Monday, December 14, 2020

Samuel Duncan Parnell's unproven claim to fame


"The Eight Hour Day Committee", 1890, image by Winifred Gladys Rainbow. Really, the six signatories to the illuminated address presented to S D Parnell at the Labour Demonstration Day. Parnell died two months after this photo was taken. PAColl-2324, National Library.

This blog, since July 2013, has been linked with the Facebook page also called Timespanner, and vice versa. On 24 October this year, due to my misgivings regarding the veracity of the common and oft-repeated story regarding an early Wellington carpenter named Samuel Duncan Parnell and his connections with the established custom of the eight hour day in New Zealand, I did a post. 

Paul Corliss, author of a 2008 book published by the NZ Council of Trade Unions and Unions Canterbury entitled Samuel Parnell, A Legacy – The 8 Hour Day, Labour Day and Time Off, left a comment on the post’s thread: 

“I won't bore you with detail, but there is some supportive evidence for Parnell's ascendancy as claimant in the attached book [cover] (2008) ... if he was 'fibbing' he must have been pretty convincing as his 'preferential' treatment by thousands of supporters and among those leaders who were industrially/politically active must have been based on some history...”

When I pressed Corliss for the “supportive evidence”, he replied:

“You'll need to read the details in the book detail...which is why it took a book to outline it. Unfortunately Facebook sound-bites don't allow the sometimes necessary length.”
What that told me at the time was that Corliss seemed to be not prepared to discuss or have his evidence examined on Facebook. Bit of a shame, because that is exactly what happens on Timespanner FB. 

Okay, I’m happy to take a look at another point of view. So … I went to the trouble of getting a copy of his book from the library. 

Corliss’ book is A5 in size, and 81 pages long. It doesn’t set out to examine the S D Parnell story (most of the book talks about the “legacy” rather than Parnell himself), but instead spends time arguing against any other suggestions as to what happened at Petone in 1840, without actually bringing up an event that did take place there, and which was referred to by others during Parnell’s lifetime. This was after he began to make his own version of the story known publicly from 1877, and before his death in 1890. Not “after Parnell’s demise” as Corliss puts it. But, Corliss’ book was prepared before Papers Past and other online newspaper archives virtually exploded with additional sources and ease of access in the past ten years. Even my own Zoo War, from the same year as Corliss’ work, needs a much revised and added-to new edition. 

Parnell has become something of a “patron saint” to supporters of labour and union causes in this country, especially since the latter part of last century when his gravestone at Bolton St Cemetery was erected by the NZ Carpenters, Plasterers and Bricklayers Union in 1961 with wording reflecting Parnell’s status in their eyes. His story has become a favourite to relate with each and every Labour Day, assuring it of legend status. That S D Parnell, carpenter, had George Hunter, store keeper, agree to an eight hour day on Petone Beach in early 1840 is told to school children, repeated in television programmes, newspapers, magazines, and today, of course, the internet. “You have Samuel Parnell to thank for your Labour Day!!” 

To me, though, it is all just too pat. And for Parnell to be an “inaugurator” of a “movement” – well that movement seemed to go fairly slow, and in patches, in New Zealand. We didn’t seem to really wake up to how flimsy the by-then established “custom” of an eight hour working day was here, until workers across the Tasman started striking for it in the mid-1850s, and Auckland tradesmen realised that it really wasn’t a guaranteed thing. They knew it was customary in Wellington, and Otago had followed it, by a separate origin, from the time of their first colonial settlement. 

There are really two main things to look at, then. Question one: Did Parnell inaugurate the custom of the eight hour day in Wellington? And – Question two: How did his story, and no one else’s, get to be so popular? But also – what’s behind the idea of an eight hour day anyway? 

There are really a lot of conflicting theories as to why “eight hours” as opposed to any other number, but the even division of the 24-hour day plays a big part, and that points to the notion of evenly dividing up the day (work/rest/sleep) going back centuries. After all, an eight-hour sleep is still held to be the benchmark of a good night’s snooze, even though some sleep a bit more, others less, and some follow the old pattern of breaking sleep to do something then going back to bed. 

In the early 19th century, up to the late 1830s, the English newspapers referred to discussions on the eight hours of work in relation to child labour (many held that children below certain ages should not work longer than eight hours), the hours of work on slave plantations in the West Indies, and the hours for coal pit miners. One rather interesting example however, relevant to our history here in New Zealand, came from the testimony given to a Parliamentary Committee in 1838. 

John Flatt (1805-1900) was an Anglican Church Missionary Society catechist who worked in the Matamata and Tauranga areas for the CMS, and was one of those who assisted setting up the garden at The Elms in Tauranga. In 1838, he was asked by the Committee: “When you had made the agreement with the native servants to work for you, how many hours’ work did they perform in a day?” His answer: “They worked eight hours a day.” (Morning Advertiser [London] 24 October 1838 p. 1) 

So, the idea of eight hours work per day was definitely in the public mind. Work hours varied, though, up to 14 hours referred to for some occupations and age groups. 

So, on to question 1: Did Samuel Duncan Parnell inaugurate the custom of the eight hour day in Wellington? 

It is said that Parnell was born in 1810, somewhere in England. By the late 1830s, he found work as a carpenter in London. He married, on 6 September 1839, widow Mrs Mary Ann Canham, née Wellham. How old Mary was is not known – she may have been the same Mary Ann Wellham who had married Edward Martin Canham in Suffolk in 1824, which would mean she was around 10 years older than Parnell. As she died from heart disease in Wellington in March 1842, this may have been the case. 

The couple left London in 1839 aboard the Duke of Roxburgh, and arrived at Petone 8 February 1840. Already at Petone, having arrived on 31 January 1840 aboard the Oriental, was fellow carpenter/builder William Taylor and his wife. There would have been others there following the trade, but numbers aren’t known. 

Parnell’s earliest written statement about the events around the “inauguration” of the “movement” for the eight hour day in New Zealand dates from 21 February 1878, 38 years later, in a letter he sent to the NZ Times and published on that date. He claims that on “either in February or March” he established the system “by myself” when he got George Hunter to pay for eight hours work per day. 

Fast forward to 1885. At the time, repeated efforts were being made in Parliament, unsuccessfully, to have an Eight Hours Bill passed. Each time, it was all for nought. On 15 January 1885, the Evening Post published a letter written anonymously by “An Old Colonist”, which shed some more light on what happened on Petone Beach in the first half of 1840. 

“I will briefly state the way this system was introduced by the early settlers of Wellington. They met on Petone beach shortly after their arrival, and carried a resolution to the effect that eight hours should constitute a day's work in Wellington. I arrived here in June, 1841, found employment on my landing, and also to my surprise was informed that eight hours was a day's work, and it has been ever since. Many of the early colonists of this place went to Canterbury; therefore the movement in the same hours became the rule in that part of the colony. Neither Dunedin nor any other part of New Zealand has any claim to the honour achieved by the few colonists that assembled on Petone beach. Therefore I say, honour to those that honour is due to— and that is to Wellington only.”

A meeting? This doesn’t tee up with Parnell’s 1878 assertion that he had started things by himself. 

As it happens, yes – a meeting was advertised, set to take place at W Elsdon’s Commercial Inn and Tavern on Petone Beach in the evening of Thursday 21 May 1840, the notice in the newspaper addressed “To Carpenters and Joiners” and calling it “an important meeting.” 

Elsdon’s Inn burned down in December 1841, so it is not a well-remembered part of Wellington’s history. 

You may have wondered why I referred to one William Taylor earlier in this article. He was the one who arrived at Petone just over a week before Parnell. Well, it is because of this: 

“At the meeting of the Benevolent Society on Tuesday, the Secretary reported that one of the old men, named William Taylor, aged 80 years, who for some time past had been on the books of the Society, had died the previous day at the Hospital. He had been taken suddenly ill at the boarding-house, and Dr Henry, who kindly visited him two or three times, ordered his removal to the Hospital, where he died the day following. Mr Danks, in very feeling terms, alluded to the deceased, who had first initiated the eight hours movement in this city, whence it spread to other parts of the Colony, Australia, England, and the United States. He was sorry that it could not be made known to the trades in Australia that the originator of the eight hours movement was living on charity in Wellington. “And that he tried to pay for his support by picking oakum,’’ remarked Mr Wardell. “The Secretary stated that the deceased arrived here in the year 1840, and he, with a few others, initiated the eight hours movement at Petone.
“An old colonist, who arrived here in 1841, has kindly furnished us with the following particulars : —“The deceased, William Taylor, arrived herein the month of January, 1840, in the Oriental, one of four emigrant ships which left England the previous year for New Zealand. He was a builder by trade, and for some years carried on business—several of the first buildings in the city being erected by him—with the aid of any help which could be procured from other carpenters in those days. He was one of those present at a meeting held soon after his arrival, at which it was determined that from 8 a.m. till 5 p.m. should constitute a day’s work, and it has never been altered since. Therefore, from such humble beginnings the eight hours movement spread all over the colonies. “Taylor was somewhat of an erratic disposition. When his own trade got slack he took to coasting between Wellington and the Wairarapa, taking up supplies, and bringing back wool. He was rather improvident, generally acting on the maxim that ‘sufficient for the day was the evil thereof,’ which led to his being in indigent circumstances in his old age. Poor Taylor deserved a better fate.” (NZ Mail, 4 September 1885, p. 22) Bolding mine.

