Friday, July 30, 2021

The Mt Eden Gaol “Cuckoo!!” Mutiny of 1865

Mt Eden Gaol as it was a few years after the incident, in the 1870s. Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections 4-155 

I don’t know about you, but the word “mutiny” for me usually conjures up scenes of violent overthrow of authority, or at the least something involving weapons and a lot of angry shouting. There’s also the “refusal to take orders” type of mutiny.

I haven’t before now come across one involving calling out the name of a bird to drive someone utterly up the wall.

The year 1865 was when the prison at Mt Eden was under considerable scrutiny. It was on the verge of becoming Auckland’s only prison, with the last prisoners held still at Queen Street gaol moving out later that year in November. But there had been a number of high-profile escapes and near-escapes, along with public concern as to the state of the prison itself, in its then wooden shed-like form. The gaol’s governor, Flynn, was in the crosshairs of some who sat on the Auckland Provincial Council, especially in March of 1865. On 14 March, at the Provincial Council’s meeting, Hugh Carleton was in the midst of reporting back to his fellow councillors on the state of the gaol and the clearance of the lava field around the existing stockade to allow room for the construction of stout stone walls, when an urgent letter was delivered to him. He read it, then rose from his seat, and asked for a colleague to take over from him as, he said, a mutiny of the prisoners had broken out in the stockade, and his presence was required. The meeting then continued on, as Carleton hurried away.

 On that same morning, the NZ Herald had written an opinion piece on the subject of Governor Flynn, and his possible ousting from his job. They wrote: “With all due respect for the natural instinct which teaches the cuckoo to lay its egg in the nest of the sparrow, we beg leave to say that we do not see why this principle should be permitted to develop itself in the Provincial Government affairs of this province, and we trust that Mr Flynn will not be among the first on whom the principle is to be tried."

Two years earlier, the authorities had made two investments for the ongoing profitability of the gaol and its quarries. They had purchased a steam-powered stone breaking plant, hiring an engineer for it, and took on the services of one Charles Dyke as Inspector of Prison Labour and Instructor of Stone-Dressers. Dyke, though, was not liked by the prison inmates. The day before Carleton’s announcement of the mutiny, Dyke had complained to the Engineer-in-Chief about Governor Flynn’s laxness in not stamping out gambling taking place amongst the inmates, a charge which proved to be unfounded.

So, what was the mutiny?

Apparently, according to the NZ Herald, the engineer in charge of the stone breaker was a regular reader of their newspaper, and through him the prisoners learned of the Herald’s quote as to cuckoos and the eroding position Flynn was in regarding his job. So, on the day of the “cuckoo” article, 14 March 1865, when Dyke turned up to work and entered the quarries, he was met with cries of “Cuckoo!! Cuckoo!!” coming from various parts of the landscape, from behind hiding places, from a number of throats. The cry of “Cuckoo!!” resounded from all sides, and drove Dyke to a fury. “This evidently somewhat annoyed Mr. Dyke, who” the New Zealander reported, “at once proceeded to town to lodge a complaint with the Superintendent of the very unruly behaviour of the prisoners. By what stretch of imagination Mr. Dyke managed to convert this rather disagreeable system of chaff into an open mutiny of the prisoners, is best known to himself. We have been assured that the men retired at the usual time in the most orderly manner, and that the cries of “cuckoo” which so terribly aggrieved the foreman, ceased immediately on his disappearance from the scene.”

Six ringleaders were identified, and isolated to stand before the Resident Magistrate, Thomas Beckham, who held an enquiry into the “mutiny.” Beckham couldn’t see that there was a “mutiny” as such, but still warned all of the prisoners in the gaol that such behaviour as calling “Cuckoo!” at a prison employee was against regulations, and could entitle the guilty parties to a flogging. But he added he had found no real evidence, simply sentenced two men to solitary confinement for talking back to Dyke, and left it at that.

Flynn lost his job on 15 March 1865.

Dyke seems to have left Mt Eden Gaol soon after, taking up work as a construction supervisor for the new Auckland Supreme Court Building in 1866. He then leaves the historical record, and the “Cuckoo Mutiny” was forgotten.

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Keith Russell Jones: a bit of a scoundrel

 Image from NZ Police Gazette, 2 October 1912

"Keith Russell Jones, a well-dressed young fellow of 23, who had come only recently from Sydney, admitted to Mr Cutten, SM, at the [Auckland] Police Court this morning, that he had stolen £7 10s. from a room in one hotel and cheque-book and purse containing £1 from bedrooms in another hotel.

"The history of the man given by Chief Detective Marsack was unusual. He had arrived in Auckland about three months ago, and had been for some time employed canvassing for a photographer, and later as steward on a small coastal boat. He had arranged to be married to a young lady on May 1, but the bride waited for him at the church, and he failed to turn up. He stayed at a hotel for a time and, while there (also on the fateful May day when he was due to be otherwise engaged), he entered another boarder's room and stole £7 10s. He moved to a hotel in Newmarket, and while there took a room-mate's cheque-book, and also stole from a servant girl's room a purse containing £1. At one period of his Auckland experience he took a fancy for motoring, and ran up a bill of £5 10s. with a taxi-cab owner. He paid the bill with William Wooden's money, captured at the Waverley Hotel.

"The accused, who appeared to have little sense of responsibility, explained that he committed the thefts because he was stranded, and the taxi-cab man was pressing in his demands. He added incidentally that he had private reasons for not meeting his expected bride at the church, and said he had given her notice in time to have prevented her going there. He said he was a traveller, but he had been studying accountancy, and he had been drawn to New Zealand by a desire to see a young lady in the South Island. "His Worship said he could not help a young man who committed theft after theft in the way the accused had done. He would be sentenced to three months imprisonment with hard labour."

Dominion 16 May 1912

"Keith Russell Jones was ordered to find security in £100 that he would contribute to the support of his illegitimate child at the rate of 7s 6d a week."

NZ Herald, 30 October 1912

"A sentence of 21 days' imprisonment was imposed in the case of Keith Russell Jones, who was £24 behind in respect to an order for the payment of 7s 6d a week for the support of his child, the sentence to be suspended for 14 days."

NZ Herald, 26 February 1913

"Keith Russell Jones, for failure to comply with an order respecting the maintenance of an illegitimate child was sentenced to ten days' imprisonment unless he reduced the arrears at the rate of 20/- a week."

Auckland Star, 9 December 1913

"A remand for eight days was granted in the case of Keith Russell Jones, charged with having forged the name of L W Much on a £10 cheque, drawn on the Bank of New Zealand at Manaia."

NZ Herald 18 June 1914

"When Keith Russell Jones was brought up for sentence on charges of forgery he denied that he had been twice previously convicted of theft. Sentence was therefore deferred until Tuesday next, the Court records to be produced in the meantime to prove the convictions."

NZ Herald, 24 July 1914

"Keith Russell Jones, alias Thomas, alias Leslie W Meuli, who was represented by Mr Gould, came up for sentence on the charge of forgery.

"His Honor said the accused had been previously convicted of three distinct offences. He had been sent to gaol for one month on each charge.

"Mr Gould said that Jones was quite a young man, who had been well educated in New South Wales. His mother was a very respectable woman. Soon after the accused arrived in New Zealand a maintenance order was taken out against him. He then got into financed difficulties. The order was still in force, but the woman in whose favour it was made had since married. Jones was in bad health, and out of employment when the offence was committed. If given an opportunity, his mother desired to send him to Canada and give him a new start.

"Mr. Tole said the accused frequented billiard-rooms and imposed on boardinghouse-keepers. The offence he was now charged with was a very designing and criminal one.

"His Honor said that any possible intention the accused had of going to Canada was a matter for the Prisons Board. The accused would be sentenced to six months' imprisonment, and at the expiration of that period ordered to be detained for reformative treatment for two years."

NZ Herald 29 July 1914

"Keith Russell Jones (29) charged that he was an idle and disorderly person with insufficient lawful means of support, stated that he would like to consult his solicitor before pleading. When he mentioned the solicitor's name the Chief Detective remarked that that solicitor had been communicated with on the prisoner's behalf and had not attended the Court. From the tenor of the report received by him respecting the prisoner, he (Mr McMahon) understood that the solicitor had interested himself in Jones and had to some extent been victimised. The case was stood down for a time, and a Court official sought to communicate by telephone with the solicitor, but could not get him. When the case was recalled Jones stated that he could not understand why he should have been arrested, as he had got a passport and was arranging to leave for Sydney next Monday.

