In 1967, Alistair Murray Isdale published History of the River Thames. In it is included the following intriguing partial portrait of one of this countries historic characters:
A negro from the Southern States of the USA, known as "Shanghai", but who preferred to be called Colonel Richard Davis, objected at an entertainment when someone called him a nigger and wanted him to move out of his seat. The resulting fight was talked about for weeks. Shanghai was around as usual next morning, but the would-be white supremacist did not show up for three days. Shanghai certainly made it clear that that kind of thing was not wanted in New Zealand. (p. 74)
Richard "Shanghai" Davis is found in a report from the Thames court in the aftermath of a probably well-celebrated Fourth of July on Davis' part in 1874. At this point, he doesn't have his nickname -- or at least, no one mentions it.
Richard Davis was charged with being drunk and disorderly in Owen-street Grahamstown. Defendant pleaded guilty. Fined 20s and costs, or 48 hours imprisonment ...
Richard Davis was charged with using bad language in a public place; to wit Owen-street, Grahamstown. Mr. Bullin said that he would not press for a fine in this case, the language being such as a man would use when drunk. The accused, a colored individual, in his defence said he had kept the 4th of July up too much, and asked their Worships to deal leniently with him. Case dismissed. The Court adjourned.
Thames Star 6 July 1874
When we see him next, in 1878, he had adopted the sobriquet of "Shanghai". No one ever seems to know why. The reports now also make note of his accent and way of pronouncing his words.
There is an old African known by the euphonious sobriquet of Shanghai, who resides in a tumble down old edifice at Kopu. He is a great favorite with the natives of the surrounding hapus, and when the County road works were started he was put on by one of the native foremen on a section of the road on which native labor alone was to be employed. All went well for a week or two until the eagle eye of one of the County big-bugs discerned the dusky visage of the poor nigger to be more of the Ethiopian than Malayese, and told the Maori overseer that Shanghai would have to be discharged, as he was a Pakeha. Shang now indignantly informs his numerous visitors " Dat he don't care a tarn for gettin' the sack, but to be ‘sulted by being called a buckra (white) man, ugh!" the last word being intended to express unutterable disgust.
Thames Star 18 March 1878
And he's right there for the Glorious Fourth.
There are not a few of our American cousins who entertain, to our English tastes, queer ideas relative to the observance of the national day of their country's independence—glorious Fourth of July. Yesterday, which was the 102nd anniversary of this memorable event, our reporter was perambulating Pollen street, when he was stuck up by that loyal old "cullud "Yankee who rejoices in the euphonious cognomen of Shanghai—why, we don't know, if it is not that he has but one eye. Shanghai had evidently been "keeping up" the fȇte day of his nation, and was fully three sheets in the wind. Fixing his solitary optic on our paragraph hunter, he thus addressed him: " Say, boss, have you got a spare quarter dol. about yer pants thet you can lend to an American citizen. Hare, I've bin ' bulljacking' around and spent all my money on beer, and ar'nt haf drunk yet. Thet won't do for the gal-orious foth you know, boss." Our reporter made him happy with a "Colonial Robert," with which, it is to be regretted, he increased his temporary mental aberration until kindly taken care of by the police.
Thames Star 5 July 1878
Now, he assumes the rank of "Colonel". From what army is never described.
Some time ago we expressed a hope that our colored friend "Colonel Richard Davis”, alias " Shanghai," would have rusticated in seclusion and sobriety at Kopu till the time arrived for his next periodical "burst”, the fourth of July, 1879. This, however, was not foreordained, as the "Colonel" visited Shortland yesterday, and wandered from the path of rectitude, inasmuch as he had a drop too much. He went into the back room of a Shortland "pub," exclusively devoted to Natives, and was unceremoniously ejected therefrom. He, however, was not; to be beaten,'and procured admission again and, amongst other exploits, "bunged up" the "peepers" of two of the ringleaders in his ejectment.
Thames Star 17 July 1878
County Council"COLONEL” RICHARD DAVIS’ GARDEN.A letter was read from Richard Davis, Kopu, asking compensation for his garden fence which had been removed for the road to Kopu. He asked three pounds, as there were "three chanes of fencing," which would take him three weeks to replace. The Chairman remarked that Mr Davis was a squatter. Received.
