Thursday, September 29, 2011

Another blog: Cast in Stone

Another heritage around blog called Cast in Stone by Big Dog Talking of Dunedin. Great to see some more NZ history amongst the blogs!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Gentlemen's residences on Albert Park

A short time ago, I was contacted by an arts student named Ayesha who said she had an interest in an old fountain on Princes Street, and wondered if I had any information on it. I hadn't, and I agreed to meet her in the city to start the hunt for the story.

The site of the fountain in question is that of a block of old residences on Princes Street known as the Merchant Houses. There were once four here, built on land leased at first from the Auckland City Improvement Commissioners in the mid 1870s, and then from Auckland City Council. Behind them sprawls Albert Park, former site of the Albert Barracks -- and the Auckland Drill Hall, about which I have previously posted.

Actually, to my surprise (looking at a conservation plan for Albert Park, available at Auckland Council Archives) -- the site of the fountain is on part of the original Drill Hall site. In the overlay below (based on 1940 aerial from Auckland Council's website): yellow marks the approximate line of the barracks wall, green is the line of the Military Road, now erased, red marks the approximate spot for the Drill Hall from 1867, and the blue arrow points to the site of the fountain. Yes, you can see a house there, because there once was a house there. More below.

Princes Street south from Waterloo Quadrant was constructed in 1874, part of Contract No. 4. Around halfway through the following year, the drill hall was removed from the barracks site and set up by Rutland Street.

TENDERS required for (labour only) for a Villa in Princes-street. Plans, &c to be seen at my house in Queen-street, up to Wednesday next —J. Smith, Draper.
Auckland Star 26 January 1876

From January 1876, the villas were built. Architects may have included James Wrigley and Edward Mahoney, but the advertisements didn't specify who commissioned the professionals. But it looks like John Smith kicked things off with his brick villa, now known as "Pembridge" at No. 31 Princes Street. He wasn't there very long.
 In our obituary column this evening will be found recorded the death of Mr John Smith, which happaned at his residence, Princes-street, this morning. The deceased gentleman has been in rather bad health for some time past, and the cause of death was bronchitis and inflammation of the lungs. His decease was of a somewhat sudden nature, as he has been seen about town during the last few days. 

Mr Smith was one of the best known amongst local tradesmen, and his connection with this city dates back for a long period. He was an early Australian colonist, and was present at the great fight at Ballarat concerning miners' rights, being then connected with the detective force. Arriving in Dunedin from Australia, he commenced business as cafe proprietor. He subsequently came to Auckland, and opened a small drapery establishment in Grey-street. Successful speculation at the opening of the Thames goldfields enabled him to accumulate considerable wealth, with the assistance of which he extended his business. Soon afterwards he proceeded on a visit to the Old Country, and on his return to Auckland re-commenced business in the handsome shop which he had built next to the United Service Hotel. Mr Smith was an enthusiastic sportsman, and owned a stud of horses, including Tim Whiffler, Maid of Honour, Trafalgar, Lady, Xanthippe, and Toi. The funeral of deceased is announced to take place on Thursday at three o'clock.
 Auckland Star  15 August 1882

From 1884, Dr. John H Honeyman occupied the house, according to Nola Easdale's book Five Gentlemen's Residences  (1980). He began practising in Auckland in mid 1879 as a physician and surgeon, hailing originally from Edinburgh. He left for Sydney in 1890, served in hospitals in England, then returned in 1891. In 1892, along with Mr John Hay, Honeyman purchased and donated to the city the former site of old St Paul's Cathedral, at the northern end of Princes Street.

A cable was received to-day by Mr Wilfred Bruce, announcing the death of Dr. Honeyman at London, on Saturday last. Dr. Honeyman who was formerly in practice in Auckland had been in England for the past two years, and had remained there for the benefit of his health. Dr. Honeyman leaves a wife and two children, two girls, aged about 14 and 8 respectively. Mrs Honeyman is a daughter of the Rev. David Bruce, formerly of Auckland, and at present in Sydney, and a sister of Mr Wilfred Bruce, to whom the news of Dr. Honeyman's death was sent.

Dr. Honeyman came to Auckland in 1864, being then a little over 20 years of age, and immediately went down to Whangarei, where he stayed with his uncle, Mr John Hay. Shortly afterwards returned to Auckland and entered into the employ of Mr David Graham, as a draper, and subsequently joined Mr John Hay in business in Queen-street as drapers, under the title of Hay and Honeyman. The firm was very successful, and during the mining boom in the Caledonian days were fortunate in adding to their wealth, both parties ultimately retiring from business on competencies.

