was sentenced to death by Mr. Justice Callan in the Supreme Court on June 17 1936 for the murder of his wife Thelma, after being first tried in February that year by Mr. Justice Fair, but was reprieved by the Executive Council on 5 August 1936, which commuted his sentence to life imprisonment. He walked out of Mt Eden prison a free man 11 May 1948.

The theatre saw the installation of a large, curved screen in 1953 for the film “Quo Vadis”, and it staged the world premiere of “The Million Pound Note” on Boxing Day 1953 before Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh.

I don't think I can isolate any cinema experiences from when I first went to see movies in town with my mother back in the early 1970s, but I know I did see movies there, and at the Odeon and the Westend, all part of the same cinema complex. That was the days when seats for popular movies could be booked, weeks in advance. I do remember standing in long queues that stretched down Queen Street. The St James, though, always seemed one up on the later neighbours, with a sweeping staircase from the ground level which took you up to the circle seats. A lesser Civic, but still grand.

The theatre closed in 1999.

Jan Grefstad ended his study in 2000, with the statement that “the St James is set to be renovated in a major refit … so it can rightfully stand alongside the Civic, Aotea Centre and the Town Hall “The edge” for entertainment engagements in the future.” Sadly, that won’t happen now for some time to come, if ever.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Fungus, tea and art – Yan Kew, Auckland merchant

Latest update: 19 July 2022

Image: NZ Graphic 12 August 1899, Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections.

One of Auckland’s longest-lasting and well-known merchants and importers during the 19th century was Yan Kew*, known in Auckland as James Ah Kew, born c.1840 at Sun Ning in the province of Guangdong. According to the biographical article on his son:
“He moved to Victoria, Australia, and in December 1871 arrived in Auckland. In 1879 he was naturalised, his occupation being described as fancy goods merchant. It is not known when his wife [Mellie Guey, also known as Mary Fong] arrived in New Zealand, but in 1888 they were married, making the Ah Kew family one of the longest-resident Chinese families in Auckland. James Ah Kew’s business flourished and he had two stores, one in Queen Street, the other in Rutland Street. However, within a few years of [his son] Henry’s birth [1900] the family’s fortunes had faltered. Alexander Don, the Presbyterian missioner to the Chinese, visited Auckland in 1904 and described James as a ‘once rich Chinese merchant, now old opium-smoker, living on his clansmen’.”
Yan Kew's death registration estimated that he lived in New Zealand from c.1869; shipping notices published in the Southern Cross 23 February 1872 show 18 pairs of horseshoes were exported to Sydney by "Ah Kew", which might indicate that he was in some sort of trade here at least by that stage.

He was attacked in the street on leaving the Oriental Hotel on 21 June 1872 – someone threw bones at him as he left, and one William Egerton called him names and struck him in the face after Yan Kew turned and asked who had thrown the bones. Egerton was fined £3 and expenses. (Southern Cross, 26 June 1872) The judge referred to Yan Kew as one of a number of "strangers to the city" who "should be treated civilly" so the 1871 date given for his arrival is possibly most accurate. By later in 1872, Yan Kew was involved with the fungus trade that had been initiated by Chew Chong (Chau Tseung) in Taranaki a year before.

He also dealt, most notably, in tea; Yan Kew’s shop at 234 Queen Street (later, by 1880 he was just up from Wellesley Street, possibly close to Rutland Street) was known as the Auckland Tea Consumer’s Establishment by 1873, when it burned down in September that year (Taranaki Herald, 10 September 1873).

His business bounced back from this, however, and by December 1873 he had decided to diversify into market gardening. He wrote to the Auckland Provincial Council, offering to lease Allotments 98 and 99 in Mechanics Bay, the Tanyard Gully gardens that had been started by William Mason (and would later, from 1881, be used by Ah Chee to found his business career in Auckland) for 14 years at £25 per annum. His application (as with those of a number of others for the sought-after land) was turned down, but less than two years later he had more success elsewhere :
“Mr. James Ah Kew, of Queen-street, is about to engage in the business of a market-gardener, he having secured for that purpose some pieces of land fronting Khyber Pass Road and in the Remuera district, which are to be cultivated by his countrymen as market-gardens. In course of time the present market gardeners will find they have a keen competition to meet, when they have to work against the plodding industry and temperance of the Chinese.”
(SC, 6 September 1875)

This puts Yan Kew as among the first, if not the first, to make market gardening a part of his business in Auckland, pre-dating the later and more prominent Ah Chee (Chan Dar Chee) in that trade.

In addition, in 1884, with his partner and business manager James Ah Bing, Yan Kew purchased a 6 acre block in Remuera and together they operated a market garden there until at most 1901, when it was sold on default of mortgage. In April 1884, the two partners had an interest in land totalling nearly six acres at Arch Hill (Lots 13, 17 and 19 of Section 5, Suburbs of Auckland) for which they took out a mortgage from the Auckland Tramways and Suburban Land Company Ltd of £800, which also defaulted. (Archives NZ reference R24866508) By 1890, Yan Kew had the freehold of land at "part 2 of 2, Section 1" in Devonport, according to that year's Waitemata electoral roll. In 1892, "James Ah Kew & Co" were renting the Upper Domain gardens.

Another part of his business was the importation and retailing of opium. This was not a prohibited drug until 1901, with the passing of the first of a series of parliamentary acts.

In 1879, the year when Sir George Grey stated that “The presence in this country of a large population of Chinese … would exercise a deteriorating effect upon its civilisation …” (AJHR 1879 D-3 session 1, via "The Poll Tax in New Zealand", Nigel Murphy, 2002), Yan Kew displayed a portrait in his window.
“There is on exhibition in the shop window of Jas. Ah Kew an oil painting of Sir George Grey executed by a Chinaman. The painting is excellent and true to life, and made from a recent photograph sent by Ah Kew to a firm of painters in Hong Kong. He has also a number of other portraits in oil of notable citizens whose photographs he had obtained and sent to the Flowery Land for the purpose of enabling outer barbarians to see what Chinese artists can do. All the portraits are admirable and on canvas about 20 inches by 26 inches. Such portraits can be supplied to order from any photograph at a total coat of seventy shillings.”
(West Coast Times, 26 May 1879)
“Lately the Chinese in Auckland have turned their attention to a branch of art, but its practice will not materially interfere with native industry. A common carte de visite photograph is to be sent to China, and in a few weeks the sender will receive a splendid photograph painted large size in oil, and a wonderfully exact copy of the photograph. Ah Kew, of Queen Street, has a great assortment of this school of art, including a portrait of Sir George Grey, painted from a small photograph, which is certainly marvelous, considering that the painter, instead of having had several sittings, never saw the original. Ah Kew visits China by next: mail, and takes over photographs to be treated as above.”
(Otago Witness, 31 May 1879)

For a time, it appears (according to Auckland newspapers, at least) that Yan Kew had a partner in his business.
“The advent of the first child born to Chinese parents has taken place in Auckland. The wife (a Chinese lady) of Mr. Ah Sup, the partner of Mr. Ah Kew, of Queen-street, has presented her husband with a pledge of her affection in the form of a small boy. The happy father instantly invested in a new cradle from Raftons.”
(Observer, 3 March 1883)

Despite the length of time he had been in business in Auckland, the NZ Herald did not seem to be terribly impressed with Yan Kew, especially when he entered the Parliamentary Union, a discussion chamber for, as one provincial paper put it, “politicians in training.”

