Connell Brothers Farm | Jomac Place
By John Subritzky
The hearse pulled up outside Chrysalis Early Learning Centre. Bob Connell had come back for the last time to the site of the original homestead. The oak and the pohutukawa, planted about 80 years earlier by his family, were now magnificent trees. The Connells had grown up with the trees and now the family stopped to collect acorns for Bob’s funeral.
In pre-European times, Maori had lived for a while here, on the shore of the Whau River. Shell middens with traces of charcoal from their fires was mapped by archaeologists. They tell us that cockles were the main shellfish eaten, but a range of other sea creatures were also locally sourced and on the menu, likely eaten between 1540 and 1670 AD.
In an amazing link back to those early Maori, their mahi was uncovered in the form of two postholes, 1 m apart. The circular postholes were of a very regular shape, measured 30cm in diameter x 33cm deep and 15cm diameter x 12cm deep and had flat bases.
There was a succession of European owners before the Connell Family bought the property in 1921. All that was left from that period for the archaeologists to find was the remains of a small brick house or hut, and a scattering of early 20th century bottles broken bricks and other debris visible on the foreshore.
The Connells were market gardeners on the 10ha site that is now Jomac Place. They grew potatoes and kumara for many years. Bob Connell claimed, that for a while after WWII, they were probably the biggest kumara growers in the country.
The three brothers and their sister grew up on the farm, playing in the Whau River. Bob said, “We used to swim down there when we were kids, but it was mighty muddy!” They also had small boats and went fishing. One time they netted 740 flounder in one day, giving the surplus away to neighbours. “They were very nice flounder,” said Bob.
In December 1959, the three boys, Daniel, Roy, and Robert became tenants in common on the farm. In 1996 Roy’s share went to Daniel and Bob, who by then were both retired.
The original homestead was pulled down by the Connell brothers in 1951. Bob said that it had been built from kauri and had individually made blacksmith nails. After that, the site was farmed as part of the market garden, and a new house was built. The house was located approximately where the street is now (Jomac Place).
In 1993, Neville Exler filmed the three brothers on his Sony Handicam, giving an insight into their last few years market gardening. They had started selling off other parcels of land from 1965. The writing was on the wall as their land was surrounded by industrial buildings.
Bob noted, “We don’t have much compost in the soil now; we have worked it out. We have mined the soil. We know it’s going to factories, and we won’t last much longer. It’s like the house. It’s going to be pushed down in a year or two. It’s not worth spending money on.”
The Exler film shows them harvesting cabbages, loading the boxes onto the tray of their trusty Massey Fergusson tractor before taking the boxes to their truck to load for the markets. Asked about how they grew the cabbages, Bob said that they propagated the cabbages from seed they grew themselves. They selected about 100 of the best cabbage plants each year and transplanted them into a garden together. To avoid the bees crosspollinating the cabbages with cauliflowers and Brussels sprouts, they would cover the plants with scrim to keep the bees out. Then they would crawl under the scrim and worked them with little brushes to pollenate the cabbages themselves. Bob claimed that this gave them some of the finest seed in the country.
By the time the land was sold to Jomac Properties in 2008, it was no longer being actively farmed. Bob was living in the house and he was feeding so many ducks that people referred to it as “The Duck Farm”. That didn’t seem to bother Bob. He kept a bag of poultry food at the front door and would regularly throw some to the assembled flock. When challenged that he was creating a nuisance with wild ducks, he would claim that they were all his birds.
Jomac Properties developed and subdivided the land. Their first preference for the road name was Connell Place, after Bob and his family. However, as there were many other roads around Auckland with that name it was declined, so they settled on Jomac Place. The Avondale Historical Society suggested four other names to the Avondale Community Board, but these were turned down. Deputy Mayor at the time, David Hay, felt that the developers were entitled to name the street after themselves and the Board agreed.
Approximately half the sections were sold. Jomac built on some sections and continues to lease them out. Ironically, the company that owns and leases these properties is called Connell Place Properties. It was named in the expectation that it would mirror the road name.
In 2009, it looked like the magnificent pohutukawa and oak trees would be felled, so a protest was mounted with a petition gathering about 1,200 signatures. The battle was led by Sigrid Shayer, a former Avondale resident who was chair of the Tree Council at the time, Imi Tovia, and Nina Patel, with support from Catherine Farmer.
The conflict dragged on, coming close to the time when the end of tree protection was in sight. Auckland Council had granted non-notified consent to fell the trees, then backtracked and sought to protect them. In late 2010, Jomac Construction was asking the courts to call off the Tree Council's crusade against them felling the pohutukawa and oak. It was reported that the developer had previously offered to keep both trees to mitigate the removal of 25 other generally protected trees on the main site.
Darius Singh purchased the lot with the trees on it for a childcare centre. He says it’s one thing to protest the removal of trees, but actually protecting and incorporating them into a development is another challenge. He sees the two trees – a native and an exotic – as being biculturally symbolic. The trees’ canopies have almost grown together, or touching each other as Darius says. The place where the Connell children grew up and played is the same place where a multitude of other children are now doing the same thing.
The Chrysalis Early Learning Centre building curves around the trees like a cocoon. Early on, they were visited by a cloud of monarch butterflies. This confirmed to Darius that the centre’s name was right. Under the oak tree is a bench seat with a plaque dedicated to the Connell brothers, “For starting a dream, planting the seeds of an oak and a pohutukawa, side by side”. Now a diverse group of children are growing up together, side by side.
By Lisa J Truttman
As flames lit up the December night in 1872 at the junction of Rosebank and Great North Roads in the district then known as the Whau, and as Martha Poppleton huddled nearby with her husband and family watching the first hotel in the district burn to the ground, I do wonder if she thought, “Oh, no, not again?”
Martha Rainey was born in Lincolnshire, England, in 1843. The Rainey family emigrated to Tasmania by early 1845. In 1855 Martha married Yorkshire-born James Poppleton in Victoria, and the couple headed briefly back to England in the early 1860s. They arrived in Auckland in November 1868.
The Poppletons appear to have settled immediately in Avondale. Martha was an accomplished amateur singer; she joined in with community performances at the local asylum at Pt Chevalier, and special events raising funds for various causes at the Whau Public Hall on St Georges Road. In December 1870, James Poppleton got the licence for the Waikomiti Hotel, and the family shifted further west.
On Monday 1 May 1871, the Poppletons entered local legend with Martha’s first accident.
About midnight on the Sunday before the incident, a man named James Thomas Steer had had somewhat too much to drink at another hostelry, was in possession of a revolver, and decided then was a great time to bang loudly on the Poppletons’ door to regale them with the story of a wild bull that had tried to attack him. Steer told the bleary-eyed Mr Poppleton that he’d fired his revolver three times at the bull and scared it away. Poppleton kindly invited Steer in to sleep things off for the rest of the night.
The next morning Steer, still quite excited by his adventure, decided to tell Martha Poppleton about it as well. He felt that, to prove the truth to his story, it would be a great idea to hand the weapon in question to Martha to check out. Martha, though, was quite inexperienced with any type of firearm, and was unaware that it was loaded, capped, and cocked at the time. It went off, while it was aimed at Steer.