Mr Honeyman then resolved to go to Edinburgh and study for a doctor, no mean attempt for a man already over thirty years of age. He qualified at Edinborough University and subsequently St. Andrew's University conferred on him the degree of M.D. Dr. Honeyman then returned to Auckland where he practised successfully until his uncle, Mr Berry, of Sydney, died and left a large fortune. He then went to Sydney, and upon returning to Auckland commenced to settle up his affairs, as he did not intend to reside here. Just when all had been completed, he was seized with a paralytic stroke in the shop of Mr Graves Aicken, Queen-street. Dr. Honeyman after four months went to England in order to receive the advice of the best medical authorities. While residing in Auckland Dr. Honeyman married the eldest daughter of the Rev. D. Bruce and leaves two girls and a widow to mourn their loss. 

Auckland Star 21 May 1895
Arthur Hyam Nathan followed after Dr. Honeyman from 1896. His Nathan Building forms part of today's Britomart Precinct.

No. 29 was, according to Nola Easdale, built in 1877-1878, for George and Elizabeth Johnstone. George was a brewer, owner of the Albert Brewery.

Messrs Hesketh and Richmond, under instructions from Mr Johnstone, have addressed a letter to the Improvement Commissioners warning them against allowing the circus to erect their canvas on the Albert Park. We understand, however, that the Commissioners have resolved to disregard the protest and issue a permit for the use of the ground, on condition that the circus proprietors shall give a donation of twenty pounds to be expended in trees for the improvement of the park. It is possible that the powers of the Commissioners in the matter may be tried by an application for mandamus to the Supreme Court, which will be the means of raising a more important issue—the right by which a large portion of the public Park has been fenced off, subdivided, and applied to private purposes. 

Auckland Star 11 April 1878
Albert Park.—A letter was received from Mr George Johnstone, stating that his occupancy on the Albert Park Reserve was wholly verbal and "on the word of a gentleman—a then Commissioner." The Council were at perfect liberty to repudiate it if the members deemed fit.
Auckland Star 10 December 1880

William Reynolds Vines took over the lease in 1882, according to Nola Easdale, then it became a boarding house from 1884 run by Mrs Spiers. A Dr. Schwarzbach, "for eye, ear and throat diseases" consulted patients from there in 1885. By 1886, Mrs Spiers had moved to another boarding house, Fernleigh in Symonds Street.

It was around this time that Moss Davis took over the lease for two of the three lots, the other retained by Mr Vines. The Davis family called the house Hamurana.

Drawing by Kerrie Cleverdon of 27 Princes Street (later 25A Princes Street) for Five Gentlemen's Residences by Nola Easdale (1980). By kind permission of Auckland Council Archives.

Then, we have No. 27 Princes Street, later known as 25A. It was similar in design to No. 29 -- but lost the distinctive verandah by at least 1977, when a photo included in Nola Easdale's book was taken. Today, it no longer graces the Princes street frontage.

The initial similarity is probably because George Johnstone of No. 29 owned both sections at one point, before he transferred his lease for No. 27 to fellow brewer Thomas Whitson.

Deep regret was expressed in town to-day when it became ktiown that Mr Thomas Whitson, son of Mr Robert Whitson, brewcr, of this city, had been taken from among us by death. For the past year or more he had been ailing from some lung complaint, and Dr. Stockwcll was in constant attendance. Finding that deceased was not improving, Dr. Stockwell suggested a change of air, and hence a voyage to San Francisco was decided upon. The trip had the effect of rendering a great improvement in his complaint apparent, but he never quite recovered from the sea-sickness experienced on the home voyage, and since the time when he returned to Auckland (about three months ago), fears were entertained for his recovery. For the past fortnight, he was almost entirely confined to his bed, and carefully attended by Dr. Stockwcll, but the affliction finally assumed a most serious aspect, aud at a quarter past seven o'clock this morning he bade his final adieu to his friends and relations who were congregated at his bedside, offering consolation and hoping to the last that he might recover. 

Mr Whitson was an old and respected settler, having been in the colony and in business with his father for the past 23 years. He was 37 years of age, and leaves a wife and four young children, who will undoubtedly experience a great cap in their family circle. The primary cause of death is not positively known, but Dr. Stockwell is of opiniou that it is some lung disease, probably consumption.