“The electorate of Thorndon is represented in the Auckland Parliamentary Union by Mr. James Ah Kew, a native of China. The New Zealand Herald recently excited the ire of the hon. gentleman by remarking that he would prove an acquisition to the Union inasmuch as he would be able to enlighten it upon the mysteries of "fan tan" and other games of hazard so much patronised by the Chinese. Mr. Ah Kew wrote a letter to the paper next day indignantly denying that he knew anything at all about "fan tan."
(Evening Post, 30 July 1885)

The Southern papers equated Chinese politicians with those of the female variety – none too highly.
“The Parliamentary Unions, which I have already from time to time smiled upon with more or less benignancy, again demand notice by virtue of having taken another step forward upon the liberal platform. The Auckland Union, it seems, admits Chinamen to its ranks, and the Dunedin Union proposes to admit ladies. Both are concessions to the advancing liberalism of the times. As regards Chinamen, the Auckland Union has indisputably set an example of fairplay to our Colonial Legislature If numbers, together with such individual characteristics as thrift, industry, intelligence, and seeming guilelessness, go for anything, the Chinese in our midst are at least entitled to send one representative to Wellington. On the other hand the experience of the Auckland Union, with its solitary Chinese member, Mr. Ah Kew, has not been altogether encouraging. Mr Ah Kew, who had consistently posed as a Ministerialist, crossed over to the Opposition benches at the moment of a critical division without vouchsafing any explanation as to the why or wherefore, and the bill was lost upon his vote alone. What seems to rankle most in the breasts of the deserted party is that the recusant member had first carefully coiled his pigtail out of sight, so that all efforts of the Government "whip " to clutch this appendage, and thus extract explanations from the wearer were futile. In future the Auckland Union is likely to enjoin that all Chinese members wear their pigtails down "for party purposes." Let no reader for one moment imagine that any parallel is hinted. I am far from intending to suggest that the back hair of lady M.P.s should be let down for a similar purpose. But the political impulses of ladies may possibly prove to be as erratic as those of Mr. Ah Kew, and I merely express a hope that the Dunedin Union may avoid (how, it matters not) the particular rock upon which the Aucklanders have struck.”
(Otago Witness, 5 September 1885)

According to his son Henry's biography (Te Ara website), Yan Kew married Mellie Guey, also known as Mary Fong, in 1888. Their son Henry would not be born until 22 September 1900.

In 1897, he was charged for breaching the Shop Hours Act by remaining open on the Wednesday half holiday. His defence was that he had closed on the Chinese New Year, and felt that was sufficient. The magistrate took that into consideration, fining him only 5s, but applying 35s costs. (North Otago Times, 12 February 1897)

According to his son Henry's biography, from 1900 Yan Kew’s star began to decline, although this was when Henry was born. However, he was still the third-equal greatest individual contributor to a fundraising campaign for the Auckland hospital organised by Thomas Quoi in early 1903, giving £3 3/-. (Auckland Star, 9 March 1903, p. 5)

Yan Kew probably finally came undone through both the prohibition of opium in the country from 1901, and his own increasing ill-health over a number of years. By 1904, his premises in the city was a Chinese lodging house in Grey Street (Greys Ave) near the Market Hotel. This was raided on Saturday, 17 September 1904, with eight Chinese and one European arrested for operating and taking part in an opium den. Sergeant Hansen, Constables Lipscombe, McCormack, McIvor and Forbes walked up to Ah Kew's lodging house between 7 and 8 pm, entered, secured the front and back entrances, and began their search. These Chinese men were apparently caught in the act of smoking opium on the premises. Yan Kew was charged with possession and permitting the smoking of opium on his premises; Ah Ming, Ah Lee and Wong Sun with smoking the drug; and Loe Hen, Gum Long, Ah Sing, Tommy Fong, Fong Fong and Frederick Bryant with abetting the prohibited act. (Auckland Star 19 September 1904 p4)  The news of the raid went around the country.  At the Police Court hearing on 26 September, Yan Kew denied all knowledge of the opium smoking in the cellars (the charges against him were dismissed), initially the three Chinese caught smoking pleaded guilty, but Ah Wing changed his plea and his charge was dismissed, and both Fong Fong and Frederick Bryant were let off through lack of evidence against them.

Yan Kew's house was raided again on 21 October 1904, and he was brought back to the Police Court to answer a charge of possession of tins of opium. His medical practitioner, Dr Bakewell, testified that Yan Kew suffered from asthma and other ailments, for which he prescribed opium as a relief. This time, Yan Kew was fined £10 and costs. It later transpired that the tin of opium Yan Kew had been caught with had been provided by a laundryman from Hobson Street named Ah Tan, allegedly picked up from Ah Tan by a girl named Florence Lip Guey. Ah Tan had paid half of Yan Kew's fine, plus a refund of £2 to Yan Kew for the opium. Yan Kew however blamed Ah Tan for dobbing him in to the police, and Ah Tan was prosecuted in the Police Court for possession and supply in November and December that year -- but the charges were dismissed through lack of corroborating evidence.

Yan Kew was then charged by Ah Tan for committing perjury at one of the Police Court hearings of 21 November. The case rolled on until 24 March 1905, and pivoted on evidence for the prosecution put forward by Thomas Quoi. However, the magistrate found that Quoi was a prejudiced witness, and dismissed the charge against Yan Kew. (Auckland Star 25 March 1905, p.6)

It appears that the opium may have originally been supplied by a chemist named Walter H Dawson, who was charged and convicted in late 1906 of importing opium under the guise of an opium-bismuth preparation. He was fined £150 for importation and false customs declaration. (Auckland Star 22 December 1906 p 5)

Yan Kew died 30 March 1907, at the Methven Nursing Home run by Mary Wrathall on New North Road, Eden Terrace (near the Mahatma Ghandi Centre today). Cause of death was recorded as "senile decay," aged 67 years. James Ah Bing, by then a shop owner in Victoria Street, paid the costs of sending his business partner to Hong Kong, and the hospital cemetery there, his funeral taking place 15 April 1907.

(* According to David Wong, who provided additional information in his comment to my earlier Ah Chee post, Yan Kew is the Cantonese version of the name, which is Yan Qiu in Mandarin. Mandarin always uses Pinyin.)

Conscientious objection in the First World War

There is a very good section on this topic on the site. In some prisons in this country, instances of daily strip searches were noted. Those prisoners incarcerated for their conscientious beliefs who protested against such treatment had privileges such as family visits taken from them. A number were even deported to Britain. It wasn't until November 1920 when conscientious objectors were released from custody in New Zealand. Even so, they were disenfranchised for up to 10 years after their sentence.