To quote the news report from the time, Steer “then became very much excited, and Mr Poppleton and his servant got the wounded man put into a cart, in order to convey him to the Provincial Hospital. While being brought into Auckland, Steer got very violent, and bolted from his guardians. He then made rapidly for Auckland, and was arrested by Sergeant Walker and another constable at the Anchor Hotel, under the impression that he was suffering from mental derangement.” He was later examined, found not to be a lunatic but simply a man who had been accidentally shot by a woman in the shoulder, and was taken to hospital, where he later recovered.
Not long after this, in June 1871, James Poppleton took up the license for the Whau Hotel, and moved back to Avondale.
Things were fine. Martha was still singing and entertaining people, performing “in a manner that called forth a warm acknowledgement” from appreciative local audiences. She and James, as proprietors of the hotel, were at the centre of Avondale’s early community, the hotel being as much a gathering place for meetings and events as the public hall at the other end of the settlement. In mid-December 1872, James Poppleton was deeply involved with a committee planning for Boxing Day sports on one of the nearby paddocks.
On the night of 17 December 1872, Martha decided to hang a dress beside the last embers of the kitchen fireplace, then went to bed. James was the last to retire at 11.30 pm, checking that everything was all right before he did so. The only fire still alight was that in the kitchen.
Between 1am and 2am, Martha awoke, and found the hotel full of smoke. Frantic, she woke up James, who went downstairs to investigate, and found the kitchen ablaze, all round the fireplace. He decided not to try to put the fire out, as he felt it was beyond that. He called out to Martha, and the couple evacuated their family and tried to save what they could of their possessions, mainly the hotel’s money box, and some furniture. Within an hour, the entire two-storey, ten-roomed building, dating from 1861, was burned to the ground. While there was no real evidence as to the cause presented at the resulting inquest, it remains local belief that Martha may have hung that dress a bit too close to the embers …
The Poppletons moved away from Avondale after that. James would come to have the Eden Vine Hotel, then a store at Henderson, before the family left for Australia, where he died in 1882 after a painful illness. Martha outlived him by a number of decades, passing away in Victoria in 1924. Today, where Martha would practice her songs and had hung her dress to dry on that December evening, you can get your teeth examined by one of the local dentists. There are no signs left of the accidental Mrs Poppleton.
By Lisa J Truttman
One summer’s day, in December 1881, two days before Christmas, Lawrence Teirney got off his horse bus outside the Whau Hotel (this being just before the district was renamed to Avondale) on the Great North Road, took off his jacket, rolled up his sleeves, and offered to give fellow horse bus driver a proper thrashing in the form of a spontaneous expression of the art of fisticuffs in the otherwise quiet rural surroundings.
Lawrence Teirney was born in County Cavan, Ireland, and sailed from London with his family in 1874. Teirney is said to have found work at first as a groom, but by at least early 1877 he was working for Frank Quick, driving one of the horse buses to and from Avondale. By January 1879, Teirney was in business for himself, in opposition to Quick.
He had two court appearances with regard to the way he conducted his public transport business. The first, in November 1879, resulted from an incident where he reportedly ran a buggy off the road near the junction of Symonds Street, Mt Eden Road and New North Road. Enough doubt was cast on the other party’s sobriety that Teirney was let off.
Then came the Collins incident of December 1881. Both Patrick Collins’ bus (working for Frank Quick) and Teirney’s left the city, Teirney half an hour ahead of Collins, but Collins managed to catch him at the Whau Hotel, near the present-day roundabout in Avondale. Teirney left the hotel five minutes before Collins, but Collins again caught up with Teirney, this time in New Lynn near Quick’s stables. Teirney stopped his bus, and blocked the road.
Collins called for Teirney to clear the road, the other refused. Collins tried edging his horse bus around Teirney, only to find the other man shifted his vehicle as well, blocking Collins. Then both drivers started a mad drive, at speed, back towards the Whau Bridge – which was a one-lane narrow timber affair at that time. Teirney reached the bridge first, and stopped his bus, blocking the bridge. Then, half a minute later, he drove on a bit further, blocking the other end of the bridge before finally taking off, racing up the hill back towards the Whau Hotel, Collins in pursuit.
Teirney was charged with a breach of the Public Works Act, by allowing his horse bus to remain for a length of time in the centre of the road, but as the prosecutor cited the wrong section of the Act with which to charge him, that part of the matter went no further. For creating the disturbance, Teirney was fined 20s plus costs of £1 4s.
The start-up of the Northern Omnibus Company in 1883, a short-lived venture (only until 1884) linking the City with Avondale (and New Lynn) via both the New North and Great North Road routes, seems to have brought an end to Teirney’s horse-bus driving career.
It looks like, by June 1886 he was making his living as a cabdriver and carter in the city. He and his wife Bridget made a successful application for land at Swanson, at the junction of Waitakere and Kay Roads. Bridget received a 999-year lease on the land – it left her children’s control in 1906, two years after her death.
Lawrence Teirney was elected to the first school committee in Swanson in 1887, and the Teirneys were also supporters of the local Catholic congregation. On 9 December 1915, Teirney died at his daughter’s Waihi home. He was buried in Swanson Cemetery, beside Bridget.
Adapted from Lisa Truttman’s Whau Heritage Talk about Lawrence Teirney, which will be uploaded on Auckland Library's Soundcloud site shortly. Check at soundcloud.com/auckland-libraries
Early train incidents at New Lynn
By Lisa Truttman
Over the years since the railway line from New Lynn to Glen Eden was laid down in the late 1870s, it has changed. Before the trenching of New Lynn Station in 2008-2010, came the elimination of the level crossing at Titirangi Road from 1939 to 1940. This latter project also changed the appearance of the crossings over the streams that make up the Rewarewa Creek watershed, on either side of Titirangi Road. Today, we’d hardly know they were there.
Before the First World War, the two viaducts were still both visible, and were the scenes of two incidents from the early days of rail in New Lynn.
On Tuesday, 19 November 1912, a number of school children were playing in the scrub near the Titirangi Road crossing. One of them, Edward Dyer aged five or six, wandered onto the viaduct just above and west of Titirangi Road. Suddenly around the bend further up “Scroggy Hill” as that incline used to be known, a speeding train appeared. It was the train from Helensville, bound for the city. Terrified, young Edward fell across the rails, and clutched them tightly with fear, not knowing what else to do in his panic as the train came nearer.
But that day he was a very fortunate young boy. Another of the children nearby, Alexander Frederick Barron, aged 11, spotted what had happened, summed up what to do, and rushed onto the bridge. He scooped Edward up into his arms, and both of them leapt over the side into the scrub below, mere moments before the train passed above them.
It took a while for the greater community to become aware of the story. Perhaps the boys, fearful of the punishment for being so near a very dangerous place, kept quiet about it. But when John Gardner of the noted New Lynn brickmaking family approached the NZ Herald with the sum of 10s, as the start of a fund to reward Alexander for his heroism the following month, the story came out. At a special presentation at New Lynn School on 19 December, Alexander Barron was given an illuminated address, a copy of the Boys Own Annual from his schoolmates, a cheque for one guinea from John Bollard, the local MP, and a silver watch from John Gardner, inscribed: “Alexander Barron, for bravery, December. 1912, from a few admirers.” Early in 1913, Alexander was also awarded a bronze medal from the Royal Humane Society.
The remainder of his life was much more ordinary. He and his wife lived at Pt Chevalier during the 1920s to 1930s, but from the mid 1940s he was a farmer, living in Cliff View Drive, Green Bay. Barron Drive, so close to his home, may have been named after him and his family in the early 1960s. He died, still a resident at Green Bay, in 1976.
