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July - August 2017

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

View of Avondale Technical High School, just after it opened, via Barrie Leslie. Unknown source.

Copies of Avondale Historical Journal and AWHS Minding other people’s children
Newsletter produced for us by
Words Incorporated, 557 Blockhouse Bay Road,
— Samuel Albert Nelmes
Blockhouse Bay.
The Society and AHJ editorial staff thank
by Lisa J Truttman
Avondale Business Association
for their continued support and sponsorship of this
publication. It started with a phone call from someone who wanted
to know where her great-grandfather Samuel Albert
Nelmes had lived in Avondale, in the 1890s. I’ve had a
number of such enquiries over the years; unless the per-
Next meeting of the Avondale- son owned land here, usually from the time of the
Waterview Historical Society: 1880s subdivisions on Rosebank and in the Roberton
at St Ninians, St Georges Road area, it can be next-to-impossible to determine where
someone was within the old Avondale Road Board ar-
ea, in the days before even the Wises Directories both-
SATURDAY, 5 August 2017, 2.00 pm. ered to recognise we have streets here, and simply listed
THIS WILL BE OUR AGM. those who lived here in columns that provided no guide
as to address.
The Avondale Historical Journal
Page 2
Still, I said I’d have a look, and his descendant con- bly for the sake of his mental health. He had devel-
tacted me by email a little later with further infor- oped something of a paranoid mania, however -
mation. As it turned out, there were some leads. constantly imagining that he was being followed, that
Nelmes advertised in 1891 that he had a Hereford bull unseen forces were conspiring against him. More bad
for sale, “near Avondale Railway Station.” In 1896, he news came from England: his father died in June
advertised for “grazers” (those willing to pay a fee to 1877, and the estate was auctioned and sold, including
graze their animals on his property), again “near” the the business. Samuel returned briefly to England in
station. Then, I noticed he was registered under the 1885, sold off his remaining property, made it clear in
Infant Life Protection Act, as a caregiver for other public notices that he had no part in the business of T
people’s children. Something he had trouble with the Nelmes & Son that was still continuing, and then left
law over in 1899. Immediately afterward, Elizabeth once again, this time for New Zealand, in 1886.
Stallard advertised that she was willing to look after
children under the same regulation (she had been do- For a time, the Nelmes family stayed at “Brightside”,
ing this off and on at least from 1895), and George a farm near Manurewa’s railway station. Then, as
Stallard was advertising “7 acres and a cottage, close we’ve seen, Samuel brought his family to Avondale in
to Avondale Station, to let.” The same George Stallard 1891.
who, in 1890, just before Nelmes appeared in
Avondale according to the newspapers, advertised “11 According to a letter Nelmes wrote to police Inspector
acres, with cottage and outbuildings, to let, at Hickson in October 1894, “owing to a twitch in some
Avondale, close to the station.” English business” he and his wife had taken in two
children as their paid caregivers, and planned to take
The descendant contacted me just before I was head- in a third but only as “a temporary arrangement for a
ing down to Wellington this year to do research on the livelihood,” and, “we don’t profess to be Baby
Ligar Canal down Queen Street. I offered to add on to Farmers.”
my list of files to request down at Wellington
Archives NZ some held there on Samuel Nelmes, and Now, there’s an emotive term. “Baby farming” was
his wife Anne. These were files related to their licens- something that had been talked about in scandalised
es to look after other people’s children under the Act, and appalled tones in the newspapers since the late
both here in Avondale and also near Royal Oak. The 1860s — the practice of (usually) women taking in the
Avondale property was confirmed as being 11 acres in illegitimate children of the working class, ostensibly
extent. This matches only one available site in to raise and then possibly arrange to adopt out, but in
Avondale, “near” the Avondale Station, in the 1890s some dreadful cases either ill-cared for or outright
— James P Sinclair’s farm, now Himikera Avenue murdered, so that the “baby farmer” could pass on to
and surrounds. Which means Sinclair probably leased the next paying proposition. In this country, baby
the land and house to Stallard, who in turn sub-leased farming will always be associated with Minnie Dean
to Nelmes. The house they used may also still be in from Winton, the only woman hanged for the deaths
existence — at 100 Blockhouse Bay Road. of some of her charges, and within the same decade as
the Nelmeses started their income side-line, although a
The story behind the name, though, was even more few years later.
The Nelmeses certainly were not baby farmers in the
Samuel Albert Nelmes (1843-1903) was born in negative sense. None of their charges came to any
Gloucestershire, the son of Thomas Nelmes who was harm under their care, so the records show. They
an “oil and colourman” in the 1861 Bristol census. simply appear to have started out with an employment
Samuel married Anne Jessop Hadley in 1869, and by agent named Mrs Lockley of Queen Street recom-
1871 seems to have taken on his father's business on mending to the women who approached her for jobs
Thomas’ retirement, employing five men and a boy in that the Nelmeses would be good at caring for their
the wholesale and retail oil and colour trade. He even children. They charged the mothers 26/- per month.
seems to have taken on the hobby of writing music, Samuel and Anne applied for and received their
his compositions being sold at sheet music sellers in official licence in November 1894.
Bath. Then, in August 1874, his world crashed around
him, when he was committed to the Brislington Asy- Every child the Nelmeses took in had to be registered
lum. He was discharged in December that year, but with the authorities under the Infant Life Protection
wound up in care yet again at Laverstock Asylum, Act, so the police kept a close eye on how many chil-
February to August 1876. According to what Anne dren, including three of Samuel and Ann’s own, were
later (in 1899) told Avondale police constable Patrick in the Avondale house at any one time. In 1895,
Crean, at some point around that time of Nelmes’ Samuel Nelmes came under investigation when one
committals to insane asylums, he had attempted to child was apparently uplifted by its mother and taken
commit suicide by choking himself with his garter, but “somewhere in the Waikato” — the Act made it man-
his mother saved his life. datory that the child’s destination had to be precisely
noted, so he was up for a possible fine and imprison-
The result was that he left the family business, and ment.
took his wife and children to live in Australia, possi-
The Avondale Historical Journal

