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Some Interesting Occurrences in Early Auckland: City and Provinces

Chapter 13 — Professions, Businesses, Citizens

Chapter 13
Professions, Businesses, Citizens

The Chamber of Commerce may be said to be the principal business organisation in Auckland. It has always had a great influence, not only because of a numerous membership, but because of the weight of its opinion. Its members are drawn from the leaders in all departments of the business world. Its inception was at a meeting of merchants held on 24th January 1856, and in 1865 the Journal of the House of Representatives records the activities of the Auckland Chamber of Commerce. However, a period ensued when members seemed to lose their punch, and in 1869 the Chamber was reorganised on a broader basis, with annual subscriptions varying from half–a–guinea for individual country members to three guineas for importing companies.

The Association of Chambers of Commerce of New Zealand was formed in 1915, and greatly increased the influence of the Commercial Community.

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Between 1911 and 1922 the membership of the Auckland Chamber was between 350 and 400, but a little later it rose to 764.

In 1900 my father, Samuel Vaile, was President.

After occupying rented offices for many years the Chamber decided to build premises for itself. To this end the Chamber, during the first period of Mr. Bartholomew Kent' presidency, held the first Auckland exhibition in 1897, and realized a profit of £1,900, which, together with £1,400 borrowed at 4 1/2 per cent, was invested in the purchase of a freehold section, 40 by 60 feet, in Swanson Street, and the erection thereon of a two–storey office building. This was opened on 14th May 1903 by the Governor, Lord Ranfurly. The mortgage was paid off in 1913.

In 1926 Dr. E. P. Neale, D.Sc., M.A., M.Com., LL.B., was appointed the first full–time secretary, and he has been closely associated with the Chamber ever since. Even after relinquishing the secretaryship his services have been invaluable to the Chamber.

On 10th September 1943 the Chamber' offices were moved from Swanson Street to 2 Courthouse Lane.

As Auckland is by far the most important seaport in New Zealand (last year the trade of this single port exceeded that of all ports of the South Island put together by no less than 54 per cent), it is interesting to know that the first steamship built in New Zealand — the Governor Wynyard — was launched in Auckland, and that Auckland has always possessed the best facilities in New Zealand for building and repairing ships big and little.

The earliest of the banks still trading in Auckland was the Union Bank, and it stood in Princes Street near to Shortland Street, and next to the first Auckland Post Office. It was established on 1st January 1848. The first manager was Mr. A. Kennedy, and among the first customers was Mr. George Vaile, my grandfather. The Union Bank also had the honour of fathering the Auckland Savings Bank in its infant days, and helping it.

The Auckland Savings Bank has been one of the most successful of our local institutions, not only in a financial way, but also as an educational influence leading the rising generations in the ways of thrift and honest dealing, and setting an example of fairness and helpfulness as well to its debtors as to its creditors. Its financial story is really a romance — a story of wonderful achievement from an insignificant beginning to fabulous wealth by careful, persevering, honest methods — not by any stroke of genius. It has never had any use for wizards of finance. The page break
Old Colonists' MuseumThe Ligar Canal Over Which Queen Street Was Constructed. See Chapter 9.

Old Colonists' Museum
The Ligar Canal Over Which Queen Street Was Constructed.
See Chapter 9.

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Old Colonists' MuseumQueen Street From Victoria Street Looking Towards The Harbour. The Stocks where those sentenced to such punishment is shown in the left foreground. The Gallows were in Victoria Street about 100 yards from Queen Street to the west. Reclamations and Wharves now extend well out into the Harbour.

Old Colonists' Museum
Queen Street From Victoria Street Looking Towards The Harbour.
The Stocks where those sentenced to such punishment is shown in the left foreground. The Gallows were in Victoria Street about 100 yards from Queen Street to the west. Reclamations and Wharves now extend well out into the Harbour.

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Old Colonists' MuseumQueen Street In 1893. The Horse Traffic days. Fort Street goes off to the left on the near side of the Victoria Arcade

Old Colonists' Museum
Queen Street In 1893.
The Horse Traffic days. Fort Street goes off to the left on the near side of the Victoria Arcade

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N.Z. HeraldQueen Street in Recent Times. Looking up from Customs Street and showing a temporary traffic halt in the days of Electric Transport.