"Mr McMahon: I can't understand how he got a passport at all, nor how he expects to get away to Sydney when he is out of the reformatory on license. "His Worship decided to remand the prisoner till to-morrow morning, so that any communication he might desire to have with a solicitor might be arranged in the meantime."

Auckland Star 29 June 1916

"There were some peculiar circumstances in connection with a charge against Keith Russell Jones of having insufficient lawful means of support. Mr Gould stated that when the man's mother left New Zealand some time ago she left some money with him to send her son to New South Wales on the completion of a term in a reformatory to which he was sentenced by the Supreme Court. At the expiration of his sentence he was given a passport and his fare to Sydney. Jones did not leave New Zealand, however, for witness learned a month later that he was still about. After an interview with the probation officer he decided to procure another passport for the accused, the old one having expired. Since the application was made, however, Jones had broken certain conditions, and he had decided to finally wash his hands of him. The passport had now come to hand, however, and he was prepared to advance him his fare if the Court would allow him to go to Sydney next week.

"Chief-Detective McMahon said he thought the Court might consider the advisability of ridding the country of this man. The police, however, should have been informed of the issue of the passport and other circumstances as the accused would have been turned off the boat by the police, who knew that he was released on license.

"Mr Brackenrigg, probation officer, said the accused had received permission from the Justice Department to leave the country. The magistrate remanded Jones until Monday with the idea of having him placed on the next boat for Sydney."

NZ Herald 1 July 1916

The very convincing Martha Tainui


Image from NZ Police Gazette, 1 October 1913

Martha Tainui. Her place in New Zealand criminal history is that she had a record stretching from 1888 in Oamaru, when she was around 15 years of age, right through to at least the 1940s, her last known court appearance in Papers Past being in 1942. Amongst her many, many aliases, Martha Tainui seems to be the common thread for most of her appearances. In the main, her charges were for theft, forgery, false pretences, posing as the relative of well-known people (from a solicitor with the Public Trust to Sir Maui Pomare), and drunkenness (at least once found guilty of being drunk while in charge of a horse and cart in Wellington, 1900).

It is said that she was half-caste Maori, well educated, and almost always appeared in court well-dressed. For this blog entry I can only cherry-pick a few of the hundreds of references to her in Papers Past.

"Martha Tainui, a comely half-caste girl, who has been appearing before the Wellington Magistrate's Court at short intervals for some time, was charged yesterday with trying to obtain goods by false pretences. She pleaded guilty and asked to be sent to a Home. Chief Detective McGrath stated that leniency would be misplaced in this case, as accused had thirty previous convictions against her. As the prisoner left the dock, after having been sentenced to six months' imprisonment, she said: " I'll settle McGrath for this when I come out!" To the Bench " I'll do it again—your Worship."

Wairarapa Daily Times, 29 June 1904

"TAIHAPE, March 16. A sensation was created here yesterday half-caste woman, who had posed as the possessor of untold wealth, was arrested after being identified as Martha Tainui, an habitual criminal who had been released in October on a license. The woman had a very insinuating manner, and completely dazzled business men with her alleged wealth. She claimed to be a "daughter of Colonel Macdonald", presumably meaning Colonel McDonnell. She was driven about by land agents, entertained them and others, and talked of giving large benefactions for public objects in the town. When they searched her lodgings the police found that she possessed only one penny. She was charged with false pretences this morning and remanded till to-morrow."

Christchurch Star, 16 March 1911

"I have never before seen such a long record of convictions for false pretences,” said Air Wyvern Wilson, S.M., at the Magistrate’s Court, as he surveyed the list of Martha Tainui, who at various stages of her romantic career has posed as the “daughter” of Sir Maui Pomare, and the “niece” of Sir James Carroll, and has been the possessor of an inspiring collection of aliases. The charge preferred against her this morning was that she was deemed to be a rogue and vagabond, in that she imposed upon private individuals by verbal fraudulent representations in order to obtain money and goods. The magistrate said he proposed to treat her as an habitual criminal. The accused pleaded guilty, but said in extenuation that drink was her trouble, and nothing better could be expected of a woman who drank. Senior-Detective Gibson said that Tainui had four times been declared an habitual criminal, and the only years in which no convictions were recorded against her were those in which she was under restraint. The magistrate said that he was going to take a course which would keep the accused under supervision for a long time. She would be sentenced to twelve months’ hard labour, to be followed by three years' reformative detention. “I’ll get out." was the accused’s cheery assurance as she left the court."

Christchurch Star 20 December 1922

"When Martha Tainui (56), a Maori domestic, was found on premises at 135 Grafton Road, about five o'clock this morning, she declared that she was inquiring the way to the Mater Misericordiae Hospital. When she appeared in the Police Court later on a charge of being found on the premises without lawful excuse, she told Mr F K Hunt, SM, that she had made a mistake in the house. But Chief Detective Hammond told another story. Tainui, he said, had been stealing milk jugs from houses for some time. This morning she was watched and was seen to enter the premises of 135 Grafton Road. There was no milk jug out at this house and Tainui, when questioned by a detective, said she was asking the way to the Mater Hospital.

"There are several other charges," said the chief detective, in asking for a remand for one week."

Auckland Star 19 February 1930

"Martha Tainui, aged 64, domestic (Mr Ackins), pleaded guilty in the Police Court, before Mr W R McKean, SM, yesterday, to a charge of stealing on January 11 a fur valued at £3 15s, the property of Rita Alcott. Sub-Inspector Fox prosecuted. "If you give me a chance I will mend again." said accused. "For five years I have been leading a good Christian life. It is drink that is my trouble." Accused was convicted and ordered to come up for sentence if called upon within two years."

NZ Herald 20 January 1939

"This is her 55th appearance before the Court and she first appeared in 1897," said Senior-Detective Walsh, when Martha Tainui, a Maori, aged 68, was charged before Mr J H Luxford, SM, yesterday, with the theft of 42 sheets, 21 pillow slips, and 12 towels, valued at £47 I7s, the property of Percy Norman Wright, and with the theft of numerous articles valued at £10, the property of persons unknown. Accused pleaded guilty to the first charge and not guilty to the second. "It was difficult to know what to do with the woman, said Mr. Walsh. From time to time she broke out, although she had not been in trouble in the last few years. She was addicted to drink. A large quantity of articles had been found in accused's room, said Detective W H Cromwell. She stated that she brought them from America. They were articles that could be purchased in any department store. Accused was sentenced to 12 months' imprisonment on the first charge and the second charge was dismissed."

NZ Herald 6 October 1942

Thomas Francis Hill: "a waster in uniform."

Image: NZ Police Gazette, 4 November 1914.

Thomas Francis Hill (DOB noted in the military file as 1890, but could be wrong) seems to have joined the Auckland Infantry Regiment on 14 August, 10 days after war was declared.

"It is a despicable thing to misuse the King's uniform at a time like this and to utilise it to impose upon generously inclined people," said Mr F V Frazer SM, when Thomas Francis Hill and Frank Wilson were brought before him in the Police Court yesterday on a charge of soliciting alms. Hill, who appeared in the dock wearing a territorial uniform, was stated to have joined the Epsom camp on August 15. The same night he absented himself without leave, being arrested a fortnight later by the guard. He was sent to the hospital to recover from a drinking bout, but left and was finally discharged from the force on September 7.

"Since then, with Wilson, he had been begging in the streets from other territorials and civilians, the proceeds being spent in drink. His Worship said that 14 days' hard labour would have a beneficial effect in the case of each of the accused."

NZ Herald, 16 September 1914

Uh, no, it had little effect whatsoever ...

"Charged with insobriety and a breach of his prohibition order, Thomas Francis Hill was allowed to go without penalty, a friend offering to pay for his passage to Coromandel to get him away from the town."

NZ Herald 1 January 1915

On 25 October 1915, he was at Avondale, enlisting to join the Tunnellers as a sapper.

