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March—April 2017

The Avondale
Historical Journal
Official Publication of the Avondale-Waterview Historical
Society Incorporated

A man driving a wagonette along St Jude Street, 1959. J T Diamond image, JTD-24M-00143,
J T Diamond Collection, West Auckland Research Centre, Auckland Libraries

Duty for Queen and Country –
the Avondale Rifle Volunteers (1895-1898)
by Lisa J Truttman

Sometime before late 1894, John Bagot Birch (c.1846-1919) arrived in Avondale and became of the growing number
of our district’s orchardists. Son of a Dr William Birch of Staffordshire, England, J B Birch lived in both America
(where he got married) and Bombay, India for some time,
before coming to New Zealand in 1879, to serve in the
Armed Constabulary. He was governor of the gaol in Suva, Next meeting of the
Fiji, for a spell during his period of service. On retirement, Avondale-Waterview Historical Society:
he settled down to fruitgrowing, first in Henderson, then in at St Ninians, St Georges Road
Avondale.
SATURDAY, 1 April 2017, 2.00 pm
His past experience with the armed constabulary probably
led to him to becoming one of the instigators for Avondale
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Fifty men expressed their interest in the new corps.
Birch said, in a letter dated 31 January 1895 to
Goring, that he felt sure that if the rifle volunteers
were accepted as an official unit, that there would be
“many more” volunteers. “… (A)s the bulk of the men
follow agricultural pursuits and are fine healthy fel-
lows, we hope to form a powerful company physically
as well as numerically.”

