Saturday, January 29, 2022

Hallyburton Johnstone: the complex benefactor

Image: NZ Herald 3 August 1927

Here is a man for whom the legacy, 160 years after his birth, of the enduring fame he had intended for himself has become muddled with that of a possibly namesake nephew. A man he pointedly declined to recognise as an heir to his will. Said legacy has distinctly faded over time. 

The fame is slowly drifting away into the mists of lost memory; the arch bearing his name across a gateway to the tennis grounds at 335 Point Chevalier Road, that was removed between 2013 and 2015, had not been restored and put back as at April 2021. While there still is an incorporated society bearing his name that administers the main building on the sports ground there (and the name remains as a condition of his “gift”), the tennis, bowling and croquet clubs have not carried his name for decades (although the croquet club still retains “HJ” at the top of their logo.) 

The sports grounds at Point Chevalier were not even truly “gifted” to the community or to the three sporting codes that occupy the space. While he was alive, Johnstone retained his title over the property, and received a £200 annuity payment (reduced to £104 per annum if paid punctually). Johnstone’s interest in the property, in the 1930s, was listed in the society accounts as a £1000 liability. He was a life member of the trusts executive committee, and personally chose three of the trust members out of the six places. When he died the title for the grounds was passed on to his executors, then to his solicitor Frederick Coles Jordan (one of the trustees Johnstone had appointed) and was then placed with the Public Trust Office. The annual rates bill charged for the now $4.2million property (just over $10,000) is shared in proportions by the three sports clubs. Should the clubs fold, in accordance with the deed from 1927, then the land will go to Auckland Council. 

Arch that was above the Pt Chevalier Road entrance to the sports ground. Note incorrect space in Johnstone's first name on the sign. Image 2011 by Phil Braithwaite.

There were four major trophy shields bearing Johnstone’s name: one for the Auckland Rifle Shooting Championship, one for the Waitemata Swimming Club Harbour Swim Competition, one for the Auckland Soccer Minor Associations tournament, and one for one-day Domestic Women’s Cricket. Only the last remains in use and awarded annually – although from 1982 until 2017, it had been replaced by the Hansell’s Cup, before being reinstated. NZ Rowing still do have a cup competition in his name, known these days as the Hallyburton Johnstone Rose Bowl. This was described in November 1927 as “a massive bowl of silver … originally the property of the Duke of Buccleuch,” acquired by Johnstone on a visit to England. Even this year, one major South Island newspaper’s journalist mistakenly thought that the nephew’s generosity should be praised for its existence, not that of the uncle. 

Johnstone was born on 15 January 1862 in Raglan, on the west coast of the Waikato region. His first name came from his paternal great-grandmother, Magdalene Hallyburton, back in the county of Fife, Scotland, in the 18th century. His father John Campbell Johnstone joined the military life, employed by the East India Company in 1834; by the time he resigned in 1853 he had held the rank of Captain for three years. According to a family history, land was what drew Captain Johnstone to New Zealand. There is speculation that he may have had contact with up-and-coming land barons here, namely William Brown and Dr John Logan Campbell, as to what was available from out of the dealings taking place at the time between the government and Maori. At that point, there were land deals being made near Raglan, and these drew Captain Johnstone to that part of the island. Unfortunately, there were misunderstandings between the Crown and the Maori land owners, with Captain Johnstone in the middle of that fraught sandwich. 

He did manage to set up his Te Haroto sheep run to the east of the Raglan township, but there were years of compensation applications, not to mention the Waikato War of the early 1860s. The Johnstone family left Raglan in June 1863 and took up temporary residence at Waiuku, returning in September 1864. Hallyburton (born 1862) was the eldest son. His brother Campbell was born in December 1863, and brother Lindsay in May 1866. There were other siblings, but these three brothers and their relationship were later to become national news. 

Captain Johnstone died by his own hand in 1882, in the midst of a bitter dispute with a committee over a local school site of all things. His farm remained in family ownership until around 1914, but his homestead burned down in the early 1890s. In his will dated 1874, he railed against the Government policy of borrowing money from England and adding to the colony’s debt. His son Hallyburton would come to follow in his father’s footsteps in terms of using a last will and testament for personal commentary and criticism. 

