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.

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.