The other incident at the railway viaducts in New Lynn is a much more famous one, related in books and articles over the years.
On a foggy winter’s morning, Thursday 28 May 1913, a goods train from the city arrived at New Lynn Station. In those days, in order for the train to move onto a siding to keep the main line clear, it was necessary to go forward up the incline almost as far as Titirangi Road, then reverse back. Fog cut down visibility severely, and the rails were greasy and slippery. The driver of a passenger train from Helensville, rounding the bend and heading toward Titirangi Road, did not see the goods train that was still on the Rewarewa viaduct, and on the single line, just west of the road, until too late. The engines collided head on. Two of the passenger carriages telescoped and crumpled. The windows were blown out of the next two carriages behind them. It was fortunate that no one died, out of over 100 passengers aboard, but there were a number of injuries, including among the train crews involved. One passenger, a Mr E H Stone, remained in a critical condition for weeks, his chest badly crushed.
Locals from New Lynn and Henderson demanded a ministerial enquiry into how the accident happened. The Railways Minister at the time, William Herbert Herries, said that there needed to be a departmental enquiry first before he could instigate a ministerial one. The Railways Department did hold an enquiry, and the result was the dismissal of both the driver of the Helensville train, John James Corich, and the tablet porter Thomas William Mortimer who was in charge at the New Lynn station. But this enquiry was held behind closed doors.
The residents demanded a public enquiry, and so one got underway in September 1913, four months after the crash. It turned out that while the tablet porter had received the danger signal that the train coming from Helensville was approaching, he’d had too many duties to keep sufficient watch on what was happening (although Mortimer denied he was overworked). There was no fog signalling at New Lynn station – a fog signalman was appointed only two months after the crash. The practice of shunting goods trains from the main line to sidings was well-known in the district as a potential disaster waiting to happen, with four passenger trains a day passing through New Lynn station, and with New Lynn’s goods traffic, thanks to the brickyards, increasing month by month at that point.
The enquiry found that the driver of the passenger train, Corich, should have reduced his speed, given the weather conditions, but recommended reinstating him at a lower status due to his youth and lack of experience. Corich tried to appeal against the railway department’s ruling the next year, but was convinced to withdraw, as he still had a job with the department. Mortimer on the other hand was recommended to be exonerated. He was described as the New Lynn station master in 1914, before serving as a guard for most of the rest of his career.
Photos: Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections 22 AWNS-19130605-10-05, -10-06, and -11-1
Adapted from a publication by Lisa J Truttman
The 3 Guys Site
Albert Gubay was born in 1928 in Rhyl, Northern Wales, from an Irish mother and a Jewish emigrant father from Baghdad.
According to his obituary, his business was struggling in the mid-1950s, and with worries as far as supporting his wife and two children were concerned, Gubay apparently made a pact with God, he said in a later interview. “Lying on my bed one Sunday afternoon, I said, ‘God, where’s the next penny going to come from? God, please help me — and whatever I make, when I pass on, half will go to you.’ And that was it: I was at peace with the world.” Most of his fortune wound up being given away, in his lifetime and after he died in early 2016.
By 1967, Gubay had opened up a chain of Kwik Save Discount stores in Britain, following a world trend from just after WWII. Retailing was stripped to basics. Basic stores, basic fittings, often using adapted older buildings. By January 1973, he left Great Britain to live in New Zealand for a time.
The origin of “3 Guys” as a name is uncertain. The press thought it was Gubay himself and two relatives, but a study in 1998 found that Gubay was fascinated with an American discount retailer named “Two Guys from Harrison.” He left New Zealand permanently in April 1974. His New Zealand companies were sold in 1984.
The first Auckland store opened in Mangere in January 1973, followed by Papatoetoe, Mt Eden, Northcote, and Glen Eden. It’s said that he wanted to open a store in Green Bay, but local opposition changed his mind and he opted for Avondale instead; his Lynley Buildings Ltd owned the Avondale land, more or less, from August 1973.
I remember in Standard 4 at Avondale Primary in 1974 when the teacher brought up that Mr Albert Gubay was going to build a supermarket in our suburb and had us write letters of welcome to him as a class project. The supermarket here in Avondale was completed in September 1975. The development proved controversial from the start, because instead of the open-to-the-main-road view of the supermarket we had been expecting, a blank wall was to be the frontage to Great North Road right through to the building’s demolition in 1997.
Then there were the issues with Auckland City Council and the zoning of the property. When Lynley Buildings Ltd purchased the site, it was with the intention of building a full-sized supermarket as part of the standard size specifications of the chain and extending parking over what is today the state housing units, next door to the former Suburbs Rugby Football clubrooms. However, only part of the land, nearest Great North Road, was zoned as C3, commercial use. The rest was zoned R4, residential, with restrictions in terms of parking use and capacity. The company claimed that it thought the land could be used for parking when it was purchased. The Council stuck to their guns, and pointed out the zoning. So, the supermarket in Avondale was built 40 feet smaller than others in the chain, to provide more parking space at the rear. An application for a further 4800 square feet addition was also refused by the Council. The Council considered making an offer at the time to purchase the disputed land for parking purposes, but the offering price meant that idea had to be abandoned. That area, in Lynley Building’s plans as presented before later appeal hearings, was intended for the site of a tavern, operated by the Portage Licensing Trust, as part of a broader development of the block between the supermarket and the rugby club buildings. However, the Trust found themselves unable or unwilling to commit to such a development.
The former vehicle entrance off Great North Road was closed and became a covered mini-arcade just beside the supermarket. I recall a laundry there, a furniture shop, and other uses. But the land between the sealed carpark and the rugby clubrooms was left to the weeds, the houses that once existed there, the former horse paddocks, shed and garages, long since removed in the 1970s, in the expectation of full-on commercial development. The supermarket was never able to expand to regain that lost square footage. In 1988, the property was passed on to 3 Guys Property Ltd. The supermarket and arcade continued for a while but was finally closed on 27 June 1997. General Distributors Ltd (for Progressive Enterprises) merged with 3 Guys Property Ltd in August 1997, and the supermarket and arcade was demolished by the end of that year.
The property was transferred to Morning Star Enterprises Limited (a property arm of architect and developer Arthur Mortenstern), and subdivided. The surplus land was sold to Housing New Zealand in March 1998, and 36 units were built there.
The 3 Guys brand in Auckland, which had been taken over by Progressive Enterprises, eventually disappeared in 2003, replaced by Countdown stores.
Two restrictive covenants were placed in the title for the former 3 Guys site early in 1998. A supermarket owned by 3 Guys Property Ltd in Valley Road, Mt Eden was transferred to General Distributors back in May 1997 — and a covenant placed on the title of the Avondale land in January 1998 meant that while the land at Mt Eden was used as a supermarket, the land at Avondale could not be similarly used. In the same month, the Council placed a covenant on the title that while the Avondale supermarket site had been further subdivided into two parts, neither of these could be sold separately from each other.
Morning Star Enterprises conveyed the former Avondale 3 Guys site to Rawhiti Developments Limited in March 1998, and in turn it went to Challenge Petroleum Limited two months later. The company intended using the vacant site as a service station, a proposal that received approval from the City Council’s planning department.
