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Christmas Eve,1867. In the dark of a pre-streetlight period along New North Road in Mt Albert, seemingly dastardly plots were afoot to upset, quite literally, one of the movers and shakers in the district. Allan Kerr Taylor, chairman of the Mt Albert Highway Board and under criticism from many of the ratepayers over assessment disagreements among other issues, was heading towards home at Alberton from the city. Accompanying him were his wife, with Mr and Mrs John Davis. They reached the Mt Eden Road toll gate. William Galbraith, a Mt Albert settler and one who had disagreements with Taylor about the rates, stuck his head in the carriage, “impertinently” in Taylor’s opinion but, according to Galbraith, just as part of his duty at the toll gate. Taylor later related how he noticed two horses “loosely hitched” to the gate – he linked this with the appearance of two riders who came galloping after him, and near the Whau Road School nearly ran him off the road, with one yelling out “We will give it to you, Taylor!” The carriage’s lamp was “smashed to pieces” by the attackers, but Taylor whipped his horse forward and raced the riders until the carriage reached Mr. McElwain’s house and help from neighbours. The riders disappeared into the dark. 1
According to the NZ Herald, Taylor recognized the attackers as “Mt Albert settlers” – but there was only one arrest. Under a warrant, Sergeant Murphy arrested William Bray on 28 December, “on the charge of unlawfully and maliciously assaulting A K Taylor, with intent to do him grievous bodily harm. “ 2 On 30 December, before the Police Court, both Taylor and his friend Davis testified that William Bray “in company with another person unknown” made the attack. Taylor stated he “recognized him [Bray] distinctly by the lamps” before they were smashed, but was unable to recognize the other man. Davis stated “I saw the defendant that night, but did not then know his name.”
William Bray’s lawyer, Mr. Wynn, in addressing the court, contended “that there was no evidence to sustain the charge, that the two witnesses did not corroborate each other’s evidence, and that the case must therefore be dismissed.” The two JPs hearing the case agreed, and Bray was discharged. 3
So, who was this William Bray – and the rest of this family of early Mt Albert settlers?
It appears that William was born in Devon c.1831, the eldest son of Thomas and Sarah Bray, and brother to George, John, James and two sisters. The Bray family arrived in Taranaki in 1841, but moved to Auckland by 1844. There, Thomas Bray purchased land, initially near the Three Kings area
(where he raised cattle),
then he and his sons
George and William purchased Allotments 58 (1850), 52 (1852) with 57 (1853) and finally 53 (c.1858), all in the Parish of Titirangi 6. In today’s terms this farm would have stretched from between the Oakley Creek and New North Road in the north-west (Allotment 58, today mainly railway land, Soljak Place and Pak n’ Save) then down across New North Road to all the land between Richardson Road and the creek, to approximately where Richardson Road meets Hendon Avenue, and including today’s Alan Wood Reserve. Later, according to the Bray family history, Allotment 52 of this land went to Thomas Bray’s son-in-law John Stewart when Thomas Bray went bankrupt during the late 1870s-early 1880s. 7
According to the electoral roll for Raglan, 1865-1866, at that time Thomas Bray owned Allotment 52 (towards Hendon Ave/Richardson Road intersection), while next to him was a block owned by son George Bray and then fronting New North Road was William Bray’s block (Allotment 57).
By the end of 1851, Thomas Bray had “the well known Cart Horse, Young Farmer’s Fancy” standing at his Mt Albert residence for breeding fees. 8 He next came to the notice of Auckland newspaper readers for an entirely different reason in August 1855: accused of stealing cattle from Patrick Donovan at Epsom and selling them at Otahuhu saleyards. Despite witnesses to transactions and the presentation of a tanned hide bearing the real owner’s brand, the jury at the Supreme Court in December found Bray not guilty. 9
In 1862, George Denyer, traveling along Great North Road through Avondale, was set upon by brothers John and James Bray somewhere close to “Preece’s public house”
(possibly Priestley’s, that is, the first hotel at the corner of Rosebank and Great North Road) and the Whau Bridge. Denyer was knocked to the ground at one point, only to be pulled up from the ground by his hair, before he ran. James Bray, perhaps one of Thomas Bray’s sons, was found guilty and ordered to find two sureties of £50 and ordered to keep the peace for three months. 10 The reason for the enmity is unknown.
By 1863, Thomas Bray had a business at Newton, selling “boards, scantling and joists”.
