Sunday, January 15, 2012

Glenmore: the gaoler's farm

A photograph of Glenmore Lodge, possibly from the late 1950s. MAC 026, ID 115013, Auckland Council Archives, by kind permission.

Some years ago, a friend came across the name “Glenmore” in Wises Directories of the 1920s and 1930s, referring to a patch of the New North Road landscape between Kingsland and the rise towards Eden Terrace and Upper Symonds Street. Basically, as I’ve explained to folks since, it was an area so-named, but not officially so, around the vicinity of what was once the Kiwi Bacon factory. Just lately, though, the name has come up again – a family historian asking where it was because a probate document listed an address as “New North Road, Glenmore” (in that case, it was in Eden Terrace more than Glenmore), and when Claire asked about early brushmakers in Auckland here, and I found a factory in Buchanan Street, “Glenmore”. So – here is the story of Glenmore, an ephemeral district named after a building which, sadly, no longer exists. 

A certain colourful ex-convict from Australia, Thomas Cassidy (link is for a Facebook page now only in cache), claimed land in Hokianga, for which he received in settlement from Governor FitzRoy £2053 worth of land in Auckland in the form of scrip, according to 20th century research by Basil King. At least part of that scrip would have been used to purchase around 110 acres of land in Section 5, Suburbs of Auckland: the northern side of what would become New North Road, from the line of the Dominion Road flyover today, to the slopes of Morningside. In 1846, he sold the lot to George McElwain, and exited the stage of Auckland history. 

George McElwain (c.1804-1866) is said by one family history site to have had two younger brothers: John (1922-16) and Walter Richard (c. 1827-1901). Given the age difference, it seems obvious why George was the pioneer brother, followed in the late 1840s to early 1850s by his two male siblings. The family came from Killan House, Ballymascanlan in County Louth, Ireland. John McElwain was in the government service until he turned 26, so it would appear that all three sons (there were also three daughters) were reasonably well educated at least (John was said to have been educated in Dublin.) 

The Auckland Historical Society noted that George McElwain was gazetted as Head Gaoler in 1841 (Auckland-Waikato Historical Journal, September 1983, No. 43); he testified in 1846, as head gaoler, that he knew a prisoner personally since 1842. (New Zealander, 5.9.1846) George McElwain also appeared in newspapers as a poundkeeper in May 1848. (SC 27.5.1848) Owning so much land relatively close to the city, I can understand why. 

The stocks, gaol and gallows of early central Auckland, when George McElwain would have been in charge. A much later sketch by Edward Bartley, published in the "Weekly Graphic". Ref. 4-2587, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Council Libraries.

When was the stone lodge built? Tradition has it that it dated from 1846, the year George McElwain purchased the farmland from Thomas Cassidy. But Basil King (see later in this post) in 1959 found a tender notice in the New Ulster Gazette of 5 August 1861 for the erection of a dwelling “to house the jailer”. A wooden construction noted at the site of the Auckland Gaol at the corner of Queen and Victoria Streets, as “Original Head Gaoler’s House” as at February 1862, however, might have been the building referred to. (see Auckland-Waikato Historical Journal, No. 43, 1983, p. 13) Comparisons have been made between the lodge and William Edgecumbe’s Great Northern Hotel at Western Springs (1858), so there is a possibility that Glenmore Lodge indeed wasn’t built until much later than thought. Other stories link the construction in with McElwain’s superintendency of both the gaol in central Auckland and the stockade at Mt Eden, suggesting that prison labour was used. This, though, can’t be proved with certainty. Of course, it isn’t very likely that we will ever know details as to the early history of the lodge, unless a diary or similar primary documentation emerges from out of the past. 

