The Early Days Of Canterbury: 11. More Old Identities

CHRISTCHURCH,  2009

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CHAPTER 11

 

 

More Old Identities

 

 

When one sits down quietly to dream of the town of fifty or more years ago, it is strange to discover how some small cue will induce one's mind to recall the faces and figures of so many people who have long since crossed the great Divide, and were apparently blotted out from memory.

 

Cogitating thus I have been able to visualise many "old identities," who in the seventies were well known to all their fellow "townies." The first I envisage is J. L. Coster, the manager of the Bank of New Zealand - immaculately groomed, with silk hat and silk handkerchief protruding from his breast pocket in perfectly orthodox fashion, and seated in his handsome brougham drawn by a pair of horses which were the pride of himself and his fellows as he daily covered the couple of miles between the Bank and his lovely Opawa home, which, after many vicissitudes, is today the Boys' Hostel of the Christchurch Technical College. And there was James Embling - a later manager of the same Bank, with his Spanish cut beard and white bell-topper, working his passage on the old moke to and from his office to his home on Opawa Road, his trousers nearly up to his knees and a clear space of some six inches between his body and the saddle as lie rose to the animal's trot. This old horse was reputed to be some twenty years

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old, certainly beyond the skill of any "vet" to determine accurately. Then there was Rees William Walters, the funereal faced undertaker, bent double with rheumatoid arthritis, but always managing to mount his heavily plumed hearse in the dispensation of his well-patronised business. Another familiar face was that of Dr. Turnbull, in that old hansom cab with the seat facing backwards. I can hear his thud as he hobbled along with his wooden leg. His high pitched Scottish brogue once heard was never forgotten.

 

And John T. Matson - that doyen of auction­eers, and owner of Tattersall's in succession to W. D. Barnard. It was quite an education to listen to him as he chaffingly exchanged banter with the dealers round the ring on Saturday mornings, sometimes coaxingly endeavouring to get a bid of "five bob a leg" for an animal that disgraced the species. Matson rarely failed to hoodwink some innocent yokel into speculating in a Chatham Island beast, or some other equally evil minded horse. Matson was a man of vision as far as the development of Mid-Canterbury was concerned, and was an ardent enthusiast in sup­port of the West Coast Midland Railway. He was convinced that it was "West Coast Railway, boys, or burst," as he expressed it in his forceful way, and he gallantly stuck to the promulgation of his convictions though it cost him the estrangement of a number of friends and the loss of much custom, Christchurch being then, as now, divided sharply on every subject which involved the expenditure of eighteen pence of public money!


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Hyman Marks is another well remembered citizen. He was in very early years in partner­ship with Bernard Simpson the tobacconist at the Prince of Wales' Bazaar next to John Ollivier's office in High Street. The old shop was only recently demolished to make room for Hallen­stein's new premises. Marks and Simpson were not always on terms of mutual confidence, and old timers may remember that two carved stone effigies adorned the ends of their shop front, below the cornice. These were supposed to repre­sent the two partners, Marks and Simpson, but the sculptor had obviously not received the benefit of the elementary rules of his art, and consequently the identification of the two faces was a matter of pure speculation. This fact was substantiated when, after some years of peace, love, and harmony, a quarrel resulted in Marks leaving his partner, and the feeling was of so strained a nature that Simpson covered the effigy of what was popularly supposed to represent his erstwhile partner with a black pall, and this remained so until eventually better counsels pre­vailed, and Simpson, in order to make quite sure that he had not covered his own reputed "dial," had the black cover removed.

 

Marks opened the Northampton Boot Shop in the old White Hart buildings which he carried on for many years, accumulating sufficient capital to enter into the loan and discount business, to which he assiduously devoted his energy - so diligently indeed that when he died he left

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con­siderable wealth for the benefit of the poor, and the Hyman Marks Ward at our public hospital is one shining example of his beneficence. And all old citizens remember John Ollivier in his velvet tail-coat with the huge pockets loaded with lollies, which he delighted to throw among the kiddies - scrambles which caused so much delight at our public gatherings.

 

Another familiar figure was Major Cuning­ham (Peter Cunningham 1839-1915), strolling along with heavy measured tread, his old and faithful brown Retriever ever at his heels.

 

And G. P. Daye, the old locksmith, with his sparkling diamond ring and gold chain and pen­dant, and his wee Skye Terrier of snowy white­ness, disinterestedly lagging behind him as he searched the hardware shops for key blanks out of which to fill some urgent order.

 

And there was old Hill the lolly-maker, whose specialty was bulls-eyes of a minty flavour, equalled by no competitor in his trade.

 

And Sergeant Wilson, one of Peter Pender's right hand "Bobbies" - of gigantic figure and awesome countenance. And "Wicked Marks," the pioneer law breaker of the town who was mulcted in fines upon several occasions for selling fruit on Sundays, and gloried in the sobriquet by which his street sign told of his fall from grace. And Drake, the dapper bookmaker with the wry neck who, on one occasion when laying odds at the races, was wagered that he couldn't lay his head on the other side!