However, around 40 business owners, plus the Avondale Primary School Board of Trustees took exception to the plans, and a community campaign ensued, fronted by local businessman Duncan Macdonald. The main issue was the impact on traffic in the area, and a likely increase in danger to pedestrians, especially school children. A petition was organised, and a picket staged on the Great North Road frontage. The protest was covered by local press: as a result, Challenge Petroleum withdrew their resource consent application in January 1999.
In April 1999, Auckland City Council purchased the site for $1.5 million, the transfer formalised in July, to ensure public access to the parking area. By now, Macdonald was president of the Avondale Business Association, and the ABA liaised with Council on concept plans to be presented to interested developers of the site. In September 2000, the ABA oversaw and supplied materials for local arts group 'Wai Kauri’ to paint a mural depicting the history of the Avondale area on the fence at the rear of the 3 Guys site.
It was announced that the Council had found a buyer in 2001 (at a loss of $153,650) and in 2002 the Council placed a further encumbrance on the title, ensuring that Quinnian Zhang had to provide 100 public carparks for recreational purposes, a street-level retail component on the majority of the Great North Road frontage, and to comply with certain community objectives for mixed use retail/residential for the property.
For the next 15 years though, the site remained empty, overgrown in places, and almost constantly used as a casual rubbish dumping ground. The owners prepared a number of development plans, none of which seemed to go very much further than the drawing board. One attempt in 2007 (for a development on the site of 54 residences, office, retail and café/restaurants) almost led to Council reversing their decision to amend the 100 public car park spaces encumbrance on the title to 61 spaces, with guarantees of access to the Avondale Central reserve. But negotiations appear to have broken down at the time.
Whau Arts Festivals were held there in 2014 and 2015, and in July 2017 four organisations sought to “reactivate” the site by installing two shipping containers there in an effort to create a community hub. This sparked controversy, and polarised part of the community. Eventually, after opposition from local businesses and the ABA, the containers were removed.
The private owners put the site back on the market, and Auckland Council’s regeneration agency Panuku purchased the site in October 2017. Panuku reported to the Council’s Planning Committee: “The large site in the middle of the town centre has been vacant since the late 1990s. This results in a lack of continuity of the town centre and a perception that the centre lacks vibrancy ... we will ... seek good development outcomes on the central development sites (1909 — 1949 Great North Road and 1907 Great North Road) through advocacy, negotiation or acquisition.”
In recent years the site has been the venue for the Art Park, as well as community activations.
Now the new library and community centre are being designed to replace the strip of shops west of the site and the Spider. The town square area where the Spider is will also be redeveloped. Along with the current demand for apartments, this renewal in Avondale should enable Panuku to negotiate a suitable sale of the site to a developer. Finally, the decades old vision for street level retail and apartments above could come to fruition.
Adapted from publication “At the Heart of the Village. The Lives and Transactions at the Former 3 Guys Site, Avondale”, written by Lisa J Truttman for the Avondale Business Association.
Avondale's acclaimed landscape artist
By Lisa Truttman
William Allen Bollard was born, according to one family tree, 25 April 1869. His father was John Bollard, and his mother Jane née Ganley. John Bollard had an 86-acre farm on Rosebank beside the river leased from William Innes Taylor since 1863.
As a boy, William would have attended the Whau School in the public hall opposite the Presbyterian Church.
As a teenager, he developed a flair for the artistic, and was apprenticed to John Henderson in Wyndham Street in the City. Henderson’s “Decorative Establishment” boasted services in painting, glazing, paperhanging, artistic decorating, and signwriting.
But William also studied under the tutelage of artist Kennett Watkins, master of the Auckland Free School of Art in 1880, and president of the NZ Art Students Association in 1884. Watkins was known for his landscape paintings, and this would later be William Bollard’s main theme of work.
At 18 years of age, two of William’s works - a view of J M Alexander’s Mt Albert residence, and John Henderson’s Ponsonby home - were put upon display in the window of Phillipps and Sons in Queen Street. They were described in the NZ Herald of 25 August 1888 as “equal in distinctness of lines to photographs.”
By June the following year, aged 19, William entered into a partnership with signwriter and decorator Robert Henry Froude; ‘Bollard & Froude’ began to advertise their business as “signwriters, decorators and gilders,” “paintings of New Zealand scenery always on hand. Pictures mounted and framed,” at 177 Queen Street.
In 1891, William married Harriet Sankey, and the couple would have one son: John Henry Allen Bollard, born 22 June 1893. Sadly, Harriet passed away just weeks later, and was buried in Rosebank Cemetery.
Bollard & Froude worked on the signwriting for commercial premises in central Auckland, and as a highlight were appointed the official signwriters for the Auckland Industrial Exhibition of 1896. In 1899 however, they parted ways, Froude buying William Bollard’s interest in the business. Froude carried on the business in his own name until he went bankrupt in 1913.
William Bollard, however, became involved with the Auckland Society of Arts, exhibiting his work at their shows but also attracting criticism from the press such as “not as good as his work of several years back.”
By 1904, he shifted to Dunedin, where he set up a studio. There, two of his paintings exhibited in the window of the Dresden Piano Company shop attracted much more favourable comment, said to “attract attention on account of their effective treatment and harmonious colouring.”
By 1906, his work was exhibited and auctioned at McCormick & Pugh’s Art Gallery in the city.
In 1910 he married for the second time, to Emma Hawkins Meadowcroft. The couple would have two children, Margaret Jane Ganley Bollard in 1911, and Albert Ernest Bollard in 1912. Emma, though, died 14 June 1915, aged only 37.
There was more sad news just over a year later – his first son John was killed by shellfire in action in France 25 September 1916. The shell blast flung John 60 feet into the air. When his body was recovered, it was described as badly mangled, with the clothes stripped away by the blast. John Henry Allen Bollard’s name is included on the marble roll of honour prepared by Avondale Primary as a past-pupil of the school.
When William Bollard died in 1941, the Dunedin Evening Star printed a considerable obituary:
A familiar and popular figure to many Dunedin citizens passed away suddenly on Saturday in the person of Mr William Allen Bollard, the well-known landscape painter and teacher of art. Deceased, who was in his seventy-third year, was one of the best known artists not only in Dunedin, but also in many other parts of New Zealand, and landscapes from his brush are to be seen in many different parts of the country …
For the past 40 years he was a regular exhibitor at all the exhibitions of the Otago Art Society, and his landscapes, characteristic in their broad and colourful treatment, were always a source of interest to visitors. Mostly his subjects were local beauty spots, with which he had a very intimate acquaintance, and his style and manner on canvas became readily recognisable.
Though he has left in pictorial record many charming views of Otago landscape, he was also fond of the picturesque country of the northern Maori, which he knew in earlier years, and sometimes used his brush effectively in such scenes.
“Mr Bollard possessed the individuality of the artist to a marked degree, and this was reflected in all his work, specimens of which will be greatly missed at future exhibitions of the Otago Art Society, with which he was connected for so long. In oil and water colour he was equally at home, using both, confidently and convincingly.
Three of his pictures of Dominion scenes are hanging in New Zealand House, London, and work from his brush is to be seen in hundreds of Dunedin homes.
At the point where the Rewarewa Stream from New Lynn flows into the Whau River, lies the 5.9ha Ken Maunder Park, home to innumerable local sporting moments for over 60 years. Like so many of our city’s green swathes and reserves, though, this one has a story beyond the kick of a goal, or the scoring of four runs.
