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March-April 2012

Volume 11 Issue 64

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

Token History
Back in January, an acquaintance I’ve come to know via the internet and between my blog Timespanner and his, alerted me that someone was selling a Benjamin Gittos token on Trade Me. Unfortunately, I lost out on that particular token (final bidding occurred right when the Society’s February meeting was happening on 4 February), but — another one came up on the lists two weeks later. That time, I won the auction. I’ve been after a Gittos penny-sized token for years, ever since first reading an article in the AucklandWaikato Historical Journal from April 2001 called “The Money Merchants” by John Cresswell. In the earliest days of our country’s money system, while there were paper notes or their equivalent in circulation, there was apparently a shortage in coins. Businessmen took up opportunities provided by die-sinkers and coin manufacturers in Australia and England, such as Thomas Stokes of Stokes and Martin in Melbourne, his successor Joseph Taylor and Joseph Moore of Allen & Moore in Birmingham to order numbers of penny-sized tokens, as a durable form of early advertising. The Gittos token, for example, is nearly 150 years old! According to Cresswell, “The firm of B Gittos obtained supplies of their penny from Stokes of Melbourne in 1864 and once in circulation, these became a common feature of small change throughout the Province.” Benjamin Gittos was a shoemaker in Auckland by 1854, entered into the leather and grindery business by 1857, built a new brick shop in Wyndham Street in 1863, and in 1864 both produced his penny token and took up land beside the Oakley Creek in Avondale for the first of the Gittos family’s tanneries. So, this token is, to me, part of Avondale’s light industrial history — something I was dead-set on obtaining for its historical value alone. One side says: “ B. Gittos, Leather Merchant, Importer of Boots & Shoes, &c., &c.” The other: “Wholesale & Retail Leather & Grindery Stores, Wyndham Street, Auckland NZ, 1864.” — Lisa Truttman
Image above: Benjamin Gittos, courtesy Murray Gittos

Next meeting of the Avondale-Waterview Historical Society: Saturday, 7 April 2012, 2.30 pm St Ninian’s Church
St Georges Road, Avondale (opp. Hollywood Cinema)

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Just a few of the mini-articles I contribute to Avondale’s Spder web newsletter. — Editor

A letter from Gallipoli
A friend gave me a photographed copy of an issue of the very rare The News, Arthur Morrish’s Avondale local paper, and effectively the first West Auckland paper produced. It dates from 28 August 1915, and on one of the pages was printed a column “Our Boys at the Front.” The following was from a letter written by Sgt. Leslie Rotorua Darrow. “Another interesting letter has come to hand from Roto Darrow dated June 24th. He says: “Things are very quiet here at present, and here we are not adopting a progressive policy at all for the time being, but merely keeping the Turks up this end busy while the offensive goes on down below. Whe(n) they get them on the run down there, we will have our share again. “I had a very interesting trip round one of our posts, which is nearest the enemy’s lines. At one place we are within five feet of Turkish trenches and consequently had to keep our mouths shut. If they hear any talking at all, a bomb is the result. At this particular post all the trenches are very close, the distances ranging from five feet to forty yards. When we first took over these trenches you could not put a periscope or rifle up for a second without it being shot at, but now you can keep them up for hours. I think at first they had superiority over us in bomb throwing, but now I think we have them beaten. One kind of our trench mortars in particular is very deadly, and the Turks used to bolt when they heard the bomb coming down, yelling “Allah!” “We had rather a lively time the other day. The Turks landed a number of 80-inch cannon shells round the Brigade headquarters. While about half a dozen of us were examining a piece of one, another came along and landed about six feet away from us. We couldn’t flop down on the ground quickly enough. Luckily they were very old shells (I heard they were English shells bearing the date 1897) and consequently do not have a high explosive. “It is getting very hot here now and the flies have become unbearable. I thought they got pretty bad in Avondale at times, but here they almost stop you eating your meals. You can’t lie down during the day time for they pester the life out of you.” Leslie Rotorua “Roto” Darrow was born in 1893. His next of kin, according to the Cenotaph database at the