Thames Star 2 August 1878
The colored "Colonel" Davis (alias Shanghai), of Kopu, was in town last night, and through talking contemptuously of " dem no nufin' Britishers " was nearly getting the size of his head increased by artificial means on several occasions. He bailed our peripatetic against the wall of Butt's Hotel, and in response to a query after the health of himself and his "bull chicks," he replied that he was " hunkeydory." " But say, boss," he said, " the privileges of an American cit. was violentated on the gal-orious fo’th, and I was not 'lowed to sing the praises of my country." (He here gave statistical information concerning the States.) He then waxed eloquent, and said, " hough poor Shang was cotched by the spinions of the law while celebratin' the 'versary of his country's freedom, his country is still a great nation—a darnation great nation: the Stars are as bright as ever, and the stripes as broad as ever, and under the motter ' E fluribust unum,' which means one containin' of many, we shall live and conquer, and rise to a gal-orious resurrection." Shanghai then commenced to repeat the ten commandments, but stopped at the second and said, "Good night, boss ; thar's a chap a comin' round the corner that's goin' to punch this goss-eyed American game cock. By thunder, I ain't in a humor for fighting. I'm orf," and he ran round the corner.
Thames Star 9 August 1878
Some one walked over Shanghai's potato patch at Kopu recently, and the places that once knew several bushels of first-class tubers shall know them no more. A la Tukukino, the indignant proprietor insinuates that there will be trouble in Hauraki that he "kin diskiver the offensor."
Thames Star 2 December 1878
Shanghai—we beg his pardon, Colonel Davis-—was at Shortland yesterday evening, and for a considerable time was engaged in an animated discussion with some bystanders as to who was the greatest personage, George Washington, Sir George Grey, or Frederick Whitaker. After a long debate, Shanghai decided that the two W's were equally great.and the Premier not a "sarcumstance " to either of them. Having been informed that the Fourth of July was still five months distant, he departed on his homeward journey.
Thames Star 8 February 1879
As we surmised, the loyal American citizen Shanghai came in from Kopu yesterday, the "Glorious Fourth,'" to celebrate the natal day of American independence in a befitting-manner. At Endre’s hotel last night he delivered an oration replete with statistical information respecting the States, and wound up by reciting what he remembers of the celebrated “Declaration." A bystander, who had the shocking temerity to express a doubt about Shanghai being an American citizen, just escaped being "chawed up” by a lightning movement out at the door, followed by the sole of the “Cunnel's" boot, which came off as he made a desperate kick at the receding coat tails of his insulter.
Thames Star 5 July 1879
It was some time since the redoutable colored Yankee, Shanghai, visited town, but even the society of his "bull chicks" could not prevent the Kopu philosopher experiencing a feeling of ennui, and a visit to the Arcadian shades of Grahamstown was decided on. By the time he reached Brown street he had partaken sufficient tarantula juice to make him knock down any Britisher who denied the supremacy of Yankeeland, and in this state the " Colonel" rolled into Allaway's restaurant and ordered " dinnah," with an air of conscious superiority. This little manoeuvre would not wash, however, Jacob, the presiding genius of the hash foundry, knowing him of old; so he refused to give the great American a "squar' meal." Shanghai tried to get virtuously indignant, and appealed to the Britishers present to see that his rights as a citizen of the great republic were not trampled on, and again appealed for a feed. Jacob was inexorable, however, and sent for a policeman, who speedily ejected the unfortunate philosopher, despite much vigorous expostulations. When he appeared before the R.M. this morning on a charge of drunkenness, he appeared somewhat sheepish, but took the rebuke administered with the air of a man who is suffering in a glorious cause.
Thames Star 10 May 1880
"Colonel Davis," the renowned veteran warrior, who has retired into private life at Kopu, where for the remainder of his days he intends to pass the time in cogitations of his past glorious career; has discovered the reason for the construction of the railway from Shortland to Kopu. Speaking to a gentleman the other day, he delivered himself thus on the subject:—" You don't know why the railway was made? Well, I'll tell you. You see that there is a highly respectable influential gentleman living at Kopu, who, in addition to being occupied in agricultural pursuits, keeps large numbers of pigs and fowls. Now you see, the Government were aware that a railway was necessary to bring the aforesaid gentleman's produce to town. This ides was further strengthened by the representations, made to the Government by that celebrated gentleman. His name gentlemen, is Davis, and the Thames people have to thank him for the continuation of the railway line as far as Kopu."
Thames Star 3 October 1881
For a moment, he achieved some fame as far ad Auckland.
Everyone knows the old coloured gentleman at the Thames who travels under the ubiquitous cognomen of "Shanghai." He is an ex-pugilist and when he heard that Jem Mace had arrived in the Colony he thus soliloquised, "Wall, I would like to see Massa Mace. At the same time fitin 's hard work, and powerful bad for the eyesight."
