Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Treasures of the Auckland Town Hall

Photos taken from when I was part of a group guided around the Auckland Town Hall, 15 December. See also my previous post on the Town Hall's centenary.

Plaques extolling the work of former city councillors are everywhere in the vestibule areas of the Town Hall. If your name ends up in bronze or marble -- and it isn't in a cemetery -- you've made it in the world.

But this one is special: in honour of Lieutenant-Commander William Edward Sanders, VC, DSO. I've come across him before when looking at the Takapuna War Memorial.

Kate Sheppard is here as well. Roderic Burgess' bronze from 2009, donated by Parisian Neckwear Co Ltd "in recognition of the contribution of women in society, and in particular those who have worked in the company since 1919."

In the South Lightwell area, a rather large irregular-shaped piece of kauri.  It looks somewhat like an oversized woodwork off-cut. This was donated to the city by retired cabinetmaker George F Saunders at Arbor Day, July 1950. Saunders, after working for Garlick & Cranwell since 1886, struck out on his own in May 1898 (Auckland Star, May 16 1898) as a "practical cabinetmaker", as well as a joiner and an undertaker. By 1900, business must have been good, as he advertised for other cabinetmakers to work with him, and a french polisher. His house (he only rented it) in Portland Road Remuera burned down in 1901. But, he remained in business through at least to the 1930s-1940s, living by that time in Lincoln Street, Ponsonby.

The provenance for the kauri board is given as having been originally part of a large tree in the Kaureranga Forest near Thames, floated to Auckland by the tug Lyttelton in 1915 to be cut up by the Kauri Timber Company. "The tree from which it came", according to the Herald on 4 August 1950, "measured 50ft to the first branch and towered another 45 ft above that. It was reputed to be more than 3000 years old."

Of course, with 21st century hindsight, the word "vandals" comes to mind, but -- such was the way of the timber trade back then. See something big and old, cut it down ...

Saunders may have purchased the timber direct from the company -- and probably used a fair bit in the course of his trade. There may even be the remains of coffins at Waikumete Cemetery made from the wood of that same tree. This remaining piece measured 13ft 10 inches long by 7ft 4 3/4 inches wide when donated. Initially, Council considered incorporating the board in the vestibule of the Pioneer Women's Hall, Freyberg Place. But, as with other items offered to the Council, such as stone sculptures from off old Post Offices, this was stored "for the time being" at the Town Hall. Probably due to its dimensions, it never left.

One thing about the wording on the board: "The polishing of the board was the gratuitous work of the Auckland Disabled Servicemens Re-establishment League." Now, reports at the time described the League's work as "generous" rather than "gratuitous". Sign of a changing slant to the meaning of our words, that "gratuitous" these days is seen as more "unjustified, uncalled-for", than freely given.

Just as an aside, here's the story about the tug Lyttelton according to the NZ Maritime Index:

"Paddle tug built for Lyttelton Harbour Board. She made her way out to New Zealand under sail rigged as a brig, arriving at Lyttelton 21 Nov 1878. Whilst in service she was involved in several notable salvage feats. 1901 reboilered. Sep 1907 sold to Devonport Steam Ferry Company. 1912 sold to Kauri Timber Company and was active between Whangaroa and Coromandel ports towing rafts of kauri logs. 1941 laid up inside the Western Viaduct. 1945 superstructure destroyed in fire. 5 Oct 1955 towed north and run ashore at Lagoon Bay, Takatu Peninsula, for use as a shingle hopper. When shingle trade ceased mid-1970s the hull was left to become slowly buried in the shingle drifts."

Images of her can be found here.

This is now historic, displayed in the old Council Chambers. The Super City came into effect in 2010 just before the last space could be filled. Has a new board been started for the Mayor of Auckland Council?

I didn't quite catch the name of the room during the tour, but Rendell McIntosh of Parnell Heritage advised that this, the chandelier remnant of Sir John Logan Campbell's Kilbryde house, now resides in the Ngati Whatua Room, part of the municipal offices section of the Town Hall.

