Thursday, November 19, 2015

Auckland Old Folks Association Coronation Hall in Gundry Street, Newton.

What caught my eye was the bit about it being a coronation hall. I'm so used to such halls in the country being connected with monarchs back to Edward VII and George V -- this made me wonder. 

Turns out, this Fletcher Construction-built, Heinrich "Henry" Kulka-designed building was part funded by money to celebrate the coronation of Elizabeth II. There can't be too many coronation halls about that are that, well, relatively young. 

The association itself was founded in 1945 " to provide social services for the elderly in an inner-city neighbourhood of social, cultural and demographic diversity, particularly through fostering gatherings among its members “irrespective of status or creed” in a hall designed for that purpose," quoting from their website.

So -- a very old but still well-used community hall, funded from a coronation, designed by an architect who is now hugely appreciated for his less-utilitarian designs later in his career (in the 1950s and early 1960s, he worked for Fletchers as an in-house designer). Interesting the things I find out for myself about the city while wandering about with a camera. 

An article on the hall here

East Street Methodist Mission Hall

East Street, off Karangahape Road, was chopped up severely by the motorway development of the 1960s-1980s. But here is a survivor I came upon yesterday – wondering, as I do, what its history is. 

Turns out that what is now the Congregational Church of Jesus started out as the East Street Methodist Mission Hall and Sunday school, built by Lye & Sons, to the design of Alexander Wiseman (1865-1915), and completed in February 1909. 

Four memorial stones on the façade that would have given me the info as to its history have now either been removed or plastered over – you can see the remains as the light brown squares in the brickwork, two by the entrance, one each at each corner. These were laid on 17 October 1908, by George Fowlds, Mrs James Craig, Re J & Mrs Wilson for the Newton congregation, and Thomas Clark for the congregation of the Helping Hand church of Freemans Bay. 

The hall’s design allowed for seating for 850 people, and the school could accommodate 250.Total cost of construction was around £3000. 

Perhaps it was affected by the obliteration of the residential community in Newton due to the motorway, and then went to the Congregational Church. At least it does still exist. 

Alexander Wiseman, by the way, was born in Fort Street in 1865, and was apprenticed to architect Edward Bartley. He left for Australia in his 20s, returned in 1904, and among his designs are the Ferry Building, the YMCA building in Wellesley Street, George Winstone’s residence in Symonds Street, “Marinoto” on the corner of Airedale and Symonds Street, and “Atalanga” in St Andrews Road. He had been “in indifferent health” for some time prior to his early death 21 September 1915.

Adventures in street naming ...

... or, things going a bit loopy in Avondale ...

The image is from c.1919, and is of the house that was at 1 Trent Street in Avondale, since removed for a 33 unit development.

Trent Street has always been a small street. It may even be Avondale's smallest. It started out as the end of Station Road (today the northern part of Blockhouse Bay Road) because it curved down towards what used to be a level crossing across the railway tracks, pre 1915.

From the 1930s or so, it was renamed Trent Street (out of a list of place names Auckland City Council chose from at the time).

So -- basically there were only ever two houses in the street.

Now, there's just one.

I suppose, because of the one single remaining house in Trent Street, Auckland Council didn't want to consider just renumbering that property so that the loop road could be considered Trent Street as well, instead of the developer's choice of Whakawhiti Loop. A 33-unit street coming off the end of a tiny street with just one house on it.

Or -- rename Trent Street as Whakawhiti Loop, and ask the owner of the one house if they're okay with that.

No -- the Whau Local Board last month voted to approve a 33-unit loop coming off our tiniest street to have its own name.

One for the (future) history books, I guess ...

Monday, November 9, 2015

Apples to thoroughbreds – the Apple Farm of Waiouru Peninsula, East Tamaki

When I first came upon references to the Apple Farm of East Tamaki, I thought it was interesting but would be a considerably shorter story than it has turned out to be. Instead, it has ended up being about missionaries, land deals, surveyors-turned entrepreneurs, the misuse of trust funds, the craziness of the Auckland business economy in the mid 1880s – and apples.

Updated (info on J C Cairns) 24 November 2015. 

Fairburn’s claim 

The Waiouru Peninsula in East Tamaki, east of Otahuhu, lies between the Pakuranga Creek to the north, the Tamaki Creek to the west, and the Otara Creek to the south, loosely bounded to the north-east by Ti Rakau Drive, Harris and Spring Roads. 

The first European to acquire land in the area was the Church of England missionary William Thomas Fairburn (1795-1859). Albert E Tonson in his book Old Manukau (1966) refers to him as a “lay catechist,” one who laid claim to over 40,000 acres by means of direct purchase from local Maori with cash and goods totalling around £900. Further research on him and the Fairburn descendants was done by Edward Thayer Fairburn (brother of poet A R D “Rex” Fairburn, great-grandson of W T Fairburn, 1909-1998), and Rex D Evans who compiled a family history. 

W T Fairburn was born 3 September 1795 in Deptford, Kent. He was in Sydney by 1817, and married Sarah Tuckwell on 12 April 1819 at Parramatta. He arrived in New Zealand with his new bride four months later, at Rangihoua in the Bay of Islands. The family returned to Sydney in 1822, then Fairburn was taken on by the CMS at their New Zealand Mission the following year , and in 1837 became the missionary at Maraetai among the Ngai Tai. He and Sarah set up early church schools, and remained resident at Maraetai until 1841. According to Evans, William Fairburn’s grand land claim came about thus: 

“Three tribes disputed the ownership of the land between Otahuhu and Papakura, a large tract of 40,000 acres. Since no natives were living on it, William [Fairburn] and Henry Williams were persuaded by the natives that, if the missionaries bought the land, they could then come back and settle peaceably upon it. Fairburn and Williams thought the idea had merit and proceeded to draw up documents for the purchase. But Henry Williams, fearing the wrath of his parent body, the CMS, backed off, leaving William to complete the deal on his own. William’s proposal to the CMS was that he would give a third of the land to the Church for farms and schools for the natives; a third was to be held in trust for the sole use of the native tribes and the other third he wished to divide amongst his now adult and landless children, all of whom had worked for years for the CMS for little or no pay … However, the CMS objected vigorously to this plan and, under threat of dismissal, William resigned from the CMS at the end of 1841.” 

SO 931B, LINZ records crown copyright. Left, Otahuhu. Right, Fairburn's property on the Waiouru Peninsula

His first wife Sarah died in 1843. He did eventually get a Crown Grant to some of his claim, of interest to the subject of this article allotments 42, 43 and 46 of the Parish of Pakuranga in April 1844, a total of 383 acres, and part of a total 5495 acres in the area including parts of Otahuhu. His second wife Elizabeth Newman (b.1811) died in Otahuhu in June 1847. Fairburn married a third time in 1851, to Jane Tomes. He died in Dunedin in January 1859, and his widow Jane died at the house “Ravensbourne” in Auckland in 1884. 

Detail from NZ Map 4789, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries

Fairburn transferred part the land, which was to include the property known as Apple Farm (eastern part of Allotment 42, whole of 43 and eastern part of 46), to his brother-in-law Joseph Newman (1815-1892) and to his son John Fairburn in 1851 in trust for Esther Hickson née Fairburn, “to occupy and enjoy and receive and take the rents and profits” for her own unalienable use. On her death, rights passed to her husband Joseph Edward Hickson, and in trust for Esther’s children. Alfred Buckland replaced Newman as a trustee in 1858. From 1850 this part of Fairburn’s estate was known as Otara Grove Farm, operated by Joseph Hickson. We know this because of the text of an advertisement placed by Alfred Buckland selling the property (as the Apple Farm) in September 1887, and references to the old name of the farm in the surviving Apple Farm Company file records. Hickson ran cattle and sheep there, and leased grazing to others. 

The Hicksons travelled to Sydney in 1859, after the deaths of Joseph’s and Esther’s fathers, and on to England where they rented a house in Tottenham. They all returned to Auckland August 1861. Hickson leased the farm out completely from 1867 until 1873, then returned briefly, before retiring completely from farming in the late 1870s. In East Tamaki by Jennifer A Clark, 2002 (p. 77), a Whitson Powell is referred to as a lessee in 1866, but he received grants of land in Waitakere South the following year. 

