Wednesday, May 31, 2023

Albert Graven and his Avondale Central Service Station

Detail from JTD-24A-03278-2, December 1967, J T Diamond, Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections

Published in the June 2023 issue of The Avondale Historical Journal as "The Golden Investor: Albert Graven."

Avondale is a place where people tell stories, stories which I’ve always called the Avondale Lore. Some of them true, some of them probably fanciful (the one where dentist Cecil Herdson from the 1920s and 1930s gave his beloved hunting dog a set of gold teeth is a doozy), and some with hints of the truth mixed in with speculation. The stories hang around for a bit, told and re-told by the generation who were once youngsters going to Avondale Primary School before World War II, then as memories fade and the story tellers pass on, the tales slowly vanish. 

Back in 2001, chatting with those same folks around tables in dining rooms and over cups of coffee in cafes across Auckland, I heard the last whispers of some of the tales before they faded out into time. One topic of those stories was Albert Graven. 

Some said that he got his riches from winning the Irish Sweepstakes, and thus paid for the landmark Central Service Station that stood for five decades at the junction of Wingate Street and Great North Road. Some said that, later on, he committed suicide. And, according to the late Ernie Croft whom I visited and interviewed back in 2001, Albert Graven’s original name was Albert Grubnitz (Ernie wondered if that was perhaps changed due to WWI anti-German feeling). He’s appeared in references at least twice before now in the Avondale Historical Journal, and of course in Heart of the Whau from 2003, to the extent that I had access to information on him up to that point. 

While working on an index for the Journal (still in progress) I decided to take another look at the Albert Graven legends. So now I know a lot more about him than I did. 

According to family history sources, his birth name was Albert Heinrich Knowles Von Graevenitz, born in Paeroa in 1897 to Albert Frederick Ludwig Von Graevenitz, and Millicent née Atherton. The story has to start further back, though. Back to 27 years before Albert Graven’s birth, to 25 May 1870 when Von Graevenitz snr, then 20 years old from Dortmund in western Prussia, deserted from a ship that had sailed from Bremen to New York City. In America, Von Graevenitz slipped into the background, until resurfacing in October 1874, charged before the Auckland Police Court for assaulting the infant child of a woman he lived with, Susannah Wilkinson, née Craib. 

Married to Richard Wilkinson in the Bay of Islands in 1860, Susannah left her husband to live in Auckland with Von Graevenitz. For his part, Von Graevenitz was said to have been in employment (as a seaman aboard a whaler), but spent a lot of his wages on drink. It appears that, in return for Richard Wilkinson’s hospitality to him in Northland, he’d said that as he had a considerable sum of money coming to him in Auckland, he offered to take Susannah and her father to the city with him for a bit of a trip. It ended up being more than that. 

Von Graevenitz served two months in Mt Eden Gaol with hard labour. Soon after he returned to Susannah and her father in the Chancery slums, the young baby died. He wasn’t blamed however, as the child had been ailing for some time and had simply died from natural causes. No inquest was held. I couldn’t find the death registration for that child, but another, Amelia Wilkinson, died in 1878 at the age of 5 months. 

By then Von Graevenitz had altered his identity, now calling himself Francis Rappart (Von Rappard being his mother’s maiden name), taking up employment working on railway construction projects. In November 1879, he was charged with intention to desert his illegitimate child, the mother referred to in the news report as “Sarah Craib.” “Sarah” (Susannah) withdrew the charge and the case was dropped. By 1885, he and Susannah, along with their children, were living in Mt Albert, and by 1888 he was described as a platelayer (still with the railways). 

Then, in 1892, an abrupt change. 

Albert Von Graevenitz married Millicent “Milly” Atherton of Waikomiti (Glen Eden), at All Saints Church in Ponsonby, and the happy couple went to live in Enmore, near Sydney. Not for very long though, for they were back at Waikomiti by late 1893. Meanwhile, “Susan Rappard” was managing on her own, appearing in a court case report regarding a cow taken from her. 

