Wednesday, December 29, 2010

George Kitchen and the "loafing tailor"

If anyone can tell me what was meant by "loafing tailor" in the context of the following -- please do let me know.

We understand that a lesson in official courtesy is being imparted in the dismissal of an officer under the Provincial Government. It appears that Mr Kitchen, who has charge of the water supply in the capacity of "stopcock" has been in the habit of rather exciting than allaying the irritation in the minds of our citizens, caused by the unsatisfactory supply of water, and forgetting that the public are his paymasters, has usually expressed himself in a manner more forcible than polite.

A few weeks ago, a citizen who takes an interest in the general welfare of his fellow men, waited on Mr Kitchen, and asked for a supply of water for some of his poorer neighbours who were unable to obtain a drop. He was abruptly asked if he paid for water. He replied no, that he had water enough himself, but only felt an interest in his poorer neighbours. The stop-cock told him he believed he was a "loafing tailor" and that he was drunk, which our citizen being a Good Templar, and a strict devotee of "aqua pura" was the heaviest cut of all.

But it appears that not satisfied with this the "stop cock" pulled off his coat and invited him outside to settle the question vi et armis. Our fellow citizen being a man of peace said that he declined making a something or another of himself, but stated that in lieu thereof he would complain to the Provincial Government, when stop-cock answered, as we are informed, "You and the Provincial Government may just go" -- well, some place where the thermometer is said to range over 150ยบ in the shade.

Our citizen, instead of going there, preferred calling at the offices of the Provincial Government, and a commission, consisting of Mr Allright and Mr Mahony, was appointed to investigate this and some other charges of vigorous deportment. We understand that the report has been sent in, that it is unfavourable to the stop-cock, and that another hand is to turn the tap of our city water supply.

(Auckland Star, 23 January 1875)

We have very much pleasure in affording opportunity to Mr Kitchen for the following explanation:-- "Sir, - In reply to your rather severe strictures on myself, allow me in self defence to say that there are generally two versions to a story. Your statement was evidently prompted by the self-styled loafing tailor (as I did not call him one). The facts of the matter to which you refer are these -- I was called upon some weeks ago at my works in Lorne-street by a person whom I did not then know. He complained in a very excited manner that there had been no water in the standpipe near his place in Victoria-street for four days. I know this to be incorrect, and told him so, when he placed himself in a threatening attitude, putting his fist in my face and told me he was one of my masters, and would kick me out of my billet, and making use of very strong language, boasted of his power with the Superintendent and John Sheehan, and in order to protect myself from his heatened violence, I divested myself of my coat, and proceeded to eject him from my workshop, when seeing my determination, he ran out, this is the sum total of the affair. Having made a tool of the Superintendent he tries to gull the public by making use of your columns to effect his object of revenge, by holding me up to the ridicule of my fellow colonists. I trust in your spirit of fairness you will not allow such meanness to pass by unanswered. Yours respectfully, GEORGE KITCHEN.

(Auckland Star, 26 January 1875)

George Kitchen was indeed the water supply stopcock for the Auckland Provincial Council up until late 1874. He also operated a fairly successful brass foundry on Lorne Street. In 1874, as a result of a  series of major fires on Queen Street from April to July, his job as stopcock created some controversy even before the near fisticuffs incident. This was in the days before the Western Springs supply, when Auckland's water for emergencies such as the fire came from the spring beneath Seccombe's Brewery in Newmarket.

It was seen from the first that none of the wooden buildings could be saved, as there was no water in the pipes. The hoses were pointed at the buildings certainly, but the force of water was about as great as if a small syringe had been used. There was scarcely any wind, but on account of the want of water nothing could be done to stop the progress of the fire ...

Mr Seccombe's pumping engine broke down in the afternoon and, consequently, there was no water in town excdept what remained in the pipes. Mr Kitchen sent a horseman out to Mr Seccombe's, and the messenger returned with the information that there would be a good supply on in half an hour. The good supply did not come in time, however, if it came at all, and consequently people had to stand and look on helpless whilst their property was being consumed.

(Southern Cross, 20 April 1874)

To the Editor : Sir,— In answer to Mr. Asher's flat contradiction in yesterday's Cross, permit me to endorse S H Matthew's statement in Wednesday's issue, and to ask Mr. Asher who fixed the hydrant to the Fire Insurance main, and ran the hose upon the roof of Messrs Owen and Oldham's, and whether any man that had any brains would discard a Fire Insurance fire plug and go to a 14-inch stand pipe with a supply that was running on the night of the late fire. I must state if it had not been for G P Pierce, Esq., going with me for the hose reel he would have found out his error. In respect to Mr. Asher's recommendation to confine myself to my duty, I cau assure him I try so to do, and to remind him that I had to come down from the roof of Messrs Owen and Graham's, to repair the hydrant that was torn from the fire-plug which, if he had been up to his business, would not have happened. And to remind him of the night of the fire in Fort street, when he turned the water off the main and gave the hydrant in charge of a constable, whilst the fire was raging, and I had to be brought from the Post office to turn it on again. Sir, I should like to hear Mr. Asher's special reason for using the smaller supply instead of the larger one, for I have been some twenty years connected with water supplies and Fire Brigades and have always been under the impression that the larger the quantity of water the better able you are to cope with fire. — I am, &c , George Kitchen.

(Southern Cross 10 July 1874)

To the Editor : Sir, — Notwithstanding your editorial foot note yesterday, you will concede me the right of reply to what I consider an unblushing letter from Mr. Matthews, and its echo from a person named Kitchen, evidently dictated from a mean jealousy. ... I may add that I am prepared to give lessons to Messrs Matthews and Kitchen on the best method of extinguishing fires, any time between the hours of eleven and three o'clock, free of charge.— I am &c, A. Asher, Fire Inspector.

(Southern Cross 11 July 1874)

By quirk of fate, as Kitchen was a brass founder by trade, he was the successful tenderer for the job of putting in the joints for the water pipes which replaced all the contentious system from the Domain -- this time, in connection with the new Western Springs supply in 1876, a year after the Provincial Council gave him his marching orders.


  1. Hi Lisa

    From what i can see on the net at various sources it might mean of having no employment or no fixed employment...freelancing tailor maybe?


  2. Ah, cool, Sandy. Best explanation I've seen so far, cheers! Whatever it was, it can't have been good.