New Lynn, like most of the Whau area back in the mid-19th century, was sparsely-settled, and used mainly for the grazing of stock. Farmer Henry Hayr had a cattle run there in 1852, buying the original 84 acres from the Crown for his own farm in 1854. “Hayr’s Grant” went through a number of ownership changes and subdivisions, until in 1887 brothers Henry and James Binsted purchased nearly 19 acres of Hayr’s former ground, closest to the river.
The Binsted brothers were butchers, starting up their first shop in Victoria Street West in 1881. They ran a small slaughtering operation to stock their Freemans Bay shop, but then saw an opportunity in New Lynn for a site to continue running their own slaughterhouse, clear of restrictive Auckland City Council regulations. In 1886, they took over the £5 Waitemata County license from a Mr Frost, and in 1887 purchased the New Lynn property Frost may well have already been using for his own business.
It was a perfect spot for something like a slaughterhouse, close to main roads leading from the cattle ranges to the west and east, and where all the resulting effluent from their processing plant simply washed away on the tide down the river to the harbour. Their New Lynn slaughterhouse supplied not only their Freeman’s Bay store, but also the Avondale shop they took over at the St Judes Street corner by c.1890. That same year a road to the slaughterhouse was laid out, the future Binsted Road, ending right at the water’s edge.
From 1893, the brothers ran their “Avondale Styes” farm there as well, breeding and selling pedigree Berkshire and Yorkshire pigs. By then, their complex at New Lynn included (beside the pigs) a feeding room, scalding shed, “boiling down place” and the slaughterhouse.
In 1907, James Binsted stated that a bullock at his works could be killed and dressed in three-quarters of an hour, and the same time would see eight to ten sheep slaughtered. Men were paid £2 15s per week wages, and did other work as well as slaughtering. The Binsted slaughterhouse was one of New Lynn’s main sources of employment, rivalled only by the brickyards beside the railway line.
The Binsted land had a brief part to play in the story of the Sandford-Miller bi-plane which was being trialled at Avondale Racecourse during 1913. The plane achieved the first cross-country flight in New Zealand on 31 August that year, taking off with Sandford at the controls from Avondale, heading west. Sandford turned back to make for the racecourse again, but the engine failed, and he made a forced landing on a glide in Binsted’s paddock against the slaughterhouse. Two weeks later, after repairs by Miller, the plane returned across the Whau River to Avondale.
By the First World War, James’ son John Claude Binsted managed several country butcher shops, supplied by the family’s New Lynn operation. One thing the Binsteds couldn’t do was sell their meat within the bounds of Auckland City at the time, as they were of course not using a Council-approved or owned facility.
A fire at the slaughterhouse in 1916 did some damage, and probably heralded the end of the complex’s use. After James Binsted died in 1920 (his brother Henry had died in 1895), the Avondale shop was sold to Hellabys, and the sheds at New Lynn were dismantled in 1921.
Streets were planned across the property by 1939, including an esplanade along the coastline. Perhaps the family intended to subdivide the property for industrial use; only a small portion right at the tip was marked on the 1939 town plan as future reserve. Instead, from the late 1920s, the Binsteds’ land became a rubbish tip, so much so, that neighbours on Binsted Road complained to the town board about the nuisance.
The Binsted family retained ownership of the property through to 1951, when it was transferred to the last surviving trustee Harold Bollard. At that time, approaches were made to the New Lynn Borough Council to buy the land as a recreational reserve, along with a plea contained in the transfer deed for the preferred name of “Binsted Park”, recognising the many decades of the family’s ownership. The land title was formally conveyed in 1955 – but the Borough Council decided instead to call the new reserve “Rewa Park”.
Part of the land was sold to commercial interests, leaving only around two-thirds of the Binsted land as reserve. By 1956 football fields had been formed, and a mangrove swamp reclaimed by dumping still more municipal rubbish. The New Lynn Cricket Club established clubrooms there in 1961. By 1963, a bridge had been built linking the park with Queen Mary Avenue, ensuring that Rewa Park became a popular recreation area for locals. In 1967 though, it nearly became the site of a heliport, but local opposition to the idea proved too great.
In 1970, it was decided to rename Rewa Park; the name chosen was Ken Maunder Park. Maunder had been a member of the New Lynn Borough Council from 1955-1962, and later for a period until his death in 1969, including service as deputy mayor of the borough 1959-1962. He was widely active in the local sporting community, including as president of the New Lynn Bowling Club. So, despite the wishes of the Binsted family, their name remained connected only with the road that once led to their ancestors’ property.
In the mid to late 1970s, the Rata Street extension cut across the southern edge of the park. In 2007-2008, the original 1960s bridge link to Queen Mary Avenue was replaced. From 2011, Ken Maunder Park has featured prominently as part of the route for the Te Whau Pathway, which will provide a walking and cycling linkage between the North-Western Motorway and New Lynn.
Any inkling of the old slaughterhouse complex that was once there, and of the Binsted prize pedigree pigs, has long since faded from the community’s memory.
“We travelled over the open and barren heaths…observed nothing new in these dreary and sterile wilds,” was the sharp observation of William Colenso in 1842. I bet he wished there had been a hotel there when he went past!
New Lynn was hard clay country back when Alfred Ramsden turned up around 1880 from Australia and decided that the middle of nowhere was exactly the sort of place that travellers would want to pause and have a comfort stop - especially if they could be served a handle of beer from an open barrel. It was certainly in the middle of a rural area and New Lynn wasn’t yet a twinkle in anyone’s eye.
“Did New Lynn exist [in 1882]? There wasn't much of a train station, the shops weren't there (the main service centre for the West was Avondale, up until just after WWI). Folks lived there and had small farms, or house cows. They certainly had instances of folks ripping roofs off rental properties, and taking to each other with large sticks. But there wasn't much in the way of employment up until Gardners, Parker, Jagger and Crum [brickworks] turned up. It was a locality. That's about what you could say for it. The first school wasn't even until 1888. Up until then, kids went to Avondale.” comments Lisa Truttman.
In JT Diamond’s book Once the Wilderness, it says “Alf Ramsden chose what was then a centrally situated site. Radiating out across the countryside from this hotel were well worn tracks formed by locals making a bee-line for this centre of attraction.”
Being an enterprising sort of bloke and not someone who would buy a brick when he could make it, Alf set to and made his own bricks near the site of what is now the Fruitvale Railway Station. And that’s where the problems started because he wasn’t as good at making bricks as he imagined, and they were not fired properly. A short hundred or so years later Alf’s lack of brickmaking talent would literally come crumbling down.
What Alf lacked in brickmaking he made up for in spades in design, at least on the two sides seen as one approached it from the city. “The Hotel has excellent proportions with the division of the top and bottom storeys and two to three bays each side of the front door. Decoration is limited to the Italianate windows, the mock stone block edges, entry emphasis and fine pediments.”
Sadly for Alf it was all over in 1883 when he went bankrupt and moved on. The hotel seems to have continued on ok in following years as a staging post with large stables on the right, two hitching rails and a water trough out front. A hint of the trouble to come was when the licence renewal in 1904 was opposed by the local policeman. He possibly suspected that in the remote location those official opening hours were not being observed. That the hotel was being run by three women, a Mrs Hertz, Mrs Patterson, and a Mrs Featon was possibly just too much for the police.
