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Bear Gardens

Bear Gardens

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Published by Lisa Truttman
Concerning the legend of Devonport's Bear Gardens on Auckland's North Shore
Concerning the legend of Devonport's Bear Gardens on Auckland's North Shore

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Published by: Lisa Truttman on Nov 06, 2008
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08/29/2010

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 Excerpt from The Zoo War (2008)
The Devonport Bear Gardens (1881-1898) - a menagerie that never was
Lisa J Truttman
 In the midst of today’s Devonport suburbia are the remains of a concrete-and-scoria wall whichonce delineated the boundaries of an area in which an idea never really flourished. The localbusinessmen in the area behind the idea were keen to sell property they owned and promote otherinterests they held; and the common thread was a steam ferry company born in the 1880s. How itcame to be associated with bears is still unclear, but it appears to have been intended as a pleasure& tea garden, similar to that at Ellerslie but on a much smaller scale.The Devonport Steam Ferry Company was launched in August 1881 with the election of the firstdirectors and with Ewen W. Alison as Chairman.
1
Alison was to go on to play a prominent partin the history of Devonport as a Borough.Alison and another businessman, Robert Adam Mozley Stark made a number of purchases inDevonport around this time, both independent of each other and together. Stark (according toAlison) often approached Alison for advice, as it was Alison who was said to have known themost about real estate. By 1886, Alison was one of three property tax reviewers for the Devonportdistrict. Together, they were involved with land sales in the c.1882 Calliope and Melrose estates.
2
 In November 1881, Stark apparently entered into another property partnership, this one withGeorge Quick. Together they purchased two pieces of adjoining property:
3
part of Lot 23A,formerly owned by Walter Combes and William Crush Daldy of the shipping and merchant firmof Combes and Daldy,
4
and a much smaller part of Lot 22A, originally owned by John LoganCampbell.
5
The total area was just over 3½ acres,
6
and today forms most of the block boundedby Queens Parade, Anne Street, Clarence Street and Garden Road. At the time, Stark waschairman of the North Shore Regatta Club,
7
and involved with the Takapuna Jockey Club,becoming a steward (along with Alison, by 1886)
8
so was clearly keenly involved with localDevonport affairs. So too was Alison, who ran (unsuccessfully) for the electorate seat of Waitemata in December 1881. The chairman of his public meeting held in the Devonport Hall on6 December was R. A. M. Stark. George Quick had been prominent in the horse-drawn transportbusiness for many years before the Devonport involvement. He may have considered that, whilethe railway was eating into his business opportunities on the Auckland isthmus and in theWaikato, there was a place for him on the North Shore.The earliest reference found to a “garden” in connection with Stark is when the collection of Auckland Volunteer Bands were reported as intending to perform a sizeable musical contest “inthe garden of Mr Stark, North Shore”.
9
Later, by 4 March, this was referred to as “Messrs Stark and Quick’s garden, North Shore”. Perhaps Stark and Quick, and possibly Alison in thebackground, intended to copy Robert Graham’s idea of the Ellerslie Gardens, but in a vastlysmaller scale, so as to promote their own land sales and perhaps even the new ferry company.Animals may have been part of the plan, as with Graham’s small menagerie. If so, they were off to a slow start by early 1882, even though a rush had been made to complete the walls.The
 Auckland Star 
was not impressed at all with the site.
 
“General dissatisfaction was expressed by the public, and many people, after paying their money,were so disgusted that they retraced their steps and returned to town. How ever beautiful and interesting Messrs Stark and Quick intend to make their gardens, the grounds did not appear toadvantage on Saturday. Visitors paid their money at the gate, and were ushered into a bare and recently ploughed enclosure, surrounded by concrete walls. There was no sign of vegetationanywhere, and the only seats available for ladies were several dirty logs and a few planks onwhich the workmen had mixed their concrete in building the walls … Under these circumstances,it is not surprising that visitors were dissatisfied. Surprise was evinced at the indiscretion of  Messrs Stark and Quick in allowing their grounds to be thrown open to the public before their  proposed improvements had well been commenced, inasmuch as a false impression is liable tocirculate which even years hence may act to the detriment of the gardens.”
 
10
 Given the lack of any mention in the media, whether by articles or advertisements, of a successfultea garden here, and the evident bareness we can see from photographs of the site from the mid tolate 1880s, the
Star 
reporter’s prediction seems to have come to pass.The
 NZ Herald 
was just as scathing of the lack of facilities that day in March 1882, both for theperformers and the public, provided at the gardens. There was no platform for the bandsmen, whohad to contend with playing in the midst of a large crowd of 3000
. “On future occasions of thiskind,”
the reporter wrote,
“it will be necessary to have a place exclusively for the bands if theyare expected to do justice either to themselves or the public.”
 