Hallyburton, Campbell and Lindsay were close. All three of the brothers took part together as members of the Te Awamutu Volunteer Cavalry before Hallyburton left to spend a few years in Canada in 1888. On his return in 1894, that close relationship was taken up again. Campbell’s son Hallyburton was born in 1897, named after his uncle. 

The brothers took up leasehold land at Whatawhata, and near Ngatea on the Hauraki Plains. Lindsay acquired over 900 acres there in 1909. Hallyburton financed the development of the farms, and his interest was registered by the lease being placed in his name. Campbell and Lindsay then acquired adjoining properties; Hallyburton advanced his brothers more funds, and thus those properties were put into his name as well. 

By that stage, Hallyburton had made his fortune through the sharemarket, then extended his financial portfolio to land dealings. His first wife Sophie (15 years his senior) drowned in 1896, the same year he’d started his interest in gold, coal and dredging company shares. There has been speculation that her own fortune greatly assisted him. After Sophie’s death, Hallyburton senior lived at his late wife’s Port Waikato home for a time, then acquired 55 acres near Waiuku by 1904. In 1907 he was farming at Aka Aka, and in 1909 was taking part in the Waiuku Tennis Club on the combined tennis, bowls and croquet ground. 

In 1911, the mother of the Johnstone brothers passed away. Then, in July 1915, Lindsay drowned in a flood of the Waipa River. Suddenly, the dynamic of the brothers’ partnership regarding their 1909 land dealings changed. 

Earlier in 1915, Hallyburton sold part of the land on the Hauraki Plains he’d held in trust for himself and his two brothers for £10,023, and received a deposit of £500. Ultimately, the buyer defaulted, paid nothing further, and Hallyburton retained the £500 for himself. He did successfully sell the property eventually, for £10,000, but kept that money as well. Later, Campbell and Hallyburton came to a series of verbal agreements over this and other lands held by the brothers, where it was agreed that interest in the properties would pass from Hallyburton to his siblings in return for the money he had held onto. Hallyburton later denied this in court in 1917; eventually he, Campbell and Lindsay’s widow came an out-of-court settlement. 

This did not stop the legal actions, though, merely postponed them. In 1924, the partnership’s accounts came before the Supreme Court in Auckland, and an agreement was signed. Then, in 1928, Hallyburton announced that the agreement document he’d signed four years earlier was not what he had agreed to at all, that he had been defrauded just over £14,000 over the amount he’d said he would pay to settle Campbell and Lindsay’s widow’s claim. He tried petitioning Parliament to overturn this, to no avail. 

A year later, in 1929, there was another court case (this time against his brother Campbell), where he claimed that he was owed £33, his share of the sale of their father’s Raglan farm, plus interest on his 1/6th share of the estate. “I had carried [Campbell] on my back for years, but he would not give me a penny,” Hallyburton declared. “I have never received a cheque from my brother in his life, and I have given him dozens.” He denied the 1909 land partnership ever existed, describing the agreements with his brothers purely as a business situation. Still, he lost the case, and had to pay costs. After hearing the judgment, he then angrily made another accusation against Campbell; the judge warned that if he didn’t keep quiet, he’d be removed from the court. 

Hallyburton wasn’t about to leave things there, however. Straight after the court hearing, he proceeded to harass his brother Campbell, sending envelopes address to him care of the bodies upon which Campbell sat as a representative: the Auckland Harbour Board, the Raglan County Council and the Waikato Hospital Board. On each envelope was written, “Campbell Johnstone, the man who pleads the statute of limitations.” These sparked another court hearing, and Hallyburton was bound over by the judge to the sum of £10 that he would cease sending such wording on envelopes to Campbell ever again. 

Campbell died in 1930. Hallyburton was thus afforded the final say on things, via one of the paragraphs in his long will, complete with two codicils, probated in 1949-1950. A dead man defaming other dead men: 

“I further desire it to be known that the reason why I have omitted to name the children of my late brothers Campbell Johnstone and Lindsay Johnstone as beneficiaries under this my will is that in my opinion such brothers unjustifiably instituted legal proceedings against me for the recovery of moneys from me and defrauded me of over £14,000.” 