By 1896 Albert and Milly were living in Paeroa, Albert working as a wood splitter. By 1900, the family had moved to Dublin Street in Auckland – but by 1905, Milly was on her own with three young children: Albert aged 8, Thelma aged 5 and Millicent aged 3. Milly would later have another daughter, Arthea, in 1912. 

Young Albert, known then as Bert, attended the Unitarian Sunday School in Ponsonby in 1910, and did well, performing in a play called “La Mascotte”. But in 1914, Milly was caught shoplifting boots, using a pram to push young Arthea but also to hide the boots she was pilfering, and accompanied by her eldest daughter Thelma. Milly called herself Milly Graevenitz, and was fined £3 and costs. 

Meanwhile, Susannah’s son Albert Rappard, railway hand, was in Drury, living with his wife Maud in 1905. Susan Rappard was by herself in Drury, a “widow” in 1911, then moved to Takapuna. Confusingly (nothing new for this family’s story) she died in Lyttelton Hospital, but was buried at O’Neil’s Point Cemetery. 

Albert von Graevenitz senior seemed to follow his own path, seeking assistance in vain after the First World War from the Government for passage back to Germany to settle some affairs there, then returning to take up a life on the North Shore where he died in 1956 as Frank Albert Rappard. 

By 1916, Albert von Graevenitz junior had changed his own name to the less German-sounding Graven, working as a salesman and living in Herne Bay. He was apparently involved with the Territorials from 1911, and during the First world War tried to enlist three times – but was eventually accepted only for Home Service in 1916. He lived with his mother Milly at Islington Avenue. 

Come 1923, Albert Graven was now a grain and produce broker. Four years later he started his Avondale story in 1927, taking up a lease of part of Charles Pooley’s property at the triangle between Great North and Old Windsor Road in Avondale. There, he built the Central Service Station. In 1928 he married Gladys May Sullings, and they were living at the service station in March 1929 when one night thieves blew off the safe door at the Hellaby’s butcher shop across the intersection. “The noise of the explosion was heard by Mr Graven, of the Central Service Station. He was awakened at 2.30 o’clock this morning by a rumbling noise and got out of bed to investigate. There was no one about, and after looking round Mr Graven went back to bed.” 

How did Albert Graven finance the service station and adjacent car sales yard, and the extensive tours of the European continent enjoyed by him and his wife in 1930? It wasn’t through the Irish Sweepstakes, although in 1933 Graven did draw a horse in the British and Foreign Concessions Danzig Sweepstake. 

No, Albert Graven was an investor, and a canny one at that. He had interests in Canada and Britain, possibly due to his brokerage experience, and after crossing paths with one Henry Theodore Castaing, took things even further in the 1930s, a period where for most life was a challenge during the Great Depression. 

Between 1930 and 1942, Graven was fundamentally involved with 10 gold mining companies, nine of which were subsidiaries or indirect subsidiaries of one company, Mining Trust Ltd. The companies were involved in the Coromandel district and in the South Island, and consistently made financial headlines describing their operations and success during the decade. 

Graven also dabbled with rental cars. In 1935 he set up Drive Yourself, Limited in Lower Albert Street in the city, advertising “Cars for hire without drivers” from 6/- per half day and 10/- per full day. He hired his sister Arthea as a secretary there. His friend Castaing also invested in the enterprise. The company, though, parted ways with Graven in 1939 after it came to light that he had had the company buy a car that was not only not brand new, but was in fact one of his own. 

The golden ride may have come to an end for Graven in 1942, but by then he had more than enough of a personal fortune to be able to retire. In 1940, he brought in Walter Frederick Arthur (who lived in St Georges Road) to run the Central Service Station, while Graven and his family shifted to Remuera. It was at the new home, during the 1950s, where their son Ian Albert Graven shot himself; news that probably percolated back to Avondale and later formed the suicide legend. 

On the night of 21 April 1942, the service station was burgled, the safe removed and the door blown off near Waikumete Cemetery. Around £200 in cheques and cash, mostly the former, was taken. 

