Friday, August 4, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

Minding other people’s children — Samuel Albert Nelmes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

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

Updated 15 August 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was a different matter almost a year later. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Avondale's Racecourse and the Second World War

Overlay of the camp areas, on 1940 aerial of the racecourse.

1st Battalion, Auckland Regiment, have daily parades from their homes to the racecourse for training. Avondale (1st Field Regiment, NZA) one of three training centres in Auckland, the others being part of Ellerslie and Carlaw Park. A group of young women called the Independent Younger Set assisted in the canteen at the racecourse during the training programme. This was a group of young women from Remuera, led by Helen Staveley, which formed in May 1940 with the aim to help all charities, in particular the Metropolitan Patriotic Society, and the Red Cross. They appear to have dropped below the radar from October 1940, a month after Staveley left the organisation. 

1st Field Company, NZ Engineers, used the course for training. They engaged in bridge-building exercises across the Whau River, and advertised that they would build bridges on private property within 20 miles of Auckland if “any patriotic owner” either supplied all materials, or required timber to be felled and sawn and ready to lend for such training purposes. They cut down pine trees at Waikumete Cemetery for this purpose. By 26 October, it was reported that several bridges were being built. 

Officers and non-commissioned officers of the 22nd Field Company, NZ Engineers, camped at Avondale, 1-29 December. 

Women’s National Service Corps under canvas at Avondale 29 Dec-7 January. This was the first camp for women trained in war service. 150 attended. 

Weekend camp on Feb 1, 1st Battalion, Auckland Regiment. A cookhouse, ablutions block and “lean-to for vegetables” are constructed. March NZ Engineers officers’ camp. Gave demonstrations of bridge demolition to the Independent Mounted Rifles Squadrons at Avondale and Parau. 

Three month intensive training course begins for new members of the Territorials for home defence service. An overflow camp established at Avondale. A roadway is constructed behind the grandstands due to increase vehicular traffic from Ash Street. Another intake of 180 men in July. Heavy rain caused most to abandon their tents and return home. 

Construction of the camp begins. A roadway was built between the main stand and Ash Street using scoria. Footpaths were constructed using ash carted in from the King’s Wharf power station and the Auckland Gasworks. 


Avondale Jockey Club approach Ellerslie for permission to use their course. Ellerslie agrees by 16 August. The September meeting is the first Avondale hold at Ellerslie. 

POW holding camp established at Avondale, in the wake of the shooting incident at Featherston. This was replaced by the Workers camp from January 1944. 

Establishment of temporary (one month) US Forces camp at Avondale Racecourse (700 men), while the MOB 6 hospital was being built. 

Transit camp for naval personnel established at Avondale on portion of the Army camp. 

Works Department camp set up at Avondale, due to housing shortage in Auckland but a need for workers in essential industries. First draft of 50 single Maori men from Rotorua arrived 3 January, and were housed west of the main grandstand near the racetrack. By the end of February the number housed at the camp was 90, with another 20 expected in early March. By early 1945 151 men were housed there, and was enlarged that year for a further 80 men, taking over the former POW holding area. 

Eventually the Workers Camp encompassed 3.5 acres, including 122 huts, two mess rooms, recreation hall, cook house, vegetable preparation room, washhouse, latrines, shower block and administration building. Each hut had electric light, separate dining facilities provided with contract catering. A large recreation hall was completed by March, the Maori War Effort Organisation handling “the social side of the camp life.” The men were taken to Westfield each morning in trucks, and returned in the evening. They worked in the freezing works primarily, but also phosphate works and New Lynn tanneries and brickworks. 

During 1944 and early 1945, three more such camps were established – at Helvetia near Pukekohe (Maori single women), Waikaraka Park at Onehunga (European single men) and Pukekohe (European single women). Two were run by the PWD (inc Avondale), one by the Agriculture Department and one by the Internal Marketing Department. Overall supervision was by the National Service Department, then (after the war) the National Employment Service. 


At this point, Avondale camp was just occupied by the Army, and the PWD. 

Until the schools’ playgrounds were cleared of debris and rocks, the racecourse was used by Avondale Technical and Intermediate students. 