At the time the sports ground in Pt Chevalier was inaugurated, it is said that a set of minutes noted an explanation for Hallyburton’s lack of outright gifting of the site to the community. This explanation brought up some circumstance where it was claimed a similar piece of land he’d gifted in Waiuku had instead become lost through mortgages in 1920. Actually, I’ve yet to find anything like that happening in Waiuku – but there would have been a lot of precedent otherwise for Hallyburton’s determination not to let go of the Pt Chevalier site until his own death, from his own background in dealings with his brothers and their heirs, and his opinion that he had been “swindled”. 

Unfortunately for the clarity of Hallyburton Johnstone senior’s legacy, his nephew by the same name had a more notable career, which is why the two are often today mixed up. Campbell’s son Hallyburton junior, born 1897, served in the NZEF during the First World War, and went on to farm sheep and cattle in the Raglan area. He won the Raglan electorate seat in a 1946 by-election for the National Party, lost it in the general election, then won it back in 1949. He then contested the Waipa seat in 1957, won, and only retired in 1963. He was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire in 1966 for farming and his political career, and died in 1970. 

Some other parts to Hallyburton Johnstone senior’s life: 

After his first wife, he married twice more, both marriages ending in divorce, dissolution, and more court cases. In 1909, he married Margaret Isabel Jollie; this time Margaret was five years younger than he was. That year, Johnstone purchased a house at Howick called “Ingledell”, and renamed it “Elkholm” (probably after his passion for deer shooting.) This became Margaret’s home from 1911 while he spent most of his time in Ngatea, Margaret refusing to consummate the marriage due to a “physical defect” of some sort (according to the 1918 divorce application from Hallyburton Johnstone, said defect probably a heart condition). In 1915, Margaret offered up “Elkholm” as a possible site for invalid soldier accommodation. The 1918 application for a divorce didn’t succeed, but Margaret’s own 1924 application on the grounds of desertion did. The house and grounds were sold in 1924 to the Catholic Church; as one of the “Star of the Sea” convent buildings there, it burned to the ground in 1929. 

“Ingledell” on Granger Road at Howick, renamed “Elkholm” by Johnstone, which became his second wife Margaret’s residence. First built in the late 1880s, the house is seen here just after purchase by the Catholic Diocese. Footprints 02004, Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections.

In 1935, Johnstone married for the third and last time, to Mary Mitchell Cooper, 22 years his junior. Two years later, in 1937, Mary refused him any conjugal rights. He took the matter to court, where Mary was ordered to resume said rights, but she still refused, and also refused to return to live with him at his Alford Street home in Waterview. The marriage was dissolved in 1938. 

Johnstone first became involved with Pt Chevalier land dealings in 1911, when he bought nearly 18 acres from James Dignan, and had his “Town of Meola Extension No. 3” surveyed, forming Johnstone Road (named after himself), Bollard Road (after John Bollard the local MP – now Boscawen Road), Bungalow Avenue, and Bella Vista Terrace (now Bangor Street). It took from 1911 to 1938 to sell all the sections, but many he may have been renting out for income during the period. 

In 1920, Johnstone picked up two 1/10th shares of the remainder of the Liverpool Estate Syndicate from the bankrupted Thomas Dignan, and from land agent Sydney Valentine Mack. The sections (including the “bird” streets) were finally completely sold or otherwise disposed of in 1927. Johnstone transferred his interest to Francis John Dignan just before the last section was sold. 

Hallyburton Johnstone (inset) and the property formerly owned by Thomas Dignan in Pt Chevalier over which he formed the sports trust. Auckland Sun, 3 August 1927.

It was also in 1920 that Johnstone bought six and a quarter acres of Thomas Dignan’s “The Pines” farm between Pt Chevalier, Dignan and (the future part of) Walmer Road, also due to Dignan’s bankruptcy. Johnstone arranged for a survey in 1922 – interestingly at that point setting aside the same three main portions of the property (just over four acres) which form the property now used by the sports clubs. Johnstone moved from Ngatea to Dignan Street in 1924, around the time of his first divorce. The two mortgages on the property from Thomas Dignan’s ownership weren’t discharged by Johnstone until May 1927. Three months later, Johnstone’s “gift” of the site was announced. 