Observer 4 March 1882
Defended Cases.R DAVIS V. JOHN BUTCHER.Mr Brassey for plaintiff.Claim, 7s, value of spade.Col. Richard Davis, of the United States army (popularly known as Shanghai) deposed that he is the proprietor of the Kopu wharf, and that he obtained a very particular and peculiar spade from Mr E. Carr two years ago. He lost it from near where he was ditching in May. It was not more than 500 yards from Butcher's house. He applied to Mr Butcher for the spade through Mr Trautman and Mr Rolleston, as he and Butcher were bad friends, and he wished to keep the peace. Never asked Mr Butcher for the spade.
John Butcher deposed—The day before he received the summons he was using a spade which they pretend to own. He bought it at Gudgeon's four years ago. The boy Brown came and asked for Davis' spade, and picked out a spade, saying it was Shanghai's. He said, "You young rascal, if you tell such a lie as that, I will make a mark on yon that you won't forget." He had not the spade, and knew nothing of it.
Wm. Brown, a lad, deposed to going to Butcher's for Davis' spade. Butcher showed him one, which he thought was Davis' (witness described it.) He could identify Davis’ spade. Butcher offered him the spade, and afterwards said if he accused him of stealing the spade he would visit him with vengeance so dire as to be unmentionable, consequently unprintable. It was worth about 1s 6d.
Wm. Trautman deposed that in the course of conversation Butcher said he had picked up the spade on the banks of river years ago.
James Sydney Rolleston corroborated the foregoing witness' evidence, and described the spade; the spade was only half a spade. He had worked with it a little, but it was too weak for him, so he threw it away. The boy asked Butcher for old Shang's spade. Witness corroborated the lad's evidence as to the threat used.
To defendant: I was present when the boy came.
Defendant: You are a false man.
Witness: The spade is worth nothing; I would not give twopence for it.
His Worship said it was virtually the boy's evidence against Mr Butcher's, as the last witness only knew the spade was very like Davis’ and the others had not seen it. Case dismissed. Court adjourned.
Thames Star 18 August 1882
The Glorious Fourth!"Colonel" Davis is in town. Hail Columbia !
Thames Star 4 July 1888
To-day is the Fourth of July, the anniversary of American Independence, and for the first time for many years past we miss seeing the Stars and Stripes floating over the Pacific Hotel, Mr Curtis, the late proprietor, never neglecting to observe the day. The familiar face of " Colonel" Davis is also conspicuous today by its absence, and so the anniversary has been allowed to pass without being kept in any way, not even by a “pork and beans'' dinner, as we see by a telegram will be given in Auckland this evening in honor of the occasion.
Thames Star 4 July 1890
The glorious Fourth!"Colonel" Davis in town. He was the first this morning to purchase a ticket for the American Minstrels performance tonight.
Thames Star 4 July 1891
"Colonel" Richard Davis yesterday celebrated the "Glorious Fourth" with his usual zest.
TS 5 July 1894
The Glorious Fourth fell on a Sunday this time, but this did not prevent Colonel Davis from taking charge of the town in his customary genial manner. The Colonel was greatly in evidence in Pollen street on Saturday night, and chanted American independence from one end of the town to the other. If ever the day arrives when Colonel Davis fails to celebrate .the .Fourth of July in our midst, Thames will certainly miss an old identity.
Thames Star 5 July 1897
To-day, being the 4th July, will be observed throughout the United States with the usual national rejoicings. Americans, in whatever part of the world they may happen to be, will not fail to celebrate the occasion in some form or other. It is almost superfluous to chronicle the fact that Colonel Davis, of Kopu, was in town to day. For many years past he has made a point of spending the 4th of July on the Thames, where he has numerous friends and acquaintances.
Thames Star 4 July 1898
Letters of naturalisation have been issued to Mr Richard Davis, better known as "Colonel Davis of Hikutaia. He is proud of being a British subject, but informed our representative that he did not consider it a breach of loyalty to the Queen to keep up the 4th of July, as he intends to do in the future as in the past.
Thames Star 9 November 1899
The Fourth of July was celebrated locally yesterday. Captain Barman and "Colonel" Davis, of Hikutaia, were in evidence, and they did full honour to the "Glorious Independence of the United States." Pork and beans, the usual dish, and the other accessories were provided at the Royal Hotel, and in the evening there was a first class fireworks display, which was witnessed by a large number of interested spectators.
Thames Star 5 July 1901
The last appearance found so far is this one, from 1904. After this, "Colonel" Richard "Shanghai" Davis seems to fade into obscurity.
Yesterday was the Fourth of July, the anniversary of the Declaration of American Independence. At the Royal Hotel, where several gentlemen from the United States are staying, the day was celebrated in right royal manner, and in the evening there was quite an effective display of fireworks. Of course the day would not be complete without the appearance on the scene of "Colonel" Davis, and that colored gentleman, with his tall hat and “C.B.s” became quite a conspicuous figure on the landscape!
Thames Star 5 July 1904