Tuesday, December 31, 2019

“The Hairbreadth Train Affair” at Otahuhu, 1911 – the heroism of Francis Arthur Claude

On the southern side of Portage Road in Otahuhu, around number 130, the Auckland Saleyards Company used to have their stock pens from the 1910s. In April 1911, their on-site manager was Francis Arthur Claude, living in a house alongside the stockyards with his wife Susan Ursula and two young children, Frances Jeanette born 1907 and Lorraine born in 1908. 

On the evening of 17 April that year, Easter Monday, a passenger train from Auckland to Otahuhu arrived at the latter station at 9.28pm. The Main Trunk Express left Auckland at 9.15, so to get out of the way the Otahuhu train was shunted onto a siding. That night, the express had 600 passengers, including the Governor Lord Islington. His special carriage was directly behind the engine of the express. Once the overland express had passed through, the Otahuhu local train was meant to be put back on the main line, to start its return journey at 9.43 pm. But that evening, things went awry. 

The engine was uncoupled from the carriages during the side-lining, the intent being for it to be moved to the other end for the return journey. But, with the grade northward from Otahuhu being quite considerable, the four carriages and a van broke away and started to roll back down the main line, into the path of the oncoming mainline express train. 

The staff at the engine left behind vigorously blew the engine’s whistle, hoping to attract the attention of the driver of the express and alert him to the danger. The whistles did get the attention of Claude, from his Portage Road office. 

In course of conversation with a "Star" representative this morning, Mr Claude told an interesting.story. Shortly before 10 o'clock, While writing in his office at Westfield, which is near the railway siding, he heard three distress whistles, which in the railway service denotes danger, and the need for putting-brakes on. The sky was overcast and cloudy, the moon being quite hidden, but it did not take Mr Claude long to grasp the position. His work at the saleyards brings him into daily contact with stock trucking operations at the Westfield siding, and one glance sufficed to show that two trains were running towards each other on the one line. 

“At Westfield there are two down grades — one from Otahuhu and one from Penrose, and down both were coming brightly lit passenger trains. The express was travelling at 20 miles an hour, and the runaway carriages at about eight miles an hour. Unless something happened to prevent a collision the two trains would meet in the vicinity of the city abattoir gate. At this time the express was less than half-a-mile away, and the intended passenger cars only 100 yards away from where Mr. Claude stood.
“With remarkable presence of mind Mr Claude ran from his office on to the railroad track, [some reports said he vaulted over a number of paddock fences in doing so] and then jumped on to the van as the runaway cars flashed past. His knowledge of the stock-trucking business standing him in good stead, he at once applied the Westinghouse brake, and brought the cars to a standstill.
“Jumping out again he seized flaring red lights off the back of the van, and rushing up to the windows of the other carriages, told two passengers who were on board of their danger. Their surprise was genuine. The two travellers in question had taken tickets for Auckland, and had not had the slightest idea that there was no engine on the train, but believed they were making the ordinary journey back to the city. Speedily disillusioned on this point, they lost no time in quitting their seats.
“Meantime Mr Claude had run on about 20 yards ahead, flashing the red light as he ran, and the express was brought to a standstill within two chains of the stationary carriages. Without Mr Claude's intervention, another two minutes would have sufficed to bring about a collision, and had the driver of the express been fortunate enough to have seen his danger and stop his train, there would still have been nothing to prevent the runaway cars crashing into the express, whether that train happened to be travelling or stationary. Only Mr Claude's prompt action averted that accident. Had the two trains been in motion and collided at this point, there was a fairly steep embankment on one side over which they would probably have toppled, and a big railway smash would have had to be recorded. "I have no wish to appear prominently before the public in regard to this incident,” modestly remarked Mr Claude, "but l am convinced that had I not been in the vicinity of Westfield siding, and luckily possessed of a knowledge of how to work the Westinghouse brake, there would certainly have been a terrible accident." 

 (Auckland Star 19 April 1911 p.5) 

The express was then used to shunt the van and carriages of the other train back up to Otahuhu, before continuing on, delayed by half an hour. The railway department instituted an inquiry and immediately suspended three staff members. The guard on the Otahuhu train was reduced in rank, but the other two staff members were exonerated. The inquiry also found that the driver of the express had spotted the runaway carriages before Claude waved the red light, so awarded that driver a £10 bonus “for keeping a good look-out.” The railway officials were apparently none too happy with Claude, though. 