The thought that went through my mind on seeing this was -- it is also one of the last remnants of one of the temporary hospitals used during the 1918 'flu epidemic here in Auckland, with Kilbryde, then owned by the Council, called into service.

Next year is the centenary of Sir JLC's death -- mark the calendars, folks.

Sir John Logan Campbell's funeral cortege. Auckland Weekly News, 4 July 1912, ref. AWNS-19120704-7-3, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Council Libraries.

Finally, on display in the front section of the Town Hall, by the reception area to the meeting rooms, there is a small collection of artifacts from the history of territorial authority in Auckland. Here are some of them.

Above, a silver jug to commemorate the last year of the Auckland Harbour Board before amalgamation in 1989 as Ports of Auckland.

Petrified wood, estimated to be 40,000 years old, from a puriri tree, found during the formation of the Balmoral to St Lukes regional road in 1971.

Crown Lynn crockery for the Auckland Regional Authority.

The switch used to turn on electric current for Birkenhead, 1926.

The most intriguing of all: "Trowel used by Governor Hobson when he laid the foundation stone of old St Paul's Church, Britomart Point, in 1841. Presented to the city of Auckland by Geo. S Graham on behalf of the builder, William Greenwood."

Old St Pauls Church, ref 1-W471, Sir George Grey Special Collections

The trowel, so the Auckland Star reported on 11 June 1894, appears to have been kept by William Greenwood until returned to the St Paul's Trustees by that year, when it was used to lay the foundation stone for the second St Paul's church, on Symonds Street. Then, two and a half years later in February 1897, George S Graham presented the trowel to the Auckland Art Gallery, at the request of William Greenwood, who had recently died. If Greenwood did manage to keep the small trowel in such condition for over 50 years, before passing it along -- he did very well indeed.

Another very old settler of the Auckland district passed away at his home at Epsom this morning between one and two o'clock, in the person of Mr Wm. Greenwood, one of our most respected residents. He had been ailing for the past four days from an attack of bronchitis, and had been carefully attended by Dr. Lewis and Knight, but without avail. For some years, he was in partnership with the late Mr Charles Lawson in the stone masonry trade, but for many years past he had lived in retirement at his home at Epsom. He was about 89 years of age, and had been a resident of Auckland for over forty years. An interesting fact in connection with the deceased, as illustrative of the fruits of early settlement in some, if not many, cases, is that over 30 years ago Mr Greenwood became the owner of that block of buildings between the Thistle and Albert Hotels in Queen-street opposite the Auckland Savings Bank, and about six months ago sold the property to Messrs Ehrenfried Bros, for £14,000. 
 Auckland Star 30 September 1895

Thanks in part no doubt to such shrewd dealings, Greenwood's estate was valued at £20,000.


  1. Great post loved the treasures you photographed. I agree the trowel is the most fascinating. Loved the ARA Crown Lynn pottery as well.

  2. This is wonderful to have found this article regarding the trowel as William Grenwood is my maternal 3rd great grandfather and I have just begun ancestry research on this part of my family tree.

    1. Hi denise here is a link that will interest you about your 3rd G Grandfather. https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/NZH18940611.2.70?query=george%20graham%20greenwood%20trowel

      My 3rd G Grandfather George Graham would of known Mr W Greenwood, and my 3rd Great uncle was George Samuel Graham who presented your GGG Grandfathers famous Trowel. Hope you enjoy the reading.
      You may already have this infor by now.

      Warm Regards
      Raewyn J Graham

  3. Oh, wow! So cool, Denise. Contact Auckland Council to see if you can get a time to visit the Town Hall to see the trowel for yourself. If you come up with more info on William Greenwood, I'd love to know more about him. All the best -- good hunting!

  4. The Crown Lynn crockery features the logo for the ARA that my mother designed and entered in the competition that was only open to staff. She worked for the ARA at the time as a draughswoman. the prize was really paltry--something like $50. We have some of this crockery at home, and it wears really well. For me the crockery is the most interesting artefact in this collection. Peter Haynes