Sunday, January 27, 2013

Online exhibition of Auckland Zoo history

Well done to the team at Auckland Council Archives!

Auckland Zoo 90 Year anniversary

The fate of yesterday's guns (part 2)

A postcard from my collection, unknown date.

This follows on from Part 1, on guns in the Domain.

They face seaward, grim though antiquated, on their concrete foundations, near the flagstaff at Albert Park. Their touch-holes are rusted, their marks worn by the weather, their carriages rotting beneath them. These are the great 64-pounders, each gun weighing tons, which once stood ready for the defence of Auckland at old Fort Britomart. Muzzle-loaders, they never fired a shot in anger, though doubtless they often roared in amiable pretence when the gunners had rammed home the powder and ball for practice firing. Like age-worn, toothless hounds, blinded and inert, they lift their noses skyward, seeking to scent some associations from the dim past, sinister only in their appearance ...

There are two guns with a history now facing the Princes Street entrance to Albert Park, though their history is vague and there is no notice board to tell the public anything of it, as it was suggested there should be by this paper nearly seven years ago. All that is known of them is that they come from the Crimea, said to have been captured from the Russians at Sebastopol. You may weave a romance around them as you will ...

Stamped with the double-headed Russian eagle, whose feathers have since been soaked in the blood of wars and revolutions and of the Romanoffs, butchered to make a better Russia! -- they have sulked in Albert Park for 45 years.

There is also a French gun at the Park—a small bronze field piece, which, save for its greenish film, might have been cast only yesterday. This gun is said to have been captured at Waterloo, when the destiny of Europe and the whole world was changed by Wellington, with the late aid of Blutcher and his Prussians. It was presented to the city by Mr. Browning, of Epsom, who received it from the captain of a British ship trading here in the early days.

Nearby are relics of a later war—that of the Transvaal—in the form of two Boer field pieces. One of these is of German make, cast in 1892, and it is in a decidedly better state of preservation than its sister gun, which is of British manufacture. Other warlike exhibits here are two machine guns captured from the Germans by the New Zealanders at Flers, and a couple of trench mortars taken from the Turks on Gallipoli. They are small affairs, contrasted with the big cannon near them, but they are more significant of slaughter, for they bring vividly to mind a war which reckoned its dead by millions ...
Auckland Star 16 February 1927

Once the Albert barracks had been cleared away in the mid-1870s, the City Improvement Commissioners and the Auckland City Council looked to what could be done to create a beautiful park in the midst of the city. On a "kind of plateau" overlooking Coburg (later Kitchener) Street, Victoria Street East, and Bowen Avenue, a series of three flower-decorated terraces were proposed, crowned by a 75-feet high flagstaff, "set off with big guns" pointing toward the said streets. (Star, 5 March 1881) The first of the collection were Russian-made guns hailing from the Crimean War and the battle of Sebastopol.

The two Russian designed guns for the terraced battery are also to be placed there, one on each side of the flagstaff.

Auckland Star 24 August 1882

The Committee are determined to have a salute fired on the opening day. It has been suggested that as the guns in the Albert Park belong to the City Council, permission might be obtained to fire them. Men can be found willing to undertake this task, which would perhaps be attended with danger, owing to the age of the guns, which, it will be remembered, are trophies from the fall of Sebastapol.

Auckland Star 13 January 1890 

In 1889, relatives of the late Mr S Browning presented the "historical brass cannon" linked with the battle of Waterloo to the Council. The gun came into Browning's possession from off the wreck of the Wanderer, sunk off the New South Wales coast. In turn, it had been presented to the Wanderer's master by the British War Office. (Star, 22 April 1889)

Henry Winkelmann photo, October 1898, showing the Albert Park guns. Ref 1-W1872, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Library

Two Boer War "pom-poms or other guns" were added to the Albert Park collection in 1902, at the instigation of MP Mr Napier, making the request to the Minister of Defence. (Star 17 July 1902)

In 1905, two of the "Russian scare" forts of the 1880s, Fort Cautley (Fort Takapuna) on the North Shore and one at Point Resolution, were dismantled, and Auckland City Council agreed to add three 64-pounders and one 7-inch RML gun from the forts to the collection around the Albert Park flagstaff. (Auckland Star 1 September 1905)

"The last memorial rites at Auckland: the crowd in Albert Park during the firing of the final salute by the guns of the "A" battery at sunset, May 20, 1910."AWNS-19100526-13-1, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Library.

The "old garrison artillery guns" at Albert Park, 1910. AWNS-19100811-3-1, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Library.

Weekly News, 11 January 1912, AWNS-19120111-6-4, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Library

The collection at Albert Park reached its height with the addition of the two trench guns and mortars brought back to New Zealand as war trophies from the First World War.

The Council seems to have had a surplus of war trophy armament at one point.
A collection of old German machine-guns, of the type on exhibition in Albert Park, has been lying in the-basement of the Town Hall, unwanted for a long time. A suggestion that they be disposed of was brought before the City Council last night. The town clerk reported that some time ago he had communicated with the Officer Commanding, North Auckland Military District, asking what suggestions he could offer for the disposal of the guns. A reply had been received to the effect that it might be possible to get some of the country local bodies to accept them. A recommendation that local bodies near Auckland be asked whether they desired any of the guns was adopted.
Auckland Star 21 February 1930

By the mid 1930s, the fashion for military decoration in our parks as we've seen had worn thin.

