Friday, August 4, 2017

When the "Queen of the Goths" won the first Avondale Cup

At the July 2017 meeting of the Whau Local Board, the Board’s members approved naming a new street in Avondale, just off Sandy Lane near Ash Street, Tamora Lane. This was chosen by the developer, Wilshire Group Limited, because it was the name of the first Avondale Cup winner, a mare, in 1890. 

Tamora was foaled in 1883 at the NZ Stud Company’s grounds at Sylvia Park, her sire the champion Musket and her dam Moonlight. Tamora’s half brother Carbine, also by Musket, won the 1890 Melbourne Cup. As a two-year-old, starting her training by George Wright at Greenlane, the brown filly was described as “a very shapely young lady.” Her career was mixed; a few wins, mostly places in second to fourth, nothing really stellar. In October 1889, Harry Harrison became the six-year-old mare’s trainer; then, two months later, disaster. While racing at Takapuna, Tamora swerved into the rails and injured her shoulder. Harrison was forced to put her on the retired list, throwing her out of work – but not for long. By the end of December 1889, Tamora was back into racing, her name dotting the race meeting reports on both main islands, excelling at trials and described as “a good stayer and one that none of us ever saw the best of.” 

On 26 April 1890, just as Harry Harrison was giving up his training career and preparing to send Tamora to Sydney for sale, the mare won the inaugural mile-and-three-quarter Avondale Cup by a neck from the three-year-old Pinfire. Pinfire had the lead at the turn into the home straight, but Tamora increased speed, and snatched the 50 sovereigns stake from the other horse half her age. Her win was a surprise to Harrison who, it was reported, “did not back the mare for sixpence.” In the end, Tamora wasn’t sent to Sydney; she was offered up for auction in Auckland in July, but the bidding didn’t meet the reserve. 

In February 1891, after more races and some wins, she was purchased by Ewen William Alison of the Devonport Steam Ferry Company. After a few more races, she went to the Alisons’ Motukorea Stud in the middle of 1892. In 1893, she foaled a son, Nestor, who went on to win the Auckland Cup in 1896. Towards the end of December 1898, the stud was sold, and Tamora was bought by J A Goodson of Hawera for 65 guineas. The last of her foals was born around 1903. 

The origin of her name? That’s where the Shakespeare comes in, for Tamora was William Shakespeare’s Queen of the Goths, turned Roman Empress, in his play Titus Andronicus. In the play, Tamora developed into one of Shakespeare’s villains. On the New Zealand racetracks of the late 1880s-1890s, however (if you had a bet on her, and it was her time to shine, as it was at Avondale that day in 1890) – Tamora the mare was very much the heroine.

Minding other people’s children — Samuel Albert Nelmes

It started with a phone call from someone who wanted to know where her great-grandfather Samuel Albert Nelmes had lived in Avondale, in the 1890s. I’ve had a number of such enquiries over the years; unless the person owned land here, usually from the time of the 1880s subdivisions on Rosebank and in the Roberton area, it can be next-to-impossible to determine where someone was within the old Avondale Road Board area, in the days before even the Wises Directories bothered to recognise we have streets here, and simply listed those who lived here in columns that provided no guide as to address. 

Still, I said I’d have a look, and his descendant contacted me by email a little later with further information. As it turned out, there were some leads. Nelmes advertised in 1891 that he had a Hereford bull for sale, “near Avondale Railway Station.” In 1896, he advertised for “grazers” (those willing to pay a fee to graze their animals on his property), again “near” the station. Then, I noticed he was registered under the Infant Life Protection Act, as a caregiver for other people’s children. Something he had trouble with the law over in 1899. Immediately afterward, Elizabeth Stallard advertised that she was willing to look after children under the same regulation (she had been doing this off and on at least from 1895), and George Stallard was advertising “7 acres and a cottage, close to Avondale Station, to let.” The same George Stallard who, in 1890, just before Nelmes appeared in Avondale according to the newspapers, advertised “11 acres, with cottage and outbuildings, to let, at Avondale, close to the station.” 