Someone was swift to inform the Evening Post, by the time of the following day’s issue, that no, it wasn’t the late Taylor who originated the movement, it was Parnell. (5 September 1885, p. 2) 

Two years later, Taylor’s story came right back up again, and in the Evening Post – except that things had become rather muddled. Now, the meeting was said to have taken place at “a house” in Pipitea about 1840 or 1841, where the “principle (of the eight hour day) was affirmed at a meeting of carpenters … when a motion for that purpose was proposed by Mr W M Taylor and seconded by Mr D S Parnell [sic]. Mr Joseph Palfrey presided over the gathering.” (Evening Post 24 September 1887, p. 2)  

Parnell wrote in, saying he’d never heard of any such meeting, he was living in Willis Street when it took place at Pipitea, and he reiterated that he and George Hunter started the movement, no one else. (Evening Post, 29 September 1887, p. 3) 

The thing is, though – at that point, Parnell had no eye witnesses still alive to corroborate his story, nor documentation. George Hunter himself, the other participant, died at Willis Street back in July 1843. (NZ Colonist and Port Nicholson Advertiser, 21 July 1843, p. 2) 

Clearly, William Taylor had told others about his part to play in getting the standard practice of eight hour work days set in place in Wellington before he died, and there are at least the facts that Taylor was there at the right time and at the right place, and that a meeting happened on Petone Beach just months after his and Parnell’s arrivals. 

Just as an aside -- it is surprising that members of the country’s labour movement don’t seem to want to take up the story of an early trade collective deciding among themselves to enforce the work standard upon the early settlement’s employers, rather than stick to the unproven story of a single man who kept maintaining he had done it “by myself.” 

Journalist, historian, politician and trade unionist John Thomas Paul in the Otago Daily Times (27 March 1937, p. 5) tried to tackle the tangled thicket that is the cold case of “Who was the inaugurator of the eight hour day in NZ, really?” Apart from him understandably not being aware at the time of the CMS example from the mid 1830s, he studied what was known of the contenders for the title at that point. 

He brought up an article published in 1909 in the Hutt and Petone Chronicle, claiming the honour for Edwin Ticehurst and William Taylor. (There’s that Taylor name again.) Ticehurst was said to have been the one to direct the building of Barrett’s Hotel on Lambton Quay, formed a Carpenter’s Association, then arranged a meeting “held in a hut built of Manuka, on the beach at Pipitea, just under where St Paul’s Cathedral now stands,” and there Taylor proposed the eight hour day, seconded by Ticehurst. But – Paul was unable to locate any contemporary report backing this up. Ticehurst flourished at Wellington around 1845-1846, which would mean that story would have taken place rather late on the timeline. 

Paul also cited the Cyclopedia of New Zealand volume for Wellington from 1897 which claimed that “The first Labour Conference took place in October, 1840, in front of German Brown’s [again, Barratt’s Hotel link] to decide whether a day’s work should be eight or ten hours.” It’s from the Cyclopedia that the additional bit often cited today as part of the stories of the eight hour movement came into being: “It was resolved that eight hours was to be a working day, and that anyone offending should be ducked in the harbour.” This, though, just adds to the feeling that, over time, the story has been embellished by story-tellers (including Parnell). Each re-telling leads us further and further away from what actually happened. 

Take this example, from the NZ Times, 22 January 1910, part of a set of articles highlighting Wellington’s history over the course of 70 years: 

“By the “Duke of Roxburgh” there arrived Mr S D Parnell, an initiator. Immediately on his arrival, he was employed by Mr Hunter, senior (of Willis and Co.), to superintend the erection of a large store. Parnell, beset by industrial problems in the Old Country, had nourished dreams of betterment, and here in the new colony he took the first opportunity to catch his dreams by the throat. He established an eight-hour day for his workers. It was an omen for the coming militant democracy. Wages were low enough—five shillings a day for skilled labour—but, thanks to Parnell, there were reasonable hours of work. The reasonableness of the innovation does not seem to have impressed Mr Hunter, senior. Eight hours’ work! Why, it meant that every man would have sixteen hours daily in which to go hotfoot to the devil! “Mr Parnell, you know the proper time in London was six in the morning, when the bell was rung, and any man not to his work at that hour lost a quarter of a day.” One can imagine Parnell’s smile as he quietly adhered to his system. Perhaps he foresaw the coming time when the workers on this soil would exact their most ingenious demands and definitely set out to own and coerce the blessed earth. And perhaps he didn’t. Anyhow, Parnell’s name stands among the pioneers high on the roll of honour. He was a revolutionist for righteousness’ sake, one of a few men in that day who held that Jack might possibly be worthy of the humane consideration from his master.”

 Parnell had become a “clerk of works,” probably the only way to figure out how he had initiated things “by himself.” We are now drifting even further away from the scene on the beach in 1840, which is becoming lost in the mists of exaggeration. 

Paul, like myself, just could not find any contemporary provable evidence to fully back up either the Parnell claim, or the other counter-claims. But a “meeting” does seem to be a common thread here, and we do at least have that one advertised meeting that was planned for a May evening in 1840 on the beach at the pub, to discuss something rather important to the settlement’s carpenters and joiners. 

So. Did Samuel Duncan Parnell inaugurate the movement in colonial Wellington? Without evidence, that would have to remain undetermined. Instead, there are indicators that the movement was given local recognition and strength due not to one man, but to a collective which met together (likely mid 1840), and decided on the practice as a group, and enforced it. 

Question two: How did his story, and no one else’s, get to be so popular? 

In 1844, Parnell shifted to Karori. He still described himself as a carpenter, and when he died in 1890, he left his tools, implements and carpenters workshop at Cambridge Terrace to an apprentice named Ovid Norgrove (details in probate file). He married again, to Sarah Sophia Brougar, in December 1851. At Karori up until 1870 he farmed sheep, up to 54 in his flock in the last year. He also took part in a 20 year (1850-1870) feud with a neighbour named James Spiers. Their conflict certainly helped keep the local court system in business, as they argued over dogs and fences. In the end, Parnell lost a case Spiers had brought accusing him of malicious prosecution (Spiers asked for £200 damages, and was granted £50 instead). Parnell finally sold his farm and livestock in September 1870, and shifted back into town. 

There was no word from Parnell up to that point, at least not in newspapers, about his part in the eight hours movement. The 1850s had come and gone, with the rise of industrial action in New South Wales and Victoria, along with meetings among the mechanics at Auckland (who were keen to emulate their Wellington brethren). Then, in July 1877, on Taranaki Street, the Wellington Workingmen’s Club opened. Parnell became a member (he exhibited some of his art at their shows in 1878). He donated bound volumes of the National Reformer to the Wellington Fire Brigade for their library three months after the Club opened – and the Evening Post introduced S D Parnell as “one of the early settlers, and who is stated to have instituted the eight-hours’ labour movement in the year 1840, in Petoni.” [sic] (20 October 1870, p. 2) 

A leading light at the Workingmen’s Club was Edward Player (1819-1904). In 1880, he became the club’s president. He wanted the club to “be looked up to by the whole of the working-men of the colony.” (Evening Post, 19 November 1880) In Parnell and his story, he had a great means of achieving that aim. An opportunity presented itself late in 1889 – preparations to celebrate the year 1890, jubilee of the colony, and a perfect time to institute a special celebration of New Zealand’s working class. 

His December letter to the Evening Post was the start of his campaign. 

Evening Post, 4 December 1889, p. 2

What we now know as Labour Day is a descendant of the “Eight Hour Demonstrations,” the earliest of which in this country appears to have been held in Dunedin on 21 April 1862. It was a small affair, a procession of 30 men of various trades, followed by a dinner at the Provincial Hotel (which attracted 140 people, compared with the numbers in the parade.) (Otago Daily Times, 22 April 1862, p. 4) The next was in Auckland, on 19 April 1882, a day declared a public holiday by Auckland’s Mayor, with the event itself held on the Auckland Domain. Over time during the 1880s, the demonstrations were held in various centres, and became rather blurred and connected with temperance movements, whether or not Federation with Australia was a good idea, and St Patricks Day festivities. In Auckland, it was at times tied to our Anniversary Day. 