N.Z. Herald
Queen Street in Recent Times.
Looking up from Customs Street and showing a temporary traffic halt in the days of Electric Transport.

page 27 Bank had its inception at a meeting of a few influential citizens on 3rd December 1846. After much preliminary preparation the bank was opened in Mr. J. I. Montefiore' store on 5th June 1847, but absolutely no business was done until 19th idem, when Mr. Matthew Fleming made the first deposit — £10. By the end of 1847 fourteen Pakehas and seven Maoris had opened accounts with a total credit balance of £166 4s. In 1848 the place of business was moved to the Union Bank in Princes Street, and an accountant appointed at £25 per annum. As late as 1852 it proved inconvenient to the Bank to pay the Government a sum of £46 5s. 9d. which it had owed since February 1848.

By 1857 — ten years after the Bank' opening — Auckland was developing, and 700 vessels and 2,000 canoes entered the Waitemata, depositors in the Savings Bank numbered 254 with £6,750 to their credit.

In August 1858 the Government gave the Bank 20 feet 6 inches fronting Queen Street, and the Bank bought another 16 feet 9 inches adjoining at a shade under £22 10s. per foot, and to erect a building on this site at a cost of £1,700 the Bank borrowed £1,200 at 10 per cent. In 1863 a section at the back was bought for £300; and in 1920 another section on the north site fronting Queen Street 20 feet was acquired at the price of £20,000.

The Bank has enjoyed wonderful prosperity, and it has also weathered some financial storms.

At the beginning money was very scarce in Auckland, and far from sound. Government Departments, and also private traders, issued tokens and I.O.U.' which were usually accepted, but were not legal tender. There were no copper coins except tokens. The best known were issued by Hague Smith, an ironmonger, Samuel Coombes a clothier, and a Mr. Ashton. It used to be said that before there was any bank in Auckland business men would take a bucketful of this doubtful “money” around, and agree with each creditor what he would accept in satisfaction.

In the late 'eighties there was a terrible depression, thousands (chiefly young men) leaving Auckland, so that many streets had not a soul living in them. Again in the nineteen–thirties unemployment was very general and business really bad. I then gave 1,000 acres good grazing land considerably improved for the benefit of the unemployed.

On 1st September 1893 the ridiculous run on the Bank occurred. On that day £41,250 was withdrawn from the Bank and only £406 paid in. I went up to the Bank with a pocketful of page 28 money to pay in, so as to show that someone had confidence in the Bank. After a long struggle I at length reached the counter, when the teller declined my money, saying the whole of his time was taken up in paying out; he couldn't be bothered with deposits!

Contrast the foregoing facts and figures with the state of affairs at the present time. The Bank has twenty branches besides penny banks, school banks, and thrift clubs. The head office and its twenty branches have 248,634 depositors with a total sum of £24,221,000 at their credit, the average deposit per account being near enough to £100. The total funds of the Bank amount to £30,163,300. The total interest credited to depositors through the years has been £10,693,776; and donations to public purposes have amounted to the magnificent total of £237,000. These wonderful figures may well be styled a fascinating romance.

To the Bank' great story of success many capable and honest men have contributed, but one name stands out pre–eminent — that of Sir John Logan Campbell, the “Father of Auckland” as honorary secretary, accountant and trustee.

There were many well–known restaurants in early Auckland. Canning' “St. Mungo Cafe” was supreme among these. The head cook here was a well–known character named Cassels. His specialty was giving boys of promising ability a free education. One of Auckland' leading lawyers received his education in this way. Other leading eating houses were Dallen', Water' Coffee Palace, and an underground place which sported a French menu. One day I noticed fillets d'agneau au champignons. “What' this?” I said. “Dunno but I'll find out,” said the waitress. When she returned she reported “Sorry; it' off”. I enquired “Have you any lamb chops?” “Oh yes, plenty.” “Well, I'll have some and some mushrooms with them please.” So I had this choice diet after all. There were many very cheap little restaurants where one could get an edible snack for about ninepence. One in lower Queen Street was run by Misses Hitchcock & Clapcott. The Salvation Army had a place in upper Queen Street where one could get either a bed or a meal for fourpence. “The Army” has certainly done a great work among the poorest of the poor.

