Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Ellen Melville, the Kosie vote splitter

Images: Left – Mayor Gunson, 1920, 1093-ALBUM-214-11, Sir George Grey Special Collections 
Centre – Kosie Theatre building, April 2017, Google view 
Right – Ellen Melville, 7-A10643, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries

Hard to believe that something happened here, in the Kosie Theatre building in Mt Albert shops back in 1926, that helped to bring down a government. 

It was March 1926. Christopher James Parr, the Reform Member of Parliament for the Eden electorate in Auckland from 1914, and before that a prominent mayor of the City of Auckland, took up an appointment as High Commissioner in London. This meant a by-election for the seat, and eight candidates from within the Reform Party, the conservative movement within Parliament and local government, put their hats in the ring. 

There were several well-known people among the nominees – Sir James Henry Gunson, then mayor of Auckland, and holder of a number of other high profile positions for his CV. From his biography online: “Gunson's mayoralty covered most of the period of the First World War. He was extremely active in recruiting while at the same time meeting criticism that he himself had not joined the armed forces. From 1918 to 1938 he was chairman of the Auckland Provincial Patriotic and War Relief Association and joint committee of the New Zealand Branch of the British Red Cross, and Order of St John. From 1917 to 1925 he was president of the Auckland Institute and Museum. In these roles, linked in a citizen's committee of which he was chairman from 1920 to 1927, he led the drive for funds for the building of the Auckland War Memorial Museum. This project derived considerable support from the Auckland City Council during his mayoralty.” 

Then there were a couple of borough mayors, William John Tait from Avondale, and Leonard Edgar Rhodes from Mt Albert. And (Eliza) Ellen Melville, the first woman elected to a city council in New Zealand (Auckland) from 1913-1946, Dominion president of the National Council of the Women of New Zealand, and generally today seen as one of the shining lights in the story for women’s rights in the country. 

On a Monday evening, 1 March 1926, members of the Reform party in the Eden electorate gathered at Mt Albert’s Kosie theatre to select their candidate. By the end of the week, the events within the theatre that night were splashed across the nation’s newspapers – and not for good reasons. 

It was Melville who was the spokeswoman for seven of the candidates, expressing their displeasure – seven, because the eighth candidate, Gunson, was not locked up in a room in the theatre with the others, let out of the room only under escort to speak for 15 minutes then escorted back to the locked room. Instead Gunson who after he gave his own spiel as to why he was the right person for the job, simply exited the theatre and waited by his car outside, as the electors within decided on who to have as their candidate, and was called back in after the ballot was held. The rest remained locked up in the room, wondering why they were suddenly in a prison. Gunson could hear the other’s speeches – but the rest could not. Gunson won the ballot that night, and was later endorsed by the Prime Minister Joseph Gordon Coates. 

Melville had run as an independent Reform candidate in Roskill in 1922 – but in 1926 had joined the main Reform fold. After that night, though, she told the party in no uncertain terms that while the party expected candidates to stick by their pledges to the party, candidates in turn expected fair play. It ended up with Melville running as Independent Reform again, against Gunson, in the Eden electorate for the by-election. 

“Vote-splitter!!” the Reform Party called Melville. Hecklers tracked her through her campaign, raising that cry. As it turned out, that’s exactly what happened. The results of the election were: 
H G Rex Mason (Labour) 4580 (He’d lost to Parr in 1922 and 1925) 
Gunson (Reform) 4150 
Melville (Ind. Reform) 2193 

Neither Gunson nor Melville would ever succeed at a general election, while Mason went on to being one of the longest lasting members of Parliament, 1926-1966. Eden would not see a conservative MP winning the seat until 1946, after it was shifted away from Mt Albert. 

The issue that led to Melville splitting the vote also ended up helping to split the party itself – Reform tied with the United Party in 1928, after a number of Coates’ MPs criticised him and the party, and United went into an agreement with Labour, ousting Coates as PM in favour of the ageing Sir Joseph Ward. 

So – the old Kosie Theatre. Scene of local political ructions over 90 years ago that helped create shifts in our national history. 