Theodore William (TW) Hickson … offering a farm up for apples … 

Hickson’s son, surveyor and land agent Theodore William Hickson (b.1850), said to have been born on Otara Grove Farm (East Tamaki, p. 76, as well as his sister Ada Emily Hickson 1853-1934), seems to have become administrator of the property from around 1878, at a time when he lived in Pukekohe with his family. His parents now lived in the Bay of Islands, Joseph working as a land agent. T W Hickson advertised two outer paddocks on the Otara Grove property as available for grazing. (NZ Herald, 9 October 1878, p1[6]). By then, a J Murray was associated with the property, formerly used by a Mr Loverock. 

T W Hickson had married Edith Jane Martin (1853-1939) on 6 January 1876. She was the daughter of Albin and Jemima Martin, owners of Allotments 35, 36 (just north-east over the road from the Apple Farm site) and 36, according to East Tamaki (p. 79), and also leased the remainder of Allotment 42 for a time from John Fairburn in 1854. (DI 2A.48) He’d retired from government service as a surveyor in March 1881, taking up the land brokerage profession full-time. (Poverty Bay Herald, 8 March 1881, Page 3[1]). In June, he set up the Great Northern Land Agency on Queen Street, offering catalogues, mortgages, surveys and conveyancing. Later the following year, the Great Northern Land Agency name seems to have been relegated to “GNLA” beneath the larger type: “T W Hickson & Co”. Around this time, in September 1882, he published his survey map of the City of Auckland, by which he is arguably best remembered today. 

NZ Map 91, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries
"The new map of Auckland city, published by Mr. T W Hickson, of the Great Northern Land Agency, is now out, and in the hands of subscribers. The map shows every allotment as fenced within the city boundaries, as well as a ground plan of every building within those limits. The material of which such building is constructed is shown by means of different colours. The position of fire-plugs, street lamps, and letter boxes, is also shown. No expense has apparently been spared in making the map as reliable and complete as possible. It has been substantially mounted, and should command a large sale amongst business men and owners of city property. Last, but perhaps not least, the map has a handsome appearance, and will form an ornament on any office wall. It is drawn upon the scale of two chains to one inch, and all the latest alterations in the city are included. The reclaimed ground around by the harbour, and the works erected thereon, are shown, and the hotels, and many of the larger places of business in the city, are recorded on the face of the map. The accuracy of the map may be depended upon, when it is remembered that Mr Hickson was for some time lnspector of Surveys, and that the map now issued was prepared from an actual survey of the city during the last 12 months. The position of the dock is shown, and even the plan of footpaths laid out in Albert Park are delineated. Mr Hickson and those he employed have evidently taken considerable trouble to secure fullness and accuracy. The map has been printed at the Herald office, and reflects credit upon the workers in that establishment." 

NZ Herald, 6 September 1882, p 6

His final land brokerage ad, from September 1884, strongly advises that he intended working for investors and buyers, not vendors, and that he’d shifted offices from Queen Street to Vulcan Lane. At that point, apart from reports of his totalisator invention, nothing further is mentioned of his activities in New Zealand. Strangely, he appears to have initially abandoned his family in Auckland, taking up a surveyors licence in Australia in the 1890s, exhibiting mosquito tents and taking out various invention patents. His wife and six children joined him in South Gippsland in 1892, then the family returned to New Zealand around 1897 or 1898, according to the Fairburn family history. Theodore then left his family forever, disappearing off the records sometime after 1899. There are rumours of his association with an office in New York which caught fire, and patent records from a “T W Hickson” for various inventions. None of which seem to have led to any prominence. 

Edith Hickson lived near her parents in Ellerslie from that point on, her will from 1924 referring to her husband “of parts beyond the seas.” By the time of her death in 1939, it was reported that she was then a widow, that Theodore had died “some years before”

The Apple Farm Company forms … 

Back to the early 1880s, though, when Theodore W Hickson was still present in Auckland, a successful and respected businessman, family man and land broker, with an interest (along with his sister Ada) in the old Otara Grove farm at East Tamaki. In 1880 Hickson mortgages his interest in the farm for £500 from Edward Albert Amphlett (1828-1896) “of parts beyond the seas,” the mortgage due in full on 12 February 1883. It was a deal done within the wider family. Hickson’s father-in-law Albin Martin held Amphlett’s power of attorney in 1883. Albin Martin’s daughter Mary Megellina married Amphlett at East Tamaki in 1867 (Church of St John), so Amphlett was a brother-in-law by marriage to Hickson. So, T W Hickson owed his brother-in-law £500 for the mortgage. February 1883 came and went, and this had still not been repaid. Hickson may well have had other ideas. 

In May 1882, Hickson paid his sister Ada, then living in Tasmania with her de-facto husband Harry Gardiner, £600 for her interest in the Otara Grove Farm. From then on, aside from the trustees set down by the original deed (Hickson’s parents), Hickson had full control. His uncle John Fairburn didn’t seem to have any issues – Hickson had been doing surveying and land estate work for him, as Fairburn sold off his Glengrove property in Otahuhu at this time. Buckland seemed to have only marginal involvement, at best. 

Seemingly out of the blue, Hickson called together a meeting on 6 April 1883 at his Queen Street offices of nurserymen and orchardists in the Auckland region “for the promotion of fruit-growing (especially the growth of apples)”. Hickson said he’d called the meeting “on the representation of a number of fruitgrowers”. It was agreed at the meeting that a society be formed, and the names of Lippiatt, James Mason, Hawkins, John Fairburn, Dr Puchas, Parr and Sharp were named as a committee to draw up rules for a future meeting. They met again on 13 April, again at Hickson’s office, a committee named, a subscription of 5 shillings set, rules authorised and ordered to be printed. Then – nothing more. 

Two days earlier, on 11 April 1883, the prospectus of the Apple Farm Company was published in the newspapers. It aimed to raise capital of £10,000 by selling 20,000 shares at 10s each, half payable on share allotment and application, the rest payable “in calls” of not more than 1s by at least 6 months intervals. 

"The object of the Company is to make money by supplying a number of wants. In California, during the months of April, May, and June, they want good fresh apples at a moderate price, and cannot got them at any price. This is a want we propose to supply. In Auckland, they want good apples at a penny a lb. by the case, and cannot depend on getting them at anything like the price. This is another want we propose to supply. 

"All over the Australian Colonies they want dried apples of good quality of local production, and cannot get them. This we mean to supply. They also want Cider at a reasonable price all over the colonies, and cannot get it. We hope to be in a position to supply this also. We have 200 acres of Land prepared for planting this season, and 50,000 Apple Trees, from one to four years old, ready to plant out, with 50,000 more being worked for planting next season. Our Plantation is so situated, that while we are completely out of the way of the thieving larrikin element, we are conveniently situated as regards means of conveying our fruit to market, being able to send 10 cases or 100 tons of fruit to a vessels side or deliver it in town within two hours of being picked from the trees. The land is the best obtainable for the purpose, being a strong, friable, semi volcanic loam, slightly undulating. It is such that if the trees were planted and nothing more done but keep cattle out, they would soon produce good returns, but with good cultivation they will become rapidly productive. It is of that consistence, and as easily undulating, that the whole of the necessary cultivation can be inexpensively effected by horse power, hand labour being required only for pruning, gathering, and packing the fruit.

"It is our intention to plant our permanent trees (Northern Spy and Majetin principally, they being blight-proof) at 30 feet apart every way in Qninceaux order, and between them, at ten feet apart every way, quicker bearing sorts, to be forced into early and exhaustive bearing, and removed or destroyed as required to make room for the growth of the permanent trees. By this mode of planting we get over 500 trees to the acre, which will entitle us to claim £800 from the Government, under the provisions of "Tree Planting Encouragement Act," the second year from planting; the temporary trees will be forced into early and exhaustive bearing as quickly as possible, while the permanent trees will not be encouraged to fruit until well-grown.

