Sunday, August 2, 2009

The Domain's three Chinese gardens

Image: from the 1882 lease of land by Ah See and Chan Dar Chee. Most unusual to see anything other than European languages and symbols in 19th century Auckland land documents. D13.891, LINZ records, Crown Copyright.

In 2007, I read with interest the news that an archeological study was being undertaken at the former Carlaw Park, just to the north-east of Auckland's Domain. News that an 1882 mortgage had been located by the researchers, repeated in an article written by the Historic Places Trust for the Autumn 2008 issue of their magazine, interested me greatly. The name Ah Chee/Chan Dar Chee was, of course, of particular interest to me because of his land ownership of one of Avondale's early market gardens on Rosebank. However, when I enquired as to the chance of viewing the historic research report part of the study earlier this year, I was advised that it had not at that time been completed. I had no way of seeing just where the researchers got their information from with regard to Chan Dar Chee and the 1882 mortgage of the Carlaw Park land. I still haven't seen the archaeological report. I was told it might be completed later this year.

So, I embarked on some research of my own.

There were three Chinese market gardens in the immediate area of the Domain. A fourth was to the south, beside Khyber Pass in Newmarket, next to the Captain Cook Brewery from the 1870s at least (and connected with Chinese merchant James Ah Kew.)

Domain Gardens

One, on the Domain itself, close to the site of the kiosk and duck ponds today, started out as the fledgling Auckland Botanic Gardens in the 1850s, before it was superseded by the Acclimatisation Gardens from 1867, and from the early 1870s was leased to William Brighton, former curator for the Acclimatisation Society. From the early 1880s, it was leased to Chinese market gardeners. Ah Kong took out a lease of the "Domain Gardens" in 1884, provided the public had access across his ground in summer and winter according to set times.

Image: from SO 3933, LINZ records. A plan drawn by G. H. A. Purchas, for Auckland City Council, 1890.

In 1892, James Ah Kew & Co was renting the Upper Domain gardens (£70 10/- per annum, reduced to £50 pa for the balance of the lease). This probably disappeared shortly after the Domain was formally vested in the Auckland City Council.

Stanley Street Gardens

This ground may have been the one leased by Robert Baird, Victoria Street nurseryman and seedsman (see below), from the Domain Board in 1875 for five years (Auckland Star, 3 March 1875). However, he sold his business in 1878, so didn't see out all of his lease. (Update: 5 December 2013)

Between the Auckland Fibre Company along Stanley Street, and the Stanley Street entrance to the Domain, a patch of land now belonging to the Domain was leased out to Chinese market gardeners from 1879 to Ah Hung. He appears to have built a house on the site, and is the earliest known documented Chinese market gardener in Mechanics Bay. Others followed in the 1880s. (This section updated 15 September 2009).
"Thomas Rees and John James Searle were charged with stealing a quantity of carrots valued at 1s, the property of Wong Yank, on August 14. Searle pleaded guilty, and Rees admitted receiving the carrots. It seemed there had been frequent complaints of the lads employed at the Fibre Company's factory going into the vegetable gardens adjacent. The Chinese gardeners were absent in the afternoon, and raids were made upon the vegetables. The parents of the lads were in Court, and pleaded to have them dealt with leniently, as they had not been brought up before. Sergeant Pratt pointed out that the usual excuse of parents was that their boys were the best of lads till the police got hold of them. He suggested that a whipping with a birch rod would have some effect. The Bench cautioned the accused not to appear again, and dismissed the case on the parents paying the value of the vegetables."
(NZ Herald, 17 August 1886)

In July 1892, the Stanley Street gardens were leased by Hawk Yim Co, who asked for the fencing to be repaired by the Domain Board. Hawk Yim surrendered the lease in 1897. (NZ Herald, 22 October 1897, p. 3) Today, the ground is covered by commercial buildings.

Tanyard Gully Gardens

I call the third of the Domain area gardens after the name of the gully itself from the 1860s. Mainly because it wasn't known as Carlaw Park while Chan Dar Chee leased it, and in the future it is bound to have still another name.

The land use of that particular piece of land, which ended up sandwiched between bush-clad slopes of the Domain, the long thin Allotment 96 of the Rope Walk, and the Auckland to Drury railway line, is the most complex of the three.

Pre 1844 -- swampland. There is a possibility it was briefly owned, under agreement, by the New Zealand Company from 1844. By 1849, however, it had reverted to the Crown.

1844 Joseph Low and William Motion with their flour mill and mill race. The original mill building wasn't far from the line of the Strand and Parnell Rise. By the end of 1846, they had moved on, to Western Springs.

1850 the Crown finally declares title (as Hospital endowment), then

1851 leases the site to Hugh Coolahan the baker. (More on him in the Mechanics Bay timeline). After an attempt to have a former Low Motion employee extend and operate the flour mill, he leased the property to James Dawson and Roger Kay, two tanners. They officially sign lease documents in 1856, but chances are they were there before then.

1855 Briefly, Baron de Thierry operated a flax mill out of the old flour mill. (Section updated 5 December 2015)

1860 Dawson & Kay sell out first to a consortium of businessmen, and then (by August) to George and Barton Ireland. By October 1860, George Ireland was operating his tannery there, and it became known as Tanyard Gully.