“I am told that Mr Claude, who saved the Wellington express from coming to grief near Otahuhu, while complimented by by the railway authorities for his promptitude and judgement, was solemnly warned that his action was quite contrary to the rules and regulations of the railway service, which distinctly prohibited any interference with brakes by other than officials, as such interference was calculated to lead to accidents! This reminds me of the story of the railway company which, in learning that it was likely to be sued for damages by a passenger who had fallen from a moving train owing to a defective lock on one of the carriage doors, promptly took proceedings against him for infringing one of its by-laws by leaving a train while in motion!” 

(NZ Herald 29 April 1911)

The Otahuhu incident made headlines around the country, Wellington’s Dominion newspaper for example calling it “The Hairbreadth Train Affair.” A letter was sent from Lord Islington, amongst many others from the passengers who had been saved that night: 

“It was not until this morning that I was placed in possession of the facts in connection with the providential escape from a serious accident that I and my fellow passengers 'had on Monday night during our journey on the Main Trunk express, and that escape was due to the courage, decision and presence of mind displayed in so singular a manner by the action you took on the occasion thus averting what in all probability would have been a very serious accident. I desire on my own behalf, and those of my staff who accompanied me, to tender to you our expression of deep appreciation and gratitude for the splendid service you rendered us, together with all the other occupants of the train, by your prompt and masterly action. As my car on the occasion happened to be next to the engine I feel particularly indebted to you for your invaluable services.”

(NZ Times 22 April 1911, p. 1) 

Donations were left at the office of the Auckland Star for a testimonial for Claude, in recognition of his heroism. The Government did present him with £50. 

But then, Claude fell dangerously ill with pleurisy and was reported to be in Auckland Hospital on 1 June. Lord Islington made a personal visit to him at the hospital, but Francis Arthur Claude died on 13 June 1911. 

“Mr Francis Arthur Claude, whose pluck and promptitude saved the Southern-bound Main Trunk express from disaster at Otahuhu on Easter Monday, passed away at the District Hospital last evening at the early age of 33 years, after suffering for several weeks from a severe attack of pleurisy. Mr Claude's action in boarding the runaway train at imminent risk and averting a catastrophe by applying the Westinghouse brake will not soon be forgotten, as but for his courage and promptitude the consequences would almost certainly have marked a black day indeed in the railway history of this Dominion. The Government presented him with a cheque for £50. Among the passengers on the express was the Governor (Lord Islington) who has made frequent inquiries as to the condition of Mr Claude since his admission to the Hospital. The consequences to the health of Mr Claude were however, serious, and his medical attendants consider that the shock to his system from the trying ordeal through which he passed that night has contributed largely to his early demise. So fixed had the incident become in his mind, in fact, that he repeatedly referred to it in his delirium. The deceased leaves a widow and two young children.” 

(Auckland Star 14 June 1911, p. 8) 

“The funeral of the late Mr Francis Arthur Claude took place yesterday afternoon, the interment being made at the Otahuhu cemetery. Widespread interest had been excited by Mr Claude's action in preventing a collision between the Main Trunk express and a runaway train on the evening of Easter Monday, and general sympathy was felt for him when he was seized by the illness which terminated in his death. The gathering at the funeral yesterday was a very large one, many people whose admiration had been awakened by Mr Claude's gallant action joining with the large number of his friends in the last marks of respect to the deceased.
"About 150 wreaths were sent, among them being a beautiful one sent by His Excellency the Governor (Lord Islington), who was a passenger on the train which Mr Claude saved from disaster. The employees of Buckland's saleyards, at which Mr Claude was latterly employed sent a wreath, and artificial wreaths were sent by the employees of Messrs Kemphome and Prossor, among whom he formerly worked, and by the Masonic Lodge of Opotiki, of which he was a member. The service at the graveside was conducted by the Rev H Mason, of Olahuhu.”

(NZ Herald 16 June 1911, p. 6) 

With his passing, there were still heartfelt expressions of appreciation for Claude’s bravery. 