Auckland Star 8 January 1881

The house appears to have been associated with medical men through to at least the 1940s. Dr Charles Henry Haines had the lease from 1883, according to Nola Easdale. Wises Directory for 1905 says a Thomas Copeland Savage resided there. Another surgeon, Kenneth MacKenzie, was there in the late 1920s. From the 1940s, though, it seems to have become a boarding house.

Come the 1970s, and the end of the original 99-year leases, under the Aucklans Improvement Trust Act 1971 Auckland City Council made plans not to renew the leases, and demolish all five of the merchant's houses. Then with a change of mind, a "Conservation Area A" was established in 1974. Conservation Area A designations were also considered for other groups of houses of particular interest, such as those on Renall Street.

But ... by October 1976, the house at No. 27, now 25A, was under threat. Already shifted on its section once, in 1934, now it seemed to be in the way. Out of line with the other four houses, blocking views to the brick stables at the rear, erected by Dr. Haines so it is believed, and now being redeveloped, the University Club next door adding its own objections to the house at 25A remaining -- despite all the best efforts of the Civic Trust, there was really no hope. Nola Easdale's book ended up being No. 25A's epitaph. It was demolished in the late 1970s.

What is there on the site (this would have been where the north-eastern section of the old drill hall was sited) is the brick fountain.

It is looking a bit the worse for wear. It may have been installed as part of the redevelpment of the stables by Fletcher Construction around 1986, part of a $150,000 transformation which created the Frank Sargesan Centre and George Fraser Gallery from out of the old brick stable.

The main protest and demand for No. 25A's demolition came from the University Club which, in the 1970s, had leased this house right next door, No. 23-25. From what I can see on the current University of Auckland website, that club isn't there any longer. It's now a language school.

Albert Dornwell, butcher, slaughterhouse owner and kicker of men, was the first to enter into a lease with the Improvement Commissioners back in 1877 -- but he didn't build. That was left to Henry Brett, finally getting around to it (a semi-detached) from 1882, according to Nola Easdale's book. As Sir Henry Brett, he ended up in encyclopedias, including the 1902 Cyclopedia. He sub-leased to various peopke, including Moss Davis (see above). By 1896, this had become a boarding house, "Ellesmere". By 1900, sharebroker and Levi Strauss jeans agent William Rainger lived there.

Auckland Star 27 February 1897

By 1915, one of the units was occupied by William Joseph Ralph, a mine owner, while the other was inhabited by Lt Cecil Percival Gavegan. It appears that around 1911, Lt. Gavegan was serving on the HMCS Iris, a cable-laying and maintenance ship for the Trans Pacific Cable. By 1939, surgeon Kennth MacKenzie and optician F F Lowes had taken up residence.

And finally, the fifth of the group (now fourth since the late 1970s): No. 21 Princes Street, a similar base design to those at No. 25A and 29. This was built c.1878 for James Cragg Sharland, chemist and wholesaler. His business career was discussed here, regarding the later (well after his death) poisoned jam roll case.

By 1892, this had also become a boarding house, the "Sonoma", named for another "Sonoma" in Eden Street run by the same lady, Mrs William Cruickshank.  For a time, "Sonoma" was where a Dr. Eliza Foster McDonagh Frikart plied her trade.

Auckland Star 27 November 1893

Dr. Frikart arrived in Wellington around May 1893, claiming medical qualifications from Ireland and Zurich. She had a mail-order medical service, according to Sandra Coney in her book Standing in the Sunshine (1993), dealing with women's health issues, some of a (for Victorian era eyes and sensibilities) delicate nature.

Nelson Evening Mail 8 December 1893

The Victorian Medical Association, where Dr. Frikart had registered, as well as in Tasmania, complained about her to the Irish College of Physicians. Her licence from them was revoked, and she was therefore struck off the British Medical Register, her Zurich qualifications not recognised in England. According to Sandra Coney, Dr Frikart was not allowed to answer for her conduct by personal appearance before their board.

Her Zurich qualification was recognised in New Zealand, if not in England -- but she seems to have left the country by the later 1890s.

Mrs Anna Arbuckle was running the boarding house at No 31 Princes Street by 1905. By 1915, George Wilson Moorehouse operated the boarding house, and in 1926 Mrs Emma G Ford was in charge.

