Friday, July 29, 2011

The Harvey Tree at Martha's Corner

This year marks the tenth anniversary of a piece of whimsy in the heart of Auckland.

George Farrant, Auckland Council's heritage advisor, pointed out to me yesterday an interesting item in Auckland's CBD at an interesting site, dubbed "Martha's Corner" (Victoria and Albert Streets) after a noted madam during the years of last century's Great Depression, so the story goes, who spent profits from running a brothel in the upstairs rooms to fund a soup kitchen below for the destitute.

Just along from the corner, though, stands a tree, an oriental plane.

According to George, and to Brian Rudman, in his article for the NZ Herald, 30 May 2001, the following story was related by the former owner of Martha's Corner by the 1960s, Les Harvey, more famously remembered as the developer of Parnell Village.

"A few years before his death, Mr Harvey and George Farrant, Auckland City heritage manager, were walking past the tree in question when the developer turned to the bureaucrat and said: "I planted that bastard." 

"He continued the story in a nearby cafe: how in his youth he'd lived on the edges of the Paris Bohemian set, Jean Paul Sartre, Henry Miller, the lot. Great days.

"Much later in the 1960s, he said, one of his old Parisian friends, now a New Zealand diplomat back in Paris, sent him a memento via diplomatic bag.

"Delicately wrapped in moist tissue was a tree cutting and a note telling Mr Harvey he would well remember the parent tree. It was one he queued alongside so many times in former days. Mr Harvey said the note told him to plant it in a spot he loved and to give it a little bit of what it was used to."

So, sometime during the late 1960s or early 1970s, Harvey took tools down to a spot on the Albert Street footpath outside his building, and chopped through the seal to plant his Parisian sapling. All without permits, resource consents, environmental impact reports ... George Farrant recalled how he would see there an "insane-looking, ball-shaped tree clipped into a perfect sphere with a trunk hanging out the bottom" during the 1970s or 1980s. Harvey's contractors would keep the tree regularly pruned. Apparently, no one spotted Harvey also carrying out nightly watering.

Les Harvey died in 1994. Between that time and 2001, the tree survived but was in need of TLC. Then George Farrant, proponent of recognising our city's heritage and memories in the form of ceramic plaques at various places, chose to mark one of the quirky stories which give Auckland it's colour, between all the facts, figures and dates.

This Oriental Plane tree, propagated from one beside a Montmartre pissoir, was planted by the adjacent landowner Les Harvey. Appropriate sustenance for the young tree was provided by Mr Harvey and his family from time to time.
The plaque was unveiled on 29 May 2001. The footpath was opened up, the tree properly fed, and it still stands there today -- not on any heritage schedule, but definitely part of our story.


  1. Well, I didn't know that "appropriate sustenance" could help a tree grow. I KNOW it can kill off WEEDS!! I've been told anyway...

  2. It's the ammonia and nitrates, so someone told me once. Enough is good, too much kills. I seem to recall, in the movie World's Fastest Indian, Burt Munro had a lemon tree he kept going by such a method. While he was off conquering speed records, he asked a young neighbour of a lad to fill in for him ...

  3. LOL
    Yep, lemon trees love it, didn't realise other trees liked it, too!
    Fab stories, Lisa, on both Martha and Les, thanks for sharing them :)

  4. Replies
    1. Lisa et al - just an observation that after the asphalt was opened and the tree fed for a year or two to give it a boost, it is now in fine shape.
      We just need a way to dissuade the adjacent Thai restaurant dumping their nightly refuse on top of the monument - the tree might like some of the stuff, but it is probably more risky than the Montmartre version of sustenance...

  5. Harvey Tree will be chopped in 2020, for City Rail Link works:

    What’s happening to the Harvey Tree and the plinth next to it? When is this being removed?

    The Harvey Tree near the corner of Albert and Victoria Street West is among the trees that will need to be removed as it is severely intertwined with the utilities beneath the footpath. This will likely take place in January 2020. We will engage with the Harvey family on an appropriate replacement and use of the plinth. A replacement will include the use of cuttings taken from the current Harvey tree, which are being propagated in a nursery.

    1. Thanks for this. I'd suspected the tree would not survive the Albert Street works for the CRL.

  6. MARTHA ANN LINDSAY’S (14-08-1852 – 06-09-1925) OBITUARY…/AS19250907.2.26…
    Below is the text of Martha’s obituary. A few days after this was published the Auckland Star newspaper issued an apology for not listing one of her daughters. It named a Mrs Royle of Epsom. This was also the person to whom Martha in her will left her prized gold watch while the other children received a portion of the selling of her property. Mrs Royle turns out to be a daughter that Martha had when she was 17 before she married Alfred James Lindsay. Her daughter was Catherine Spencer Burke and the father of her daughter was John Spencer who became a master mariner. Catherine went on to marry four people William John James Morrison, David Crawford, Thomas Royle and Henry John Alder but there are no children recorded.
    Text: Auckland Star 7 September 1925 page 5
    Mrs Martha Lindsay, the “oldest established second-hand dealer in town.” died yesterday. The death of Mrs. Lindsay at the age of 73 removes a very prominent figure. Her name was known not only to the inhabitants of her own district. It was familiar to people in all walks of life. That she was the oldest second-hand dealer in this city there is no doubt. She had been in the business for 55 years. She spent 31 of them in the little shop so full of old clothes and knick-knacks of every description in I which she died peacefully yesterday I morning. Previous to that she carried on her trade in premises that were situated on the corner opposite the Welleslev Street Post Office, and prior to that her home was in Chancery Lane. She was born in this city, and remembered ere she died that “Old Auckland'” with which there are now left so very few human links. She was a witness, for instance, of public hangings at what is now known as Self’s corner, at the junction of Queen and Victoria Streets, where in the sixties the old gaol stood.
    Mrs. Lindsay was “a great old sport at the races,”‘ to use the expression of her daughter. She followed the “sport of kings”‘ all her life. Fifty years ago she went out to Ellerslie in a dray, and paid fourpence for a drink of water. In later years she secured the “rights of the course” at each meeting, and sublet refreshment booths. She did the same thing at cattle shows, and was as well-known a figure in those days as Mr. Selby is on the course to-day. She had a licensed booth at Ellerslie in that great year when Nelson won the Auckland Cup. That is going back into the dim beyond, but in the old lady’s memory it was as fresh as ever. She attended her final meeting last month when she was present at the complimentary meeting given to the officers and men of the American Fleet. Her son Sam was once a fine jockey.
    When she was a slip was a girl Mrs. Lindsay would walk out to Titirangi to see a friend, and then walk into town again.
    Those who will miss her most are the poor people in her own district. She was a friend to all. They came to her in trouble, and she helped them. She always had a bed or a meal ready for any who needed them. Returned soldiers know her well, for she was. a great friend to them. “She’s done many a good turn that nobody but the one for whom she did it knows about.” Was what a “Star”‘ representative was told this morning.
    Mrs. Lindsay leaves four sons and one daughter. 12 grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren. Her father was Michael Burke, an Irish pugilist, and she used to recount with pride how he once fought a great contest with bare knuckles on the Epsom racecourse.
    Mrs. Lindsay enjoyed her usual health until Thursday last. On Friday she was afflicted with a paralytic stroke, and 1 died at 8 o’clock yesterday morning.