From Council files, I learned that on 23 April 1936, a Mr Oldridge, Superintendent of Parks wrote a letter to the Parks and Reserves Department, Auckland City Council. In it, he provided a list of the guns mounted at that point at the park:

Four "large guns which were previously mounted at Fort Britomart" (by this, he would have meant the Fort Cautley and Pt Resolution guns);
Three "field guns, probably used during the South African War of 1899/1902";
"An old bronze gun" and "two Russian guns that should be regarded as antiques rather than weapons of destruction"; 
Also "two glass cases containing mortars and maxim guns captured by the New Zealanders at Gallipoli in August 1915"; 
Plus "one gun (German field piece) situated near the band stand at the Domain which can be regarded as scrap metal."

He suggested that most of these should be displayed near the museum, not in parks.

In a letter dated 22 October 1937 from the acting-Director of the Auckland Institute and Museum to the Town Clerk, it was suggested instead that the artillery trophies should be gathered together at North Head near Devonport, possibly to form the nucleus of a collection. The Town Clerk took the idea onboard, and replied to the Museum the following day that a suggestion would be made to the Defence Department for the establishment of an Artillery Museum. The Minister of Defence, Frederick Jones (left, image from Wikipedia), responded saying essentially: no. He listed among his reasons for his decision that: there was significant expenditure expected in transferring, remounting and maintaining the guns and other artillery pieces; there was no general public access at North Head; even if there was access, there was a lack of suitable site there for a museum; the old coastal defence equipment from the 1880s forts was "of doubtful historical value"; the guns should instead be offered to the Auckland Institute and Museum, or the National War Memorial in Wellington. Transferred there at Council's expense, of course.

The City Council then offered them to the National War Memorial at the Dominion Museum on 17 February 1938, and received the not surprising reply on 30 May 1938: No.

Nothing further seemed to have happened until 17 October 1940, when the Parks Committee determined that apart from what they called "the ancient gun", the rest as "obsolete weapons" were to be removed forthwith from Albert Park, with the City Engineer to report later on their disposal. The "ancient gun" was to be offered to the Museum. On 25 October, a further note on the files from the Committee dealing with Parks states that four "old 64lb muzzle loading guns" (the old fort guns) "are no adornment as no tradition is apparently associated with them." They were to be offered to the Ministry of Defence for "military scrap purposes in England." This offer was accepted by the Minister, Jones, on 12 November 1940, but a month and a half later came a further letter (23 December) from his office. "The large guns are steel or iron," he wrote, "the small gun is bronze. The bronze gun could be made use of locally ..." He referred the matter to the Auckland Board of the National Council for the Reclamation of Waste Material to decide whether the guns were of value as scrap.

On 15 January 1941, the Parks Committee advised the Mayor that no market was available locally for the iron and steel parts. However, they said, the bronze gun, two Lewis machine guns and two trench mortars "are of value" and "can be used by the Army in Auckland for training purposes."

Now, exactly where the guns went to after this point isn't all that clear at the moment. After I published Part 1, fellow heritage blogger Sandy (thanks, Sandy) who works at Auckland War Memorial Museum contacted me saying she'd had an email from Rose Young the curator there saying that the Waterloo gun "is the cannon at the top of the stairs near the doodlebug on level 2." So, the "ancient gun" as the Parks Committee in 1940 referred to it, is secure. There were news reports in late December 1941 that "Old guns in Albert Park dismantled as precaution against air attack" (Star, 31 December 1941) and ...

… the collection of artillery, Maori War, South African War and World War 1 ... which was previously grouped on the plot of ground in Albert Park below the flagstaff … All these are still buried under ten or fifteen feet of earth on the sites where they were once the outstanding features. They are likely to remain there until the manpower situation eases to the stage when time and labour spent in their removal would not be regarded as a waste of war effort. … the guns [buried] at the ruling of the reserves committee of the Auckland City Council. 
 Auckland Star 1 August 1944

But, in early 1977,only "two fortress guns" were reported in the news as being dug up at the park. So, if the guns at the park today are two of the four fortress guns (and there is a similarity, judging by the photo in the link, with the Newmarket gun), then where are the other two fortress guns, and the South African and Crimean artillery? 

(Update: 2 June 2023) Well, the two Crimean War guns were removed by Auckland City Council in October 1951, according to Peter Cooke and Ian Maxwell in Great Guns, The Artillery Heritage of New Zealand. The guns were given to the Royal Akarana Yacht Club, but eventually it was found that the sea air was corroding them. So, after sandblasting at Devonport in 1980, they went to Papakura Camp for a time, before one was returned to the Yacht Club, and the other sent to the Army Memorial Museum in Waiouru.

Unfortunately, in early June 2023, the one at the Yacht Club went missing, believed stolen.

As an end-thought, the Council responded on 14 April 1949 to a letter from a Te Kauwhata resident, who had asked if "the old bronze gun" could be obtained as garden ornament. (Similar to intentions for the Teutenburg heads in the 1960s). The enquirer was advised no, it was in "safe custody".