A young man who had managed to spend a considerable amount of time in the uniform of a soldier without getting anywhere near the firing-line, came before Mr E C Cutten, SM, this morning in the person of Thomas Francis Hill, aged 25 years. The history of his life as a soldier, as retailed by Sub-Inspector McIlveney, was that he joined the Main Expeditionary Force, but after some weeks was discharged because of his unruly conduct and generally bad disposition. He, however, managed to retain his uniform, and on the strength of it had a generally good time about the bars in Auckland.

"Eventually he was detected begging money from real soldiers in uniform and brought before the Court. That was on May 3, and he then explained that he wore the uniform because he had no other clothes and no means to get a fresh outfit. He was given a chance then by being convicted and ordered to come up for sentence when called on, and he was given an outfit by the Rev F Jeffreys, while another gentleman supplied his steamer fare to a place where he said he could get work.

"He did not go to work there, but went on to Pukekohe, where he came under notice of the police and got a sentence for vagrancy. By some means he got back into the Expeditionary Force recently, and the day before yesterday he was found drunk in uniform in Auckland. The military authorities had now intimated that they wanted no more of him, and the police had brought him up on the old vagrancy charge on which he was ordered to come up for sentence when called on as he appeared to be an absolute waster, who had made no effort at all to settle down to honest work, and seemed determined to bring the uniform into disgrace. He had absented himself from camp for eight days, and had finally been found drunk in the city.

"Hill protested at being brought up on a charge that was over six months' old, but his Worship told him he had had his chance and didn't take it, consequently he would be sentenced to three months hard labour."

Auckland Star 11 November 1915

On 17 February 1916, he enlisted again, at Trentham Camp.

Then, he went south, to Dunedin.

"On Tuesday forenoon Detective Hammerley apprehended a man named Thomas Francis Hill, alias Thomas Howard, alias George Hill, alias Williams, in the city on a charge of being a rogue, and a vagabond. The arrest of the accused was the outcome of a number of complaints received by the police authorities, and latterly by the detective office, to the effect that a man giving the name of "Corporal" Hill was going about the city under the guise of a returned soldier, imposing upon various sympathetic people by means of concocted stories of how the Turks were slaughtered by his company at Gallipoli. The stories were invariably so well told that in few instances only did accused fail to play upon the feelings of his auditors, the result being that accused collected various sums of money.

"Accused appeared in the City Police Court yesterday on the charge mentioned above, to which he pleaded "Guilty."

"Chief-Detective Bishop said this was one of the worst cases of its kind that had ever come before the court. Accused was one of the greatest wasters that had ever been in a dock. He arrived here five or six months ago, and ever since had been imposing upon the public. It was true that he had joined one of the early contingents, but had no doubt been. dismissed from the Army through his own misconduct. Accused had stated that he was discharged for having varicose veins in his legs, but it was only of recent date that the military authorities took men into camp who had varicose veins. Accused was an absolute menace to the city, and he had a number of convictions against him.

"Since 1906 he had spent a good deal of his time in gaol. He had been sentenced for theft vagrancy (on two occasions), rogue and vagabond, and obscene language. He urged that this was not a case for lenient treatment. The Magistrate (Mr Widdowson) sentenced the accused to twelve months' imprisonment with hard labour."

North Otago Times, 15 September 1916

He enlisted again, at Christchurch, 27 June 1917. By this stage, his military file is a mess of enlistments, medical exam reports, and not a lot else.

Hill was still passing himself off as a returned soldier in Dunedin in 1918, and received 12 months with hard labour, plus three years' reformative treatment. He was caught in Gisborne in 1926 passing bad cheques (six months' imprisonment), stole two coats in Christchurch in 1930 (six months' imprisonment), stole more clothing in Christchurch in 1931 (six months' hard labour, three months imprisonment on two charges), got drunk in Dunedin 1932 (one month and a fine) ... and so it went on. Until ...

"Thomas Francis Hill appeared before Messrs J R Copland and J W Fenton, at Balclutha yesterday morning on a charge of being idle and disorderly. Constable McCormack said the accused was very fortunate to be alive. He had camped in a public works whare at Clinton. He had been drinking heavily, and had taken to methylated spirits. He lit a fire in the whare and then dozed off to sleep. Some rubbish on the floor caught alight, the fire spread, and the canvas wall at one end of the whare was completely burned. The accused had spent a considerable portion of his life in gaol for various offences; in all he had 37 previous convictions. A sentence of three months’ imprisonment was imposed."

Evening Star, 9 November 1940

Looks like he died two years later, aged 57.

Monday, December 14, 2020

Samuel Duncan Parnell's unproven claim to fame


"The Eight Hour Day Committee", 1890, image by Winifred Gladys Rainbow. Really, the six signatories to the illuminated address presented to S D Parnell at the Labour Demonstration Day. Parnell died two months after this photo was taken. PAColl-2324, National Library.

This blog, since July 2013, has been linked with the Facebook page also called Timespanner, and vice versa. On 24 October this year, due to my misgivings regarding the veracity of the common and oft-repeated story regarding an early Wellington carpenter named Samuel Duncan Parnell and his connections with the established custom of the eight hour day in New Zealand, I did a post. 

Paul Corliss, author of a 2008 book published by the NZ Council of Trade Unions and Unions Canterbury entitled Samuel Parnell, A Legacy – The 8 Hour Day, Labour Day and Time Off, left a comment on the post’s thread: 

“I won't bore you with detail, but there is some supportive evidence for Parnell's ascendancy as claimant in the attached book [cover] (2008) ... if he was 'fibbing' he must have been pretty convincing as his 'preferential' treatment by thousands of supporters and among those leaders who were industrially/politically active must have been based on some history...”

When I pressed Corliss for the “supportive evidence”, he replied:

“You'll need to read the details in the book detail...which is why it took a book to outline it. Unfortunately Facebook sound-bites don't allow the sometimes necessary length.”
What that told me at the time was that Corliss seemed to be not prepared to discuss or have his evidence examined on Facebook. Bit of a shame, because that is exactly what happens on Timespanner FB. 

Okay, I’m happy to take a look at another point of view. So … I went to the trouble of getting a copy of his book from the library. 

Corliss’ book is A5 in size, and 81 pages long. It doesn’t set out to examine the S D Parnell story (most of the book talks about the “legacy” rather than Parnell himself), but instead spends time arguing against any other suggestions as to what happened at Petone in 1840, without actually bringing up an event that did take place there, and which was referred to by others during Parnell’s lifetime. This was after he began to make his own version of the story known publicly from 1877, and before his death in 1890. Not “after Parnell’s demise” as Corliss puts it. But, Corliss’ book was prepared before Papers Past and other online newspaper archives virtually exploded with additional sources and ease of access in the past ten years. Even my own Zoo War, from the same year as Corliss’ work, needs a much revised and added-to new edition. 

Parnell has become something of a “patron saint” to supporters of labour and union causes in this country, especially since the latter part of last century when his gravestone at Bolton St Cemetery was erected by the NZ Carpenters, Plasterers and Bricklayers Union in 1961 with wording reflecting Parnell’s status in their eyes. His story has become a favourite to relate with each and every Labour Day, assuring it of legend status. That S D Parnell, carpenter, had George Hunter, store keeper, agree to an eight hour day on Petone Beach in early 1840 is told to school children, repeated in television programmes, newspapers, magazines, and today, of course, the internet. “You have Samuel Parnell to thank for your Labour Day!!” 

To me, though, it is all just too pat. And for Parnell to be an “inaugurator” of a “movement” – well that movement seemed to go fairly slow, and in patches, in New Zealand. We didn’t seem to really wake up to how flimsy the by-then established “custom” of an eight hour working day was here, until workers across the Tasman started striking for it in the mid-1850s, and Auckland tradesmen realised that it really wasn’t a guaranteed thing. They knew it was customary in Wellington, and Otago had followed it, by a separate origin, from the time of their first colonial settlement. 

There are really two main things to look at, then. Question one: Did Parnell inaugurate the custom of the eight hour day in Wellington? And – Question two: How did his story, and no one else’s, get to be so popular? But also – what’s behind the idea of an eight hour day anyway? 