Johnstone had held political offices before his shift to Auckland from Ngatea in 1924. He’d been on the Raglan Road Board, the Waiuku Drainage Board, Thames Hospital Board, and served as chairman of the Hauraki Plains War Memorial Committee. In April 1927, as an independent, he made an unsuccessful run for a seat on the Auckland City Council. 

Then after his move to Alford Street in Waterview he ran again, as one of the “Independent Eleven” in April 1929. It may not have helped that he switched horses midstream, as it were, just a week later to join Allum’s “People’s Welfare” ticket. Yes, he lost the election that year. 

The following year was brighter for him, though, as he was chosen to accompany the NZ bowls team to the Empire Games in Canada. This must have been a real highlight for him, travelling back to the country where he’d earlier stayed in the late 19th century and worked on a cousin’s farm near Vancouver. He returned by early November 1930, and was interviewed by the press as to his impressions of Canada, California and other parts of the US, which must have delighted him. He even offered to be an intermediary for a trade in zoo animals between Auckland and zoos in North America. 

The 1930s and 1940s, also, was a time when, with the Pt Chevalier Bowling Club calling itself “Hallyburton Johnstone,” Johnstone’s name was spread throughout the pages of newspapers covering tournaments, with commonplace headlines like “Hallyburton Johnstone v. Henderson” for reports on district games. 

At the end of it all though, after the failure of his third marriage and with increasing ill-health as he entered his eighties, Johnstone began to make mistakes which cut deeply into his accrued fortune. His astuteness in terms of property details began to leave him. Family recollections indicate he lost considerably on a number of later Auckland commercial deals. Certainly, he became involved in court actions over rent arrears owed to him. His main will was made out in 1941, but was followed by two codicils in 1948 drastically reducing promised bequest amounts. When he died, though, his final net worth was still recorded for probate purposes in 1952 as £33,370 5s 9d, roughly $2 million today. 

What to say about Hallyburton Johnstone (1862-1949)? He certainly enriched local sport in Pt Chevalier, whether one thinks the land there on Dignan Street was a gift or not; thanks to the availability of somewhere to play, the clubs were able to form, and have had a home ever since. His general love of sport extended to cricket and rowing, via the silverware he donated. More of his silverware collection apparently was displayed in Centennial Street at the Auckland War Memorial Museum, although whether the museum still retains it is not now known. 

It is a pity the named archway hasn’t been replaced at the Point Chevalier Road frontage, but at least he hasn’t quite been forgotten. With a name like Hallyburton Johnstone (now and then seen with a hyphen, as if that was all his surname, or he was actually two people!) – how could he be?

Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Death on Batkin Road


A young immigrant, having served his country during World War II, travelled to New Zealand for a new life. Here, he found love, but he also met his death far too soon in a New Windsor boarding house.

The boarding house was at what was then 5 Batkin Road, today’s 39 Batkin, the site of the now strangely named Blockhouse Bay Rest Home and Hospital (not in Blockhouse Bay, and perhaps only barely within sight of the suburb or the bay). The site was the property of members of the Moros family from 1905 through to 1967, starting out as part of one of the farms which made up the early suburb of New Windsor.

The story begins with Nicholas George Moros (c.1855-1908), a fisherman from the Greek island of Syros, who somehow ended up in Wales in the early 1870s. There, he married a young widow named Eliza, who already had a son by her first marriage (her husband appears to have been lost at sea). Nicholas and Eliza would go on to have at least seven more children of their own.

The Moros family emigrated to New Zealand in 1886 aboard the Arawa. Here, Nicholas worked as a fisherman in Dargaville and applied for naturalisation as a British citizen in 1888. Over time in the township he acquired a fruit and fish shop, an attached billiard saloon, as well as the family’s house all on Victoria Street. A fire in 1900 wiped out Moros’ buildings; Moros bought a number of marble ornaments in Auckland and tried asking permission from the authorities to hold an Art Union raffle to recoup his losses, but was turned down. To an extent, Moros did rebuild his business in Dargaville after all, but the family soon decided to move on.

In 1905, Moros (under Eliza’s name) bought 20 acres in New Windsor between the end of Batkin Road and Te Auaunga Oakley Creek from the Batkin family. The Moroses bought another nearly 31 acres immediately adjoining, stretching to present day Maioro Street from two businessmen who, only two months before, had purchased the land also from the Batkins. The house at 5 (39) Batkin Road may well have been the original Batkin homestead from around 1899. This six-roomed house would become the Moros family home, and would remain in their ownership through to 1967, although there was in 1908 another 19th century six-roomed house on the former Victor Longuet vineyard and orchard property closer to Oakley Creek.