“Sir, Now that Mr Claude, whose brave action prevented loss of life and serious injury to many passengers, also damage, the extent of which it is impossible to calculate, has passed away, there is a chance for the Government to redeem itself by making a rightful and generous acknowledgment that will put his widow and family on a secure footing for the future. If the runaway had not been stopped, what chance would the driver of the express have had to stop his heavy train travelling at a good speed, and reversing in time to avoid the collision? Very little, and it is safe to assert that £50 would be like a drop in the ocean in comparison to the amount the damage would have run into. Another suggestion, either for the public of Auckland or for the Government to take into consideration, is the erection of a suitable monument to set forth the record of his gallant deed, thus providing that the memory of the event would be kept alive, for ail example to others of what a man should do. Waitemata. 
"Sir, —My sympathy goes out just now to the widow and family of Mr Claude. If there had been something of a sensation connected with his deed we should have had a wave of enthusiasm, as in other sensational cases. He cared for others, and let self go. Let us look after his wife and children.
H Mason. Eden Terrace."

(NZ Herald 22 June 1911) 

Susan Claude did petition Parliament for a compassionate allowance in August 1911, joined by a petition in support by local residents. The petition was supported by MPs Albert Glover (Auckland Central), Frederic William Lang (Manukau), and Charles Poole (Auckland West). William Massey, the Leader of the Opposition, was quite sympathetic as well. The Minister of Railways, though, John Andrew Millar, was not a supporter of the cause when it was considered by Parliament on 2 September. 

“The Hon Mr Millar said that although he did not want to detract from what was certainly a very meritorious deed he wished to correct the wrong impression that Mr Claude saved the express. Had Mr Claude never been there no collision would have occurred, as the runaway train was already slowing down on an up-grade, while the engine-driver of the express was aware of the position, and had his train well in hand. The Minister remarked that the fact of Mr Claude being able to leave his house, run across, and jump two gates and then catch the runaway train showed that the pace could not have been very terrific … "It is not the business of the Government to give compassionate allowances to every widow whose husband dies under natural causes. Claude died of pleurisy, and there is not a tittle of evidence that what he did contributed directly or indirectly to his death. The doctor said in all probability it contributed, but there is no evidence that it did." 
(NZ Herald 2 September 1911 p. 8)

This statement caused Rev Harry Mason from Otahuhu to react. Millar’s statement that Claud’s actions had little to no bearing on the incident were: 

“ … refuted by the Rev H Mason, of Otahuhu, who has been collecting evidence to show that the Minister of Railways had been misinformed of the circumstances. The facts in Mr Mason's possession clearly show that the runaway train had mounted the upgrade at a considerable pace as the result of the impetus gained in its long downhill run from Otahuhu to Westfield. It was within a few yards of the rise when the late Mr Claude jumped aboard, and it was about to commence descent of another down grade when he applied the Westinghouse brake. The rate at which the train was travelling, states Mr Mason, is proved by the fact that the shock was sudden enough to throw Mr Claude off on to the ground, his clothing being cut about through his fall. The train was brought to a standstill, however, and Mr Claude, seizing a tail-light from the guard's van, ran towards the express waving it wildly, and just before his death in the hospital he informed Mr Mason that he was so afraid of not attracting the driver's attention that he was about to throw the lamp at the engine and jump clear of the rails when he heard the brakes put on. A bystander who witnessed the whole affair has also informed Mr Mason, that he heard the driver, when he got down off the engine of the express, say, "What have you stopped the train for?" 
“Mr. Mason adds that he is quite convinced that the episode hastened Mr Claude's death, and even in his delirium in the hospital just before the end he was raving excitedly about the danger of the collision and his endeavour to avert it. 
"Mr Peter Wyatt, of Paparata, Bombay, is one of those who supplied Mr. Mason with evidence bearing on the case. He writes as follows; "I consider Mr Millar's statement in the House robs Mr Claude's action of the merit it deserves. I heard the danger whistles from the engine of the runaway train, and when I got down on to the track at Westfield I found Mr Claude had stopped the runaway train within a chain of the next downgrade. Just after I arrived the driver of the express pulled his train up and got down off his engine. There were two passengers on the runaway train, and it would be a good thing to get them to come forward and give their version of what occurred."