There are really a lot of conflicting theories as to why “eight hours” as opposed to any other number, but the even division of the 24-hour day plays a big part, and that points to the notion of evenly dividing up the day (work/rest/sleep) going back centuries. After all, an eight-hour sleep is still held to be the benchmark of a good night’s snooze, even though some sleep a bit more, others less, and some follow the old pattern of breaking sleep to do something then going back to bed. 

In the early 19th century, up to the late 1830s, the English newspapers referred to discussions on the eight hours of work in relation to child labour (many held that children below certain ages should not work longer than eight hours), the hours of work on slave plantations in the West Indies, and the hours for coal pit miners. One rather interesting example however, relevant to our history here in New Zealand, came from the testimony given to a Parliamentary Committee in 1838. 

John Flatt (1805-1900) was an Anglican Church Missionary Society catechist who worked in the Matamata and Tauranga areas for the CMS, and was one of those who assisted setting up the garden at The Elms in Tauranga. In 1838, he was asked by the Committee: “When you had made the agreement with the native servants to work for you, how many hours’ work did they perform in a day?” His answer: “They worked eight hours a day.” (Morning Advertiser [London] 24 October 1838 p. 1) 

So, the idea of eight hours work per day was definitely in the public mind. Work hours varied, though, up to 14 hours referred to for some occupations and age groups. 

So, on to question 1: Did Samuel Duncan Parnell inaugurate the custom of the eight hour day in Wellington? 

It is said that Parnell was born in 1810, somewhere in England. By the late 1830s, he found work as a carpenter in London. He married, on 6 September 1839, widow Mrs Mary Ann Canham, née Wellham. How old Mary was is not known – she may have been the same Mary Ann Wellham who had married Edward Martin Canham in Suffolk in 1824, which would mean she was around 10 years older than Parnell. As she died from heart disease in Wellington in March 1842, this may have been the case. 

The couple left London in 1839 aboard the Duke of Roxburgh, and arrived at Petone 8 February 1840. Already at Petone, having arrived on 31 January 1840 aboard the Oriental, was fellow carpenter/builder William Taylor and his wife. There would have been others there following the trade, but numbers aren’t known. 

Parnell’s earliest written statement about the events around the “inauguration” of the “movement” for the eight hour day in New Zealand dates from 21 February 1878, 38 years later, in a letter he sent to the NZ Times and published on that date. He claims that on “either in February or March” he established the system “by myself” when he got George Hunter to pay for eight hours work per day. 

Fast forward to 1885. At the time, repeated efforts were being made in Parliament, unsuccessfully, to have an Eight Hours Bill passed. Each time, it was all for nought. On 15 January 1885, the Evening Post published a letter written anonymously by “An Old Colonist”, which shed some more light on what happened on Petone Beach in the first half of 1840. 

“I will briefly state the way this system was introduced by the early settlers of Wellington. They met on Petone beach shortly after their arrival, and carried a resolution to the effect that eight hours should constitute a day's work in Wellington. I arrived here in June, 1841, found employment on my landing, and also to my surprise was informed that eight hours was a day's work, and it has been ever since. Many of the early colonists of this place went to Canterbury; therefore the movement in the same hours became the rule in that part of the colony. Neither Dunedin nor any other part of New Zealand has any claim to the honour achieved by the few colonists that assembled on Petone beach. Therefore I say, honour to those that honour is due to— and that is to Wellington only.”

A meeting? This doesn’t tee up with Parnell’s 1878 assertion that he had started things by himself. 

As it happens, yes – a meeting was advertised, set to take place at W Elsdon’s Commercial Inn and Tavern on Petone Beach in the evening of Thursday 21 May 1840, the notice in the newspaper addressed “To Carpenters and Joiners” and calling it “an important meeting.” 

Elsdon’s Inn burned down in December 1841, so it is not a well-remembered part of Wellington’s history. 

You may have wondered why I referred to one William Taylor earlier in this article. He was the one who arrived at Petone just over a week before Parnell. Well, it is because of this: 

“At the meeting of the Benevolent Society on Tuesday, the Secretary reported that one of the old men, named William Taylor, aged 80 years, who for some time past had been on the books of the Society, had died the previous day at the Hospital. He had been taken suddenly ill at the boarding-house, and Dr Henry, who kindly visited him two or three times, ordered his removal to the Hospital, where he died the day following. Mr Danks, in very feeling terms, alluded to the deceased, who had first initiated the eight hours movement in this city, whence it spread to other parts of the Colony, Australia, England, and the United States. He was sorry that it could not be made known to the trades in Australia that the originator of the eight hours movement was living on charity in Wellington. “And that he tried to pay for his support by picking oakum,’’ remarked Mr Wardell. “The Secretary stated that the deceased arrived here in the year 1840, and he, with a few others, initiated the eight hours movement at Petone.
“An old colonist, who arrived here in 1841, has kindly furnished us with the following particulars : —“The deceased, William Taylor, arrived herein the month of January, 1840, in the Oriental, one of four emigrant ships which left England the previous year for New Zealand. He was a builder by trade, and for some years carried on business—several of the first buildings in the city being erected by him—with the aid of any help which could be procured from other carpenters in those days. He was one of those present at a meeting held soon after his arrival, at which it was determined that from 8 a.m. till 5 p.m. should constitute a day’s work, and it has never been altered since. Therefore, from such humble beginnings the eight hours movement spread all over the colonies. “Taylor was somewhat of an erratic disposition. When his own trade got slack he took to coasting between Wellington and the Wairarapa, taking up supplies, and bringing back wool. He was rather improvident, generally acting on the maxim that ‘sufficient for the day was the evil thereof,’ which led to his being in indigent circumstances in his old age. Poor Taylor deserved a better fate.” (NZ Mail, 4 September 1885, p. 22) Bolding mine.

Someone was swift to inform the Evening Post, by the time of the following day’s issue, that no, it wasn’t the late Taylor who originated the movement, it was Parnell. (5 September 1885, p. 2) 

Two years later, Taylor’s story came right back up again, and in the Evening Post – except that things had become rather muddled. Now, the meeting was said to have taken place at “a house” in Pipitea about 1840 or 1841, where the “principle (of the eight hour day) was affirmed at a meeting of carpenters … when a motion for that purpose was proposed by Mr W M Taylor and seconded by Mr D S Parnell [sic]. Mr Joseph Palfrey presided over the gathering.” (Evening Post 24 September 1887, p. 2)  

Parnell wrote in, saying he’d never heard of any such meeting, he was living in Willis Street when it took place at Pipitea, and he reiterated that he and George Hunter started the movement, no one else. (Evening Post, 29 September 1887, p. 3) 

The thing is, though – at that point, Parnell had no eye witnesses still alive to corroborate his story, nor documentation. George Hunter himself, the other participant, died at Willis Street back in July 1843. (NZ Colonist and Port Nicholson Advertiser, 21 July 1843, p. 2) 

Clearly, William Taylor had told others about his part to play in getting the standard practice of eight hour work days set in place in Wellington before he died, and there are at least the facts that Taylor was there at the right time and at the right place, and that a meeting happened on Petone Beach just months after his and Parnell’s arrivals. 

Just as an aside -- it is surprising that members of the country’s labour movement don’t seem to want to take up the story of an early trade collective deciding among themselves to enforce the work standard upon the early settlement’s employers, rather than stick to the unproven story of a single man who kept maintaining he had done it “by myself.” 

Journalist, historian, politician and trade unionist John Thomas Paul in the Otago Daily Times (27 March 1937, p. 5) tried to tackle the tangled thicket that is the cold case of “Who was the inaugurator of the eight hour day in NZ, really?” Apart from him understandably not being aware at the time of the CMS example from the mid 1830s, he studied what was known of the contenders for the title at that point. 

He brought up an article published in 1909 in the Hutt and Petone Chronicle, claiming the honour for Edwin Ticehurst and William Taylor. (There’s that Taylor name again.) Ticehurst was said to have been the one to direct the building of Barrett’s Hotel on Lambton Quay, formed a Carpenter’s Association, then arranged a meeting “held in a hut built of Manuka, on the beach at Pipitea, just under where St Paul’s Cathedral now stands,” and there Taylor proposed the eight hour day, seconded by Ticehurst. But – Paul was unable to locate any contemporary report backing this up. Ticehurst flourished at Wellington around 1845-1846, which would mean that story would have taken place rather late on the timeline. 