The Avondale Volunteers Rifles were duly accepted,
as one of three such companies in the Auckland area,
and around 25 men were sworn in on 1 March 1895.
For each man, the corps received £2 10s capitation
allowance from the government to pay for items such
as uniforms etc. In that first year, the muster was con-
siderable: Foley held the rank of Captain, his lieuten-
ants were Birch and Richard Bollard (son of John
Bollard, then chairman of the Avondale Road Board),
colour-sergeant James Neville (a local ganger),
sergeants John Potter (blacksmith, later chairman of
The Observer, 25 January 1902 the Road Board), storekeeper James Turton and
brickmaker James Parker McCrae, corporals Percival
to have its own gazetted rifles corps. There had been Daveron (another brickmaker), George Pengelly, Isaac
volunteer militia groups based in Avondale twenty Ringrose and Albert Ernest Bollard, bugler Henry
years before, but these had petered out long before Carter (aged 13), and 48 privates. A concert and dance
Birch and Avondale Hotel publican Michael Foley had was held in the public hall on 10 May 1895 to raise
their idea. Foley, like Birch, was an ex-armed constab- funds for the corps, and everything seemed to be
ulary man, and likely served with Birch during the going well.
1881 raid at Parihaka. A meeting was called to take
place in the Avondale Public Hall on Tuesday 6 Many of the men apparently came from in and around
November 1894, for “all interested in forming a Glen Eden. There were concerns raised at head office
Volunteer Corps at Avondale and surrounding dis- as to whether that was too far away for the men to be
tricts.” Colonel Francis Yelverton Goring, who head- able to actively take part, but reliance was placed on
ed the volunteer corps in the Auckland district, attend- the train service along the Western Line to get them to
ed. Goring had assumed command of the Permanent and from parades etc. However, as time went on, the
Artillery at Auckland in 1890, a carry-over position rail service became more and more inconvenient.
from the “Russian Scare” period of the 1880s. As
such, Goring had command of the forts established the The weather in 1895 wasn’t the best either, apparent-
previous decade, such as Fort Takapuna, and volunteer ly. Outside practice drills in Avondale were cancelled
units. due to the inclemency, and were staged inside the
public hall. This meant, wrote Captain Foley to
The Avondale folk held a second meeting on Goring in June 1895, that such a situation “has con-
18 December 1894, which was adjourned until siderably inferred with our chances of acquiring a
8 January 1895. practical knowledge of the most important subjects in
which [Foley and Birch] may be examined … [for of-
A meeting was held at Avondale last night to discuss ficers’ exams].”
the advisability of forming a volunteer rifle corps in
that district. Colonel Goring was in attendance, and The Observer newspaper began asking in July 1895 –
explained what would be required of the men in the where was the Avondale corps? Why hadn’t they been
event of a corps being accepted by the Defence turning up at the Rutland Street Drill Hall in the City
Minister. Mr Foley said that unfortunately it had not to parade and train, as they should? Birch by this time
reached the ears of those signing the requisition that a had resigned, and left the district. On 14 August,
meeting was to be held, otherwise there would have seven men were dismissed for “neglect of duty” (non-
been a larger muster. Colonel Goring expressed a attendance of parades). The Observer pronounced the
wish to see the men previous to any further action, so Avondale Rifles as “almost as dead as the proverbial
it was agreed to call a further meeting after the holi- doornail” by September. But, somehow, they managed
days, due notice to be given through the press. There to get over that rocky start.
seems to be every probability of this corps being
successfully formed, and with the prospect of acquir- Foley may not have taken that officer’s exam – his
ing a much-needed rifle range of about 1,000 yards. commission lapsed in January 1896, and he didn’t re-
(Auckland Star, 19 December 1894) join the corps. Richard Bollard took over as
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commanding officer, and he oversaw the advertising moment. During the year the men pleaded with Potter
for tenders for the supply of uniforms for the corps in to recruit more volunteers, but this didn’t happen. By
February that year. The corps thus kitted out, John May 1898, there were only 17 men on parade, includ-
Potter, promoted to lieutenant, went through a drill ing the one officer remaining, Lt. Potter. Potter
practice examination at the Drill Hall in July, just after advised that the reason for the low number was due to
the entire corps was inspected. men working in shifts on the brickfields. He asked for
three months grace to try to recruit more men, pleading
The monthly inspection of the Avondale Rifle corps for the unit not to be disbanded. By July though,
took place last Saturday at Avondale, when there was Avondale’s corps was down to one officer, three non-
a good muster under Lieutenant Potter. In the absence commissioned officers, thirteen privates, a bugler and
of Colonel Goring, through illness, the company was just four recruits. After the loss of Foley, the corps had
inspected by Sergeant-Major Carpenter, and he after- no captain, a fact which was gloomily noted by head-
wards put them through a course of drill, which was quarters staff.
performed satisfactorily. At the close of the parade
Lieutenant R F Bollard was presented with a shooting The Avondale Rifles were officially disbanded on
cup which had been offered to the company for compe- 8 August 1898. John Potter was their commanding
tition by Mr Tanner. Private A Wickham, who won the officer at that point. The Auckland commander asked
second prize, was presented with a shield of views tak- that the corps recruit more volunteers to bring the unit
en when the company was in camp last January, the up to strength, but the men decided in a meeting to
gift of Lieutenant-Commander Graham. (NZ Herald, disband instead, as Avondale as a district was, it was
22 July 1896) felt, too small to maintain a corps to strength.

