Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Tod's box in Parnell

Earlier this month, a bit of colour was added to the St Stephens/Parnell Road corner beside the cathedral complex. The indefatigable Rendell McIntosh of Parnell Heritage gave me the head's up on its preparation and installation -- and this week I finally had a chance to photograph it.

I have been asked today to give credit for the installation of this mural to the Waitemata Local Board, which I'm very pleased to do, considering how much work that Local Board are putting into the area and especially recognition of the area's heritage.

Amongst the images used are representations of the "Parnell Heritage Rose", and a caricature portrait of Robert Tod who named one subdivision of Section 1, Suburbs of Auckland as "Parnell" when flogging it off to prospective buyers in 1841. The name caught history's fancy, and spread over the next decades to include all the area from Mechanic's Bay to the bounds of Newmarket.

My friend Margaret Edgcumbe has very kindly provided the following info for this blog. (Thank you, Margaret!)

Robert Tod (1798 -1864) was a Scotsman from Glasgow who spent time as a merchant in Egypt and Syria before migrating to the Antipodes in 1837.

In Syria in 1832 he met John Vesey Parnell (1805 -1883), one of the leading members of an independent Protestant mission to Baghdad. It was a brief and mainly commercial acquaintance. Tod, as the local agent for the British and Foreign Bible Society, supplied the mission with translations of the scriptures in the Arabic, Persian and Hebrew languages, but by 1834 they had been forced to admit defeat and leave Persia for India.

In 1841 Tod came up to Auckland from Wellington, and made substantial investments in land. At the first sale of suburban land on 1 September 1841 he bought Allotment 63 of Section 1, Suburbs of Auckland - slightly more than 3 acres - for the sum of £244. 10s. 4d. In the next issue of the New Zealand Herald and Auckland Gazette, 4 September 1841, he advertised that he was putting that same land (above Mechanics Bay, and with matchless views of the harbour and shipping) up for auction. It had been neatly divided into 36 sections and named the “Village of Parnell”.

Other members of the Baghdad mission - Groves, Cronin and Calman - were commemorated in the street names of the “village”, while the Patrick of Patrick Terrace refers to the youngest Tod brother, Robert’s main partner in Syria and Baghdad. Unfortunately, these name choices did not strike any chords with the people of Auckland, and they were soon forgotten and replaced (by Eglon, Fox and Marston Streets, and Augustus Terrace).

But the city fathers did apparently like the name of Parnell, possibly because of its associations with the prestigious Anglo-Irish dynasty, so it was gradually applied to the whole of the area along the Manukau Road towards Newmarket, and then to the Highway Board District in 1863, and to the new Borough in 1877.

Until recently the favourite candidate for the origin of the suburb’s name has been the father of J V Parnell the missionary, the politician Sir Henry Brooke Parnell. Bishop Cowie, for instance, stated categorically that the name had been “given in the early days of the colony, from one of H.M.’s Secretaries of State, afterwards Lord Congleton.” (William Garden Cowie, Our Last Year in New Zealand, 1887.)

As for Tod himself, he was completely forgotten once he returned to South Australia in 1847. Because of the perceived Irish connection many later historians have even referred to him as “the Irishman Richard (sic) Tod.” 

Caricature of Robert Tod, by S Gill 1849, courtesy of the State Library of South Australia.


  1. Wonderful post and photos Lisa. Margaret's narrative was so interesting to read. Wonderful thank you to you both.

  2. I concur with Liz's statement - thanks Lisa <3