Saturday, 18 June 2016

Edward Bartley and the Stark Commission 1886

The Devonport district is a unique environment in the Auckland area. The continued presence of the armed forces is intrinsic to its character. In the early days of settlement that presence was concerned with establishing colonial life, with internal affairs. In the latter part of the nineteenth century developments in the Crimean conflict turned attention to the question of our defence against external threats.
In 1885 Russian troops occupied Afghanistan. This event brought the impact of Britain’s international affairs much closer to the Southern Hemisphere. If British India was so vulnerable then New Zealand was too.

Colonial government took steps to firm up defence plans which had been formed in the 1870s around a harbour defence system. For Auckland this meant protecting the gap between North Head and Britomart Point.
This clear view of the relationship of Narrow Neck (centre) to Auckland central shows the reasons why it was intrinsic to port security.
Winkelman Image about 1900 SGGSC W00197 APL

It meant a modern defence base, provision for storage and deployment of mines. It also meant visible, state of the art fire power on a prominent headland.

To see how these concerns brought Devonport in to the limelight we take a glance back to the early 1880s. A gentleman by the name of Robert Adam Mozeley Stark owned a good sized property at North Head which he named ‘Fair Cliff’. Of Scottish extraction he was a member of the Takapuna Jockey Club, one of the directors of the Devonport and Takapuna Tramway company, and a friend and business associate of Alex Alison. He was also a likely candidate for the Waitemata seat in the next election.
In 1881 Stark put part of his 32 acre property on the market after a short tenure there. Despite the best efforts of his estate agent a conditional sale in 1884 for £3500 sale remained uncompleted. Stark then withdrew Fair Cliff from the market.
In March 1886 the press reported the sale of Stark's land to the Crown for defence purposes. The purchase price was almost six times the 1884 list price. The Auckland Star's assertion that 'public curiosity' was aroused was a mild reference to the outcry which followed.1 Accusations of 'secret transactions' were widespread. When Parliament resumed a commission of inquiry called for. Meanwhile Mr Stark had taken the opportunity to travel abroad. He was contacted by his solicitors to return to Auckland and attend the proceedings which began 11 October 1886.2

As expected Devonport was rife with accusation and speculation, even more so that the rest of the country. Stark's neighbours were astonished by his success in attracting a price so far above the depressed values of previous years. The factional rivalries which had their roots in the earliest days of the settlement again came into view.
Edward Bartley was amongst those who had agitated most strongly for enquiry into due process around the sale. His name also appeared on the petition - with just under 1000 other names -sent to parliament requesting a commission be appointed. From the outset Commissioners sat and heard accusations of unethical practice around land dealing at the North Shore, but no evidence was supplied as proof that this had occurred in connection with the Government purchase of Stark's block.  Alex Alison's name was associated with the 'bidding by interested parties' on land sales - the inference being that prices were artificially inflated. In this context the development around Stark's land at Cheltenham was referenced.

An example of the type of development drawn to the attention of the Commission. These residential blocks were offered for sale in January 1885 (AS 2 Jan 1885)

By mid October the knives were out. Devonport was the focus of national attention by that time. Edward Bartley was called to give evidence on the 21st of October. Alex Alison then took the offensive against Bartley, William Philcox and those who had requested the official enquiry.
NZH 22 Oct 1886
In fact Edward Bartley was well placed to give evidence as he had been employed as Stark's architect on various subdivisions on the North Shore, as well as for Stark's own home. He was able to testify as to his client's intentions as they had been conveyed to him at the time a portion of the land was first offered for sale in 1883, which was to subdivide it. He further testified that, rather than being motivated by ill will, he had sought to have the matter clarified publicly.

The Commissioner's final report found no evidence of misconduct. Development of defence facilities at North Head were put in place and the presence in Devonport of armed services has continued down to the present day. For the civilian population, however, the residue of ill will left by the whole proceeding meant that personality conflict continued to mar local politics for some time to come.

1. Auckland Star 6 March 1886
2. Ibid 16 Oct 1886 
Report of the Stark Commission can be found here

Sunday, 12 June 2016

Queen's Ferry Hotel Vulcan Lane Auckland - the early years

Queens Ferry Hotel Vulcan Lane Auckland Image R Crozier for BFA

In Auckland’s early days Vulcan Lane was steeper than it is today. Little better than a narrow track, it had one great advantage – it was on the high side of the 'Ligar Canal' which ran down Queen St.
In the early 1850s the lane boasted, amongst others, McLeod’s Forge, Hicks the watchmaker, Bain & Graham’s store and a tailor. All the buildings were timber, including the several cottages dotted amongst the commercial premises. On the seaward side of the lane, John Robertson had his sawyer’s shop.i
Robertson came to New Zealand with Governor Hobson’s party in 1840, first spending some time in the Bay of Islands. Business prospered for him in Auckland where he established the first timber yard about 1845. ii

Early in July 1863 fire swept through the wooden buildings in Queen St. In the attempt to create a fire break Robertson’s property suffered. The roof was destroyed and the building was damaged inside, though the fire was extinguished before it reached his side of the lane.iii  From the description it is likely his workshop was of by then of brick construction.

The earliest record of a further change of building use is March 1864.  Robertson advertised office space to let then and was operating a general goods store.iv  This was a much less arduous occupation than working in the timber industry, particularly for a man now turning seventy - though perhaps not without its own challenges:
Daily Southern Cross 27 July 1867

The final incarnation for the property occurred within the next six years. The name ‘Queen’s Ferry Hotel’ begins to appear in print from April 1870, though the hotel may have been operating  The name was a reference to his Scottish home. Robertson appears in the April 1870 list of those granted a full license for the sale of liquor. vii
Richard Keals was employed as architect for alterations to the building in March 1871. The new facilities included further accommodation on the second storey and a meeting room. The latter was definitely in operation by June of that year. viii

DSC 24 March 1871

 These new facilities now provided a popular meeting place for a more commercially oriented clientele:

NZH 24 June 1871

John Robertson died in October 1877 aged 85. His wife May took over the running of the hotel until her death in September 1880. Their son in law Walter Sloane then took the helm until the license was transferred to Charles Sutherland at the end of 1880.

NZH 23 Dec 1880

In 1882 further changes to the licensing legislation meant that the Queen’s Ferry was in line for another upgrade of facilities. This time Edward Bartley employed as the architect.
NZH 2 Sept 1882

His plans were for an increase to three storeys from Keal’s two. Alex McGuire the builder who made the successful tender for the contract.
The additions included further sleeping quarters and another sitting room, as part of an interior refit. Sanitary standards were generally improved to meet modern requirements. A guest bathroom was included. The whole tone of the Vulcan Lane front elevation was improved by realigning the entrance and stairway. A wash of lime cement and quality decorative treatment produced the Italianate frontage we see today.

Image R Crozier for BFA

The license has run continuously since Robertson's day, though the Hotel is now facing into a more salubrious Vulcan Lane.The Queens Ferry has a Category 1 rating with Historic Places Trust. Details here
For further information on the Robertson family see here
Research by M W Bartley

 i See Daily Southern Cross 11 Feb 1859; 5 April 1859 – part of allotment 3 sec 4
  ii Ibid 7 Feb 1860
  iiiIbid 3 July 1863
 iv Ibid 23 March 1864
  vIbid 27 July 1864
   viAuckland Star 5 April 1870
  viiNZH 20 April 1870
  viiiDSC 4 July 1871 venue for the Berkeley Castle Mining Co meeting of shareholders