Council Archives file ACC 275 38-168.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

The elusive Harry Phydora

Update 27 August 2019.

I purchased the postcard above because the image intrigued me -- promoting the pantomime Aladdin here in New Zealand at the beginning of the 20th Century. I did wonder about Harry Phydora, an actor with an uncommon name, but who was a huge hit during his time with Australasian audiences. Apart from his stage career from the 1880s through to the eve of World War I, however, not a lot seems to be known about him.

According to census returns available on Ancestry's site, he was born c.1868. His earliest theatrical appearances were with family: Joseph, Charles and Harry Phydora were in Follies of the Day in London in 1886, when he'd be around 22 years old (The Era, 15 May 1886) At the Theatre Royal, Stratford, Harry Phydora played “Augustus” in a four act drama, Stolen from Home in 1888 (The Era, 25 August 1888, and at a Christmas Panto at the Stratford, Harry Phydora played Captain O’Scuttle in Sinbad the Sailor.

“Mr Harry Phydora as Captain O’Scuttle was another personage to excite the risibility of the public, and he sang a song of a decidedly vulgar type, “She had to go without it after all”, in a manner far superior to its merits. It would be well if this gentleman substituted another comic song which is not vulgar, and there are plenty of them, instead of this suggestive production … In the Palace scene, Mr Harry Phydora gave his “leg mania” evolutions; and, assisted by Mr Bolton, he performed several feats of the contortionistic kind, which greatly pleased the assembly.”
The Era, 29 December 1888 

He married Lily in 1891.

Dominion, 3 September 1910

He started appearing in New Zealand from around 1906.

The comedian Mr J C Williamson has engaged to play the dame in his pantomime is Harry Phydora, a player of all-round excellence, dancer, singer, and humourist.
Evening Post 22 September 1906

The Pantomime Company, which is to produce "Mother Goose "in Sydney, is now rapidly filling the ranks of its principals. Miss Olive Morrell, Queen and Le Brun, and Harry Phydora will be the chief representatives of the London stage …
Auckland Star 8 December 1906

For "Aladdin" at Christmas, Williamson has engaged Harry Phydora, of earlier pantomime popularity, as Widow Twankey, and [James] Campbell for a comedy character.
Auckland Star 18 September 1909

In Australia during 1910, Phydora provided quite a bit of information about himself in an interview. Probably with a fair bit of dramatic licence ...

Mr H Phydora, “Widow Twankey” of Aladdin, to open for a short season at the Theatre Royal to-night, was found at his hotel last night in characteristically good humour.

"My birthplace?” he said. "Well, I was born at Camden Town, London, historical for severa1 reasons, including of course my birth, and I have been in the theatrical business ever since I reached double figures. No, I am not going to say now long ago that was. Before I was well in my teens musical comedy attracted me, and my chance for the better class of work came in 1897 as One Eye of 'The Geisha' at Daly's. I was understudying Huntley Wright, who originated the part; and at the same time I was also understudying Edmund Payne at the Gaiety. Huntley Wright was off, and I had to go on at painfully short notice, but I came through successfully. The management were satisfied, and I have had a good time ever since. In 1897 we played the principal towns in South Africa, returned home, and then I toured as Li in "San Toy” again with George Edwards for 18 months. We were back in South Africa in 1902, and after a few months at Johannesburg played a 'vacation' season in all the towns, even as far as Bulawayo. Altogether we had a most interesting time, notwithstanding that the country had been in the grip of war for a couple of years.”

You have made a speciality of dame parts of recent years?

"Yes, I have. When one gets into that business it’s awfully hard to get out of it. I have every reason to feel satisfied with the reception in Australia of 'Mother Goose,' and my Martha is Humpty Dumpty. Now I am playing the old woman for the third time in Australia. You'll excuse my blushes when I say I scored a success with dear old “Mother Goose” and again with Humpty Dumpty though, by the way, Adelaide audiences did not see me in the latter pantomime as I left for London after the Sydney season. In the old country I played in pantomime for a few months and then had a stroll round Europe and America after information and hints. Do you know I was made a member of the Lambs Club of New York? Well, that was because I distinguished myself there - lost a £40 diamond ring and a wallet with another £40. It was a one act comedy, principal unknown. I was back in London when the offer of an Australian season came again, and after my former experiences I had no hesitation in accepting the engagement. I felt that on the former occasion I had touched the pulse of the people as a dame; and thought a third engagement offered many difficulties. I feel that they have been overcome. This petticoat business is not so easy as it looks, I can tell you, and just you tell audiences to remember that.”
Adelaide Advertiser 16 July 1910 

The last record of Harry Phydora appears to have been a 1938 electoral roll for Clapham, Pudney and Streatham, back in England. He may not have survived World War II. [Update: he appears to have died in 1939. Alfred Denville of Denville Hall reported in August 1940 that Phydora was one of a number of actors that had passed on the year before -- The Stage, 29 August 1940, p. 5]

 So far, I haven't been able to find out any more about him, but I did see an article from 1952, in which he was not quite yet forgotten.