Nicholas Moros put all 50 acres of the New Windsor property up for sale in February 1908, including both houses, as “2 First-Class Fruit and Poultry Farms,” the northern 20 acres with 150 fruit trees, “3 acres ploughed and well manured with fish offal,” four large iron tanks and “a splendid well of water.” The main Batkin 30 acres to the south was: “First-Class blue clay land”, subdivided into three fields with stable, three loose-boxes, two fowlhouses, a dairy, cowshed (six bails, concrete floor), piggery and other features. There were no sales, however, and Nicholas Moros died in October 1908, just eight months later, still with two outstanding mortgages on the property, leaving behind his widow Eliza with the relatively large farm in rural New Windsor and teenage children still to look after.

Eliza Moros though set-to and proceed to start selling the property off from 1910. By 1922, all that remained was the four and a quarter acre section which included the house at 5 (39) Batkin Road, plus part of the future road beside.

On 15 November 1915 her daughter Despineo, then known more often as Spineo for short, married Charles Edward Henry Brothers at Avondale’s St Judes Anglican Church, the service officiated by Rev Harold Robertson Jecks. The couple moved to Frankton Junction near Hamilton during the remainder of the First World War, Charles Brothers working a railway employee, but they had shifted back to Auckland by the late 1920s. In 1935, the couple separated, and Charles shifted to Tauranga. Two years later, on hearing word about her husband, Spineo went there and found him living with another woman who styled herself as “Mrs Brothers.” In 1939, Spineo was granted a divorce.

Eliza Moros died at the Batkin Road house in 1940 at the age of 90, survived by three sons and three daughters. A year before her death, Eliza lost her sight completely. Up to that point, according to her obituary, she loved going to see picture shows, and had a keen memory.

In 1944 the estate’s executors transferred title of the house to Spineo, who had been living at the house with her mother and brother, John Nicholas Moros, since 1935. At least from the mid 1940s, Spineo started expanding the premises, adding rooms and out-buildings until it became a full-fledged boarding house, capable of accommodating around 16 lodgers. Many of these were single men or even couples with small children working at the nearby gardens, such as the large one run by Arthur Currey on New Windsor Road, or the brickyards at St Georges Road, and the Amalgamated Brick and Pipe works further west at New Lynn, along with the Ambrico (soon to be known as Crown Lynn) pottery.

One of those lodgers was Gordon James Pepper.

Pepper was born 19 July 1926 at Tunstall, Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire in England, the only son of Arthur Leonard Pepper and his wife Mary Ellen. Gordon was apprenticed as a mould-maker in a pottery factory in his home town at the age of 14, working there until he volunteered for war service at 18. He served with the Warwickshire Regiment for 12 months, and was then transferred to the Royal Pioneer Corps, going to France on D-Day plus 4, then Germany, rising to the rank of Quarter-Master Sergeant before returning to England to be demobilised in 1947.

Pepper returned to the pottery works, and toward the end of 1948 he received an offer of work from the other side of the world, at Crown Lynn pottery. So, he packed up, said goodbye once again to his home, and arrived at Wellington on 13 January, aboard the Atlantis. Two days after that, he was in Auckland, secured his job as a mould maker at the New Lynn pottery, and took up lodgings at Batkin Road.

In July, Pepper got engaged to Edna Coward, who happened to be a friend of Spineo Brothers’ family, with the marriage set to take place towards the end of that year. Pepper wanted to be able to buy a house for himself and his bride-to-be, so decided to take out a life insurance policy on himself as a form of security. On 1 October 1949, he woke up at Batkin Road at 3.30 am to start work at 4 am. After his shift, he headed by car into the city for the necessary medical examination, arriving at the doctor’s offices at 9.45 am, running up two flights of stairs because he was slightly late. The doctor found him to be in perfect health. Pepper was back at Batkin Road by around 11 am, did some washing, and had lunch at 1.15 pm, before retiring to his bedroom, which he shared with fellow Tunstall native Vincent Stevenson (another who worked at Crown Lynn), for a nap. He had tickets for a showing at one of the picture theatres for himself and Edna later that evening, so intended just to have a rest break in the course of a busy day.