In 1946, Charlie Pooley sold the land Graven had been leasing to Barry Bernard Cleland, a market gardener living near today’s Cleland Crescent off Blockhouse Bay Road. This caused Graven to look at ways to secure his rather valuable Avondale investment, so he put in contingencies in case his Central Service Station was shut down. On the other side of Wingate Street, he bought the Waygood’s service garage, while across the five roads intersection he made an even larger purchase. There, he bought the quarter acre corner from R & W Hellaby’s, leasing the company’s shop back to them through to the mid 1950s. If his service station were to shut down at the triangle, Graven’s intent was to open up another one at the Hellaby’s corner of St Jude St and St Georges Road. 

As it turned out, Graven needn’t have worried. Despite a legal dispute over the lease between Cleland and Graven, the service station remained right where it was, and Cleland later transferred the title to Central Service Station Ltd in 1961. This remained as a service station site until taken over by Mobil which then shifted across the road in the 1980s, although the old Central Service Station was demolished earlier and the business modernised. 

Meanwhile in 1958, Graven developed the Hellaby’s corner into a block of eight shops which still exists. 

June 2022.

“Man behind the scheme,” so the Avondale Advance tells us, “is Mr A Graven, a well-known local businessman, who told the Advance, “The new block will certainly be an asset to the area, and with the adequate off-street parking which it incorporates will allow housewives to buy many of their household needs in the one block, free from parking worries.” Hellabys were to reopen in a new butchers shop at the corner, with the rest of the block including “a grocer, greengrocer, home cookery, fish shop and dairy.” 

Albert Graven died after a heart attack in July 1967 at the age of 70. While it remains, that corner block of shops is his legacy, with or without the convolutions of his family’s story here in Auckland, or the legends around his name that still come to some minds on hearing his name.

Wednesday, April 12, 2023

Alfred Ramsden and his hotel


The New Lynn Hotel, 1890s.  JTD-11A-04959, Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections

The old New Lynn Hotel at 3178 Great North Road exists only in memory. Normally, things start at beginnings. Here, I’ll start at the end.

It was demolished in January 2009. It had been owned by the Waitakere City Council from 2005, after the last private owners, the Bartulovich family, had applied for resource consent in 1995 to have the old building knocked down. It had been targeted by arsonists in 1972. It would be again in 2002. The council refused consent, slapped a heritage order on it instead in 1999 – and after legal proceedings the family agreed to sell the building to the council. 

The council also bought two adjoining properties for a reported $650,000. There were hopes the old hotel could be restored for around $250,000, and perhaps sold to a private operator. There was talk it might even be a character restaurant. 

But … no.

Structurally, it was cracking, toppling, needed to be bolstered up to prevent collapse, and was beyond repair. In the end, what the Bartulovich family had in mind in terms of the building’s fate, happened anyway. The demolition cost around $150,000.

Today, it’s an early childcare centre’s carpark. The Bartulovich family acquired the building, and nearly seven acres of surrounding land, via a mortgage default sale in 1940. Most of the extra land was subdivided during that decade. 

Before them as owners was Reginald Frederick Collard from 1929, who ran a bakery in New Lynn shopping centre. We shift backwards to the previous title, back to the original five acres around the hotel. There was an intermediary owner in 1923, then we come to dairy farmer William John Pugh from 1913. So, during the First World War, Jersey cows would munch their grass contentedly in the vicinity of the old hotel, now a converted residence. 

Pugh had purchased the hotel from Hancock & Co, the old brewing firm. They’d had the hotel under that name from 1907; before then, it was the property of the Captain Cook Brewery Ltd (another name, same firm), and before that, Moss Davis owned it until 1904. Davis, for Hancock & Co, purchased the property for £65 in 1891 from George Westcoat Wyman, formerly of Mangere but at that time living in Portland, Oregon in the US. This was just a concluding transaction; Wyman had already involved that company with the hotel, selling part of the property to Hancock’s founder Samuel Jagger back in 1886 for £1090. 

Wyman himself had given a mortgage to Alfred Ramsden back in August 1882, but Ramsden had defaulted within a year; so Wyman obtained title via the Supreme Court, in August 1883. 