In June 1864, he numbered among his customers one James Williamson, taken to the
resident magistrate’s court by Bray over a disputed bill for timber ordered by Thomas. Bray won his case that day. 12
James Bray was charged, this time in October 1865, for stealing a gander and six ducks belonging to Alfred Fossett of Mt Albert, found later on James’ own premises. The Police Court justice found that there was insufficient evidence, “as the ducks might have strayed”, and discharged James without conviction. 13
One of the Bray family landholdings at Mt Albert, called “Windsor Farm” was advertised for sale in October 1865 14 (the name sounds as if there may have been a connection with the “Windsor Estate” being sold at the time covering much of what is now the suburb of New Windsor, so this might have been one of the Bray farms beside Richardson Road) but the sale may have been unsuccessful.
Thomas Bray’s Newton business by 1865 had developed into full-fledged contracting and excavation work. His name appears as a sub-contractor employed by one David Muir who had a contract to excavate around 16,000 cubic yards at the site of the Auckland Gas Company works, but who fell ill and brought in Thomas Bray and around 50 workers to complete the job. After the company disputed exactly how much had been excavated and how much had already been paid, Muir ended up with no further payments, and it appears Thomas Bray was out of pocket as well. 15
Meanwhile, back at Mt Albert, his son George Bray seemed to have some differences of opinion with fellow farmer James Woodward. Woodward was charged in the Police Court in June 1866 with throwing “two large scoria stones” at George Bray, one of which hit Bray on the head, “cutting through his hat and stunning him.” The wound was seen to by Dr. Aickin from Rosebank. Two days after the court imposed a £5 fine and costs on Woodward, Bray was in the court again, this time as the defendant, charged with using threatening language to Woodward. Bray was ordered to find sureties and keep the peace for 3 months. 16
The Brays, Thomas and his sons George and William, entered the squabble at Mt Albert over rates assessment in 1867 as three of the signatories to a petition published in the Southern Cross in June that year. 17 (George Bray was one of those the previous year who had signed the Memorial presented to the Auckland Provincial Superintendent expressing the desire for Mt Albert to be constituted as a Highway District in the first place.)
William Galbraith led the ratepayers’ protest, calling together a meeting of the disgruntled farmers and landowners, and in mid June 1867 taking the Mt Albert
Highway Board to the Police Court “for not having carried out the provisions of the statute with reference to the assessment roll.” costs.
This action was won by Galbraith, with
At the October 1867 annual meeting of the Highway District ratepayers, Allan
Kerr Taylor was voted out of his chairmanship by those present, with Galbraith gaining most votes – yet Galbraith was never the chairman in Taylor’s place. went to John Buchanan. This position
According to Dick Scott in his history of Mt Albert, the Herald called on the district’s residents to eradicate “such social bitterness” as the existing “unneighbourly feeling and conduct”.
Yet, that negativity towards Taylor had apparently not died down with his
departure from the chairmanship, if the Christmas Eve incident is anything to go by.
By April 1869 after the incident, William Bray was living in Pitt Street, where a daughter was born. 24 In September that year, he described himself, while testifying as a witness at an inquest at Onehunga, that he was “a farmer, residing at Hillsboro’.” In June 1870, he
and an E. Gibbons had guaranteed money to the Mt Roskill Highway District for certain works (and Gibbons apparently failed to supply his share of the money, but the Onehunga resident magistrate decided that there was no case.)
William Bray was apparently
renting a property at Onehunga by November that year, according to facts from yet another court case, and his wife gave birth to a son at Onehunga in January 1871. His Mt Albert farm was sold by May 1872.27 So from c.1871, William Bray became an Onehunga resident.