Paul also cited the Cyclopedia of New Zealand volume for Wellington from 1897 which claimed that “The first Labour Conference took place in October, 1840, in front of German Brown’s [again, Barratt’s Hotel link] to decide whether a day’s work should be eight or ten hours.” It’s from the Cyclopedia that the additional bit often cited today as part of the stories of the eight hour movement came into being: “It was resolved that eight hours was to be a working day, and that anyone offending should be ducked in the harbour.” This, though, just adds to the feeling that, over time, the story has been embellished by story-tellers (including Parnell). Each re-telling leads us further and further away from what actually happened. 

Take this example, from the NZ Times, 22 January 1910, part of a set of articles highlighting Wellington’s history over the course of 70 years: 

“By the “Duke of Roxburgh” there arrived Mr S D Parnell, an initiator. Immediately on his arrival, he was employed by Mr Hunter, senior (of Willis and Co.), to superintend the erection of a large store. Parnell, beset by industrial problems in the Old Country, had nourished dreams of betterment, and here in the new colony he took the first opportunity to catch his dreams by the throat. He established an eight-hour day for his workers. It was an omen for the coming militant democracy. Wages were low enough—five shillings a day for skilled labour—but, thanks to Parnell, there were reasonable hours of work. The reasonableness of the innovation does not seem to have impressed Mr Hunter, senior. Eight hours’ work! Why, it meant that every man would have sixteen hours daily in which to go hotfoot to the devil! “Mr Parnell, you know the proper time in London was six in the morning, when the bell was rung, and any man not to his work at that hour lost a quarter of a day.” One can imagine Parnell’s smile as he quietly adhered to his system. Perhaps he foresaw the coming time when the workers on this soil would exact their most ingenious demands and definitely set out to own and coerce the blessed earth. And perhaps he didn’t. Anyhow, Parnell’s name stands among the pioneers high on the roll of honour. He was a revolutionist for righteousness’ sake, one of a few men in that day who held that Jack might possibly be worthy of the humane consideration from his master.”

 Parnell had become a “clerk of works,” probably the only way to figure out how he had initiated things “by himself.” We are now drifting even further away from the scene on the beach in 1840, which is becoming lost in the mists of exaggeration. 

Paul, like myself, just could not find any contemporary provable evidence to fully back up either the Parnell claim, or the other counter-claims. But a “meeting” does seem to be a common thread here, and we do at least have that one advertised meeting that was planned for a May evening in 1840 on the beach at the pub, to discuss something rather important to the settlement’s carpenters and joiners. 

So. Did Samuel Duncan Parnell inaugurate the movement in colonial Wellington? Without evidence, that would have to remain undetermined. Instead, there are indicators that the movement was given local recognition and strength due not to one man, but to a collective which met together (likely mid 1840), and decided on the practice as a group, and enforced it. 

Question two: How did his story, and no one else’s, get to be so popular? 

In 1844, Parnell shifted to Karori. He still described himself as a carpenter, and when he died in 1890, he left his tools, implements and carpenters workshop at Cambridge Terrace to an apprentice named Ovid Norgrove (details in probate file). He married again, to Sarah Sophia Brougar, in December 1851. At Karori up until 1870 he farmed sheep, up to 54 in his flock in the last year. He also took part in a 20 year (1850-1870) feud with a neighbour named James Spiers. Their conflict certainly helped keep the local court system in business, as they argued over dogs and fences. In the end, Parnell lost a case Spiers had brought accusing him of malicious prosecution (Spiers asked for £200 damages, and was granted £50 instead). Parnell finally sold his farm and livestock in September 1870, and shifted back into town. 

There was no word from Parnell up to that point, at least not in newspapers, about his part in the eight hours movement. The 1850s had come and gone, with the rise of industrial action in New South Wales and Victoria, along with meetings among the mechanics at Auckland (who were keen to emulate their Wellington brethren). Then, in July 1877, on Taranaki Street, the Wellington Workingmen’s Club opened. Parnell became a member (he exhibited some of his art at their shows in 1878). He donated bound volumes of the National Reformer to the Wellington Fire Brigade for their library three months after the Club opened – and the Evening Post introduced S D Parnell as “one of the early settlers, and who is stated to have instituted the eight-hours’ labour movement in the year 1840, in Petoni.” [sic] (20 October 1870, p. 2) 

A leading light at the Workingmen’s Club was Edward Player (1819-1904). In 1880, he became the club’s president. He wanted the club to “be looked up to by the whole of the working-men of the colony.” (Evening Post, 19 November 1880) In Parnell and his story, he had a great means of achieving that aim. An opportunity presented itself late in 1889 – preparations to celebrate the year 1890, jubilee of the colony, and a perfect time to institute a special celebration of New Zealand’s working class. 

His December letter to the Evening Post was the start of his campaign. 

Evening Post, 4 December 1889, p. 2

What we now know as Labour Day is a descendant of the “Eight Hour Demonstrations,” the earliest of which in this country appears to have been held in Dunedin on 21 April 1862. It was a small affair, a procession of 30 men of various trades, followed by a dinner at the Provincial Hotel (which attracted 140 people, compared with the numbers in the parade.) (Otago Daily Times, 22 April 1862, p. 4) The next was in Auckland, on 19 April 1882, a day declared a public holiday by Auckland’s Mayor, with the event itself held on the Auckland Domain. Over time during the 1880s, the demonstrations were held in various centres, and became rather blurred and connected with temperance movements, whether or not Federation with Australia was a good idea, and St Patricks Day festivities. In Auckland, it was at times tied to our Anniversary Day. 

In 1890, the Jubilee Year, it was decided at a meeting of the Maritime Council of New Zealand that a “Demonstration Day” would be held that year and every year from that point on 28 October, the anniversary of the date the Council was formed in 1889. (Evening Post, 10 May 1890) Up to this point, Wellington really hadn’t joined in all that much with the whole Eight Hour Demonstration thing before, judging by the previous years’ newspaper coverage, but now the local newspapers headlined the “Labour Demonstration Day” prominently. What extent Player had to do with the decision made to present Parnell with an illuminated address on the day, as well as feature the ailing man prominently in the main procession is anyone’s guess, but Player was certainly one of those who signed the address. (NZ Mail, 31 October 1890) 

Of those who signed: 
Edward Player arrived in Wellington in 1859 on the Alfred the Great, so was not contemporary with the 1840 events.
Charles F Worth, born around 1833, had also been in Wellington only from around 1860. Captain of the local fire brigade, and another member of the Workingmen’s Club. 
H W Potter, born in 1847, arrived in New Zealand in 1873, and only lived in Wellington in later years, working for the Evening Press
William McGill, born in 1844, monumental mason and a close friend of Parnell’s, arrived in New Zealand in the 1860s from working in the Australian goldrushes, but lived in Wellington only from 1889. 
D P Fisher was secretary of the Federated Trades and Labour Council. 
John Plimmer, the “Father of Wellington” was also not a witness to what really happened in 1840, arriving the following year in 1841. He might have been the closest to being some sort of verifiable witness to Parnell’s tale, seeing as Plimmer also worked in the building trades, but aside from his membership of the committee organising the preparation of the address and signing it, he doesn’t appear to have intersected much with Parnell’s path during the latter’s life. 

But this didn’t matter. The public had a name and a face to which they could associate a story from Early Wellington. There was no longer talk of any sort of collective meeting setting a standard which those in that trade followed from that point as a custom – it was Parnell, heading out to ships as they came in to tell the tradesmen what they should agree to. It was Parnell as a “clerk of works” with employees instructing building owners. (Actually, William Taylor had been the one who was in a partnership of three as a firm, during 1840 and up until January 1841, when he struck out on his own). George Hunter was now painted as stubborn and rather selfish Capital, facing off the “plucky” Parnell representing good Kiwi Labour. 

Parnell didn’t really have to be convincing – he came along with his version of events, of which he had probably quite convinced himself were correct, and those who listened didn’t really know any different. By the time 1890 came, his story was good enough to go with, and it had progressed, with and without embellishments, from then on. 