Pub life ended permanently for the place the locals affectionately referred to as ‘The Old Grey Mare’, with prohibition in 1909. After this it became residential accommodation, although one part was rented out as doctors rooms from the 1940’s to 1966. Yugoslav migrants the Bartulovich family purchased the building in 1940 and sold it to the Waitakere City in 2005. In 1995 an engineer’s report deemed it unsafe to live in, and years of wrangling over the sale price to the council ensued.
At some stage an owner added some buttress walls on either side of the building. These probably extended the life of it but the poor foundations and weak bricks meant that no conservation technique could save the building. When it was eventually demolished one of those present, John Radford, said “Many vertical cracks had gone from the roof right down to the ground. The structure of the outer walls was essentially a series of free standing pillars (separated by vertical cracks) that were just waiting to fall over. I remember picking up one of the bricks that was on the ground following the demolition and was amazed that I could crumble it into dust in my hands. I was commissioned to come up with some proposals for a sculpture to commemorate the building which did not come to any fruition.”
Radford’s memory is supported by Randolph Covich “The bricks were delivered to Western Aggregates for recycling with the request to save as many as possible from the crusher, so a sculpture could be made. Unfortunately, they were too unstable and were crushed back into fill for building sites.”
And so in 2009 the end came for a fine old landmark from another era. It was literally dust to dust (and ashes to ashes) and the building returned to the earth from where it had come.
Owners of the New Lynn Hotel from 1893:
1893 Moss Davis
1904 Captain Cook Brewery
1907 Hancock & Co
1913 William John Pugh
1923 Jessie Louisa Pugh
1923 Samuel Havie
1923 Reginald Frederick Collard
1940 Rosko Kasich Bartulovich & Nicola Grgo Bartulovich
By Lisa Truttman
Why is that suburb just north of Blockhouse Bay and east of Avondale called “New Windsor”? The name and the suburb’s boundaries were gazetted in 1984, New Windsor being one of the very few parts of Auckland with that formality.
But before 1984, there was the school of the same name from 1957, in the days when even the local post office was known as “Avondale East”. Before the school, there was the road, the name “New Windsor Road” settled on by the mid 1890s (with “Old Windsor Road” in Avondale becoming Wingate Street in the 1930s.) Before the road, there was “New Windsor, immediately at the back of Mt Albert” according to enthusiastic early 1880s land advertisements. Ultimately, though, there was the “Township of New Windsor”, offered for sale in 1865, also known just as the “Township of Windsor at Whau Bridge,” which happened to include part of what we know today as the south-western side of New Windsor, from Blockhouse Bay Road through to a line between Mulgan and Mary Dreaver Streets.
The name may have been chosen by the land owner at the time, John Shedden Adam, or by the auctioneers working for him, Mabin & Graham. The Royal associations of the choice of name are beyond doubt, and probably helped the success of Adam’s sale.
Most of what we know as New Windsor was sold by the Crown in the 1845-1848 period, with the exceptions of Allotments 82 (Tiverton St to Margate Road) and 78 (roughly Mary Dreaver to Terry Streets) which were sold in pieces in the 1880s.
John Shedden Adam – the man who named “New Windsor”
John S Adam arrived on the Jane Gifford in 1841 along with his sister Elizabeth, keen to take up the land promised to him at the township of Cornwallis by the Scottish and grandly-named New Zealand Manukau and Waitemata Land Company. But as it turned out Cornwallis wasn’t a township at all, and Adam along with many of his fellow immigrants who had been taken in by the scheme took up land elsewhere from the Crown in exchange for their useless acres. Adam ended up on St Georges Road in Avondale, and grew potatoes for a time until he decided he’d had enough and moved to Australia in 1845. There, he would remain for the rest of his days, pursuing a successful career as a draughtsman, involved with Presbyterian Church governance, and as a philanthropist.
Adam purchased his additional properties in Avondale and what would become New Windsor in October 1845, after he had already left this colony for Tasmania, quite likely just as an investment. Apart from perhaps approving the “New Windsor” name though, he had little to do with the area’s story.
Another land investor who came to be interested in the area was Dr Samuel Ford, who was in Kororareka (Russell) at the time of the Northern War of 1845. Taking refuge in Auckland, he purchased a considerable amount of the western isthmus of Auckland, including land on the eastern side of New Windsor Road, from Brydon Place to John Davis Road. His land, like that still owned by the Crown, was subdivided for sale into farmlets in the 1880s. This was when Wolseley (Wolverton) and Garnet (Tiverton) Streets were formed and named by the Avondale Road Board, after Sir Garnet Wolseley, one of the British Empire’s military heroes in Africa.
Elijah Astley’s grand house on the hill
In Chorley, Lancashire, towards the end of 1879, a tanner named Elijah Astley began to make plans for his family’s journey to the colony of New Zealand. Born in 1834, Astley ran a leather-making business which supplied the town’s bootmakers and belts for the local factories. He had married Cicely Whittle in 1858 (his second marriage), and they had had nine children by the time they boarded the ship to New Zealand; the tenth was born on the way. The family took up lodgings in Grafton Road, just off Symonds Street, but were only there two weeks before they attracted attention in the newspapers for a chimney fire which created such a blaze and cloud of smoke someone rang the Princes Street fire bell. This caused the Fire Brigade to spend quite some time trying to find the fire, looking all over Princes Street, Bowen Avenue and Symonds Street for it. Astley wasn’t aware how dirty the chimney had been, and later told the magistrate he contacted a chimney sweep immediately after he and neighbours put out the fire. He was let off all charges without penalty.
According to the family’s descendants, Astley and his sons worked first for the Ireland Brothers’ tannery at Panmure, then at the Gittos family tannery up until 1883 when that business had to shut down in Avondale, and took another 18 months to start operations again, this time at Westmere. In 1881-1882, Astley purchased land at New Windsor from Robert Greenwood in two transactions, fronting New Windsor Road from the corner with Maioro Street to just opposite the Tiverton Road junction. There the family commissioned builder Thomas Edward Greep and local farmer Benjamin Johnson to build the family’s new home which exists to this day. The two-storey English Colonial style building was the size it was, most likely, to accommodate the large Astley family.
Around 1888, Astley set up his own tannery business, with his sons, on Portage Road alongside the Whau Creek in New Lynn. The buildings were destroyed by fire in 1903, but were replaced quickly. However, Cicely Astley died in 1904, and Elijah passed away in 1905. The business Elijah Astley began in New Lynn, though, lasted through most of the rest of the century.
Robert Dickey from Penrose bought the house in 1918, and the Dickey family retained it until 1958, which is why many today associate the house with them, rather than the Astleys. These days, though, the Astley/Dickey house is mostly hidden behind trees and other structures.
Some of the earliest Chinese who arrived in New Zealand in 1865 came from the gold mines in Victoria at the invitation of the Otago Chamber of Commerce. They were to rework the central Otago claims abandoned by gold miners who had headed to the new goldrush on the West Coast.
Thousands followed. The following year the Chinese population was recorded as 1219, peaking at 4,700 in 1872 after some 2,000 more came directly from China.
These were not the first, however. Appo Hockton (Wong Ah Poo Hoc Ting) is recorded as the first Chinese immigrant to New Zealand, having jumped ship in Nelson in 1842 – apparently because the captain refused to supply soap with which to wash clothes. On 3 January 1853 Appo became the first naturalised Chinese New Zealander.