So -- that's a brief look at the Merchant Houses of this part of Princes Street. Was it wrong to demolish No. 25A? Perhaps -- but the open green space on the site is a nice break in the urban landscape. One request, though: an interpretive sign recognising the site of the original drill hall (and the Albert Barracks site in general) would be great. There's certainly the space for something like that ...

Port Bowen: the wreck worth her weight in gold

The ship Port Bowen aground, Wanganui, 22 July 1939. Shows the tugs  Terawhiti (far right), and Kahanui (foreground). Unidentified lighters  are taking off the cargo. The two other boats are  unidentified. Evening  Post (newspaper) photograph. Photographer unidentified. Reference 1/4-048929-G, Alexander Turnbull Library

My friend Tony Goodwin happened to mention to me last week that a wreck called the Port Bowen in 1939 had been salvaged, with parts of her re-used during World War II for munitions and armoured vehicles. Intrigued, I took a look.

On 15 July 1939, the steel twin-screw steamer Port Bowen, built in Belfast in 1916 and operated by the Commonwealth and Dominion Line Ltd (Port Line from 1937),  became stranded just off Castlecliffe near Wanganui. The master was later blamed for the stranding in the inquiry, but didn't lose his certificate, the error of judgement felt to be from lack of local knowledge rather than a culpable act. All attempts to tow the vessel off failed, and she was abandoned as a total loss. The area near Castlecliffe had a bit of a creputation already, before the Port Bowen incident. Another ship, the Cyrena had stranded near the same spot in May 1925 -- also a total loss.

In the Cyrena's case, though, she was broken up by the sea and the winds. The Port Bowen had a different fate.

The tugs Terawhiti (at stern of liner), Tola, and Kahanui (right) trying to pull the Port Bowen off the beach at Wanganui at high tide yesterday afternoon. Alongside the stranded liner are the lighters being used to transfer her cargo to the shore.

Somewhere between 40,000 to 50,000 frozen meat carcases were successfully unloaded from her hold, apparently undamaged, and ready to be conveyed to storage ashore. A valuable consignment of wool salvaged from her, however, was reloaded onto another ship, the Doric Star -- which sank on 2 December 1939, after being struck by gunfire from the Admiral Graf Spee. 

While the Port Bowen was adrift close to the shore, she became a local tourist attraction, providing a mini-boom for Wanganui's economy as visitors travelled up from Wellington to gaze at the sight.

The stranded Port Bowen after breaking her anchorage and drifting nearer the shore. Evening Post 26 July 1939.

The NZ Government began salvaginge of the wreck itself from 1940, the work undertaken by William Cable & Co of Wellington.
 Interest in the Port Bowen wreck at the Castlecliff beach at Wanganui has been revived now that the vessel is to be broken up for scrap metal which will be used for war purposes. William Cable and Co., Ltd., of Wellington, are undertaking the job, preparations for which have already begun. The Public Works Department is to build a gangway to facilitate the passage of workmen to and from the vessel at any tide. A jetty for the use of the motor-lorries and a landing stage will also be built by the Department. Already a certain amount of material has been deposited on the beach preparatory to this work being put in hand.
Evening Post 3 July 1940

Consider the stranding of the overseas steamer Port Bowen at Wanganui. The abandoned ship was given to the Government for munition and other war purposes. It represents a windfall for the State. The wreck today is a scene of great activity. Great quantities of timber, steel, nonferrous metals, refrigerating gear, winches, and ship's equipment are being recovered. Nearly all these commodities are in short supply, and they constitute an invaluable acquisition to the country's stock of raw materials. The cool storage plant is of the first importance, and Mr. Sullivan, with the aid of his co-opted members, is arranging for the refrigeration plant to be taken from the ship and installed in suitable premises. Apart from fulfilling a serious need in the matter of refrigeration space, it has saved the Government many thousands of pounds in the provision of new machinery which would have to be imported from overseas. Many of the ship's instruments and much of its gear have been assigned to the Navy Department, timber has been taken over by the Public Works Department, and the great quantities of copper pipe, tubing, and such materials will be used in the making of munitions.

 Evening Post 10 August 1940

Above images: Evening Post 21 September 1940

Some of her refrigerating equipment went to the then-new military camp at Waiouru. Her steel went toward the making of the New Zealand version of the Beaverette armoured car.