Auckland City Council begin negotiations to buy racecourse land off Racecourse Parade and at western end by Whau River for recreational purposes. This was acquired by the end of the year, and a lease agreement arranged for central paying areas on the course. 

16 July
Army vacates the racecourse. 

Jockey Club puts in £15,422 claim for compensation. Agrees to accept £6000 cash plus some buildings (two mess halls, a recreation hall, and a cottage at the back of the tote building), and repairs to fences, latrines, stables, horse stalls, tote building, turnstiles and ticket boxes, outside stand, lawn grandstand, judges box, jockey’s board, steward’s stand and casualty room totalling £7500. Claim split between PWD and the Army. 


The YMCA hut was sold by tender. 



The Minister of Defence apparently thought that the Jockey Club’s compensation claim was high, based on the fact that they derived a profit from racing at Ellerslie during the warm, and didn’t donate said profits to patriotic purposes. However, during the camp occupation, the Club paid all rates on the property to Auckland City Council. In a memo on file, the PWD reminded everyone that under the Defence Emergency Regulations, the Club was entitled to fair compensation for any necessary restoration regardless of any profits the Club made while at Ellerslie. The PWD agreed with the Club that all monetary compensation claims were to be waived, in return for receiving buildings valued at just over £4000. This was to save the use of labour during the post-war labour and materials shortages. 

Plans begin to shift the workers camp out. December Work completed in preparing the new Mangere workers camp, to replace Avondale. 

8 February 
The workers camp at Avondale is evacuated. The Club contended that a portion of outstanding water rates was owed by the PWD for the Workers camp, and they asked for additional compensation of more huts. As at August that year, the issue had yet to be resolved.

Official History of the Public Works Dept, Archives NZ files, Papers Past articles and parliamentary papers.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Return to the Orange

Above is how the Orange Coronation Hall looked back in 2006. Previous blog post here.

Yesterday -- this is the new Orange. Tony Smith of Burwood Orange Ltd contacted me in May this year, and invited me to take a look around what his company have done to the old Auckland landmark. With Tony, and another blogger from NZ Jazz, I was given a chance to see inside the building, and what the company have done to both change and restore it.

The development, by Crosson Clarke Carnachan Architects & Tonkin Zulaika Greer Architects in association, and Dave Pearson Architects, has received a heritage architecture award. The citation read: "It was a wise decision to retain the Orange Coronation Hall and make it the centrepiece of this new development: it has given the old building new potential, reduced the dominance of the new structure. The new, mixed-use building and ground-level public spaces flow around the hall at a respectful distance. Further consideration and respect of the past can be seen in gentle interventions – including steel windows and doors that bring light and open up to a new raised courtyard – that ensure traces of the hall’s former use remain. All that is missing now are tenants. When they arrive, the potential of the hall and adjoining spaces is sure to be fully realised."

The view across Newton Road to St Benedict's Street from the courtyard, freed up by the removal of a 1930s annexe formerly attached to the dance hall area.

I thought, while looking up at the courtyard from the road, that someone had left some chairs outside. But -- these are actually bolted-down art installations, harking back on dance hall seats. A funky touch.

Just as cool -- this orange planter, keeping up the theme. 

And an extra touch -- dance steps by the planter, exterior doors ... if you didn't know this was the famous Orange, slick-as and made for dancing, you soon will do. 

The developers and architects have worked hard to keep as many original features as possible. The ticket office window here ...

 ... and the 1950s sprung flooring in the main hall. The removal of the annexe allows for more natural light to come in, and an indoor-outdoor feel, which (with a planned cafe on the site) will add to people's mobility around the complex.

We even had a look at the Orange Lodge meeting room upstairs, complete with doors still with their "Who's there?" openings.

The developers have made every effort to retain features such as doors and windows. Some have had to go, of course, and there was earthquake strengthening to consider, but overall -- the Orange still has a feel to it that harks back to its days as part of Auckland's popular cultural scene.

Overall -- I like what they've done to the grand old lady, 100 years old come 2022. Normally, I don't like the modern trend of mix-and-match when it comes to heritage features and modern spaces -- but this has both preserved and restored the Orange Coronation Hall, and adapted it for survival into a second century. My sincere thanks to Tony Smith for the opportunity to take a look.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Once upon a time, there was a hill ...