In 1890, the Jubilee Year, it was decided at a meeting of the Maritime Council of New Zealand that a “Demonstration Day” would be held that year and every year from that point on 28 October, the anniversary of the date the Council was formed in 1889. (Evening Post, 10 May 1890) Up to this point, Wellington really hadn’t joined in all that much with the whole Eight Hour Demonstration thing before, judging by the previous years’ newspaper coverage, but now the local newspapers headlined the “Labour Demonstration Day” prominently. What extent Player had to do with the decision made to present Parnell with an illuminated address on the day, as well as feature the ailing man prominently in the main procession is anyone’s guess, but Player was certainly one of those who signed the address. (NZ Mail, 31 October 1890) 

Of those who signed: 
Edward Player arrived in Wellington in 1859 on the Alfred the Great, so was not contemporary with the 1840 events.
Charles F Worth, born around 1833, had also been in Wellington only from around 1860. Captain of the local fire brigade, and another member of the Workingmen’s Club. 
H W Potter, born in 1847, arrived in New Zealand in 1873, and only lived in Wellington in later years, working for the Evening Press
William McGill, born in 1844, monumental mason and a close friend of Parnell’s, arrived in New Zealand in the 1860s from working in the Australian goldrushes, but lived in Wellington only from 1889. 
D P Fisher was secretary of the Federated Trades and Labour Council. 
John Plimmer, the “Father of Wellington” was also not a witness to what really happened in 1840, arriving the following year in 1841. He might have been the closest to being some sort of verifiable witness to Parnell’s tale, seeing as Plimmer also worked in the building trades, but aside from his membership of the committee organising the preparation of the address and signing it, he doesn’t appear to have intersected much with Parnell’s path during the latter’s life. 

But this didn’t matter. The public had a name and a face to which they could associate a story from Early Wellington. There was no longer talk of any sort of collective meeting setting a standard which those in that trade followed from that point as a custom – it was Parnell, heading out to ships as they came in to tell the tradesmen what they should agree to. It was Parnell as a “clerk of works” with employees instructing building owners. (Actually, William Taylor had been the one who was in a partnership of three as a firm, during 1840 and up until January 1841, when he struck out on his own). George Hunter was now painted as stubborn and rather selfish Capital, facing off the “plucky” Parnell representing good Kiwi Labour. 

Parnell didn’t really have to be convincing – he came along with his version of events, of which he had probably quite convinced himself were correct, and those who listened didn’t really know any different. By the time 1890 came, his story was good enough to go with, and it had progressed, with and without embellishments, from then on. 

I still, after this examination of the story, find the Parnell version undetermined as far as veracity, and lacking proof. It is a personal and hearsay claim as to a part of history, nothing more. Perhaps one day, if more early Wellington newspapers join the collection at Papers Past, particularly anything as early as 1840 and 1841 (and at the moment, that period is sparsely covered), I can then re-examine the Parnell tale, and search for other pieces to the puzzle. What happened at that meeting in the Commercial Inn? Did it even take place, after it had been advertised? What was that important topic, for everyone in the trade to discuss? 

Until then, whenever I shall hear folks say that we somehow owe Labour Day to Samuel Duncan Parnell and his exploits on that beach, so distant now in time, I’ll just shrug. And wait for more information to come to light.

Thursday, December 10, 2020

John Bonfield O'Mealy -- losing a family in the gap

Researching a life, the further back you go, means there will always be gaps. Gaps in which something happened that changed that life, often for the worse, but exactly what is lost or when or why isn't known, or at least not readily available to discover. 

I first came across John Bonfield O’Mealy when I was researching and pulling together stuff on Te Wai Horotiu back in 2017. I found the colour version of his 1842 plan of Auckland town (image detail here, from National Library) and thought how well it showed the true early course of the stream, before the Ligar Canal was added to divert part of the water from below Wyndham Street. O’Mealy showed clearly that the stream didn’t flow down Queen Street really, it was more or less parallel to it. 

Then, while researching Maungawhau this year, I looked again at a scan of a very battered, ripped and incomplete map from December 1843 of the area of the maunga and its surrounds – and saw O’Mealy’s signature again. Sort of like an old friend popping back into view. 

John Bonfield O’Mealy was born somewhere in Ireland, around 1810. He was appointed as an assistant surveyor in April 1841 and arrived in Wellington with Charles Ligar and the rest of Ligar’s survey department, along with his wife Elizabeth, aboard the Antilla on 8 December 1841. This after the ship they had been on originally, the Prince Rupert, wrecked off the Cape of Good Hope. 

He and his wife had three children, all born in New Zealand, and they lived at “Glen Ligar”, somewhere near Official Bay, beside Charles Ligar and his family. The name of the O’Mealy family home, “Acacia Cottage,” may be just a coincidence with the Acacia Cottage later connected with Dr John L Campbell. O’Mealy’s cottage was on two acres, had five rooms, and a “three-roomed kitchen”. In 1850, the O’Mealys left Auckland, bound for San Francisco. 

They show up on an 1850 census at Trinity, California, a place of gold panning and wild dreams, where many Chinese worked hard as well to win riches from the ground. O’Mealy described himself then as a miner, so was apparently taking advantage of the gold rush fever of the time. There are traces of O’Mealy in America through to 1859, where in 1958 and 1859 he won prizes at state fairs for penmanship and topographical drawings. 

Then, he reappears in the Southern Hemisphere in 1863, his signature on a survey plan once again, this time for Dromana in Victoria, Australia. From this point, though, there is no mention of his family. He became a district surveyor by 1868 for the district of Inglewood, but by 1870 was heavily in debt. O’Mealy apparently did drink more than a fair bit, but in 1875 suddenly decided to quit and go absolutely tee-total. Later, some cast the opinion that he was “mad as a March Hatter” at times, and going stone dry suddenly didn’t help. 

One day in 1876, in a barn, he rigged up a razor on a piece of wood so it wouldn’t slip, had a large knife handy in case he needed that as a plan B, and slit his own throat. He died intestate, and his estate, what there was of it, went to his creditors after advertisements placed in the newspapers for a widow or other family led to no results. 

He wasn’t without friends, though. Four members of the community, two of them his fellow surveyors, carried his coffin to a Roman Catholic cemetery, and set to in digging his grave before a service there by the local Church of England minister. No one could say, at the inquest, if O’Mealy had been thinking of suicide before he did the deed or not. 

 But somewhere in the gap, both in time and across an ocean, he had parted ways for some reason with his family, and so died alone. He has, though, left behind something of a legacy for his time on the planet.

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

The "dilapidated baronet": Sir Charles Wentworth Burdett (1835-1892)


Fourteen days hard labour in Mt Eden Gaol in Auckland for the theft of some roses. Such was the sentence in 1888 for Sir Charles Burdett, Baronet. 

Sir Charles Wentworth Burdett, 7th Baronet of Burthwaite, was born 4 November 1835 in India. His father, also Sir Charles Wentworth Burdett, was an officer in the service of the East India Company, and died in 1848 when his son and heir was only 13. 

 The younger Sir Charles went in for a military career, rising to the rank of lieutenant in the 54th Foot, and arrived in New Zealand in the early 1860s. Here, he served as a captain in the Waikato Militia, and later in the armed constabulary for nearly 11 years, discharged in 1874. In 1864 he married Betsey Higginson in Onehunga, then Grace Grant in 1871. He and Grace had three children. His son Charles Grant Burdett succeeded him as 8th Baronet. His father-in-law Matthew Grant was described as a well-to-do Pakeha-Maori frontiersman. 

According to Australian sources at the time of his death, Sir Charles had a heated argument with the Minister of Defence, Thomas Russell in the 1860s, insulting the other man, and that this led to Sir Charles being cashiered, then rejoining the militia just as a private, followed by the armed constabulary. It might also have been linked with rumours that he was to be an aide to Governor Sir George Grey. According to the same sources, Sir Charles’ downward spiral was assisted by his “strong affection for the bottle … He soon sank [after his stint with the AC] to the level of cook in surveyors camps, and to even more menial employment.” (Queensland Times, 2 June 1892) 

According to the Otago Witness, “In the Australian colonies he had been known for many years as a veritable "Jack-of-all-trades." He picked up a precarious living by stripping bark from trees, cooking for bushmen, and doing odd jobs about squatters' stations.” (Otago Witness, 7 November 1889) 

Sir Charles ended up as an inmate at the Auxiliary Old Men’s Refuge in Auckland in 1886, aged just 51. In April that year, he wrote to the Hospital Committee applying for the job of manager of the refuge. The Committee members responded that if Sir Charles was capable of managing that institution, he was capable of making his own living, and therefore had no need to be in a refuge, living on charity. 

Then in November 1888, the “dilapidated Baronet” was charged with stealing two roses and other flowers from Albert Park. 

“For some time past the flowers and plants in the Albert Park have been systematically purloined, and the police having been on the watch for weeks to discover the perpetrators of such mean and contemptible thefts, yesterday Constable McCoy was coming down Victoria-street, when he encountered Sir Charles Burdett, who was carrying a handkerchief full of roses and other flowers. As the worthy baronet was known to the constable he accosted him, and asked him where he obtained them. He first of all replied at a place in Hobson-street, and afterwards changed the locality to the cemetery. The constable, as the outcome of their conversation, invited Sir Charles to accompany him to the police station. The custodian of the Park was communicated with, and it being seen that some of the roses in the Baronet's bundle were Duke of Wellington roses, the custodian looked over the bed where these had been planted. It was discovered that several of the roses had been plucked. Owing to the drizzling rain making the volcanic soil plastic, a footmark was noticed in the bed, and on taking one of the boots of Sir Charles to the spot, it was found to correspond with the footprint in the bed. He was accordingly locked up on a charge of larceny of the flowers.” (NZ Herald 8 November 1888) 

He was found guilty, and sentenced to 14 days hard labour at Mt Eden Gaol. 