It operated as a hotel with a license to sell alcohol from 1882 through to 1906, when it was decided that the New Lynn Hotel’s right to that license had to cease. The voters in the vast Eden electorate had chosen the reduction path, so the licensing committee decided the 24-year-old hotel had seen its last pint served. It had gone through a number of proprietors over that run. 

1882 Alfred Ramsden 
1882 William Amos Clarke 
1883 Walter Caddy 
1884 Frederick Harris Clements 
1886 Robert Tyler Penk 
1887 John Stuart Milne 
1889 Richard McVeigh 
1890 Elizabeth Patterson 
1894 Mary Dickson 
1899 Louisa Hertz 
1902 Robert Cartwright 
1903 Ellen Jane Featon (the last New Lynn Hotel publican) 

It had a brief revival, in another fashion, as Charles Shaw’s Temperance Hotel/Boarding house from 1907, but that venture didn’t last long. 

So now, we’re at the beginning, really. A man named Alfred Ramsden, who decided that a spot on the main road above New Lynn, on the way to Henderson and the Waitakeres, four years before Waikumete Cemetery and before there was much in the way of townships at New Lynn and Glen Eden – would be fine to build a hotel. 

Alfred Ramsden is said to have been born in 1847 in Lancashire, England, but “Ramsden” wasn’t the name of his unmarried mother, Mary Ann Ramsdale. In 1851, Mary was a weaver, lodging in Preston with three-year-old Alfred. A year later, she married Johnathan Sommersgill, and Alfred would come to have seven half-siblings, all bar at least one surviving to adulthood. 

By 1861, Alfred Ramsdale was working as a cotton factory worker in Preston, and married Elizabeth Sparnon in 1866. He and Elizabeth would have 12 children. Then, by 1871, we see an Alfred Ramsden in Dalton, now a brickmaker. 

At the end of the next gap in his life, Ramsden had reached Victoria, Australia in 1879 (according to him) with around £500-£1000 in his pockets. Next, we see Alfred Ramsden in Hawke’s Bay, successfully tendering to Napier City Council for supplying bricks in May 1880. 1881, he was a builder in Carlyle Street, Napier, industriously burning lime and firewood and creating a nuisance as well as mortar. Ramsden in Napier had a pattern he’d repeat elsewhere during his business career – he bought property after property, likely with mortgages, and then moved on. In October 1881, he put up for sale his brickworks known as “the Blacks”, a Temperance Hotel, cottages in Carlyle Street, and two more with a view of the bay. 

By March 1882, he’d reached Auckland. In that month, he paid John Tait £70 for six acres on Great North Road in New Lynn, had apparently set up a kiln, and advertised for men to make and burn 500,000 bricks. Things moved quickly (perhaps too quickly, given the fate of the hotel). Two months later, Ramsden applied for a license for his New Lynn Hotel, which was granted in June. Ramsden leased the hotel to Clarke in July – and that was the end of his involvement. 

He’d already moved on by that stage, living in the central city and working as a building contractor, breaching some by-laws, tendering for contracts. At some point during 1884 though, he shot through to the Australian colonies, carrying (according to him) 10s 6d in his pockets this time, leaving behind him unpaid mortgages. He said that on arriving back in Australia, (he later recalled) he pawned his watch for £1 10s, and paid 7s 6d for a breakfast. 

Another gap, but in April 1886 he re-emerges as the proprietor of “The Great Australian Coffee Palace” in Sydney, a dining room and 60-room accommodation hotel. Which he put up for sale in June that year. It finally went for £3500 by auction in September. In October 1886, Ramsden was bankrupt. He told the assignee that he’d left behind property in both England and New Zealand, but all had been lost due to foreclosures. He was allowed to keep his household furniture and tools, as well as to keep working, and applied for release in 1887. 

He headed south, made a new start in Melbourne – and in April 1888 opened his “Oriental Coffee Palace” there. This business seemed to be much more fortunate for him. Ramsden set his family up in Elsternwick, today a Melbourne suburb south-west of the CBD, and became involved with the local Primitive Methodist Church Sunday school. 