Grey River Argus, 26 July 1917, Page 2
When the last transports sailed with troops, fourteen conscientious objectors to military service were placed on board from a guard from Trentham Vamp. There are still a number of religious objectors in camp, says the "Dominion." Some of these are willing to do work' about the camp, other are not, but all refuse to do anything which would tend to make them soldiers. It may be mentioned that there is a clear distinction between the religious and the conscientious objector. The former objects on religious grounds; the latter objects to conscription. Both types give considerable trouble to the camp staffs by refusing to work, drill, or put on uniform — a few have even refused to draw their pay. On the other hand, there are among the religious objectors a number who cheerfully perform orderly work and fatigues. So far none of the objectors have refused to take their meals.
Grey River Argus, 10 October 1917, Page 4

Some striking comments were made by a returned soldier on the subject of commissions in the New Zealand forces. A 3rd Reinforcement man returned to the Dominion in June last year, having been in Gallipoli three times, during which campaign he received rifle bullet wounds in the neck and shoulder. He served with the Battalion, and re-enlisted in May this year. Asked his opinion upon camp matters, he said : "The average returned soldier who re-enlists has no hope of getting a commission, in fact, they do all they can to block him. As far as I can see, social 'pull' is the chief qualification, and ability doesn’t count …

Asked about the conscientious objectors, he said: "We had a new batch in this week — I suppose there must be 25 or 30 there now. They are, of course, under guard, and will do nothing. Talk about conscientious! The majority are about the hardest cases in camp, and the language to be heard among them is enough to turn the air blue. They have a court-martial every, week or so to thin them out, and then they take a trip to Wellington for 11 months. By the way, the staff instructors who belong to the First Division are getting pulled out now, and drafted into the reinforcements; some have had their jobs since the beginning of the war. I'm not making any reflections on them, however; some have tried to get away before and were not allowed to go."
Auckland Star, 4 December 1917
Trentham Camp has at present two large hutments set aside for the flotsam and jetsam of the Military Service system, the deserters and conscientious objectors. The latter number nearly forty, and the majority have been sentenced to long terms of imprisonment, while the remainder are awaiting, cheerfully, it is said, a similar fate. About twenty of the objectors have religious reasons, and there has been much amusement among the others owing to the long arguments taking place among the religious objectors, who rely on different texts, and endeavour to prove each other in the wrong.

The men are allowed excellent food, plenty of literature, visitors, and the comforts which their friends bring, so that they are not at all displeased with their lot. They look forward to spending their terms on the prison tree-planting areas in the North Island, where a small batch is already at work.

Whether the objectors will get the work they expect is at present doubtful for the English authorities have found good use for this class of person, and they might be better able to deal with them that the New Zealand authorities. Fourteen New Zealand objectors were sent to England several months ago, and a report is being made on the experiment by the New Zealand representatives in England. When that arrives, the future policy in regard to the conscientious objector now in camp will be decided. Meanwhile, their future is uncertain, but they are comfortable, and as they are all together, they are able to reinforce each other in their passive resistance doctrines.
Grey River Argus, 16 February 1918, Page 4

WELLINGTON, February 12. In the absence of the Defence Minister, the Prime Minister has replied to statements made by Mr. H. Holland (editor of the "Maoriland Worker") in an election speech relative to conscientious objectors. Mr. Massey states that no man has been sentenced more than once for the same offence. The ages ranged from twenty-two to thirty. The men were not taken Home in irons. If any were sent from England to France in irons the obvious conclusion must mean that it was necessary for the authorities to take such precautions.
Grey River Argus, 15 November 1918, Page 2
Three questions are being asked the Minister of Defence by Mr H. K. Holland, as follows: (1) Whether he will furnish a report as to the number of members of the New Zealand Expeditionary Forces who have been subjected to the punishment known as crucifixion, or field punishment; (2) whether Clark Briggs, one of the fourteen 'conscientious objectors deported last year, is now in hospital and classed C 2 permanently unfit; and if so, when will he be returned to New Zealand? (3) whether he will call for a full report in connection with the case of Clark Briggs and also a return showing the number of New Zealand conscientious objectors subjected to field punishment No 1?
Grey River Argus, 4 August 1920, Page 2

Although practically every country which were allied against the Central Powers in the recent war have liberated their conscientious objectors, New Zealand, a mere speck in the Southern Seas, zealously follows a spirit of vindictiveness, and to-day many of Her most noble-hearted men are incarcerated behind lock and bar. It has often been said that if one wants to find a real jingo of English descent he must search out of the Old Country, and the truth of this statement is fully borne out by the attitude taken by New Zealand-born men and women in respect to the war, and incidentally to the conscientious objectors. With that grand old Imperialistic bombast, and the "glorious Empire” obsession which sees good in everything that a Tory ridden Government does, this kind of person vies with his brother in the Homeland, in pursuing a policy that is reminiscent of the dark ages.

A mild sensation was caused among the patriotic circles of New Zealand recently by General Russell. We do not know just why the brave General made the statement he did about the conscientious objectors, but suffice it that in his opinion there was neither sense nor reason in keeping these men in prison. The General could have well added a lot more when he was on the subject, but his somewhat strained expressions were sufficient to call forth an indignant protest from a small section of soldiers, Women's Societies, Employers' Associations, local bodies and a number of other drum-beating organisations. The latest protest comes from a meeting of military patients in one of the dominion's hospitals, and as an illustration of Christian sentiment it is about the most crazy and war-intoxicated utterance that has emanated for some time in this age of "peace," brought about by a "righteous" war. Not satisfied with the unjust imprisonment imposed upon men who valued their conscience as their most sacred possession, and the disfranchisement of civil rights for a period of 10 years, these poor misguided cripples of war demand that the conscientious objectors should be deprived of their civil rights in New Zealand for all time.

The pity of it! To think that men who return from a struggle, not of their making, shattered in limb and body, should in the dark days of their suffering favour a law which metes out punishment to men who use a God-given gift — the right of free-will and the guidance of their conscience. It is bad enough to listen to the protests of the ''toy soldiers," who stayed at home and bled the real soldiers' dependents white, but for men who can look back on the horrors of war (and in doing so know the evil of the whole business) and then, demand that their fellow-citizens should be silent factors in the country, is one of the tragic illustrations of what effect war has on the minds of some people. We often hear the statement: "If a country is not worth fighting for it is not worth living in," but we never hear this applied to that contemptible citizen who took advantage of the war conditions and bumped up the prices of commodities to such an extent, that in some cases, whilst the husband was away fighting for freedom his dependents were being exploited in every direction. No, it is not to such men as these that the taunt is flung, but to the peace-loving, conscience-inspired man, who bore the brand of a shirker rather than be false to his innermost convictions.

It is not the duty of anyone to question the ideals of another, but in many cases the men who had the most stones cast at them were those who fought to make the lot of the soldier and his dependents a little easier. We pride ourselves on our Democracy; we are willing to trade with Russia because she is a “hopeful market", we would employ Germans to-morrow if they could be obtained at a low rate of wages; but we still have our old British dignity in one respect— and as a result those who shirked their "duty" in the glorious war "to make the world safe for Democracy" are herded with felons behind prison bars. lf we spoke truly we would say we are a nation of hypocrites, prostituting daily every law of Christianity. In many cases the soldiers call for vengeance on the C.O.s, but the day might yet dawn when it will be to men possessing the latter 's ideals that they will look to for better things.
Grey River Argus, 20 October 1920, Page 3




(Special to " Argus.") ; WELLINGTON, Oct. 19.

To-night in the House, Mr Massey announced that the Conscientious Objectors and Military Prisoners, other than those with criminal convictions are to be all released on Armistice Day. He also announced that there will be no further prosecutions of the Conscientious Objectors after Armistice Day.
Of course, during World War II, it happened again. That time, though, it couldn't be said that it was just a Tory-led backlash against those who didn't want to heed the call of war drums: the Prime Minister was Peter Fraser, an ardent anti-conscription activist during the First World War.