In 1863, after 22 years serving as Auckland’s gaoler, it came time for McElwain to retire. However, while he had started his career as a public servant under the auspices of Governors and central government, his career end came during the period of the Auckland Provincial Council which now ran institutions such as the Auckland Gaol. In the mid 1860s, scrambling for income and grants to build such things as a railway and a new asylum, proved a parsimonious lot. 
PENSION TO MR McELWAIN. Captain Daldy said the consideration of this application had been fully gone into, but the government could not feel warranted in asking his Honor to grant a pension. Ho would therefore move, "That this Council whilst it fully recognises the long and honorable services of Mr George McElwain, gaoler to this province, does not feel justified in recommending his honor the Superintendent to send down a measure recommending the grant of a retiring pension to any one. And that a copy of this resolution be forwarded to his honor the Superintendent." … 

Mr. Foley supported the motion. It was well known that Mr. McElwain was almost as wealthy as any man in the province, and he certainly ought never to have made the application … 

Mr Kerr said it would be an act of great injustice to put off Mr. McElwain's claim. He had attended to his duties through good and ill health, and the safety of the prisoners in an insecure jail must have been a very irksome and laborious task. 

Mr. Wynn said the question at issue was, whether the Government should initiate the system of pensions. It once entered into they could not resist any application. It had been asserted by Mr. Cadman that every government recognised the principle of pensions but he forgot that such a thing had not yet been introduced in this province, nor had he been enabled to find that any other of the provinces had initiated it. He could not look at the necessity in the same light as the hon. members who had spoken in advocacy of the pension. It appealed to him that so long as the servant was well paid for his services he could not complain. When he became unfit for duty he would certainly have no further claim upon the salary than any other man. 

Mr. Rowe thought the granting a pension to Mr. McElwain would not introduce the system of pensions, as regarded servants of the Provincial Government within recent years. The fact of Mr. McElwain being so long a servant of the General and Provincial Governments would constitute the difference. 

Captain Daldy said Government had considered that the payment of a pension to Mr. McElwain would entitle other Government servants to look for the same consideration after several years of service. 
 SC 25.3.1863 

The vote was 15 for Daldy’s resolution denying McElwain his pension, and four opposed. Thus, McElwain, after his long years of government service, received but a thank you in return. 

 Southern Cross 2 May 1867

When George McElwain died, between 10 and 11 pm on 30 September 1866 at Glenmore Lodge, he left Glenmore to his widow Louisa according to Basil King – but it is George’s brother Walter Richard McElwain who held title to the property to the early 1880s. He was married there in early 1866. (SC 19.1.1866) His death announcement in 1901, indicates that not only was Walter McElwain an absentee landowner of Glenmore for most of his life, but that by then the family had started the George McElwain legends. 
We regret to record the death of one of our old and much respected citizens, Mr W R McElwain (youngest brother of the late Mr. George McElwain), of Glenmore Lodge, Rocky Nook. Arriving in Auckland as far back as 1858, he resided in the town until taking up land in Waiuku, where he carried on farming till within a year of his death. The last year of his life was spent quietly at his home in Rocky Nook. He leaves a wife and family of two sons and two daughters. The youngest daughter is away in Melbourne at the present time. The deceased's brother, the late Mr. George McElwain, was private secretary to Governor Hobson in the early years of this colony. 
 AS 3.1.1901 

Governor Hobson’s personal secretary was, actually, James Stuart Freeman. 

Daniel Pollen appears to have lived at Glenmore on New North Road, most likely the lodge, from around early 1869 to mid 1873 (Southern Cross and Auckland Star ads). By 1881, we see the lodge is the home of Richard and Jane Monk. (AS 6.6.1881) But these people must have only rented the property from Louisa and her brother-in-law Walter until a tangle of mortgages and agreements saw the property go to Thomas Morrin and William Stephen Cochrane in 1884. They left the names of Auckland’s commercial apparent best and brightest on the streets in the Glenmore subdivision of 1885: Morrin, (William) Aitken, (Samuel) Hesketh, (Robert Charles) Greenwood, (William) Buchanan, and (John C) Richmond. The inclusion of these names was likely not just recognition in the polite sense, but reflected real interest in the development by these lawyers, land agents, and merchants.