Once upon a time, there was a hill in Hamilton. It was known to Ngati Wairere as Te Kopu Mania O Kirikiriroa (the smooth belly of Kirikiriroa. It was known for the fertility of its soil, and also used for observing the movements of the stars for cropping.

Many of the later settlers liked the Garden Place Hill, but businessmen in the area saw it as a nuisance. It divided the expanded business area in two -- it had to go. There was opposition -- even a Garden Place Preservation Society, but Hamilton Council agreed with the businessmen in the 1930s, and created a special rating area made up of get-rid-of-the-hill folks in the commercial part of town. And so the hill was demolished, bit by bit.

For a while, the cleared area was a carpark. Today, it is a well-used public square. A pity about the loss of the hill, though, at Garden Place.

Brown images via Waikato Museum, b/w image Hamilton Library, HCL-6040, 1939.

Somewhere between the truth and otherwise ... Behind the name of John Douglas Stark

During the course of work I did recently for the Friends of Waikumete Cemetery, and towards the end of research into dozens of names linked with pre WWI and WWI-related burials at the cemetery, the name of Douglas Stark came up. 

Looking into his story, I found that well-known historians, including Jock Phillips who took this image of a memorial in Kaiapoi said to have been modelled on Stark, accepted everything written in the well-known novel by Robin Hyde, Passport to Hell as factual "oral history" without checking -- and so, even have Stark's name incorrect on the Te Ara site, while Cenotaph have his wrong date of birth. 

This was just the start of the swamp into which facts and information on Stark have sunk over time. There was much more, so -- I put together a paper, called "Somewhere between the truth and otherwise ... Behind the name of John Douglas Stark." An online copy can be found here.

For a man who is said to have saved the life, let alone many others, of Gordon Coates, MP during the war -- I feel there should have been a closer examination of Stark's story, both the lies and the truth, before now. Instead, all we have, in the main, is myth ...

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Flipping over burgers

From NZ Herald 10 August 1940

Sometimes, history can be about really mundane things. Like – hamburgers. 

Or more specifically – what was the first “hamburger bar” in New Zealand.

By the looks of things, if you think it was Frisco’s at the junction of Great South and Manukau Roads, in the former Junction Hotel building, it isn’t correct. But, on a Facebook page where I have stated this, I’ve been described as “not knowing Newmarket history” and apparently (according to another commenter there), I need to go back to school. 

Yes. All over hamburgers. 

Frisco’s opened as a hamburger bar and coffee house sometime during the 1942-1943 period. Opinions vary over this, and someone who claims family connections pushes it back to 1939, although the directories of the period don’t show this. Instead, they indicate a tobacconist used the building in 1942. (It was also in the One Tree Hill borough council area, not officially Newmarket at all.) 

Still, this doesn’t mean Frisco’s was the first to flip the burgers.

Auckland Star 9 March 1938

That honour goes to Alan’s Hamburger Bar “opposite CPO”, Queen Street Auckland, in January 1938 [Auckland Star, 20 January 1938, page 1(7)], the advent of which caused the NZ Herald to opine:

Enter the Hamburger Young men in green sports coats and suede shoes, puffed rice and baked beans, and, of course, the universal predilection for gangster films, hare long been cited as tangible evidence that New Zealand is slowly but surely succumbing to the doubtful influence of the United States. The opening of a hamburger bar in Queen Street is expected to raise an outcry from stalwarts who maintain that the Dominion should develop its own culture and eradicate outside influences. For the guidance of the less serious minded, however, it is stated that the correct pronunciation is "hamboiger." 

(NZ Herald, 29 January 1938, p. 30) 

Alan shifted business to Karangahape Road by March that year. 

Christchurch Press, 19 August 1939

Down South, an “American Hamburger Bar” had been in business in Manchester Street, Christchurch for some unknown period, before its owner sold up in 1939, according to ads put into the Christchurch Press.