Additionally, James Williams, “a native of the Celestial Empire” as described by the Southern Cross, and a “Chinaman” by the New Zealander, was living in Chancery Street in Auckland in 1862. And in Wellington, John Ah Tong, born c.1838 in Canton, on 15 May 1866 became the second Chinese person to be naturalised in New Zealand, after Appo Hockton. By that stage Ah Tong was already established as a businessman (cabinetmaking and upholstery) in Willis Street and his son was born in 1865 to his wife, Caroline Tolhurst.
The majority of Chinese immigrants came from a cluster of counties in the Pearl River Delta region in Guangdong province in southern China, near the capital Guangzhou - also known as Canton - and spoke Cantonese.
Village life revolved around a farming or peasant culture. Some villages were surrounded by rice paddies which grew all year round, producing usually 2-3 crops each year. Land that wasn’t planted with rice might grow sugar cane, peanuts, a Chinese version of kumara, bananas, lychees and water chestnuts.
The villagers were tenant farmers who rented land from the local land-owner, working seven days a week from sun up to sun down. They were so poor they couldn’t afford rice or meat, but had to eat taro-like vegetables and Chinese kumara. They might have pork once a year, and if they were lucky, a fish from the nearby stream.
Forced abroad by poverty and overpopulation, men from Guangdong sought their fortunes in the goldrushes of California (known as Gum Shan or Gold Mountain), Canada, Australia and New Zealand (collectively known as Sun Gum Shan or New Gold Mountain). They were sent by their village or family to work in New Zealand and to send money back home. The money to send them was borrowed with interest, and often the accruing interest was greater than the men could send, and the debt just kept increasing.
Some did well in the gold fields, but the majority didn’t find wealth, and as the gold ran out, rather than ‘lose face’ returning with nothing, many rented land from Māori and European settlers, and took up market gardening, hawked vegetables and in later years opened small businesses such as fruit shops or laundries.
Facing prejudice in New Zealand
The Chinese looked different, dressed differently, ate different food, spoke a different language and had a different religion from most other immigrant New Zealanders of that time.
The decade-long economic depression, which started in 1879, made many Europeans fear that Chinese workers were taking their jobs. Anti-Chinese sentiment became wide-spread, and in 1881 a poll tax was introduced, forcing every Chinese person entering New Zealand to pay £10. Additionally, ships arriving in New Zealand could only land one Chinese passenger per 10 tons of cargo. The Chinese population peaked at 5,004 that year and then began to decline. In 1888 the cargo restrictions increased to one Chinese per 100 tons of cargo.
Racist opinions were widely expressed, even in parliament. In 1895 Mr Rigg said in the House: “And these are the persons we admit among us for a poll tax of £10 whilst a highly bred Berkshire pig has to go into quarantine for six months.” The following year Prime Minister Richard Seddon’s government raised the poll tax to £100 and restricted entry to one Chinese per 200 tons of cargo.
The severe restrictions for entry into New Zealand meant that the Chinese population was largely a male society, though dozens of intermarriages are recorded with both Maori and Pakeha. The men regarded themselves as ‘sojourners’ rather than citizens, sending money home to support their family. Always their goal was to make money and eventually return home for good. Those who could afford it returned to China periodically, and later brought their China-born sons to join them in New Zealand. A small fortunate number were able to bring their wives and children to join them. In 1886 the population of Chinese males was 4,527, while Chinese females was just 15.
“Aliens” were able to become naturalised New Zealanders, and in 1882 the fee for this was reduced from £1 to 2s 6d – except for the Chinese who still had to pay £1. In 1892 the fee was abolished – except for the Chinese who now had to pay £1, 2s 6d, or 22 shillings. By 1908 Chinese could no longer become naturalised, and nor could their NZ-born children.
It was against this backdrop of hardship, anti-Chinese sentiment and restrictions that Chinese lived and worked in New Zealand. They were spread throughout New Zealand in occupations such as labourers, launderers and shopkeepers, and a large number became market gardeners. With growing vegetables a necessity in their home villages, they excelled at it, adapting their methods to New Zealand soils and conditions.
Chan Ah Chee
One of the most prominent and influential Chinese personalities in early Auckland, was Chan Ah Chee.
Born Chan Dar-Chee in Mook-Ngou-Deng village in Canton, China around 1851, he arrived in Auckland 1877 with his two brothers. Their father supported their journey to Australia - the common route at that time being via America and New Zealand. However, they were so seasick on the journey that they decided to stay in Auckland.
Ah Chee quickly became established as a gardener, possibly working as a vegetable hawker for Thomas Ah Quoi in the early years, eventually leasing his own land and becoming a market gardener in his own right. He established his garden Kong Foong Yuen, or “Garden of Prosperity” on 7 ¼ acres in lower Parnell on land which eventually became Carlaw Park.
A successful businessman, Ah Chee was naturalised in 1882. His wife-to-be, Miss Joong Chew-Lee, also known as Rain See arrived in Auckland in December 1885. Chinese women were rare in New Zealand, and their wedding in January 1886 was the first Chinese wedding in New Zealand. The occasion was attended by many Chinese and European friends, and was noted in the newspapers of the day.
Mrs Ah Chee was educated; she could read, write and speak English well, and in later years was a Christian. She also acted as a hostess to consolidate his position in the community, including hosting the governor’s wife, Lady Glasgow and her daughters. She was a credit to Ah Chee, overseeing many aspects of his business. Mr Ah Chee was well received by the Auckland business and social communities and he supported clansmen and the small Chinese community in Auckland.
Their four sons, George, William, Clement and Arthur were born in Parnell and educated in Auckland. Between 1906 and 1908 William and Clement travelled to Canton to marry. They returned with their wives to Auckland and were widely accepted by the European and Chinese communities. William enjoyed boxing, and in the 1920s he and Clement enjoyed car racing at Muriwai Beach.
William’s wife and their five children returned to live in Canton. In January 1929 they were in Sydney returning to Auckland when William died in Auckland of pleurisy at the age of 39. The funeral was delayed until their arrival, and was one of the largest funerals seen in Auckland. In 1931 the family left again for Canton, staying until late 1939 when they all returned to Auckland.
Mrs Clement Ah Chee’s three children, Alice, Roxford and Bruce were born in Auckland, but she died in the 1918 influenza epidemic. Around 1922 Clement travelled to Canton, married again and returned to Auckland. Their two children, Betty and Thomas’s early years were in Auckland.
By the early 1920s Mr and Mrs Chan Ah Chee had retired to live in Canton, accompanied by their grandchildren Roxford and Bruce. He had purchased land in Canton and built a large villa for himself and his sons. William and Clement were left in Auckland to manage the Ah Chee & Co business in Auckland.
Mr Ah Chee died in March 1931 in Hong Kong. Not long after, Clement was in Canton to support his mother, but she died in July.
Mrs Clement Ah Chee with Betty and Thomas went to live in Canton at the Ah Chee villa until 1939 when they all returned to live in Auckland, and Clement opened a small fruit shop ‘Fruitworth’ in Newmarket. In 1949 Betty married Ken Choy in Wellington and they came to live in Auckland.
In the 1950's Clement's health declined. Thomas continued the family business and Betty and Ken opened a small grocery next door; together they experimented in fruit shop and grocery retailing. In 1958 Thomas (known as Tommy Ah Chee) co-founded Australasia's first supermarket in Otahuhu -Foodtown (now Countdown), and soon after Betty, Ken and two friends opened the Great Eastern Supermarket in Panmure.