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Early Chinese in Wellington

(I'll be adding to this as time goes on as it is also permits).

Port Nicholson to New Zealand’s capital

Wellington’s story, as with the larger city of Auckland to the north, began with enterprise and immigration – and a false start. A New Zealand Colonising Company, founded in 1825, sent two vessels, the Rosanna and the Lambton to look for areas from the east coast of the South Island northward where workmen could prepare flax and provide ship’s spars. One of the captains, on reaching Wellington Harbour, gave it the name Port Nicholson after the Port Jackson harbour master – and continued on northward. 

In 1837, another company was formed in England, the New Zealand Association (later known as the New Zealand Company), and this lasted far longer than the one from a decade before. Land was obtained from the resident iwi, and the first of a number of immigrant ships, the Tory, set sail for Port Nicholson in 1839. In 1840, the company’s directors settled on the name Wellington for the new town, after Sir Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington. 

Petone, the first intended site for settlement (known as Brittania) failed after a flood affecting the Hutt River, so attention was transferred to Thorndon and Te Aro, the latter a key area in terms of the early history of Chinese settlement in the area. Te Aro started out as a rural hinterland for the town, but soon became a centre of colonial commerce as far back as 1841. The 1855 Wairarapa Earthquake had the effect of lifting Te Aro, allowing it to expand through reclamation. The Basin Reserve was set aside as a recreation area in 1857, and work began to drain the swamp there in 1863. Te Aro developed into an area of dense residential and commercial, with narrow access ways formed by subdivision of the original one-acre lots. 

A temporary parliament was set up in Wellington in 1862. By 1864, Wellington boasted a new Customs House, Post Office and Bank of New Zealand, and as the port of destination for the Panama steam service had been dubbed “the Empire City”. Shops and new hotels were being built, especially in Thorndon, and the wages for carpenters was on the rise as demand for housing outstripped supply of tradesmen. In 1865, the location of the colony’s capital shifted from Auckland to Wellington, a city which, relatively unaffected by the Waikato and Taranaki Wars to the north, would have seemed at the time a fairly secure and profitable place of employment and business for Chinese entrepreneurs and workers in the Australian colonies. 

John Ah Tong 

"Looking south west along Willis Street, Wellington, towards Brooklyn. Millers Commercial Hotel is on the right. The Empire Hotel is on the extreme left. Taken by an unknown photographer in 1861." Ref: 1/2-029400-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/23039328. Inset: Evening Post 6 February 1866 p3(3) 

John Ah Tong, born c.1838 in Canton, holds the honour of being only the second Chinese person (after Appo Hocton of Nelson, in 1852/1853) to be naturalised as a subject of Her Majesty Queen Victoria in New Zealand, on 15 May 1866. It isn’t known when he arrived in Wellington, but his son John was born around 1865, and three months before Ah Tong’s naturalisation was authorized, he had already set himself up in business on Willis Street in the town, “Carving and Cabinet Making in the best possible styles executed with despatch and on the most moderate terms.” Arguably then, Ah Tong was the first of the Chinese businessmen in Wellington, and the earliest documented instance of a business owner on the North Island. 

In May 1866, he married Caroline Tolhurst, a Wellington local, and as well as John they had two daughters, Emily (born 1867) and Mima (born 1869). By December that year, the Evening Post reported that Ah Tong had opened a “cabinet and upholstery warehouse” in Taranaki Street, Te Aro, where he only employed other Chinese immigrants in his workshop, described somewhat admiringly by the newspaper as “artificers of no mean order.” Chinese woodworkers in the mid 1860s were already well-known in Melbourne, in enclaves such as the one in Little Bourke Street, and this may have been where Ah Tong learned the trade, after he initially left China. The Taranaki Street warehouse may have been operated in conjunction with Ah Tong’s Willis Street site, and may have been the start of the first Chinese enclave in the city, with the workers requiring places to live near to the factory. 