The descendant contacted me just before I was heading down to Wellington this year to do research on the Ligar Canal down Queen Street. I offered to add on to my list of files to request down at Wellington Archives NZ some held there on Samuel Nelmes, and his wife Anne. These were files related to their licenses to look after other people’s children under the Act, both here in Avondale and also near Royal Oak. The Avondale property was confirmed as being 11 acres in extent. This matches only one available site in Avondale, “near” the Avondale Station, in the 1890s — James P Sinclair’s farm, now Himikera Avenue and surrounds. Which means Sinclair probably leased the land and house to Stallard, who in turn sub-leased to Nelmes. The house they used may also still be in existence — at 100 Blockhouse Bay Road. 

The story behind the name, though, was even more interesting. 

Samuel Albert Nelmes (1843-1903) was born in Gloucestershire, the son of Thomas Nelmes who was an “oil and colourman” in the 1861 Bristol census. Samuel married Anne Jessop Hadley in 1869, and by 1871 seems to have taken on his father's business on Thomas’ retirement, employing five men and a boy in the wholesale and retail oil and colour trade. He even seems to have taken on the hobby of writing music, his compositions being sold at sheet music sellers in Bath. Then, in August 1874, his world crashed around him, when he was committed to the Brislington Asylum. He was discharged in December that year, but wound up in care yet again at Laverstock Asylum, February to August 1876. According to what Anne later (in 1899) told Avondale police constable Patrick Crean, at some point around that time of Nelmes’ committals to insane asylums, he had attempted to commit suicide by choking himself with his garter, but his mother saved his life. 

The result was that he left the family business, and took his wife and children to live in Australia, possibly for the sake of his mental health. He had developed something of a paranoid mania, however - constantly imagining that he was being followed, that unseen forces were conspiring against him. More bad news came from England: his father died in June 1877, and the estate was auctioned and sold, including the business. Samuel returned briefly to England in 1885, sold off his remaining property, made it clear in public notices that he had no part in the business of T Nelmes & Son that was still continuing, and then left once again, this time for New Zealand, in 1886. 

For a time, the Nelmes family stayed at “Brightside”, a farm near Manurewa’s railway station. Then, as we’ve seen, Samuel brought his family to Avondale in 1891. 

According to a letter Nelmes wrote to police Inspector Hickson in October 1894, “owing to a twitch in some English business” he and his wife had taken in two children as their paid caregivers, and planned to take in a third but only as “a temporary arrangement for a livelihood,” and, “we don’t profess to be Baby Farmers.” 

Now, there’s an emotive term. “Baby farming” was something that had been talked about in scandalised and appalled tones in the newspapers since the late 1860s — the practice of (usually) women taking in the illegitimate children of the working class, ostensibly to raise and then possibly arrange to adopt out, but in some dreadful cases either ill-cared for or outright murdered, so that the “baby farmer” could pass on to the next paying proposition. In this country, baby farming will always be associated with Minnie Dean from Winton, the only woman hanged for the deaths of some of her charges, and within the same decade as the Nelmeses started their income side-line, although a few years later. 

The Nelmeses certainly were not baby farmers in the negative sense. None of their charges came to any harm under their care, so the records show. They simply appear to have started out with an employment agent named Mrs Lockley of Queen Street recommending to the women who approached her for jobs that the Nelmeses would be good at caring for their children. They charged the mothers 26/- per month. Samuel and Anne applied for and received their official licence in November 1894. 

Every child the Nelmeses took in had to be registered with the authorities under the Infant Life Protection Act, so the police kept a close eye on how many children, including three of Samuel and Ann’s own, were in the Avondale house at any one time. In 1895, Samuel Nelmes came under investigation when one child was apparently uplifted by its mother and taken “somewhere in the Waikato” — the Act made it mandatory that the child’s destination had to be precisely noted, so he was up for a possible fine and imprisonment. The stress of the situation seems to have rekindled some of Nelmes’ earlier eccentric mania from the 1870s. The official files in Wellington are full of his correspondence, neatly written missives on paper folded in half lengthwise, and written on both sides. At this point, he claimed that he had been forced to leave the Manurewa farm owing to some kind of financial “reversion” linked to a “life interest.” (At the time, Anne Nelmes was borrowing money to keep the family going from a Mr John Abbott, the collateral being her likely interest in her parent’s estate once they had passed away.) Samuel proclaimed himself an intellectual man and a inventor who was in correspondence with the British War Office and even Thomas Alva Edison. He didn’t want the stain of a prison sentence on his reputation, which he valued at £5000. He wrote of “hideous cowards” out to injure his name some years before, and brought up his “inflammation of the brain” from the 1870s brought on, he said, by “unceasing attention to business and a hobby or two going.” Nelmes ended up being fined 20s, the authorities not realising that, in amongst the correspondence, Nelmes had revealed his ongoing mental condition. 