If the public in early Auckland had a wide choice of houses in which to eat, they had a much wider choice of places in which to drink. The public houses in the city were too numerous to mention, but some suburban and country houses were page 29 famous in their day. There was the “Junction” where the Great South Road meets the Manukau Road; the “Royal Oak” at the entrance to Onehunga; “The Harp of Erin” at the junction of the Great South Road and the Howick Road; the “Stone Jug” on the North Road not far past Grey Lynn (then called “Surrey Hills”). Then there was a string of rather tough houses mainly patronised by gumdiggers at Henderson, Kumeu (the “White Horse”), Deacon' at Riverhead, and so right on through the gum country. And I must mention Don Buck' camp not far past Henderson. The proprietor of this desperate resort was called Don Buck, but his real name was Emmanuel Figuero. He was a Spaniard, and had a camp surrounded by a big ditch and a mud wall. He would start anyone with a spade, a spear, a knife, a kit and a day' rations; but if the digger did not return by the evening with the tools and the gum he had dug, Don Buck would track him down.

The dentistry business in Auckland was started by a Mr. Plumley in Hobson Street. He had one operation — extraction. Mr. Kemp introduced drilling and gold filling and crowning. Dr. Hugh Owen had a degree in dentistry gained in the United States. He used anaesthetics, and had a large practice. Then there were Mr. Windsor and Mr. Alexander Young, later Sir Alexander, Minister of Health for twelve years, besides many others.

The professions in Auckland were well represented in the old times. The official doctor was Dr. Philson, who rode around on a white charger (though he was, I expect, a pretty good charger himself) and became humorously known as “Death on the white horse”.

In the legal profession the most capable with whom I ever did business was Sir Theophilus Cooper. Other leading practitioners were Edwin Hesketh and Thomas Cotter (a real “Sergeant Buzfuz”); and there were some specializing in branches of the profession, as Malcolm Macgregor in Marine Law, and R. McVeagh, said to have the best knowledge of Case Law possessed by any lawyer in New Zealand.

One old–time business has completely disappeared. I refer to the horse sales that used to be held on Fridays in Durham Street West. The sales were by auction, and the auctioneers had riders to mount every horse. Some of us boys from the Grammar School used to go down in the lunch hour to see the fun. Usually there was at least one “Outlaw” which would play up and provide free entertainment for us boys.

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This reminds me of the essential usefulness of horses in the days prior to the invention of the internal combustion engine. There were great stables containing scores of horses of all classes (with or without hansoms or growlers attached) for hire. I may mention Pullan & Armitage in Albert Street and Martin in Parnell.

Then there were great citizens, such as Sir George Grey, who filled every role from private citizen to Governor. As a boy I had two personal contacts with him. My father took me on one occasion to Kawau, and I was greatly impressed by the way Sir George spoke to me as though he really valued my opinion, though I was only a schoolboy. On the other occasion my father had taken me to Government House, and I was left in the waitingroom. A “Maori bug” entered, and I, not being aware of its powerful scent, put my foot on it. This stank the room out, but I was not scalped. Another grand old man was Archbishop Cowie, for so long the spiritual head of the Province of New Zealand. He had a fine presence, and a splendid beard. Indeed, when he conducted a service he looked as if he had just stepped straight out of a well–illustrated edition of the Holy Scriptures. One time while I was still a schoolboy the Bishop and I were the only ones at early breakfast at the Howick Hotel. I observed that his Lordship did not consume the white of his eggs, and summoned up my pluck to enquire the reason of his abstinence. He replied “My boy, the yolk is the flesh and the white is the feathers. Would you have me turn my stomach into a bolster?”