Then we have Eleanor’s Hamburger Bar operating from 19A Queen Street from March 1940, [Auckland Star 2 March 1940 p.1(6)] clear through to sometime in 1942, quite long-lasting for the period. Eleanor’s ads (an example at the top of this post), in case of doubters, certainly do show what is recognisably a hamburger. 

There was another bar on Pitt Street, possibly at 76, by October 1941, and that too lasted for a period. By October 1942, the Civic Hamburger Bar was open at 336 Queen Street, [NZ Herald 8 October 1942, p. 1(8)] and seems to have lasted down through much of WWII. Out in the suburbs, a Liberty Hamburger Bar operated in 1943 from 262 Great South Road, and up at Warkworth, a Mr B Pearce got permission from the local council to open one in in mid 1943. 

So, when you see someone put up a photo of Frisco’s, and say “the first hamburger bar …” … nah. It wasn’t. It lasted a heck of a long time, and left lots of memories, but it wasn’t the first. Life would be so much simpler if folks checked things out for themselves, instead of just believing “the history books” like blind faith.

Friday, April 8, 2016

A blast from the heavens ...

When squally storms turn violently electric, we all know that lightning follows – and sometimes that flash from the sky can strike where we would least suspect. 

On the Saturday afternoon of 18 June 1932 – that place was Avondale’s St Jude’s Church. In the midst of a particularly heavy thunderstorm in the western districts, where, according to a news report at the time, “several flashes of lightning of more than usual vividness were seen”, one bolt struck the cross atop the church steeple. 

The force snapped off one arm of the cross, before it surged down the roof, tearing the iron sheathing, then entering the church’s electrical system, then flowing across to the telephone line at the adjacent vicarage. 

Reverend Arthur Volkner Grace and his wife Agnes had only started their time at Avondale that same year. They were at home on the day of the storm, probably preparing for the Sunday services, when the cap of their phone’s insulator was suddenly blown off, startling the couple. 

“Fortunately, the woodwork of the belfry and the roof of the church were not affected, while the lightning was not followed by an outbreak of fire,” the news reports went on to describe. “At the same time the electric lights in the building were fused, while the telephone in the vicarage was affected … The lighting in the church was repaired a short time later, and there was no interference with yesterday's services, while the roof did not leak to any great extent.” 

What damage was done appears to have been soon repaired by the parishioners. 

Rev Grace later retired to Mairangi Bay in 1936. 

Image: The church and vicarage on 1 January 1929, 4-8432, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries

Sunday, March 27, 2016

The tales to tell of "Kernel Bell"

These days if I, as a townie Aucklander, say the phrase "Winterless North" to my Northland friends, they'll likely roll their eyes and give me that "Oh yeah?" look. Because yes, there is such a thing as a cold, wet, muddy winter in Northland. 

The blame, if it could be called that, for the cliche still being used today seems to rest with one Col. Allen Bell (c.1860-1936), born in Leeston, Canterbury, who had served with Bechuanaland Border Police during the Matabele and Boer Wars in South Africa, before returning here in 1902. Perhaps it was the Waikato winters on his farm there that really brought home to him the climate difference between there and his new home from 1914 up in Kaitaia and the Far North. 

He didn't come up with "winterless north", by the way. T Mandeno Jackson was using that phrase in the Dominion to flog off sections in Dargaville and the Northern Wairoa to Wellingtonians from 1912. But Bell certainly popularised it. 

President of the North Auckland Development Board, Kaitaia Chamber of Commerce and organiser of the first meeting of the Government Roads Movement, he encouraged MPs to venture north to try out the abysmal roads for themselves, and constantly pushed for better connections for the North with the rest of the country. He won the Bay of Islands seat in 1922, and set up a newspaper shortly after, the "Northland Age", running it for 11 years. He died at Parengarenga on the night of 14 October 1936. 