"An immediate profit will be obtained, as it will only require an average return of 5d per tree to enable us to declare a dividend of 10 per cent per annum, after providing for all necessary expenses, and when we can get a return of 1s 9d per tree, we will be able to pay a dividend of 50 per cent, after providing for culture and erection of all necessary buildings, for packing and storing fruit, and other necessary expenses. An average return of 12s worth of fruit per tree will enable us to pay dividends of 1000 per cent after making most liberal provision for all possible expenses. There are few trees which receive proper care and culture that will not yield considerably more than 20s worth of fruit at from six years and upwards. It being considered desirable to associate the interests of consumers with those of the producers in the undertaking as largely as possible, one-half the Company's shares are now offered to the Public." 

Auckland Star, 11 April 1883, p 2(1)

On 30 April 1883, Hickson mortgaged his interest in the farm again, this time for £484 from James Cooper Cairns, due 23 July 1883. Now he owed £984 total on the property. On 24 May 1883, a further prospectus was issued. Only 15,000 shares were to be issued, and details were given as to the land, being the old Otara Grave farm, now renamed Apple Farm, 226 acres bought via mortgage at £25 an acre. Over 50,000 trees were to be purchased from the region’s nurseries (the actual figure, although lower, still reportedly drained stocks of available apple trees from nurseries in Auckland that year) from one to five years old, but most two years old. 

The new company was banking on achieving full production in five years, and that the Panama Canal would open in the next five to six years (sadly for the company’s backers, it was another 31 years before the canal was finished.) 

Two days after the prospectus’ publication, all but 2,500 of the shares offered were snapped up. The provisional directors in May 1883 were: Scots born James Cooper Cairns (1850-1919) of Mangere and Three Kings, holder of 2000 shares (largest holder) and holder of a mortgage over Hickson’s interest in the land; James Mason of Parnell; John Fairburn (son of W T Fairburn – 1824-1893) of Otahuhu; Edward Lippiatt (c.1818-1887), nurseryman also of Otahuhu; Thomas Peacock, MHR; and T W Hickson. 

Under an agreement in August, Otara Grove to be acquired by Apple Farm Company for £5650 to Hickson and his parents, £650 in cash, the balance secured by mortgage. The shareholders then were: Cairns 2000 
Hickson 2000 
George Sergeant Jakins 500 
James Mason 500 
William Henry Connell 400 
John Torrance Melville 400 

By October 1883 and the first annual meeting, George Sergeant Jakins (1839-1928) and William Henry Connell had been added to the list of confirmed directors of the company. Planting had been finished, the company had all the funds it needed to meet expected expenses, the number of trees planted was 47,000 over 90 acres (planting beginning in the third week of August, and completed in three weeks), and a manager had been chosen from a number of applicants: Philip James Perry (1860-1933, also one of the largest shareholders, holding 500 shares, or the second-largest holding). William Lippiatt was to serve as Perry’s assistant and foreman. Arrangements were made to build a seven-roomed manager’s residence, along with a four-stalled stable. Part of the unused land, so it was proposed at the time, might have been planted out for a tobacco crop, but the directors turned down a similar application from a hops grower. The remainder had been leased out and planted in potatoes, oats and wheat. 

The directors were quite keen on a bridge being built across the Tamaki, linking their property directly with Otahuhu and the Great South Road, saving six miles from the round trip to the city. (NZ Herald 8 October 1883, p.9) 

On 27 October 1883, it all came together. Hickson’s two mortgages owed to Amphlett and Cairns were paid off; Joseph Newman replaced Buckland to become a nominal trustee for the land once more; the trustees, Joseph Edward Hickson, Esther Hickson and T W Hickson convey land to Apple Farm Company for £5650; and the Apple Farm Company mortgage taken out from T W Hickson for £5000. Hickson took out a further £5000 sub-mortgage from Fairburn and Newman, thus obtaining all the money for the land transaction early. The whole set-up was reliant on the success of the new company. 

Apple varieties apparently used on the farm, as well as Northern Spy and Majetin, included Lord Sheffield, Irish Peach, Baldwin, Cambridge Pippin, and Ribston Pippin. Citrus trees were also planted. (NZ Herald 17 March 1884, p. 6) A further 1500 trees were planted in the 1884 season, and the company’s second AGM saw the directors presented with a healthy balance sheet. There weren’t even any fears regarding codlin moth, a particular concern for orchardists of the time. Perry advised that the loamy soil at East Tamaki would help protect their trees. (NZ Herald, 1 November 1884) He became a director at the 1885 AGM, a holder now of 1160 shares, topped only by Cairns at 3000, but this was disallowed at a meeting a little later on the grounds of insufficient notice, George Jakins taking his place. 

By November 1884 the main shareholders were: 
Cairns 3000 (up 1000) 
P J Perry 1160 
T H Lindsay 800 
W H Simcox 800 
James Mason 700 (up 200) 
S A Asher 700 
G S Jakins 700 (up 200) 
Thomas Peacock 700 
Wilson & Horton (NZ Herald proprietors) 600 
Henry Brett (Auckland Star proprietor) 100 

By now, Hickson had disappeared from Auckland and from New Zealand, setting himself up without his family in Australia. He had also, apparently, cashed in his shares in the company, and therefore any future pending liability. 

In November 1885, Perry was charged by some of directors at an extraordinary meeting with having removed 700 trees from a piece of the farm’s land he wanted to lease. Animosity had boiled up between himself and Jakins, who led the charge to move that any offer to lease land to Perry be withdrawn. Money had been lost planting potatoes amongst the trees, the potatoes harvested being only "as big as peanuts". Some of the directors were aggrieved that by diversifying, the promised profit margin had been lost. 

Perry resigned as the farm’s manager, and the first concerns were raised that the company would not have enough capital to continue. (NZ Herald 20 November 1885, p. 6) Reuben Scarborough was appointed as the new manager that month. 

Cairns stepped down as chairman of the board, amid claims of profiteering. In January 1887, in a court case between Perry and Cairns, it was revealed that Cairns had convinced Perry to take up his initial 500 shares in the company, on the understanding that if he was dismissed from the manager’s position within three years, “except on account of wilful neglect or repeated carelessness”, Cairns would buy the shares from him at the paid-up price. He demanded from Cairns a refund of money spent on the shares, immunity from liability from calls on them, and a further £250 compensation. The judge agreed that Cairns had to compensate him for the shares, interest and £25 in calls, but declined the compensation. (Auckland Star, 27 January 1887, p3) 

… and the Company disintegrates 

The first signs of a complete unravelling came in 1887, probably not helped by predictions such as those made by the Otago Witness that the price of apples was set to fall in the market place, and with the influx of the expected crop from the Apple Farm, the price could drop lower still. (OW, 22 April 1887 p. 11) 

By June 1887, the directors were becoming worried. They met to discuss releasing the remainder of the unallotted shares to urgently raise capital. The reaction from shareholders was less than hopeful that the required £1000 would be raised to try to carry on until 1890, and that month the directors began to process of placing the company in voluntary liquidation. 

The Auckland Star remained hopeful that a new company could be formed in place of the old one, seeing as the apple trees on the farm at East Tamaki appeared to be doing so well, expected to bear 1,200 cases of fruit in the new season. Produce from the Apple Farm was even starting to win awards of merit at horticultural shows, events long dominated by fruit from Edward Lippiatt’s orchards.

By September 1887, the £5000 mortgage owed to Hickson by the Apple Farm Company was put up for sale by the Supreme Court. It was purchased by Joseph Newman, John Fairburn (Mrs Hickson’s agents) and James C Cairns for £3200. Five thousand apple trees, plus various farm implements, were put up for auction later that month. In October, the liquidator T L White sued Cairns for the amount Cairns owed on the sixth call on his shares in the company, along with fees for White’s attendance at directors meetings. Cairns lost the case. Finally, on 19 December, the Apple Farm itself was put up for auction.