Another highlight for the year for the corps was a spe- When it came time for the corps to return their equip-
cial church parade that October, while the corps was in ment, it was noted that this included three steel targets,
camp somewhere in Avondale (but likely not on the along with various bolts and screws. The Avondale
racecourse). Rifles would indeed have had practice firing at a range
somewhere, and likely in Avondale itself. I had
Yesterday (Sunday) was a red letter day at Avondale. wondered if this range was the one later leased by the
The Avondale Rifle Volunteers who are in camp for a Akarana Rifle Club from 1897, on land owned by
week held a church parade in the morning. The whole Thomas Ching, which became, from 1903, the
company, under command of Lieut. Potter, and headed Kitchener Hamlet, on Holly Street. The club opened
by the Auckland Garrison Band, marched to the Angli- their range in February 1898, around the time that the
can Church. The church was crowded to excess. The Avondale Rifles were starting to disband. But, it seems
Rev F Larkins, the vicar of the parish, conducted the the volunteers were using some other place – their tar-
service and preached an excellent sermon for the oc- gets were only returned to the military store in
casion. The service was bright and hearty, the singing Auckland in October 1898, but they were in good con-
and music being exceptionally good. Several volunteer dition. Their range could have been on some other
officers from town attended the church parade. During paddock in Avondale, or even in New Lynn. At this
the afternoon a large number of people, including point, it isn’t known where.
many ladies, visited the camp, where the band kindly
played many appropriate and beautiful selections. In What happened to Foley and Birch, who started the
the evening the company attended the Presbyterian Avondale Rifle Volunteers, and left them so early?
church, which was also crowded to excess. The Rev
Mr McLean conducted the service. (Auckland Star Michael Foley was one of the founders of the
26 October 1896) Avondale Jockey Club, and was its president when he
died in 1922. He also helped to found the Northern
In February 1897, John Potter put in a chit for com- Boxing Association. Michael Foley Place is named
pensation for tent pegs and mallets for the corps to the after him.
Defence Office, so clearly the corps were engaging in
outdoor camps. Some of the men took part in a shoot- John Bagot Birch went on to be prominent in the
ing match on the North Shore that month. We next see Auckland industry importing fruit from the Pacific
the Avondale Rifles competing against the Victoria Islands, and became manager of the local firm A
Rifles, possibly at the Mt Eden rifle range, in July Tooman and Company. He retired around 1911, and
1897. They lost by 40 points – those competing were died in 1919, leaving a widow and two sons.
Privates Wickham, Haslam, McCarthy, Bollard,
Cairns, Ferguson, Wilson, Atkinson, Corporal Bur- Sources: Newspapers, and many files I photographed
rows, and Lieutenants Potter and Bollard. at Archives NZ, Wellington. I have the capitation lists,
if anyone wants to see if their relative or ancestor
For some reason, though, during 1897, Richard served (for a brief time!) with the Avondale Rifle
Bollard was reduced in rank from lieutenant down to Volunteers.
corporal. I can’t find out why this happened at the
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Page 4

In remembrance of an Unknown Soldier
by Rich Afford
We all know about the tomb of the unknown warrior in Sadly very shortly afterwards he died and his wife re-
Westminster Abbey and the piece of land in a foreign turned to England. So there he lies forgotten and for-
field that is forever England. And so it is here in the lorn in a little plot forever England; my last little pil-
final resting place in Waikumete Cemetery for many grimages to his gravesite provide the final memories of
of those who survived the battleground but succumbed someone who gave his all but whose presence with my
later from their grievous injuries. passing will fade into obscurity. It is not lest we forget,
but when.
It so happens I know such a one and am probably the
last person to know so. He was a Captain in the British (This is regarding Frederick Alexander Huggins, 1888-
Army in the First World War and he came to live with 1934, who started out as a corporal and ended up as a
us in the 1920s in Tiverton Road. I well remember captain with the Norfolk regiment, although his death
coming home from the city with him when the tram notice says Essex regiment — Editor)
terminus was at the Mt Albert shops. He called in at an
outfitters and he bought me a lovely overcoat with silk
lining which I wore on every available opportunity
until of course I grew out of it.
To me as a small boy I knew not the reason he lived
with us other than perhaps he was a family friend of

Image: Billiongraves.com
my fathers from England and his change of country
may have been recommended for his health’s sake. He
was unmarried and had a fragment of shrapnel lodged
in his brain which in those days was inoperable and
which occasionally manifest itself with fainting turns
which laid him low. Indeed it was my mother who,
having given birth to me at Helensville, asked him to
register the happy event at the Avondale Post Office in
December 1922.
As a consequence he treated me as somewhat of a fa-
vourite but not enough to prevent him from inviting
marriage to his lady love in England. She duly arrived
and they lived in our guest room for some time until
they found accommodation in Linwood Ave in Mt Al- Copies of Avondale Historical Journal and AWHS
bert through the land agent Mr Featherstone. Amongst Newsletter produced for us by
Words Incorporated, 557 Blockhouse Bay Road,
other things she brought with her a mantle clock which
Blockhouse Bay.
sent its chimes with delight throughout the house.

The Avondale Historical Journal
Published by:
the Avondale-Waterview Historical Society Inc. (since September 2001)

Editor: Lisa J. Truttman
Society contact:
19 Methuen Road, Avondale, Auckland 0600
Phone: (09) 828-8494, 027 4040 804
email: waitemata@gmail.com
Society information:
Website: http://sites.google.com/site/avondalehistory/
Subscriptions: $15 individual
$20 couple/family
$30 corporate