Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Freeman's Bay in 1872

Before the Auckland Gas Company set up shop along Beaumont Street (indeed, probably a bit before there even was much of a Beaumont Street), before the main reclamation which extended beyond Drake Street to create the Auckland City Council destructor site (now Vic Park Market), Victoria Park itself, and the Wynyard Point harbour board land extending out into the Waitemata, obliterating completely the inlet once called a true bay ... someone working for the Auckland Evening Star wrote a description of a little place called Freeman's Bay, a small suburb of the young City where the streams were still visible and open to the sky, and the rich had not yet established themselves on the Ponsoby ridge looking down upon the working people's homes below. The only pollution concern in the early 1870s was a bone-and-dust mill. From a decade later, the black soot and tar from the gas company works would darken the neighbourhood, as more and more small houses were built to be the dwellings of workers for the surrounding industries. But, that was the future. The following comes from the 15 November 1872 edition of the paper.

Freeman’s Bay, or rather the line of houses and stores bearing the name in front of the actual bay, lies innocently enough in the sleepy hollow between Victoria-street and College-road, and has a character of its own. The inhabitants, all independent voters, are a peculiar people, with their little whims and dogmas, and love of scandal.

The place was famous a year ago for its noisy dogs and curly innocents, but the animals have mostly disappeared, and the children are a trifle nearer maturity. The Bay community claims with some degree of pride the credit of occupying one of the most ancient of Auckland’s peopled settlements, which had its appellation from an old squatter, who reared its first domicile, and lived a freeman there among savages.

The many-shaped houses, with the hues of time upon them, at once strike the eye, and impress the beholder with the idea that this retired locality, resting half-way up Fortune’s hill, is the retreat of a separate and distinct people. The shops, it is true, are not of the liveliest description, but they are sufficiently stored for the modest wants of the Bayites. The round-about views, intersected with patches of green sward, are agreeable, and might, without exaggeration, be termed picturesque.

On the water you may sometimes observe dingies, cargo, and other boats, which at low tide are mud-fixed, and then you see small mud-larks wading knee-deep after nothing. Farther out on the gleaming water you observe formidable yachts floating, and the little Gemini steaming to and fro between the wharf and Riverhead with its freight of merchandise, whilst far beyond, if the summer sun be in a smiling mood, you descry the shingled roofs of Stokes’ Point, and nearer still St Mary’s Convent, and the Church of All Saints.

Overlooking the bay stands the old block-house with its martial memories, and lower still the busy woodman plies his dividing saw that the wood may be fairly distributed among the neighbours. The facetious Bay people call the lorn, empty immigration barracks the “salting-down-house”, in honour of some honest bacon dealer who once used the place for salting purposes. They love a joke, are fond of niceties, and take water-cresses and cake with their tea, as you will find it if you are lucky enough to sit down at one of their luxurious tables.

The white bone-and-dust mill does not add to the rustic beauty of this locality of self-supporting people. Freeman’s Bay has its butcher, baker, crockery-man, green-grocer, dress-maker, tea-dealer, water-poet, tavernist, and happy brace of working shoe-makers, who can sing a song and talk politics with the firm belief that there is nothing like leather.

The Bayites generally are an amiable people. Now and then on a Saturday evening or on flush days there is a local buzz, and a small row is usually softened down at the bar of a by-house. These infrequent deviations from the straight line will occur, but it is encouraging to observe that the Bay people, in conjunction with the highway authorities are mending their ways, so that that which is crooked will ere long be made straight.

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