Feathered Friends

New Zealand journalist Pat Lawlor (1893 – 1976) remembers the old days in Wellington, with prompts from his childhood diary.

May 30 1905….. Heard Mrs _____’s cockatwo swearing…..

It is in no spirit of charity that I leave out the name of the owner of the swearing cockatoo; and there were not ‘two’ of them as suggested by my diary entry. The plain truth is that the name of Mrs_____ is written in pencil, smudged with the years and unreadable. I would surmise that the worthy owner wished at times that the shrill declarations of her pet, when in anger born, were smudged or entirely obliterated.

cockatooThe famous cockatoo, white in colour and assertive in mien, was brought up in a bar-room, where he learnt his ABC (with an accent on the B), and was later acquired by the owner of a crockery shop…… On fine days cocky’s cage would be placed on the edge of the footpath, and it was then that he really performed if small boys annoyed him. I hope I was not one of them but I do know that whenever I was in the vicinity I always stopped to listen to him – just in case.

Mr L. C. Smith, who has many wonderful memories of Wellington, relates that once when Mrs_____ was in hospital a police sergeant from the station nearby agreed to look after the bird. When the Inspector of Police arrived one day, cocky took violent objection to him and poured out a torrent of the kind of abuse that is generally written on paper and handed to the magistrate. The inspector was shocked. He averred that capital punishment was too good for the bird. Another day the cockatoo mimicked the growl of a passing dog, who, resentful, tried to get at cocky through the wire cage. Mr Smith declares that it took two policemen to separate the screeching, swearing cockatoo and the snarling bulldog.

cuba street

December 4 1905…… Saw the penguin at Hurcombes swallow a fish and not be sick…..

Hurcomb the fishmonger in Cuba Street could have given points to a modern display merchant. There was always something doing at his shop. In this case it was his penguin, who, in between other displays, was on duty at the front door, wandering occasionally on to the footpath. Every now and then Hurcomb would appear and give him a fish which would disappear in one neat swallow, causing me to wonder why he was not sick.
‘More Wellington Days’, Pat Lawlor. Whitcombe and Tombs Ltd; 1962.

Lawlor didn’t mention the type of penguin Mr. Hurcomb fed but it was probably a little blue, found all around the New Zealand coast including Wellington harbour.

A road sign near Wellington airport warning of penguins crossing.

This warning sign is only a few hundred metres from the end of Wellington’s airport runway. Why does the penguin cross the road? To get to its nest burrow on the other side.

Here’s a quote from New Zealand Bird’s On Line
“As their name suggests, the little penguin is the smallest species of penguin. They are also the most common penguin found around all coasts of New Zealand’s mainland and many of the surrounding islands. Primarily nocturnal on land, they are sometimes found close to human settlements and often nest under and around coastal buildings, keeping the owners awake at night with their noisy vocal displays. They live up to their scientific name ‘Eudyptula’ meaning “good little diver”, as they are excellent pursuit hunters in shallow waters.”

Follow the link to this excellent site for more information and some excessively cute photographs.

Cockatoo photo credit: lwolfartist DSC04118 via photopin (license)

An Emigrant’s Tale

I was in my teens when we left Scotland. My father was ordered to take a long sea voyage, and New Zealand was chosen as our destination – the mild climate being a great attraction.

Off Valparaiso

We left Home in the sailing ship Ganges in July [1st], 1863, arriving in Auckland in October [12th], after a good voyage; no bad storms, and no serious illness. There were 12 first class passengers, and about 250 immigrants in the steerage. In those days the conditions of travelling first class were much below those of the third class now-a-days both in accommodation and in commissariat arrangements, there being very small cabins, and very hard bunks, with the most primitive means of lighting. There were no baths; the men and boys used to be hosed down in the early mornings when the decks were cleaned, but the women had to perform their ablutions in tiny basins with very little water.

We carried some crates of thin fowls on deck, which grew tougher and skinnier as the voyage progressed, as did also a few sheep. There were also preserved vegetables, potatoes which were very nasty, and butter, which, unlike the fowls, grew stronger and stronger as time went on. Curiously enough, plum pudding was the most successful dish in the menu. It appeared every Thursday, and was quite the event of the week. But we had a good captain, and our fellow-passengers were so congenial that everyone felt sorry when the voyage ended, and we had to separate and scatter.
A. H. Williams quoted in ‘Tales of Pioneer Women’, Whitcombe & Tombs Ltd., 1940.