New Zealand Free Lance, 27 August 1910

Bert Gilbeil as the wicked uncle taking tea with Harry Phydora, the dame, would gossip, on fruity bits of scandal. Bert every few minutes exclaiming. "I will have another cup of tea!" The comic effect came from Bert's manner of varying the inflection of his voice' each time he besought Harry to ply the teapot.

This simple homely gossip was irresistibly funny, as convulsed, audiences affirmed. They likewise rolled in their seats when Bert Gilbert shouted, "How dare you, you blackguard!" at anyone, however harmless, who offended his dignity.

Wherever the dame was transported she never got away from her housekeeping worries. Up in a balloon, Harry Phydora and Harry Shine looked alternately through a telescope at the sights of Sydney. Suddenly the dame (Phydora) paused as she gazed. "There's our 'ouse," she cried excitedly. Then, wiping both ends of the telescope she looked again to remark, "And there's our lodger. I can see his references!"
Sunday Herald (Sydney) 21 December 1952

Friday, January 25, 2013

Auckland's waterfront from the air, 1920s

I'll stick my neck out and estimate that this photo is from around 1922-1924, the period John Barr was putting together his history of the city of Auckland, which featured a similar shot, but one taken by plane passing in front of the wharves areas. It's one of the earliest aerial photographs of the city, pre-dating White's Aviation by a decade.

Queen Street's train station is visible here, tucked in behind the Central Post Office. The station was demolished in 1930, and became Britomart bus station by 1937 -- now, where you see the canopies here of the original station, all is now underground as part of the Britomart Train Station complex.

Queen Street wharf, with its cargo shed. Shed 10 is the sole survivor. Above is the ferry wharf, still in operation.

Further west, the triangle of land once meant to be a war memorial,  the site of today's Maritime Museum still unreclaimed, no ritzy cafes in what was to become the Viaduct Harbour later in the century, no Te Wero crossing, and the Wynyard Quarter/tank farm beyond still in the process of reclamation and development as a light-to-heavy industrial area and storage space.

From a postcard in my collection.

Monday, January 21, 2013

A baby's life

For $2, I bought this photo from a seller at the Blockhouse Bay Antiques & Collectibles market yesterday. On the back was the reason I bought it on a whim: handwritten in old ink -- Clement Leslie Billing, age 6 months.

I wondered how much I could find out about Clement Billing's life from public records.

When was he born? It turns out he was born 14 December 1899, but the birth was registered in early 1900 (so the latter year shows up on the BDM online database). The photo therefore comes from mid 1900. His father was William Henry Billing, a bootmaker who worked in Kingsland on New North Road (No. 131), and later had a house at 14 Haultain Street, Eden Terrace. His mother's maiden name was Emily Turner. Clement was the first of at least five children in the family. Those of his siblings I found were:

Alma Agnes Maud, born 1902 (she married Lionel Richard Maynard 18 March 1922 at St Paul's Church in Auckland)
Frederick Walter, born 1905
Ruby Claretta, born 1909 (she died, aged just 4 months on 28 January 1910, and was buried in the Wesleyan division of Waikumete Cemetery)
Lillian Evelyn Ruby, born 1912

Clement attended Seddon Memorial College, where in 1916 in the Plumbing and Sanitary Engineering department exams, he passed first grade second class in English Composition and Literature, and Practical Mathematics, second class in General Elementary Science and Trade Drawing.(Auckland Star, 22 December 1916)

Electoral rolls show he was in the Eden electorate 1928-1935. In 1928 and 1931, he lived with his parents at their Haultain Street house. During this time, he had a dreadful accident in 1932.
Four people were injured in the city and suburbs yesterday. The most serious accident occurred to a motor cyclist, Mr Clement Leslie Billing, aged 32, of the Birdwood Estate, Swanson, when he was riding his motor cycle along New North Road, Mount Albert, shortly after 5 p.m. yesterday. He collided with a horse and cart and was thrown on to the roadway, receiving severe spinal and internal injuries through being trampled upon by the frightened horse. He was taken to the Auckland Hospital by the St. John Ambulance, and his condition to-day is stated to be very serious. 
 Auckland Star 30 May 1932

Clement was obviously a survivor. He pulled through, and just three months later married Edna Eileen McKinnon on 20 August 1932. The couple were living at 4 Haultain Street at the time of the 1935 election.

By 1938, the couple were living in Pt Chevalier, where Clement won £5 in an Art Union lottery draw. (Auckland Star 4 October 1938) In the 1946 Wises Directory, he's listed living at 168 Pt Chevalier Road, with the occupation of gasfitter. That year, the electoral roll shows he was back at Haultain Street, this time no. 6. By this time, his mother Emily was a widow, living at 4 Haultain Street. The family may have had a large land holding.

From 1949-1963 he was voting in the Eden electorate, and from 1969-1981 he was in the one for New Lynn, now retired and living at 75 Kay Drive, Blockhouse Bay. His Edna died in 1972, aged 76, but Clement kept on going until his own death on 27 December 1983, having remarried at some point.His second wife outlived him, possibly for four years. Just as when he was born, Clement's death was registered later, in the new year. His ashes were buried at Waikumete Cemetery on 30 December 1983.

"Such a wonderful man," said one death notice, "was the greatest of any. A great guy. So very sadly missed and always remembered."