He was admitted into the Costley Home at Epsom on a trial basis in 1890, but ended up staying there until his death two years later. He was buried at Purewa Cemetery, his burial registration giving his occupation as “gentleman”. His son, Sir Charles Grant Burdett, died in 1918, and was buried at Eltham. 

Friday, October 23, 2020

Two Chinese graves, somewhere on Motuihe


I came upon the story of the first burials on Motuihe Island by accident, while looking up something completely different in Papers Past last night.

Motuihe Island was apparently purchased from local iwi in 1837, then bought from Henry Taylor by William Brown and John Logan Campbell in 1843, according to a DOC heritage report from 2006 (the image is a detail from a larger photo in the same report, by Godfrey Boehnke). John Graham purchased in in 1858, and ran deer and poultry there. In 1868, he took out a mortgage from the Auckland Provincial Council -- later that year, he disappeared, believed drowned. His body was never recovered. 

In September 1871, a ship named the Joshua Bates arrived in Auckland, coming from Hong Kong with over 206 Chinese men as immigrants for the Otago goldfields. The ship was leaking, and needed provisions. Worse still, though, scurvy and dysentery had broken out, and three of the Chinese passengers had already died en voyage. There were reportedly two Chinese who were also doctors aboard. The local agents, Henderson & McFarlane, tried appealing to the provincial council to let the Chinese passengers land at Kohimarama while repairs and re-provisioning took place. This was declined -- but Motuihe was put forward instead. 

So the ship sailed for the island, and deposited her passengers there for six days. This was not a quarantine station then. That came to be from 1872. What buildings there would have been there would probably have been Graham's farmhouse and whatever shed or barns he may have built. It's likely, though, there was next to nothing there. 

Two of the Chinese died during this period of the Joshua Bates being at Auckland, and reports of the time in the newspapers indicate that they were buried somewhere on the island. Whether at the later cemetery connected with the quarantine station from 1874 is not known. 

After the six days, the Chinese boarded the ship Taranaki, which took them on to Dunedin. 

In 1872, this experience highlighted to the Provincial Council how useful Motuihe would be as a quarantine station, and so it entered the next phase of its history. Followed, of course, by being an internment camp during WWI, a quarantine camp once again, and its role in our military and defence history. But somewhere under the grass or the buildings of today's island probably lie two unknown, unmarked graves of men seeking their fortune and work, and finding only death, back in September 1871.

Saturday, September 19, 2020

A timeline history of the Kosy at Blockhouse Bay

The Kosy, Donovan Street, Blockhouse Bay, from Jan Grefstad collection, Auckland Libraries

From 1926 to 1973, Blockhouse bay had a hall/dance hall, and later cinema, on the site currently part of the carpark in front of Countdown Supermarket, off Donovan Street. Back in 2017, I gave a talk about it at the Blockhouse Bay Library. Here are the notes.

The northern half of Allotment 269, at the corner of Blockhouse Bay Road (Wynyard St) and Donovan Street, was one of three lots bought under Crown Grant in Whau South in September 1859 by Jerome Cadman, a builder living in Chapel Street (now Federal Street), then later Albert St, in the city. Cadman was also a warden at St Matthews Church, and later a member of the Auckland Provincial Council. After he died, the land was assigned to his widow, Ann, and then transferred to the legal firm of Dignan & Armstrong. Mrs Catherine Armstrong came to own the land outright from 1882. 

1885 (from NA 42/230, LINZ records)

 Ole (oo-luh) August Guttormsen was born in South Shields from a Norwegian family, at the mouth of the River Tyne in England. He worked as a house joiner in 1911, and his two sisters were music teachers.

Back in Blockhouse Bay, Arthur Decimus Sheffield, a farmer from Titirangi, owned the corner property (now including part of 295) from 1907. It looks like he retired to the Blockhouse Bay site, and had the house built on Blockhouse Bay Road where the Guttormsens later lived (today, this is about where the north-west corner of Countdown’s building is.) Sheffield’s father served with the East India Company.

The site was owned by Percy Fowler from 1919-1921 (who also seems to have used the house) , then retired farmer John Walker from 1921-1925.

Guttormsen came to New Zealand with his sisters Helga and Annie.

Avondale Borough Council reject Avondale South residents’ request for a public hall in their area. December Ole Guttormsen buys the Wynyard Road-Donovan St 1.25 acres section from retired farmer John Walker.

Annie and Helga advertise music lessons from their home on Wynyard Road, “Margate Villa”. Ole advertises a four room house, close to beach and bus.


Ole advertises wanting 50 Bentwood chairs and 40 forms with backs (must be cheap).

June 12 1926
Blockhouse Bay Hall opens, ceremony by HGR Mason, MP. Admission Gents 2/-, Ladies 1/6, Refreshments provided. It had a stage (described in a report from 1930), tables, and attached supper room. The hall was 30’ x 100’ in size. Later that month, Kalee projectors on display at Harringtons of Queen Street. A special notice for “showmen” to check out their Show Stand at the shop. Guttormsen advertises that both learners and advanced dancers welcome on his “excellent floor”.

Called the Blockhouse Bay Lecture Hall in one ad. May have had the projector installed at this point.

Referred to as Blockhouse Bay Picture Hall. Still mainly used for the weekly dances. Jan Grefstad wrote that Guttormsen was a projectionist, with his sister Annie selling tickets, and Helga playing the piano for accompaniment for the silent movies. He also thought that they held dances after the movies – but this is probably not correct. The advertisements do not mention movie shows at all while promoting the dances, and the hall seems to have been geared to the latter in the first years.

Reliant on the GOC buses leaving the city 7.30pm and 8pm, conveying dancers to BHB, then taking them back to the city from the hall at 11pm. Bus links with the city and with Avondale were important, as they were for many of the dance halls scattered around the isthmus. From late 1925 however, the BHB Hall faced direct competition from the Dixieland at Pt Chevalier (which remained until 1935), Waikowhai Hall from 1930 (buses leaving from Avondale Fire Station via Blockhouse Bay) then the El Rey Club at Hillsborough from 1934. There were dances held at church halls as well, such as St Judes in Avondale and St Thomas in New Lynn.

Jacob Kohala appeared to be the manager at BHB, 1927-1928. He started on the circuit in Auckland with a Hawaiian band, then switched to jazz, waltz and foxtrot. He moved on in 1928 to the Ponsonby Hall.

Avondale South Womens Club began holding their meetings in the hall (the club started in 1925), one of the members being one of the Guttormsen sisters.

The hall and supper room up for sale. Also “Cinema plant (Kalee Indomitable Projector Machine) patent screen, tip-up chairs.” It wouldn’t be until 1935 that Guttormsen sold his property, however.

Sir James Gunson used the hall for a political meeting. It would be so used through to the 1940s. Leo M Sayers now the manager. He advertised the “Seattle Snappy Six, Auckland’s Melody Sheiks,” who provided “the peppiest of dance music.” Prices were ladies 1s, gents 1/6. The bus to the dance came from the Mt Albert tram terminus now, and left the hall “after the dance.” “Get Out and Get Under the Moon.”

The Aloha Quartet, for “Monte Carlo and Spot Waltzing”, on “the perfect floor.” Monte Carlo and spot dancing was a method of gambling for prizes.

The Blue Bell Serenaders, and Jake’s Versatile Trio, with Sayers offering “balloons, streamers, competitions”.

The Melody Boys Jazz Orchestra June – A children’s fancy dress dance in aid of the St Saviours Church.

A benefit picture entertainment held in the hall in aid of victims of the Murchison Earthquake. First reported instance of the hall used as a cinema (although that was likely happening off and on from late 1926.)

Skip Whiting and his Merry Jesters Jazz Band (with 6 instrumentalists)

Grand orchestra, dancing from 8 to 12, with chocolates and cigarettes. Waikowhai Hall opens.

BHB hall under new management (possible A Miller), re-opened 24 January. Jazz Dances every Saturday night.

Gaiety Dance Band.

No advertisements until December, for New Years Eve. Hall used during the year for charity events.

No advertisements.

Old Time Dancing at BHB Hall. Monte Carlo, light supper, admission 6d.


At some point during winter that year, an unknown manager reorganised the hall to show talkies.
October – 20 October, reopening with “excellent talkie programme,” 8pm.

Sale of the site to Alfred Clarence Stanbridge, picture theatre proprietor, £600.

Showing “Grand Canary” at BHB, under new management. Start of regular small ads for movies. 230 seats.

Additions to the hall. At front, to the left of the entrance an office space. To the right, a lobby, and toilet space. Outside, a lean-to for an additional toilet.

After subdivision, the hall site bought by Douglas and Sadie Elizabeth Fleming for £1150. Formal transfer in July.

The hall is licensed by Council for public meetings.

