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Some Interesting Occurrences in Early Auckland: City and Provinces

Chapter 12 — The Public Services

Chapter 12
The Public Services

Auckland has had the unique distinction of having three “first” Mayors — >Mr. Archibald Clark, elected in 1851 under the charter of 1850 constituting Auckland a borough; Mr. P. A. Philips, elected in 1869 first mayor under the Municipal Corporations Act of 1867; and Mr. Benjamin Tonks, first Mayor elected by the ratepayers under the Act of 1875.

In the beginning public services were far from perfect — take transport. Ships often came to the Manukau, as it was so much nearer to Sydney, then the centre of the trade of the Pacific. page 22 My father and his four brothers would have to walk out to the Manukau and each carry back a hundredweight of goods over the old Maori track. I once asked my father “Why didn't you take a horse?” “There were no horses.” “Well, wouldn't a bullock do?” “There were no bullocks.” The only animal except the scanty native fauna was the pig; and, though quite able, was by no means willing to carry a load. These animals, though useless for transport, were quite useful in other spheres — for instance, the dining table, and rendered possible the varied diet of those days — pork and potatoes one day and potatoes and pork the next.

In the earliest times there were no vehicles except handcarts, wheelbarrows, and perambulators, but when horses appeared some people imported gigs and buggies. The first carriage to appear in Auckland was Major–General Wynyard'. The first vehicles for hire were hansoms, with two wheels and drawn by one horse, and with the driver seated in a “dickey” on the back; and “growlers” with four wheels and drawn by two horses. “Skipper” Bowden was a well–known character in those days with his hansom cab and wooden leg. The first means of public transport were buses, usually drawn by four horses (two in the pole and two in the lead), and the driver sounding a horn to let intending passengers know he was coming. The first routes were from the “Three Lamps” to Queen Street via Karangahape Road and Pitt and Grey Streets. The other route was from Remuera to Queen Street via Remuera and Parnell Roads. Onehunga buses started in 1851. Then came horse–drawn trams, and at the corner of Queen Street and Wellesley Street West leaders were kept ridden by boys to provide power for climbing the hill; and the fare was one penny from the wharf to the corner of Pitt Street and Karangahape Road. The next advance was the electric tramways. The opening day was a great event. Hundreds of folk got on the cars and wouldn't get off. They continued paying the fares wherever the car was going. They were experiencing the pleasurable excitement of being hurled along at twenty miles an hour when they had never previously experienced more than seven. It was, however, not so very long before motor–cars came on the roads, about doubling the speed of traffic, being driven by their owners, and greatly increasing the “flexibility” of traffic. I remember a motor driver being fined £5 for driving to the Avondale races at the furious speed of fifteen miles an hour thereby causing the uneducated horses to stand on their hind feet and wave their “pause” in the air.

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The streets were worse than filthy. In wet weather they were inches deep in a slush composed principally of horse dung and grit. In dry weather this, borne on a strong breeze, formed a suffocating cloud and entered the houses and shops with marvellous powers of penetration. The first attempt to deal with the former condition was by rotary brushes — no relation to the Rotary Club; they long antedated the Club. These brushes pushed the greater part of the slush into the side gutters, to be thence carted away. Meanwhile the incautious citizen stepping off the pavement into this mixture got mud well over the tops of his boots. To mitigate the dust, water carts delivering a spray of sea water about eight feet wide, were employed.

There was neither drainage nor sanitary service, but a sanitary service was instituted in the late eighties, and it raised quite an outcry. Many enquired where they were to get manure for their gardens. At that time the service was conducted by special carts known as night–carts, which went round during the night collecting the contents of the earth–closets and drums; they delivered to barges on the waterside, and these were towed to the City Council' farm at Riverhead, where the contents were ploughed in. The first contractor in this service was Mr. Faulder, and the next Mr. Casey.