(Dominion 16 September 1911, p. 4)

In the end, Parliament gave Susan Claude an additional £100 grant in October 1911 “for the services of her late husband.” 

Susan Ursula Claude died 6 August 1930, aged 50. One of the Claude daughters, Lorraine, predeceased her, dying 22 November 1925, aged just 17 years. Francis Arthur, Susan Ursula and Lorraine are all remembered by a simple plaque at the Holy Trinity Memorial Park (formerly Anglican cemetery) in Otahuhu.

Saturday, November 23, 2019

When a rusty pistol fired once -- the death of William John Turner, 1945


"It is disturbing that any boy of secondary school age should ever point a weapon, but I am astounded that the fool hazard of spinning the magazine should be tried out," said the city coroner, Mr A Addison, when closing an inquest yesterday into the death of William John Turner, aged 14, son of Mr W A Turner, of 67 Marsden Avenue, Mount Eden. The boy died from a gunshot wound in the head shortly after an incident at the Domain in which he was seen by two schoolboy companions to take out a revolver, spin the chamber, point it at his temple and pull the trigger. 

Evidence was given by Cyril James Gordon, a delivery boy, that about the beginning of September he climbed through a manhole in the wash-house at his home and found an old rusty revolver lying on the ceiling. He did not know who owned it and did not inform his parents of his discovery. A few days later deceased called at his home to see the weapon and witness showed it to him. As they were going away to play he placed it in the letter box at the gate. When he went back in the evening the revolver was missing. A few days later he saw deceased with it at the Peary Road park, and agreed to let him have it a little longer. 

Walter Raymond Brown, a pupil of the Seddon Memorial Technical College, said he procured a partly-filled box of .22 calibre ammunition from another boy at school to go rabbit shooting at Huapai. While witness was acting as a platoon sergeant in charge of a squad of college cadets on parade at the Outer Domain, deceased, who was in the squad, showed him a revolver he was carrying in his tunic. When witness said he had a box of .22 cartridges, deceased kept pestering him for some of the ammunition. After the parade was dismissed witness gave him two rounds. He did not think they would fit the revolver. 

Another pupil at the Seddon Memorial Technical College, John Walker Watson, said that on one occasion just after school had finished he was with deceased at the corner of Wellesley and Symonds Streets, when deceased took a revolver out of his school-bag and put a live cartridge in the cylinder. He spun the cylinder round and placed the end of the barrel on his right temple, saying, "I am going to shoot myself." He then pulled the trigger, but the revolver just clicked on an empty chamber. "He did this about three times altogether, spinning the chamber, putting the revolver to his temple and pulling the trigger," witness continued. "He told me that, even if the hammer hit the bullet, it would not go off, as the bullet was short, and a long one was required. After doing this, deceased pointed the revolver at several other boys and pulled the trigger. The revolver clicked, but nothing happened." 

Brian Edward Page, also a pupil of the Seddon Memorial Technical College, said that he attended a parade held by the, school cadets in the Domain. After the parade was dismissed, he and another boy, Robert Seath, were walking toward the hospital when they were joined by deceased. On reaching the Inner Domain, deceased pulled a revolver from inside his tunic and said: "Watch me." He then spun the cylinder of the revolver and pointed it to his head. There was an explosion and deceased fell to the ground. Witness saw blood streaming from his head. "Prior to the shooting, deceased was in a good humour," witness added. "He was smiling when he drew the revolver. I do not think that he intended to shoot himself. I think that he was just fooling and was showing off. He never mentioned to me that he intended to take his life." 

Ernest Cyril Wooller, a master at the Seddon Memorial Technical College, said he held the rank of major in the Territorial Force. On Wednesday, September 26, he was in command of a parade of about 800 college cadets in the Outer Domain. It consisted mostly of footdrill and some weapon training with .303 rifles and Bren guns. No live ammunition was issued to any of the boys. He knew nothing about deceased having a revolver either at school or at the parade and was unaware of the accident until the next day. 