Then in April 1891, Ramsden’s pattern emerged again. There was a sale of a number of properties he owned or had leased. He’d moved his family to rooms at the coffee palace, and tried to placate his creditors. His estate was compulsorily sequestered in October 1891, showing liabilities of £98,000. By now, Ramsden claimed he had bad eyesight “from the heat and from white roads” and said he was unable to read the legal documents put before him at his insolvency hearing, where he recounted his career to that date. 

News of Ramsden’s bankruptcy was reported on both sides of the Tasman. The Otago Daily Times remarked: “The easy way in which the insolvent progressed from half a guinea and the proceeds of his watch in pawn in 1884 to £97,000 of debts in 1891 is remarkable. Surely Mr Ramsden affords another instance of the truth of the distich, which is the only remaining consolation of so many among us:- “Tis better to have boomed and bust / Than never to have boomed at all.” 

By 1895, Ramsden was in Western Australia, writing dud cheques, and being hauled into court by at least one person annoyed that the cheque bounced. In 1897 a four-storey building Ramsden had been contracted to erect in Perth, collapsed. Ramsden adamantly defended his work, but he was on a downward spiral. In October that year, he was arrested for deserting his wife. 

1898 found him in South Australia – where in Perth he filed for insolvency again in 1899. He was jailed as an insolvent debtor in 1900. He was discharged from bankruptcy again in May 1901, and in July, he was charged with being in default of a maintenance agreement for two of his children. 

In 1906, Ramsden went back to Victoria with his family looking for him, and tried starting the “Mount Lofty Brick and Lime Manufacturing Works” in the Snowy River district. That venture lasted to 1907. In January 1908, “of no fixed abode”, he was committed to the Yarra Bend Asylum, suffering from “delusional insanity”. A note on the case file states “mother and sister both said to be insane,” which may have been information from him. “Talks of making money in large sums. Says he has built churches. Says he has £1500 of furniture in the [illegible] Coffee Palace … Talks of large interests he has as a contractor and maintains that now he is defrauded. Says he still has property which is wrongfully in the hands of others … Says he was arrested by the police for entering his own property. Makes rambling statements about owning furniture in a coffee palace … Becomes excited in talking about being defrauded out of his money and property …” He escaped in September 1908, just nine months after his committal. Apparently, he was never recaptured. 

In 1911, there were “lost relative” notices in the New South Wales Police Gazette from Elizabeth Ramsden. In July that year, Ramsden was in court at Katoomba on an indecency charge. As a result, the police declared him “found”. 

In July 1914 at Robe, South Australia, he was arrested for being idle and disorderly, and sentenced to seven days’ gaol, suspended provided he left town. He did. In September he was apprehended as a mental defective at Mount Pleasant, South Australia, but was discharged. In 1915, he was sentenced to an indefinite time in custody as a “habitual inebriate.” He was released in August 1916 on license, but was picked up again, charged not only with being drunk, but for using indecent language. At that point, it was noted he had 11 previous convictions. He was sent back to the inebriates’ home. He was released again, on license, in October 1918. 

It looks like he then took up something of the swagman’s lifestyle; his swag was stolen in 1921. In 1923, he turned up in Victoria again, tried and fined at Melbourne for offensive behaviour. 

His last appearance in the press three months later was truly strange. 

“There were yells, shrieks and screams in Gertrude Street, Fitzroy, during the week, as Constable Murfitt was working his beat from Brunswick Street. Farther down the street he saw girls scurrying across the road, and an elderly man waving his arms and giving out Indian war whoops that struck terror into the hearts of the fleeing lassies. “It was the time for the homeward journey for several hundreds of girls employed in the big factories in the locality. The man was making a dart at each group as if he would embrace them, and then would fling his arms up and utter a piercing yell which set the girls going helter skelter. He arrested the man, who gave the name of Alfred Ramsden, pensioner, of Bentleigh, and charged him with having behaved in an offensive manner. “At the Fitzroy court on Saturday last, Ramsden was fined 20/- for what Dr. Wheeler called disgraceful conduct. When Ramsden said he could not pay he was informed that the alternative of three days' gaol would give him a chance to have a good clean up and forget his Wild Indian proclivities.” 