I still, after this examination of the story, find the Parnell version undetermined as far as veracity, and lacking proof. It is a personal and hearsay claim as to a part of history, nothing more. Perhaps one day, if more early Wellington newspapers join the collection at Papers Past, particularly anything as early as 1840 and 1841 (and at the moment, that period is sparsely covered), I can then re-examine the Parnell tale, and search for other pieces to the puzzle. What happened at that meeting in the Commercial Inn? Did it even take place, after it had been advertised? What was that important topic, for everyone in the trade to discuss? 

Until then, whenever I shall hear folks say that we somehow owe Labour Day to Samuel Duncan Parnell and his exploits on that beach, so distant now in time, I’ll just shrug. And wait for more information to come to light.

Thursday, December 10, 2020

John Bonfield O'Mealy -- losing a family in the gap

Researching a life, the further back you go, means there will always be gaps. Gaps in which something happened that changed that life, often for the worse, but exactly what is lost or when or why isn't known, or at least not readily available to discover. 

I first came across John Bonfield O’Mealy when I was researching and pulling together stuff on Te Wai Horotiu back in 2017. I found the colour version of his 1842 plan of Auckland town (image detail here, from National Library) and thought how well it showed the true early course of the stream, before the Ligar Canal was added to divert part of the water from below Wyndham Street. O’Mealy showed clearly that the stream didn’t flow down Queen Street really, it was more or less parallel to it. 

Then, while researching Maungawhau this year, I looked again at a scan of a very battered, ripped and incomplete map from December 1843 of the area of the maunga and its surrounds – and saw O’Mealy’s signature again. Sort of like an old friend popping back into view. 

John Bonfield O’Mealy was born somewhere in Ireland, around 1810. He was appointed as an assistant surveyor in April 1841 and arrived in Wellington with Charles Ligar and the rest of Ligar’s survey department, along with his wife Elizabeth, aboard the Antilla on 8 December 1841. This after the ship they had been on originally, the Prince Rupert, wrecked off the Cape of Good Hope. 

He and his wife had three children, all born in New Zealand, and they lived at “Glen Ligar”, somewhere near Official Bay, beside Charles Ligar and his family. The name of the O’Mealy family home, “Acacia Cottage,” may be just a coincidence with the Acacia Cottage later connected with Dr John L Campbell. O’Mealy’s cottage was on two acres, had five rooms, and a “three-roomed kitchen”. In 1850, the O’Mealys left Auckland, bound for San Francisco. 

They show up on an 1850 census at Trinity, California, a place of gold panning and wild dreams, where many Chinese worked hard as well to win riches from the ground. O’Mealy described himself then as a miner, so was apparently taking advantage of the gold rush fever of the time. There are traces of O’Mealy in America through to 1859, where in 1958 and 1859 he won prizes at state fairs for penmanship and topographical drawings. 

Then, he reappears in the Southern Hemisphere in 1863, his signature on a survey plan once again, this time for Dromana in Victoria, Australia. From this point, though, there is no mention of his family. He became a district surveyor by 1868 for the district of Inglewood, but by 1870 was heavily in debt. O’Mealy apparently did drink more than a fair bit, but in 1875 suddenly decided to quit and go absolutely tee-total. Later, some cast the opinion that he was “mad as a March Hatter” at times, and going stone dry suddenly didn’t help. 

One day in 1876, in a barn, he rigged up a razor on a piece of wood so it wouldn’t slip, had a large knife handy in case he needed that as a plan B, and slit his own throat. He died intestate, and his estate, what there was of it, went to his creditors after advertisements placed in the newspapers for a widow or other family led to no results. 

He wasn’t without friends, though. Four members of the community, two of them his fellow surveyors, carried his coffin to a Roman Catholic cemetery, and set to in digging his grave before a service there by the local Church of England minister. No one could say, at the inquest, if O’Mealy had been thinking of suicide before he did the deed or not. 

 But somewhere in the gap, both in time and across an ocean, he had parted ways for some reason with his family, and so died alone. He has, though, left behind something of a legacy for his time on the planet.

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

The "dilapidated baronet": Sir Charles Wentworth Burdett (1835-1892)


Fourteen days hard labour in Mt Eden Gaol in Auckland for the theft of some roses. Such was the sentence in 1888 for Sir Charles Burdett, Baronet. 

Sir Charles Wentworth Burdett, 7th Baronet of Burthwaite, was born 4 November 1835 in India. His father, also Sir Charles Wentworth Burdett, was an officer in the service of the East India Company, and died in 1848 when his son and heir was only 13. 

 The younger Sir Charles went in for a military career, rising to the rank of lieutenant in the 54th Foot, and arrived in New Zealand in the early 1860s. Here, he served as a captain in the Waikato Militia, and later in the armed constabulary for nearly 11 years, discharged in 1874. In 1864 he married Betsey Higginson in Onehunga, then Grace Grant in 1871. He and Grace had three children. His son Charles Grant Burdett succeeded him as 8th Baronet. His father-in-law Matthew Grant was described as a well-to-do Pakeha-Maori frontiersman. 

According to Australian sources at the time of his death, Sir Charles had a heated argument with the Minister of Defence, Thomas Russell in the 1860s, insulting the other man, and that this led to Sir Charles being cashiered, then rejoining the militia just as a private, followed by the armed constabulary. It might also have been linked with rumours that he was to be an aide to Governor Sir George Grey. According to the same sources, Sir Charles’ downward spiral was assisted by his “strong affection for the bottle … He soon sank [after his stint with the AC] to the level of cook in surveyors camps, and to even more menial employment.” (Queensland Times, 2 June 1892) 

According to the Otago Witness, “In the Australian colonies he had been known for many years as a veritable "Jack-of-all-trades." He picked up a precarious living by stripping bark from trees, cooking for bushmen, and doing odd jobs about squatters' stations.” (Otago Witness, 7 November 1889) 

Sir Charles ended up as an inmate at the Auxiliary Old Men’s Refuge in Auckland in 1886, aged just 51. In April that year, he wrote to the Hospital Committee applying for the job of manager of the refuge. The Committee members responded that if Sir Charles was capable of managing that institution, he was capable of making his own living, and therefore had no need to be in a refuge, living on charity. 

Then in November 1888, the “dilapidated Baronet” was charged with stealing two roses and other flowers from Albert Park. 

“For some time past the flowers and plants in the Albert Park have been systematically purloined, and the police having been on the watch for weeks to discover the perpetrators of such mean and contemptible thefts, yesterday Constable McCoy was coming down Victoria-street, when he encountered Sir Charles Burdett, who was carrying a handkerchief full of roses and other flowers. As the worthy baronet was known to the constable he accosted him, and asked him where he obtained them. He first of all replied at a place in Hobson-street, and afterwards changed the locality to the cemetery. The constable, as the outcome of their conversation, invited Sir Charles to accompany him to the police station. The custodian of the Park was communicated with, and it being seen that some of the roses in the Baronet's bundle were Duke of Wellington roses, the custodian looked over the bed where these had been planted. It was discovered that several of the roses had been plucked. Owing to the drizzling rain making the volcanic soil plastic, a footmark was noticed in the bed, and on taking one of the boots of Sir Charles to the spot, it was found to correspond with the footprint in the bed. He was accordingly locked up on a charge of larceny of the flowers.” (NZ Herald 8 November 1888) 

He was found guilty, and sentenced to 14 days hard labour at Mt Eden Gaol. 

He was admitted into the Costley Home at Epsom on a trial basis in 1890, but ended up staying there until his death two years later. He was buried at Purewa Cemetery, his burial registration giving his occupation as “gentleman”. His son, Sir Charles Grant Burdett, died in 1918, and was buried at Eltham. 

Friday, October 23, 2020

Two Chinese graves, somewhere on Motuihe


I came upon the story of the first burials on Motuihe Island by accident, while looking up something completely different in Papers Past last night.

Motuihe Island was apparently purchased from local iwi in 1837, then bought from Henry Taylor by William Brown and John Logan Campbell in 1843, according to a DOC heritage report from 2006 (the image is a detail from a larger photo in the same report, by Godfrey Boehnke). John Graham purchased in in 1858, and ran deer and poultry there. In 1868, he took out a mortgage from the Auckland Provincial Council -- later that year, he disappeared, believed drowned. His body was never recovered. 