 

Mick Hamilton, the four-wheeler cabby, was

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a very familiar figure on the City Hotel stand, along with Tom Goodyer and Brooker and Davenport and Pentecost and others. We also recall Chris Dalwood and Phil Ball, the rival bus proprietors, who were always after each other's scalps on the old run to Sumner before the days of tramcars.

 

Jubal Fleming, who ran the hairdressing shop and hot baths in Colombo Street was the first agent for Tattersall's sweeps before such were declared illegal. And in this connection I am reminded of Le Soeur, who had a fish shop and afterwards a hairdressing business incidental to the "side line" from which his income was chiefly derived, and his friend Martin Taylor, of rotund figure and cherubic countenance and flat-topped "hard hitter."

 

I also visualise J. A. Bird, the insurance agent, with his patriarchal smile and peery twinkling eyes. And Aaron Ayers, the last word in sartorial art, with his perennial button-hole flower, frock coat, and shiny "topper," enthusing over the products of his flower garden and shrubbery.

 

And Hugh Bennetts, the auctioneer, who was an ardent advocate of blue ribbon principles. And Thomas Hill the "vet.," with the curious little hoppy walk, and his fellow animal doctor, Knapman, whose cure-all remedy was Saltpetre and bran mash.

 

And Captain Wilson, the medical Galvanist, whose cottage still stands on Cambridge Terrace West, and whose sons Keith and Vinny were prominent local sports.

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Charlie Woledge, the comic singer, was invari­ably on the concert programme for any benefit concert at the old Oddfellows' Hall in Lichfield Street.

 

And Arthur Beauchamp, the auctioneer, who was a familiar figure in his white bell-topper at his auction rooms next to Edward Reece's hard­ware shop.

 

Henry Leake, who kept the London and Paris china shop next to Turnbull and Hilson's, the chemists, now Cook and Ross, of rotund figure, known to us lads by the cryptic letters "J. B." Leake. Another well known personage was Charles Prince, who had a china and glassware store next to Maurice Harris's clothing shop (later occupied by McWilliam, the tobacconist). Prince called his shop Sydenham House after his home in Colombo Street South, and it was thus that that district received its name. He was an enthusiastic bird fancier and imported many of the first species of exotic fauna to be introduced into New Zealand. I have a vivid recollection of one of my mischievous brothers stuffing two of Prince's prize ducks into a bird cage (our back yard being at right angles to his). My mother's account of Prince trying to extricate the birds from the canary cage beggars description, his final summing up with, "Well, I don't know how the young devil got them in," causing my mother to retire in explosive mirth, to save a dangerous situation.

 

Another business man of the earliest days

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was Tommy Brass, the draper whose hands were deformed from infantile paralysis, which made his gestures remarkably curious.

 

And E. W. Millet (colloquially known as Tom Millet) on the old brake (the only one I ever remember seeing) breaking in young horses for clients of the original Rink Stables - a very hand­some and imposing figure in his Yeomanry Cavalry uniform when on parade. And J. R. Johnston, the grocer of High Street (where Simpson and Williams are today) with his shiny top hat nodding to his gait as he perambulated the distance between his shop and his residence in Hereford Street. And Bill Lodge, the butcher, who erected the concrete and matting cricket practice pavilion next to Collins's hotel, where many a ripping half hour's batting to the trund­ling of Lodge and the professional cricketer, Pocock, was to be obtained at a nominal fee.

 

Another familiar figure was Colborne-Neel with his long shaggy beard and monocle, striding along Montreal Street to his office in the Normal School buildings - truly a picturesque though somewhat unique, personality.

 

Most Christchurch citizens of early days recall, among old timers, Canon Francis Knowles, whose brother was associated with the Canter­bury Association in its initial stages in London. Canon Knowles was a truly saintly man, as many of us of a later generation can testify, but he was as truly a man of God in those infant days of our Lyttelton Settlement, when spiritual encourage­ment and help were so greatly needed and

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appreciated. His name was a household word, and everyone valued his friendship. I should like to place on record a conversation which I had recently with one of the pioneers, who, at my mention of Mr Knowles's naive said, 


"For all the education I have had I am indebted to Mr Knowles. When as a lad with no chance of being able to attend any school, my circumstances and those of several other boys became known to him, Mr Knowles told us that if we would come to his home on Sunday afternoons he would teach us to read and write, etc. We took him at his word, and for several years he redeemed his promise, receiving nothing in return save our gratitude. I have had always a tender spot in my heart for what Mr Knowles taught me, enabling me to make my way in life and enjoy a fair measure of pros­perity in my old age."