11
The
Waikato Times
were evenmore descriptive in their criticism.
“At present the gardens do not exist, and there were noadequate preparations made for the convenience of the public who were there to the number of two or three thousand. The beautiful parterres of flowers, the grassy lawns, smooth and level as abilliard-table, the comfortable garden-seats, the shady arbours, in which friends could do their billing and cooing, were all conspicuous by their absence.”
12
 Undaunted, later that month Stark and Quick were at the inaugural meeting of the DevonportClub, with Stark as president, and Quick as vice-president.
13
This is the last reference found totheir association together. It is doubtful that the gardens progressed beyond the concrete wall, 6inches thick and at least 6 feet high in places, and a gatehouse with an ornamental tower on theBeach Road (now Queens Parade) frontage.
14
In March 1884, Stark (now by himself, havingbought out Quick’s interest by a mortgage which he had cleared by early 1884) leased theClarence & Anne Streets corner site (part 22A) to the Devonport Ferry Company,
15
of which bythat time he was a major shareholder and soon to be director of with Alison. The rest of theproperty was sold outright to George Holdship the following month.
16
George Holdship startedout selling firewood, timber, sashes and doors from his works on Customs Street in Auckland inthe 1860s,
17
before becoming manager of the Auckland Timber Company, which later mergedwith the Kauri Timber Company by the late 1880s.
18
 The gardens weren’t known as the Bear Gardens at that point, however. None of the newspapersof the nineteenth century appear to have used the term until 1890, long after both Stark and Quick had left the story, when the grounds was called “Alison’s Bear-gardens”.
19
 Apart from the 1890 reference, all others come from the 20
th
and this century. For me,researching the Bear Gardens of Devonport has been somewhat of a study in the construction of folklore (other examples are discussed later, concerning the Onehunga Zoo). In 1919, H. HectorBolitho wrote in his
 Devonport on the Waitemata
:
“There is one part of Devonport which is often passed by the unknowing. It is the area enclosed by Garden Terrace, Kapai Road and a portion of the Queen’s Parade. This ground was once
 
bordered by high stone walls, and was known as the “Bear Garden”. Some enterprisingshowman sought to attract people across the water by keeping his ‘teddies’ in this enclosure. But either the bears died or the attraction wore off, and only odd portions of the wall stand today as amonument to the old gardens. The ground is now covered by houses.”
 Bolitho (1897-1974) was a prolific and well-known author and biographer with a long career, buthe was born around the time the gardens were subdivided and sold and the wall began to comedown. It sounds from his passage on the gardens that he listened to something told to him byothers, and then added his own thoughts. It lacks dates or specifics, and describes only aroundhalf of the total size of the site (and nothing of the Clarence Street extent of the wall).In 1924, Thomas Walsh compiled his
 An Illustrated 
 
Story of Devonport and Old North Shore1848-1924
. In his article on the Devonport ferries, Walsh wrote regarding George Quick:
“In 1886, Mr. Geo. Quick … broke with [the Devonport Ferry Company] …He purchased two fine ferry steamers in England and they were ‘put together’ one on the site of the old Bear Gardens on Queen’s Parade the other (the Osprey) at Niccol’s old yard near the rowing shed.The Bear Gardens were part of Mr. Quick’s scheme to attract ferry traffic to Devonport.”
 Walsh (1887-1968) was born only as Quick was splitting from the Devonport Ferry Company,but his account is correct in that Quick did purchase and operate the
 Eagle
and the
Osprey.
It islikely that some of the shipbuilding activities which went on at the gardens may have been his, if he temporarily leased part of it from George Holdship. It is also correct that Quick (in partnershipwith Stark, but Stark isn’t referred to by Walsh in the account) had the promotion of ferry trafficin mind in coming up with the idea of the gardens with his business partner. Walsh doesn’t makeany claim that it was Quick who gave the gardens the name “Bear Gardens.”Isabel M. Cluett in her article entitled “Story of the old North Shore -- Green fields of Flagstaff have become Devonport,” (1958) was rightly cautious about whether there were any bears or notinvolved, but still made the error of associating the high walls with the bruins, hedging her betswith the Devonport locals who really do believe that the site was a bear garden. In doing so, shecontradicted herself.
“There were the ‘Bear Gardens’ where, so far as I know, there were never any bears, but therewere high stone walls with broken glass on top, presumably to keep bears in and boys out.”
 
20
 A 1972 local newspaper called the
 Midweeker 
had this to say:
“The Garden Terrace Bear Garden was a popular place by the waterfront … The area featured a pond where children learnt the art of sailing.”
21
 The reference to a pond may have come from memories of those locals still alive at that pointwho remembered the period before 1898 and the subdivisions. However, according to subdivisionplans for the area, while there is no pond noted on the Bear Garden site,
22
there was one to thewest of Huia Road, further along the beachfront.
23
At this point, memories of details of the BearGardens site’s origins seem to have become misty.In 1975, Paul Titchener stepped into the story, with an article published on 23 September thatyear in the
 North Shore Times Advertiser.
In the article, Titchener also made no mention of R. A.M. Stark, and concentrated solely on George Quick in terms of responsibility for theestablishment of the garden, claiming that Quick built the garden around 1886 during his ferry

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