The life and times of James Cooper Cairns 

Caricature, Observer 24 September 1894

James Cooper Cairns was born in 1850. His father, a provisions merchant, died in Scotland apparently in 1861. In 1871, J C Cairns became eligible for a share of his father’s estate -- £3000. He married in 1874, and received £2500 in trust as part of a marriage contract. He arrived with his wife in New Zealand 1875, and used the trust money to buy a 54.5 acre farm in Mangere, today a property bounded more or less by Mountain, Miller and Coronation Roads, known as Tararata Farm. He also invested in land at Whakatane. 

He returned briefly to Scotland in 1882, acquired another £100, and also received £3000 of his mother’s trust fund money, meant as an annuity fund for her until she died, on the basis that (so it was claimed) he could get better investment interest on the money in New Zealand than the trustees could back in England. On his mother’s death, it was supposed to be shared equally by him and his sister Hannah Grier Cairns. Possibly half of this money went into his investment with the Apple Farm Company (£1000 lost). Other investments would have been mortgages, land in Mt Roskill, Roganville in Mt Albert, and timberland ventures in the Waitakere Ranges and near Kaiwaka with Samuel Bradley (also a past partner of his in a shipping venture to Samoa) and Francis Mander. In his business dealings, he conveyed the impression that the funds he had to use were all his, and not those that came from long-term trust funds for his family’s benefit. 

Perhaps concerned as to what was happening with her fund (she didn’t receive any sets of accounts from him, only mentions in other correspondence), Cairns’ mother arrived in Auckland in 1884. She began, slowly, to try to help her son with his investments. She did receive interest payments from him, but closer to the point of Cairn’s bankruptcy (and the end of the Apple Farm Company), the interest payments became erratic. It isn’t known whether she was ever recompensed for the lost investment money. Cairns’ bankruptcy lasted from 1888-1894. He and his family left Auckland in 1889, then returned; his wife died in Mt Albert in 1894, from apoplexy. Around 1895, he married Jessie Ritchie from Edinburgh, who came (according to the Observer) with a £50 dowery.

In 1896, Cairns appears at Norsewood, in a business "Cairns & Co", acting as local agents for an insurance company. His store burned down in April 1897, the later inquiry determining that it was arson by person or persons unknown. In the fire, among other items, Cairns claimed he lost his father's gold watch that had been in the family for 50 years. While he had the store, he was also a sawmiller at Waipawa -- and went into bankruptcy yet again in December 1897. This time, the bankruptcy only lasted until 1899.

In 1905, Cairns’ children Annie, Elizabeth, John Dewar and James took legal action in the Supreme Court against another daughter Margaret Jane Fleming, and Cairns’ second wife Jessie in Hastings, the two trustees of the original 1874 marriage contract funds (as from a court decision in the Auckland Supreme Court in 1899). All that remained of the £2500 marriage contract trust in 1902 were four mortgages to the value of £1390. After Margaret agreed to be a co-trustee, she didn’t receive any update from her father, who had sole control of the funds, as to what was happening with them, and advised her siblings of this.

Cairns died in Te Mata, Havelock North, 10 August 1919, having lived there for around 20 years, and was well-respected in the community for his views supporting temperance, his chairmanship of the local school committee which saw the community get its first school, and his stand in 1918 against conscription for farmers and farm managers. He’d contracted a cold in the winter of 1919, and couldn’t get rid of it. He complained of feeling worse that night, after talking with his family (second wife and children, first wife dying in 1894 in Auckland), a bed was made for him near the fire, and there he quietly passed away. His will left all his remaining estate to his second wife Jessie and her children. Going by that, whatever was left from the marriage agreement trust, his children from his first marriage wouldn't have seen a penny.

His mother Jane nee Couper died at Cadzow Villa, Epsom, Auckland, in 1898, leaving what remained of her estate to the family of her daughter Hannah Grier Cairns (1848-1943), who had married James Halden Torrance (1843-1884) in Scotland in 1874. By 1880 the Torrances were living in Onehunga, Torrance being a medical practitioner. They shifted to south Epsom (Cadzow Villa) where he died in 1884 (at that stage, holding 400 shares in the Apple Farm Company). Hannah kept the farm in Epsom going, ultimately subdividing it in the early 20th century. Torrance Street is named after her.

Phillip James Perry, farming expert

He was born in England in 1860, the youngest on of Rev F H Perry of Cadmore Rectory. He left school at the age of 15 to work on a farm, then around 1878 sailed to New Zealand. His career spanned from hoeing turnips on an estate he later managed, through to the Apple Farm from 1883-1885, to appointment as sub-manager (according to obituaries) of the Waikato Land Association, having charge of the first shipment of frozen meat from Auckland to England. He returned to England, was involved with the Colonial College in Suffolk, then brought out settlers back to New Zealand before the Second Anglo Boer War of 1899-1902. He ended up connected with Westland County politics, was an adviser to Richard Seddon, and retired from business in 1905. He settled in Tasmania, involved with agricultural and immigration interests there. He died 9 May 1933 at Hobart.

After the Company, but still the Apple Farm … 

From NA 50/3, LINZ records, crown copyright

Local farmer John Snell Henwood (1849-1890) took over Apple Farm in March 1888, with only two mortgages remaining on the property from the sorting out of the Apple Farm investment failure, both of which were discharged in 1889. Henwood seems to have gone into a sort of partnership with Joseph Foster (who advertised 800 fruit trees for sale from the farm in August 1889), the two men running the orchard until Henwood’s death in 1890, aged 40, when he was kicked by a horse he was unharnessing at his residence on the farm. Joseph Foster may have been succeeded by John Foster. 

Henwood’s widow Mary Anne (1847-1919) leased another part of the farm to George Bellingham in 1891, and again in 1893, finally selling 18 acres to the Bellinghams in 1895. In 1901, Mary Henwood sold around 37 acres of the easternmost part of the farm to David and Agnes Belle Crooks, leaving 177 acres remaining of the original farm. This was purchased by Frank Clifton Litchfield in 1908. Litchfield renamed the farm “Ayrshire Moor”, but he sold up in 1910. (NZ Herald, 8 October 1910, p12[1]) 

The next owners were Charles and Hannah Clarke, New Plymouth hotelkeepers. Charles Clarke advertised in the NZ Herald in 1911 for a “married couple, wanted at once, to manage farm East Tamaki, both milkers and capable.” (9 September 1911, p.1[7]). The farm was still known as the Apple Farm when it was sold again in 1913 to Auckland farmer John Parker. He sold the farm in 1916 to Auckland tailor John Johnston; the next owner was Penrose farmer William Knox Chambers from 1919. Chambers transferred the farm to Ross Girling Ross and William James Girling in 1925, although advertisements referring to “Ross Apple Farm” appeared from 1924. 

The last references to the Apple Farm come from reports of the Pakuranga Hunt going through East Tamaki properties in 1932, and describe them following the hounds “through on to the Apple Farm.” The farm had been part of the club’s hunts from 1902. 

R G Ross was to run the farm through to 1960, when Woolf Fisher bought it as part of his Ra Ora stud. So, the old Otara Grove Farm, once the scene of a massive operation for growing apples, ended up being used to grow horses, instead.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Death at Ayr Street, 1958

(John Cardwell from the Timespanner page on Facebook did most of the research for the following, as well as provide the image of the house as it is today.) 

Two lives intersected tragically at 24 Ayr Street, Parnell, one Friday in April 1958. 

Grant Caldwell Lofley was born as one of a set of twins in 1933, but his sibling died soon after birth. His parents separated; he was in Dingwall Orphanage in 1942, according to a family tree on Ancestry. He attended Otahuhu Tech College in 1950 (his last year) -- his mother apparently reckoned he wanted to be a marine engineer. By 1954 he was instead working at the Albert Hotel. In 1958, he was a bar steward. 

John Richard Donald Woodhouse, aged eight in April 1958, was the son of George Harvey Woodhouse, and attended Newmarket school. He was always driven by his father to school in the morning, but in the afternoon he usually walked back home to Brighton Road. On Friday 11 April, when Mr Woodhouse returned home at 4.15pm, it was to find that John had not returned. The Woodhouses had a guest that afternoon, who didn’t leave until 5.30 pm; despite the rising anxiety John’s parents felt as to his absence, both of them felt they found it difficult to bring up their concerns in front of their guest. 

