Thursday, October 30, 2008

A tale of two Stewarts


I always tell myself "Never assume" when it comes to local historical research. Assumption is a mistake often made and has been made in the past by quite reputable researchers and historians. I class myself as still learning, though, and I learn best by experience, even in the heritage field. This has been one of those learning experiences.

From c.1880 to c.1887, just across the Oakley Creek from each other lived two families named Stewart.

John Stewart lived on Allotment 52 and part of 53, from his father-in-law Thomas Bray's landholdings. The part of Richardson Road immediately off New North Road was once called Stewart's Road in his honour, but the name was changed probably to match the rest of the road heading south. (The street names database on the Auckland City Libraries website has it that one possibility for the Richardson name is a "Brigadier General G.S. Richardson, Commandant of the New Zealand forces in the First World War.") This Stewart was born in Greenock, Scotland c.1833 and arrived in Auckland 1860 on the ship Avon. According to his obituary (NZ Herald, 24 June 1895):
"He was a practical farmer, and began work at Henderson, where he resided eight years. Coming into the town he carried on for some time a coal and firewood business in Victoria-street, near the Albert Park. For the past 20 years he has lived on his farm at Mount Albert, and only three days ago came to town, to be nearer medical assistance. Despite all that could be done, Mr. Stewart succumbed to an attack of inflammation of the lungs. He leaves a widow, three sons and three daughters, to mourn his departure. He was 62 years of age, and highly esteemed by all who knew him."
The Stewart farm was known as Green Lees or Greenlee. His widow Mary died in September 1914 at Greenlee, and both are buried at Waikumete Cemetery. Part of John Stewart's farm is now Murray Halberg Park, a bit of Alan Wood Reserve, and the site of Owairaka District School and Kindergarten.

On the other side of the water, a couple named James and Margaret Stewart purchased a fan-shaped wedge of land c.1884 from an auctioneer named Robert Charles Greenwood, 22 acres between New Windsor Road and the Oakley Creek. They were there until 1887 when their mortgage holders forced a sale.
"Taking the left side of the road above Mr. Gallagher’s farm, we came to the section lately purchased by Mr. Stewart, of the Thames Hotel, 25 acres in extent, taken up a couple of years ago, and laid down in grass ..."
(NZ Herald, 1882)
"Away to the south-east of the district, we noticed that settlement was progressing favourable. Mr. Stewart, of the Thames Hotel, has effected some extensive improvements on his block."
(NZ Herald, 1884)

I got confused between the two Stewarts, thinking they were one and the same -- until I noticed they had different wives, and different occupations. James Stewart was indeed, in the early 1880s, proprietor of the Thames Hotel in the city -- although the Southern Cross wasn't a great help in referring to him as "John" Stewart.

The New Windsor farm once owned by James Stewart the hotelier is now cut through by two roads: the start (western end) of the "new" Methuen Road from the late 1950s, and Bryden Place off New Windsor Road.

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