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The stress of the situation seems to have rekindled one deemed fit to look after other people’s babies, es-
some of Nelmes’ earlier eccentric mania from the pecially not after the Minnie Dean case. It was felt that
1870s. The official files in Wellington are full of his his state of mind could worsen, and he could become a
correspondence, neatly written missives on paper fold- risk. His licence was therefore cancelled. Nelmes’
ed in half lengthwise, and written on both sides. At this worst enemy wasn’t some “secret society” — it was
point, he claimed that he had been forced to leave the from within.
Manurewa farm owing to some kind of financial
“reversion” linked to a “life interest.” (At the time, The authorities didn’t tell Nelmes that he had lost his
Anne Nelmes was borrowing money to keep the fami- licence not because of a failure to dot i’s and cross t’s,
ly going from a Mr John Abbott, the collateral being but because of his state of mind. So he continued
her likely interest in her parent’s estate once they had writing, protesting to the Minister of Justice and even
passed away.) Samuel proclaimed himself an intellec- to the Premier, Richard Seddon, but all to no avail.
tual man and a inventor who was in correspondence
with the British War Office and even Thomas Alva Samuel and Anne Nelmes left New Zealand in 1900
Edison. He didn’t want the stain of a prison sentence and settled near Melbourne. There, he continued to
on his reputation, which he valued at £5000. He wrote have the impression that someone, somewhere, was
of “hideous cowards” out to injure his name some out to stymie his every attempt at success in life. He
years before, and brought up his “inflammation of the died in 1903; Anne lived on and returned eventually to
brain” from the 1870s brought on, he said, by New Zealand, dying here in 1918. How much of her
“unceasing attention to business and a hobby or two inheritance from England was left for her to enjoy is
going.” Nelmes ended up being fined 20s, the authori- unknown.
ties not realising that, in amongst the correspondence,
Nelmes had revealed his ongoing mental condition.

