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