Ah Tong’s business though was shortlived, terminated by his bankruptcy in 1867. His attempt to diversify his investment portfolio into gold mining at Terawhiti, on Wellington’s south coast, proved to be an expensive mistake. What was presumed to be a bounty of gold-bearing quartz veins in that the area turned out not to be the case, and he later stated he lost six month’s labour there. But what appears to have started his downward spiral into debt was that he’d submitted a very low tender of £170 for carving work at Government House. Ah Tong ended up paying the four Chinese workers he employed £300, £3 per week for 10 hours per day, and later complained that they had proved slower than he had expected. 

Caroline died in 1869. Ah Tong was discharged from the bankruptcy in August 1870, but was said to not possess a single asset, instead being dependent on the generosity of his fellow countrymen. But, he managed to bounce back, by entering the tree fungus trade from March 1871. He’d obtained a contract from Australia to supply 30,000 sacks of the fungus, planned visits to Picton, Taranaki, Whanganui and the Manawatu districts, and was based at Manners Street. It was Ah Tong who organised the first shipments of fungus from Taranaki, an enterprise taken over by the well-known Chew Chong from August of that year after having dealt in the fungus trade from Dunedin around the same time as Ah Tong set up his Wellington business. John Ah Tong was therefore, however briefly, one of the first pioneers of that trade.

Left: Wellington Independent, 18 March 1871 p3(1)

By early 1872, Ah Tong was an established interpreter for the growing Chinese community in Wellington, having associations with the early market gardeners in the vicinity. In November that year, he left his fungus trade business to take up a new role as a subcontractor for procuring Chinese labour from the South Island for the government railway projects then being planned by John Brogden & Sons. This however led to confusion as to whether Ah Tong viewed himself as an agent rather than just a sub-contractor, and the arrangement fell apart leaving a number of Chinese workers in the South Island without work. Nevertheless, Ah Tong continued with his new career as a labour agent, arranging work for Chinese labourers on drainage contracts as well.

In 1874 Ah Tong hit the headlines again, and once again for all the wrong reasons. He married 16 year old Jessie Baxter from Queenstown, but things didn't go as planned.
Some little excitement has been caused during the past week through certain scenes being enacted connected with the elopement of a Mrs Ah Tong, of Queenstown, — though elopement is hardly the proper term, as it does not appear that there is any second party to the flight — and to use a colonial term, I may just call it the skedaddling of Mrs Ah Tong from the protection and correction of her liege lord, Mr Ah Tong. From her own statement, it appears they have been married about four months, which have been spent in different hotels in the Province. She is a little over sixteen years of age, one of which has been spent in Otago; was not very comfortable in her situation, and a few presents of trinkets and fine dresses, and the prospect of a lady's life, induced her to enter the bonds of matrimony. Connubial bliss, however, did not long follow the union, their private room being principally the scene of the altercations.  
So after a severe scuffle on Friday night, she cleared out, making about eight miles before being overtaken by the coach when, at her request, the driver took her up and brought her here. Mr Ah Tong took the coach the same morning, giving up chase after four miles of it. On reaching Queenstown again, from information received, as the police say, he started in hot haste on horseback to overtake the fugitive. Arriving here about eight o'clock, the disconsolate swain commenced an unsuccessful search amongst the public houses. A reward of five pounds he offered to the man who would take him to the whereabouts of his dear lost wife. The bait took; the fugitive was sold, and the prize divided, one party giving the information and laying the plans, the other putting them into operation. The result was that Mr Ah Tong was driven out on Sunday night to Chatto Creek, to await the arrival of the morning coach, which contained the lost lady, whom they brought back triumphantly to Clyde.  
Though compelled to return, she all the while affirmed that she would no longer be subject to her lord. She was privately lodged in the house of her captor, but all the perseverance and ingenuity of Ah Tong was doomed to be baffled. He coaxed at one time and threatened at another; he invoked the aid of several of the matrons of the town to persuade her to return; the parson also was called in for the same purpose; but the lady was inexorable. The breach seemed to get wider; she hung his overcoat outside the house she stopped at, and when he called would shut herself in a room. "Jessie, my dear," he would say, "do come out; no one will harm you. Go down on your bended knees and say your prayers, and God will put a spirit in you, my dear."  
The spirit of resistance, however, was too strong to admit of the existence of any other, and Mr Ah Tong gave up the contest, and returned to Queenstown alone. The lady has since left for a situation.
(Cromwell Argus, 1 September 1874)

He spent most of the rest of the decade farming near Cromwell, but appears to have returned to Wellington, where he died in 1885. 