Once their guest had left, Mr and Mrs Woodhouse drove the family car along John’s usual route, in hopes of spotting him, but to no avail. They contacted the school, which was opened up by a committee member so they could search, along with their daughter and her fiancé. They checked with the hospital. A number of volunteers helped them search high and low, but – at 3.15 am the next day, the police contacted them, advising that young John was dead. 

On that Friday, after “a good win at the races”, Lofley had been drinking brandy, lime and soda at the Waitemata Hotel from 11.30 until around 2.30 pm, appearing “sober” after eight drinks, according to Basil Thompson, barman at the hotel. Lofley got into a cab at Victoria Street around 3.15pm, intending to head straight to Ayr Street, but stopping along Parnell Road between St Stephens Ave and Cathedral Place where Lofley was sick. The cabbie watched Lofley walk away afterward. 

At the time, Lofley was sharing the house at 24 Ayr Street with a builder named Cornelius Devitt. Devitt was away from the house all day, returning at 4.30 pm. Lofley was in the basement, apparently passed out. Coming to, he came into the house between 5 pm and 5.30 pm. At 6.30 pm, he told Devitt he was heading out again to see a film. Emil Fruean testified that he met up with Lofley in a billiard saloon at about 7pm, where Lofley shook hands with him and said, “Goodbye, son. I won’t be seeing you for a long time.” Fruean asked what he meant but was told he’d know soon enough. 

Soon after 1 am, Lofley entered the watchhouse at the Central Police Station, asked for a drink of water, and said that he had something serious to say, and that he wanted to give himself up. “I murdered a kiddie today; don’t ask me why. Something just snapped inside me.” He told the police his name was Frank Caldwell Wilson, nicknamed John, and that he had killed a kiddie at 24 Ayr Street by strangling him. 

Lofley told the police that, on returning home he looked out the window, saw the boy walking past, and followed him. He asked young John if he wanted to see a kitten, and invited him back to the house. In the basement to the house, he murdered the boy. He led police back to the house, and showed them the body. 

Part of the defence implied that Lofley might have had some sort of epileptic fit which led him to do something like this which he had not done before. However, the Crown contended that “a criminal act of a gross nature was intended.” Lofley awoke from passing out in the basement to find the boy’s body beside him – yet calmly placed the body where Devitt didn’t spot it later, and went about the rest of his evening until fronting up to the police the next morning. 

It was said by defence counsel, in summing up, that if John Woodhouse had followed his customary route home, going nowhere near the gully between Ayr Street and Brighton Road, which his parents had forbidden him to do, he would never have met up with the still inebriated Lofley that day. 

Lofley was found guilty of John Woodhouse’s murder in July at the end of a two day trial. He was sentenced to death for the young lad, but the judge passed on a recommendation for mercy and the sentence was commuted to life imprisonment. 

By 1978 he was living in Christchurch, and died there in 1983. 

John Woodhouse was buried at Purewa Cemetery.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Death in Raymond Street: Peter William and Beatrice Mabel Clos, 1928

NZ Herald 27 January 1928

The news broke for Aucklanders in the pages of the NZ Herald on the morning of 27 January 1928: two bodies discovered the day before at 12 Raymond Street, in the otherwise peaceful seaside suburb of Pt Chevalier. Peter William Clos, 31, a builder’s labourer and former leading amateur boxer, and his wife Beatrice Mabel formerly Barnett (40) were found with a Belgian mauser rifle converted into a single barrelled shot-gun, a weapon Clos had just purchased and had been seen carrying, wrapped up, into the house the night of 25 January. Mrs Edith Croad, a neighbour from No. 6 calling by at about 10.40 am on the 26th to lend Mrs Clos a book, found the scene. Mrs Clos had been shot in the back of the head while asleep in her bed. Peter Clos shot himself, dressed in his pyjamas, in the living room. None of the neighbours heard the shots; until Mrs Croad’s discovery, no one thought that anything was amiss. 

Originally born in London, 27 November 1895, his parents Christopher and Anna Clos came originally from Neukirchen in Germany. Christopher Clos (1853-1914), a journeyman baker by trade, arrived in England sometime before 1881, and married Anna Kranz in October 1892. Peter Clos held the Auckland provincial middle-weight championship in his class during 1914-1915, His name spelled in the newspapers as “Closs”. During the First World War, he was a private in the 1st Battalion, A Company, 13th reinforcements, serving from February 1916 until October 1917 when he was discharged as unfit for service due to wounds received in action: a gunshot to the left wrist. A photograph of him in his uniform was displayed on a wall in the Raymond Street home. He briefly returned to boxing in 1921. Peter and Mabel married in 1923, Mabel being a widow with two daughters and a son, the three children staying with the couple until they married or moved out. The Clos family moved to Raymond Street around 1926. 

Clos had returned home to New Zealand from the war, like so many other servicemen, with mental and emotional scars. “Everything seemed to get on his nerves”, a friend later told the inquest. Thoughts of the war kept returning to Peter Clos in the weeks leading up to the tragedy, leading to and also causing his own lack of sleep and deepening depression, along with an obsessive anxiety about failing eyesight. “I would rather kill myself than go blind,” he told his friend G Lang. Hilda Marion Barnett, Mabel’s daughter, had lived with the couple until six weeks before the shooting, and described Peter Clos as having a “violent temper and given to being sulky.” However, she reported there hadn’t been any discord between the couple. He also constantly worried about his wife’s health and what he described to friends as her sleeplessness. 

Mabel Clos apparently had suffered from “brain fever” after the birth of her youngest child, and thus suffered constantly from headaches, “heart attacks”, melancholia and sleeplessness. “She had consulted a number of doctors, but none of them had been able to give her much relief. Recently she volunteered that she was taking increasing doses of a powerful drug. When Mrs. Clos was suffering from attacks she had a habit of shutting herself in the house and refusing to answer the door-bell. On these occasions she would deal with the tradesmen through notes left for them on the back porch.” 

NZ Truth, 2 February 1928

Nothing about the house seemed out of place, or indicative of what was to happen. According to NZ Truth: “The neat, comfortable little cottage suggested a happily married couple. There appeared to have been no expense spared by Peter Clos to furnish facilities for his wife's amusement as was illustrated by the presence of a piano and gramophone with numerous records. The small library of novels by popular authors substantiated the statements of neighbours that husband and wife were inveterate readers. There was one book lying apart on a shelf just above the small bookcase. Its condition showed it to have been a recent purchase. Was it Peter Clos or his wife Mabel who placed it on one side, still unfinished? The book was Margaret Pedler's "Waves of Destiny." The piano was open just as it had been left the night before, and in place on the music stand was Balfe’s "Bohemian Girl" open at waltz music, as though the player had grown suddenly tired and abruptly left the instrument. Perhaps even in those hours as his wife's fingers softly touched the keys Peter Clos sat apparently reading, his mind a seething turmoil as it revolved round the deed he contemplated.” 

According to Mrs Croad, Mabel had told her on 23 January, two days before, that she and Peter had decided to shift from Pt Chevalier and move to Remuera, intending to sell the piano to buy a motor-car. Yet, according to a witness who knew Peter Clos, he’d spoken of how more and more of his wages was going on “dope” for his wife’s ailments. When it comes down to it, even though the NZ Truth was insistent that there must have been some sort of “death pact” — essentially it was two people living together with their own neuroses, and one knew how to make it all stop. 

 Peter Clos calmly purchased the weapon from the Farmers Trading Company store, asked for large shot, “something that would stop pigs” on 25 January, took it home, and at around 5am the following morning got out of his single bed beside Mabel’s double bed in their bedroom. According to the NZ Truth, based on the evidence at the inquest, he then moved to a spot beside the head of the bed, pointed the gun barrel downward, and killed her. Mabel, doped up on the drugs and painkillers to help her sleep, wouldn’t have known a thing. 

