Sunday, February 26, 2012

A slightly flawed "genealogy" of street names

Last Tuesday, Alan Perrott’s article “Stepping Back in Time” appeared in "Canvas", part of the NZ Herald. Online, the article has been headed up with a spelling mistake, “geneology”, but that kind of thing happens.

I know I have a Street Stories series of my own here on the blog, but – at least when I muck things up, the comments field is wide open, and I can be democratically and publically informed where I went wrong, in order to keep things straight. Unfortunately, Mr Perrott’s article will end up indexed by the library, and will remain around the place for some time, to trip up the unwary who think that, by the tone, (and the use, mystifyingly, of the word “genealogy”) it’s 100% accurate. Without feedback.

Well, it isn’t 100% accurate.

Governor FitzRoy 
Both the print and online versions of the article spell Governor FitzRoy’s name incorrectly. As learned friends of mine have told me, you do need that capital R in the middle.

Surrey Hills 
“Two English booze barons, James Williamson and Thomas Crummer, saw pound signs and bought up enough land to establish Surrey Hills Estate with the intent of grazing it until property prices shot up. Unfortunately, their long-term scheme fell foul of the 1880s depression and they had to subdivide for far less profit than they'd hoped.”

The extent of James Williamson and Thomas Crummer being “booze barons” was that they operated the Victoria Hotel on the Auckland waterfront (according to Williamson’s biography. Garth Houltham in “Toast the Ghosts” said Crummer’s co-licensee was A de Phillipsthal). But they also had a store, and Williamson, the son of a Belfast linen merchant and ship owner (more than one) was primarily a merchant prince in Auckland, rather than a “booze baron”. The farm at Surrey Hills was one 314 acre estate. Crummer died in 1858, and Williamson bought out Crummer’s sons’ interest for £11,000, so there was no “they had to subdivide” in this story in terms of Surrey Hills. Williamson, by the way, is better known as the owner of the Pah Homestead out at Hillsborough.

Perrott refers to a Mr “Pullen” as one of those after whom a street was named on the estate. I do believe he’s referring to Dr. Daniel Pollen. Both the print and online versions have that error.

Ponsonby Road 
“…Ponsonby Rd, or as it was known until the 1880s, Vandeleur Rd, for the divisional commander who served under Wellington at Waterloo. Colonel Ponsonby, in turn, served under Vandeleur.”

Ponsonby Road shows as Ponsonby Road on the 1866 Vercoe & Harding map of Auckland. No references found for Vandeleur Street or Road in the Southern Cross or New Zealander in Papers Past. Earliest reference to Ponsonby Road found: 1852.

The Council Library site probably added to the confusion, and led to Perrott’s Vandeleur reference.

“Formed around 1863 in the Herne bay area and around 1883 in the Ponsonby area, part was previously Herne Bay Road to around 1886, part now all Jervois Road from around 1886, previously Vandeleur Road. May have been named after an Officer who served at Waterloo. In 1937 it was described as 1 mile long, with 137 business premises and 200 residences, and named 50 years before (1887) after Lord Ponsonby.”

And …

“Vandeleur Street: Proposed road, Felton Mathew's town plan 1841 (Ponsonby Road to Wellesley Street)”

Franklin Road 
“Rear-Admiral Sir John Franklin was a heroic naval officer and Arctic explorer who became lieutenant-governor of Tasmania in 1836 … in 1843, they boarded the good ship Rajah and stopped off in Auckland on their way home. Being a rough-and-tumble type, Lady Jane left hubby at the hotel and set off up the track leading to Dedwood. That track eventually became Franklin Rd, our most famous boulevard of Christmas lights.”

Where did the story come from about Lady Jane hiking through the scrub? So far, I see an unverified Wikipedia page has mention of the tale. The link between Franklyn (the old spelling) Road and Sir John Franklin might be correct, as he was involved with derring-do explorations in the Arctic when he perished – but I’ll pass on the hiking tale.

Victoria Park 
“Once at the bottom of Lady Jane's road, I catch sight of that lush legacy of old Dedwood, Victoria Park, just one of many infrastructural tributes to the royal couple of the day still littering Auckland … Victoria's lovely park owes its existence to the complete lack of dunnies in its neighbouring suburb. Next time you're crossing its grassy expanse you might like to consider the 51,000kg of poop that was dumped there every week during the 1870s.”

Really? I don’t think so. Victoria Park up to the late 1880s was water – the bay in Freeman’s Bay, reclaimed during the 1890s to early 20th century by the Harbour Board. Rock and solid fill made far better reclamations than poo. Where else is this intriguing gem of information quoted by Perrott? Well, that unverified timeline on Wikipedia is one place … but there the writer said: “Every week during the 1870s 50 tons of "night soil" is spread over the ground in what will be Victoria Park.” Night soil wasn’t deposited near the city from the 1880s at the latest – the contractors chose places like Grey Lynn, Mt Albert, Pt Chevalier, Avondale and New Lynn to be depots.

The suggestions that Freeman’s Bay be converted into a recreation park named after Queen Victoria first seemed to appear in 1897, her jubilee year. Plans for the Freemans Bay reclamation and the proposed park were presented to the Harbour Board in February 1900 (Auckland Star, 13.2.1900) By 1901-1902, it was fairly well a done deal.


  1. I'll just say one thing about the writing style of Mr Perrott on that article. It's appalling and how the heck did it make to print and in the New Zealand Herald of all places. Facts are essential in journalism I'll put this down to the NZ Herald perhaps only looking at 'readership' rather than journalistic quality. Well said Lisa! Good on you for pointing out the errors and putting down the correct and factual information.

  2. We have an old suburb called Fitzroy. I think it was named after a Governor. Same bloke I suppose.

    Liz, Lisa has taught me to not necessarily believe even official sources. To become an historical fact, things need to be researched down to a fine degree. Learning this from her blog has been an interesting experience. Note my wishy washy words in my first sentence. But for colour and movement, I still like oral histories, as unreliable as they may be.

    1. No, Andrew, not the same bloke at all. Melbourne's oldest suburb is named after Charles FitzRoy, governor of NSW. NZ's second governor was Robert FitzRoy, previously captain of the Beagle when Darwin made his historic voyage.

  3. Good thing is Andrew you've got a healthy opinion. Don't mind me I'm just stomping my gumboots around about the poor writing the article had. Maybe it was tongue in cheek but.....he could have at least got things right on all aspects. I'm researching Wellington Zoo at the moment. I know there will be people out there with memories of the Zoo from way back. Even so I'll still going to check sources in very fine detail.

  4. Accuracy in Journalism is highly important. You can still write an article of high reader interest with good research and credible sources. On that particular article 'could do better' comes to mind.