Ah Chee & Co had become very successful by the mid-1880s and employed many Chinese in its market gardens around Auckland, supplying its flagship fruit shops in Queen Street and later Newmarket, and was a large supplier of fresh vegetables to the Auckland market. The company also had a restaurant, boarding house, Chinese grocery store, scrap metal and marine supplies.
Ah Chee’s nephew Chan Ying-Kew (known as Sai Louie) arrived in the mid-1890s to help his uncle in the rapidly expanding business. From the early 1900s Ah Chee & Co imported bananas, oranges, ginger and other tropical fruit for the Auckland market. It processed the ginger and exported this and fungus to China.
In the mid-1910s Sai Louie, after visiting Fiji to inspect bananas to import for Ah Chee & Co, was so impressed by local Kuo Min Tang (Chinese Nationalist Party) branch supportive activities with the Chinese in Suva, Sai Louie, with Ah Chee’s support, established the Auckland branch. This coincided with Chinese in Hamilton, Christchurch, Dunedin and Wellington opening branches there.
The Market Gardeners of Avondale
In the 1880s the Avondale peninsular, known as the Avondale Flat, became established as a market gardening area. The soil was light and free draining but not very fertile, so had to be built up with horse manure. prominent European gardeners Ernest and Alfred Copsey commenced growing there in the 1880s and continued until the 1950s.
Many Chinese market gardeners also made their livings in the Avondale area. These are some of their stories:
Chan Ah Chee
In 1905 Chan Ah Chee purchased 26 acres from the Wymer family. The property was on the corner of Rosebank and Victoria Roads (now Victor St) and was the largest Chinese garden in Avondale. It continued to be worked by various members of the Ah Chee family, including the Ah Joongs, until the beginning of WWII when a US Navy hospital was established there. Later Avondale College and Avondale Intermediate School were built on the site.
In 1917 sons William and Clement, who were by now running the family business, purchased 10 more acres on Eastdale Road.
The death of William Ah Chee in 1929 also saw the demise of the company. The Rosebank Road property was sold to Rowley & Co and Turners & Growers. The Great Depression saw the collapse of many companies. Ah Chee & Co was just one of them.
Also known as Lim Pee or Lam Pei hailed from Ah Woo, Poon Yue. Around 1906 he leased a large garden from Peter Robertson, who lived halfway down Rosebank Road. The farm was north facing, and sloped gently to the Whau River.
In 1912 Ah Lim was 42 and had been in New Zealand for 17 years. He also was one of the very few Chinese who had a wife. Li Ho Pee was the only woman in listed in Avondale in the Register of Aliens 1917. She had been in New Zealand for five years and was 26 years old.
When Ah Lim died in 1925, at 36 Li Ho Pee was still very attractive and very much sought after. A man named Ah For won her hand, but not before he was set upon by jealous suiters who chased him down Rosebank Road, hitting him with a hoe and a large knife. The two attackers were fined for their troubles.
Charlie Lawgun (Ng Law Gun) was born in Tien Sum, Jung Seng, in 1916. He arrived in New Zealand with his mother in 1920 and was reunited with his father, Ng Yee Ching. Three more children were added to the family, and in the early 1930s they returned to China so the children could be educated there. Charlie returned in 1936, his brother Ken in 1937, and the rest of the family followed in 1939.
Charlie and his wife Lowe Yuk King had six children. In 1949 Charlie purchased a three-acre market garden with four glasshouses, in Avondale Road. The whole family helped with the glasshouse tomatoes and outdoor crops such as lettuces, beans, peas and cucumbers. He also had feijoa trees. The whole family helped with tasks such as packing tomatoes, weeding and picking feijoas, and Lowe Yuk King would drive the tractor to help with ploughing.
The family lived above their fruit and vege shop in Dominion Road, Mt Roskill. A cousin, Ernest Ching, was employed to work in the glasshouses and grow vegetables, and lived in the house on the Avondale property.
Charlie died in 2008 having sold the garden and glasshouses in 1953. The remainder of his working life he spent as a fruiterer.
The Market Gardeners of Blockhouse Bay
Joe and George Ah Chan
Chan Hock Joe, known as Joe Ah Chan, was born in Har Gee, Jung Seng county, in 1882, the son of Chan Yook Ngan, the principal of the local school, and his wife, Ng Chu Hwa. He married Yip Kue Sum and arrived in Wellington around 1905 where he was a fruit and vegetable hawker before returning to China in 1916 to help his wife learn English.
He returned to New Zealand the following year and opened a store in Matamata. Joe’s wife joined him in 1920 and they started a market garden in Thames in 1923, growing both indoor and outdoor tomatoes. At that time tomatoes were largely imported from the Pacific Islands and Joe was among the first to grow them commercially in New Zealand.
Joe began growing grapes in 1925 on four acres he leased at Totara, and established Gold Leaf Vineyards, producing his first batch of wine in 1929. He was reputedly the first Chinese in the Southern Hemisphere to do so.
A founding member of the Chinese Nationalist Party, the Kuo Min Tang, Joe was president of its Waikato branch, and fiercely patriotic. Like many Chinese in New Zealand, his dream was to make his money and return home to China. He intended returning home after the war, and had in fact bought a property in Canton (Guangzhou) in preparation. However, the situation in China had worsened with the Communist takeover and the family moved to Blockhouse Bay instead where they bought a five-acre property with six glasshouses. Joe died in 1959 and his wife Kue Sum died in 1967.
Joe’s son George Ah Chan married Annie Ng, who was born in New Zealand. Along with her brothers Annie was educated in China and returned with her mother to New Zealand in 1939.
George and Annie worked in the market garden in Blockhouse Bay. They had five hothouses in Boundary Road and had Dutch and Maori employees who came on bikes looking for work. It was a country road in those days, and even White Swan Road had no houses.
Annie recalls: “I drove, because there were no buses in those days. George taught me but he was more scared than me. He said “you had better give up. You’re not born to drive.” At the time Leighton’s Driving School advertised every 15 minutes on the radio. I had eight lessons with them as I had no confidence. I drove to Queen Street and K Road in the 4pm traffic and to Newmarket. I got my licence, before returning home to pick the tomatoes.”
She also recalls filling and driving the two-ton truck to get the tomatoes to market after her husband was in bed sick.
George was also president of the Mt Roskill Athletics Club. George’s parents continued to live on the Blockhouse Bay site, while George and Annie purchased a small cottage elsewhere.
The land with the glasshouses was later sold to build Lynfield College.
David Wong Hop is one of Clement Ah Chee’s grandsons through his mother Alice, Clement’s eldest child.
David is also the family historian and has spent more than twenty years talking to Ah Chee descendants, Chinese friends and relatives to uncover Ah Chee’s history in New Zealand and their background.
He published a comprehensive summary of Mr Ah Chee and his descendants’ history, which he took to Dong Guan county, China in about 2013-14. Officials helped him locate Ah Chee relatives who had survived the WWII fighting in Canton and those relatives confirmed all the important details. David also interviewed many old Chinese who came from the villages in the area.
Later, an uncle came to Auckland to meet long-lost relatives at an Ah Chee reunion.
On behalf of the New Zealand Government, in 2002 Prime Minister Helen Clark issued a formal apology to the families and descendants of the Chinese Poll Tax immigrants.
Of the four main countries Chinese emigrated to – Canada, America, Australia and New Zealand – only New Zealand has acknowledged the hardship and unfair treatment meted out to the Chinese at the hands of the New Zealand government of the times.