Ah Gee 

Another Chinese craftsman and business owner who headed to Wellington possibly via the Melbourne workshops was Ah Gee, who was born c.1844 in Canton province. The key to at least some of Ah Gee’s past, before he reached Wellington around 1867-1868, is a brief piece published in the Christchurch Star in May 1868, describing “a Chinese” in Wellington, “to whom was awarded a medal in the Melbourne Exhibition for wood carving,” who “rejoices in the euphonious appellation of Kem Wah Ah Gee … we understand this Chinese intends to settle here as a wood and ivory carver.” 

Kem Wah, according to Te Papa Museum, is a village name, and they’ve described it on their website as where Ah Gee came from. But …”Kem Wah Co”, aka “Kam Wah” and even spelled in one Australian newspaper as “Kau Wah” was also the name given to a Chinese business in Little Bourke Street, Melbourne, operating in the 1860s (and which probably morphed to general supply retail in the 1870s.) 

The Australian News For Home Readers, 20 March 1867, p. 12

“Kam Wah & Co” had a workshop at Little Bourke Street, and engaged in the production of ornamental wood carving for mantles, lintels, and other pieces in buildings where their European customers wanted what was heavily in fashion at the time, the exotic designs of the Chinese. They were visited and illustrated by a newspaper in 1867, and thus we have a glimpse into Ah Gee’s early working conditions there in Melbourne. Ah Gee and his crew designed ornamental boards from kauri and totara for a new joss house at Emerald Hill (now South Melbourne). This earned them an exhibition space in the Octagon at the Melbourne Exhibition of 1867, where the firm won a medal. 

Ah Gee may have started out as “Kam Wah Ah Gee” in Wellington in 1868, but by January 1869 he went by the name “Sam Wah”, setting himself up in a workshop on Manners Street. At that time, John Ah Tong was in Willis Street, and these two match a description in the Evening Post over 40 years later (1910): “At the time when Europeans began to live in Haining Street, there were only about two Chinese in Wellington. They had their abode in Manners-street … One of them, known as Ha Gee, was a clever carver …” 

As Sam Wah, Ah Gee began a pattern for his business he would use almost right to the end. He
carved items (sideboards, baskets, models, picture frames) and then raffled them off. He also invited people to see his work, initially for free, but later staging ticketed mini exhibitions. In March 1870, he diversified into general groceries at Manners Street, becoming one of the earliest such businesses in Wellington amongst the Chinese community. By June that year, he was popularly known as Ah Gee, although the Sam Wah business name remained in use in the press until around March 1871. He was naturalised as a British subject in New Zealand in July 1870. In 1871, he married Jane Melbourne, and they had at least three children: William Alfred (1883), Cecelia Ellen (1885), and Florence Ivy (1887).

Right: Wellington Independent 3 March 1870, p. 4(2)

In December 1871, Ah Gee was stabbed by Ah Fook, over an argument involving letters. He was badly injured in the lung, but recovered enough in the New Year to front up and testify in court. In April 1872 he shifted his business to Willis Street, but apparently lived in a cottage with his family in the Lower Hutt valley. His name appears in the first Wises Directory of 1872 as a carver at Willis Street. He continued producing his carved models, one of Wellington’s Queen’s Wharf attracting much attention at the time. This too was raffled off in 1873. 

Then, in 1875, he went bankrupt. He lost his business premises, but was discharged in 1876. In March 1877 he and his wife were on board the Falcon, making the 10 hour trip to Blenheim. In that year, a Blenheim builder named Elijah Bythell had married Victoria-born Jessie Melbourne. It has been assumed that she and Jane were related, possibly sisters, but no firm documented relationship has been found at this point. There was likely a connection, though – Ah Gee set up business alongside Bythell near Maxwell’s Bridge in Blenheim, and flourished. 