A sad homecoming

Some homecomings from the World War I were not joyous at all. This, from the Auckland Star, 19 December 1919.
A decree nisi in divorce was granted at the Supreme Court this morning by Mr. Justice Hosking to Samuel Albert Cousins (Mr. Hall Skelton) upon his petition against Grace Ethel Cousins. The parties were married in 1903, and have three children. The petitioner said that he enlisted early in 1916, leaving his wife in a fruit business (shop and dwelling). While in camp and overseas he received only three letters from her. All of them were very cold in tone, or, as he described them, "heartrending."

When he landed at Auckland last March his two boys met him on the wharf, and told him that their mother had sold up the shop and home, and was living in a boardinghouse. He went to see her. She told him that she would have nothing to do with him -- that she had "seen life" while he was away, and now knew what real life was.

She admitted to him that she had squandered the money which she had obtained by selling the4 shop and home, also the money she had received from him. He got her to sign a deed of separation, and on obtaining some information about her conduct with another man (since dead) he took divorce proceedings.

Mr. J. Osburne-Lilly, solicitor, who had entered an "appearance" on behalf of Mrs. Cousins, gave evidence that in conversation with him she had admitted misconducting herself with the man referred to.

The petitioner was given interim custody of two of his children.

The Avondale Men Come Home

This year marks the 90th anniversary of when the soldiers returned from World War I.


The returned soldiers of Avondale township received a heart welcome home at the local town hall on Friday evening, the function being arranged by the Avondale Women’s Patriotic League. Dancing was indulged in until midnight. During intervals Miss Merson and Mr. Spencer contributed vocal solos, and Mr. McDermott recited, all items being highly appreciated.

Mr. C. J. Parr, M.P., was present, and on behalf of the ladies warmly welcomed the soldiers home again after their strenuous work in the battlefields.

Mr. H. Walker briefly responded on behalf of the guests, expressing their thanks for the way the ladies had looked after them while they were away.


A representative gathering of Avondale citizens assembled at the public school on Saturday afternoon to witness the unveiling of a memorial tablet in honour of the 33 old scholars of the school who had made the supreme sacrifice in the war. Among those present were Mrs. Bollard, sen., who had taken take in various school functions for a period of upwards of 50 years in conjunction with her husband, the late Mr. John Bollard; and Mr. J. L. Scott, who a quarter of a century ago was headmaster of the school.

Mr. H. A. V. Bollard, chairman of the School Committee, who presided, expressed the deep sense of gratitude which the townspeople felt to the donor of the tablet, Mr. James Binsted. Other speakers were Messrs. R. B. Nesbitt, chair of the Avondale Road Board, J. L. Scott, J. A. Darrow, headmaster of the school, and H. W. King, a member of the Education Board.

Mrs. Binsted performed the unveiling ceremony while the children sang “Abide With Me.”

The tablet, a slab of marble, suitable mounted on polished rimu, has been erected at the entrance to the main porch, alongside the brass memorial to the late Mr. Bollard.
(NZ Herald, 22 December 1919)

I went to Avondale Primary School, 1968-1974. During the demolition of the old school buildings, the marble plaque was removed, and reappeared in a window display in the old dairy on Layard Street, part of the RSA complex by that stage. It was there for two decades before the RSA had their own redevelopment, the recessed doorway and window from the old dairy (where the school children of years long gone by used to get their penny ices on the way home) were removed and replaced with blank wall, and the plaque found a new home outside, beside the artillery piece which forms the RSA's memorial gardens, still on Layard Street. It can be seen there to this day, but loses some of its context outside of the school buildings. It forms the only World War I memorial to the fallen in Avondale.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Queen Street Riot of 1905

Many will have heard of Auckland’s Depression-era riots, 1932. There was also the Mt Eden Prison Riot of 1965. And, then there was the 1984 Queen Street Riot. But, how many have heard of one in 1905? Smaller than the others, yes, and it caused far less damage in those far-off Edwardian times. Still, it rattled the police on duty that day, led to several court hearings, and it’s doubtful anyone was ever found guilty.

It began on 30 December, a Saturday night in downtown Auckland. It started, apparently, with a shilling.

At around 10.45 pm, a customer at the Zealandia Restaurant and Oyster Bar got into a dispute with the Greek proprietor of the establishment, Andrew Gabriel, over whether the customer had paid his shilling for the supper he had just had. The restaurant was apparently on two levels; as the young man came up from below and was asked for payment, he claimed he had paid downstairs. The waiter denied that, and the customer struck him in the face, whereupon the waiter struck him back. The dispute then became a scuffle, and the customer was thrown out from the premises. Some of those in the vicinity later told the newspapers that the customer’s hat was either taken by the restaurant owner or was left behind, and that he had in fact actually paid for his meal. His name remains unknown.

A crowd then gathered outside the restaurant. The United Press Association, telegraphing the news nationwide, reported numbers of two thousand gathered in Queen Street outside the Zealandia – this seems a lot, even if it was a Saturday night just before New Years’ Eve. A stone was thrown; it was thought to be been flung by the customer at the Zealandia’s windows. Whoever threw that first stone escaped custody and disappeared in the melĂ©e that followed.

The rowdy crowd were led by those aged 18 to 25, according to reports. The police were called, they then called for reinforcements, the crowd got larger and the Greek staff at the restaurant were pushed back inside. Then, the business came under bombardment from stones from all directions. The police made an arrest, and two constables proceeded to take their prisoner to the police barracks in Princes Street. As they passed under the verandah to Smith & Caughey’s drapers shop, a bottle of beer was flung, striking one constable on the shoulder, grazing the prisoner, striking a blow on the side of the head of the second constable, and smashing against the shop window, cracking Smith & Caughey’s big plate glass display. The policemen continued on their way with the prisoner, with the crowd following, howling, “Rush them! Charge them!”

At the police station, those on duty there were prepared for the onslaught. Once the prisoner had been taken inside, the constables prepared a powerful water hose. In response, the crowd began pelting the station with more stones, one shattering the window of the Sub-inspector’s office. The hose was then instantly turned on the crowd, but not before another thrown stone smashed the station’s large gas lamp, casting the scene into shadow. The water divided the crowd, some heading up Princes Street, threatening to attack the barracks, but more police reinforcements gradually scattered the group.

Thwarted, the crowd then surged back to the restaurant, where they were strengthened by more numbers. “The street,” according to the Weekly News, “was packed with people from the door of the restaurant to the doors on the other side.” Now, the police infiltrated the crowd, both in uniform and plain-clothes, to try to sort out who the ringleaders were. However, they were powerless to stop the rest of the damage as beer bottles and more stones flew, smashing all of the restaurant’s windows, and two or three more in a shop across the street. It was mainly all over by midnight.

Six arrests were made that night. “Some of the oldest members of the police force stated that it was the worst disturbance of the kind they have ever seen in Auckland." (Weekly News)

The court cases continued into the first part of February 1906, but in the main there was a lack of witnesses, so all were released either at the Police Court stage or by the Supreme Court. It isn’t very likely that Mr. Gabriel was ever paid for the considerable damage to his store.

New Zealand Ship & Marine Society

I received information today via email on an upcoming three-day conference on maritime history -- down in Wellington, unfortunately. Can't go. However, the website of the NZ Ship & Marine Society is worth a browse through. Another link to be added to the left side.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Waiariki Stream

Images by Phil Hanson.