Children’s fancy dress party at the Beverley Theatre. Named after one of their daughters. “There were wooden steps leading up to the front entrance and on the left side of the entrance was the small ticket office window where Mrs Fleming sold the tickets. Adults were 1/6 in the back stalls and 1/3 for the front stalls and 1/- for children in 1948. As well as tickets Mrs Fleming had a small range of confectionery to sell to the sweet toothed. There was no interior foyer and after you bought your ticket you went to the left or right of the entrance and you were in the cinema. The back few rows were raised about 18 inches so those people could see over the heads of the people in front of you. The ladies’ toilet was on the left-hand side of the cinema next to the ticket seller’s office and the men’s toilet was on the right hand side of the hall.

“To reach the projection booth, which was above the entrance on the roof, the projectionist had to take the reels of inflammable film up a small wooden ladder on the side of the Men’s cloakroom next to the toilet. There were even hooks for you to hang up your coat and hat. Inside the cramped space of the booth two ancient Kalee projectors provided the screen magic. In 1944 the light source came from lamps costing £6 for two. The projectionists wages was 17s per performance and he paid a tax of 4s for two screenings. Some of the projectionists who worked there in the 1940s were a Mr Roper who started there in May 1944 and stayed until June 1945. Then there was young Doug Harley who came from the St James in the City where he had learned his trade and stayed for a few months …

“For years Mr and Mrs Fleming used to travel from Three Kings where they lived to Blockhouse Bay by car to show the movies.” [Jan Grefstad, Auckland Cinemas Vol 2] The movies were held on Wednesday nights.

Thirty-nine seats @ 12/6 each obtained NZ Theatre Chair Co. September – newer seats purchased from His Majesty’s for £18. The front seats were said to be wooden ones salvaged from the tram fleet, but that remains unsubstantiated.

May 10 
Third birthday for the Beverley, free ice creams provided. The Beverley showed serials and newsreels, although likely the last on the circuit to receive these.

Attendances ranged from 69 people to over 200.

Council sends notice that no hand basins were installed in the ladies and men’s toilets, that a 8’ x 10’ addition to the side of the building in order to sell soft drinks had no building permit, and that the front six rows of seats, being loose and not fixed to the floor, were a hazard in the event of fire. Fleming responded that a rough lean-to had always existed on the eastern side, used to store timber and odd rows of seats, and he simply moved it closer to the kitchen. The City Engineer advised battening together the loose seats in groups of six. Fleming replied that he battened them together in groups of four. City Engineer not happy, he wrote back suggesting groups of eight.

Application by Fleming to Council for permit to reface the front of the hall, £300. This would have provided for a semi-circular front landing with steps and flower beds, and Spanish-style curved front with tiles. Seems to have been withdrawn.

Jan Grefstad thought the Flemings sold the cinema so that they could go on a trip to Europe and see the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II (June 1953).

Frederick Ofsoske of Hamilton buys theatre £2600 (including chattels)

Frederick Ofsoske in charge of the theatre (Council writing to him). 

Renamed Kosy Theatre. Managed by local Mrs Griffiths.

Formal transfer to Frederick Ofsoske

Application to Council to build three lock-up shops attached to the cinema.

Ofsoske applies for permit to extend the hall for larger screen, and increase capacity to 100 seats and this extension to include space for a TAB office at the rear. However, with no guarantees of long-term off-street parking, Council agreed only to the cinema extensions, not the TAB. The old stage was removed, old curtains removed, flowerpots at each end disposed of. The new screen was lit up instead of having curtains pulled back.

Cinemascope at the Kosy. The month the cinema officially reopened again, this time with more viewing days.

New owner, Blockhouse Bay Properties Ltd (Kenneth G McKerras, partner with P James Marquet). Application to Council for extension to the rear of the theatre in brick & concrete, increase seating by 84 (not Ofoske’s 100). “We are finding difficulty in seating all who wish to attend the better class of programme we are now screening. With one exception we have turned away from 20 to 40 people each Saturday night and in the case of a fortnight ago we had a full house on three sessions.” [Jan Grefstad] Application approved, without requirement for off-street parking. – Kosy Theatre Blockhouse Bay Ltd formed as a private company, with shareholders Ken McKerras, Peter Brandt (McKerras’ son-in-law), Jim and Yvonne Marquet.

Formal transfer to Blockhouse Bay Properties Ltd (£9850). Ofsoske died 1960.

April to May
Operating box extended and seating altered - £4000. The foyer was altered, with office, ticket booth and storeroom now facing the front entrance, and two entries to the hall proper with upward ramps leading to the stalls at front, then steps up and back towards the further seats up to just beneath the projection and power rooms. The existing projection room which jutted out the front was removed and the roof altered as the space was enclosed.

Via Avondale Advance. “At last the carpenters have gone and the painting completed in the offices and toilets. Unfortunately we do not have the Reserve Bank of New Zealand behind us and there are some further projects ahead when finance permits such as Electric curtains, new linoleum, front of house lighting and other items. However we are showing first rate films and sincerely trust that you will be well pleased with the titles we have selected. The Housewife’s sessions have started once again and taking the atrocious weather into consideration we have been having very good attendances especially as we show the films back to front, that is we screen the main feature first then the short subjects so that mothers may leave early if need be to meet children after school. These sessions never come out later than 2.30 pm. We are now running special programmes for the kiddies each Saturday and we always have one or more cartoons. You can be assured that your child is in good hands at the Kosy. We will not stand any nonsense from the children and we have over the last 12 months weeded out the troublemakers and have banned them from this cinema. These last remarks apply equally as well to the teenagers and by virtue of our smallness we can keep a sharp lookout for any louts who may try to get in undetected. Call in at any time, rest in the lounge whilst waiting for your bus, use our phone, it’s cheaper than the one along the road and generally make yourself at home in your home of entertainment, the KOSY!”

Marquet organised a bus trip for children that left the Kosy, visited the Aulsebrooks factory at Mt Roskill, then headed across the harbour bridge to Waiwera where they showed “Fury At Smuggler’s Rock” at the Waiwera Hall (film brought over from BHB on the bus). Then back to BHB by 5pm. Children at Kosy screenings were bribed to have the cleanest row, those there being allowed to stay back at the end of the session for an extra cartoon.

Cinema begins to show special fortnightly Sunday screenings, half proceeds going to Kelston School for the Deaf. Advertisement – prices 1/9 or ¾ “Why not reserve a seat tonight for a two-hour (or more) appointment with pleasurable entertainment provided by the leading motion picture producers of the world? “Our theatre chair will transport you to the four corners of the world in the breath-taking beauty of colourful Cinemascope; you will be thrilled to see the year’s best selling novels unfold before your very eyes; love and adventure films will enthrall you in their foreign settings, providing you, your family and friends with a few hours of very pleasant relaxation. “Special Saturday sessions for children, when only ‘G’ and ‘S’ certificate films are shown. Children’s parties specially catered for – ring up and discuss your next party booking.”

Council refuses to allow cinema screenings for the Dear School charity on each Sunday. The cinema then licensed only to show movies once a fortnight on Sundays. A deputation protested, stating that half the net proceeds from the Sunday screenings went to the Kelston School for the Deaf. The Council consulted the churches. Archbishop Liston was opposed to the idea. The Anglican Bishop’s representative said that the locals should be approached, and that the Anglicans had no objections to Sunday evening entertainment as they felt they couldn’t compel people to attend their services, and asked that the screenings not start until 8.15pm. Blockhouse Bay Baptist were opposed. They felt that Sunday nights should be for attending church, then a quiet night at home. The Avondale Ministers Association were also opposed. The Avondale Presbyterians were opposed, thinking it was purely for financial gain. Blockhouse Bay’s Iona Church were opposed, feeling that Sunday pictures for profit could threaten the upbuilding of Christian life and character. August – Council reverses their decision, allowing screenings each Sunday night.

Trying to attract customers with ads advertising “wall-to-wall cinemascope screen,” “specially selected programmes from the leading film studios of the world,” “no parking problems”, and “sick of TV?” Screenings were on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday matinee and evening. By now, the Sunday screenings had ceased, but Marquet held benefit evenings for the local Labour party, scouts, schools and ladies’ clubs.

Cinema now under Ray Melrose management, “New Associated Independent Cinemas,” Glenn Parker as manager. New projectors were installed, replacing Guttormsen’s Kalee projectors from back in 1926. However, this couldn’t help the cinema’s profitability.

18 May
Last movie: “Fantastic Voyage”, Stephen Boyd and Raquel Welch.

Transfer to Importers & Distributors Ltd.

End of the cinema 

Converted to a hire centre.

Transfer to Foodtown Supermarkets Ltd

Rented to Blockhouse Bay Hire Service Ltd, $18 per week.


Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Josiah C Firth, and the Mt Eden Rifle Range "rent"

Images: "Group portrait of sailors, marines, and other men in civilian clothes at the Mount Eden rifle range, with shooting targets visible in the distance (right)," 1890s-1900s, Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections 4-RIC210; "Half length copy portrait of Josiah Clifton Firth," 1888, Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections 34-130

Looking recently into the story of the Mt Eden rifle range (1872-1905), I came upon two conflicting bits of information. First, I had understood that the range was a nuisance to Josiah Clifton Firth, who had purchased John Ogilvie’s house on what is now Castle Drive in 1871 (although he’d leased it from 1868). [See red arrow on image]. Yet, right up to the early 1890s, he was one of its staunchest defenders against those of his neighbours campaigning in the newspapers and by petitions to Parliament to have it shut down. After successfully convincing the powers-that-be to leave the volunteers and their range alone in the mid 1880s, he received hearty cheers from the volunteers whenever he was spotted riding near the range.