Once again, Ah Gee held raffles, staged small exhibitions of his work, and carved ornamental pieces, including gargoyles at a new school in the district. But he also diversified into work for churches, including fonts, and later in his career learned how to carve Oamaru stone and prepare headstones (first one a monument in Kumara cemetery). In 1881-1882, he took an exhibition of carved forest scenery around the upper South Island and to Wellington, to great acclaim, still citing the time he won the Melbourne medal in 1867 (but just not telling the public it was for something completely different, and adding a “Sydney medal” of which I have yet to track down the details). 

His workshop burned down in 1888. I don’t think this was a case of arson, as there were no ill feelings towards him in the Blenheim community (when he was in court charged with stealing a coat, those attesting to his honesty meant he walked free. He had merely inadvertently accepted stolen goods in lieu of payment).

"Chinese citzens' decorative triumphal arch, Manners Street, Wellington, erected for the 1901 visit of the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York," from Royalty in NZ, p 176. 
Ref: 1/2-C-010302-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/22690764

In 1895, he shifted to Greymouth, his daughters Ivy and Ellen earning excellence awards at the state school there, and remained until the Chinese Community in Wellington called him back to work on the Manners Street Chinese Arch for the visit in 1901 of the Duke & Duchess of Cornwall. He was at 58 Taranaki Street in December 1901, once again raffling off his work, and seems to have still been living in the capital as at 1910. He died sometime around 1914-1915. 

The gardens, and the rise of 
the Taranaki Street and Haining Street enclaves 

“Chinese Tea Garden. — No doubt everyone has heard of the clever gardening of the Chinese, of how they not only utilise every available and unavailable spot of ground, but also cultivate the very house-tops, besides having floating gardens on many of their rivers and lakes. People of Wellington who may not have had an opportunity of witnessing their painstaking industry in this direction will be soon able to do so, as a couple of our Celestial friends have taken a long lease of a piece of ground on the Ohiro road, opposite Mr Wright's farm, to form a tea-garden, we understand. Notwithstanding the rugged nature of the ground, every foot of it seems to have been carefully turned over, and a convenient device for irrigation has been made in the shape of an artificial pond in the centre of the ground. Since the advent of Mongolians in the Australian colonies, many of them have permanently settled themselves throughout the towns and country districts, and their efforts in manufacture, gardening or agriculture have always been ingenious and successful, and many a profitable hint might be taken from their operations in either of these industries.”
(Wellington Independent, 17 April 1869) 

Aside from the early attempts at light industry by the likes of John Ah Tong in the Wellington area, the main source of employment for Chinese either heading for the capital’s port straight from either China or Australia, or coming up from the goldfields of the South Island, were the markets gardens that began to appear from the late 1860s in the suburbs around the city such as Newtown, the Hutt Valley and eventually further afield in the Wairarapa, Manawatu and Whanganui districts. Still, the settlement of Chinese in Wellington was slow in the early years, with only 17 reported to the Chinese Immigration Committee as living there in 1871. 

It isn’t known at this stage whether the Chinese gardens followed the same pattern as those in Auckland at this time, namely, gardeners leasing land but having collective agreements as to supply of the produce with established merchants in the area, or if they simply hawked their produce by the cartload around the city, and used the Chinese-owned grocers shops along the likes of Taranaki Street as their outlets. There were complaints in the press in 1908 that the growers dealt only with fellow Chinese shopkeepers, refraining from using a public market. But certainly, they were supplying areas outside Wellington and district, such as Napier, by 1889. 

Taranaki Street was replaced by Haining (known as Tong Yan Gai, or Chinese People’s Street) and Frederick Streets as a Chinese residential enclave from the 1890s, these streets already having a reputation for vice and seedy, run-down accommodation previous to this period when it was known as the place where the European underclass lived. It was there, of course, that the murder of Joe Kum Yung by Lionel Terry took place in Haining Street, September 1905. 