For the next nearly four years, things proceeded nor- The Kitchen Table
mally. Samuel was supported by the likes of Amos
Eyes, the local stationmaster, and John Bollard for ref- by Richie Afford
erences when he renewed his licence each year. Locals
knew he was a bit eccentric in his ways, but seemed
well enough to get on with. Children were registered The modern table today is as much an ornamental
as entering and leaving their care; there was one brief piece of furniture in a dining alcove divorced from
time when Samuel Nelmes tried taking in a fourth kitchen activities as any other item of limited use. But
child when he was only licensed for three, but this was not so the old farmhouse style of deal table which took
sorted amicably. But Nelmes wanted more income, pride of place in our utility room, with scrubbed top
and that meant taking in more babies. The Avondale and robust legs. All major family activities seemed to
house wasn’t big enough, so he simply left Avondale, centre around the kitchen table large enough to seat ten
and shifted to a larger house near Royal Oak on or a dozen folk.
Manukau Road, and took in a fourth child. This, how-
ever, was illegal. Under the regulations, he couldn’t After breakfast and dishes cleared away, flour would
just simply transfer his house license to another house, be spread and pastry rolled; cakes, scones, pancakes
and then just add another child, and Constable Crean and biscuits rushed to the old coal range oven at the
(on inspecting the new house) told him this. He was end of the room. Vegetables sliced and fruit bottled. A
fined £2 this time — and his licence was cancelled. mincing machine would be screwed to the table edge,
meat of any sort pushed into its craw, the handle
He put pen to paper and wrote to the newspapers, de- turned and the mince falling into a bowl below; ingre-
scribing the situation as a “reign of terror on a small dients for the evening’s cottage pie. A hive of morning
scale” and an “uncalled-for prosecution.” At the heart activity.
of the matter, though, was Nelmes’ revealing his state
of mind in some over-the-top correspondence to the In the afternoon, dressmaking. The old treadle Singer
police during the issue over the licence (including his sewing machine was close by so consequently the
description of being persecuted by a secret society). table top served as a work bench for all mother’s sew-
This triggered an order for Constable Crean to go out ing operations. I remember my sister standing on the
and tactfully make enquiries as to Nelmes’ state of table whilst mother stuck pins in her skirt to delineate
mental health, which in turn led Anne’s confession to where the hem line should be.
Constable Crean, in Samuel’s presence, that he had
attempted suicide all those years ago. The evening meal would be followed by numerous
other events. Perhaps we would gather around to play
Suddenly, the authorities viewed his prolific protesta- cards, cribbage in particular, snakes and ladders, or if
tions by correspondence and their content not just as more energetic a game of ping pong, or otherwise just
the writings of someone with eccentricities. A man discussing world events and reading the A uckland
with a record of mental health problems was not some- Star. A dim recollection was the old magic lantern
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Page 4
which threw a picture on to a screen or a sheet pinned loud rap on the door, a courier with a registered parcel.
to the kitchen wall. At evening’s close a bowl of What could it be? Father unwrapped the official-
flowers would grace its lace centre piece. looking box and there was a medal and citation certifi-
cate. The British Empire Medal for services to the
Now one Saturday midday we were gathered around Crown. In unison we all expostulated: “What did you
for roast beef and Yorkshire pudding cooked to a turn get that for, Dad?”
by my father who was a dab hand at cooking. It was
1935, King George V’s Silver Jubilee. My young Up piped my disgruntled brother: “For marrying
brother was misbehaving sufficient to warrant a sharp Mum.”
rebuke and clip on the ear from mother. There was a

Recognise anyone? This photo is from Ian Grace, who writes: “Lorna is 'Lorna STACEY' likely still living
in Henry St. Avondale at this time. Would hope her friends were Avondale locals also. Would love to
include the surnames with the photo.”

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
Society information:
Subscriptions: $15 individual
$20 couple/family
$30 corporate

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