The Avondale Historical Journal
Volume 9 Issue 50
have made his story interesting: New Windsor may wellhave been covered by vineyards had he lived and theproject continued up until the last quarter of the 20thcentury, judging by the development patterns of theHenderson area where thriving vineyards were also(later) established.
But – Rayer was also a convicted Communard. A formerpolitical prisoner, a participant in the Paris Communeuprising of 1871, sentenced along with thousands of oth-ers to penal servitude at New Caledonia when the upris-ing was crushed. Rayer was present at a series of eventsin the French capital which were to have a major impacton the political history of Europe.
Much has been written about the 1871 Paris Commune,which took place immediately after France’s defeat inthe Franco-Prussian War. The Auckland press in 1880called those from the commune “communists”, but thepeople themselves preferred to be known as“communialists”, to differ from the socialists and nihil-ists. The political prisoners on New Caledonia werepardoned from 1879, and received a generous offer: asdeportés, they had an option to either return to France orhead for anywhere in the Australasian colonies at theexpense of the French Government. Other prisoners,common criminals, were known as ticket-of-leave men.They were forever banished from France or any of hercolonies – and to get elsewhere, they had to pay theirown way.
A mixture of the two classes of former prisoners, 24 inall, sailed from Noumea in January 1880 to Onehunga inthe
, on a voyage which should have lasted just 10days – instead, with bad weather, it took 30 days to reachNew Zealand. Almost as soon as they touchedOnehunga’s shore, the news spread of their arrival, andthe papers blared that it was “The French Invasion.” The
Auckland Evening Star
did differentiate between thepolitical prisoners and the ordinary criminals (the formernot nearly as bad as the latter in their opinion). Most of the fuss over the next days was over whether Franceintended to continue the use of New Zealand, or anyBritish colony for that matter, as a dumping ground fortheir “dregs”.
Of the deportés, the
found that their language skillsin English were on the whole poor to non-existent.
A reporter from this office interviewed about a dozen of the Communists at Onehunga, while they were awaitingthe arrival of the 1 o’clock train from the wharf. Some of their number had gone to Auckland early in the morning,and had returned to report progress. They appeared veryanxious to ascertain the chances of employment, and made diligent inquiries with respect to the state of themarket. None of them could speak English, and theyseemed keenly sensible of the disadvantage at which this fact placed them. One gentleman who acted as a spokes-man for the rest unearthed from the inmost recesses of aleather satchel a well thumbed French and Englishdictionary, and exhibited it with great satisfaction,although he sorrowfully explained that he had not a suf- ficient knowledge of the grammatical structure of thelanguage to be enabled to derive much assistance fromthe volume.
Auckland Evening Star
, 18 February 1880)
By the time another vessel, the
Sovereign of the Seas
,arrived with more ex-convicts from Noumea the follow-ing month, Aucklanders had more or less settled on ac-cepting that a new though small wave of immigrationwas taking place. After all, former Communards hadarrived years earlier, via London, but because they hadentered in dribs and drabs, none created the fuss whichoccurred in February 1880.
François Rayer when he arrived was described on a listof the deportés compiled at the Auckland Police Station,later submitted to Parliament, as being 50 years of age,5ft 4in in height, medium build, with a dark complexionand grey eyes. His hair was dark, tinged with grey, hehad a full moustache, slight beard and whiskers. Hisgeneral appearance was described as smart. According torecords, he had worked as a contractor (possibly inNoumea), but in Paris he had been a wineseller. Almosteverything else known about Rayer is sketchy at best.
What he was doing in Auckland from 1880-1883 isuncertain. There is a possibility however that he was atthe New Windsor property as early as 1880, given thatthe
described the vines planted by January1883 as being of varying ages. Rayer never owned theland he worked at New Windsor. Part of Allotment 66 of the Parish of Titirangi, it had been sold by Robert Green-wood to a solicitor, John Benjamin Russell, in May1882.
It was Lot 10 on Plan No. 131. Rayer comes into thepicture, taking out a lease from Russell for Lot 10 in July1882 – then, two months later, transferring the lease toGraves Aickin (Auckland chemist, politician and nephewof Dr. Thomas Aickin), Henry Brett (proprietor of the
), and John Chambers (an Aucklandmerchant). So curiously, at the time of the
article, even the lease was no longer in his name.
both published concernsabout his failing health before he died.
“Many of our readers will regret to learn that M. F. Rayer, the vigeron at Mount Albert, is at present very ill,and his medical advisers give little hope of recovery. Mr. Rayer is not an old man, between fifty and sixty years of age, but since he purchased the place at Mount Albert hehas worked hard, early and late, and lived soberly, and it is feared that the privations thus undergone are tellingupon him now. M. Rayer began without capital, and thusa great deal of heavy work fell to his lot, which would have lightened had he been able to employ a sufficient amount of capital in the undertaking. Many were lookinganxiously to the result of Mr. Rayer’s efforts to grow thevine here for wine-making purposes, and should his pre-