The Early Days Of Canterbury: 13. More Old Identities

CHRISTCHURCH,  2009

139

 

CHAPTER 13

 

 

More Old Identities

 

 

I suppose I have only got to mention Oliver Wansey's name to recall a rather picturesque old gentleman with black stove pipe hat (what a lot of people wore them in those days!) and a heavy grey tweed suit and elastic-side boots, carrying on his land and agency business, and incidentally causing much mirth by his grotesque attempts to lure the citizens into voting for his entry upon municipal politics.

 

And that other political aspirant - Eden George, the photographer, with his lithe figure and perennial smile almost concealing his sportive eyes, approaching the Anglican Cathedral authori­ties with an offer of £1,000 to allow him to adver­tise his business on the slate roof of the Cathedral. George's mind revolved round higher possibilities than poor benighted Christchurch could offer, and he ultimately transferred his blandishments to Sydney, with so successful an issue that he was enabled to shape municipal politics in that city for many years. His wife will be remem­bered as the daughter of Mrs Butler, who kept a millinery shop at the corner of Manchester and High Streets in 1865, and resided next door to Rev. W. J. Habens, near the Christchurch Club in Worcester Street.

 

Another familiar figure was Dunning the Fruiterer, whose first effort was in premises at

140 

the corner of Colombo Street and Cathedral Square, now the premises of Barnett and Co. Dunning later moved to a fruit shop previously owned by Lewis on the present site of Stewart Dawson's Jewellery establishment. Who of us lads of those days does not recall the orange drink drawn from the large glass barrel - the very mention of it makes one's mouth water!

 

Old Dansy Cant, of Riccarton, with his iron grey grizzly beard and fore-and-aft peak hat, with cart specially built for transporting dead animals to his pig farm. And we also recall Peagram the milkman, of Woolston, with his weird cry of "chat - a - cooee" when acquainting his customers with the fact of his presence at their back doors with his milk can.

 

And another familiar old face and figure was that of Rooke, of the "Lyttelton Times" staff, where he was a reader for so many years, always in his seat on Sundays in the transept of St. John's Church, and signifying the fact in a manner which caused explosive mirth to us boys in the choir. His ruddy face and glossy head and beard and his "dot and carry one" walk as he collected the offertory, will be recalled by many of us who are now in the sere and yellow leaf. Those offertory bags were very convenient when actual coin of the realm was scarce, and many a button found its way into the vestry by this medium, with the result that we had to use nails to attach our braces to our trousers. We couldn't use coat buttons because they didn't "ring" as we dropped them in, so our trousers (and our mothers) had

141 

to stand the racket. St. John's choir enables one to visualise figures and faces long forgotten, and we recall Melchor Winter with his sweet tenor voice, easily audible above his fellow choristers, and Rochfort Snow and Alfred Evans and Charlie Morris and Stevens and Jacobs and Waters - all good tenor singers. And those lovely alto voices of McIntosh and Smith adding so materially to the beauty of the rendition of the musical portion of the service. And such bass singers as Jim Knox - a perfect "wind bag" with his curly head and long flowing brown beard, and Jim Anthony and his brother Bill, and Fred Hobbs, and T. M. Gee, and George Cliff - all men for whom we had great admiration on account of the interest they took in their labour of love and service. The boys contemporaneous with these men, amongst whom were Mick Fisher and Fred Lake, and Fred Pollock, and Holly Bruce and his brother Harry and "Madam" Ward, and Jack Costley and George Pengelly and the humble author of these records, all vied with one another as they warbled the psalms and canticles.

 

Many well known citizens were regular in their attendance at divine service at this lovely old Masonic Church, and we recall Sir Cracroft and Lady Wilson, Dr. Deamer, Alick Wilson, Richard Westenra, Andrew Loughrey, William Wilson, Albert Cuff, Charles Wellington Bishop, Thomas Bruce, William Maples, "Alphabetical" Graham (so known colloquially from his parents having burdened him with four Christian names) Noble Campbell, A. G. Hesketh, Henry Thomson, Fred

142

Hobbs, A. G. Howland, Henry Allison, Henry Lake, Major Francis, William Godso, H. R. Webb, Charles Kiver, Theakston, W. H. Hargreaves, and others.

 

And I have only to mention "Flying Peter" to recall to many old-timers that odd specimen of humanity, Grisbrook, who had a grocery store on the corner of Kilmore Street and Cambridge Terrace and later opposite the Junction hotel on the Whately Road. And W. J. G. Bluett, rein­carnates, mentally, the popular auctioneer and erstwhile Anglican parson, with his ferocious countenance and monocled eye; and, Tommy Goodyer, the rotund cabby of the City hotel stand, of such "lower chest" proportions that dame rumour asserted that all his stables staff were requisitioned to solve the difficult problem of hoisting him up into his seat on his cab.

 

And we recall patriarchal old Mountfort, the Cathedral architect with snow white long hair and beard, who when walking gave one the im­pression that he was tallying the number of yards from his home to his office.

 

And that well known and highly-respected fellow townsman, Hebden, of the "Times" Company, who met with an untimely death by being jammed between the bus he was travelling home to Linwood on and the verandah of Mrs Collins's drapery store on the south-eastern corner of East Belt and Cashel Street, the accident being caused by the driver turning round to whip a boy off the back step of the bus.

 

Turton will always be associated with

143 

Ballantyne's delivery cart and the Christchurch Volunteer Fire Brigade, of which he was for many years superintendent in succession to the popular civic figure, William Harris. And every­one recalls old Heyder, the clever locksmith and brass musical instrument repairer, in both of which specialties he had no equal in the town. Many a safe and strong-room door lock succumbed to his wiles, for he was a wizard at such jobs. We envisage him riding in from his home to work on the old draught horse in true German military fashion, never rising to the trot, but bumping roughly over the four mile journey.