In a report on the revolver and ammunition, Gregory G Kelly, an arms expert attached to police headquarters in Wellington, said the weapon used by deceased was a .22 calibre double action revolver of seven cartridge capacity. It was old and decrepit. The mainspring was apt to slip out of place and when this occurred the hammer had a poor blow, One might snap the hammer dozens of times on live ammunition without firing a shot. It would seem that it was a misfortune that the blow which discharged the fatal shell was struck at the time the boy pointed the weapon at himself, continued the report. This was the 19th case reported this year in which minors had been killed or injured through unskillful or careless handling of firearms. 

"The evidence gives a very complete story of the tragedy and the circumstances leading up to the fatal culmination," said the coroner. "It shows that deceased had been making very dangerous play with the weapon and I am justified in drawing the conclusion that as a result of his experiments and inexperience he had formed the opinion that the revolver would not discharge with the mere action of snapping the hammer. "It may be that this is the result of those trashy thrillers seen, read and heard by boys with a thirst for sensationalism", he continued. Nothing could be said against the college authorities. 

Every one present in the Court would appreciate the amount of investigation and helpful work done by the police in bringing to light the full circumstances of the boy's death. He was satisfied that deceased did not intend to kill himself. The coroner returned a verdict that the cause of death was a gunshot wound in the head unintentionally self-inflicted by deceased. 
(NZ Herald 22 November 1945) 

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Peace bonfires on Mount Eden, 1919

"Showing a bonfire on Mount Eden for the peace celebrations at the end of the First World War," 19 July 1919. 
Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections 4-1515C

Above is the second bonfire arranged on the maunga for the peace celebrations. The Mt Eden Borough Council decided in May to spend £100 building a pyre beside the trig station, using bits of gorse etc cut from road clearing operations in the borough. All heck broke loose in the letters columns of the newspapers, criticising the council for effectively proposing to burn such a lot of money, a "wicked waste" and "a useless sin." 

The Mayor defended the decision, saying that the £100 would be defrayed by contributions from the Peace Committee's general funds, but the criticism kept up. On 16 June, it was reported: 

"... the forthcoming peace celebrations is now well in hand. The engineer to the Mount Eden Borough Council, Mr J Rogers, tabled a plan at the meeting of the council last evening showing that the fire column which is octagonal in shape, is 90ft in height and 30ft in diameter. He explained that the column would be lighted from the top in order that it might burn longer, and eight effigies, seven of prominent Germans and one of a Bulgarian, would be hung at the sides, about two-thirds of the way up. These would represent the Kaiser, the Crown Prince Hindenburg, Ludendorff, Von Mackensen, Von Tirpitz, Von Bissing, and King Ferdinand." 

NZ Herald, 17 June 1919 

 On the night of 22 June 1919, however, "mischief makers" set fire to it well ahead of schedule.

"From the summit the spectacle of the blazing pile was a very imposing one. The bonfire had been built within a circle of eight pine saplings, 100 ft high, firmly planted in the ground on the highest point of the mountain. Inside this circle were stacked pine boughs, gorse, fern, and other inflammable matter. Twenty barrels of tar were placed in the centre and large quantities of kauri gum "screenings" were deposited in different parts of the structure. In the centre was a circular draught hole wherein was placed a ladder, to be used for the lighting of the peace beacon. "At first the flames, were confined to one side but with a sudden change of wind to the south-west the entire stack became enveloped. Soon the lowest platform, erected 3ft from the ground in order to create a draught, gave way and the entire upper portion fell with a heavy crash, accompanied by the crackling of the pine boughs, and a faint hissing as the flames penetrated to the barrels of tar. Tongues of fire ran up the sides, and at about 9 pm the bonfire looked not unlike a lofty tower in flames. On one side showers of sparks were borne down with heavy clouds of smoke into the darkness below; on the other lay the mountain crater filled with strange shadows and overcast with a dull smoky glare. Crowds of spectators watched the burning of the pile, some apparently a little disappointed at the premature lighting of the fire, others cheering lustily or shrieking wildly as each support fell sending up a shower of sparks. At 10 pm rain fell, and at midnight nothing remained but a ring of blackened poles, a heap of embers, and a cloud of slowly rising steam." 

NZ Herald 23 June 1919

Some viewing the beacon's premature immolation thought the peace agreement had already been signed in Paris. Uh, no ... 

 Rumours flew around Auckland as to the culprits ...