Today, there's nothing left of the Haultain Street residences of the Billing family, all now commercial offices and light industrial facilities. The world of 1900 which the baby in the photo saw is vastly different from today. But -- the baby certainly lived his life.

The photographer, by the way, was  Frederick William Edwards, who operated from the corner of Queen and Victoria Streets from c.1898-c.1903, fitting Clement's time period well. Source: Auckland Library's Photographers Database.

Just a wee drop on Rutland Street

A sure sign that my mind was in a whirl from early October 'till late December last year -- is that in not paying attention to my surroundings as I go hither and yon, I completely missed this mural until today. It's been up since early October last year, on the corner of Rutland and Lorne Streets.

"Just a wee drop" by Elliott Frances Stewart is a commissioned work for last year's Art Week.

A bloke parking his car just beside it says he watched the artist at work -- over a total of just 3 days.

The Eye of New Windsor

Photographed this artwork by Sean McCarthy (2012) yesterday along Whitney Street, New Windsor. It's quite cool -- but how many would like to have a painted eye across the street from them?

The tragedy of the "Mystery", 1866

This year being the 150th anniversary of the wreck of HMS Orpheus, attention is focused on that tragedy by many heritage groups around the Manukau Harbour and wider afield. But last night, in a phone conversation, Colin Freland (President of the Onehunga & Fencible Historical Society) brought up another tragedy on the harbour, one involving a civilian craft and the death of ten people; possibly one of the greatest civilian losses of life on the harbour. This happened when the cutter Mystery took on water and capsized in the middle of the harbour, on a regular ferry trip between Awhitu and Onehunga, one day in August 1866.

The half-decked four-ton cutter Mystery was sailed by Henry Mitchell under a contract from the Auckland Provincial Council since late 1865 (nine months before the accident), to connect Awhitu with the northern coastline of the Manukau Harbour, and Auckland. Opinion was expressed later during the inquest that four tons was not a big enough vessel to handle the harbour’s dangers; a larger vessel was apparently used at first, but then this was replaced by the Mystery. Mitchell seems to have also had a reputation for rum drinking, on or off the water (although the survivors attested to his sobriety on the day of the accident). That day he was working the sails with the use of only one hand, the left disabled by a gunshot wound. His assistant was a boy named Thomas Reed, son of a carpenter, who had only had seven weeks sailing experience, and was almost totally deaf (although he said he could hear Mitchell’s commands). He had made ten trips with Mitchell on the Mystery before the accident.

Their passengers on 13 August 1866 were 22-year-old widow Frances Westfold (her late husband George, a sawyer, had died three days before and the family were accompanying his coffin on the ferry for burial in Onehunga) and her three children George (4), Ellen (6) and Francis Edward (six months); William Reynolds, his wife Sarah, and their son Edward William; William Lucas; a Mr Murphy; and Nelson Spaulding, a storekeeper from Onehunga.

Ballasted with pieces of iron, the Mystery set sail from Garland’s Creek at 11 am for the 20 mile journey to Onehunga, going with the tide and a nor-west breeze, but also with strong squalls and a high sea. The mainsail was hoisted with one reef, along with the jib, as the boat travelled down the channel, close to the southern coast of the harbour, for the first three miles. The passengers sat on a seat described as running round the circumference of the boat.

Then, with the tide stating to turn, and the wind blowing in, the sea became heavier, right at the point when Mitchell swung the Mystery onto a direct course across the harbour toward Onehunga. The going for the passengers became increasingly uncomfortable. Water sloshed in now and then, and young Reed was set the task of bailing, leaving the handling of the sails and rigging to the one-handed Mitchell. The sea became rougher as the boat continued, the women reported as being quite seasick, and Mrs Westfold, quite ill, took shelter with her three children beneath the half deck. Seven miles along the course, in the middle of the harbour, a combination of the wind plus the heavy sea capsized the Mystery around 2.30 pm, leaving it floating on its side. The Westfold family, trapped beneath the deck, had no hope of survival.

Mitchell’s last words as the boat went over were recalled as, “Let go the anchor.” He was flung into the water, floated for a while, then sank. Reynolds hung onto the rigging, trying to support his wife who clung in turn to their infant son.

Spaulding held onto to the mast, and made his way along that to the hull of the vessel. Apart from Spaulding and Reed, who had also made it to the hull, all the passengers in the water gradually sank “from sheer exhaustion … the sea washing over them.” Murphy, who had briefly joined Reed and Spaulding on the hull, then asked the others whether it was best to wait to be saved, or try swimming for the bank. Despite their advice to stay put, he slipped into the water to try for land anyway … and drowned.

The capsized Mystery floated for around three hours toward the Papakura bank, grounding there in two feet of water around 5.00pm. There, Spaulding and Reed righted the boat and bailed her out with an old butter box throughout the night. It was then they discovered the bodies of the Westfold family inside.

The following morning, Spaulding made a distress signal by flying a flag from the boat. This was seen by August Olberg on Awhitu, who organised with William Graham and two other men to go across in a boat around 9.00 am. With their assistance, the Mystery was taken to Onehunga, arriving there finally at 11.30 am. On arrival, Spaulding was reported to have had “the flesh chopped off his legs clinging to the wreck.”