The comments exchange between me and past comments contributor Phil Hanson at the end of this post on the Shortland Street area has borne fruit, I'm delighted to say. Phil has done what he said he'd do -- gone out, and explored the Waiariki Stream (good on you, Phil!) Here's his email, with my comment first, then his response:
"According to a 1939 Wises Directory I've got here, Grey & Menzies' factory was at No. 15 Eden Crescent. That might be a good place to look, Phil. Checking the aerials, there's a building in front of the carpark area at the rear today, though."

"The buildings to which you refer are the Faculty of Law at Auckland University. I visited there today and access to the parking area is not restricted. I checked the wall thoroughly and found only one possible location, shown in the attached photos. The wider view is taken from the balcony of the law building. What a shame there is no plaque recognising this tiny but important peek at Auckland's past. By the way, I remember Grey & Menzies "cordials" from my early youth; they were the favoured brand in our household and my parents used to buy them by the crate. That's not as bad as it sounds; it would be today's equivalent of picking up a 12-pack of Coke at the supermarket!"
Thanks, Phil. Great shots -- and yes, it's a pity there isn't more recognition on the ground for something which was and is a part of our city's story.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Hannaford's Light

Thomas Brown Hannaford (c.1824-1890) was a professional rates collector and land agent in the 1860s, and a matrimonial agent up until his death. He was also, if the investigations made by the Observer are to be believed, the designer of the first cast-iron lighthouse, fashioned in New Zealand, on Cuvier Island in the Hauraki Gulf, 1889.

You wouldn’t know that, though. A staff member at the Marine Department, David Scott, has been given the credit on one website (Scott only superintended the actual construction on the island), and the term “Hannaford’s Light” is not known outside of old newspaper archives.

The eccentric Mr. Hannaford of Auckland

The earliest mention I've found for Thomas Brown Hannaford was someone who was a wharfinger on Southwark docks in England, 1853 (Daily News, London, 22 July 1853). The Auckland Hannaford's obituary, however, stated that “in early life” he “was clerk to the establishment of Morton, Peto, Brassey and Co., the great railway contractors”. (NZ Herald, 11 August 1890) He’d married for the first time in England, and then divorced, before embarking for the colonies. The Southern Cross from the 1860s to 1876 is peppered with references to him.

Hannaford was definitely living in Barrack Street in the central city as at 1860, then moved to Nelson Street by 1863. In November 1864, he was earning his crust by being an adjuster of “builders’ and creditors’ accounts, tradesmen’s bills, timber and other measurements” as well as being a debt and rent collector, based in an office above a bookseller’s in Shortland-street. The following month, he described himself as an accountant, “happy to collect debts of all descriptions, for parties both in town and country.” He was the rates collector for a number of local highway district authorities, such as those in Waitakerei East and Maungakaramea, from early 1865. Business was going well; in February 1865, he was in partnership with a Mr. R. H. Smith, still in the office over the bookseller’s shop, and dealing in land sales and even hotels. The partnership, however, broke up the following month, and Hannaford returned to debt-collecting and accounting, gradually re-establishing his land agency sideline.

By February 1867, he diversified further, and established a registry service, placing an advertisement for a woman who wanted to be a “dry nurse”. In the same month there appeared in the Southern Cross a notice, via his office, from a young woman keen to respond to a Waikato farmer’s appeal for a wife. Thus, Hannaford started upon the matrimonial and servants agency business he would engage in until just before he died.

Early in 1868, he moved his office to Queen Street opposite the-then site of the Auckland Savings Bank. From there, he operated his triple business enterprise: land agency, matrimonial and employment agency, and accounts. By June, he added another type of agency to his collection, that as mining agent. By September that year, he was on High Street.

“A rather ludicrous incident occurred last evening. It appears that Mr. Hannaford, who has offices over Oldham's store, in High-street, did not leave at the usual hour, and the consequence was that when Mr. Oldham locked up the outer doors Mr. Hannaford found himself a prisoner. Finding it impossible to get out in the usual manner, he threw up his window and shouted for assistance, when several persons came to his aid, and be was enabled to leave his office by means of a ladder, which was procured and placed against the window.”
(Southern Cross, 25 September 1868)

In June 1869 he became the city agent for the sale of John C. Wallis’ (of North Head Farm, North Shore) preserved milk, “Warranted to keep perfectly sweet for two years.”

In late 1871, Hannaford was before the Police Court on a charge, seemingly unusual for him.
"Thomas McKeon and Edward Donnelly were each fined 5s. and costs for being drunk. Thomas Brown Hannaford was charged with a like offence, but it was merged in the following charge :—Indecent Exposure.— Thomas Brown Hannaford was charged with a breach of the Municipal Police Act, section 5, subsection 46, for indecency in Queen-street on Saturday evening.— The charge was proved and he was sentenced to pay a fine of 40s. and costs, with an alternative of 14 days imprisonment with hard labour.— The alternative was chosen."
(SC, 9 December 1871)

By February 1874, he was associated with the Good Templars as a Brother, but was expelled in April.
“The Good Templars have lost one of their brightest converts. A Mr Hannaford, a commission agent, long known for his eccentricities, and, as he does not himself scruple to declare, his liability to a few glasses more than were good for him, joined them, and became one of their staunchest and most prominent supporters. He wrote songs and odes, made excellent and unsparing speeches, and became altogether a great light in the Order. But Mr Hannaford has also considerable literary ability, and exercised it in caustic criticism of the mode in which provisions were supplied to the brethren, by the brethren, at great public gatherings His description of a sandwich, and of the not over-cleanly hands from which it received the final "dab" before being served, was particularly racy.

“Since then, so report goes, there has been discord in some of the Lodges, culminating in the publication by Mr Hannaford of a "Good Templar's Prayer." The prayer is profane, but purports to be for the delivery of Good Templarism "from interested supporters who threaten to make the Temple a veritable den of thieves." The result has been the expulsion of Mr Hannaford by the Grand Lodge, whose orders have been followed by the other Lodges of the Province. Of course the affair is creating some sensation, and Mr Hannaford (not to be confounded, by-the-bye, with the other gentleman of that name, whose pictures are so much admired, and of whom he is no relation) is again in print to-day. Meantime there is rejoicing among the publicans and sinners, and “Good Templary” is likely to receive a severe blow. People are, in plain English, getting afraid of its narrow, ascetic, and tyrannical spirit, even when they heartily wish success to the cause which "Good Templary" was formed to advance.”
(Otago Witness 18 April 1874)

It appears they forgave him, in the end. He was performing songs at TemplarLodge meetings by the end of that year, and wore the regalia regularly.

In December 1874, there was the “Parent” affair, a lively exchange of letters in the Southern Cross, which began with the following report.
“At St. Matthew's school, of which Mr Sutton is the teacher, is a boy who in accordance with the rules of the school was put in a class for English grammar. The youth did not like the instruction, or rather did not care for the trouble of learning, and his mistaken mother was of the opinion that grammar was not wanted for her son. Doubtless she had thought that her course in life had been followed without that useful accomplishment, and she gives it under hand thus : — “Mr. Sutton, please excuse Sidney for is gamir.”