Auckland Weekly News, 24 June 1942, ref AWNS-19420624-20-1, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries

A policeman guarding the wreck during the salvage operations, Neils Godley French Berntsen was drowned in February 1941.

The body of a police constable guarding the wreck of the Port Bowen on the' beach at Castlecliff was found at high-water mark this morning. The deceased, Constable N. L. Berntsen, was 25 years of age, married, with two children. Apparently he had been fishing off the vessel and at high water on Saturday night his line had fouled. He had decided to go out at low water at 2 o'clock this morning. Evidently he got into difficulties. He was a permanent policeman doing duty at the wreck, taking over his watch when the men dismantling the vessel ceased work each day.

Evening Post 10 February 1941

Steel from the Port Bowen went into the making of huge 80 ton shields built at Temuka used in driving tunnels during the construction of the Tekapo hydro-electric development.

The block-making plant was under construction, and all materials had been received and a start was being made on the construction of the shields at Temuka. The shields, each of which would weigh eighty tons, would be made from steel salvaged from the Port Bowen, which grounded near Wanganui. Describing the part to be played by the shields, Mr. Beck explained that each shield would be pushed forward by hydraulic pressure like a biscuit cutter and the tunnel lining would be erected inside the shields. It was a novel method for New Zealand.
Evening Post 22 February 1941

Three thousand tons of first-class material—steel, iron, and machinery -- was salvaged from the Port Bowen which was stranded at Castlecliff, near Wanganui, said Mr. C. A. Barrell (Government, Hamilton) when he was speaking in the Financial debate yesterday. This material had been distributed in many directions and had helped to repair ships and to construct others.

Mr. Barrell said that amongst the salvaged machinery were 22 winches, which had been taken over by the Navy for the equipment of minesweepers, and other plant had also been transferred to the Navy, including many thousands of feet of copper piping. Much of the material, including the winches, was unprocurable in New Zealand and was worth some thousands of pounds. Much of the steel was in first-class condition.

Hundreds of tons of the material had been used in repairing ships that had come to New Zealand in a damaged condition, and hundreds of tons of plates and other material were still in stock.
 Evening Post 31 July 1941

The 8267-ton steamer Port Bowen, which went ashore at Castlecliff Beach, Wanganui, over three years ago, has been gradually taken to pieces and now presents a dilapidated appearance, states a Wanganui correspondent. Dismantling work is still being carried, out. So far plating and ribbing has been removed to the level of the lowest of the three original decks. The main work at present is in the bow area, which is firmly embedded in the sand. This part of the steamer has been used as an anchor for the larger half when it broke away 18 months ago. There are only a few men employed now, but when dismantling operations began over 100 men were engaged. The only machines left in the Port Bowen are small pumps used to keep water put of the main hold, but so far it has not been possible to remove the propeller shafts from their tubes. They may have to be cut out on account of being bent. The last machinery taken out of the steamer is now being reconditioned, having been under water for almost three years. 

Machinery from the Port Bowen has been put to many uses. Some has gone to freezing works, some to meat dehydration work, some to hospitals, and some to mine-sweepers. One generator was large enough to supply the full electric power needs of the Wanganui Public Hospital. If it had not been for the war it is doubtful whether any steps would have been taken to recover the material in the vessel on account of the expense involved. Because of the shortage of material and the fact that many fittings removed are almost unprocurable elsewhere, the vessel has become almost "worth her weight in gold." 
 Evening Post 5 January 1943

Shed 33 fire, King's Wharf, Wellington. Evening Post 22 February 1943

When a shed at King's Wharf in Wellington was gutted in February 1943, timbers for beams from the Port Bowen were used to rebuild it. This is where the newspaper reports appear to end for the tale of the recycled Port Bowen.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

A trip on the Rainforest Express

"Showing the pipeline at the Nihotupu Reservoir," James D Richardson, 1919, Sir George Grey Special Collections, ref. 4-1669, Auckland Libraries

A bit of a sequel to my Waitakere Dam Tramline visit.

Last Thursday, thanks to my friend and fellow AWHS member Tony Goodwin, I got a chance to visit the Rainforest Express, a passenger tramline running from Jacobson's Depot to the Upper Nihotupu Dam in the Waitakere Ranges. Exactly who Jacobson is or was, I still have no idea, but I'll be asking West Auckland folk about that. The tramline has been running, so they told us, for 14 years now. Tony said to me that the rail used is what is called "30 pound", either not manufactured today or extremely hard to obtain. So, much of the old line to Huia was ripped up and used as spare parts to maintain the line here.