Auckland Star 14 November 1885

 Auckland Star 13 January 1886

By 1896, photographer John Carnduff Morton (c.1853-1936) owned the lodge and eight sections of the Glenmore subdivision both on which it stood and immediately around it, a total of half an acre. (NA 77/295) According to the Auckland Libraries’ photographer’s database, he originated from Edinburgh where he had set himself up in business “near Edinburgh” in 1880-1881. He arrived in New Zealand in 1881, working in Dunedin until 1883, then as assistant to Josiah Martin in Auckland until 1890-1891. He had his own business, the “Balmoral Studio” on Karangahape Road from that point, but used his home at Glenmore Lodge for bridal party photography. It would be interesting to find out if any of Morton’s photographs at the lodge still exist. 

Auckland Star 15 June 1897

Morton started to carve up his land from 1907. By 1921, the New North Road frontage was becoming filled by brick and wooden shops, blocking off the lodge’s historical association with the New North Road. (DP 15507) 

 Detail of DP 15507, LINZ records, crown copyright

In that year, the lodge and remaining quarter-acre of land was sold to commercial traveller Albert Asmuss and Mrs Evelyn Estelle Kelly. They didn’t own it long; in 1923, the lodge was sold to Frank Rawle (NA 345/72). From 1932, the house was administered by the Public Trustee. 

 Detail from NA 470/76 (1928) LINZ records, crown copyright

Beverley F Parminter's recollections, as a grand-daughter of Frank Rawle (her father was also named Frank) were published in the Auckland -Waikato Historical Journal, April 1988.

"I have recollections of the house, which was renamed Alstone by my grandfather, whilst the family were in residence. The interior was beautifully furnished with many antiques which grandfather had collected; tall dressers holding fine china in the dining room; grandfather clocks, venetian mirrors, velvet covered furniture in the lounge, we were not allowed to frequent as children. Tapestries, beaded pictures and tall mirrors on the walls going up the stairway. The stairway itself was most elegant with a beautiful kauri balustrade.

"Other memories include, the wooden slatted venetian blinds, the bath on legs in a large bathroom with an enormous gas califont, and the many quaint, gargoyle charactered earthenware garden ornaments. The old conservatory, later a fernery, my sister and I peeping through the windows upstairs with their wide stone ledges, the old orchard with its lichen covered trees, and sitting on the verandah in the sun on the old stone buttresses ...

"A conservatory was removed and the house converted into three flats, one of which was lived in by my aunt and uncle, Mr and Mrs G Steed, until the house was sold ... after my grandmother's death ..."

In 1958, an Auckland second-hand dealer named Edward Cursons purchased the lodge; a month later, he sold the site to Rodney Augustine Farry. 

The lodge in the 1950s, from the MeGehan Collection, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Council Libraries, ref. 255A-78

The 20th century romance with Glenmore Lodge, lasting a fleeting five years, began with a campaign by Fred McGehan, a Mt Albert resident (and a local borough councillor at a later point) who proposed that a number of landmarks in the borough be preserved, and urged the Mt Albert borough council to move toward that end. Four houses were slated for registration by the council in September 1957 out of six proposed by McGehan: Allendale, Alberton, Ferndale, and Glenmore Lodge. Some research was undertaken into Glenmore Lodge at the time. Articles appeared in the Auckland Star, and also the local paper the Sandringham Star, edited by Dick Scott (who later wrote In Old Mt Albert in the mid 1960s for the borough council).

MeGehan later wrote in the Auckland Historical Journal (October 1962):
"The house is typically English in design and solid in construction but it is far from elegant. It has two storeys, with four bedrooms upstairs and seven rooms downstairs. Built of stone, the main outer walls are about 2 foot thick and the roof is of slate. Over the years some additions have been made but the house remains substantially much the same as it was 100 years ago. The exterior doors are of French design, with two sections opening outwards. It is said that this was a precaution against Maori attackers, narrow entrances being less likely to give admittance to a mob.

"In 1922 the old home still had a large frontage to New North Road and its trees, mostly Norfolk pines and Moreton Bay figs, were one of Auckland's finest landmarks. Ax rates became geavier, further subdivision was found necessary. Experience bushmen were called in to fell the trees. There are houses now where once the orchard was planted and all that remains of the farm property is the Lodge itself. It is partly hidden from view down a right-of-way behind some shops."
The most detailed research at this point was carried out by Basil King, secretary for the Auckland Regional Committee of the National Historic Places Trust in 1959, these being the early days of the formation of the NZ Historic Places Trust, a time when there was still a blending of the Trust with elements which later coalesced into the formation of the Auckland Historical Society (Auckland Star 1.9.1959). But this registration presented problems. 

