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J J Boyds Royal Oak Zoo

J J Boyds Royal Oak Zoo

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Published by Lisa Truttman
Story of the Royal Oak Zoo near Onehunga, Auckland (1911-1922), operated by J. J. Boyd, Auckland's first zoo. Part of The Zoo War (2008).
Story of the Royal Oak Zoo near Onehunga, Auckland (1911-1922), operated by J. J. Boyd, Auckland's first zoo. Part of The Zoo War (2008).

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Categories:Types, Research
Published by: Lisa Truttman on Feb 27, 2010
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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J J Boyd’s Royal Oak Zoo (1911-1922)
“Zoo, Royal Oak – Where you can spend a pleasant time. Admission: Adults 1s.Children, 3d and 6d.”
 placed in the Waitemata News, 10 July 1913)
The opening skirmishes
Onehunga was and still is the main port for the Manukau Harbour. It served in the beginning of the 20
century as Auckland’s direct link by road, rail and tram line withshipping heading from across the Tasman, as well as with the east coast settlementsand Wellington by sea. Onehunga’s history of settlement goes back to the 1840s. Itwas one of the Fencible settlements, and had been a borough since 1877, with its ownspring-fed water supply from 1888. This contributed to the Borough’s reputation for healthfulness of living, in the face of the rat-borne bubonic plague fears of the earlyyears of that century. By 1911 Onehunga’s Borough Council was preparing plans(designed by architect and later Mayor of Onehunga, John Park) for their CarnegiePublic Library which opened in September 1912. The Richard Seddon Memorial atthe Royal Oak junction had been unveiled in 1909, just two years before. A map from1906 shows the Borough mainly organised in town allotments, with the densestsubdivisions from Trafalgar Street on down Norman’s Hill to the old OnehungaBeach, and in the triangle formed by Symonds Street, Manukau Road and Trafalgar Street, just to the south of the Royal Oak intersection.Across from the smaller subdivisions of upper Symonds Street lay an area of still-open ground, made up of two large sections which were part of the Town of Onehunga parts 1 and 32 of Allotment 38. They are both bounded to the east bySymonds Street, with part 1 just to the south-west of the Royal Oak intersection.Part 32, to the south, was originally purchased from the Crown in 1869 by GeorgeOwen Ormsby. By 1875 it was owned by George Guild Mill who in 1880 sold the property to Mrs Mary Whyte.
George Mill had purchased part of part 1, the farmowned by Captain John Jermyn Symonds, in 1874. This was also purchased by MaryWhyte in 1880. Together, this was to include the large 7 acres, 22 perchesSymonds/Trafalgar Street corner paddock owned by Mrs. Whyte right up until her death c.1936,
which later became the site of the Manukau Intermediate School (nowRoyal Oak Intermediate).Adjacent to Mrs Whyte’s paddock, just to the north, Captain Symonds sold another  parcel of just over 5½ acres to Thomas Ball in 1881.
When Ball died in 1898, EmilyBall sold the property to Arthur and Ellen Pittar (the title was in Ellen’s name). WhenEllen died in 1910, the property was sold by her executors to J J Boyd near the end of February 1911.
According to an advertisement some six years later, Boydconsidered that his battle to keep the Onehunga Zoo began in that month.
Just over two months later, the
 NZ Herald 
reported that Boyd had submitted plans of  buildings and cages for his zoo to the Onehunga Borough Council on 1 May, as wellas a copy of a permit he had obtained from the Minister of Internal Affairs to removethe animals from Aramoho and transfer them to Onehunga.
Immediately, a petitionwas presented to the Borough Council against the establishment of a zoo in
Onehunga, on the grounds that the proposed zoo would be “a breeding ground for rats.”
A letter published in the
 NZ Herald 
a few days later summed up the concerns:
“Of late, war has been vigorously waged against the tiny rat, as being the medium of all the plague infection; but to what insignificance does the rat sink in comparison tothe zoo that is proposed to be opened in our midst. What with wild animals housed inthe centre of a thickly populated district, making night hideous with their roars, and the highly offensive smell emitted from them, together with the smell from thecarcases on which they will be fed, threatens us with a fresh source of plague. I venture to say that as soon as the Zoo is started, not only will we have a few rats tocontend with, but thousands of them in a very short space of time, for they are sure to gather from all quarters to feed on the refuse of the dead animals supplied to the lionsetc. which in itself will be a great menace to the health of the district … The zoo initself is all right, but let it be erected in some isolated spot, away from the residential  part of the borough.”
A look at maps of the Borough suggest that the areas the writer may have had in mindmight have been Te Papapa to the southeast or Penrose in the northeast corner. If Boyd had purchased a site there, or a number of adjoining sections, perhaps his zoomight have lasted much longer than it did, until industrialisation took firm hold in that part of the Borough later in the century. Instead, he chose acres in the northwestcorner of the Borough on the last remaining open area of a part of the district becoming increasingly more and more densely residential due to the coming of thetram line down Manukau Road to the township of Onehunga.Boyd replied to the protests with the assurance that rats hadn’t been seen around theAramoho site for months, and there the food fed to the animals “is prepared in a high building and there is nothing there to encourage rats. Neither would there be, he says,in Onehunga.” He also denied any suggestions that his Aramoho zoo was about toclose,
even though he had said to the Wanganui Borough Council the month beforethat he would have shifted from Aramoho if they didn’t pay him for it (see Aramohoarticle).The
 Auckland Star 
described his work in progress as at the end of April 1911 atSymonds Street.
“A strong wall, seven feet in height, is to be built around the grounds,”
so the report said, to prevent escapes, and “Special provision is being madefor school picnics, and there will be tea rooms [on] the grounds. The zoologicalgardens are to be lit with arc gas lamps, and the zoo will be an established institutionwithin six months.”
On 1 May 1911, Boyd’s letter to the Onehunga BoroughCouncil “stating that he intended establishing zoological gardens, and asking for a building permit for buildings, cages, etc.” was tabled at the Council’s meeting.
“Heintended to make the zoological gardens worthy of Auckland. Plans, etc., of proposed buildings were enclosed, also a permit from the Minister for Internal Affairs toremove the animals from Aramoho to Onehunga.”
The Council agreed to discuss thematter in committee, and invited Boyd to attend.
There was very little that the Onehunga Borough Council could do to prevent theestablishment of his zoo in their district, and Boyd was perhaps well aware of this,from his experience with Aramoho. The regulatory powers of a Borough Council atthe beginning of the second decade of the 20
century were limited, especially in the
field of public health and prohibition of a perceived nuisance. Basically, under theterms of the Municipal Corporations Act 1910 they were able to administer roads,drains, water and buildings but public petitions and concerns about something“unhealthful” being established in the midst of a neighbourhood could not beresponded to with anything other than sympathy and referral to the Public HealthDepartment. Even then, all the district health officer could do (at the time inAuckland, this was the meticulous Dr. R. H. Makgill) was determine and imposeconditions to ensure that cages and other buildings and facilities in a zoologicalgarden would not lead to disease or epidemics in the surrounding community.The Onehunga Borough Council, faced with the situation of public disquiet about theinstallation of a zoo in their district, seem to have decided to stall for the first fewmonths, possibly hoping that either Boyd would pull out and decide to go elsewhere,or that Dr. Makgill might be able to stop things from his end. Rumours were put aboutthat Boyd was giving up on the idea of setting up in Auckland; these were deniedemphatically by Boyd via telegram from Wanganui.
On 13 May, according toreports, the Borough Councillors were to visit the site, with reference to Boyd’sapplication for building permits.
A number of letters were received by the Council protesting against the zoo by mid-May, and Dr. Makgill had forwarded a list of suggestions and precautionary regulations for the Council to consider when theydecided on the building permit application from Boyd. They decided to consider everything at that point once again “in committee”.
The result of that, apparently,was that they found Boyd in breach of their by-laws
“by building sheds, etc without a permit”
. This decided, it seems, still without a site inspection by Council members.
The Council members still had not come to a decision on Boyd’s application by lateMay; in fact, the
 NZ Herald 
reported that it hadn’t even been considered.
Boyd bythen probably thought he’d just go ahead and build on the site anyway. 25 May 1911,Boyd advertised in the
 Auckland Star 
for “100 healthy cats”. Exactly why, I’m notsure.The Borough Council in committee on 29 May “decided to take immediate actionagainst the proprietor of the proposed zoological gardens for a breach of the building by-law, by erecting sheds without a permit.” The Council had a modicum of goodnews from Dr. Makgill at that meeting, when he wrote advising that if the cages andsheds on Boyd’s property weren’t built to his satisfaction, he had the “power to prevent animals being introduced into the borough.” He assured the Council that hewould enforce that power if necessary.
Boyd was duly charged before the Onehunga Magistrate’s Court on 13 June for failing to obtain a permit from the Council before erecting ten s on his property, “for the purpose of a zoo.” According to the
“The Council did not press for a heavy penalty in the case as they only wanted to define the law on the matter.”
Boyd was fined 10-/ and costs 9/-
-- the first of his court cases and probably thefirst engagement in the “Zoo War”. The day before, the Council received a letter fromDr Makgill
“that until the sanitary conditions were fulfilled, he would prohibit thelanding of the animals.”
Come July 1911, and things were still moving only slowly. The Onehunga BoroughCouncil were reported as being determined not to issue a building permit to Boyd

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