Nelson Spaulding served as main witness at the inquest held in Onehunga’s Royal Hotel on 15 August, before the laid out bodies of the Westfold family. At that point, no other remains had been recovered. Spaulding’s story in New Zealand is interesting enough, even before the Mystery incident. Born in the American state of Maine, he followed the mining fever of the California goldrush in 1849, then decided to head for the Victorian goldfields in Australia in 1853. In the spring of that year, however, when the ship he took for the journey across the Pacific stopped off at Auckland on the way – he decided to stay here, and joined the timber firm of Roe, Street and Co. He was later credited with being the first to institute tramways to convey the cut logs instead of the more hazardous and tedious method of floating the timber downstream on a fresh using trip dams, using “his practical knowledge of railroad working.” He was also said to have introduced the American style of sawmill at Huia and Coromandel for the company (a company who also employed Long John McLeod and Cyrus Haskell, later rebuilders of Henderson’s Mill.) Around 1863, Spaulding left the firm and retired to Awhitu.

Spaulding felt that the Mystery’s sails should have been reduced in the rough weather, and that Mitchell should have kept to the safety of the southern coastline of the harbour for a longer distance, before striking out across the water to Onehunga. He raised the issue of Mitchell’s disabled hand, and Reed’s deafness, as possible contributing factors, but also the fact that the Mystery was too small by at least two tons.

The jury found that both Mitchell and Reed were “incompetent for the service in which they were employed,” and that the Provincial Government should provide a safer means of crossing the harbour.

A search for other bodies was started as soon as authorities in Onehunga were notified of the tragedy, inlets and creeks in the vicinity of Puketutu Island, Puponga Point and Awhitu all scoured. George Westfold’s coffin, with his body still inside, was found by fishermen near South Head on 22 August and buried above high water mark on a beach at Awhitu. On 29 August, police at Onehunga were informed that a dead body was seen floating in the harbour. After a search, the body was found “cast upon the beach, near the White Bluff …” It was later identified as being that of Henry Mitchell, and was interred at Onehunga on 30 August. Mitchell’s remains was apparently the only body both recovered and identified from the passengers that had perished in the chill waters two weeks earlier.

The last victim of the Mystery's accident may have been Nelson Spaulding, a little more than 10 years later, when he died “of an affection of the bronchial tubes, and an internal disorder contracted some years ago, on the occasion of the wreck of the Mystery …” He left a widow, but no children.

Report on the accident, NZ Herald 15 August 1866 p. 4
Inquest report, Southern Cross 16 August 1866 p.5
Search for the bodies, NZ Herald, 17 August 1866 p. 3
The coffin found, NZ Herald 27 August 1866, p. 3
Mitchell’s body found, NZ Herald 31 August 1866 p. 5
Spaulding’s obituary, Auckland Star 20 October 1876 p.2

Friday, January 11, 2013

What's in a name change? - Saxon to Kuaka Reserve

At the Avondale-Waterview Historical Society meeting in December last year, a few came up to me remarking on the renaming of Saxon Reserve, a piece of green space at the corner of Saxon Street and Oakley Avenue, to Kuaka Reserve. I was also surprised that the name Kuaka had been chosen by the Albert-Eden Local Board, considering the strength of the ties of the Goodwin family (who owned part of the now-enlarged reserve, land fronting Alford Street) for much of the last century (see Tony Goodwin’s article in the November/December Avondale Historical Journal.)

Well, they officially opened the renamed reserve in December — and I went looking through the agendas of the local board to find out how the name Kuaka got into the mix.

Eleven iwi had been contacted. According to the report submitted to the local board (5 September 2012), eight didn't respond, one was “happy for other iwi to do it”, and "two, Ngati Whatua and Ngati Te Ata-Waiohua, wrote back in support of a non-ancestral name, and suggested ‘Kuaka’. This refers to the Bar-tailed Godwit (Limosa laponica), which has been a traditionally valuable food source for Maori. Kuaka is well documented as a champion long-haul migratory species that flies over this part of the Waitemata Harbour en route to the Kaipara Harbour, before returning to its breeding sites around the China Sea, and in Kamchatka and Alaska."

The choices presented to the public on voting papers were therefore these: 
Oakley Park: “The original name given to the park when it was gifted to the Crown in 1922.” (True — due to the adjoining Oakley Avenue.) 
Saxon Reserve: “The existing name of the park. The original name of Oakley Park was changed to avoid confusion with nearby Oakley Creek Reserve. There is no historical significance attached to this name.” (Except, of course, that a lot of folks in Waterview knew the original reserve by this name, and Saxon Street is right there.) 
Goodwin Reserve: “Mr John Goodwin and his descendants owned the land that was recently purchased by NZTA to enlarge the park since 1907.”  
Kuaka Reserve: “Kuaka is the Maori name for the Godwit, a wading bird that migrates to Waterview from Alaska every year. This bird was a valuable food source for Maori and can still be seen over our summer months feeding in the nearby intertidal zones.”