Speaking of spare parts -- such was the fate of this old relic as well.

 "Vertical boilered steam locomotive on line between Big Muddy Creek and bottom of incline, used in the construction of the Upper Nihotupu Dam", Henry Winkelmann, Sir George Grey Special Collections, ref. 1-W1803, Auckland Libraries

According to the plaque tacked to the rear, this is an Orenstein & Koppel Locomotive, built in Berlin in 1906 for the Northern Coal Company in Waro. Auckland City Council purchased the loco from the company in 1921 and put it to work on the Nihotupu dam construction project, costing £140. "The Orenstein & Koppel was the main working locomotive used to haul building material for the dam from the wharf at Big Muddy Creek along the old lower Nihotupu line (removed in 1923) up to the incline where a steam winch hauled the wagons up to the Upper Nihotupu line." There was also a vertical boiler engine, seen in the historic photo above.

The loco at the Mokau colleries after 1923. From the interpretive panel, Alexander Turnbull Library.

From 1923, after it was sold again, the loco worked down near Waitomo, and at the end of its career ended up in a display in Tauranga, possibly the Historic Museum they once had down there. Deteriorated, it ended up at MOTAT in 1989 ... and was dismantled and scavenged for spare parts for MOTAT's 1904 Bertha locomotive. In March 1998, when Watercare began the restoration of the tramline from Jacobson's Depot, the remains of this engine were handed over by MOTAT on long term loan. Now, what remains is painted against the elements, up on blocks, and kiddies climb into the cabin to imagine days gone by when the loco once travelled along the narrow gauge.

The tramline winds its way along a pipeline taking untreated water from the Upper Nihotupu Dam towards the nearest filter station.

"Showing the pipeline at the Nihotupu Reservoir," James D Richardson, 1919, Sir George Grey Special Collections, ref. 4-1667, Auckland Libraries

Above is a piece of pipe they've left as a display to view while the train goes past -- airlocks, so the commentary went, can cause explosions leaving damage like this. Not something easy to fix all the way up here on the ridges.

 "The Nihotupu tramline and pipe route during construction of the Upper Nihotupu Dam, with locomotive used to haul construction material to dam site," Henry Winkelmann, Sir George Grey Special Collections, ref. 1-W1784, 
Auckland Libraries

"Garth's two-horse coach in the vicinity of Nihotupu", 1915, James D Richardson, Sir George Grey Special Collections, ref 4-2441, Auckland Libraries

Nihotupu was a major tourist attraction from the 1890s or so. The old Avondale Stables made a bit of a killing hiring brakes that would set up for West Auckland and to head up to the Waitakere Ranges so that well-dressed ladies, gents and children could admire Nature's majesty and the wonder of the Nihotupu Falls.

"A view of Nihotupu Falls, with Amy and Jean Richardson and Miss Hunt standing below," 1913, James D Richardson, Sir George Grey Special Collections, ref 4-2458, Auckland Libraries

All that's gone, now. The falls are now vanished beneath the waters of the great holding dams built by a thirsty Auckland in the 20th century.

Today, from the Arataki Visitor's Centre up above the tramline, and from the tramline itself (much more briefly), you get to admire the scene of the lower Nihotupu Dam, and the Manukau Harbour beyond. It's still the sort of view I'd love to have from a house window, though.

Bits and pieces like this coal scoop are left along the line. Although, there wasn't actually any coal-mining here ...

Very narrow, these tunnels. Keep your head and hands in!

One of the blokes headed off into this tunnel around of the train so he could shine his torchlight on the inhabitants for us.

Wetas. Lots of 'em.

A bit of a pause at Quinn's Bridge, across Quinn's Creek (and no, I don't know who Quinn is either. Another mystery to solve.)

Onward we go ...

Almost at the dam ...

And there it is: the Upper Nihotupu Dam. Instead of waterfalls, there's water cascading in a foamy jet of overflow at the bottom, and the green face of the dam.

And a lot of steep steps up to the top of the dam. Yes, I climbed them. With my state of unfitness, ladies and gents, I needed both arms as well as the legs to haul my overweight mass up there. And at least two breather stops while my lungs discussed impending industrial stop work action. I tell you what -- if you have a bit of congestion in the pipes, that walk will clear things out, no worries ...