The popular captain was Thomas Funnell and there were 22 passengers listed in the main cabin. One steerage passenger, William Kirkwood, had died of pulmonary tuberculosis in September, and one child was stillborn in August. That was certainly a “good voyage” by the standards of the day.

The ship’s second, and last, voyage to New Zealand in 1864/65 with Irish emigrants wasn’t so fortunate. Two crew lost overboard when they fell from the mast, two adult passenger deaths, and 54 children due to an outbreak of whooping cough. The newspaper report and captain’s log make grim reading.

Crossing the Waitaki river

The English Victorian novelist Anthony Trollope visited New Zealand in 1872, when the country was more suitable for intrepid travellers than “tourists”. To make things even more difficult for himself, he arrived in the middle of winter.

Travelling north from Dunedin in a stagecoach he found the road “as good as any in England” as far as Palmerston “but then there comes a change, and thence on into the bounds of the province the road was very bad indeed”. There was an overnight stop at “a small town called Oamaru” and then….

“Twelve miles of as miserable a road as ever I travelled brought us to the Waitaki river, which is the boundary of the [Otago] province”.

Waitaki river

“It was a piercingly cold morning, and we felt aggrieved greatly when we found that we had to leave the coach and get into a boat. But the dimensions of our own hardships lessened themselves to our imagination when we found that two of the boatmen descended into the river, and pushed the boat for half a mile up the stream. During a part of the way three men were in the water, and yet the boat hardly seemed to move. For this service we were charged 2s [shillings] apiece which sum was not included in the coach fare. …..

There are many such rivers as the Waitaki running into the sea on the eastern coast of New Zealand, very dangerous in crossing, and the cause of many accidents. We were then in the depth of winter, and they are not then full. It is after the winter rains, and after the snows, when the mountains give up their load of waters, that the streams become full, and the banks overflow. In the spring the coaches often cannot pass, and are occasionally washed away bodily when the attempt is made. At other rivers besides the Waitaki there is a custodian, who is in some degree responsible for the safety of travellers, and who seems always to charge 2s a head, whether he presides over a ferry, with boat, and boatmen, or simply over a ford, across which he rides on horseback showing the way”.
‘With Anthony Trollope in New Zealand 1872’ Ed. A. H. Reed. 1969.

Modern travellers have a convenient bridge for crossing the river – no charge.

Waitaki bridge

The Waitaki river marks the boundary between the provinces of Otago and Canterbury.

The Waitaki today provides much of New Zealand’s hydro power from a network of eight dams upstream.

Aviemore hydro dam on the Waitaki river. South Island, New Zealand.

Aviemore hydro dam on the Waitaki river.

The Evans Bay Slip

The Wellington Patent Slip at Evans Bay, near today’s international airport, was an important feature of the harbour’s industrial shoreline for a hundred years.

Patent slip vintage

This postcard from the early 1900s was printed, and presumably hand coloured, in Berlin and the colourist, never having seen the place, was overly generous with the blue ink. The area around the ship was, of course, dry land and not water.

The Cyclopedia of New Zealand, 1897, noted –
“The Patent Slip, owned by a private company, is situated in Evans Bay, about three miles by road and two-and-a-half miles by water from the Queen’s Wharf, and can take vessels up to 2,000 tons not exceeding 300 feet in length or having a greater draught forward than sixteen feet when about to be slipped. The ways are laid to a gradient of one in twenty-three, are 1,070 feet in length, and have a depth at high water of 32 feet at the outer end. The Slip Company own appliances for repairing both wooden and iron vessels, and have machine tools for effecting the smaller class of repairs to iron vessels, but large repairs have to be sent to the foundries in the City. The Company charges for vessels over 200 tons register 1s[hilling] per ton on the gross tonnage for the first day, and 6d. [sixpence] per ton per diem thereafter”.

Although the company was founded in 1871 preparation of the site, especially laying the rails under water at the outer end, took two years. The divers were sometimes swept off their feet in strong currents.

Patent slip Huia

Typical of small coastal steamers in the 19th century, the s.s. Huia (1878-1927) had a reputation for being difficult to steer in some conditions and went aground more than once. This photograph might have been taken at the Patent Slip in June 1907 after she stranded for 20 minutes on Long Point, Kapiti Island, on her regular run from Wanganui to Wellington. A leak was traced to a cracked plate on her port side.

In 1897, as the Cyclopedia explained, the Patent Slip “as a settlement” consisted of “a few cottages……occupied by the engineer in charge and some of the men who are employed” there. Eventually, the city suburbs spread out to engulf it and by mid 20th century coastal shipping had begun to die away under pressure from road, rail and air transport. In 1972 the slip – then under the control of the Harbour Board – didn’t have enough trade to stay in business and was closed. Now the site is preserved alongside Wellington’s most scenic route “around the bays” from the city to Miramar. Unfortunately, due to its low profile, many tourists probably drive past it without noticing.

The site of Wellington's Patent Slip, Evans Bay, (1871-1972).

The track of the original slipway is marked by wooden poles that feature panels explaining the site’s history. The huge cogged wheel at left was part of the steam driven winding gear that hauled vessels out of the water with chains. The chain locker below was 10 metres [about 30 feet] deep.

Patent slip_2

This second slipway, opened in 1922, lies alongside Wellington’s scenic “round the bays” drive.

Interesting trivia – One of the company directors in 1897 was Harold Beauchamp, father of New Zealand writer Katherine Mansfield.

Jail break

An extract from a letter written from Wellington, New Zealand, 24 April 1843, when the settlement was just three years old.

Wellington has been in a state of great excitement for the last few days.
On Wednesday last six convicts who had been sentenced the previous day to ten years’ transportation, broke out of gaol and took possession of a boat lying on the beach.

Wellington Courthouse_Brees

Wellington courthouse on the right c. 1843.

They were half-way across the harbour before anybody went after them. It was blowing a tremendous gale from the N.W., and it soon became dark ; many of the boats returned the same night, but the sheriff [police magistrate] meeting with a small schooner entering the harbour, pressed her in the Queen’s name, and went in pursuit of the prisoners. He returned unsuccessful on Friday morning ; but in the evening everybody was agreeably surprised by the arrival of some Mauris [Maori] in a canoe with the six prisoners.

It appears that the prisoners were wrecked on a reef near Palliser Bay, and got ashore in a most extraordinary manner, each man having from twenty to thirty pounds of irons about his legs. They wandered about the beach in quest of another boat, but they soon fell in with the Mauris, by whom they were captured, and who had been informed of the escape of the convicts by some of the constables. The Mauris behaved well, and will receive £5 for each of the prisoners. It was a daring thing to break out of the gaol in a town where there are 5,000 inhabitants in broad daylight.
‘The New Zealand Journal’, London, 30th September 1843.

Image details – [Brees, Samuel Charles] 1810-1865 :Courts of Justice, Wellington [ca 1843]
Reference Number: B-031-009 http://mp.natlib.govt.nz/detail/?id=4577

Kelburn: midway between earth and sky

Wellington (New Zealand) journalist, Pat Lawlor (1893-1979), digs into his boyhood diary

February 1, 1906….. Went to the Kiosk and had fun in the cable car……

Vintage postcard of Kelburn Tea Kiosk and cable car c.1907

Kelburn (with an extra ‘e’) Kiosk around 1907 with cable car at right.

The place Wellingtonians know now as the Skyline was for many years identified as the Kiosk. It was a barn-like building where one could have tea and cakes for sixpence, with a fine view of the city and harbour thrown in for good measure. The young men of the city usually took their young ladies there by cable car and then wandered on down through the Botanical Gardens on the way home, or through the then-embowered Kelburn to the other end of the city. I do not know when the tea rooms ceased to be called the Kiosk.

I do know, however, that after World War II the name became unpopular. Anti-communists suggested ‘kiosk’ was of Russian origin, but this is not correct. The word is Turkish or Persian signifying…… banqueting amid trellised splendour with fair views. This, despite all the glamour that youthful memory may inspire, could hardly describe the Kiosk I wrote of in my diary of 1906.
‘More Wellington Days’. Pat Lawlor, Whitcombe and Tombs Ltd., 1962.

F. L. Irvine-Smith, in her book ‘The Streets of my City’ (1948), digs a little deeper

Kelburn, named after Viscount Kelburn, the eldest son of the Earl of Glasgow, Governor of New Zealand (1892-1897), quickly became a favourite suburb, not only because of its proximity to the city, but because of the sheer beauty of its position poised high above the city and the shining waters below.

Kelburn ascent

The nucleus of settlement was the Upland Farm, acquired by the Upland Estate Co., in 1896, originally the property of Wm. Moxham, but every possible foothold was soon covered by the heavily basemented type of house which may be said to have become the characteristic of Wellington hill-side architecture…….

It was a sheer triumph of engineering that transformed the lower levels of Moxham Farm into habitable ground….. which emerged out of the levelling of the knolls that filled the valley, their soil being spread by means of an aerial wire tramway.

Kelburn is thus an essentially man-made suburb, from its cable tramway which transports passengers in ten minutes from the heart of the city, to its flights of soaring steps and bastions and retaining walls that transform the most inaccessible eyries into “desirable building lots,” but once safely ensconced within these buttressed edifices, midway between earth and sky, the panorama that meets the eye is truly heaven-made – an unsurpassable vista of city, sea and sky in the perfection of harmonious balance…….

Kelburn descent

Nearby is Kelburn Park, a verdant expanse of “the greenest grass that ever grew,” with scarce a trace of having been made to order by cutting off a hill-top and tipping it holus-bolus into the adjacent gully.
‘The Streets of My City’. F. L. Irvine-Smith, 1948. Reprinted 1974 by A. H. & A. W. Reed Ltd, Wellington.

Overlooking the Oriental Bay area of Wellington from the suburb of Kelburn.

Kelburn Park, foreground, “made to order”.

The Skyline building was lost to two suspicious fires, three weeks apart, in 1982.

On the Road Again

Commercial travellers, the company rep., travelling salesmen (and women) – do they still exist, or have they been made redundant by on-line ordering? If they’re still in business they probably announce their next visit by text or email but in 1906 their customers would have received something like this in the mail

calling card

The Cyclopedia of New Zealand (Otago and Southland edition, 1905) tells us that The firm of Messrs. Briscoe and Co., Limited, is an offshoot of the old house of William Briscoe and Son, which was founded in Wolverhampton [England] about the year 1768.

The large business conducted from Dunedin …. [opened in 1862] is confined chiefly to the South Island, where seven travellers are steadily engaged in visiting the customers; but the North Island is left to the Wellington and Auckland houses of the firm.

This particular “traveller”, W. G. Macindoe, was based in Auckland and, even at this early date, seems to have had a company car to drive around his commercial territory. Lets hope it was more practical than the steam driven fantasy on the postcard! It seems that Mr. Macindoe used both card and car for something other than company business. This was posted to a young lady in Paparoa and the single sentence at the bottom says Will you come for a drive to Whangarei and is signed Your boy. The journey from Paparoa to Whangarei would have been more than just an afternoon jaunt on the roads of 1906.

Moving forward to 1909, The New Zealand Herald of April 10 noted –
Mr W. G. Macindoe, traveller for Briscoe and Co., was the recipient of a handsome cabinet of cutlery from the staff on Thursday evening on the occasion of his marriage. The manager (Mr. A. G. Graham) made the presentation.

The cutlery was also a leaving present because, on 26th, the Auckland Star announced – Mr W. G. Macindoe, of Messrs. Briscoe and Co. (Ltd.), having been transferred to the firm’s Sydney warehouse, leaves by the Maheno this evening. He will be accompanied by Mrs. Macindoe.
I haven’t been able to find any details about Mrs. Macindoe so far. I wonder if she lived in Paparoa?

(Although the company began as a wholesaler, Brisoes is now a high-profile retail chain with their advertising slogan “You’ll never buy better”).