According to “Populations of the godwit embark on some of the longest migrations known among birds. They start arriving here in New Zealand about mid–September and disperse throughout the country including the Chatham Islands. They flock in a few favoured places, including the Firth of Thames and Ohiwa Harbour. They leave New Zealand in March and early April and arrive in the northern hemisphere in May and early June.” The godwit is therefore not specific to Waterview — if anything, it has and has had more to do with the Manukau and Kaipara Harbours. One might as well have suggested any other NZ bird name — it would have had just as much local relevance.

Now, not that I'm against Maori names on our landscape -- I tried to get the Avondale Community Board to go with "Motu Manawa Place" instead of "Jomac Place" on Rosebank a few years back. But when only two iwi responded with a suggestion (one of which simply backed the other), and more people connected with Waterview or that particular piece of land responded saying they either wanted no change, or the name Goodwin if there had to be a change ... we are now left with a generic name for a reserve. I challenge anyone to tell me godwits landed there, when they're more likely to have headed for the shellbanks of Motu Manawa Reserve. “Kuaka” is more a Rosebank heritage name, rather than Waterview.

At the 11 August community open day to put in votes for a name for the reserve, there were only 22 votes cast: Oakley Park (2 votes), Saxon Reserve (6 votes), Goodwin Park (8 votes) [five family members voted, as the staff noted], Kuaka Reserve (4 votes), Taylor Park (2 votes) [another former land owner family], and Goodwin-Taylor Park (1 vote). According to the Council staff's report: "The fact that local community feedback from the 11 August open day produced 23 responses indicates a lack of broad community support or concern for a specific name. The Local Board may wish to regard this as evidence in support of no change, or it may decide in favour of one of the names voted on at the open day."

And so, as I said earlier, the Albert-Eden Local Board decided to go with Kuaka Reserve. Farewell, Saxon Reserve — it was nice to have known you.

The building of Mob 6: 1943-1944

Avondale College when it opened, 2 February 1945 (Auckland Star). Builders' ladders still in evidence, with conversion work still ongoing.

In March 1943, the US Naval Operating Base in Auckland wrote to the New Zealand authorities requesting that Mobile Base Hospital No 6 (Mob 6) be constructed. The Public Works Department received instructions to prepare plans for this, the second American Naval Hospital to be built in Auckland. An area at Avondale bounded by Rosebank Road, Victor Street and Holly Street was chosen, a portion of the site (closest to Holly Street) already designated by the government as land for a future school. Because of this, Tibor Donner’s design (the project overseen by the department’s resident architect in Auckland, Eric Price) incorporated a ready conversion at the end of the facility’s military and medical use to being that of a primary and intermediate school (later this was changed to an intermediate and technical high school). Construction began in the middle of May 1943.

Step out onto Avondale College grounds today, and you’ll see a fairly expansive complex. Back when I was attending the school, though, from 1977-1981, I would have had a hard time imagining just how vast the American hospital once, and briefly, was.

The full scope of the Mob 6 project was to provide 2000 beds in 22 wards with 11 lavatory blocks, a mess and galley, clinic, four surgeries, physiotherapy and occupational therapy facilities, X-ray department, dental clinic, sick officers’ quarters, ships service room, its own post office, and quarters for the American Red Cross. Temporary housing units of State House standard, built by Residential Construction Ltd of Penrose, were also added to the site for accommodation purposes. There was a standalone laundry, morgue, boiler and generating houses, garages (35 motor vehicle capacity, with greasing racks, car washing facilities, repair shop and gasoline storage tank), a fire station, a brig (enough for 40 men, including offices, guard room, and a “bull pen”), and crews recreation quarters. At one point, an adjoining piece of land along Eastdale Road was considered for lease to be used as a baseball diamond, but this didn’t eventuate during the brief period the hospital was in operation by American armed forces. There were also 16 barracks (barracks in the original proposal were to have housed around 500 corpsmen and 100 chief petty officers), 14 stores and a guard house built from pre-fabricated steel units. In total 60 buildings were erected on the site, with a total floor area of 388,000 square feet.

According to Frank Grattan in his history of the Public Work Department wartime projects, “The permanent buildings comprising the school proper were constructed on concrete foundations, with timber framing covered externally with brick veneer up to sill height and rusticated weather boarding above. Fabricated wooden truss roofing was sarked and covered with corrugated fibrolite. The interior was panelled in plywood to dado height with fibrous plaster above and pinex ceilings.”

The principal contractor was Fletcher Construction Ltd. As it so happened, James Fletcher was the wartime Commissioner of Works. A total of 450 men were employed during the project’s duration to both construct the hospital, and later to demolish and convert the site and remaining buildings to school use. There is a belief that the school buildings were constructed by American forces, the Naval “Seabees” (construction units) – but out of those working on the project, only 150 belonged to those units, and they assisted with the steel temporary buildings. The original parts of Avondale College and Avondale Intermediate were built by New Zealand contractors and tradesmen, to New Zealand design.

There were issues almost immediately during construction. In late June, Fletcher Construction complained to the Public Works Department that “we are hemmed in more or less all the time by drains, and at most times by deep ditches, which are right alongside our job. This means we have no hope of getting the timber carted by our trucks anywhere near the site.” The drainlayers were, apparently, under contract direct with the department. Fletchers asked for more money as an extra to cover the time spent hauling timber over the drains.