Around 5.30 pm, Pepper came into the kitchen, dressed in pyjamas and trousers, apparently with a bit of upset in his stomach. Up to that point, he’d had nothing out of the ordinary to eat – his lunch earlier that afternoon was fried bacon and cheese. He asked Mrs Brothers if he could have some of her Andrews Liver Salts. She told him that the salts had perished, and instead to use a bottle of Enos fruit salts from the kitchen’s medicine cupboard instead. The bottle was still store-wrapped and seemingly unopened. Pepper took off the wrapper, poured some of the salts into a teaspoon, then mixed them in a cup of water, before drinking.

His immediate reaction to Brothers was, “I don’t like your Enos Fruit Salts, they taste bitter.” Brothers dismissed his remark, telling him he was just being “faddy.” Pepper asked another boarder standing nearby, Gordon Wood, to take a taste. Wood dipped a finger into the cup, and also remarked on the bitterness.

Whether Pepper finished the cup of water isn’t known. It was later found to have been washed and put away. The bottle of fruit salts was returned to the cabinet.

Pepper then went outside, brought his washing in from the line, and Brothers put his washing in the hot press to air off. A little later, about to start ironing his shirt for his evening with Edna, Pepper suddenly told Brothers, “I feel funny, I feel giddy.” Brothers couldn’t see that he looked unwell, but told him to go lie down for a bit. Pepper refused, continued ironing, then complained that his legs had gone stiff. A moment later, he told Brothers he couldn’t walk.

She helped him back to his room, took off his slippers for him and laid him on the bed, covering him with the bed clothes, helped by Stevenson. Pepper asked if it had been the fruit salts that had affected him. Around 6 pm, Brothers rang Dr William Gordon Davidson who was living at 1834 Great North Road in Avondale. She reported that Pepper had felt unwell after taking the fruit salts, and asked Dr Davidson if that might be the cause. The doctor said no, “there was nothing in fruit salts to cause any harm,” and it was more likely just a case of influenza. He told her to give Pepper aspirins and lemon juice. Dr Davidson and his wife were, at the time, in the process of dressing for a social evening at the home of Dr Robert Warnock in Pt Chevalier.

Brothers had no chance of giving Pepper any aspirin or lemon juice. His condition worsened, and he began to complain about the light. She tried contacting another doctor, in vain, then rang Dr. Davidson again at around 7.20 pm.

Dr Davidson later testified: “Just as we were leaving the house between 7.20 pm and 7.25 pm, Mrs Brothers telephoned again. She said, ‘That he was much worse and that his legs appeared to be stiff.’ I told her that I didn’t think much of this and that the aspirin had hardly had time to work. She then said that ‘She didn’t think it was the flu.’ I told her that I still thought it was the flu and to carry on with the treatment. I told her that I was going out for the evening and would be home about 11 pm, and if he was any worse then to give me a ring and I would come up and see him. She agreed to this.”

By now, Pepper was convulsing and crying out in pain. Brothers tried called Dr Davidson again ten minutes later, but by then he had left his house, and all Brothers could do was leave a message. This was passed on by phone to Dr Warnock, who greeted Dr and Mrs Davidson at his door when they arrived with the news that something was very wrong at Batkin Road.

When Brothers put down the phone, she returned to Pepper’s room – to find that her lodger had passed away.

Doctor Davidson finally arrived at 7.55 pm, and later stated that he was “shocked” to find Pepper dead, his face “abnormally pale.” He thought at the time that perhaps Pepper had suffered a brain haemorrhage. When he called the police, however, he wisely told them about the fruit salts. After the local constable arrived, the doctor pointed out the bottle of fruit salts to him, then left Batkin Road to return to Dr Warnock’s house. A little later, a police sergeant went to Pt Chevalier, asking both Drs Warnock and Davidson their opinion about the fruit salts bottle. Both declared the taste bitter, and Dr Davidson later stated that he’d noticed “some needle shaped shiny crystals in the bottle which did not seem usual for fruit salts”.