 (Frankston and Somerville Standard, [Vic], 13 June 1923, p.6) 

Just less than two months later Alfred Ramsden, builder, brickmaker, contractor, hotel and coffee palace owner, was dead. He lies at St Kilda Cemetery, Melbourne. 

A man with, arguably, a far more colourful story than the hotel that he’d built in a West Auckland suburb. Like him, now just receding into history.

Wednesday, March 29, 2023

Howard Nattrass and the "typiste-flapper"


Image: Free Lance, 3 November 1920

This is a story that someone, seriously, should take up and make a doco about. The NZ Truth described it at the time as an "affair-de-lust" with a "typiste-flapper".

Howard Nattrass was born in Blenheim in 1888. By 1915, with a partner named Harris, he had developed a profitable motor importing business in Napier, Natttass & Harris Motor Co. The partners extended their business to Wellington by late 1917.

Sometime around June 1916. Edith Kathleen Strangeman was employed at the firm as a typist. At the time, she was 15, turning 16 in November. In 1918, just after her 18th birthday, she began to have an affair with Nattrass, who was a married man with one child. Edith left her job on 4 February 1919, and was “out all night”. Her parents find out the next morning she had gone to Napier straight from Nattrass’ office. Her father followed by train; Nattrass went up after her by motor, picked up Edith, and took her to Taranaki, then back to Wellington. The father then took possession of his daughter with the police. Nattrass was warned to stay away from the Strangeman homestead.

Edith was examined by Dr Henry Herbert Arthur Claridge a week later, and found to be pregnant. Instantly, her father sued Nattrass £3000 for "seduction". There's some confusion as to whether at that point either Edith or her parents wanted the unborn child aborted -- Edith would later say one thing, Dr Claridge another. Whatever was really the story, the courts were later told that on the night of 7 March 1919, another doctor, Dr Francis Wallace McKenzie, was asked by Edith to save her from the operation. Dr Claridge & McKenzie arranged to take her to Nurse Vicker’s private hospital in Brougham Street on the pretext of an adenoid operation.

McKenzie took the night nurse into the kitchen for tea to distract her, while Claridge told the daughter Nattrass was waiting outside for her in a motor. She and Claridge joined Nattrass, and drove to Claridge’s house to get her some clothes. Nattrass and Edith went to Waikanae, and stayed there three days. McKenzie returned to the Strangeman’s to report that Edith had gone, but also told them to leave her alone, she was over age. He was then chased down the street by another daughter, but evaded her.

The Strangemans informed the police. McKenzie & Nattrass got Edith away from Island Bay to Picton by motor launch. The father headed there by the Pateena and got Edith. Nattrass went there later, found Strangeman had Edith, chartered a faster boat, and nabbed Edith again in Wellington. Later in April Strangeman spotted Nattrass and Edith with McKenzie coming out of a cinema, knocked down Nattrass (while a friend with him punched McKenzie) and took Edith once more.

Nattrass organised an unsuccessful rescue of Edith from her parents' house on 9 May, involving a man pretending to be an inspector from the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Women and Children. Eventually though, when Edith was allowed out to go to church a month later, she made her escape -- and later had her baby in hospital. She never returned to her parents.

Nattrass' wife eventually divorced him in 1925, and Howard and Edith married in 1926. He had by then made his name with motor racing (winner of the First NZ Motor Cup in 1921) and with his Nattrass Tank-Carburettor. He died, somewhere, in 1960.

Bill Tinson image, 1921. "Showing Howard Nattrass winner of the first New Zealand Motor Cup at the wheel of his Cadillac on Muriwai beach. A stripped touring Cadillac in the background entered by Mr Carlyon of Guavas, Tikokino , Hawke's Bay, driven by Mr W Boyle came fourth. This was the first race in New Zealand to be timed electrically, by a rig imported from London by a club official." 7-A7604, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries