By Lisa J Truttman
Back in 2009, I came upon an image in the Papakura Museum collection of a bearded fellow named Amos Eyes standing on a railway platform, squinting into the sunlight. The curve of the railway lines, and the trees in the background told me that this was not Papakura, but our own Avondale station, and thus was just about the earliest photo known of someone at work in our suburb.
Amos Eyes, Avondale’s fourth stationmaster, was born in Wolverhampton, England, around 1835. He married Sarah Ward in 1862, by which time he was already a railway inspector for goods trains, possibly for the London and Northwestern Railway Company. His eldest child, Charles was born at Bushbury in 1863, one of the towns along the line. Charles in the 20th century was an early Waterview landowner, after being a farmer in Papakura, and in Waima in Northland.
The Eyes family set out for New Zealand as part of a special settlement scheme organised by the Church of England Emigration Society, the members of which intended to take up land just north of Leigh in the Pakiri Block. Eyes himself, as part of the “Pioneer Party of Special Settlers” (the main body was to follow in 1865) was a member of the Society’s working committee while on board the Golden City during the voyage. The ship arrived in Auckland on 5 March 1864, but it appears Eyes did not head north after all; or if he did, he wasn’t there long. Two more children were born in Freemans Bay in Auckland instead — Amos John Thomas (1867) and Minnie (1869).
Then, around 1870, the family left New Zealand briefly, only to return 23 March 1871, on board the Caduceus. As was common in those days, young Amy who was born on board during the voyage (17 January 1871, one day before the ship crossed the equator) was christened with “Caduceus” as her middle name.
On 7 June 1873, Amos Eyes wrote to the Railways Department asking for employment on the Auckland and Waikato railway and was eventually successful. He began working for the department in May 1874. By December that year he was a porter at Ellerslie station on the southern Auckland suburban line. There on Boxing Day, with the rush of passengers heading to the races, he was acting as a temporary ticket collector to help manage the numbers.
There was a promotion for him in 1875, to the position of stationmaster at Papakura. A house was provided for him there by the Railways Department as part of his salary, but he rented it out, and also owned other blocks of land in the district. Three of his children were born at Papakura: Lily Antigone (1877), Lois Mable (1878) and Daisy Effie (1882).
Next, he was at Mt Eden station as stationmaster from around 1884. During his time there, a young man named Waterhouse Nicholson was accidentally killed on the station platform in May 1885 when a single-barreled pinfire gun that had been handed to him discharged, shattering Nicholson’s skull. He and his companions had just got off the train from a shooting trip in the Waitakere Ranges. A railway by-law forbade the carriage of loaded guns and rifles on the trains. But Brabazon claimed that he hadn’t tried unloading the rifle before boarding the train because of the rush to catch it, and then found the cartridge had swollen due to rain so couldn’t be removed. The verdict was accidental death. Despite Eyes’ best efforts, Brabazon was cleared of a charge of breaching the railway regulation regarding loaded firearms on the technicality that he and his party had stood outside on the carriage platform all the way from West Auckland to Mt Eden.
Around the same time Eyes took over at stationmaster at Mt Eden, he bought part of the Gittos family’s Ingleton Estate at Avondale, just across the road from the Avondale station, part of their tannery property. It was probably home for the Eyes family a few years later when he became the combined stationmaster/postmaster at Avondale Railway Station from October 1889, remaining until retirement in 1900. When the railway station had opened in 1880, it was a sensible move to combine postal services with those of the railway, keeping communications in one place. This situation of the combined railway, postal and telegraph services would remain in Avondale until the establishment of the Avondale Post Office at the old Avondale Hotel building from 1912.
Eyes arrived for work at the station on 7 October 1889, to find that the premises had been, to quote the NZ Herald “burglariously entered during the night.” The thieves had apparently tried forcing the office door to get in, failed, then got access via a recently replaced window pane where the putty was still soft. The station’s safe was taken, but neighbouring dogs began to bark at the strange noises heard at two in the morning. The safe was found unopened about 70 yards away from the station. The would-be thieves were never found, their footprints obliterated in heavy rain.
One of the Auckland Star’s reporters had a bit of disagreement with Amos Eyes in November 1892. A verdict had just been reached in a sensational Glen Eden poisoning case, and reporters rushed to get the info to their newspaper offices. The nearest telephone was at the Avondale Station but, according to the Star “The use of the telephone at the Avondale railway station was discourteously refused our reporter, because the person in charge objected to being disturbed while at his tea.”
Little further is known about Eyes’ time here in Avondale, except that as at 1895 he was on an annual salary of £140, which rose to £150 by the time he left the service. He retired in 1900, perhaps from illness (he had been ill for 10 weeks before he died in January 1901.)
“The funeral of the late Mr. Amos Eyes, late railway stationmaster, of Avondale, who, after 10 weeks of severe illness, died at his residence here [in Papakura], on January 12, aged 66 years, took place on January 14, and was largely attended by relatives and sympathising friends, who, by their attendance, and by many floral tributes, showed their last tribute of respect to the memory of one well known and much esteemed here … The deceased leaves a widow, two sons (one married), and four daughters (two of whom are married) to mourn their loss.” (Weekly News)
The Avondale and Papakura properties were in Sarah Eyes’ name until she died in 1924. Her daughter Amy and son Charles inherited the estate as trustees, and in 1926 subdivided the Avondale property for sale. Tait Street was named by the Eyes family, after William J Tait, the then-Mayor of Avondale Borough. Robert Earnest Steele and his wife Beatrice Adelaide purchased most of the present-day Islamic Centre site in 1929. The Seventh Day Adventist Church purchased part in 1937 where they built a hall. The church purchased the remainder, up to the corner of Tait Street and Blockhouse Bay Road, in 1955. The present buildings date from between 1960 and 1987.
Nothing remains, however, of Amos Eyes’ residence here in Avondale, near the railway line where he worked and enjoyed his tea in the face of impatient reporters.