Saturday, August 8, 2009

Domain Stories - 1850s



1850 was the year when the Crown dealt with its list of lands held for pending sale but for various reasons hadn’t sold since the first auctions in the early 1840s (including parcels once held, by exchange agreement, by the New Zealand Company). In two lengthy deeds (found in volume 10D of the LINZ Deeds Index series for North Auckland, starting from page 57), a series of sections and parcels were assigned as endowment lands, either for the purposes of income for the hospital, or the grammar school. It was a good way to give both institutions a kick-start financially, and it cleared up some odds and ends on the real estate ledger. (Auckland also had asylum reserves, apart from the main asylum ground at Pt Chevalier-Mt Albert from the 1860s, for the same purpose). Part of the hospital endowment list was the lower part of the Hospital Stream as it flowed down across Stanley Street and over the area used for the rope walk and flour mill at Mechanics Bay, along with the land once used by Low & Motion for their mill. This area would once have been part of the Domain when it was just swampy, unproductive ground – now, with industries appearing all around it, it was valuable real estate. The Domain, although still not officially gazetted as to its true extent, had been given its northern boundary.


The Domain lost more potential land area, but it also gained a piece. 1850 was also when the Government started a public washing ground on the Domain. James Robertson conveyed the southern-most part of his Allotment 96, the Rope Walk, to the Crown in December 1849 (2D.1247, Deeds Indexes, LINZ) and this formed part of the Domain from that point. It was taken by the Crown as a piece of land meant for the benefit of the hospital, as part of the endowment lands, and ended up as part of the washing grounds. Tenders were called for the construction of sheds and tanks in October 1850 (New Zealander, 30 October 1850) and in November, 1 acre, 1 rood and 20 perches had been officially gazetted for “the erection of Public Baths, Wash Houses and Drying Grounds” on land “set apart near the Mill Race.” (Southern Cross, 22 November 1850)



How long were the washing grounds there? That’s still uncertain. They were vested in the (short-lived) 1851 Borough Corporation of Auckland (along with the Hospital, Wharf and Market-House) in August 1851 (New Zealander 3 September 1851). The sole description of any detail found of the site appeared in 1852 (from a report by the Charitable Trusts Committee to the Auckland Council):
“The Drying Grounds, Baths, and Washing House. This reserve consists of 1 acre 1 rood 20 perches, situate near the mill leet in Mechanic's Bay. A valuable stream of water flows through it from the Domain, and is conducted through brick channels into several circular reservoirs for the accommodation of the washerwomen who resort there. A wooden shed in good repair has also been erected on the ground, for the use of the same parties. The reserve was granted on the 18th October, 1850, to the above named official trustees, upon trust, to be "used as Drying Grounds, and as reserved lands for the purpose of constructing baths and washing houses for the use of the inhabitants of the town of Auckland." The supply of water is amply sufficient for all these purposes, and it will no doubt eventually prove a very valuable and important provision for the increasing population of [the town]”
(Southern Cross, 9 March 1852)

From that point, the next documentation is the 1860 plan drawn up in conjunction with the official gazetting of the Domain’s boundaries. I have yet to find any further references.

The suggestion that a lunatic asylum could be part of the landscape of the Hospital Reserve, so near to the Domain, brought on much tut-tutting in 1850s Auckland’s media.

“With respect to the report that the building is about to be founded in Auckland Park, we can only suppose such a report to have originated with some hair-brained dreamer. A Lunatic Asylum planted in a domain set apart for public recreation, and for embellishment of a nascent city? Expose females and children to the freaks of some of its chance escaped inmates? Preposterous! The very idea is an insanity, and requires but a marked expression of public disapprobation to set the project at rest for ever.”
(Southern Cross, 8 August 1851)

By April 1852, however, Auckland’s first lunatic asylum was in place. (New Zealander, 24 April 1852)

By 1851, J. Shepherd was Ranger in the Domain. He had some problems in July 1852 when it was gazetted that he had failed to render accounts, but he published a retraction that month made by the Governor’s private secretary that, yes indeed, he had rendered the accounts satisfactorily. (New Zealander, 17 July 1852) I don’t know what this was all about at this stage. He may have been the J. Shepherd who, from 1853, ran a boarding house on Shortland Crescent. (Southern Cross, 8 November 1853) Arthur Fennell, who arrived in Auckland in April 1852 on the ship John Phillips, may have been his successor by 1854. His son James Bromley Fennell died on 26 July 1854, and the funeral left from the Ranger’s house at the Domain. (Southern Cross, 28 July 1854) At that time, the Ranger’s wages were £72 per annum. (Southern Cross, 8 September 1854)

1852 saw a notice advertised regarding tenders for fencing (part of a process of enclosing the Domain begun the previous year) and the extension of a path through the Domain leading to the Epsom Road (Parnell Road – Southern Cross, 3 August 1852). The fencing was most likely in conjunction with the use of the Domain for official depasturing – in August 1851, the costs for horses on the Domain was 1s 6d, cows 1s, colts 1s and calves sixpence. (Southern Cross, 5 August 1851) Around the same time, fifteen acres of the Domain was set aside to be harrowed and ploughed four times and sowed. (Tender advertisement, New Zealander, 2 July 1851) In 1854, however, came a ban of cattle running in the Domain, for some reason. (Southern Cross, 24 January 1854) Trees were planted; some were in danger of being set alight by fires (NZ Gazette, 29 December 1857), some of these were sadly vandalised, “wantonly and maliciously broken down and injured” in December 1859. (Southern Cross, 16 December 1859)

The Domain Gardens seem to have had their origins as an organised project in the late 1850s. John Lynch is listed on the 1857 Jury List as a gardener based at Auckland Park. (Southern Cross, 10 March 1857) On 24 June 1857, at the Exchange Hotel, a public meeting was called “to organise a committee of management of a Provincial Botanical Garden – a site in the Domain having been obtained for that purpose”. The organisers were H. Matson, C. Heaphy, W. Powditch, R. Curtis, J. Baber and Dr. S. J. Stratford. (Southern Cross, 19 June 1857) The meeting appears to have been successful. It may well have been that the formation of the gardens caused the first strife between the Crown and the provincial leaseholders of the Mechanics Bay sites – water was diverted by Fevruary 1858 (Southern Cross, 23 February 1858), and attracted the first claim, by Hugh Coolahan, who complained that his lease had been rendered useless (by then, he had subleased to Dawson and Kay, see the Mechanic’s Bay Timeline.) Still, a Mr. Brodie in the House of Representatives moved that the Government Gardens be thrown open to the public in May 1858 (Southern Cross, 4 May 1858).

More diversion of the Domain’s spring waters was to come. In March 1858, C. P. O’Rafferty, C.E., suggested in correspondence to the Southern Cross (2 March) that the supply from the Domain could be collected in a reservoir on the park, and then piped to Symonds Street. J. Williamson, the Provincial Superintendent, called for tenders in November that year “for the construction of Certain Works in the Government Domain, and for laying down Pipes for supplying a part of the City of Auckland with Water.” (Southern Cross, 5 November 1858). All well and good – but by December 1859, it was felt that the supply from the Domain springs was inadequate for the needs of the city. Other sources were explored, elsewhere. (Southern Cross, 2 December 1859)

As the decade drew to a close, the Domain was enclosed by fences, the first of its pathways were appearing, it was being planted with trees (despite fires and vandals) and grass, and featured an early botanic garden. By now, its recreation value to the city was being recognised.

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