“Is it necessary to offer a word of comment on this wonderful note? Perhaps it is, and we would just advise Mr. Sutton not to "excuse Sidney for is gamir," and strongly urge Sidney to " go in" for it with all his heart, otherwise, if he does not, and if his knowledge of orthography, syntax, and prosody is no better than that if his indulgent but mistaken parent, we predict that in these days of educational competition Sidney runs a very fair chance of being only a hewer of wood and a drawer of water all the days of his life. No stronger argument could be employed in favour of insisting on a good elementary education being given to children, including, of course, English grammar in all its branches, than the very instructive, but very painful little note which we publish as a column warning to over-indulgent parents, and to lazy or careless little boys and girls.”
(SC, 15 December 1874)

“Sir, — Fair play is bonny play, and it would be anything but the former if I allowed the saddle to be placed on the wrong horse’s back, as it would be were I to allow my friend, Mr. Harold Sutton, to be under the imputation of having furnished the Cross with the note received by him from the doting mother of one of his pupils, which consisted of these remarkable lines: — " Mr. Sutton, please excuse Sydney for is Gamir. It is quite true Mr. Sutton handed it to me for perusal as calculated to provoke a smile, but he is not responsible for the fact of its appearing in your journal, or the remarks that interesting epistle called forth. The sin (if any) lies entirely at my door; and, therefore, if a " Parent," whose letter was published last evening, is burning to leave “some tokens of his opinions" on the master's back, on mine it should rightly fall; when, perhaps, if he does not prove to be a "big’un," he may find that two can play at that game. — I am, &c., T. B. HANNAFORD.”
(SC, 16 December 1874)

To the Editor: Sir,— Being the "Parent" referred to by your estimable correspondent Mr. T. B. Hannaford, I beg to assure him through your columns that I am still burning to leave tokens of opinion not on his back but upon that respectable looking "sneezer” of his, and shall be most happy to meet him at any time and place he is pleased to mention. I am not a 'big’un," but fancy I could polish off a dozen such as he before breakfast or I am not fit to be A Parent. [As this letter is provocative of a breach of the peace and as " Parent," very judiciously does not give his name, we should not have published it, but for the fact that it sets forth the necessity of the writer himself studying somewhat the "grammar" of social propriety. It is a poor example for any parent to show his children that he is fired with an ambition to commit a personal assault on another man's nose. —Ed.] “
(SC 17 December 1874)

“Sir— Your correspondent " Parent," in this morning's Cross, would at the first blush be taken for a very plucky little man, desirous of attacking a " big-un," but the "white feather" unmistakably crops out when it is remembered that the " big-un" he aims at is my nasal organ, which decidedly offers fair proportion for a good grip, whereas he may have little or nothing to lay hold upon! Had he proposed a pair of Wiseman’s whips, I would have thought better of his courage. It is very safe for any party to appear in print under a nom de plume. All your correspondent permits us to know of him is, that he is a parent; well, so was Charles the second!— I am, &c., T. B. Hannaford.

“To the Editor, Sir,— It will be gratifying to many of the " fancy " to learn that the seconds chosen to arrange the little difficulty between the fond parent and T. B. Hannaford have agreed that a meeting shall take place on the Barrack Green, behind the Mechanics' Institute, on Monday next, at 6.30 pm. As Hannaford is "all there" with his knuckledusters, and the fond parent is a prize Cornish wrestler, a splendid exhibition of force is expected. Meanwhile both are in really first class training, and may the best man win is the fervent hope of yours, Jim Mace.”
(SC 18 December 1874)

Self-promotion was certainly one of Hannaford’s strong points.
“There is just now quite a mania in Auckland for inserting " original " riddles in the newspapers. A Mr. T. B. Hannaford (who owns a labour office), has taken advantage of this mania to make the papers advertise his name free of charge. This is how ho does it. He sent to the Southern Cross the following, which was inserted as we reprint it: — "Why is the publisher of the Echo, when wounding one's feeling, to be specially avoided? Because he is Bent on mischief. — Contributed by T. B. Hannaford." Now Mr. Bent, the publisher of the Echo, does not like this, so gets the journal he is connected with to put in another; and here it is: " Who is the most foolish old woman in Auckland? Hannah Ford.” Both arc "far fetched," but it answers Mr. Hannaford's purpose, for his name thus becomes familiar to every one.”
(Taranaki Herald, 10 February 1875)

Suffering from deafness for several years, he apparently consulted an “aurist” in London around this time, and came away relatively cured. I say relatively, because right down to his death, his deafness continued to be a problem. Nevertheless, in both 1875 and 1883, he advertised “cures” for deafness in Auckland.
“We have received Mr T. B. Hannaford's " Infallible remedy for Deafness." Physician, heal thyself !"
(Observer, 6 October 1883)

The lighthouse idea

By the 1880s, Hannaford’s business was also where he lived, in Upper Queen Street. The matrimonial and employment agency was now his main claim to fame – until he had an idea about lighthouses. In late 1884, he forwarded a petition to Sir George Grey and the House of Representatives, “for a consideration of his scheme for the prevention of wrecks on the coast of New Zealand. The signatures to the petition are numerous, and represent most of the influential men of the city.” (Timaru Herald, 10 September 1884) However, the Petitions Committee had an unfavourable report from the Marine Department (of chief John Blackett was the Engineer-in-Chief) and Hannaford’s idea was dropped. (Te Aroha News, 18 October 1884). With typical “never-say-die” attitude, Hannaford kept at it, attempting to persuade the Auckland Harbour Board to erect one of his iron-bolt turret lighthouses, complete with windmill electrical apparatus, on Rangitoto Island, in place of a proposed stone beacon. (Evening Post, 26 November 1884) The answer was: no.

New Plymouth, next, in 1885. (Taranaki Herald, 11 June 1885) Again: no.

Then, the government announced that they had funding from a public works loan for a lighthouse on Cuvier Island, at the entrance to the Hauraki Gulf.
"The steamer Hinemoa which left here this afternoon for Auckland via the east coast, took Mr Blackett, Government marine engineer, to Cuvier Island, to decide on a site for a new lighthouse.”
(West Coast Times, 31 August 1886)

Hannaford saw his chance.
“Auckland: A public gathering last night at the Oddfellows' Hall, the Mayor presiding, inspected a model of Hannaford windmill bell tower iron lighthouse, and after hearing explanations of the invention, resolved respectfully to ask Government to give it a trial at their earliest convenience.”
(Evening Post, 16 August 1888)

Before a petition could be heard in Wellington, however, the news broke, from Auckland, that the first locally-constructed cast-iron tower lighthouse had been built.
AUCKLAND, Oct. 20. A. Beany, of the Arch Hill ironworks, has completed an iron tower 30 feet high for Cuvier Island lighthouse. It is in three tiers, and the aggregate weight exceeds 80 tons. This is the first work of the kind executed in the Colony, and is highly creditable to the local iron founding industry. The tower has been completed in four months, one month under contract time, to the entire satisfaction of the Government Inspector of Works.”
(Marlborough Express, 26 October 1888)

Trouble was – while it apparently resembled Hannaford’s design, minus the electricity generating windmill addition, the plans bore only the mark of the Marine Department and their engineers. Hannaford was outraged.
“Mr. T. B. Hannaford alleges that the Government have pirated his design for an iron lighthouse, after having refused to give him assistance to have it tested. On the Mayor's invitation a number of mechanical engineers, a deputation from the Trade and Labour Council, and others will, on Saturday, inspect an iron tower constructed for the Cuvier Island Lighthouse, with a view to settling the question."
(Evening Post, 22 November 1888)
“In response to an invitation from His Worship the Mayor, a number of gentlemen assembled at Mr. Beaney’s foundry, Great North Road, on Saturday afternoon … Mr. Devore did not himself attend, as he did not wish to appear in the light of a partisan …