1864 The Irelands begin their move to Panmure. They eventually complete the relocation in 1866.

1865 Railway construction

1866 Suggestion by a chap named Hunt to the Provincial Superintendent that he set up a wool scouring industry there. No record this was taken up.

1869 The Mason Brothers, at least William Mason, who had a nursery between Titoki Street and Parnell Road at the south-eastern corner of the Domain may also have been gardening in Mechanic's Bay at this time. In March 1869 Sections 98 and 99 were to be offered up for lease by public auction, for a term of 21 years. (Auckland Provincial Government Gazette, 22 March 1869, p. 204). The auction was to take place on 26 April that year. Then it was postponed to 6 May (NZ Herald 29 April 1869, p. 2[1]). Then, it was completely withdrawn. (Southern Cross, 10 May 1869, p.3).(Section updated 5 December 2015)

By November 1870, the decision was made to offer a three-year lease of Tanyard Gully, and this went to William Mason. All primary documentation related to this transaction, the lease itself, the conditions, any correspondence related to it, are lost to history, due to the November 1872 fire which destroyed most of the Provincial Council's archives. However, in a later file dating from December 1873-July 1875 regarding a later lease of the site, a note exists which refers to this now missing agreement with Mason, and confirms the term length of the lease. (Hospital Endowment - Correspondence, AP2 34, ID 21118699, Archives New Zealand).(Section updated 5 December 2015)

Their lease expired towards the end of 1873. A number of interested parties contacted the Auckland Public Buildings Commission, a committee that was part of the Provincial Council, managing endowment properties and administering debentures offered, asking for leases of the property (and some just wanted the old cottage near the Domain). (Hospital Endowment - Correspondence, AP2 34, ID 21118699, Archives New Zealand). (Section updated 5 December 2015)

1874 Land transferred from Provincial Council to Crown.

In 1874 (Southern Cross, 18 August 1874) the new lease advertised was for 7 years. This was because the Board felt that brief leases to gardeners was preferable so that, later on, the land might be available for more lucrative development. "6 1/2 acres in Mechanic's Bay, rich alluvial soil, well watered, and late in occupation of Mason Bros., nurserymen, with large Dwelling House, beautifully situated, adjoining the Domain."   It was awarded to Robert Baird, a nurseryman and seedsman based in Victoria Street. (Hospital Endowment - Correspondence, AP2 34, ID 21118699, Archives New Zealand). He set up "Victoria Nurseries" there, and brought in Charles Walter Scott Purdie as a manager from c1876. In 1878, Baird sold his business to D Hay & Son, and they advertised briefly, until mid 1879, including the nursery. By 1880, the property was possibly vacant once again. (Section updated 5 December 2015)

1881 Lease begins in October with Chan Dar Chee and Ah See. Thomas Ah Quoi was the one who won the lease at auction for £95 per annum.

Image: from D13.891, LINZ records

On 24 October 1881, the Crown, in the form of the Public Buildings Commissioner of the City of Auckland, entered into a lease agreement with Chan Dar Chee and Ah Sec two market gardeners of Auckland. The lease was formalised on 28 August 1882. This was for 7-1-20 acres, just over 7 1/4 acres, "with all buildings thereon erected", for a term of 21 years, at the annual rental of £95, in advance, payable on the 24th of October and April each year. The lessees were not to carry on any noxious or offensive trade or business on the said premises (ironic, seeing as there had been a tannery there two decades before), and "in the event of the lessees cultivating the said premises or any part thereof they shall do so in a proper and husbandmanlike manner and so as not to unduly impoverish the soil."

The lease was signed by Sir John Prendergast, Wellington, for the government, and by "the said Ah Sec and Ah Chee after the same had been fully explained to them by the undersigned Thomas Quoi, in the presence of Thomas Quoi, Chinese interpreter."
“On a recent Monday afternoon Lady Glasgow sent a note to her greengrocer (Ah Chee) that she and her daughters would pay him a visit at his home at Mechanics' Bay Gardens on the following day. At the time appointed the ladies duly arrived, and were entertained by Mrs Ah Chee. The Ladies Boyle played and sang, partook of afternoon tea, fruit, etc., and the whole party (yellow and white) had a good time. Lady Glasgow requested a photo of the Chee family group for her album, and the delighted Chee immediately ordered a splendid enlarged photo. Ah Chee forwarded Lord Glasgow a present of half-a-dozen silk handkerchiefs from the Flowery Land. Aren't the opposition greengrocers just mad !”
(Observer, 31 March 1894)

1897 Ah See reassigns his share to Can Dar Chee. The latter's bank – National Bank of New Zealand – seeks the lease as collateral for repayment of his existing and expected business debts. By this time, he was already operating a fruiterer business in Queen Street.

On 29 April 1897, Ah See assigned his share of the lease over to Chan Dar Chee. That agreement was signed by Ah See in the presence of W. Ah Chang, Book keeper, Auckland, and by Chan Dar Chee in the presence of Joseph Sykes, solicitor, Auckland.