William Bray may have been a somewhat impulsive man, given some circumstances, judging by another incident, this time much more harmless than the Mt Albert one, at Onehunga in 1876. Quoting the Southern Cross article in full, reporting the case at the Onehunga Resident Magistrate’s Court:
“BAD LANGUAGE. – W. Bray was charged with using bad language in the public street. – Mr J. B. Russell appeared for the defendant, and pleaded not guilty. – Sergeant Greene deposed: On Sunday night, at 12 o’clock, I was on duty in Queen-street, near the Hibernia Hotel. The landlord came out, and I told him there was too much noise in his house. Shortly after, the side door, into Arthur-street, was opened, and defendant came out in a great rage, and made use of the language he is charged with. Two other persons came out just after, but they told me they did not hear the words. – By Mr. Russell: I summoned one of these parties after he told me he heard nothing. I am not on bad terms with defendant, and have not been making inquiries as to his doings or whereabouts. Eighteen months ago he told me not to speak to him again, and I have not done so. I did not arrest him because he went away at once, and I knew I could get at him without trouble by summons. – One witness deposed that he came out of the door immediately after defendant, who was not excited or worse for liquor. He did not hear bad language used; defendant went straight away. – W. Bray, the defendant, deposed: I did not use the words I am charged with. I did not drink any liquor that night. I had only two glasses of beer that day. – Charge dismissed.” 28
It’s hard to fathom why a policeman would state that bad language had been used if it hadn’t – so it is possible that William Bray was somewhat more forceful than he should have been, and probably because he had just come from out of a hotel, on hearing that someone he didn’t like was outside the building. That same impulsiveness may have led to his presence that December evening on the Whau Road.
Ironically, Bray himself took someone to court a month after the Hibernia Hotel incident, also for bad language, but this time aimed at him, after he had accused one J. S. McMahon of “robbing him”, and then apparently telling others of his suspicions. McMahon was fined on the language charge. 29
William Bray died in June 1911, his body found lying face downwards on the shell bank near Weeke’s Island, after his watch, a ring and some silver were found on the Mangere Bridge. He had been suffering from cancer of the tongue, and was about to be admitted to a private nursing home to prepare for an operation. He left his home at 7 o’clock on the morning of 21 June, and vanished until his body was located a day later. Statements were made at the inquest that the 82 year old settler may not have had the desire to live.
great-grandson of his successfully applied to Auckland City Council to have “Bray’s Rise” named in Onehunga in his honour in 2005. The Bray firm of contractors based at Onehunga and continuing into the 20th century descended from William Bray (a harking back, perhaps, to Thomas Bray’s efforts in the 1860s).
As for the other Bray family members who owned portions of that farmland at Richardson Road …
George Bray, apart from some trouble with the law in 1869 for “driving a cart in Queenstreet without the name and residence of the owner being painted in a legible and permanent manner on the off side” (the equivalent of not displaying a car’s rego or license plate today, I’d imagine – and George Bray was fined with costs for the offence, even though he declared he was only borrowing the dray),31 was generally well-liked in the community. An accident at his farm made the news for the Southern Cross, though,
mainly because an informant had mixed up a steam traction engine in 1873 with a steam threshing machine, which was being used on Bray’s farm (the traction engine being experimental and imported by the Provincial superintendent):
“A rather serious accident occurred on Wednesday morning at Mr Bray’s farm, Mount Albert. The steam threshing machine belonging to Mr John Wallace, of Flat Bush, was being used on Mr Bray’s farm at the time, and Mr Lawrence, a settler in the neighbourhood, was assisting. He was upon the stack of straw, and unfortunately slipped off, fell to the ground, and broke one of his legs. Dr Purchas was at once sent for from Onehunga, and on his arrival he set the broken limb, and yesterday Mr Lawrence was in a fair way of ultimate recovery.” 32
He died, along with his father-in-law Walton Pell, when the face of the gravel pit at the summit of Owairaka gave way and buried them in May 1874: “FATAL ACCIDENT : TWO MEN KILLED IN A GRAVEL PIT. A melancholy accident occurred yesterday forenoon at Mount Albert, which resulted in the death of Mr. George Bray and his father-in-law, Mr. Walton Pell. The unfortunate men, in company with Samuel Bray, a lad about 12 years of age, son of Mr. George Bray, went to the gravel pit on the summit of the mount, for the purpose of procuring scoria ash for which they had a contract to supply the Waitakerei Road Board. Whilst the deceased were filling the dray, the lad noticed that the face of the pit was giving way. He immediately called out, to warn the others, and then ran to make his escape. Owing to the shape of the pit, which has only a narrow entrance that was blocked up by the dray, he had to scramble up a bank about twelve feet in height, and had almost reached the top when the falling gravel struck him, burying him up to the waist, in such a position that he was quite unable to extricate himself. The slip had completely buried the other two, who wore related to him as father and grandfather. The boy states that he heard groaning for about ten minutes after the gravel bank fell. The boy cried out for help, and his appeal was fortunately heard by Mr. Edward Sadgrove, who lives about a quarter of a mile from the spot, and who hastened to the lad's assistance. He released the boy, who was only
slightly injured. Mr. Edward Allen and others, in response to the calls of Mr. Sadgrove, soon arrived, and proceeded vigorously to rescue Messrs. Bray and Pell. They ultimately found the former in a position which showed that he had been in the act of running when the earth struck, but life was extinct. Poll was shortly afterwards found completely crushed by a large boulder, which was resting on his back. Dr. Aickin of the Lunatic Asylum, who had been sent for, was promptly on the spot and pronounced life to be extinct in both. After intelligence was received in Auckland of the accident, Constable Bullen rode out to the scene of the accident and had both bodies conveyed to Mr. Bray's late residence, where an inquest will be held to day at 2 o'clock. Mr. Bray who was well known and respected throughout the district, was forty five years of age. He leaves a wife and six children. Mr. Pell was aged fifty four. The pit in which they met their death, bad for a long time past been considered dangerous to work in, but no steps have been taken in the matter either by the district board or by the Provincial Government authorities. “
James Bray drowned at Helensville in 1891, while John died of a fever aged 19 in 1864.
