Friday, August 5, 2022

The quite ordinary Mr Kontze of Tui Street


(Left) The Press (Christchurch) 2 May 1951

The news snippet at right caught my attention one day. Hard to miss a report of someone painting “SCAB” on what was otherwise quite likely a quiet, unassuming house in an Auckland suburb full of the working class.

George Frederick William Kontze had really only two brief periods in his otherwise ordinary life where the media focussed on him — this one from 2 May 1951, during the infamous 1951 Waterfront Dispute, and one pretty much around the same time, 27 years earlier.

Kontze was born in Fulham, London, England, in 1891, the son of German-born master baker Henry Kontze and Ada Charlotte née Dicks. In 1909, young George Kontze joined the Royal Navy and would serve at a number of shore establishments for 12 years, through to 1920. He married Gladys M Dye in 1918.

On leaving the navy, Kontze secured a job as an able seaman aboard the ship ss Waiwera by 1922, and it was on the Waiwera that Kontze reached New Zealand. Where he and an accomplice were caught pilfering from the ship’s cargo.

NZ Police Gazette, 1923
“Getting out of bed at 2.30 o'clock on Sunday morning, George Frederick Wm Kontze (31) and Henry William Standen (20), two seamen on the ss Waiwera, which was lying at the Queen's wharf, made their way to the hatchway of No 5 hold. They removed the hatch and descended into the hold with a lighted candle. From No. 5 they got through to No 4 hold, where they opened two cases containing women's woollen clothing. Three coats, two jackets, four robes, a roll of dress material, and six undergarments, valued at £14, were removed. “The seamen then reclosed the cases, nailed them up and replaced the iron bands. The goods which had been removed were then wrapped up in a bundle, and on the men regaining the deck the parcel was secreted in one of the ship's air-shafts. Detective-Sergeant Gourley found it there next day, when he searched the ship.

“On being interviewed the accused admitted the theft, and each made a statement. A plea of guilty was entered by Kontze and Standen when they appeared in the Police Court this morning. Mr J W Poynton, SM, said the Court could only look upon the offence as serious. They had admitted going into the hold among inflammable cargo with a naked light. They might have set the ship afire. A fine would not meet such a case. Each would be sent to Mount Eden for six months.”
(Auckland Star, 1 May 1923)

Kontze served his sentence — and then decided to stay in Auckland, obtaining work as a watersider.

His wife Gladys arrived via Wellington in November 1924, and by 1925 the couple were living in Bayfield Road, Herne Bay. In 1928 Kontze bought 32 Tui Street in Pt Chevalier, and made it his and Gladys’ home until her death in 1950, and his own in 1976.

Apart from the incident in 1951, it really can’t be said that Kontze had anything other than an ordinary life at Pt Chevalier. I asked online if anyone who lived in the area at the time remembered him, and no one had, even those who said they once lived right around the corner.

In 1949, he and Gladys travelled back to England for a trip, Kontze describing himself at that point as a carpenter. Then came Gladys’ death the following year, and a year after that, Kontze’s second brief spotlight on his life.

He was still working on the wharves in 1954 according to the electoral roll for that year. Strangely, there is a naturalisation file in his name in Archives NZ, dated 1957, even though he was born in London. It was around this time he had retired.

He and Gladys had no children of their own, so in his will, he left his assets to his brother William and a nephew, and a list of his worldly possessions, including carpentry tools, Kenwood chef foodmixer, Royal Doulton dinner and tea service, bedroom furniture, and his stamp collection. His ashes lie with Gladys’ at Waikumete, but with no plaque.

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