This was also a project undertaken during an Auckland winter, with the former market gardens transformed into a near-bog by rain and a progression of American vehicles; the Labourers’ Union reported that their members were often working in 1 foot of muddy slush, without the benefit of employer-supplied gumboots (the gumboots being unavailable.) The labourers asked for an extra 2d per hour in lieu of the gumboots under the terms of their award, over and above the 9d daily wet place allowance they were already receiving. The department made a counter-offer of 1 ½ d per hour plus the 9d daily allowance.

In September, there was additional urgency to complete the project as soon as possible, with the announcement of the intention to use the hospital for shock cases from both American and New Zealand forces. The department’s district engineer appealed to the Master Builders’ Association that they “kindly make a survey of any teams engaged on work not of National importance with a view to having them transferred to Avondale. Such action will help, not only the US forces, but our own boys who may be urgently requiring treatment.” The Association responded that they couldn’t find any spare teams, but pointed out that “it is apparent that the Fletcher Construction Co have considerable numbers of men engaged on less essential work and it might be suggested that some of this work be carried on with skeleton staffs so that the work at Avondale and Pukekohe can be carried on with greater dispatch.” I don’t know if this exchange helped speed things up at the hospital site or not.

The first patients were admitted 21 October 1943, five and a half months after construction began. The maximum number of patients at any one time ended up being 1050. Even so, as at February 1944 there were some wards still in an unfinished state. James Fletcher, as Commissioner of Works, wrote: “The work on the Avondale Hospital has now reached the stage when every effort must be made to get the wards that are unfinished completed and handed over for occupancy. It must be recognised that the Hospital buildings are temporary, and it would appear that too much emphasis is being placed on the general finish of the building which is resulting in delays which can be avoided.” It could be said that the hospital complex was never truly completed; an intended chapel by the time buildings were demolished existed only as a set of foundations, the work on it having been stopped at an earlier point.

The hospital ceased to function from 10 May 1944, and work then began to convert the site to the two schools. Portable cranes were brought in to remove the temporary housing units, many of which ended up as part of the transit camp at Western Springs. Education Board architect Alan Miller stepped in, and was in charge of the setting out of the two future schools. The mess and galley were demolished, moved in sections, and became the manual training wing of the new technical high school (now Avondale College). The central portion of the ships service and the laundry block were similarly reused as a home science wing. The crews’ recreation building was shifted to become the school’s engineering workshop.

Total cost of the project, excluding demolition, was £641,727. To the dismay of the Education Ministry, given to understand the contrary at the outset by James Fletcher, the cost of converting the hospital fell onto the vote for education funds, rather than those of the war assets realisation department. Discussions, correspondence and negotiations regarding valuation and quantity surveying was still ongoing for the school buildings right up to May 1945.

In October 1945, the Labourers’ Union was still in dispute with the Public Works Department, claiming for their members a 1½d per hour demolition allowance, while the department argued that the workers had been engaged in dismantling, rather than demolition, and therefore were not entitled to the allowance. The union countered by quoting the dictionary meaning of the word “demolition”. Whether they were successful in obtaining the backpay for their members is unknown.

Frank Geoffrey Grattan, Official War History of the Public Works Department, 1939-1945, (1948) Archives New Zealand files held at Auckland: 
Defence - USA hospital (accommodation) Rosebank estate, Avondale (BBAD 1054 Box 2267 8/130/55, parts 1 & 2)
Defence - USA Navy hospital Avondale, -- Legislation (BBAD 1054 Box 2660 8/130/55A)

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Auckland Zoo on a hot summer's afternoon

I may have headed to the Zoo yesterday to see the tigers, but I did take other photos as well.

There was the Galapagos Tortoise feeding ...


With two females and one male, the Zoo are trying to successfully breed them. But, so far, only infertile eggs have been found.

The macaws next door got their lunch around the same time.

So did the Eclectus Parrot.

Part of the 1923 architecture of the zoo: the band rotunda.

Complete with a water feature which drew thirsty kids like a magnet on the hot day.

Except this is not what they should be trying to drink. I did see one kiddy precariously balance on the rim to take a drink, but she soon spat it out.

According to some very handy early maps of the zoo published on the Zoo Chat messageboard, it appears that this enclosure dates from sometime between the late 1920s and 1950 -- by the latter period, it was four separate compartments, housing vultures.

These days, it is home to a very different animal.

A lone chimpanzee, named Janie.

These days, she's close to 60 years old, taken from her mother in Sierra Leone and shipped first to London Zoo, then to Auckland in 1956.

There, she became one of the zoo's tea-party chimps, a practice that charmed visitors but didn't do a lot of good for the chimpanzees. The practice ceased in 1963, fifty years ago.

In the 1980s, an unsuccessful attempt was made to integrate the three survivors, Janie, Josie and Bobbie, with a mother-raised chimpanzee group. Josie died in 2000, Bobbie in 2004, and now Janie is the sole survivor of an old idea in the zoo's history, housed in one of the zoo's oldest enclosures.

She has Type 2 diabetes these days, but otherwise is well-looked after by the keepers.

Next to Janie's cage -- the Aussie walkabout area.

Star of the show wasn't even an Aussie.

A bit of luck, that while I was waiting for the tiger encounter, I spotted a keeper giving food to a couple of the otters.