What piqued my interest was this paragraph from Neva Clarke McKenna's book Mangonui: Gateway to the Far North (1990), writing about a local Mangonui paper called "On Guard": 
"Now and then a good-natured jibe was printed at Colonel Allen Bell of Kaitaia, who coined the phrase 'the Winterless North'. One such jibe read: "Oh, Kernel Bell, oh Kernel Bell, how many a tale he has to tell. Of acres broad and winterless, and sunny climes and loveliness. His joyous smile and pushing way has made Kaitaia's heart feel gay. And while he's sections still to sell, we'll hear some more of Kernel Bell. And so 'twill be when he is gone -- we'll have a job to carry on. But one thing sure, where'er he dwell, he'll advertise, will Kernel Bell."
Image: NZ Truth 4 February 1926

Saturday, February 6, 2016

The leaning (water) tower of Hawera

Reaching Hawera on a recent weekend trip with the committee of the NZ History Federation, during a petrol stop there, I looked around, and asked what the prominent landmark was, visible just along the road. When I was told it was the Hawera Water Tower -- I knew I wanted to take photos and find out more. So, the next morning, before the sun started baking us alive again from 9 am down there -- I set off on a wee walk from the motel, headed for the tower.


Built in 1913, it provided the needed pressure for Hawera's water supply so the settlement's folks could combat fires there. In the same month it opened, January 1914, a sudden earthquake caused the tower to list 2.5 feet to the south. Naturally, people were worried the whole thing was going to fall over, but the local council sorted it by anchoring with reinforced concrete, filling the tanks, then undermining and pouring more reinforced concrete. The lean was reduced to 3 inches.

The tower was made redundant later in the century, and became a tourist viewing platform, accessible by obtaining a key from the nearby i-Site for a small fee. However, large chunks of concrete fell off in 2000, and the tower was closed indefinitely. Public consultation in 2001 came out in favour of retaining the tower, and major renovation and restoration work was completed in 2004. Then, of course, we had the Canterbury quakes -- so the tower was closed to the public again.

The good news is that the structure itself is safe enough, but work is still needed to fully strengthen parts of it. "The water tower itself was safe but eight balustrades on the structure needed strengthening. It's a relatively minor fix and cost compared to what it could have been if the tower itself was found wanting," [South Taranaki District Council engineering services group manager Brent Manning] said. As the tower was a considered a category one heritage building under Historic Places Trust classification, Manning believed the process would take slightly longer but should be finished within the next few months. "I have no idea of that cost but I expect it to be possibly less than the cost of all the investigations we've done to date but nonetheless, at least we know the answers now." (Taranaki Daily News, 13 August 2015)

So, until work is done, and the keep out signs and the orange plastic hazard fencing are removed -- the only ones enjoying the views are the pigeons.

More info: 

Heritage image: Taranaki Stables. Water tower, Hawera. Radcliffe, Frederick George, 1863-1923 : New Zealand post card negatives. Ref: 1/2-006028-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. 

From Wellington to Auckland at speed - 1923


A new motor-car speed record between Auckland and Wellington was established yesterday by Mr George L Campbell and Mr Leslie F Bedford. The car, a Durant Four, left Wellington at 3 am, and drew up outside the general post office at Auckland at 6.25 pm, after a trip of 15 hours 25 minutes, which is 42 minutes better than the time taken by the previous holder of the record, Mr W S Miller, who did the journey in a Chandler car. Progress telegrams had been received in Auckland during the day and the car was expected shortly after six o'clock, at which time a large crowd of people, including the Mayor, Mr J H Gunson, and officials of the Auckland Automobile Association had gathered in the vicinity of the post office.

As soon as the car stopped, it was rushed by a cheering crowd, and the record-breakers were accorded a flattering reception. When Mr Gunson could get near the car he congratulated Messrs Campbell and Bedford on their fine performance, and welcomed them on behalf of Auckland. Messages brought from Wellington were delivered, and the car, with the Mayor at the wheel, was taken to the garage, while Mr Campbell was carried shoulder-high along the street.