“None of the gentlemen present would consent to preside, so that no regular meeting was held. In consequence of this there was no public expression of opinion. Still, from 100 to 150 people inspected the lighthouse, and Mr. Hannaford explained his plans to all who cared to listen … he contends that Mr. Blackett, Colonial Engineer, could not at the time these votes were passed on his estimates have had any idea of the construction of a cast-iron structure similar to that now constructed, and that in the meantime Mr. Hannaford’s plans and specifications for his patent had been lodged, and he had furnished Mr. Larnach, then Minister of Marine, with photographic views and sketches showing the construction and design of his tower.”
(Auckland Star, 26 November 1888)

Hannaford issued a new petition to the committee in Wellington, but in August 1889, they decided that Blackett had not copied his design, but had instead used plans on the same principle that the Marine Department already had. Hannaford decided, then, to petition that one of his designs be trialled. (Te Aroha News, 7 September 1889) However, such a trial was not to happen.

The Observer in Auckland, almost from the start of its run in 1880, had made light of Hannaford, his eccentricities, his matrimonial agency, and his dogged determination when he thought he was in the right. In 1881, he’d even tried to take the Observer’s publisher to court, only to find he was made to pay costs (and instead served more time in Mt Eden gaol in lieu). (Observer, 30 July 1881) But everything changed, abruptly, when word got out that Hannaford thought that the government had used his lighthouse plan without due credit or payment. The Observer turned from mockery of Hannaford, to ardent defence.
"T. B. Hannaford appears to be the "greenest" of the Verdant Green family. When he petitioned the House of Representatives re the piracy by the late Government of the most valuable feature in the "Hannaford Light," he most strenuously contended that the present Cabinet were wholly clean-handed in the matter; that when the present “Crew " took command of the ship the robbery was a full-blown iniquity, and from skipper downward, they were powerless to do him justice. Poor, venerable greenhorn! He will soon find out that the present occupants of the Ministerial benches are as villainous a set of political rascals as we're ever their predecessors, or we are greatly mistaken."
(Observer, 21 September 1889)

In a long article, after receiving letters from Hannaford pleading for their assistance, the Observer investigated and published a scathing opinion of the government, the Marine Department, and their dealings with an eccentric, partly-deaf matrimonial agent from Auckland.

“The King can do no wrong.” This arrogant assumption of infallibility on the part of absolute monarchs appears to have been adopted by the Government of New Zealand in its dealings with all those with whom it has any business relations. The Government apparently considers that it is superior to and independent of all law, and can afford to dispense with Will, Conscience, Honor, Honesty, and things of that description. And when we say the Government in this connection, we must be understood to mean the real Governors of this colony the heads of the Civil Service —whom we have previously designated our Uncivil Masters. To support this assertion, numerous instances might be adduced …

Perhaps the grossest instance of bare-faced robbery on the part of these Uncivil Masters of ours is to be found in their treatment of the inventor of the Hannaford Light; and as this is a deed of to-day, we intend to make some very free comments upon it, in the hope that the members of both Houses may be led to inquire for themselves and bring the Government officials to their bearings. As we have been from the first conversant with all the facts connected with Mr Hannaford's invention, and have intimate knowledge of the various steps taken by him to secure official recognition for it, we may be allowed to write with some authority on the subject now in hand.

The Hannaford Light invention embraces a number of improvements in the construction of cast-iron towers for beacons or lighthouses, including windmill attachment for generating electricity, to be stored and used in the form of light for the lantern and of power to turn the windmill in times of calm and ring a bell during fogs. It is unnecessary now to describe the minutiae of the invention. Suffice it is to say that Mr Hannaford has worked at it for many years, making it as nearly perfect as possible, and that not only are the foundations and framework of the structure designed with great skill, but the electric and other attachments are devised so as to be almost entirely automatic in their action. Furthermore, engineers and electricians have examined the plant and models, and have been unanimous in their praise and commendation.

The inventor committed only one blunder, but that has proved a serious one. He did not take steps to protect his invention by letters patent. Want of the necessary means to do this may have been the reason of this omission; if so, it is but another exemplification of the truth (as old as Solomon) that the wisdom of the poor man is not regarded. Mr Hannaford put his trust in Princes — a very wise proceeding if he had secured letters patent, for nothing can be done nowadays without the powerful influence of those in position. Whenever a Cabinet Minister, or Government official, or distinguished visitor of any kind happened to be in Auckland, he was invited to see the model and plans of the Hannaford light ; that windmill beacon was one of the recognised " lions " of Auckland ; and the inventor was ever ready to explain the principle and details fully and clearly. Long residence in this wicked world ought to have taught Mr Hannaford that, if there was anything good and original in his ideas, they would soon become common property, under the circumstances. But, with a childlike trust, he kept on ‘giving away' his invention. It would be easy to offer theories to account for this strange action. Perhaps Mr Hannaford thought Government officials and Cabinet Ministers were angels of light, incapable of stealing a poor man's ideas; perhaps he was unselfishly desirous of giving the world freely the fruits of his mental toils; or perhaps he was only the victim of one of those unfortunate lapses into blank idiocy to which all great men are said to be subject.

Whatever may have been the cause, the fact is undoubted that the inventor of the Hannaford Light confided in Government who abused his confidence in the most disgraceful manner. It was, and is, Hannaford's ambition to see one of his iron tower lighthouses erected in New Zealand waters; he claims that on Cuvier Island his iron tower has been erected, but he has been basely robbed of all credit in the matter through the treachery and dishonesty of officials in the Marine Department.

How this was done may most readily be seen by the consideration of the following facts : —

1. — In 1857, Mr Blackett, Engineer-in-Chief, designed two iron tower lighthouses, one of which was erected at Nelson and the other at Pencarrow Heads. These plans, there is reason to believe, were then pigeon-holed and forgotten, until subsequent circumstances led to their being dragged to the light for a special purpose.

2.— ln 1884, Mr Blackett designed a stone tower for Cuvier Island lighthouse, but (if we recollect aright) it was not erected because of its cost.

3. — In the meantime, certain Ministers and officials had visited Auckland and had been shown the model and plans of the Hannaford Light. Following upon this, we find that, in August, 1887, Mr Blackett threw aside his plans for the stone tower, and produced new plans for an iron tower on Cuvier Island. These new plans were almost an exact replica of the framework of the Hannaford Light.

4. — Upon being clearly satisfied as to the facts, Mr Hannaford wrote to the Ministry accusing Mr Blackett of pirating his lighthouse design, and he petitioned the House of Representatives to inquire into his charge of piracy. (We suppose, in the strict sense, there could be no ' piracy ' of ideas which were not patented, but none the less Mr Hannaford contended that he was able to prove most dishonourable filching of his ideas, communicated pro bono publico to public men.)

5.— The Marine Department officials were last year called upon by the Petitions Committee to explain their conduct. One of their number (Mr Blackett being absent in England) wrote simply stating that iron towers had existed long before the Hannaford Light ; but a vigilant watchdog on the Committee refused to be satisfied with this off-hand explanation, and the Committee finally called upon the official to attend and give evidence— producing plans, etc., of former lighthouses upon which the Cuvier Island iron tower was planned.

