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 ...


  1. I love how this research came about from just a query about that fountain (which needs a good scrub lol).
    Nice to know the history of what has gone is there for the asking ;)

  2. I just love the inter-connections, Jayne. Always keeps me going. Cheers!