The owner of the lodge from May 1958, Rodney Augustine Farry, had other ideas for the lodge, ideas which the borough council’s protection order prevented. He wrote in complaint to the council (text of letter published in the Sandringham Star, June 1961): 
“I am in the most unfortunate position of owning Glenmore Lodge, a property over which I have no jurisdiction as it is on the list of historical landmarks. Approximately two years ago I applied for a permit to have the Lodge converted into flats. I was advised to submit for your approval plans for such a scheme. These were duly forwarded to you and the permit declined because of your refusal to allow the structure of the building to be altered in any shape or form. 

“At a later date I applied for a permit to have the building demolished. This request was also refused. “The Council then approached me for an option to purchase the said property. This option was arranged at £4,500, which has since lapsed. Recently I received notice from your Town Clerk that extensive repairs to the house were required if I wished to keep the house tenanted. At considerable expense and trouble I had all tenants find other accommodation so the house is still vacant. 

“I consider that I have been most lenient and just with the Mt Albert Borough Council in connection with this matter. I suggest that you either purchase the property at the reduced price of £4000 or remove it from the list of historic landmarks and give me the freedom enjoyed by other property owners. I have spent several hundred pounds on the property since purchasing, plus cost of having plans drawn for flats etc., and at the reduced price of £4000 I am showing a loss. 

“Being the owner of this property I have had personal experience of the tremendous interest taken in this building by hundreds of New Zealanders, and if your Council decides to purchase this property and preserve it as an historical landmark, I will instruct my solicitors to forward the deeds to you, payment in full to be made twelve months from this date, free of interest.” 
 In response, the Mt Albert Borough Council declined the offer, and as the house was by then in a “generally rundown state”, the old shell and lime mortar crumbling, it was removed from the council’s protection list. The Auckland City Council were approached by Farry two months later with an offer to buy, but the council’s Property and Health Committee decided to take no further action. The city engineer A J Dickson, by then in the midst of planning the Dominion Road motorway which would end the intersection of Dominion and New North Roads, create the flyover and alter the lodge’s neighbourhood to a landscape of overpasses and light industrial zones, said that he understood that the young Auckland Historical Society were still trying to preserve the building, but their hopes suffered from a lack of finance (NZ Herald, 1.9.1961).

By later that month, the building was declared doomed, with Mt Albert Borough Council ordering its demolition. By now, it had been badly vandalised, with windows smashed and the interior damaged “beyond repair”. While the council had ordered repairs in July that year, it was felt that, as the Auckland City Council’s works were planned to pass through part of the property, there was little point in the old lodge remaining (NZ Herald 19.9.61).

In March 1962, Farry sold the property to Rosebowl Autos Limited (NA 1532/96), with the new owners probably considering that the old building could be demolished. However, public pressure on Mt Albert Borough led to them purchasing the property in May 1963, for around £3400. A photograph of the empty section after demolition dates from October 1963. There’s no indication of the existence of the old house on a subdivision plan drawn up for the council in April 1964 (DP 53674); and in 1965 the remainder was sold to Merv Clark Limited. Today, a commercial building occupies the site. 

The site of Glenmore Lodge 289 New North Road, photographed 24 October 1963. Ref. A472, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Council Libraries

If the cafuffle over the building had been a bit later, perhaps it might have ended up shifted to MOTAT’s pioneer village, stone by stone, as happened with another stone house rescued from Epsom later that decade. But – for Glenmore Lodge, such was not to be.


  1. It may have been better if a McELWAIN descendant had been asked for an opinion, or at least got confirmation or otherwise about some of the comments above.

  2. That's a bit vague, Anonymous. Care to explain which "comments" you're referring to?

  3. Excellent post. I was looking for Buchannan Street, Glenmore (old newspaper article) and had no idea where Glenmore was until I read your post. Thanks.

  4. Fabulous information, thank you for collating and sharing..