6. — Then the 1857 plans of Nelson and Pencarrow lights were dragged from their long slumber, and were gravely brought forward as being the original designs of which Cuvier Island tower was an elaboration The thing was as clear as mud ! Here were cast-iron towers planned and erected 32 years ago in New Zealand ; Cuvier Island design was also a cast-iron tower ; of course the idea of piracy was absurd.

7.— Despite these forcible arguments, the Petitions Committee last year, as on two previous occasions, recommended Hannaford's petition for aid in erecting one of his iron towers to the favourable consideration of the Government. For the third time, however, the Uncivil Masters of the Government (the officials of the Marine Department, who wish to conceal their own dishonesty) have thwarted the Committee's intention, although a majority of Ministers are understood to be favourable to erecting one of Hannaford's iron tower lighthouses.

8. —In February last, when the new lighthouse on Cuvier Island was formally inspected, a newspaper reporter was taken down, and an officially inspired account of the trip was published. In that account there is insinuated the official defence to the charge of stealing Hannaford's ideas, viz., that the exhibition of Mr Hannaford's plans led to the resuscitation of the original iron-tower drawings made by Mr Blackett in 1857. There is no explanation given, however, of how the 1887 plans are so unlike those of thirty years ago, and so very like Hannaford's !

We are assured that Mr Hannaford does not mean to let the matter rest here ; but will again approach Parliament in an endeavour to obtain the bare justice of recognition of his claim, to be the inventor of the improved iron-tower lighthouse. He has no legal claim to monetary compensation, owing to his failure to secure patent rights; but as an act of grace the Government ought to recognise in a substantial manner his labours in perfecting the lighthouse invention. The iron-tower design is so much more economical than the stone erections that, even for reminding the Government of the fact that iron could be used, some reward is justly due. If Mr Hannaford's invention were adopted in its entirety, the economy would be greater still, for the light would cost nothing after the initial expenditure for electrical apparatus, and the cost of supervision would be reduced to the merest nominal sum. Amongst those who have seen the Hannaford Light model, or have otherwise been interested in it, and have promised their help to obtain official recognition for it are : — Lord Brassey and Admiral Fairfax (Lords of the Admiralty), the Earl of Aberdeen, the Earl of Onslow, Lord Carrington (Governor of New South Wales), Sir Saul Samuel (Agent General of New South Wales), Sir John B. Thurston (Governor of Fiji), M. La Cascade, (late Governor of French Oceania), Hon. D. Gillies (Premier of Victoria), etc. Several of the Australian Governments have promised to adopt the Hannaford Light so soon as they have experimental proof of its power to do all that is claimed for it …

With the growth of our sea-borne commerce, there will of necessity be many new lighthouses required, and it is therefore of great public importance that an invention of such economic value as the Hannaford Light claims to be should be thoroughly investigated and tested by the Government, and it found satisfactory, the patent rights secured. This is a matter which no private individual or company ought to make a large profit out of ; but, after duo reward to the inventor, the public ought to enjoy the benefit of the scientific construction and illumination of lighthouses- Should this matter come before Parliament in the course of . the approaching session, we trust that members will look at it in a public-spirited manner and take some action to establish their reputation for justice, reason, and sound sense. We are convinced that Ministry and members alike are anxious to do what is right, and would do it, were they not deceived and bamboozled by the coterie of interested officials who think that all wisdom dwells in them, and who will not admit that any good thing can emanate from any other quarter. If Hannaford has been too foolishly confiding in the past, that is no reason why the Government should join in a conspiracy to defraud him of the credit to which he is entitled. And if it be the case that the red-tapeists have elaborated out of their own inner consciousness an iron lighthouse as good as Hannaford's, is that any reason why we should wait other thirty years for those stick-in-the-muds to elaborate electric-lighting appliances? Men of practical sense will reply with a thundering ' No, and will insist that, if an invention of great economic value is available, and on offer, it shall be proved and adopted, even though all the regular dustmen of the Marine Department should shout "Impossible!"
(Observer, 19 April 1890)

"Knowledge comes, but Wisdom lingers. The New Zealand Government know enough to pirate a good idea; but they have not the wisdom to profit from the teachings of experience. The new lighthouse on Cuvier Island is a copy of Mr. T. B. Hannaford's design, with one important exception. The top tier of the building, instead of being of iron, as in the Hannaford Light, is entirely of wood (perhaps to correspond with the brains of the Marine Department), and it will be no matter of surprise though it should be utterly destroyed by lire some night, through the bursting of a lamp or other simple accident. A few years ago, a wooden lighthouse at the mouth of the Patea River was destroyed by fire, and no one knows to this day how it happened. A word to the wise is enough; but of course this word to the Marine Department will fall on heedless (though quite long enough) ears!"
(Observer, 24 May 1890)

The Petitions Committee was adamant, however: Blackett, they said, had not used Hannaford’s plan. Even though this was the first cast-iron lighthouse fashioned in a New Zealand foundry and Blackett’s only other iron lighthouse design, at Nelson, was back in 1864, Hannaford’s case was finished. So, sadly, was Hannaford himself.

“Another old identity has passed away in the person of Mr. T. B. Hannaford, at the age of 66. He had been about 35 years in Auckland. During the last fortnight (of his life) he has been suffering from bronchitis, and was attended by Dr. Philson. On the 12th July he was up, but at an early hour on the 15th July he had a relapse, and died somewhat suddenly.

“Some years ago, Mt. Hannaford invented a windmill lighthouse, which he vainly endeavoured to get the Government to adopt. He complained subsequently that his idea had been pirated by the Government, and laid a petition before the Legislature in relation to his grievance, and was in high hopes of obtaining some compensation for the alleged infringement of his invention. About a week before his death he received some information from Wellington which dashed his hopes down, and he said to his wife, that “his heart was broken, he would never get over it …”
(NZ Herald Monthly Summary, 11 August 1890)

“Poor old Hannaford's petition to be compensated for Government pirating his lighthouse design was thrown out by the Petitions Committee. They are his virtual murderers, for the news broke his heart and caused his death.”
(Observer, 19 July 1890)

Was the design Hannaford’s?

Without an inspection of Blackett’s Marine Department plan, compared with that which Hackett submitted to the Petitions Committee – it will probably never be known for sure whether Hannaford was just an eccentric dreamer, or whether he really did lose credit for a design which was the first of seven cast-iron tower lighthouses in the country from 1889 until 1913. Certainly, the change to cast-iron for Cuvier Island lighthouse in 1889 from a wooden tower for Kaipara North Head in 1884 seems sudden. The Observer seemed very, very sure that an injustice had been done.

But John Blackett was a respected engineer, with a long career in New Zealand. He was due to retire in 1892, and was shipped off to London early in 1890 with the winding down of the Public Works Department to serve in the new position (some said one cooked up by “family interests”) of Inspector of Materials on a good salary paid by the Government. His post there was controversial (Evening Post, 30 July 1890), his salary questioned in the house. He was made redundant in 1891, resigned in March 1892, and died in Wellington in 1893.

Whatever is the truth behind the story of Hannaford’s Light – Thomas Brown Hannaford remains a lively and colourful part of Auckland’s rich history. He shouldn't be forgotten.

See also: "Lighting the Coast, A history of New Zealand's coastal lighthouse system", Helen Beaglehole, 2006, and Lighthouses, on Te Ara.