Saturday, June 4, 2011

Blockhouse Bay, 1899

From the Auckland Star, 2 December 1899.

By S.H.W.
I was surprised lately on visiting the above district to note the signs of progress that are everywhere manifest in the number of new houses, the acres under cultivation, and the great change for the better that has come over what was a few years ago a dreary waste of ti-tree scrub. The Avondale South district reaches from the Manukau Road past Craig's brick works, and away on to the Manukau Beach, and is perhaps one of the least known and most healthy of the suburban districts around Auckland, an ideal place for workmen's homes if only connected by rail with the city of Auckland.

Considerable areas of fairly good land, that can be purchased for £5 or £10 per acre, and that have been idle and untouched except by the spade and spear of the gumdigger have now been laid down in grass or oats, and a number of nice little homesteads erected, and some fine orchards planted that are in full bearing.

Mr Pace, who recently purchased some land and built a house, has gone in fairly extensively for strawberries, and has at present the prospect of a very good return for his labour. It is surprising that more of the land in this neighbourhood, lying as it does so well to the sun, and close to the city, has not been taken up for strawberry planting and vegetable and fruit growing, being as a matter of fact only an hour's drive from Auckland, without the many inconveniences arising from isolation that settlers in the districts on the north side of the Waitemata have to suffer from. The Avondale district, as a whole ought to be a great fruit producing one, being close to the market. One settler told me he made last season a clear profit of £200 off 20 acres of land, part of which was planted with tomatoes.

The blighting curse of this locality and others round the city is the fact that so much of the land is held by financial institutions and other speculators, who are far-seeing enough to recognise that in the near future the city must spread naturally in that direction when electric trams will whisk a man along to his home at the rate of 12 or 15 miles an hour.

Amongst the new residences to be noted are those of Mr Pooley, who has built a nice cottage on the main road, leading to Blockhouse Bay. Further along is a new cottage owned by his father. Close by are the residences and peach orchards of Mr Wm. Cooper, solicitor, and Mr Armstrong.

Mr J. McLeod, the well-known basket-maker, has a seaside residence overlooking Blockhouse Bay, and with others living near enjoys an uninterrupted view of many miles of sea and landscape. He is laying down a block of land alongside his residence in grass. Mr Davenport, Karangahape Road, has purchased a country home right opposite the site of the old Blockhouse that was familiar to many of our older settlers, who lived in the stirring times of the Maori war. Mr Smith, of Smith and Caughey, has a block of fairly good land on the line of the proposed canal that may some day connect the waters of the Manukau and Waitemata. This gentleman has a neat little furnished cottage close to the beach, on the site of an old Maori pah, and surrounded by a little bit of native bush, in what is known as Green Bay. Adjoining him, Mr Hoffman has a large block of land, which unfortunately is allowed to remain idle and unfenced, but it serves a good purpose in affording an opportunity for the impecunious gumdiggers who are still found on these waste lands all around Avondale. They can earn enough to buy beer and baccy and tucker. Deep water is found in the channel close by this lost named bay, and it was with a view to utilise this for the purpose of bringing steamers alongside a proposed wharf at any state of the tide that Mr John Bollard, M.H.R., brought forward a motion last session for the construction of a short line of one mile of railroad to connect with the Helensville line, as a solution of the difficulty of getting the Frisco mails for the South away with the quickest despatch. This may some day come to pass, if only to afford the people of Auckland direct communication with a bracing and invigorating Manukau beach.

Unfortunately there has been no means of communication with this district. Up to the present time those living in the locality or desiring to spend the summer months camping along the coast (as many delight to do) are obliged to walk to and from Avondale South. The enterprising firm of bus proprietors, Andrew and Sons, have, I understand, decided to put a bus on the Avondale South Road this summer to connect with their regular traffic and continue it if they find sufficient encouragement. The roads are very good, one of the last contracts let being for the formation of the road leading from Blockhouse Bay to Green Bay.

The Rev. F. Larkins has succeeded in getting a neat little church, erected nearly opposite Mr Gittos' home, and the need for a public school is beginning to be felt by parents, who have to send their children in all weathers to Avondale township. The settlers in the whole of that district have little to. complain of, they seem contented and fairly well off. Some work in town, others in the brickyard, or till their little farms. Their wants are well attended to. as bakers, butchers and grocers call at every house more or less dally, and their desire to know the passing events of the day is supplied by a "Star" runner, who goes part of the way, and ought to go right down to the settlers’ houses on the beach.

The people of Auckland have much to be thankful for in the many charming and healthy seaside resorts by which it is surrounded, and which, as the years go by, and population becomes more congested, will naturally drift further afield where eight or ten acres can be secured for the price of an allotment in a back slum of the city.


  1. Never heard of gumdiggers. Interesting.

  2. You're not the first Aussie to say that around here, Andrew. My friend Lee, commenting to a post about the McLeod's Crossing Bridge in Henderson last year, asked about them. I replied:

    "Gumdiggers literally dug for the solidified gum of the kauri trees which remained in the ground as a legacy of the kauri forests which once abounded in the upper half of the North Island. It was a key component in the manufacture of varnish, paint and other products from the 19th century to the middle of the 20th. They'd stick a metal probe in the ground, and if they hit something which seemed to be gum, they'd then dig for it, hence the name."

    In terms of Blockhouse Bay and Avondale, the gumdiggers dug into unformed roads and caused potholes looking for the gum -- and had a £1 bounty on their head for it in the 1880s to 1890s.

  3. Andrew: Here's a photo of a giant piece of Kauri gum i snapped at the Kauri museum in Matakohe in the North Island a while back Ironically this piece belongs to the Auckland Museum where i work... was rather pleasant to see it there!

    There quite a few pics of Kauri gum in there...if you ever get to Matakohe...this is a MUST museum to see!

    [who is having major problems lately trying to add comments with my google id...bizarre!]

  4. TS, I wonder if we had such diggers in Australia. Dear oh dear, digging up the roads.

    Thanks Sandy. I remember a chunk of something mounted on a board when I was a primary school. Obviously not kauri, probably a eucalypt resin.

  5. See paragraph 5 - Mr Pooley - I wonder if anybody has any idea of the origins / history of this Mr Pooley ? Maybe a connection to Liverpool, UK, or Birkenhead / Wirral in Cheshire, UK.

    An Alfred Pooley arrived in Auckland in 1882 and lived there for about 9/10 years before moving to Manly, Sydney. I wonder if he links to the Mr Pooley of Blockhouse Bay ?

    We know that Alfred Pooley ran off to Auckland with his lover Maria Phillipps from Liverpool in about 1881/1882, also their baby Ethel Ward Phillipps (later Ethel Ward Phillipps Pooley), born 1879 Chester, UK. Any family historians out there ??

  6. My family home was at 309 blockhouse Bay road 1890's vila think my dad brought it in the late 60's when he moved to nz after leaving the RAF...wish I could find more history on the place but unfortunately I think it was maybe the wrong end of bhb Rd to have much historical merit