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. Alan's a great guy and god knows how many damn articles you have to churn out a week these days to keep your job from going to the cadet pool slash "news" room. Or the graveyard where most editor's jobs have been dispensed to. Maybe that's the real problem.

  5. Since July 2000, 950 articles have appeared online on the Herald site by Perrott. Some are co-written with others, but -- that equates to roughly 2 articles per week. Some are longer than others, others shorter, and this one, seeing as it is about his walk to work each day, he probably had a lot of time to think about and plan.

    Great guy or no -- I wish such a prominent article hadn't been so wrong. These days we've come to accept journalistic bending of facts, the typos, the poor English, and other aspects that make the old "Granny Herald" days seem like a lost utopia. Right along with that is the quickly gobbled-up and then regurgitated versions of Auckland's local history.

    In years to come, whenever I see someone cheerfully say that Ponsonby Road was Vandeleur Street until the 1880s, I will say, probably, that the speaker or writer has been well and truly Perrotted.

  6. I think he would probably have a good laugh to read this, but I'm not telling him about it...

  7. That's a pity, Darian. If he was aware of the history, he'd have written a more accurate article.

  8. It's really one of those things that's important to us as historians, but not to most other people. From an objective point of view I guess a journalist has to write on many topics, well actually most, where they are not and couldn't possibly be experts in their field. At the end of the day it is a job they are required to do and get a pay cheque for it, that's all. As far as my work having my background in art and design I am always going to approach it first and foremost as a visual creative rather than a historian; and people are always going to have criticisms of that over substance and so on, but that is what hooks me in so that is just the way it is - I'm never going to be writing about some product that has boring or ugly design. I do think that if a publication is actually serious about what they are doing and care about their reputation they would at least get a historian well versed in the history of the area to at least consult, though. If not write the whole thing. Some things really are "better left to an expert". The sad thing is that mainstream media aren't there to report the "truth" of anything at all if you have an inkling of how the big cogs turn; nor do they care for their reputation since they first started dispensing with editors as "superfluous" and now following that - journalists. They can literally put any clueless cadet in to do the job now because all that matters is how little salary they have to fork out over credentials and experience. It's the way that things are going and it's sad.

  9. 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.

  10. Accuracy in Journalism is highly important to few jounalists and even fewer of their employers now.

  11. The issue, Darian, is down to that phenomenon in place in libraries since around halfway through the 20th century -- indexing. The quick and easy way to get a grasp on a topic. With some posts here, or to quickly answer an email query, I'll use those indexes myself. In the main, they're great -- but only as accurate and valuable as the info they've indexed. Auckland Library for example has a card index, now digitised, going back to the the 1920s, and continued in an online version. Perrott's article itself will be cited as "history" in the future by students doing their research essays, and assuming that, as he says he used info from a reputable source such as Professor Stone, what facts he puts forward as fact are all correct.

    And not all of them are. An index entry for his article would therefore be flawed -- and potentially perpetuate that flaw in any research project utilising that as a source. We all know folks shouldn't rely on tertiary sources such as a colour insert mag in a daily newspaper -- but, reality tells us they do.

    Perrott's not alone in all this. I've seen newsletters from historical societies write of things based on flimsy evidence, oral tradition with no confirmation -- and even stuff straight from family histories, flying in the face of what a simple map says.

    All I can do, as a mere blogger, is put online some corrections and questions about the "facts". Hopefully, a future researcher picks up both sources, and weighs one against the other, and (even more hopefully) goes off to do their own digging.

    It's damned well worth a shot.

    I agree with you about the deterioration of the printed popular medium known as newspapers, though. But the state of affairs won't stop me saying, "Please, guys, get your stuff right."

  12. We've been well and truly Perroted.

  13. Makes a change, I guess, from being Davenported.