As for the patriarch of the clan, there was one last court case found in Papers Past involving him, in February 1876:
“AN ABOMINABLE NUISANCE – Thomas Bray pleaded not guilty to causing an abominable nuisance in the Karangahape Road by permitting to be deposited on his allotment a quantity of nightsoil and also with neglecting to have the same removed. Mr Rees prosecuted. Defendant was not represented by counsel. – Francis Heighway deposed to having his attention called to the nuisance by the terrific stench which the depot caused. He smelt it a quarter of a mile off. Being an officer under the Central Board of Health he at once proceeded to the necessary steps for its removal. – Alexander Young, M.D., gave similar evidence, and added that the consequences might be more than transistory as a well was close by. – Thomas Barnes, Chairman of the Kangahape Highway Board, deposed that on January 27 he inspected the nuisance and complained
of it to the defendant who saluted him with a volley of oaths, and told him to seek a warmer climate. Being unused to put up with such filthy language, and such an awful smell he took proceedings as Chairman of the Board. – Other witnesses gave corroborative evidence, and his Worship inflicted the full penalty, £10, and costs, or three months’ imprisonment. – The second charge was then proceeded with; but certain extenuating circumstances being produced, the Court imposed the nominal penalty of 1s. and costs.” 35
Thomas Bray died at Newmarket on 27 December 1891, buried at Symonds Street – but his was one of those sets of remains exhumed during the Grafton motorway project in the latter part of the 20th century. 36
Lisa J Truttman 25 October 2008
NZ Herald, 27 December 1867; 28 December 1867 NZ Herald, 30 December 1867 3 NZ Herald, 31 December 1867 4 Sarah Jane Laurenson, The Bray Saga, 2001 5 Advertisement, New Zealander, 27 May 1848 6 Deeds Index for Parish of Titirangi, LINZ 7 Laurenson 8 New Zealander, 30 September 1851 9 Southern Cross, 28 August and 7 December 1855 10 Southern Cross, 30 December 1862 11 Southern Cross, repeated advertisements, 1863 12 Southern Cross, 24 June 1864, p. 5 13 Southern Cross, 4 October 1865, p. 6 14 Advertisement, Southern Cross, 18 October 1865 15 Southern Cross, 15 December 1865 and 8 May 1866 16 Southern Cross, 19 June 1866, p. 3 17 Southern Cross, 8 June 1867, p. 3 18 Dick Scott, In Old Mt Albert, 1983, p. 26 19 Scott, p. 29 20 Southern Cross, 15 June 1867, p. 6 21 Scott, p. 30 22 Scott, pp. 31-32 23 Scott, p. 33 24 Southern Cross, 2 April 1869 25 Southern Cross, 16 June 1870, p. 4 26 Southern Cross, 11 November 1870, p. 3 27 Southern Cross, 17 May 1872, p. 3 28 Southern Cross, 8 September 1876, p. 3
Southern Cross, 20 October 1876 NZ Herald and Auckland Star, 21 to 23 June 1911 31 Southern Cross, 19 June 1869, p. 5 32 Southern Cross, 28 February 1873, p. 2 33 Southern Cross, 8 May 1874, p. 2 34 Laurenson 35 Southern Cross, 4 February 1876, p. 3 36 Laurenson