 

Judge Johnston was a terror, not only to the transgressors of the law but to those barristers with whose conclusions he did not agree. I have heard Johnston make such pleaders as T. I. Joynt and John Holmes and John Joyce feel very small fry under his scathing comments. There was not very much of him materially, but he made himself severely felt when summing up, and when sentencing transgressors of the law. And he had a woman's heart withal. I shall never forget the scene when a Chatham Island native was tried for murder and found guilty. The prisoner, who had no knowledge of English, had the services of Canon Stack - a Maori scholar of the time to act as translator and interpreter for him.

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The mournful tone of Mr Stack, as, in pro­found silence he communicated the Judge's sen­tence of death to the prisoner was provocative of convulsive sobs from various parts of the chamber, and the tears, coursing down the cheeks of the Realm's representative of justice as he assumed the black cap, was an experience one could never erase from one's memory.

 

Many readers will recall R. W. Fereday, the solicitor, with his black and white check plaid wrapped round him in true Celtic fashion. His Fendalton neighbours will doubtless remember the old man's reception from his parrot, which, on Fereday's opening his garden gate invariably led the bird to exclaim, “Joey, Joey - you devil !"


Mr and Mrs Fereday were ardent archers and the Archery Lawn in the Botanical Gardens always conjures up visions of the Kimballs and Feredays and other enthusiastic members of the Archery Club.

 

We easily remember Robert Sutherland, the grocer next to Beath's, who keenly supported any­thing from "North of the Tweed," and was one of the kindest natured souls in the town. Who, that knew him, does not remember his little idio­syncrasy - how, when anything tickled his fancy he bent forward, and placing his hands between his knees as he, stood, and, releasing the right one from his leg grasp, slapped his knees in gleeful chuckle!

 

And that old patriarchal figure Parkes,

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the medical Galvanist, whose yarns were worth quite as much as his treatment - they were so tall that your ailments were forgotten as you became absorbed in them, told in his own inimitable style, and with every semblance on his part, of their being true to the minutest detail. Parkes's obsession in later life was to construct a pipe organ, and after some years of patient labour he succeeded in completing a very commendable instrument, perfect in its parts, and a credit to its builder.

 

Another popular figure I recall is that of Parson, who was in partnership with Black as shipping agents in Cashel Street. He was the local inventor of "Oxford Bags," and crowned his outfit with a bowler hat which had no rim to speak of, producing a pimple on a pumpkin effect once seen never forgotten!

 

Dr. Patrick of Oxford Terrace was a well known medico of the early days - cadaverous looking, as, absorbed in a treatise on the particu­lar case he was attending he walked to the home of his patient.

 

Charlie Martin with his grey walrus mous­tache and blue serge suit will be remembered by his topical poems and his skill as an amateur actor. Among his compositions that on the sub­ject of the new chum is worth placing on record. Mr Martin's son has supplied me with a small volume of his Father's effusions, and I am incor­porating "The New Chum" in these notes. It ran thus:

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I'm a young man fresh from England,
From Lancashire I came,
I'm a free and easy fellow,
Bill Larkins is my name.
I know my way about a bit,
With both eyes can I see,
I'm a young man fresh from England,
But you don't get over me.
 
I landed first at Lyttelton,
When up comes Mr Hay.
Says he, "My lad, come clear my bush
Just round at Pigeon Bay,
I'll pay you by the hundred feet,"
"How much?" "Ten bob," says he,
Says I, "I'm fresh from England,
But you don't top sawyer me."
 
I climbed the hill, 'twere better far
I'd ta'en a horse to ride
From Bruce's - ere I reached the top
I thought I should have died.
I took a glass at Lumley's place,
Perhaps 'twas two or three,
For I thought I heard the hill exclaim,
"You don't get over me."
 
My luggage went by Sumner Road,
Addressed "B. L.," White Hart.
I saw it safely corded down
In John Smith's two-horse cart.
And when in Christchurch I arrived,
I'll take ten bob,' says he;
Says I, "I'm fresh from Lancashire,
Here's half a crown for thee."
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I went into the billiard room
To pass the time away,
When Thompkins - that's the marker,
Asked me if I could play.
He let me win two half crown games,
"Play for a pound," says he;
Says I, "I'm green from England,
But you don't come over me."
 
I strolled into the British
To get a glass of beer,
For what with dusty roads and all,
I felt uncommon queer.
Says Birdsey, "Lad, what will you have?"
"Mine's brandy hot," says he.
Says I, "I'm fresh from England,
But you don't old soldier me."
 
I wandered up to Government House
My quest some work to find,
When they told me the geologist
Was going gold to find.
"And if prospecting you don't like,
Work on the roads," says he,
Says I, "I'm fresh from England,
So that's infra dig for me."
 
I've told you my adventures
Since first I came ashore,
You'd be as wise as this child is
Were I to tell you more.
But when new chums land in Lyttelton,
Their first idea should be:-
Although I'm green from England,
You don't get over me.