"The Mount Eden bonfire appears to be getting on the nerves of its promoters. How else can one account for the suggestion that it was lit prematurely by pro-Germans? Why not carry the theory further and suggest that it was started by a German who had received a wireless message about the sinking of the battleships at Scapa Flow? Or why not blame the Bolsheviks, anybody but the bright-eyed Auckland boy or boys who did the deed! Certainly the youthful incendiarist was not pro-German, he was just a healthy New Zealander with a normal instinct of patriotism. He thought he would make sure of a celebration that night, and was relying upon the pride of the Peace Celebration Committee to give him an encore at the right time. The committee has gracefully decided not to disappoint him." 
NZ Herald, 28 June 1919 

So, they rebuilt the pyre. Taking suitable precautions ...

The Mount Eden bonfire is in course of re-erection, and raiding parties, whether they be larrikins or pro-Germans, will this time make a descent — or rather an ascent—against a prepared foe if they should again hazard the adventure of kindling the blaze before the scheduled time. Elaborate defensive precautions have been taken, and the fortifications are now considered to be impregnable. Day and night guards are mounted, and constant vigil is kept over the stack and the inflammable ingredients with which it will be anointed.
For the accommodation of the sentries a temporary guardhouse has been erected, while around the bonfire itself has been built a high barbed-wire entanglement to baffle the invaders should the guards be surprised. In a position calculated to reveal the whereabouts of the enemy, no matter by what direction he approaches or flees, has been suspended a large light, so that any attack other than a strong fighting patrol is foredoomed to failure. Little short of a raid with incendiary bombs or bullets will rob the Auckland citizens of their peace pyre." 

Auckland Star, 15 July 1919 

 Did it finally come off as planned? Yep.

 "The main event for the public on Saturday evening was the bonfire on Mount Eden. The pile was surmounted by a sign-board bearing the word "Kultur," and the skull and cross-bones, and the construction involved so much work that it was only completed at three o'clock in the afternoon. The fire was lit from the top, and burned very slowly at first, but a continuous volume of dense smoke and showers of sparks made a pretty effect. In about twenty minutes the sign-board on the top caught alight, and this was the signal for a great outburst of cheering from the onlookers. Shortly afterwards the superstructure collapsed, and then the fire began to burn vigorously, lighting up the whole of Mount Eden and being visible for miles. The fire was still burning when most people went to bed."

NZ Herald, 22 July 1919

A Pleasant Point Railway Easter

Bryan Blanchard from the Pleasant Point Museum and Railway sent these in the other day, writing: "Easter 2018 with The Silly Old Station Master  & Kiwi who gives the young children who come a free Easter egg, plus free face painting, popcorn & a bouncy castle."

Thanks, Bryan.

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Ellen Melville, the Kosie vote splitter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Early Chinese in Wellington

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

Port Nicholson to New Zealand’s capital

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

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

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

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

John Ah Tong 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ah Gee 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Wellington Anglican Chinese Mission 

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Dominion, 2 May 1908) 

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

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

Friday, July 27, 2018

"We are borrowing one of your 'planes": an early theft from Mangere Aerodrome

(Image: NZ Herald 24 April 1934)

Blood marks on cockpit. 

A Gipsy Moth aeroplane was stolen from the Hangar at Mangere aerodrome about four o'clock this morning. It crashed, and was found after daylight in an estuary on the fringe of the flying field. There were blood marks in the cockpit, and footprints in the mud for some distance round the edge of the estuary. It is believed that two young men who were seen at the aerodrome yesterday were associated in an extraordinary adventure. At the hangar a note was found stating that the men proposed to fly to Australia. 

Two men, whose ages were estimated at 25 and 27, both about 6ft, were seen about the hangar early yesterday morning. They showed intense interest in the 'planes, and climbed into the cockpit of one. Both were unshaven, and are described as of a rough type. They told Mrs Hall, who is connected with the clubhouse, that they were hungry, and she gave them a meal about lunch time. Members of the ground staff at the aerodrome were uneasy about the movements of the two strangers, and when they went up to the clubhouse from the hangar for morning ten they decided to leave someone in charge of the 'planes. 

After lunch the two strangers disappeared, but were again seen about the aerodrome late in the afternoon. When work for the day was completed members, of the ground staff closed the hangar doors and locked the petrol bowser pump which stands outside. The gliding doors of the hangar are never locked. 