Other great citizens were, for instance, Dr. Campbell, afterwards Sir John, who gave Cornwall Park to the city, and Mr. Thomas Russell, partner in the legal firm of Whitaker & Russell. He founded the Bank of New Zealand, The N.Z. Loan & Mercantile Agency Co., the New Zealand Insurance Co., and the New Zealand and River Plate Land Mortgage Co. Mr. C. B. Stone became celebrated as the first white boy born in Auckland, and we must not forget many able men in public positions who served the city faithfully and well — for instance, the run of good Mayors, Sir Arthur Myers, Sir James Parr and Sir James Gunson, and the chief officers of public bodies — P. A. Philips, both as Mayor and Town Clerk; J. M. Brigham as Secretary and Treasurer and W. H. Hamer as Engineer of the Harbour Board; J. S. Brigham as Town Clerk; Vincent Rice as Secretary of the Board of Education. There were also great men of business such as Arch. Clark & Sons, S. & J. R. Vaile and George Fowlds in drapery; T. & S. Morrin and E. Porter & Co. in ironmongery; page 31 Benjamin Tonks & Co., G. W. Binney & Sons in auctioneering; Donald & Edenborough who held a commanding position in the Pacific Island trade; and many more. There were many unusual businesses such as Yandles, the taxidermists, Shakespeares, the woolworkers; J. A. Pond, a real chemist and not merely an apothecary; John Leech who improved the beauty of artists' pictures by appropriately beautiful frames; Randolph Eagleton, the tonsorial artist; Neal & Close, F. Hewin, John Buchanan and H. M. Smeeton in grocery; Winks & Hall and Garlick & Cranwell in furniture; Fraser & Tinne and Masefields in iron foundry; and some specialised — almost unique — businesses such as Hannaford' Matrimonial Agency, and Goodson' London Arcade etc.

Time and space forbid the mention of many worthy of notice, but no account of early Auckland would be at all complete without giving information about two humble but important classes — the remittance men and the gumdiggers. The remittance men were mostly not creditable sons of good families. Such lads were shipped out here so as not to disgrace the family at home. They were given anything between £1 and £4 a week as long as they kept quiet, and for the rest had to “shift for themselves”. The gumdiggers were in the mass the lowest stratum of society, but were not paupers. Their rewards were, on the average, small; but there was a speculative element. A man — especially if experienced — might strike a rich patch and make £100 in quite a little time. These men wandered about over all the country from Waikato to the North Cape digging where they liked, paying no rent or tribute of any kind. After a while a new lot of men appeared on the scene. They were called Austrians, but were really Dalmatians, and were real hard workers. Their plan was to interview the landowner, arrange a term and what proportion of the gum dug was to go to the landowner. They would, in likely country, dig as deep as five feet and put the top soil back on top. Even after land had been dug over for years — not by Dalmatians — ploughing would turn up enough gum to pay for the work. I once let the gumdigging of a small vacant area on Anglesea Street in the near part of Ponsonby.

The most important of all our industries was, of course, Agricultural and Pastoral, and we must acknowledge the deep indebtedness of this country to such men as Wesley Spragg, Richard Reynolds, and William Goodfellow.

Although the population of Auckland is not by any means predominantly Scotch, three Grahams were prominent citizens of page 32 Auckland in the early days. The first was George Graham, a great friend and employer of the Maoris. I was present at Tawhiao' funeral when a great deal was said in praise of this Graham. Then there was Robert Graham, superintendent of Auckland Province 1862–5, and owner of Ellerslie Gardens, Motutapu Island, Waiwera Hot Springs, and Wairakei Sanatorium — a great pioneer. Lastly, William Smellie Grahame, owner of Grahame' bond in Fort Street, and of large farming interests including 100,000 acres at Waiotapu, which was afterwards cut up into Strathmore, Broadlands and Reporoa.

Another trio embraced “the three Sandies” — Sandy Marshall, Sandy Dingwall and Sandy Black, the well–known very early carpenters and builders. They bought a flat rock at the then end of Queen Street for convenience in landing their timber, and cut the 66–foot width into three. Finally the Dingwall interest bought the others out, and erected the present Dingwall building.