Peter Clos then turned off the lights, went to the sitting-room, ejected the spent cartridge as he went, and proceeded to the kitchen where he opened the kitchen door for enough light for him to finish things. He then attached a cord to the trigger of the gun, fastened the other end to his toe and, placing the muzzle in his mouth, ended his own private hell. 

 Peter and Mabel Clos were buried beside each other at Waikumete Cemetery.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Auckland's theatre on the Haymarket -- His Majesty's Theatre and Arcade (1902-1987)

His Majesty's Arcade in Queen Street, 1970s. 435-B5-239, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries.

Updated/edited: 24 October 2015

A number of vanished landmarks in Auckland’s history come up as examples of what we have lost over time. Many, with the mere mention, still raise passions. One of these is Queen Street’s His Majesty’s Theatre and Arcade (1902-1987). 

The land on which the arcade and theatre were once situated comprised part of two of the original Auckland land sale sections from the 1840s. Lots 15 and 16 of Section 16, City of Auckland, were bought in 1842 by one David Guillan. But this is about the only reference Guillan has in our history. He subdivided and sold his 2 roods 24 perches of land completely by 1848, and was not heard from again. 

The Haymarket 

By 1860, Alfred Buckland, the renowned stock agent and auctioneer from Newmarket, had
possession of a large part of both 15 and 16. He set up first his Bazaar Sale Yards from August 1859 (mainly taking over Henry Hardington’s horse sales business), then from October 1860 he took the Queen Street to Durham Lane operation a bit more further – and renamed it the Haymarket, building offices at the Queen Street frontage. 

That name is an old one. The original Haymarket is in London, a street in the City of Westminster, part of the West End, and was used from Elizabethan times through to 1830 as a place for farmers to sell fodder (hence the name) and produce. 

Buckland’s Haymarket here in Auckland was to last from 1859, as the Bazaar, through to the beginning of 1902. He subdivided around 2/3 of the Queen Street frontage in the 1860s and transferred this to Bishop John Coleridge Patteson. On Patteson’s death in 1871, killed on the island of Nukapu in the Solomon Islands, his estate went to the Melanesian Trust Board (who still retain ownership of that part of the former arcade property to this day.) 

As with many other land holdings Buckland had in Auckland, mortgages caught up with him by the late 1880s and from 1887, his Haymarket passed to the ownership of the Bank of New Zealand, and their Assets Realisation Board ten years later. They leased the property back to Buckland, his son, and his son-in-law Henry Thomson Gorrie, and the Haymarket continued for a time.

(Image above: NZ Graphic 20 June 1903, NZG-19030620-1737-1, Sir George Grey Special Collections)

The fact that His Majesty’s Theatre existed at all really is due to two men. 

The businessman: Robert Henry Abbott 

The spokesman for the syndicate, and likely organiser of the project Robert Henry Abbott (1861-1927) was born in North Molten, Devonshire, son of Richard (a farmer with 140 acres according to the 1871 English census) and Elizabeth. According to his obituary, he was apprenticed at the age of 15 to a soft goods house in London, took up studies at King’s College at 19, then entered the civil service with the Admiralty Department for about 18 months. Then, he embarked on a “tour of adventure around the world” in 1882, visiting France, Spain, Portugal, Rio de Janeiro, South Africa, Australia, and finally New Zealand by 1884. 

Here, he stayed, setting up his business from 1885, retailing soft goods for 6 years, then formed the warehouseman and wholesale merchants firm of Abbott, Oram and Co, then some years later R H Abbott & Co. He retired from business in 1911, erected blocks of retail premises around the city, and served on boards of directors, including as Chairman of the Waiatarua Drainage Board, purchasing 100 acres of the reclaimed area around Mt St John and presenting it to Auckland City as a sports park. He bequeathed £1000 to the City for either a set of entry gates to the park, or a drinking fountain there. Abbotts Way, from Ladies Mile to Panmure, was named after him. He died on Saturday evening, 23 April 1927, after being in poor health for some time. 

Neither of the obituaries in the Herald or the Star referred to his connection with His Majesty’s Arcade and Theatre. 

Buckland’s Haymarket site was formally sold to Abbott in June 1902 (who immediately put the property in the name of the His Majesty’s Arcade and Theatre Company Ltd, of which he was chairman), but Abbott obviously had a firm agreement with the Assets Realisation Board by December 1901. A 50-year lease was taken out with the Melanesian Mission Trust Board for their land just in front of the theatre site, to form the bulk of the arcade, from 1 April 1902.

(Image above: NZ Herald 29 April 1927)

In December 1901 Abbott made a statement to the newspapers about the project: 

It was announced in the Herald several weeks ago that a syndicate had been formed in Auckland for the erection of a new theatre, since when the matter has been quietly pursued until at the present moment the arrangements are complete, plans of the new playhouse well in hand, and the erection of the building within an appreciable distance of being commenced. Until details had been definitely settled the members of the syndicate and others concerned maintained a proper reticence, but now we are able to place full particulars before the public relative to the entire scheme by means of an interview granted to a Herald reporter yesterday by Mr R H Abbott, a prominent member of the syndicate, who, in reply to our representative's queries, gave the required information. 
"I fancy," said Mr. Abbott, "that there is an idea abroad that the scheme had been abandoned. I assure you it is nothing of the sort. We (the syndicate) have secured three-quarters of an acre of ground behind and alongside of the Metropolitan Hotel in Queen-street, and we intend building a handsome block at a cost of £20,000 or more. This will contain a row of shops facing Queen-street, suites of offices, a commercial travellers' club, additions to the Metropolitan Hotel, and a wide avenue or arcade running from Queen-street to the theatre at the back. 
“I have gone to very great trouble to ensure the theatre being a thoroughly up-to-date playhouse, and with that object in view I went to Australia to consult the leading theatrical managers and architects. Whilst there I inspected the various Sydney theatres, and then went on to Melbourne. In the latter city I was shown round the different theatres by the Hon Wm Pitt, the celebrated architect, who is, I might explain, the only one in Australasia who has successfully constructed theatres. Messrs J C Williamson and Harry Rickards, the leading theatrical managers, will not look at a theatre unless it has been either constructed by or improved by Mr. Pitt. Therefore you will see that I was in the best possible hands, and in the best position to secure what I went over for. Mr Pitt chaperoned me through all the theatres, both in front of and behind the scenes, and I learned that in his opinion the best theatre in Australasia is the Princess, Melbourne. After considerable thought, and after discussion with numerous theatrical managers, we have therefore decided to build our new playhouse on the same lines as the Princess Theatre. 
“From this plan," continued Mr. Abbott, producing a detailed sketch, you will note that "we are building His Majesty's Theatre (by which name our new playhouse will be known) with two tiers. The ground floor will be occupied by the usual orchestral stalls, stalls and pit; the first tier will comprise the dress circle, and above that will be the family circle. Also there will be six private boxes, three on either side of the proscenium, one above the other. The theatre will seat 1700 people, but its construction is so well designed that it will look comfortably filled with half that number. All Pitt's theatres have a considerable slope in the floorings. The seating accommodation is so constructed that absolutely every position in the auditorium will command an uninterrupted view of the stage. The dimensions of the latter will be 50ft by 60ft (the same as the Melbourne Princess), being extra large so as to admit of Bland Holt's spectacular productions, his horses, Derby and regatta scenes, being properly staged. 