This turned out to be crystals of strychnine hydrochloride, spread almost throughout the bottle in six distinct layers, each layer (apart from the untampered one right at the bottom) was laced with varying amounts of the poison. The analysis found that the bottle had been opened, most of the contents mixed with the strychnine crystals, before the fruit salts were then carefully poured back into the bottle, and the whole resealed as if there was nothing wrong.

There is no indication that Gordon Pepper was the intended victim. Anyone in the boarding house could have felt some indigestion over the period the bottle was in the household. It appears that, like a roll of the dice, Pepper was simply unfortunate that day.

So – how did the bottle get into Spineo Brothers’ boarding house?

Spineo’s brother John Nicholas Moros worked as a fishcurer and later general labourer, and had lived in the family home at Batkin Road since the First World War. At the time of Pepper’s death, Moros said that he assisted his sister with odd jobs around the place. He recalled that, months before Pepper’s death, he went outside for a smoke, and walked around the house to check to see if that day’s copy of the Auckland Star had been tossed, as usual, over the front hedge onto their lawn. There was no newspaper, but instead he found a wrapped parcel on the front lawn, six yards from the road and six to eight feet from the path going around the right side of the house. The parcel was wrapped in brown paper and tied with white string, “as if it had just come out of a shop,” Moros later testified. There was no writing on it at all, and was completely dry.

Moros took it inside and showed his sister. He opened it, to find that it contained “two cakes of washing soap, a long stick of shaving soap, one packet of Gillette razor blades” – and a bottle wrapped in paper, the Enos fruit salts. Brothers added in her testimony that the bottle “was wrapped in its original wrapper,” including corrugated cardboard. She stated that Moros had found the parcel “four to six months” before Pepper’s death. Brothers wondered if the parcel had been dropped by one of the lodgers, so left it in the kitchen for some time. When no one asked for it, she put the fruit salts bottle in the medicine cabinet. Brothers claimed she never bought Enos fruit salts, and she was certain that the bottle that had been laced with strychnine was the one from the mysterious parcel her brother found on the front lawn.

The coroner Alfred Addison’s finding after the hearing in March 1950 reads thus: “… the said Gordon James Pepper died on the 1st day of October 1949 at 5 Batkin Road Avondale Auckland and that the cause of his death was strychnine poisoning as the result of taking a dose of fruit salts with which had been mixed by some (as yet unknown) person with murderous intent needle crystals of strychnine hydrochloride.” Addison was reported in the newspapers as continuing: “Pepper was the victim of one of the foulest murders in this country’s history. Police inquiries are not concluded in this case.”

However, to date, the poisoner’s identity or motive remains unknown.

Gordon Pepper was laid to rest at Waikumete Cemetery with a military headstone. A memorial service was held for him back at Stoke-on-Trent in October 1949, and his widowed mother received the proceeds of his estate, totalling £335 8s. The Daily Mirror referred to the case as “The Health Salts Murder.”

John Moros who had found the fatal parcel, died in 1958 at the age of 73.

Spineo Brothers continued running the boarding house through the 1950s, and possibly into the 1960s as well. She subdivided and sold most of the rear section to Kingram Estates Ltd in 1961, and Brothers Street was laid out, named after her. In 1967, the remainder, including the sprawl of buildings that made up her boarding house, was sold in 1967, and became the Bettina Rest Home, today site of the Blockhouse Bay Rest Home and Hospital. Spineo died in 1981, and shares a plot at Waikumete Cemetery with her brother John, next to their mother and father.

Her son Raymond Nicholas Brothers (1924-1988) who had lived for a time with his mother at Batkin Road while a student, went on to a career as a noted lecturer, professor and geologist attached with the Department of Geology at the University of Auckland from 1951, and Head of Department from 1972 to 1980. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of New Zealand in 1975.

So, as you head down Batkin Road, to drive along Brothers Street to get to Valonia Street, spare a thought for the Moros-Brothers family. But especially remember Gordon Pepper, a young immigrant keen to make a home and living for himself and his bride-to-be in a new country after a dreadful war. Someone who may have become part of the history of Crown Lynn with his skills had he lived. Instead only to perish horribly due to someone’s callous decision to do harm. The product of that decision wrapped in a parcel tied with string, left one day on a front lawn in Batkin Road.

Images: Advertisement from Northern Advocate, 22 January 1935; detail from DP 4801, LINZ records.

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.