For the next nearly four years, things proceeded normally. Samuel was supported by the likes of Amos Eyes, the local stationmaster, and John Bollard for references when he renewed his licence each year. Locals knew he was a bit eccentric in his ways, but seemed well enough to get on with. Children were registered as entering and leaving their care; there was one brief time when Samuel Nelmes tried taking in a fourth child when he was only licensed for three, but this was sorted amicably. But Nelmes wanted more income, and that meant taking in more babies. The Avondale house wasn’t big enough, so he simply left Avondale, and shifted to a larger house near Royal Oak on Manukau Road, and took in a fourth child. This, however, was illegal. Under the regulations, he couldn’t just simply transfer his house license to another house, and then just add another child, and Constable Crean (on inspecting the new house) told him this. He was fined £2 this time — and his licence was cancelled. 

He put pen to paper and wrote to the newspapers, describing the situation as a “reign of terror on a small scale” and an “uncalled-for prosecution.” At the heart of the matter, though, was Nelmes’ revealing his state of mind in some over-the-top correspondence to the police during the issue over the licence (including his description of being persecuted by a secret society). This triggered an order for Constable Crean to go out and tactfully make enquiries as to Nelmes’ state of mental health, which in turn led Anne’s confession to Constable Crean, in Samuel’s presence, that he had attempted suicide all those years ago. 

Suddenly, the authorities viewed his prolific protestations by correspondence and their content not just as the writings of someone with eccentricities. A man with a record of mental health problems was not someone deemed fit to look after other people’s babies, especially not after the Minnie Dean case. It was felt that his state of mind could worsen, and he could become a risk. His licence was therefore cancelled. Nelmes’ worst enemy wasn’t some “secret society” — it was from within. 

The authorities didn’t tell Nelmes that he had lost his licence not because of a failure to dot i’s and cross t’s, but because of his state of mind. So he continued writing, protesting to the Minister of Justice and even to the Premier, Richard Seddon, but all to no avail. 

Samuel and Anne Nelmes left New Zealand in 1900 and settled near Melbourne. There, he continued to have the impression that someone, somewhere, was out to stymie his every attempt at success in life. He died in 1903; Anne lived on and returned eventually to New Zealand, dying here in 1918. 

How much of her inheritance from England was left for her to enjoy is unknown.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

The Collector and the Gardener: Alexander Rose, and Fong Ming Quong

Updated 15 August 2019

In Auckland in the 1890s, two men from different civilisations would cross each other’s path in the course of the process of customs and excise procedures at the port. One was the Auckland Collector of Customs, Alexander Rose. The other, a Chinese merchant and gardener named Fong Ming Quong (usually referred to, including on the birth certificate of his youngest child, as simply Ming Quong.) Part of the story of their contact with each other was only briefly a sensation in the local newspapers. Most of it is told in the handwritten and typed remnants of official memos and departmental reports.

Alexander Rose (1840-1926) was the son of a commercial agent named George Tower Rose who, at the time of Alexander’s birth was experiencing financial difficulties so great that, at one point, he wound up in debtor’s prison in his native Bristol. G T Rose seems to have recovered sufficiently to take his family with him to India by 1846, where another son died of cholera. Two years later, George T Rose was also dead, aged only 42, buried in a London cemetery, and Alexander was in the care of extended family. Still, he received a good education in private schools and at Kings College in London. At the age of 16 he arrived in Lyttleton, then lived in Auckland, completing his education at St John’s College, then travelled to Nelson to serve as a cadet on the Waiopi farm of Colonel Russell of the 58th regiment. 