In September 1871, a ship named the Joshua Bates arrived in Auckland, coming from Hong Kong with over 206 Chinese men as immigrants for the Otago goldfields. The ship was leaking, and needed provisions. Worse still, though, scurvy and dysentery had broken out, and three of the Chinese passengers had already died en voyage. There were reportedly two Chinese who were also doctors aboard. The local agents, Henderson & McFarlane, tried appealing to the provincial council to let the Chinese passengers land at Kohimarama while repairs and re-provisioning took place. This was declined -- but Motuihe was put forward instead. 

So the ship sailed for the island, and deposited her passengers there for six days. This was not a quarantine station then. That came to be from 1872. What buildings there would have been there would probably have been Graham's farmhouse and whatever shed or barns he may have built. It's likely, though, there was next to nothing there. 

Two of the Chinese died during this period of the Joshua Bates being at Auckland, and reports of the time in the newspapers indicate that they were buried somewhere on the island. Whether at the later cemetery connected with the quarantine station from 1874 is not known. 

After the six days, the Chinese boarded the ship Taranaki, which took them on to Dunedin. 

In 1872, this experience highlighted to the Provincial Council how useful Motuihe would be as a quarantine station, and so it entered the next phase of its history. Followed, of course, by being an internment camp during WWI, a quarantine camp once again, and its role in our military and defence history. But somewhere under the grass or the buildings of today's island probably lie two unknown, unmarked graves of men seeking their fortune and work, and finding only death, back in September 1871.

Saturday, September 19, 2020

A timeline history of the Kosy at Blockhouse Bay

The Kosy, Donovan Street, Blockhouse Bay, from Jan Grefstad collection, Auckland Libraries

From 1926 to 1973, Blockhouse bay had a hall/dance hall, and later cinema, on the site currently part of the carpark in front of Countdown Supermarket, off Donovan Street. Back in 2017, I gave a talk about it at the Blockhouse Bay Library. Here are the notes.

The northern half of Allotment 269, at the corner of Blockhouse Bay Road (Wynyard St) and Donovan Street, was one of three lots bought under Crown Grant in Whau South in September 1859 by Jerome Cadman, a builder living in Chapel Street (now Federal Street), then later Albert St, in the city. Cadman was also a warden at St Matthews Church, and later a member of the Auckland Provincial Council. After he died, the land was assigned to his widow, Ann, and then transferred to the legal firm of Dignan & Armstrong. Mrs Catherine Armstrong came to own the land outright from 1882. 

1885 (from NA 42/230, LINZ records)

 Ole (oo-luh) August Guttormsen was born in South Shields from a Norwegian family, at the mouth of the River Tyne in England. He worked as a house joiner in 1911, and his two sisters were music teachers.

Back in Blockhouse Bay, Arthur Decimus Sheffield, a farmer from Titirangi, owned the corner property (now including part of 295) from 1907. It looks like he retired to the Blockhouse Bay site, and had the house built on Blockhouse Bay Road where the Guttormsens later lived (today, this is about where the north-west corner of Countdown’s building is.) Sheffield’s father served with the East India Company.

The site was owned by Percy Fowler from 1919-1921 (who also seems to have used the house) , then retired farmer John Walker from 1921-1925.

Guttormsen came to New Zealand with his sisters Helga and Annie.

Avondale Borough Council reject Avondale South residents’ request for a public hall in their area. December Ole Guttormsen buys the Wynyard Road-Donovan St 1.25 acres section from retired farmer John Walker.

Annie and Helga advertise music lessons from their home on Wynyard Road, “Margate Villa”. Ole advertises a four room house, close to beach and bus.


Ole advertises wanting 50 Bentwood chairs and 40 forms with backs (must be cheap).

June 12 1926
Blockhouse Bay Hall opens, ceremony by HGR Mason, MP. Admission Gents 2/-, Ladies 1/6, Refreshments provided. It had a stage (described in a report from 1930), tables, and attached supper room. The hall was 30’ x 100’ in size. Later that month, Kalee projectors on display at Harringtons of Queen Street. A special notice for “showmen” to check out their Show Stand at the shop. Guttormsen advertises that both learners and advanced dancers welcome on his “excellent floor”.

Called the Blockhouse Bay Lecture Hall in one ad. May have had the projector installed at this point.

Referred to as Blockhouse Bay Picture Hall. Still mainly used for the weekly dances. Jan Grefstad wrote that Guttormsen was a projectionist, with his sister Annie selling tickets, and Helga playing the piano for accompaniment for the silent movies. He also thought that they held dances after the movies – but this is probably not correct. The advertisements do not mention movie shows at all while promoting the dances, and the hall seems to have been geared to the latter in the first years.

Reliant on the GOC buses leaving the city 7.30pm and 8pm, conveying dancers to BHB, then taking them back to the city from the hall at 11pm. Bus links with the city and with Avondale were important, as they were for many of the dance halls scattered around the isthmus. From late 1925 however, the BHB Hall faced direct competition from the Dixieland at Pt Chevalier (which remained until 1935), Waikowhai Hall from 1930 (buses leaving from Avondale Fire Station via Blockhouse Bay) then the El Rey Club at Hillsborough from 1934. There were dances held at church halls as well, such as St Judes in Avondale and St Thomas in New Lynn.

Jacob Kohala appeared to be the manager at BHB, 1927-1928. He started on the circuit in Auckland with a Hawaiian band, then switched to jazz, waltz and foxtrot. He moved on in 1928 to the Ponsonby Hall.

Avondale South Womens Club began holding their meetings in the hall (the club started in 1925), one of the members being one of the Guttormsen sisters.

The hall and supper room up for sale. Also “Cinema plant (Kalee Indomitable Projector Machine) patent screen, tip-up chairs.” It wouldn’t be until 1935 that Guttormsen sold his property, however.

Sir James Gunson used the hall for a political meeting. It would be so used through to the 1940s. Leo M Sayers now the manager. He advertised the “Seattle Snappy Six, Auckland’s Melody Sheiks,” who provided “the peppiest of dance music.” Prices were ladies 1s, gents 1/6. The bus to the dance came from the Mt Albert tram terminus now, and left the hall “after the dance.” “Get Out and Get Under the Moon.”

The Aloha Quartet, for “Monte Carlo and Spot Waltzing”, on “the perfect floor.” Monte Carlo and spot dancing was a method of gambling for prizes.

The Blue Bell Serenaders, and Jake’s Versatile Trio, with Sayers offering “balloons, streamers, competitions”.

The Melody Boys Jazz Orchestra June – A children’s fancy dress dance in aid of the St Saviours Church.

A benefit picture entertainment held in the hall in aid of victims of the Murchison Earthquake. First reported instance of the hall used as a cinema (although that was likely happening off and on from late 1926.)

Skip Whiting and his Merry Jesters Jazz Band (with 6 instrumentalists)

Grand orchestra, dancing from 8 to 12, with chocolates and cigarettes. Waikowhai Hall opens.

BHB hall under new management (possible A Miller), re-opened 24 January. Jazz Dances every Saturday night.

Gaiety Dance Band.

No advertisements until December, for New Years Eve. Hall used during the year for charity events.

No advertisements.

Old Time Dancing at BHB Hall. Monte Carlo, light supper, admission 6d.


At some point during winter that year, an unknown manager reorganised the hall to show talkies.
October – 20 October, reopening with “excellent talkie programme,” 8pm.

Sale of the site to Alfred Clarence Stanbridge, picture theatre proprietor, £600.

Showing “Grand Canary” at BHB, under new management. Start of regular small ads for movies. 230 seats.

Additions to the hall. At front, to the left of the entrance an office space. To the right, a lobby, and toilet space. Outside, a lean-to for an additional toilet.

After subdivision, the hall site bought by Douglas and Sadie Elizabeth Fleming for £1150. Formal transfer in July.

The hall is licensed by Council for public meetings.

Children’s fancy dress party at the Beverley Theatre. Named after one of their daughters. “There were wooden steps leading up to the front entrance and on the left side of the entrance was the small ticket office window where Mrs Fleming sold the tickets. Adults were 1/6 in the back stalls and 1/3 for the front stalls and 1/- for children in 1948. As well as tickets Mrs Fleming had a small range of confectionery to sell to the sweet toothed. There was no interior foyer and after you bought your ticket you went to the left or right of the entrance and you were in the cinema. The back few rows were raised about 18 inches so those people could see over the heads of the people in front of you. The ladies’ toilet was on the left-hand side of the cinema next to the ticket seller’s office and the men’s toilet was on the right hand side of the hall.