Auckland Weekly News, 25 January 1906, AWNS-19060125-11-2, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries

“We have arranged for the latest patent sliding roof, which on the hottest summer day or night will most effectually ventilate and cool the theatre. We have also entered into arrangements for beautifully decorated metal ceilings, dome, proscenium, and balconettes of the latest type. Mr Phil Goatcher, the great scenic artist of Australia, has been engaged to come over and superintend the decoration of the entire theatre, including the scenery. 
"There will be six entrances to the building, one each to the stalls and pit, and two to the family circle from Durham-street, and one each to the orchestral stalls and dress circle from Queen-street, by way of the arcade. At the back of the dress circle there will be a Deluxe lounge fitted with luxurious ottomans, etc., and also a commodious crushroom, 30ft by 40ft, with up-to-date cloakrooms attached. There will also be a handsome glass-roofed promenade for the occupants of the dress circle and orchestral stalls, situated at the end of the arcade from Queen-street. Patrons of these seats will be accommodated with the very latest type of imported iron swing chairs, upholstered in peacock-blue plush, whilst for the cheaper parts of the house plain, but comfortable, seating will be provided. We are also importing a specially manufactured rich peacock-blue drop curtain, embroidered with gold fringe and a centre motto. For the act-drop we are seeking a suitable subject depicting New Zealand scenery. 
"We have gone to very great pains also to study the comfort of actors and actresses, and intend constructing roomy and well-appointed dressing-rooms both on and beneath the stage fitted up with all the latest appliances. Everything will be of an up-to-date nature in connection with the facilities for scene-shifting, including a well-fitted and lofty grid over the stage. 

Auckland Weekly News 28 September 1905, AWNS-19050928-10-1, Sir George Grey special Collections, Auckland Libraries

"The theatre will be bounded on three sides by streets, and the utmost precautions will be taken to provide ready exits from all parts to obviate danger in case of fire or alarm. The lighting of the theatre will be in gas though it will be wired ready for the installation of electric lighting if that can be arranged. 
"Mr Pitt is supplying all the plans and details of the new playhouse, and these will be carried out in conjunction with Mr Mahoney, the well-known local architect. The plans are on the boards and rapidly nearing completion. I expect to receive them on Monday next, and anticipate that we shall be calling tenders for the theatre in two or three weeks. At the latest it will be available for theatrical productions by December, 1902. 
“We think that on completion the theatre we are aiming at will altogether entrance the Auckland public when they set foot in it.
"I may say" proceeded Mr Abbott, “that what induced us to think of a theatre was an offer we received from Mr P K Dix, who has agreed to take it on lease for 10 years. In this matter Mr Dix has shown very commendable enterprise, and will now command the leading theatres in the four principal cities of the colony. It is solely due to his enterprising spirit that Auckland is to get a thoroughly up-to-date theatre, equal to any existing in Australasia. In the details of the theatre construction we have received very valuable assistance from Mr Dix's Auckland manager. Mr C R Bailey, whose extensive knowledge of theatres and intimate acquaintance with all details in their construction have considerably aided us. Mr Bailey has been of still greater assistance to Mr Dix, who in his agreement with us, thanks to his manager's influence, has stipulated for the most modern and up-to-date equipments and appointments in every direction. 
“An important point I wish you to note," said Mr. Abbott, "is that it is a distinct understanding between lessee and owners that Mr Dix shall sub-let His Majesty's Theatre to all first-class theatrical companies visiting the colony. At the same time the best class of variety business is now highly popular in Australia, and is likely to develop in public favour to such an extent that Mr Dix, who is in the front rank of this class of entertainment, will easily fill his new theatre between whiles, as his position as a leading impresario is fully recognised not only in New Zealand, but in Australia.” (NZ Herald, 12 December 1901)

Contractor J D Jones was tasked to dismantle the old Haymarket structures by the middle of February 1902. His tender of £20,499 to erect the His Majesty’s Theatre and block of shops on Queen Street and Durham Street West (the arcade) was accepted on 11 March 1902. The theatre was to be completed in six months, and the shops in seven months. 

I do wonder whether it was coincidence or not that the Auckland His Majesty’s Theatre was built on the old Buckland Haymarket, while the one in London was built on the Haymarket Road. 

The impresario: Percy Reginald Dix 

The second man with primary responsibility for His Majesty’s coming into being, as Abbott
mentioned in his 1901 interview – was theatrical entrepreneur Percy Reginald Dix (1866-1917). According to the entry for him in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, he was born in Launceston, Tasmania, the son of chemist Richard Porrett Dix and his wife Emma Elizabeth Nelson Thame. Dix’s initial ambition was to follow in his father’s footsteps and be a chemist as well, even passing his first examinations, but then flagged it away for a move to Melbourne, and employment in the tea industry. He shifted to Auckland in 1891, setting up his tea merchandising business. 

In 1895, Dix began leasing the City Hall theatre, staging popular concerts. When Fullers brought in bijoux vaudeville (at the Agricultural Hall, then City Hall), Dix followed suit in 1899 with his “Dix’s Gaiety Company”. As Fullers gradually shifted away from first Auckland, then their next base in Wellington, ultimately heading over the Tasman, Dix seems to have taken the opportunity to fill the void, and in July 1901 established a business relationship with the entrepreneur and comedian Harry Rickards, another name referenced by Abbott in his interview with the Herald reporter. 

His Majesty’s Theatre, probably Dix’s crowning achievement, opened on 26 December 1902. The first performance was by J S Williamson’s Musical Comedy Company with A Runaway Girl. Dix was set up with a ten-year-lease, and in the absence of Fullers the likely domination of the light theatrical business in Auckland. 

But, Fullers returned to Auckland in 1903, and Dix once again faced stiff opposition. Not even the grandeur of His Majesty’s seemed able to help his financial affairs. By the beginning of April, 1903, four months after His Majesty’s opened, Dix was leaving Auckland and his other venue the City Hall theatre behind him, with his “right hand man” Charles Rauger Bailey left to manage His Majesty’s in his stead for the remainder of the lease (formerly put into Bailey’s name from September 1903). Elsewhere, Dix lowered admission prices, and even introduced short motion pictures onto the bill at Wellington’s Theatre Royal. But by late August 1905, he’d packed up his Gaiety Company and headed back to Australia. He did relatively well over there, tapping into the growing market for “the flickers” – but in 1917, after suffering a stroke the year before, Dix died in New South Wales.

(Image above: via Auckland Art Gallery)

Company letterhead from 1915, Auckland Council Archives (by kind permission). 
HIS MAJESTY'S THEATRE, 1932-1988, Works Department subject file [ACC 219/537c]

A theatre in a changing world 

Any advantages His Majesty’s Theatre would have had in Auckland began to evaporate with the return of Fullers, followed by the development of urban and suburban cinemas and performing halls. The 1920s and 1930s saw the rise of the likes of the St James and the Civic Theatre – His Majesty’s, tucked away at the end of an arcade, increasingly became just another venue as the 20th century progressed. As the Herald put it in December 1952: “The glitter of His Majesty’s first 20 to 25 years will probably never return. The motion picture, which developed as a serious rival about ten years after the theatre was built, has steadily gained in public favour, and ahead lies television.” 

Bailey was replaced as lessee by Allan Doone, an Irish singing comedian, in 1915; then J C Williamson Ltd from 1916 until the theatre was purchased by Kerridge Odeon in the 1980s.

The theatre owners celebrated 50 years in December 1952. By then, the interior modelling, after the style of the Melbourne Princess theatre, had been altered substantially through renovations, and the needs of the various productions staged there. The concrete floor had to be dug up for a production of Kismet, for example. The peacock blue of the dress circle seats were long gone. The image on the drop curtain of King Edward VII in military uniform, no longer graced the stage. Much of the scenic art overseen by Phil Goatcher had been painted over. The sliding roof still worked on hot nights, “the top of the dome being opened by hand winch and the roof above slid back by a rope. It has not been unknown for sudden rain to cause the audience to shelter under the programmes,” the Herald advised.

The old His Majesty’s Arcade and Theatre Company was taken over at some point by J C Williamson & Son (files at Archives NZ for the old company go to c.1985), who put the theatre and arcade on the market in 1976. The annual ground rental for the Melanesian Mission property alone was $51,000, but the company earned $10,000 less than this from the shop rentals along the arcade. The City Council responded at the time by setting up a special sub-committee to look into purchasing the site – but the $1.25 million asking price was too steep. The Council at the time advised they were powerless to prevent demolition by applying a special designation to the building, due to the “reasonable development” clause of the then-governing act. The theatre also needed to be brought up to earthquake and fire standards. The council still considered the building to be of significant heritage value, and by then the Historic Places Trust had given it a category 2 on its register. Eventually, Auckland City Council gave the theatre-arcade complex a B on their schedule – but the owners appealed in 1977, and it was reduced to the lower level of protection of C.