In 1858, aged 18, Rose entered service with the Customs Department, where he remained until his retirement the following century. He started at Christchurch; three years later he was promoted to sub-collector at Timaru’s port, then landing surveyor at Lyttleton in 1863. He transferred to Auckland briefly in 1867, then returned to Lyttleton in 1875 as collector. In 1892, he was transferred once more to Auckland, and remained there until his death. 

Rose was deeply involved with the Anglican Church here. He was a member of the Diocesan Synod while he was serving in the South Island from 1864 to 1892. 

Ming Quong was born in or near Canton, in the province of Guangzhou, China, around the year 1848, according to his naturalisation application (although records do vary as to his age.) He arrived in Auckland c.1877, a period when merchants Yan Kew and Thomas Quoi were setting up their market gardening enterprises and sought Chinese labourers to keep the businesses going. In August 1883 he applied for naturalisation as a citizen here, his occupation given as “farmer”. Few Chinese without either their own leasehold land or a business made the extra effort to naturalise; he may have had an informal agreement with grocer and general dealer John Billington to use 23 acres of Billington’s land fronting Surrey Crescent and Old Mill Road in Grey Lynn at that point, formalised by a lease in February 1884 in the names of “Fong Ming, Fong Ah Gong, Fong Ah Sam and Fong Ah Tom” but remained the formal occupier in terms of Newton Borough Council rates records. In August 1885, he travelled back to Canton to marry Quee Moy, and returned with his bride. The following year, he received a commendation for his watermelons at a local horticultural show. The first of his children, a daughter, was born in 1889; the family came to support the Auckland West Kindergarten which began in 1888 in rooms at the Howe Street Industrial Home, Freemans Bay. The Ming Quong family supplied some sugar and pumpkins to the school in 1890 and 1891. Newton Borough Council told him to stop using bits of raw fish as fertiliser in 1893. While he appears to have departed from the Grey Lynn garden in 1894 when a new lease was made out to “Fong Ming Shing and Fong Ming Him,” it is possible, given the family name of Fong, that he retained an interest even while at Epsom-Royal Oak.

NZ Graphic, 18 September 1897, NZG-18970918-394-2, Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections

From 1893 to 1895, Ming Quong’s business expanded and changed. It is likely that he began to secure leases of land close to One Tree Hill from 1893, when the Hospital and Charitable Aid Board began to advertise tenders for 21 year leases, including a 14 acre property at Royal Oak, fronting what is today Manukau Road and Campbell Road, just north of the Royal Oak Hotel. Much of the land he leased seemed to remain as paddocks, rather than be utilised for horticulture; in early 1899, one Andrew Cunningham lost a valuable horse while grazing it in one of the paddocks near the Costley Home on Greenlane Road (possibly part of or near the "Olive Paddocks" leased from John Logan Campbell initially for three years from 1892) when it fell down a well. Ming Quong lost the ensuing court case, judgement against him for £35 and costs because he’d failed to maintain his fences properly. From 1895, Auckland City Council private cart licensing records show Ming Quong with at least four or five carts operating, up to a height of seven carts in 1898. He would have required pasturage and stabling for at least seven horses, as well as those he used in the Royal Oak market garden, and his own transport. 

By comparison, fellow merchant Yan Kew with his own gardens at Khyber Pass and Remuera had three to five licensed carts in the period 1895-1896, while merchant and garden owner Chan Dar Chee at Mechanics Bay had four to five in the period 1895-1899. 

In 1898, an exhibition of an American-made cultivator was given at Ming Quong’s Royal Oak gardens and was well-advertised. How many actually turned up to a Chinese garden out on the rural heartland of the Auckland isthmus, even with transport provided in the form of brakes from the city by the importing agents E Porter & Co (and the proximity of the Royal Oak Hotel for refreshments) is not known, as apparently neither the Herald nor the Star chose to cover the demonstration. He certainly, though, had a moderate and briefly successful business conveying goods to and from the Auckland wharves; but not all of that were loads of vegetables.

In June 1895, Ming Quong took over a shop at the corner Victoria and Albert Streets, as a grocer and fruiterer, provided shipping, boarding houses and hotels with fresh veges daily, as well as buying “old copper” and fungus. A year later he transferred the city shop’s business to his employee T Yen Lee, who passed it in turn in January 1897 to A B Wah Kee who remained there until 1900. Kee could have been another relative of Ming Quong, so from June 1895, he had a three-pronged business portfolio here in Auckland, along with family business connections in Fiji, and links back to his homeland in China. He had Europeanised himself to a certain degree, establishing himself as much as possible with the white colonial society with which he did business. His children had English names, and were said to have attended the Presbyterian Church and Sunday school at Onehunga. 