 About 3.30 this morning a resident who lives some distance away from the aerodrome was awakened by the barking of his dog. Then he heard a car. The noise faded, and he went off to sleep. In the next half-hour much must have occurred at the hangar. 

About four o'clock Peter Allan, the young son of Flight-Lieutenant D M Allan, instructor to the Aero Club, heard, the sound of a 'plane. He called out, but his father first thought that the boy was talking in his sleep. Shortly afterwards Mrs Allan and the boy heard a crash. They rose and began a search, but it was not until daylight that the 'plane was found with its nose buried deep in the mud of the estuary. The thieves had escaped. 

 Considerable attention to detail was paid by the thieves. After opening the hangar doors, it was necessary for them to wheel out two other 'planes before they could get to the machine of their choice. The stolen 'plane is known as the green Moth, ZKAAT, and is much less conspicuous than the other two machines, one of which is orange and the other blue.

After wheeling the machine out of the hangar, they replaced the other two, and then smashed a lock off the bowser pump. They filled the green Moth to capacity, 19 gallons of petrol, and then wheeled it about 300 yards to the middle of the flying field. They carried chocks with them. Once in the middle of the field, they started the engine, taxied into the north-easterly wind, and took off. The flight lasted only a few hundred yards. 

It appears that shortly after they got the 'plane in the air the engine stalled or choked, with the result that the 'plane dived into the deep mud of the estuary on the fringe of the field which overlooks the Manukau Harbour. One of the men must have been injured, for on the floor of the cockpit there were bloodstains. Tracks in the mud showed the way the men had gone. The tracks were close together indicating, perhaps, that one was injured and was being helped along by the other. The tracks skirted the shoreline, then led to a miniature gully and disappeared on the grass of the aerodrome. 

 When members of the ground staff of the Aero Club first started to investigate they found a note crudely written in pencil on a page out of a note book. The scrap of paper was placed near the telephone in the office of the hangar, and read:— "We are borrowing one of your 'planes. Flying to Australia immediately. C Johnson. W Dawson. "P.S.—We are taking enough petrol to get there." 

When dawn broke searchers found the aeroplane. Its nose was sunk deep in. the mud, one blade of the propeller was smashed, and the cowlings were forced in. Minor damage had been done to the wings, but until the engine is taken down it will not be known what damage has been caused to it. Before the plane could be pulled out of the swamp, it was necessary to strip it of its wings. The machine was pulled out by man power with the aid of a long rope under the direction of Flight-Lieut. Allan. 

 A tin of red paint was found in the cockpit, and officials suspect that the thieves intended to repaint the machine. A dark-brown felt hat and a pair of goggles belonging to a club member were also found, but two other pairs of goggles and two helmets were missing. A pea-rifle was also missing from the hangar. 

Soon after the discovery of the crashed 'plane, police were making inquiries. Detective L Packman, S Brown and Constables Worts and Wilkes arrived by car and were soon searching the district for the suspects. No trace of them had been found up till two o'clock this afternoon. 

 "They could not have known much about flying a 'plane," said Flight-Lieut. Allan. "They apparently started off into the wind all right, but they had no chance of getting far without first warming up the engine. The machine either stalled or they opened up the throttle and choked the engine." Though the thieves filled the 'plane’s petrol tank from the club's bowser, its capacity of 19 gallons would have kept them in the air for only three and a half hours, and in that time, in still air," they would have flown only about 240 miles. 

Aeroclub officers are sceptical as to the suggestion that the thieves intended a flight to Australia. One member said that perhaps the two adventurers were lucky to crash so soon and on a soft surface. "Had they got out over the Tasman Sea,” he added, "they would probably have been well in it by now.” The case is believed to be the first of its kind in either New Zealand or Australia.

(Auckland Star 21 April 1934) 

William George Davis (20) and Charles Young (18) were soon caught on the Puhinui Road at Papatoetoe, and charged with the theft of the £1200 plane. Unemployed farm workers originally from Matamata, they’d travelled up to Auckland, and hit on the idea, after unsuccessfully job-hunting in Auckland, to try their luck in Australia, and use one of the aero club’s planes to do it. They were found guilty and sentenced to a two year term in borstal. 

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.