Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Ponsonby's wharf

Spotting this card on TradeMe, I thought it was both interesting, and in need of a bit of image enhancement. Soon as it arrived in the mail today, I put it through the scanner.

Considering it's at least 106 years old and has been through the postal system back then (sent to Miss Phoebe Goodwin of Bella Vista Road, Ponsonby) -- not too bad.

The image of Ponsonby's wharf, jutting out into the Waitemata Harbour at the end of Wairangi Street, is just one of the reminders we have that Auckland relied heavily on maritime transport over land transport for much of the city's formative years in the 19th and even early 20th centuries. It was a sign, as well, that Ponsonby as a district was starting to boom when the Auckland Harbour Board began to investigate the best site for the Ponsonby Wharf in November 1879 (Star, 6 November). A builder named Edwin Swift put forward a tender for the work, at £743, in March 1883, but then he had some problem with his figures as figured by his clerk, and asked to withdraw from the contract. Still, piles had been driven into the harbour bed some 200 feet by August that year, and it was likely completed soon afterward.

Steamers called in at the wharf, to pick up passengers for trips across the harbour. But by 1894, it's popularity was on the wane, with the development of public land transport connections.

Built at a cost of £1,000 during the boom period some years ago, this wharf now serves for a promenade, and also for persons to exercise their skill as fishermen. Two or three steamers call at the wharf during the year for Sunday-school picnic parties, but beyond this the structure is of little practical use, as residents in Ponsonby apparently prefer to travel to and from town either by trams or 'buses.
Auckland Star 13 March 1894

Sir, Allow me through the medium of your columns to call the attention of the custodians of the Ponsonby wharf to its unsatisfactory condition. The steps at the end of the wharf leading down to the water have given and are hanging by one bolt; consequently, with such a sea as was running on Saturday last, when I visited the locality the strain on the wharf by the continued movement of the steps was so great that I was positively afraid to risk going on the outer tee lest the structure should be carried away. If attended to at once the steps can be easily fixed, but if repairs are not made and a rough sea sets in the wharf will be shaken to its foundation. The pier is a pleasant promenade in fine weather, and it would be a pity to let it go to ruins. I am etc., OBSERVER.
Auckland Star 3 December 1902

A lad named John Brophy, mucking about on the wharf in June 1904, jumped on and smashed one of the seats at the wharf. The judge at the Police Court fined him £1 and costs, "remarking that a whipping would almost have been better."

Auckland Weekly News 4 July 1907, Ref AWNS-19070704-7-5, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Library

One of Auckland's gale storms in June 1907 sent a vessel crashing against the old timbers of the wharf, gradually working its way through to the other side, leaving a gaping hole. "Observer" wrote to the Star in October, asking when the hole, still there at that point, was to be repaired. It was likely repaired soon after that.

Drifting logs struck the wharf in October 1918, damaging some of the inner piles.

Into the 1920s and 1930s, the wharf was used more as a boatie's landmark than anything else.

Then in late 1935, the beginning of the end.

Looking south from the end of Ponsonby Wharf, 27 December 1931. Ref. 4-4649, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Library

There is a possibility of the Ponsonby wharf, situated at the foot of Waitangi Road, being demolished. Recently it was recommended to the Harbour Board that this structure, together with the Birkdale and Greenhithe wharves, should be dismantled, but the board has decided that the two latter wharves are to remain. The fate of the Ponsonby structure, however, has not yet been definitely determined. The Ponsonby wharf has stood for many years, and many people will recall the ferry excursions that used to be made between the city and it on Sundays and holidays for the purpose of conveying crowds to Mason's gardens and Shelly Beach. Daily trips also used to be made by the ferries, vessels that were associated with the service being the Victoria, City of Cork, Eagle and Osprey. To-day the wharf has fallen into disuse, although it provides a popular promenade on moonlit evenings, a fishing jetty for the youth of Ponsonby, and a place for yachtsmen to tie up. 
 Auckland Star 20 November 1935

The old wharf was condemned 10 December 1935 at a meeting of the Auckland Harbour Board, despite appeals from Ponsonby residents asking that upwards of 200ft of the wharf be repaired and put back into order. The cost of repairs would have been at least £450 -- the wharf, erected during one depression, was possibly doomed in part because of another.
As soon as the necessary plant is available, the Auckland Harbour Board will commence the demolition of Ponsonby wharf, which has stood since 1883. The board ordered the demolition of the wharf some time ago, but up to the present the plant has been occupied with other tasks which, however, are expected to be finished shortly.

When the wharf was built 53 years ago, there was a ferry service between there and the city, by which most of the Ponsonby residents living near the waterfront travelled between their homes and their work, as the roads then in existence followed a roundabout route and were primitive in construction. The wharf was made 680 ft long to reach water deep enough for the ferries at all states of the tide. Within a few years of its construction, however, improved roads between Ponsonby and the city opened the way for land transport facilities with which the ferries could not compete and the service was abandoned.

Although it has been a valuable convenience to yachtsmen who live or who moor their boats near the Ponsonby foreshore, past boards have spent little money on keeping it in repair and it has reached such a stage of decay that it is now dangerous, being likely to collapse at any time. Pending its demolition, the board posted notices to the effect that it was condemned and closed to traffic.

When it was known that the wharf was to be demolished a deputation of Ponsonby residents waited on the board to ask that, if the repair of the whole of the existing structure were considered a too-expensive project, then about 200 ft of it should be put in order to provide for a grid on the eastern side on which yachts and launches could be cleaned and painted below their waterline. The engineer, Mr. D. Holderness, considered, however, that the present structure was so far gone in decay that it was beyond repair and would, in any case, have to be demolished. The cost of erecting a new wharf 200 ft long would be about £450, and another £175 would be required for the grid. This expense the board considered unwarranted.

Auckland Star 2 March 1936

And, that was it. The old wharf was dismantled. In October that year the residents asked for a boat landing to be erected in replacement. The Harbour Board obviously provided something, as newspapers the following year talked of a "new" Ponsonby wharf.

But it was likely not anything like the old one.

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