NZ Graphic 18 September 1897, NZG-18970918-394-1, Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections

The Governor Lord Ranfurly visited his Royal Oak market garden in August 1897, and Ming Quong sent his young son to give Lady Ranfurly flowers on her departure from Onehunga Wharf in December the following year (a customs memo from 1900 refers to six daughters in the family, but no sons. The news reports may have had the child’s gender wrong, or the son sadly died). In April 1896 he organised, with fellow merchant James Ah (Yan) Kew, an athletic carnival for the benefit of the Brunnerton mine disaster families. He also took part in the Auckland Ladies Benevolent Society Floral FĂȘte at Ellerslie Racecourse in November 1897, decorating a horse and trap with buttercups and daisies. 

Two months before the floral fĂȘte, his path crossed for the first time with that of Alexander Rose. Ming Quong imported 50lb of tobacco, an amount that Rose’s superior W T Glasgow in Wellington said was not permissible. Rose, who had previously written in his departmental reports that he did not like Chinese people at all, curiously turned a blind eye towards Ming Quong’s transgression. Rose wrote in his report: 

“When ‘permit’ has been granted to persons importing or receiving some choice parcel of cigars as presents or for their own consumption are imported by themselves the direction I receive ‘inform Mr … it will be allowed this time but he must not do it again’ makes the importer or recipient smile; why, how can a father be called upon to write to his son and say, ‘your kind Xmas or Birthday present received but you must not do it again or the Customs will seize them even if I offer to pay duty at once on arrival.’

“In this instance Ming Quong imports 50 lbs Chinese tobacco, a 3 years supply, he does not sell it, he is only a market gardener, and is a civilised [Rose’s emphasis] Chinaman. His children go to the State School & attend Presbyterian Sunday School. He often attends the Presbyterian Church at Onehunga. I really think the enforcing of the law is unnecessary and I can vouch for it that in my 39 years experience no evil has resulted.” 

Rose’s recorded comment that Ming Quong was “only a market gardener” may have been recalled by him like a bad taste in his mouth less than two years later. 

Ming Quong’s fortunes began to falter when, on 5 April 1898, the first fire broke out at his gardens near Epsom. In that instance, a spark falling onto hay in a shed was attributed as the cause. Patrick Donovan who owned both the premises leased by Ming Quong and the shed was insured for £50 with Imperial Insurance, while Ming Quong had a £400 policy of his own with North German. Fortunately, though, his carts and tools normally stored in the shed weren’t there at the time, so he didn’t suffer heavy losses. 

It was a different matter almost a year later. 

On 1 March 1899, a new storage building on Ming Quong’s property along Manukau Road was completely destroyed. Inside were said to have been silks and groceries valued at £1950. Employees of his, present at the time, among them his foreman T Lee Yen, reported that they were woken by the sound of stones thrown onto the roof of the building where they slept after 10.30pm. Ming Quong himself was enjoying a night at the circus in the city with his children at the time. Going outside to investigate, the workers stated that three or four boys around six years of age were seen running away. The boys were chased, but escaped. Retuning back to the sleeping quarters, the men then said they saw the burning building, which by then was completely engulfed in flame. As with the previous fire, the property’s location just outside the boundary for the Onehunga Volunteer Fire Brigade meant no help could come from that quarter, and with a general lack of water, there was no way of preventing the fire from running its course. 

Ming Quong had £1600 worth of policies with Sun and Norwich Union, but estimated at the time that his losses exceeded that by another £400. The police began an investigation. They found that the fire was suspicious, and an inquiry was ordered. The insurance companies refused to pay on the claim. On 25 March, the police seized 16 dozen silk handkerchiefs (found to have been smuggled inside 4 cases of tea from Suva), six pairs of Chinese shoes, one bag of fungus, and a “small quantity” of Chinese notepapers from Ming Quong’s home, none of which had been declared for duty. 

