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Some Interesting Occurrences in Early Auckland: City and Provinces

Chapter 9 — Auckland City

Chapter 9
Auckland City

At first settlement straggled along the harbour front, and a few buildings of hand–sawn timber began to replace the raupo whares erected to shelter the earliest arrivals. My grandfather erected a good two–storey house of hand–sawn kauri at the top of Wellesley Street just across Hobson Street. The Maoris seriously warned him that so lofty a building would inevitably be blown down!

The first plan of Auckland placed the centre at the corner of Shortiand and Princes Streets, with circular streets round the hill at various levels; but this was soon abandoned.

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In September 1840 the British flag was hoisted at Auckland, and the city officially founded. In 1910 the railway station was moved from its fine position to its present most inconvenient site. This cost only £1,000,000, and the railway thereby lost the valuable suburban, traffic it formerly enjoyed, and the poor old public was put to immense inconvenience. This folly was strongly opposed by many, including myself, though I was then quite a young man. As a further blow to Auckland the layout of the new station was designed.

And now to cap it all this frantic “green belt”, designed to rival a belt stretching from the citizen' knees to his neck, is by many advocated to prevent the city' spread! I think that the administration of this “green belt” should be centred at a place called in the early days the Whau.

Hobson Street was by many believed to have been designed as the main street of Auckland, but it ended in a 60–foot cliff and had no wharf. When at length the hill was cut down and a wharf burlt many speculators cut in, but they were disappointed. Queen Street also was long neglected. A stream crossed it about where the Town Hall now stands, and the ascent to Karanga–hape Road was very steep. At the harbour end there was a considerable flat extending to abouf Wyndham Street. The street roughly followed the Ligar Canal. Ordinary trading schooners could be taken up as far as the Bank of New Zealand, and rowing boats as far as Victoria Street, where there was a small waterfall. Unfortunately there was very deep slushy mud under the water, and if your section was on the west side of Queen Street you had to build your own bridge to get on to it. Hundreds of loads of stone from Mt. Eden were thrown in, but had no effect. Then manuka fascines were tried, and proved better, but on this flimsy foundation our main street is built. When the tramways were laid down they were built at first on longitudinal lines, and this broke up almost at once. Then sleepers were laid down, giving a greatly wider base and the two rails tied together. This lasted about two years. Then reinforced concrete piles were driven down to the solid — many over forty feet. Still the foundation is not too firm. When these works were being carried out many of the old fascines were thrown up, and appeared to be wonderfully sound.

The first wharf in Auckland was the Wynyard Pier, built in 1851. When Queen Street was made a long wharf was built out from its end into the harbour, with numerous tees on both sides, one being used by the Devonport Steam Ferry Co. On the west page 16 side of Queen Street from Customs Street to Quay Street there was a row of shops built on piles with the waves dashing underneath them, and, extending further into the harbour, a long ramp. Here the Maoris drew up their canoes and sold peaches, pumpkins, kumaras, potatoes, maize, etc. On one occasion a conjurer bought a big kit of peaches for a shilling. He opened one, and lo! there was a shilling in the stone. The news spread, and he was surrounded by Maoris. He opened another peach, and extracted another shilling. The Maoris then rushed from him and started opening all their peaches to ascertain what tree or trees grew peaches with shillings in them. The conjuror did his best to stop them, and told them it was only a trick, but they were not to be deterred, and destroyed the whole of their stock–in–trade.

For several years Shortland and High Streets were the principal business thoroughfares, but in July 1858 a serious fire swept the block bounded by High, Chancery, O'Connell and Shortland Streets, and drove much business to Queen Street.

To the east Fort Street (really named Fore Street) ran along the foreshore and ended at Jacob' Ladder, by means of which folk could, if strong and sober, reach Fort Britomart and the military establishment; hence the street came to be called Fort Street. The harbour frontage was mostly cliffs 50 or 60 feet high, and these were cut down and the spoil used for making the reclamations which constitute almost the only flat land in our city. There used to be a small island off Freeman' Bay. This also was cut down for material for reclamation work.

The town hall and gaol occupied the south–west corner of Queen and Victoria Streets; and in Victoria Street West stood the gallows, and it seems strange that the citizens used to gather to witness the executions. In the Queen Street pavement were stocks wherein those condemned to such punishment were shackled. A friend once told me that when passing the stocks he noticed a man whom he knew by sight fettered there, and asked why he was there. The man told him, and my friend said “But they can't put you in the stocks for that”. However, the victim exclaimed “Well, here I am”.

Auckland, of course, outgrew the old town hall, and at the commencement of the twentieth century an agitation arose for more adequate premises. Many favoured a site in Wellesley Street; others the corner of Queen Street and Karangahape Road, but I and many more preferred the present site. I found page 17 that the City Council owned a small section right at the junction of Queen and Grey Streets on which stood a primitive latrine on the Maori model. I secured firm options on large sections back to back, one facing Queen Street and the other Grey Street, and then formed a committee of property owners in Queen and Grey Streets, and collected a considerable fund, wherewith I hired every vehicle then open for hire in Auckland. The Mayor, Sir Arthur Myers, strongly supported our scheme, but it was opposed by one of our local newspapers. The new Town Hall was opened on 14th December 1911. I also took a great interest in the Grafton Bridge, and helped to form a committee of Grafton Road property owners. This I regard as the greatest public improvement ever effected in Auckland. Prior to it Auckland was divided into Eastern and Western quarters. The bridge united them — just as a toll–free harbour bridge would unite the Northern and Southern quarters of this great city.

In 1939 I took a very active part in the movement for an Auckland Centennial Memorial advocating the adoption of Waitakere Park. I was president of the Citizens' Association, and we carried our advocacy of the Park against strong opposition. It was adopted as the Centennial Memorial, Lut the War coming on prevented anything being done to develop it, and those wonderful ranges remain almost unused.