The Wellington Anglican Chinese Mission 

"Chinese Anglican Mission bible study group inside Mary Ann Wong's residence, 4 Mortimer Terrace, Wellington. Shows young men seated around a table, reading. Photograph taken in 1923. Photographer unidentified." Ref: 1/2-168561-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/23205795

In response to what was perceived as a need in the Chinese community, the Wellington Anglican diocese began to seek a Chinese Missioner for the city from 1900. Ultimately, they were to have the services of the highly-regarded Daniel Wong from 1903, after Wong had spent some time in the city on a visit in 1900. 

Born in China c.1864, Daniel Wong arrived in Australia as a youth and was educated at the Anglican Christian Mission School in Melbourne. By 1891, he was a Chinese Mission speaker in Melbourne and by 1893 was at work for the Mission in Little Brighton, under the supervision of his uncle Cheok Hong Cheong of the Victorian Chinese Mission. 

The diocese at Nelson, covering the top part of the South Island, had sought the services of a Chinese Catechist for their area for a considerable number of years. Finally, Daniel Wong agreed to leave Melbourne and take up the position of Missioner at Greymouth on the West Coast in 1898. The news of his exceptional work there spread to Wellington, where he was invited to spend a month in 1900, encouraging the bands of mission workers already set up in the district. 

In February 1903, Wong shifted from Greymouth to Wellington, after marrying Mary Ann Gipp from Ballarat. The effect was almost immediate. In 1905, Wong was able to report very pleasing figures to the Wellington diocese. There were 49 to 56 Chinese regularly attending church services, 32 to 35 attending the church’s Sunday school and 21 to 30 attending Wednesday classes, involving dictation, reading and translation. Plans were in place for the erection of a Mission Hall in Frederick Street, with already £262 from the local Chinese community (£500 in total), plus £51 towards the general expenses of the Mission. There had been no baptisms among the Chinese, but Daniel Wong remained in hope that many of them would in the near future. Within a month of Wong’s report, Wellington merchant Dai Chum was reported as the first such baptism. The foundation stone for the Mission Hall was laid in December 1905. It would remain in use by the Mission until 1956. 

Daniel Wong died in March 1908.
“Mr. Wong's mission methods were simple. Any countryman wishing to learn the English language was welcomed to his night school, and there taught in the Chinese language, if an unlettered heathen, to read the Gospel stories; if an educated man in his country's lore, his training in the English he so wished to learn was carried on, the text books always being the Holy Gospels' excerpts. He charged them no fees, at which they wondered. When it was known in the haunts of Chinese vice around the mission hall that Wong, "the Jesus preacher," was dead, the dens were closed down and decorum and silence reigned around until the day of the funeral, when over 200 Celestials attended in St. Mark's Church at the religious rites, and afterwards followed the earthly tabernacle to its grave. 
“A few devoted friends are striving to keep the school and mission going on. Mr. Dai Chum, a convert, is keeping the religious services on, preaching and teaching in the Chinese language; Mrs. Wong is doing her work, visiting the sick and women and children, and directing and helping the willing workers in the school classes in the week-day evenings. The mission is in urgent need of a competent successor to Mr Wong; of money to pay the stipend and clear off the indebtedness on the building, and some arrangement might be mad to retain the services of Mrs Wong, who is so eminently suitable for this important work.” 

(Dominion, 2 May 1908) 

His wife Mary continued as an assistant missioner in Wellington for a number of years, and died in Hong Kong in 1934. Andrew Low arrived in Wellington in 1909 to succeed Daniel Wong, but left to live in Hastings in 1910. Mr F L Law took over the Mission in 1914, and remained 1921, when he and his family returned to China. He was succeeded by Rev EYP Lee from All Saints Church in Hong Kong, who was in turn succeeded by Mr Y F Leung in 1926. The next missioner from 1928 was Wong Tse Tong from China.

(Left) Northern Advocate, 25 June 1934, p. 8