Mr Campbell said that before the trip was commenced all particulars regarding the car and the names and addresses of Mr Bedford and himself were taken by the police. On Saturday he saw Inspector Mcllveney, of Wellington, who warned him of the risks he was taking regarding breaches of speed-limit laws. Mr Campbell replied that it was his intention to observe all by-laws when passing through towns, and that was done. The start was made at 3 am, cars accompanying the Durant, which is owned by the Campbell Motors Ltd, as far as Petone. As the Aucklanders did not know the road to Wanganui very well, Mr Ben Campbell, of Wellington, drove that far. A storm was raging on Paekakariki Hill, but the motorists kept on and reached Hawera shortly after eight o'clock. Rain fell 'till Mount Messenger was reached, while birds proved dangerous, as the car had no windscreen. Unfortunately, a wheel struck a stone, which flew up and pierced the petrol tank, making it extremely difficult to keep up the pressure of benzine.

The river at Mokau was safely crossed by punt at 11.30 am, and here the hole in the tank was soldered by Public Works Department employees. At Uruti the flooring of a wooden bridge was being taken up, and there were just enough planks left for the car to cross. Had the car arrived a little later at the bridge, a delay of several hours would have been inevitable.

The roads were good for the first 300 miles, but the Taumatamaire Hill, the worst road experienced on the trip, was passed over in pouring rain. "We expected that we would have to give it up here," said Mr Campbell, "the road was in such a dreadful state. At Piopio, Te Kuiti, cars met and escorted us to the town, where we arrived at 2.50 pm. It was still pouring with rain, but cleared when we were half-way between Te Kuiti and Hamilton, which we reached at 3.45 p.m. At Ngaruawahia we were offered ropes to help us over the Rangiriris, but we did not use them as the surface was only slippery. We had no punctures and never used chains."

A feature of the trip, said Mr Campbell, was the amazing interest taken by people all along the route. At every township, people simply crowded the street and gave the motorists a great reception. The whole township turned out at Te Kuiti, and the police had to keep back thousands of people at Hamilton. Policemen were posted at every town passed through, but no one stopped the car. Local residents were ready with refreshments wherever a halt was made, and there was no difficulty in obtaining benzine and oil for the engine. The total distance covered was 481 miles. Cars from Auckland met the Durant at Manurewa.

The motorists brought a military despatch for the headquarters of the Northern Command and messages for the Mayor and the harbourmaster, Captain H H Sergeant.

(NZ Herald 15 March 1923)

Image Auckland Weekly News 22 March 1923, AWNS-19230322-46-6, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries

Friday, December 25, 2015

Auckland's Anti-Eviction Committee, 1931

NZ Herald 13 October 1931

From out of the desperation of the Great Depression of the late 1920s to mid 1930s, the scarcity of relief work drove the Auckland Unemployed Workers Movement to form an “Anti-Eviction Committee” at a meeting first at the Trades Hall, then at St Matthews Hall, on 13 June 1931. A rent strike had been called, as a protest against the suspension of No. 5 scheme relief work (a work scheme that had been in place, and used by local authorities, since the late 1920s), and the committee was created to prevent the eviction from their homes of unemployed men and their families.

The Anti-Eviction Committee had their first outing, and a success, when an eviction was prevented in Riordan’s Lane on 19 June. It turned out the owner said he hadn’t been aware of what his agent had been doing in terms of the eviction, cancelled it, and came to terms with the tenants.

But then, in October, came Norfolk Street. A woman with her children was unable to pay her rent, and the bailiffs had been called. The day before the eviction finally took place, a Communist canvasser name John Henry Edwards had been arrested for inciting a disturbance of the peace outside the house. He would later feature as an inciter at the 1932 Queen Street Riot.

Auckland Star, 13 October 1931, p. 8

Despite all the best efforts of the Anti-Eviction Committee, though, the eviction at Norfolk Street still took place.

Under dramatic circumstances, court bailiffs backed up by a large posse of police, forced their way into a house at 21 Norfolk Street, Ponsonby, this morning and evicted the tenant, a woman with five children. Inside the house were fifteen men, said to be communists, armed with batons of all sorts. They were all arrested on charges of assaulting a bailiff in the execution of his duty, vagrancy, and unlawful assembly, and will appear at the Police Court to-morrow morning.