Then, in 1892, he made a trip to Wellington, chatted with the Minister for Defence and other power brokers, and came away with a deal for the government to pay him “rent” for the next five years of £225 per annum, plus build a high wall between his house and the range because it was a “nuisance”. The nuisance bit I could understand, but the “rent” as the range wasn’t on his land at all seemed odd.

Firth’s back was put to the wall, however, when he went bankrupt in 1889. The noted mill owner, and founder of the Firth Estate in Matamata with its own tower, like the one he built in Auckland at his home, had built his empire on borrowed funds, and in the Long Depression of the late 19th century those he had borrowed from called in the debts. His business in Auckland was sold. Land everywhere was sold. The effects of the bankruptcy was felt even after his death in 1897, his widow Ann beginning the subdivision and sell-off of their vast Epsom estate and gardens through to her own death in the new century.

Then, he made that trip to Wellington, and secured a deal which no one in Auckland seemed to want to discuss in any detail, other than it was somehow “compensation,” or “rent”, linked with the rifle range and its continuation of use.Actually, according to Richard Seddon, answering a question in Parliament in 1892, it was money the Government felt they were forced to pay – or else Firth threatened to shut the rifle range down with a court injunction. At that point, the Government felt they were very much in a pressure situation between the volunteers who wanted to keep the range, and the neighbours at Epsom and Mt Eden who were sick and tired of cows being shot in the head, and bullets narrowly missing strollers walking up to the summit of Maungawhau. So, Firth received his more than £1000 “rent” from the government, paid judiciously to his wife, the government built a wall to protect his home (yes, just his), and that was that.

Eventually, it all shut down anyway when the Penrose range opened up in 1905. But I’m still amazed at this example of “pay up or else” – and that it worked.

Monday, August 24, 2020

The Glen Eden Strawberries and Cream scandal


(Left) Portrait of Christopher James Parr, former mayor of Auckland, and Reform Party candidate for Eden in the 1919 general elections, from Auckland Weekly News 30 October 1919, AWNS-19191030-39-9, Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections; (Right) Image by Domdomegg, from Wikipedia, Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International Licence.

Ah, that spring and summer wondrous treat – fresh strawberries with cream. A staple of pleasure gardens in and around Auckland since the 1860s, and a certain drawcard for the crowds, even now. Who would have thought that their presence in the early 1920s at a couple of advertised social functions at Glen Eden and Avondale would have resulted in a prominent politician of the day almost being hauled over the coals for illegal election practices? 

 The politician concerned was the Reform Party member the Hon. Christopher James Parr (1869-1941). At the time of the 1922 General Election, when he ran for the seat of Eden in Auckland (which included, then, Mt Albert, Avondale, and much of West Auckland) he was a minister holding the public health and education portfolios. Before the election campaign was over, eyebrows were raised and questions asked about events at Glen Eden on 25 November, and at Avondale on 30 November 1922. The Labour candidate for Eden, HG Rex Mason, had turned Parr's strawberry connection into political fodder at a rally meeting at Avondale: 

The candidate was also critical on the Minister's partiality for dispensing strawberries and cream to afternoon meetings of lady electors. The Minister, he said, objected to proportional representation on the ground of the greatly increased expense of the larger electorates. No wonder, in view of the horrifying prospect of having to supply strawberries and cream to the ladies of a large electorate. (Laughter and applause.)

(Auckland Star, 5 December 1922) 

In the eyes of Parr’s political opponents, the strawberries and cream amounted to the illegality of “treating”, the bribery of electors by the candidates in order to influence their vote. The practice of “treating” had been something of concern for Colonial administrations in New Zealand right from the 1850s. In 1855, the Auckland Provincial Council passed the Bribery and Treating Act: 

“that is to say giving or offering to give any money, or any liquor or refreshment, any article whatsoever to any Elector, or to any of his family or kindred, friends or dependants, with a view to influence his vote, or the holding out to him of any promise or expectation of profit, advancement, or enrichment to himself, or to any of his family or kindred, friends, or dependents in any shape in order to influence his vote, or making use of any threat to any Elector, or otherwise intimidating him in any manner with a view to influence his vote, the treating of any voter, or the supplying him with meat, drink, or lodging, horse or carriage hire, or conveyance whilst at such Election, or whilst engaged in coming to or going from such Election, the payment of any elector of any sum of money for acting in or joining in any procession during such Election or before or after the same, the keeping open or allowing to be kept open any public house, shop, booth, or tent, or place of entertainment of any kind, wherein liquor or refreshment of any kind be distributed or allowed at such place of entertainment of any kind, the giving of any dinner, supper, breakfast, or other entertainment at any place whatsoever, by any such Candidate to any Elector or number of Electors with a view to influence his or their votes … The commission of any of the above mentioned acts by any Candidate at any such Election, shall render such Candidate liable to a penalty of £100 …”
(Southern Cross, 23 January 1855) 

“Treating” at general elections was deemed an illegal electoral practice in 1858 by Parliament under the first Corrupt Practices Prevention Act and succeeding amendments. A candidate found guilty of paying, wholly or in part, for any meat, drink, or entertainment for electors on a polling day from 1858 risked being sued and paying a fine of £50 for each person taking suit against him, and being removed from the electoral roll. By 1881 the risk was a £400 fine, and exclusion from the electoral roll (and the right be elected) for five years. 

Just three years before the accusations against Parr, this legislation had been used in Stratford where Robert Masters (Liberal) was found, on petition from backers of John Bird Hine (Reform), to have broken the law during the 1919 general election by providing musical entertainment and a movie prior to one of his addresses. The election in that case had been judged void, but Masters easily won the replacement election. 

Within the statutory 28 day time limit after the 1922 election, John Pool of Mt Albert, backed by Labour Party interests, filed a petition in January 1923 “alleging corrupt or illegal practices” on Parr’s part. 

“And your petitioner says that:— (a) The said Christopher James Parr was, both by himself and by his agent, guilty of corrupt practices, in that on the 25th day of November 1922, at the Glen Eden Hall, within the said electorate, he did treat certain electors and provide the same with music and refreshments, to wit, strawberries and cream, for the purpose of influencing such electors to vote at the said election, and for that purpose did enter into a contract to pay for such strawberries and cream, and further, did engage and pay or contract to pay for a person to wash up and clean the necessary crockery used in providing such refreshment and entertainment, and further, did hire or contract to hire the Glen Eden Hall for this purpose of giving such refreshment and entertainment … 

And your petitioner says that:— (a) The said Christopher James Parr was, both by himself and by his agent, guilty of corrupt practices in that, on the 30th day of November, 1922, at the Avondale Hall, within the said electorate, he did treat certain electors and provide the same, with music and refreshments, to wit, strawberries and cream, for the purpose of influencing such electors to vote at the said election, and) for that purpose did enter Into a contract to pay for such strawberries and cream, and further, did engage and pay or contract to pay for a person to washup and clean the necessary crockery used in providing such refreshment and entertainment, and further, did hire or contract to hire the Avondale Hall for this purpose of giving such refreshment and entertainment. The said Christopher James Parr was, both by himself and by his agent, guilty of a corrupt practice, in that he gave valuable consideration, or agreed to give valuable consideration for the purpose of entertaining and treating certain electors as more particularly set out … hereof. And alternately your petitioner alleges that the facts as set out … hereof amount to an illegal practice. Therefore your petitioner prays that it may be determined that the said Christopher James Parr was not duly elected or returned, and that the election was void." 
 (Auckland Star 10 January 1923) 

By the time of the judicial enquiry (which started on 26 February 1923) the charge involving the Avondale meeting had been withdrawn, Pool claiming he now had no personal knowledge of what took place there, so the focus was now solely on Glen Eden. According to Pool’s counsel, Arthur Gilbert Quartley, Parr had advertised five weeks before the 1922 poll, on 3rd November, calling on all prepared to assist him in his candidature to meet in the Glen Eden district. Forty people attended the meeting, including William Henry Shepherd (orchardist who lived on Levy’s Road, Glen Eden), who became chairman of Parr’s election committee, and William Percival Levy (land agent and seed grower, Glen Eden), who became secretary. (Shepherd was at the time a leading light in the campaign to have Glen Eden break away from the Waitemata County Council.) 

Pool claimed that at a committee meeting on 18 November, Levy explained that if the women would provide afternoon tea Levy and Shepherd would provide strawberries and cream, and this they would do by obtaining them from three local suppliers. Invitations were issued, and the strawberries were ordered. The afternoon gathering at the Glen Eden Hall took place according to plan, apparently described by Parr later as just a social occasion, and not political in intent – a “conversazione” in effect, although as such events are usually defined as “a scholarly social gathering held for discussion of literature and the arts”, that seems a bit of a stretch. Shepherd introduced Parr as an election candidate, who proceeded to give a “general talk” of interest to women. After an address by Parr, afternoon tea was ordered, and those who wanted strawberries and cream partook of them. 