Update 26 September 2011: Above is a photo taken by Tony Goodwin of yours truly climbing the steps. Thanks, Tony!

 "Nihotupu Dam from the west bank in the Waitakere Ranges", Henry Winkelmann, 31 October 1923, Sir George Grey Special Collections, ref. 1-W368, Auckland Libraries

I did make it, though (well, with the steps, once you start, there's only one way out, and it's up).

A long way down. That's what is left of the falls, down below.

 "A view of the dam under construction at the Nihotupu Reservoir", James D Richardson, 1922, Sir George Grey Special Collections, ref. 4-1658, Auckland Libraries

By late 1910, Auckland City Engineer Walter Bush identified a site in the Upper Nihotupu valley for a earth or puddled clay core dam. The Council accepted the proposed site in January 1912, then engaged H H Metcalfe to produce a feasibility report (getting an engineer to comment on another engineer's idea? Might have been galling.) Metcalfe, best known for his waterworks at Lake Pupuke up on the North Shore, suggested a concrete dam instead, on a site downstream from the existing timber one. Bush suggested another site, and this was disputed by Metcalfe. So the Council called in a third engineer, a chap named Morton from Wellington, to report on the whole matter. (Three engineers now?) Morton supported Bush's No. 3 site, and Council began making preparations -- interrupted, of course, by World War I.

 "A view of the dam under construction at the Nihotupu Reservoir", James D Richardson, 1922, Sir George Grey Special Collections, ref. 4-1659, Auckland Libraries

February 1919 was when concreting began. During construction, Auckland went through a water shortage in 1920, so an auxiliary dam was built and brought into service at Bush's No. 1 site. Work continued at the main dam though, with Mayor James Gunson officially turning on the water at the new dam 20 December 1920.

Things were falling behind schedule by January 1921, however, and the contractor, Langlands and Company, was in serious difficulties due to shortages of materials and labour after the war. The cost of the project therefore escalated by nearly 70 per cent, Council took over control the next month, and reorganised the entire project. The completed dam was officially opened by Joseph Coates, Minister of Works, 14 April 1923. (Information from Walls for Water: Pioneer Dam Building in New Zealand, R E Offer, 1997.)

Labour troubles and industrial unrest would vanish quickly if every body of employers adopted the same attitude toward their workmen, as the Auckland City Council has done with regard to the men who built the great Nihotupu Dam, remarks the New Zealand Herald. Reference to the part played by the actual workers, made by the Mayor at the opening ceremony, was greeted with loud applause from over a thousand listeners. "We are proud to say that there has not been a single accident on the job since the council took it over," Mr. Gunson said. "The utmost precautions have been taken for the safety of the men, and everything possible done for their welfare in the way of comfortable accommodation and facilities for recreation. In allotting the credit for the completion of this great undertaking, I wish particularly to mention the foreman and the men themselves. It has been a source of deep pleasure and admiration to us all year by year to see the way in which these men have worked, and the interest they have taken in their job, and to-day on behalf of the council and Auckland citizens, I wish to acknowledge our indebtedness to the staff of sixty or seventy men who have seen the building of the dam through to completion.''
Hawera & Normanby Star, 8 May 1923

The brass thieves haven't made it up here yet, so it seems (that walk up the steps, even if they got past the barred gates, would probably deter the ratbags).

"Showing the official opening of the Nihotupu Dam in the Waitakere Ranges," 14 April 1923, James D Richardson, Sire George Grey Special Collections, ref. 4-5891, Auckland Libraries

"Relatively this is only a small job," said the Mayor (Mr J. H. Gunson) at the opening ceremony at Nihotupu dam on Saturday. "Huge as it appears to us, it is really nothing very big, and this will be appreciated when I say that all this water would last London only two days. You see, after all we are a small people, in a small community, and must be humble." 
 Hawera & Normanby Star, 20 April 1923

We were allowed into the control room.

Then a walk along to the picnic area ...

... where the train waited to take us back down the line.

At the depot once more.

Along the way back, we were told about Kauri Snails, nocturnal carnivorous cannibals of the bush, said to inhabit the rainforest beside the tramline. The workmen find empty snail shells now and then, and they keep these in a display case at the depot. If they're Kauri Snails, they're a bit south of their usual Northland range, and a bit small.

So, briefly, that's the Rainforest Express. Worth a visit, it runs in all weathers and seasons, and the view of the glow worms is magical.