Since last Thursday, the house had been swarmed by the Anti-Eviction Committee and its supporters waiting patiently in anticipation of the bailiffs’ visit. At one stage there were alleged to be close on 40 men in the house, but when the eviction was not carried out yesterday, as expected, the majority went to their homes last night. The rent of the house was 22/6 a week but the woman could not pay and the Anti-Eviction Committee, who took up the cudgels on her behalf, offered the landlord 14/10, which they said was the standard sum laid down for working men by Judge Frazier, of the Arbitration Court. This offer was refused and a distress warrant for the woman's eviction was issued.
NZ Herald, 14 October 1931

It was just after ten o'clock this morning when the bailiff, followed by Inspector Shanahan, Senior-Sergeant O’Gradv Sergeants Felton and Lambert and a number of constables knocked on the door and demanded admittance. The distress warrant was read over to the occupants, who were told that if they did not open the door force would used. The occupants refused. Iron bars were used to wrench the hinges off the door. On top of the house, as a gesture of defiance, the Red Flag fluttered in the breeze. There was a crash as the door was forced from its hinges, and the crowd in the street, which by this time had swelled to upwards of 500, booed.

A dishevelled man of about 30, who resisted slightly as he was escorted by two constables to the waiting Black Maria, was the first to be brought out of the house. He tried hard to free himself, but the powerful grip of the constables was too much for him, and as he was bundled into the van he cried, “So this is democracy.” Police had crowded into the house by this time, and the armaments of the occupants had been seized. Not a baton was drawn by the police. One by one the men were brought from the house guarded by constables. Some resisted slightly and shouted, while the crowd booed.

Detectives, who were scattered among the crowd, closed in on one man, who struggled as he was bundled into the Black Maria. As each man was pushed into the van, the door was banged tight, while those inside hurled expletives at the police. When the last of the men who walked casually down the path with a cynical smile on his face had been put in the van, the muted strains of "The Red Flag" drifted from out of the Black Maria. One or two “comrades” on the outskirts of the crowd joined in half-heartedly. The van drove off. There was an odd cheer and somebody clapped.

Then the eviction began. Bailiffs, playing the new role of furniture shifters, moved to and fro in endless procession until all the furniture had been removed from the house. And the crowd stood moodily round, alternately booing, cheering, and laughing. In the long grass in the front of the house a cat lay curled asleep in the sun.

Down the street came the Black Maria again, and once more the crowd were on their toes with excitement, anticipating that there were to be more arrests. But the van had come back for "exhibits.” Policemen carried batons, which had been sawn into handy lengths from fruit trees in the front of the house, and threw them in the van. There was a cheer as one carried the Red Flag out. Another brought out a slasher and some brought iron bars concealed in newspapers. So the van drove off with the "armament"' of the anti-eviction committee.

An hour had passed, and the furniture of the house was piled on the footpath in front of the gate. The bailiffs had done their job. Out of the front door came the woman, poorly clad, but smiling. There was a cheer as she came down the path.

"This is civilisation in New Zealand,” cried a well-known Communist, in broken English, as he pointed to the pile of furniture. He was silenced by the sub-inspector of police, who warned him. "Learn, remember and study. It might be your turn next," shouted the Communist. Again the crowd cheered.

Another man appealed to the crowd for assistance for the woman. Hats were taken round the street, and into the grateful hands of the woman was placed £2 12/6. “Never mind. We're not beaten yet,” she cried. It was announced to the crowd that a woman in Ponsonby Road had offered a temporary home to the evicted woman and her five children, four of whom are under ten years of age. The eldest is 15.
Once again the Communist with the broken English raised his voice. "If I’m to be hung, well, let me be hung, and to Hell with it!” he shouted.

The eviction was over. Bailiffs had one last look round the house. lnside were bare and deserted rooms. Foodstuffs lav jumbled in the kitchen sink. A photograph of a fire brigade engine lay broken on the floor. The place suggested squalor and poverty. The barricades which had been erected over the back door were pulled down. The front door was screwed and nailed into position again. The cat among the grass ambled slowly away. In the street the crowd murmured. The bailiffs walked away.
Auckland Star 13 October 1931, p. 9

After this, the Anti-Eviction Committee appears to have faded away, or the newspapers lost interest in them. Today, the residents at 21 Norfolk Street are probably unaware of the brief historical spotlight their house had, one day in October 1931.

Google Earth April 2014