When challenged about the strawberries later at the main rally in the evening at the hall, Parr denied that they were paid for by him. Pool’s counsel contended that he had information that the strawberry suppliers had difficulty being paid for the fruit, Levy and Shepherd telling the suppliers they had to submit a single account, there would be no receipt, and they were to say that the strawberries were a gift. The suppliers were directed to send their bills to Mrs Erickson, the secretary of the ladies committee. Pool’s counsel contended that the treating took place in Parr’s presence, but admitted that possibly Parr may have had no prior knowledge that it was going to happen. 

Nina Routley, wife of Glen Eden grocer Abraham Routley, said: 

“she did not understand she was on Mr. Parr's political committee. She was present at the meeting when Mr Shepherd told the ladies that if they would take over the arrangements for the conversazione the gentlemen would retire. He suggested the provision of strawberries as it was the first season the fruit had been grown locally. It was naturally thought that the ladies would be paying the expenses. “Replying to Mr. Skerrett, witness said Mrs. Parr was very popular and the ladies discussed the question of holding a social in her honour. When they were discussing the details there was a difference of opinion as to the strawberries. There was no idea that Mr Parr should pay anything towards the expenses. It would have been an insult to invite Mrs Parr and then ask them to pay. Since the election the ladies had subscribed and paid for the strawberries.” 
(Auckland Star, 27 February 1923) 

Parr’s defence team argued against the ladies’ social being political or having any effect on the election.  
“We submit this was not for political purposes. We submit strongly the evidence will show it was not for that purpose at all. Was it suggested that the ladies were so glutted and so filled to repletion that they forgot all about the intellectual Mr. Mason and Mr. Morton, and thought only of the corrupt Mr Parr, and that they remained in that paralytic condition for twelve days?”
(Auckland Star 27 February 1923) 

In the end, Pool’s petition was dismissed. The justices found that Parr and his wife were ignorant of the intention of the women’s meeting took the form that it had until they’d arrived at the hall, and that there would be any kind of “entertainment” involved (the strawberries and cream). Parr had not been called upon to pay for any part of the function. Had it been “a lavish supply of tea and cakes” that might have warranted an inference of corruption, but the arrangements that afternoon had been quite modest. 

But, in any case, the justices went on:
“ ... to tender socials to a candidate, at which entertainment was provided, was an unwise act, because it was calculated, as instanced by the present case, to render those concerned in it, as well as an innocent candidate, subject to suspicion and litigation.” 
(Auckland Star, 5 March 1923) 

Surely a disappointing, not to mention court-cost expensive, time for those who must have been certain that they had smelled Parr's political blood in the water. Instead, all they got was simply the fragrant scent of Glen Eden strawberries ...

Friday, August 21, 2020

The Cardwell Street Murder, New Lynn, 1928

(left) 1st Viscount Cardwell, and (right) detail from 1865 map of New Lynn, 
NZ Map 4498-5, Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections

In a period where Aucklanders increasingly felt the effects of the recession of the late 1920s, one which gave a taste of what the coming Great Depression would be like just two years later, a woman in West Auckland lost her life in a brutal fashion, and a street’s name became so infamous that petitions were organised to change it forever. 

The street was once Cardwell Street in New Lynn, originating from the 1865 subdivision of the north-eastern portion of Allotment 257, likely named in honour of Edward Cardwell, 1st Viscount Cardwell, Secretary of State for the Colonies 1864-1866. Into the 20th century, it was part of the residential area of New Lynn which, from the post World War II period would be dramatically transformed into the more familiar commercial and light industrial area we know today.

The woman who was murdered in this ordinary New Lynn neighbourhood was Ernestina Mary Norgrove née Henderson who was born in what was then known as Waitakere South, 28 October 1888, the second eldest child of six, to William Thomas Maddocks Henderson and his wife Ernestina Mary née Bock. Her father William was born in Aberdeen, 18 April 1864. His father in turn was also named William Thomas Maddocks Henderson, a master hatter who married the likely pregnant Agnes Bruce in Aberdeen, Scotland, in August 1863. Ernestina Mary Bock was born in New South Wales in 1867, daughter to William and Mary Bock. She married William Henderson 18 April 1885 in Auckland. 

Young Ernestina wasn’t even five years old when disaster struck the family on Friday 4 August 1893. Her father William, employed as a carter by an Onehunga shipping agent named Cunningham, was driving a heavy two-horse dray from Onehunga to Auckland via Parnell. For some reason, he was standing on the shaft of the dray. A wheel hit a rut in the road, and Henderson slipped off, falling to the ground. The dray’s wheel passed over him, crushing his ribs, which in turn punctured his lungs. He coughed blood all the way to the hospital, and died in the early hours of 5 August. 

The family had only recently shifted from where they had lived near Wasby’s Bush in the Waitakeres (near Nihotupu) into the city, living in Airedale Street at the time of the accident. William and Ernestina had five children at that point, the youngest fourteen months old, with Ernestina pregnant with number six; Annie Murdoch Henderson arrived into the world on the night of 5 August, the day her father died. The NZ Herald and Auckland Star both started fundraising subscription campaigns for the family. Goods were donated by grocers. Others gave clothing, as well as money. A special benefit concert was held on Sunday 13 August 1893 in the City Hall by the Suburban Popular Concert Company, under the auspices of the Mayor of Auckland William Crowther, as a fundraiser for the Hendersons. 

The family nearly had to split up. The Charitable Aid Board did consider the admission of four of the children, including the four-year-old Ernestina, into the Orphan Home in order for them to receive rations, but decided that Mrs Henderson and her children didn’t need the assistance, so the application was declined. 

Salvation though came from another source, when Ernestina Henderson married Terence Henderson (no relation to her late husband) on 9 February 1895. Terence was a labourer at the Chelsea Sugar Works near Birkenhead, and that’s where the family moved to. The youngest, Arthur (making the number of children seven), was born later that year. 

Into the new century, at some point the young 20 year old Ernestina met up with 23-year-old Clarence Norgrove, member of a well-known family involved with the butcher trade. She married him on 8 September 1909, just before she turned 21. In 1911 the couple were living at 20 Trinity Street, Herne Bay. Clarence likely worked for his uncle Charles, who had started his own business in 1896, first at Three Lamps in Ponsonby, before shifting to Richmond Road, Grey Lynn by 1907. In 1909, Charles Norgrove was established enough to run for political office, and stood for a seat on the Grey Lynn Borough Council that year. He won, and would remain on the Borough Council until 1913. He was made a Justice of the Peace in 1907, and retired from business in 1911. 

By 1914, Clarence Norgrove had found another job, working in New Lynn at the Binsted abattoir near the Whau Creek, today the site of Ken Maunder Park. Clarence and Ernestina relocated to Binsted’s Road. By that stage, the couple had had two children. Two years later, a fire at the slaughterhouse probably curtailed operations there, and Clarence found other work later, as a commercial driver, an echo of the occupation followed by Ernestina’s father. Three children more would be born during the family’s residence at New Lynn, with a move to Ward Street, the youngest born around 1924. 

Then, on 26 February 1925, Clarence died from pneumonia. He was only 38 years old. For the second time in her life, Ernestina was in a family cast into uncertainty and financial insecurity due to the death of the breadwinner – but this time, the risk was to her own welfare and that of her children. 

3 Cardwell Street, New Lynn. NZ Herald, 8 March 1928.

By 1928, Ernestina was living at 3 Cardwell Street, New Lynn, with her daughter Mavis aged 18 and son David William, aged 12. The younger three children were living in the Manurewa orphans home – unlike her mother, Ernestina had not been able to keep the family together, in the face of the recession. 

On 7 March that year, Ernestina Mary Norgrove was murdered. 

Articles of clothing checked later at the pathological department at Auckland Hospital were all stained with blood: a ladies dress, a man’s silk handkerchief, shirt, collar and tie. As well as a flat iron. 

Tranby House flat irons, 1800s. Photo by Gnangarra, via Wikipedia 

The 7th of March was to have been young Mavis’ wedding day. That morning at 6.30, Ernestina Norgrove left her house at 3 Cardwell Street, and headed across the road to No. 2, the Pirrit residence, where she did the washing for Mrs Frances May Pirrit. To help make ends meet, Ernestina did tasks like laundry for others. The night before, a pretty cinnamon-coloured dress had arrived at the Pirrits for Ernestina – while she was at their house, she pressed it. Mrs Pirritt left her house to travel to town at 10.30, and that was the last time she saw her neighbour alive. Mrs Pirrit saw the dress again, now blood-stained, once more at the inquest. 

According to Mavis, her mother headed into their house briefly to pick up some shoes and underclothing, before heading back to the Pirrits' to have a bath and put on the dress. Mavis headed off to have lunch with David at 11am, across the road at No. 3. 