“To reach the projection booth, which was above the entrance on the roof, the projectionist had to take the reels of inflammable film up a small wooden ladder on the side of the Men’s cloakroom next to the toilet. There were even hooks for you to hang up your coat and hat. Inside the cramped space of the booth two ancient Kalee projectors provided the screen magic. In 1944 the light source came from lamps costing £6 for two. The projectionists wages was 17s per performance and he paid a tax of 4s for two screenings. Some of the projectionists who worked there in the 1940s were a Mr Roper who started there in May 1944 and stayed until June 1945. Then there was young Doug Harley who came from the St James in the City where he had learned his trade and stayed for a few months …

“For years Mr and Mrs Fleming used to travel from Three Kings where they lived to Blockhouse Bay by car to show the movies.” [Jan Grefstad, Auckland Cinemas Vol 2] The movies were held on Wednesday nights.

Thirty-nine seats @ 12/6 each obtained NZ Theatre Chair Co. September – newer seats purchased from His Majesty’s for £18. The front seats were said to be wooden ones salvaged from the tram fleet, but that remains unsubstantiated.

May 10 
Third birthday for the Beverley, free ice creams provided. The Beverley showed serials and newsreels, although likely the last on the circuit to receive these.

Attendances ranged from 69 people to over 200.

Council sends notice that no hand basins were installed in the ladies and men’s toilets, that a 8’ x 10’ addition to the side of the building in order to sell soft drinks had no building permit, and that the front six rows of seats, being loose and not fixed to the floor, were a hazard in the event of fire. Fleming responded that a rough lean-to had always existed on the eastern side, used to store timber and odd rows of seats, and he simply moved it closer to the kitchen. The City Engineer advised battening together the loose seats in groups of six. Fleming replied that he battened them together in groups of four. City Engineer not happy, he wrote back suggesting groups of eight.

Application by Fleming to Council for permit to reface the front of the hall, £300. This would have provided for a semi-circular front landing with steps and flower beds, and Spanish-style curved front with tiles. Seems to have been withdrawn.

Jan Grefstad thought the Flemings sold the cinema so that they could go on a trip to Europe and see the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II (June 1953).

Frederick Ofsoske of Hamilton buys theatre £2600 (including chattels)

Frederick Ofsoske in charge of the theatre (Council writing to him). 

Renamed Kosy Theatre. Managed by local Mrs Griffiths.

Formal transfer to Frederick Ofsoske

Application to Council to build three lock-up shops attached to the cinema.

Ofsoske applies for permit to extend the hall for larger screen, and increase capacity to 100 seats and this extension to include space for a TAB office at the rear. However, with no guarantees of long-term off-street parking, Council agreed only to the cinema extensions, not the TAB. The old stage was removed, old curtains removed, flowerpots at each end disposed of. The new screen was lit up instead of having curtains pulled back.

Cinemascope at the Kosy. The month the cinema officially reopened again, this time with more viewing days.

New owner, Blockhouse Bay Properties Ltd (Kenneth G McKerras, partner with P James Marquet). Application to Council for extension to the rear of the theatre in brick & concrete, increase seating by 84 (not Ofoske’s 100). “We are finding difficulty in seating all who wish to attend the better class of programme we are now screening. With one exception we have turned away from 20 to 40 people each Saturday night and in the case of a fortnight ago we had a full house on three sessions.” [Jan Grefstad] Application approved, without requirement for off-street parking. – Kosy Theatre Blockhouse Bay Ltd formed as a private company, with shareholders Ken McKerras, Peter Brandt (McKerras’ son-in-law), Jim and Yvonne Marquet.

Formal transfer to Blockhouse Bay Properties Ltd (£9850). Ofsoske died 1960.

April to May
Operating box extended and seating altered - £4000. The foyer was altered, with office, ticket booth and storeroom now facing the front entrance, and two entries to the hall proper with upward ramps leading to the stalls at front, then steps up and back towards the further seats up to just beneath the projection and power rooms. The existing projection room which jutted out the front was removed and the roof altered as the space was enclosed.

Via Avondale Advance. “At last the carpenters have gone and the painting completed in the offices and toilets. Unfortunately we do not have the Reserve Bank of New Zealand behind us and there are some further projects ahead when finance permits such as Electric curtains, new linoleum, front of house lighting and other items. However we are showing first rate films and sincerely trust that you will be well pleased with the titles we have selected. The Housewife’s sessions have started once again and taking the atrocious weather into consideration we have been having very good attendances especially as we show the films back to front, that is we screen the main feature first then the short subjects so that mothers may leave early if need be to meet children after school. These sessions never come out later than 2.30 pm. We are now running special programmes for the kiddies each Saturday and we always have one or more cartoons. You can be assured that your child is in good hands at the Kosy. We will not stand any nonsense from the children and we have over the last 12 months weeded out the troublemakers and have banned them from this cinema. These last remarks apply equally as well to the teenagers and by virtue of our smallness we can keep a sharp lookout for any louts who may try to get in undetected. Call in at any time, rest in the lounge whilst waiting for your bus, use our phone, it’s cheaper than the one along the road and generally make yourself at home in your home of entertainment, the KOSY!”

Marquet organised a bus trip for children that left the Kosy, visited the Aulsebrooks factory at Mt Roskill, then headed across the harbour bridge to Waiwera where they showed “Fury At Smuggler’s Rock” at the Waiwera Hall (film brought over from BHB on the bus). Then back to BHB by 5pm. Children at Kosy screenings were bribed to have the cleanest row, those there being allowed to stay back at the end of the session for an extra cartoon.

Cinema begins to show special fortnightly Sunday screenings, half proceeds going to Kelston School for the Deaf. Advertisement – prices 1/9 or ¾ “Why not reserve a seat tonight for a two-hour (or more) appointment with pleasurable entertainment provided by the leading motion picture producers of the world? “Our theatre chair will transport you to the four corners of the world in the breath-taking beauty of colourful Cinemascope; you will be thrilled to see the year’s best selling novels unfold before your very eyes; love and adventure films will enthrall you in their foreign settings, providing you, your family and friends with a few hours of very pleasant relaxation. “Special Saturday sessions for children, when only ‘G’ and ‘S’ certificate films are shown. Children’s parties specially catered for – ring up and discuss your next party booking.”

Council refuses to allow cinema screenings for the Dear School charity on each Sunday. The cinema then licensed only to show movies once a fortnight on Sundays. A deputation protested, stating that half the net proceeds from the Sunday screenings went to the Kelston School for the Deaf. The Council consulted the churches. Archbishop Liston was opposed to the idea. The Anglican Bishop’s representative said that the locals should be approached, and that the Anglicans had no objections to Sunday evening entertainment as they felt they couldn’t compel people to attend their services, and asked that the screenings not start until 8.15pm. Blockhouse Bay Baptist were opposed. They felt that Sunday nights should be for attending church, then a quiet night at home. The Avondale Ministers Association were also opposed. The Avondale Presbyterians were opposed, thinking it was purely for financial gain. Blockhouse Bay’s Iona Church were opposed, feeling that Sunday pictures for profit could threaten the upbuilding of Christian life and character. August – Council reverses their decision, allowing screenings each Sunday night.

Trying to attract customers with ads advertising “wall-to-wall cinemascope screen,” “specially selected programmes from the leading film studios of the world,” “no parking problems”, and “sick of TV?” Screenings were on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday matinee and evening. By now, the Sunday screenings had ceased, but Marquet held benefit evenings for the local Labour party, scouts, schools and ladies’ clubs.

Cinema now under Ray Melrose management, “New Associated Independent Cinemas,” Glenn Parker as manager. New projectors were installed, replacing Guttormsen’s Kalee projectors from back in 1926. However, this couldn’t help the cinema’s profitability.

18 May
Last movie: “Fantastic Voyage”, Stephen Boyd and Raquel Welch.

Transfer to Importers & Distributors Ltd.

End of the cinema 

Converted to a hire centre.

Transfer to Foodtown Supermarkets Ltd

Rented to Blockhouse Bay Hire Service Ltd, $18 per week.