The following month, 18 May, Chan Dar Chee had to provide security to the National Bank of New Zealand. The document found during the Geometria research wasn't a mortgage so much as it was a promise of collateral, as Chan Dar Chee was "already indebted and may become further indebted." Also, the mortgage was dated 1897, not the 1882 date as had been stated by the Historic Places Trust. The amount he owed isn't recorded on the deed, but it was "for advances and business accommodation". Whatever it was, he had fully paid it off by 25 March 1901, and the lease was cleared.

1903 Second and last market garden lease begins

4 September 1903, Chan Dar Chee renewed his lease for a term of 14 years with the Public Trustee (the office now handling the Crown lease), again for £95 per annum. This would have brought him down to 1917, which was when the area was starting to be handed over to the Rugby League. This time, he only had just over 6 acres -- which meant he was paying more for the lease per acre than before. A year later, he began his Avondale purchases -- hardly surprising, as the news of the day was full of public debate over the hospital wanting more Domain land, and the possibility that Chan Dar Chee's Mechanic's Bay gardens might be swapped by the hospital board for that land.

Image from R91.481, LINZ records.

1916-1917 During this period, the lease ends, and construction on the grandstand begins for Carlaw Park.

I'm still looking forward to reading the Geometria report, if I get the chance, to see what further information had been found with regard to this, the longest lasting of the three Domain Chinese market gardens.

DI 1A.733, LINZ records, NZ Herald, Auckland City Archives, Papers Past, subdivision plans via LINZ.


  1. The 1851 reference to Kay & Dawson. Kay's christian name given as Robt.was indeed Roger, see Cyclopedia of NZ under Rangioaohia. Till today, I had never heard of Dawson even in an advert in the first NZHerald for the tannery, there was no mention of a Dawson.
    Bruce Kay (youngest grandson of Roger)

  2. Hi Bruce.
    Apologies for the error with Roger Kay's first name -- don't know why that happened, as the Southern Cross entry was quite clear as to Roger, not Robert (14 August 1860, p. 2). I've corrected it now.

    The firm up to that point was styled "Dawson and Kay, Tanners and Dealers in Leather." Interesting that his entry in the Cyclopedia (Vol II, p. 736) omitted any mention of Dawson -- but such has happened, where a business partner was left out of the family's record after the fact. The timber mill-building and operating partnership of Cyrus Haskell and "Long" John Mcleod in Henderson around the same time comes to mind.

    If you have any info on Roger Kay you'd like to share, feel free. Always interesting to learn more about Auckland's early tanners and fellmongers.

  3. Hi Bruce,
    Further to my reading of your reports and other information re the "Chinese Market Gardens"in Auckland City, if would like to offer a snippet of our family history which touches briefly on one of these market gardens.
    My Great Grandfather Henry Richards born 1824, in Cornwall,came out to New Zealand in 1847, on the "Ramillies", with the 58th Royal Engineers", being based at Albert Barracks.
    Henry Richards married Hannah Wickman in 1858, they had ten children.
    Henry Richards was appointed Bailiff of the Auckland Resident Magistrates Court, in 1862. Henry Richards died in 1882, buried at St. Stephens Chapel, Judges Bay, Parnell.
    Henry Richards bought two properties,in 1867,, on the triangle (now reserve) cnr Mechanics Bay Rd and Parnell Rise, and built the family home.
    One of Henry"s sons William Richards, my Grandfather, born in 1879, who went to the first Parnell School,which was almost next door, hopped out the kitchen window every day.
    The purpose of the former story was to give an idea of the layout of the area in those times.
    William Richards, was often sent to buy vegetables for the household at Ah Chee"s, the local market gardens in the area where Carlaw Park is.(family history documented 1975)
    Both Willie and Clem Ah Chee and their parents were good friends of the Richards family, my maternal side.

    Further to that story I have just discovered fairly recently that I have a family connection on my maternal side, to the "Ah Quoi", "Quoi" family
    This connection is through one of the sons of Thomas Ah Quoi, Ernest William Quoi, (they must have dropped the "Ah", who married a relation of mine. I only found that out yesterday, no record of their deaths at all, at this time.
    They originally lived in Auckland.
    Quite a coincidence having a family connection to both the "Ah Chee" and the "Ah
    Quoi" families.

    P.S. Bruce, you necessarily don"t need to put all of my story in your "Timespanner" site. I think it is great, not to lose important stories about the early days in Auckland, in many different areas, such as the market gardens etc.

    1. I have a marriage for Ernest Quoi, and a birth of a daughter. Looking for any photos of the Quoi family.

    2. Have either of you seen my post on Thomas Ah Quoi?

    3. Yes, well written Timespanner. Still looking for a photo(s)though.

    4. I'll pass that on to a researcher who's working in the field at the moment. See what comes up.

    5. I am researching the Henry Richards you refer to and in particular are looking for a photograph of him and also his wife Hannah - would be grateful for any help

  4. Hi there,

    Thanks for sharing your information. I totally agree -- it is definitely important not rto lose the bits and pieces that make up the story of our city and our country and the people who helped it come to be.

    I'll let Parnell Heritage and David Wong, descendant of Ah Chee, know about your comment.