But if the streets were filthy, and there was no sanitary service, there were baths. Hilditch', just to the east of the Railway Wharf (now named King' Wharf), were the first. There was plenty of room for a good swim, and a lofty springboard from which to dive. Anyone coming a “belly–buster” from this height would suffer severely. Later the City Council established sea–water baths further to the westward, and later still fresh–water baths in other localities. In my earliest youth (after the baby stage) the only baths in private houses were “sitz” baths made of thin sheet metal and painted. This portable object was left in your bedroom overnight, and a servant came in in the morning and threw a bucketful of deadly cold water into it. You were expected to strip off and enjoy yourself, but few people bathed every day. The first improvement was a separate bathroom with a fixed bath of galvanized sheet metal with cold water laid on. Later came the modern enamelled fixed bath of much stouter metal with hot and cold water laid on, and the daily bath became usual.

There was no fresh water supply except from creeks and springs. The very earliest town supply was drawn from a small pond in the Domain, and served a few premises in Queen page 24 Street, but on the occasion of the big fire it proved absolutely inadequate. Resort was then had to the Western Springs, which the City Council bought in 1875 for £20,000; but many ratepayers objected on the ground of the great expense of bringing the water to town in big iron pipes for three or four miles; and, anyhow, what was to be done with this huge quantity of water when it had been brought in? Many years after, a vastly greater supply became necessary, and the Waikato River (to be pumped from Mercer) and the Wairoa South River (using the falls for power for delivery), and the Waitakere Ranges, were the sources most favoured. The Waitakere scheme won the day on the ground that an abundant permanent supply could be secured by gravitation, and with a capital outlay of only £60,000. Experience unfortunately proved those premises false. Private water supply was from roofs and wells. My people had a battery of four 400–gallon tanks, and we had also a very deep well. We allowed those wanting water to come and draw from it free of charge. These folk growing more numerous, we had a windlass erected for their use. When we found that an old chap who drew much more than the average quantity was selling our water, we cut him off notwithstanding his threats. Later I was employed by the City Council to adjust the numerous claims against it by owners of lands fronting on the Waitakere and Nihotupu Rivers and other streams. A vote of £25,000 was passed for this purpose, but I settled the lot for about £5,000. The biggest reduction I effected on any one claim was from £3,000 to £30! The mistake made by most claimants was supposing that the Council would take all the water; but tributary streams coming in below the point of intake for the city supply in most cases supplied all the water needed by the land owners.

I was recently given the job of switching on electric light and power to my old “earledom” of Broadlands and surroundings, whereby great benefits were conferred on that area. Indeed light is one of the few really essential necessaries for human existence. In Auckland at the very first the only illuminant was whale oil burned in a lamp resembling the old Roman pattern. Soon the mutton fat candle came in. Tin tubes were made about a foot long and an inch in diameter. In the centre was a wick. The housewife saved up all scraps of fat, melted them down and poured the hot liquid into the tube. When cold the candle was extracted. It gave a feeble flickering light, and required frequent use of the snuffers, but was an improvement on whale oil. When in Sydney my father saw the comparatively brilliant light of page 25 kerosene lamps. He bought some of these, and a supply of kerosene, and on the first Saturday evening after his return to Auckland he lit up his shop window with kerosene lamps carefully concealed by goods. Auckland was puzzled about the means by which such brilliance had been achieved. Then in 1865 came coal gas — another great advance, and soon mantles for both kerosene and gas were invented, and seemed to have outpaced competition. However, they needed quite a lot of care, and when the electric light came in, needing no care, and not even the use of matches, they disappeared — and so did the lamp–lighters from the streets. These useful men used to run round the streets in the late afternoon with little ladders with which to climb the lamp posts and enable the use of their lighters. The invention of pilot lights burning an irreducible minimum of gas — just sufficient to light the lamps when the main supply was turned on — greatly reduced the employment of the lamp–lighters.

Lights on moving vehicles were a problem. Your buggy lamp had a short candle inside; your bike had an oil lamp. The carbide lamp was an immense improvement, but has now given way to electricity.

The Post Office is dealt with separately in Chapter 20.