Thursday, August 13, 2009

More early traces of Auckland's Chinese

Updated 19 November 2017

Folks may wonder why a European-descended person like me should be so very interested and intrigued in the early history of the Chinese community in Auckland. Short answer -- because the history for that theme is so sparse, as wispy as a vapour, like only finding footsteps left behind in transformed stone, and trying to work out who those who left the footprints were, and how their lives entwined with the story of the city and region.

I had thought, at the time of an earlier post on the topic of the earliest Chinese here, that I'd found four likely candidates from around October 1865. Well, another bit of delving into Papers Past tonight has turned up three more people who were living in central Auckland a full three years prior to that date.

James Williams, described by the Southern Cross as "a native of the Celestial Empire" and in the New Zealander as a "Chinaman", was living in rented accommodation in Chancery Street in 1862. Up until October that year, he worked for James Palmer at the Royal Hotel in Official Bay (corner Eden Crescent and Short Street today). He left the Palmers at that time (around when Mrs Palmer advertised that a bag had gone missing from the hotel - 11 October 1862), and left Chancery Street as well, with unpaid rent due. He moved with his brother and wife to Barrack Street (now mainly part of Lorne Street). In early January, he got a job with Nathaniel Reed at the Royal Hotel in Onehunga, as a servant and cook (one report said he was a cooper), but in early February was charged with stealing a watch, money and cheques from the hotel.

Williams is intriguing; despite reports that the house at Barrack Street had no furniture in it, there were found a considerable quantity of new clothing, crockery and cutlery and over £38 in gold, and three £1 notes. He appears to have had regular contact with Sydney by steamer, yet sold up a bedstead for money, and owed his landlord rent.

After three court hearings, the charges were dismissed on 30 March 1863, his lawyer declaring the case to be only one of "suspicion" instead of clear evidence.

Southern Cross and New Zealander, 4 February, 6 February and 31 March 1863

James Williams may have been the James William James (also described as a Chinaman) who appeared in court in December 1864 over a matter of pigs at Panmure. Williams arranged for a man named Jackson (also Chinese, and a butcher) to be an intermediary, and through him ordered 13 pigs for £21 from farmer John Dunn. Dunn would have his dogs get the pigs in for him, and in a number of cases his dogs were too enthusiastic with the job; two were killed by the dogs, one Dunn put down himself because it was badly mauled, and another had a torn ear. Williams chose only to pay £9, Dunn took him to court but, in winning a judgement, was awarded only £6 with the cost of the three dead pigs deducted (Williams claimed he didn't want the pigs for food.) (New Zealander, 28 December 1864, p. 3; NZ Herald 23 December 1864 p 5)

On 12 July 1867, a "Mr Gensainiva (a Chinaman)" was on board Lord Ashley heading south to Nelson and Hokitika via Tauranga out of Auckland. (NZ Herald 13 July 1867, p. 4)

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