(Image above: Auckland Star 22 December 1987)

Williamsons finally sold their property, and the renewed lease (from 1955) with the Melanesian Mission Board, to Kerridge Odeon Corporation in late April 1981. Kerridge Odeon initially indicated keenness to continue to stage live shows in the theatre. However, tenants in the arcade became alarmed once it was realised that their leases, which ran out at the end of 1986, did not seem to be in line to be renewed. Early in 1987, the company admitted that the cost of bringing the old structure up to standard was too high. By then, pigeons roosted in the non-functioning sliding roof, and alterations made for the My Fair Lady stage show in the 1960s had changed what remained of the original interior even more. 

From AAA Journal, October 1979

The last show in the theatre was Vince Carmen’s magic show, which ended 21 December 1987. Kerridge Odeon advertised the building for sale by auction for the following February. The upcoming opening of the Aotea Centre also meant that any refurbishment costs Kerridge Odeon might have put into His Majesty’s were unlikely, in their opinion, to be recovered. The situation wasn’t helped by comments such as those made by City Councillor Phil Warren, who described His Majesty’s as “a rat-infested dump with no artistic, historic or architectural significance.” Hamish Keith disagreed, saying that the councillors should lead the way and not let developers “walk all over them.” 

Added to this – by then, Kerridge Odeon itself had been taken over by Pacer Pacific Corporation, to become Pacer-Kerridge. Demolition of the building now became imperative. 

NZ Herald, 5 January 1988

Demolition work began on the night of 23-24 December 1987. Protestors gathered, and the Council inspector was summoned, gaining entry at 1am to tell the workmen inside to cease, as the demolition permit, applied for by Pacer Corporation, had only been lodged the day before. The permit was granted anyway on 31 December 1987, and the demolition proceeded in the new year on 3 January with a crane arriving to remove the roof, the stage was demolished 13 January, and the point of no return was reached by around 14 January 1988 when most of the rear of the theatre was destroyed. 29 protestors were arrested for trespass and obstruction at this time.

Both the Herald and the Auckland Star seemed to be partial, in the opinion of many at the time, to the cause of the developers, the Herald even taking Prince Charles to task for speaking out for the theatre’s continued existence. Dinah Holman, with Historic Places Trust, was scathing of the Council processes, claiming that she understood a permit wouldn’t be granted until 5 January (so she had left town to go on holiday). 

The site, when all remains had been cleared, remained empty for years. Kerridge Odeon transferred the land and Melanesian Mission lease to Silversea Enterprises in September 1989. Planning approval was granted in September 1991 for the vacant lots to be used as carparks. The main site was transferred to Pacific Regency (Auckland) Limited in October 1994, who planned a 20-storey development for the site. Today, the main site is a mixture of unit titles, while the Melanesian Property lease was renewed by Dynasty Hotel Investments Limited for a term of 21 years in 1997.

What had been there -- today is just memories, and enduring less-than-positive opinions as to heritage protection in our city.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Guest Post: Our Role Model, Tom Skeates

It is with great pleasure that I republish (by kind courtesy) author Jacqui Knight's article on Tom Skeates, the West Auckland monarch butterfly enthusiast. Originally published in Issue 12 of Moths and Butterflies of New Zealand published by the Moths and Butterflies of NZ Trust.

Colour images taken from this blog. Historic images from Dick Scott's Fire on the Clay, supplied by Jacqui Knight.

A few years ago the Waitakere City Council paid tribute to some of the original settlers with beautiful artwork around the streets. Among those people recognised was one dedicated to Tom Skeates. 

If you’ve been enjoying rearing monarch butterflies for a few years you will have on numerous occasions had friends and family ask you how and when your hobby started. We may remember the event that triggered it – perhaps it was a child’s unanswered question, or you may recall a parent showing you the wonders of the monarch’s metamorphosis. 

We know that the first monarchs were reported in NZ in the 1840s, and that they flew/blew here. But few people know about Tom Skeates, who in the early 1900s worked so hard to ensure that the monarch was here to stay. 

Tom lived in the Waitakere Ranges, just north of Titirangi on the Scenic Drive. He bred monarchs inside his house, using both swan plant and Asclepias curassavica, the latter often referred to as tropical milkweed or bloodflower. 

His house was eccentric as Tom himself. It was built in a grove of tall native timber and in fact built around one particular tree. Sadly, the house was pulled down some years ago and all evidence of this treasure has been lost. 

As Tom bred more and more monarchs he would pack the butterflies into a purpose-built box, carefully padded, and take them by bus to various parts of the city to release. 

Many children would be invited to his home to witness the wonders of the monarch. Tom’s knowledge was extensive, and he was willing to share it. For many years, from about 1929, he learned about the monarch and contributed articles to newspapers and school journals. And an amazing fact is that the information he published seventy of so years ago is still verified by entomologists today – a rare thing indeed for someone unqualified as Tom was; he was way ahead of his time. 

According to the Auckland Star of 1939, he was ‘especially keen that the young should realise that the monarch is a valuable and beautiful addition to NZ’s fauna, and as such should be cultivated... as a lovely, harmless creature which does much to add to the beauty of our gardens, parks, and countryside’. 

As I talk to members of the MBNZT Tom’s name comes up time and time again. 

A few years ago I had a phone call from a very upset member in Taranaki who had bought swan plants from a New Plymouth hardware store but her caterpillars had then all died. I told her to move the caterpillars onto other plants, but also that the store should be warned as they would not want to be selling plants that had been sprayed. 

When I phoned the store to alert the manager we got talking about monarchs and the incredible journey that they take us on. He told me of his aunt, Kathleen Rothwell, who had known Tom Skeates personally as he had been a distant cousin. Kathleen then lived in Milford and remembered him well. 

She told me how he had visited schools and parks and released monarchs in the Auckland Domain and Albert Park. She told me “As a child, our family lived in the Waikato and I can remember one occasion when Tom came to stay,” she said. “He told us about the monarch and the next week we received a parcel – a tobacco tin containing monarch chrysalises, very carefully packed in cotton wool. 

“And that started a lifelong interest in these butterflies.” 

Another member that remembers Tom Skeates is Caryl Hamer: 

“Our family lived across the road from Tom Skeates,” she told me. “He and my mother were great friends and I remember her telling me that he’d rung up after midnight one night to invite her to come over and watch a Gum Emperor moth hatching. She did of course – and told us all about it the next day.” 

Caryl came across an article about him in a book celebrating the 125-year anniversary of Titirangi School which she attended as a child. 

“He came to NZ from Bristol, England and had a saddler’s and then an ironmonger’s shop in Auckland, before retiring to Titirangi to study and breed monarchs. The article noted that he ‘proved beyond a doubt that the monarch’s life was longer than the average butterfly.” 

Tom used to invite Caryl and her sister over to watch the monarchs wriggle their way out of their chrysalises. 

“He always let us use the thick grassy slopes behind his house to romp and roll down,” she said. “He also bought a section full of native trees up the road, making a series of wandering paths through them, with rough wooden seats where you could sit and listen to the fantails or watch the fat kereru balancing on the high branches. There was a wooden sign on the gate with ‘Paradise Regained’ on it.” 

“And I guess that’s exactly what Tom Skeates was all about.” 

Tom Skeates’ story is very well documented in Dick Scott’s book Fire on the Clay, a history of West Auckland. As Dick Scott says on page 159 of his book: “Tom Skeates’ vision was of a sky filled with a golden cloud of butterflies, a slow-moving cloud that gently rose and fell, and then came down to earth to touch man with its glow. He saw outstretched arms, softly brushing wings, and the eyes of children absorbed in the wonder of it all.” 

So perhaps as we work on looking after our butterflies and moths we aren’t as eccentric as some people might think. Tom was, after all, a pioneer in teaching others about Nature and metamorphosis. I am sure that he would approve of what we are doing today.