1/4 portrait of Sergeant Leslie Rotorua Darrow, Reg No 12/920, of the 3rd (Auckland) Regiment, Auckland Infantry Battalion, 1915. 31-D357 , Sir George Grey Special Collections

Auckland War Memorial Museum, was his brother Harry Alexander Darrow, and Roto Darrow enlisted in 1914 at the school. He embarked 16 October 1914, headed for Suez and Egypt, and then on to Gallipoli. His last unit was the Headquarters of the New Zealand Infantry Brigade. He was killed in action 10 August 1915, aged 22. The folks back home at Avondale, reading his letter in The News, would have had no idea that he had died two and a half weeks earlier. Roto Darrow’s name is included on St Judes Church’s World War I memorial plaque.

Constable Crean is spoofed
Pity our local P. C. Plod in the early days. This from the Observer, 17 February 1900. “Constable Crean, of Avondale, finds his temper rather capsized by the enterprising efforts of certain jokers in that neighbourhood to find him employment in ferreting out mares' nests. A few weeks ago he spent a lot of time and took a lot of wear out of his number tens in travelling the district after a capsized boat and a drowned man, both of which proved to be purely bogus. But his leg was still more severely pulled on Saturday last over

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“Mr. Cox, Government Geologist, has paid an official visit to the Avondale district to report as to the nature and character of the district re coal formation. He will report in due course to the committee appointed at the public meeting, but we have reason to believe that the report will be unfavorable, and that Mr. Cox, who has previously made an exploration of the district, does not anticipate the finding of coal seams in Avondale.”

another alleged capsized boat, which this time was reported to be answerable for the drowning of three men. The constable spent Saturday night and Sunday forenoon over the matter before he arrived at the conclusion that it was only another Avondale fairy tale. If he lights on the jokers who have been working up business for him after this fashion, somebody's applecart is pretty sure to be capsized.”

Coal in them thar Rosebank Flats!
In 1882, steps were taken by Avondale's community leaders, such as John Bollard and Francis Gittos, to become involved with investigating a possible coalfield in Avondale. It certainly, for a time, caught local imaginations. A decade before, probably something that was keenly recalled, Glen Eden farmer Walter McCaul stuck his neck out and put his finances on the line for the idea that coal existed beneath his Waikumete property. On 22 November 1872, he called a meeting of interested businessmen and investors at the British Hotel. Unfortunately, by March the following year, McCaul's prospects as the owner of West Auckland's first coal mine were well and truly kiboshed. He had borrowed, without permission, the only set of boring rods in the entire Auckland Province – and the Provincial Superintendent demanded that they be returned so that someone somewhere else could have a bit of a go at this coal-prospecting thing. McCaul’s hoped-for coal mining operation never eventuated. Moving forward, to 1882. According to a history of Avondale written in 1952 by a Mrs. W. Ritchie, a quantity of fine peat was discovered on Dr. Daniel Pollen's vast holdings at the tip of Rosebank Peninsula, and this was what led to speculation that where there's peat, there's coal. A public meeting on 1 October 1882 at Avondale's public hall led to the settlers to apply to the Government for the use of boring rods so they could conduct the same tests McCaul worked on 10 years before, on the other side of the Whau River. The Premier himself, Sir Frederick Whitaker, promised in early November to send the Government geologist, Mr. Cox, to examine the signs of coal deposits found. The Weekly News of 14 April 1883 reported what seems to be the final word on the carboniferous deposits in the Whau:

Racing along the Great North Road
With the Auckland Star now online via Papers Past, more information about Avondale’s past is coming to light. Including this interesting little piece of local news, from 11 June 1884. “An interesting trotting match took place at Avondale last Saturday afternoon between Mr Porter's bay mare and Mr John Laing's grey mare. The course was from the New Lynn Hotel to Garrett's tannery, a distance of about three miles and a half, and the stakes £5 a side. The match resulted in an easy victory for Mr Porter's horse by about a mile.” Why interesting? Well, for one thing, £5 in today’s money is just over $850, so this was a sizeable bet between the two gentlemen. They were also racing over a distance almost twice as long as most usual trotting races held today on purpose-built tracks. Then again, look at the date: early June. Early winter, and on the clay Great North Road all the way from one vanished landmark, the New Lynn Hotel (brand new, back then) on the rise above New Lynn township, all the way to Garrett’s Tannery, the old Star Mill right at the end of Waterview. Mr Porter may have been able to secure his lead due to at least one impediment, apart from the gradients, curves, slippery mud etc. – in those days, the bridge across the Whau River was wooden, and very much a single lane. What would the two drivers have passed on their way through New Lynn, Avondale and Waterview that Saturday afternoon in early June 1884? From the New Lynn Hotel, they would have headed down to the Rewarewa Stream (first bridge, also wooden and narrow) then around the bend past fields and paddocks where New Lynn town centre and Lynnmall now stand. There were few houses in New Lynn back then. Through to the Whau Bridge, then more bends as the Great North Road wound its way, past more open land towards the Avondale Hotel on the left, and the Presbyterian Church (St Ninians) further on the right.

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brand new with the redevelopment that year). The rail authorities created the Layard Street entrance for people to use, and around 100-150 people used it each day. Most kept their eyes open, and listened for trains before crossing the line. David Daniels, however, not quite well, in a hurry, and partially deaf, didn’t hear the train making its way up the grade past Crayford Street, nor did he hear the shrill whistle when the driver saw to his horror what was about to happen. He was struck by the engine’s cowcatcher, and dragged about a carriage-length underneath the engine along the tracks. His body was so entangled, they had to use jacks to lift the engine off his remains. The back of his head was stoved in by the initial impact. The coroner ruled that death was probably instantaneous, but witnesses claimed that Mr. Daniels saw the oncoming train when it was just a yard away and tried to flee. In his ruling, the coroner laid no blame on the train driver, but said that the Layard Street entrance was hazardous. It may have been because of this tragic accident now long forgotten that the entrance was fenced off and only the ramp at the overhead bridge is the legal access to the station in 2008. Yet just before I wrote this, one Saturday afternoon, I saw a passenger who had alighted from the same train as I did make his way along to the end of the platform, past all the signs stating “No access”, and then across the same part of the line where Mr Daniels met his death, to head for what is now an unofficial shortcut to Layard Street and Rosebank Road. As I said, David Daniels and his fate have been forgotten. While we forget tragedies such as his, we never learn. (I wrote this in 2008/2009, Since then, the layout has vastly changed, and the station, of course, has now moved around the corner. Where Mr Daniels perished is likely to be a park-and-ride — Editor)

There were some shops then, in Avondale township, but mainly more open ground and a scattering of houses. The race would have past Avondale Primary school, then four years old on the site where the school’s newer buildings are today. Some houses, a smithy perhaps, a small wooden store at the corner of Rosebank and Great North Road – then on towards open country again. Even Waterview had few houses then, mostly paddocks. The Asylum could probably be more clearly seen. And a final piece of imagining and wonder – that a race like this took place on a winter’s Saturday along a road which is these days a busy, at times traffic-choked, strategic highway. Not like it was, clearly, back then.

Death in the rush-hour
David Daniels was a well-liked 73 year old married man in 1916, a resident in Avondale since the 1890s, still going to work in a boot factory in Kingsland at his advanced age. He lived in Brown Street, today’s upper Rosebank Road, and was closely connected with the nearby Methodist Church. Travel to work for Mr. Daniels was by train at 7 o’clock in the morning, and usually he’d walk up Station Hill to the overhead bridge and then down the pedestrian ramp to catch his ride, despite moving with a limp, some said because of his tender feet. On Thursday 16 March 1916, however, he was running a bit late. He’d been a bit poorly recently, a touch of the ‘flu, and the train was soon to arrive. On that morning, he took the alternative shortcut, a pathway with a turnstile just off Layard Street (likely close to the RSA today) which led across the city-bound line on the northern side of the platform. By then, since 1915, there were two lines around the station building (the building most will remember, which is now at Swanson, was

The Avondale Historical Journal
Published by: the Avondale-Waterview Historical Society Inc. Editor: Lisa J. Truttman Society contact: 19 Methuen Road, Avondale, Auckland 0600 Phone: (09) 828-8494, 027 4040 804 email: Society information: Website: Subscriptions: $10 individual $15 couple/family $30 corporate

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