While Mavis and David were there, Alan Norgrove turned up, demanding to know where Mavis and her husband-to-be were going to live, then demanding to know where Ernestina was. He told Mavis that her mother would not be going with them to the registry office. When Mavis protested that her mother had to go to the registry office, Norgrove then stated that he would come along, then bring Ernestina straight back home. After discussion around the wedding reception planned that evening at St Thomas’ Hall, where Norgrove apparently claimed Ernestina had deceived him, he then told Mavis to “get the hell out of it,” and she and David left the house. 

Olive White, another neighbour who lived at 1 Cardwell Street, watched Ernestina walk across the street just before noon, wearing the cinnamon-coloured dress, and carrying a pink hat. After Ernestina had gone back inside her house at 3 Cardwell Street, Mrs White heard raised voices. A window opened, and Mrs White saw Ernestina crying, then grasping the window ledge, as if she was trying to jump out and leave the house. Then Ernestina looked up, saw Mrs White watching, and let go of the ledge, backing away from the window and putting a hand up to her forehead. She said “I will,” twice, and from behind her saw Alan George Norgrove come into view. He said, “Well, I am going too.” Mrs White looked away – when she looked back, the window was closed. 

The next noise Mrs White heard was “a noise as if a chair was being pushed on the floor.” Then there came six “bumps” in succession, like muffled thuds. Some 15 to 20 minutes later, Mrs White saw Alan Norgrove leave the house, his hands in his trouser pockets, walking between No. 1 and No, 3 towards the road. 

Alan George Norgrove was 13 years younger than his brother Clarence, born in 1900, and lived at 13 Sussex Street, Grey Lynn with his father David and mother Martha. Like others in his family, he worked as a butcher at the time. From soon after Clarence’s death, he was a regular visitor at Ernestina’s home almost every weekend, and did share her bed. The couple’s relationship, though, was one blighted by domestic violence. Francis William George Postlewaight, who had known Clarence Norgrove, described at the inquest how one time Ernestina’s son David had fled the house, heading to where Postlewaight lived in nearby Binsted Road. 

When Postlewaight went over to investigate, he found Mavis hanging out of her bedroom window, and heard sounds “like someone was getting a hiding.” Ernestina was getting off the floor of another room, while Alan Norgrove “was trying to bash the door in to get to where Mavis was.” According to Mavis, the fight had started over Norgrove’s drunken demands that Ernestina return to town. When she said she couldn’t, she hadn’t the money, Norgrove punched her in the face, knocking her to the floor. He then pulled her up again, and punched her again, breaking her teeth. 

Postlewaight went round to the back, David in tow. Norgrove came out, and said to David, “I will kill you, you bastard.” He seemed intent on getting to David, but Postlewaight stopped him, asking what was going on, and telling him “not to fill the neighbours’ mouths.” Norgrove turned and asked Ernestina whether she was “his woman.” According to Postlewaight, she seemed disinclined to answer. 

Another quarrel, according to Mavis, had started over the wording Ernestina had penned for the memoriam she had sent to the Auckland Star for the third anniversary of Clarence’s death. It read: 

It isn’t known whether Ernestina would have seen the murder weapon, a flat iron, coming towards her face. There was a wound found on her right hand, two inches long, with an incised cut an inch long in the middle. On her face was a wound measuring three inches, from an inch above her right eyebrow, diagonally across to her left cheek. The wound gaped, so Dr Norman Douglas Watson Murray told the coroner’s inquest on examining her body. Shattered bone could be seen. The skull over the eyes was fractured, as was the right cheek bone. Blood issued from her right ear, which was bruised. Another large wound behind the ear measured 3 inches by 3½ inches. This wound had happened so violently, bone was missing due to being pushed into the brain. There was a star-shaped wound on the top of the skull, and another at the base of the head. Four distinct blows had led to fracture of the skull, laceration of the brain, and Ernestina’s death. Ernestina appears to have fallen against a chest of drawers – a corner had broken off, and was later found in a pool of blood. 

The flat iron, according to Mavis, was kept in the bathroom. Alan Norgrove, enraged that Ernestina had plans that day that did not include him, that Mavis was marrying Robert Firth with whom he’d already had arguments, seems to have gone into the bathroom, picked up the flat iron, then followed Ernestina into the bedroom, where he struck her and killed her. Then, in the quiet aftermath, he straightened the cinnamon-coloured dress she wore, and set the pink hat down neatly beside her, before heading to the living room, dropping the bloodied flat iron on a settee. Then, with front door locked and blinds drawn down, he made sure the back door was locked as he left, and walked away. 

Norgrove travelled by bus to Ponsonby where, around 12.45 pm, he went to the Ponsonby Police Station, and gave himself up, telling the officers there he had killed a woman in New Lynn with a flat iron, and produced the key to the back door. He was described as being sober and rational, but agitated, as he gave a statement which was typed out, and he then signed. While Norgrove was giving his statement at Ponsonby, Constable Jeremiah Horan from Avondale turned up at the house in Cardwell Street at 12.55pm, after receiving a call from the Detective Office, that had been informed by Ponsonby station. He broke in by smashing a pane of glass at the front door. 

Mavis and Robert George Firth married the following day. Given what had happened, she said later, she wanted to have the comfort of her husband during the time of grief. 

1928 Police Gazette

At the Supreme Court trial which began 14 May 1928, Alan Norgrove pleaded not guilty to the charge of wilful murder. His defence was that he was insane at the time he killed Ernestina Norgrove. His counsel told the court that his client had been “abnormal from his infancy … a child of melancholy and moody disposition, subject to occasional outbursts of violent and uncontrollable temper.” He had to leave work a year before. Several members of his family, the counsel went on, had been inmates of mental hospitals, and one still was an inmate. 

Dr Robert Martin Beattie, formerly in charge of the Auckland Mental Hospital, felt that Alan Norgrove wasn’t “normal,” and suffered from “mental instability”, especially over the course of the previous three years. Beattie contended that, while Norgrove knew what he was doing when he picked up the flat iron, through “dementia precos” (a now obsolete term for schizophrenia) he wasn’t aware of what he was doing when he hit Ernestina and kept hitting her head with the iron. Dr. Henry Mallock Prins who was superintendent of the Auckland Mental Hospital at the time of the trial, however, disagreed with Beattie’s diagnosis, and said that Norgrove was quite capable of knowing what he was doing when he struck Ernestina with the flatiron. It was revealed during Prins’ statements in court that Ernestina herself had once been an inmate in a mental hospital. Dr Henry Douglas Hayes of Porirua Mental Hospital and Dr Tom William James Childs from Tokonui Mental Hospital both agreed with Dr Prins. 

His brother David claimed that he’d had to carry Alan Norgrove to school for three years because of “nervousness”. He said that his brother had “strained his heart” twice, so had to leave work. It was revealed, however, that in 1924 Alan Norgrove had lost his temper in a billiard room, smashed a pane of glass, and was convicted and fined £3. 

On 15 May 1928, Alan George Norgrove was found guilty, and sentenced to hang. In summing up, the judge pointed out that it was clearly a case of a murder which was at the culmination of a quarrel, rather than an act of momentary insanity. However, after strenuous representations made to Prime Minister Gordon Coates – in that year, seeking re-election – Norgrove’s sentence was commuted to “imprisonment with hard labour for the term of his natural life.” In this way, Coates seems to have wanted to appease both families, with Ernestina’s own family campaigning for the death sentence to have remained in force. 

As it turned out, “term of his natural life” proved to be either rather shorter than some probably imagined, or with a different definition. Norgrove was out of prison by 1941, after just 12 years at most, featuring on an Army ballot that year, once again living at 13 Sussex Street. By 1949 he was living in Mangere as a laundryman, got married in 1956, and died 11 December 1990 at the age of 90, having outlived at least four of Ernestina’s orphaned children. 

NZ Truth, 19 July 1928

In July 1928, Ernestina’s brother-in-law Edward Buchanan received a phone call from David Norgrove demanding that Ernestina be exhumed and removed from beside his brother Clarence Norgrove’s grave at Waikumete Cemetery. According to Buchanan, himself a monumental mason, Ernestina had been trying desperately to save up enough money to buy the plot and pay for a headstone. But, it turned out, Clarence’s plot had been purchased by the Norgroves in the intervening years between his death and hers, and so they now demanded that her body be removed. By August, after some hue and cry by the NZ Truth who broke the story, the demand was withdrawn by the Norgroves. But today, Clarence and Ernestina’s last resting place there at Waikumete remains unmarked by a memorial headstone. 

Auckland Star, 2 November 1929

The name Cardwell Street, by the end of the Norgrove trial, had become notorious. After a man named Edward Ryan tried poisoning himself there in 1929, the residents petitioned New Lynn Borough for a change of street name. And so, Veronica Street, named after a variety of tree, came into being. Today, the site where Ernestina met her untimely and brutal demise is just north-east of Great North Road, and very much obliterated by commercial land use, as with much of the old New Lynn these days. 

Auckland Star 7 March 1930

Fading memories of the Cardwell Street murder, and an unmarked burial plot at Waikumete Cemetery, are all that remains of a point where lives collided so fatally.

Photo courtesy Ruth and John Snashall, February 2020