Just over a month later, at the Metropolitan Hotel, the inquest into the fire’s circumstances was opened on 3 May. The coroner was John Bollard of Avondale, MHR, with a jury of six. Solicitor Christopher J Parr, a future Mayor of Auckland and MP attended, watching the inquiry on behalf of the insurance companies. Over twenty witnesses were summoned for the total length of the inquest, extending over seven days. 

It turned out that Ming Quong’s initial estimate of damages was incorrect – he had accounted for the loss of crackers and rice, neither of which were among goods incinerated in the fire. His amended claim, once this had been pointed out by the insurers, came to £876 11s 2d. The insurer found items in Ming Quong’s house, so he said to the inquiry, which had been included in the first claim before amendment. Ming Quong’s case for the claim wasn’t helped by him failing to find relevant invoices in time (his wife found them, apparently, in a roll of crumpled papers in a bedroom chest of drawers), and he thought his main stockbook had been burnt, so was unsure regarding the whereabouts of goods sent to Fiji and Napier, or the crackers which came from China. 

An engineer, Charles Hannigan, spotted the fire around 10.30 pm on the night, but saw neither little boys, nor Ming Quong’s workers outside their building. He shouted “Fire!” three times, so he testified, then headed to the Royal Oak hotel for help. The fire was all over in around 10 minutes, he said, and told the inquiry that no efforts were made to try to salvage goods from the store. 

 As a result of the fire, details of the extent of Ming Quong’s business came to light. His servant named Mary McDonald helped him make out a stock list on the night of the fire to replace the one burned, “as he did not know how to spell the words.” The inquiry learned that goods were regularly shipped by Quong’s business to Napier and Fiji, and more was stored at cargo agents Carr, Johnston & Co at Fort Street as “samples”. He exported silk handkerchiefs and tobacco to Fiji and sent handkerchiefs to Napier. He’d borrowed several hundred pounds from his brother in Fiji, and owed a firm in China £180. 

A witness and former employee of Ming Quong, Ah Queen, testified that he’d seen goods removed from the store and taken to Ming Quong’s house up near the Costley Home some weeks before the fire. After the fire he said he was advised by Ming Quong that he wouldn’t get much of a reward from the insurers if he said anything to them about the incident. 

When the verdict came in, five out of the six jurors agreed that no evidence as to the fire’s origin appeared to them, and they were unanimous that they felt Ming Quong’s second, amended claim was correct, and that he’d made errors with the first claim due to “the great excitement” he was “suffering at the time.” The jury censured the insurers for taking on such a large insurance risk without inspecting the building or its contents. 

The seized goods though were passed on by the Police to Customs on 18 May 1899. Alexander Rose’s memo to his superiors dated 17 October 1899 was of a vastly different tone from the one he wrote back in 1897. 

“The Fire Inquest resulted in a verdict ‘not proven’ against Ming Quong, but the evidence was very suspicious and nasty, and two destructive fires within fourteen months seemed too frequent. The Insurance Company has not paid up, only to a few of the Chinaman’s European creditors who are insured with them. 

“The Chinaman on the evidence cannot sue the Insurance Co. 

“I think the seizure of the silk goods should be confirmed and that Mr Ming Quong should be informed that the Honourable the Commissioner has decided not to force prosecution for penalty of £100. The silk goods were found in his private house; however, the prosecution for penalty might fail as so long a time has elapsed since seizure, and moreover the man is now in a somewhat embarrassed financial position.” 

The goods were sold at auction by Customs in January 1900. Customs Collector Rose and Police Detective Kennedy, who had investigated Ming Quong, received rewards, £3 2s and £5 respectively.

In May 1900, Ming Quong sold up his buggy, horse, dray, harness, dogcart, harrows, tools and household furniture at Royal Oak, and on 16 June announced via a public notice in the newspaper: 

“TO MY FRIENDS IN AUCKLAND I am leaving for China for the purpose of visiting my mother in her old age. I may be away for a few years, but hope to return some day to Auckland. In the meantime I wish my many good friends Good-bye. MING QUONG.” 

This was the last Auckland ever heard from Fong Ming Quong and his family. 

Alexander Rose continued on until his retirement in 1907, and died in Arney Road, Remuera in 1926, aged 86.