 

And the old cobbler, Carey, of Gloucester Street, will be remembered as he sat on his stool, his last between his knees, plying his waxed thread, and so deaf that one had to strain one's vocal chords to maintain any conversation with him.

 

And Neate the grocer, patriarchal looking at fifty, with white heavily bearded face and frock coated suit, always "in the pink" and always "neat."

 

Many old colonists will remember Mrs Chaney, the maternity nurse - a prototype of one of Dickens's mid-Victorian characters, who, when nursing a patient where Dr. Frankish - a shaven faced youthful practitioner - was the medico, replied in answer to some suggested alternative in the method she was pursuing, "Get avay, you beardless boy, vat do you know about it!"

 

And Melville Walker with his black wide-awake felt hat and walrus moustache and monocle,

144 

and his namesake, E. W. Walker with plain bell topper and eternal pipe are at once recalled to memory.

 

And what a picturesque personality was George Wilmer, with his flowing white locks and shaggy beard - the settlement's earliest bard, one of its very first gentlemen jockeys, and a good all-round "sport." Wilmer was a cricket enthusiast to the end of his long life, and was a familiar figure on the Hagley Park grounds, being, in spite of a physical disability, due to an accident, a batsman of more than average ability.

 

My memory reincarnates handsome George Bonnington (1836-1901), with his dundreary whiskers and his merry twinkling eyes, conducting the old-established business in High Street, which his sons have developed into one of the city's chief chemists' and druggists' stores. The sine qua non for a successful chemist in those days was a bald head, a shaven upper lip, and spectacles! I suppose the patriarchal touch inspired one with awe as one dilated to these consulting chemists upon one's "innards," and begot a confidence in the accuracy of their diagnosis not easily realised from a consultation with the common or garden type of practitioner!

 

Another figure I recall - old Flavel, the muffin man, who paraded the streets in the early morning with his green baize covered basket of hot muffins, apprising us of his presence in the neighbourhood by means of a hand bell.

 

And lanky sorrowful - faced Parkerson, the registrar of births, deaths and marriages, with

145 

his puggaree-adorned flat-topped tapered hat - surely everyone who had any registration to make will readily recall him. Those of us who had to face the ordeal of marriage or birth registration will remember his stereotyped "Come in," "shut the door," "sit down," and after several minutes which seemed like hours, occupied in finishing the work he was engaged upon, inquiring what you wanted! Momentous visits, surely!

 

And lots of us have vivid recollections of Bill Savage, "mine host" of the Scotch Stores hotel in High Street, on the present site of Robert Francis Ltd. The "Scotch Stores" was famous for the cold lunch of roast beef, beer and cheese which never varied in quality.

 

Many readers will remember E. T. A. Fuller, who was in the employment of Dalgety and Co., when their offices occupied the present site of Kempthorne, Prosser and Co., in High Street. We cricket enthusiasts recall this pioneer of googly bowlers, puzzling both English and Australian knights of the willow in those notable matches played on the United Cricket Ground in Hagley Park. I have never seen a bowler of the googly type whose action in delivery in any way resembled that of Fuller.

 

Another face presents itself to my mind, namely Alfred White, the stationer whose shop and residence was in the block of buildings in Whately Road, opposite Trent Bros. coffee and spice works. White adopted a half-caste Maori boy named George Freeman to whom he was much attached, but who unfortunately passed away in early adolescence.

146

W. A. Knapman, the grocer, next to Trent Brothers, with his florid countenance and nervous mannerism, and his fulsomely affable assistant, McGregor, will be readily remembered.

 

And to Henry Jekyll, of the Survey Depart­ment, whose beautiful home overlooked the Avon at Avonside, the city is largely indebted for the zeal he displayed in successfully launching the Beautifying Association, of which he was honor­ary curator for many years after his retirement from active business life. Jekyll's office associate, Sheppard, we always identified under the sobriquet of "The Gentle Sheppard" on account of his humble bearing and passive temperament.

 

And we of course remember Ross, of Cook and Ross, the well known firm of chemists - a thin, fragile figure, a good friend, and a worthy citizen.

 

Three railway officials present themselves to my mind - Fred Back and Conyers and Garstin. Back was a capable traffic manager whose value was underestimated by the administrative authorities, whose genius in his line of life was recognised by the Tasmanian Government and his services in the Railway Department secured by Hobart. Conyers met his death by striking an obstacle which protruded too far across the railway track, when leaning out of a carriage window. Garstin's fierce counten­ance concealed a kindly nature and a gentle character.

 

Another face familiar to us all was that of Bain, who for long years kept a toy shop close

147 

to Ben Hale's tent maker's shop in Cashel Street. Bain always appeared an incongruity to me, with his six feet of stature and his fifteen stone of chemical composition, selling stony and glass marbles and tops and squeakers and other unconsidered trifles.

 

Vic Harris, of the Victoria Loan and Discount Office, was a familiar little figure as he trudged along Colombo Street always with his right hand in his hip pocket, and his perennial smile. And who forgets "Tiggy" Trent, with well-seasoned meerschaum pipe, always as fresh as a daisy and revelling in the latest local joke?

 

William Hoskins, the Shakespearean, actor, was here often in those far-off days with his talented wife, Miss Colville - so often indeed, that we looked upon him as a citizen. And thinking of Hoskins, I am reminded of Rev. Charles Penny, of St. Michael's parish, whose Oxford accent greatly amused us lads who were choir boys. Penny had an extraordinarily large mouth and made extended use of it when orating. On the occasion of a benefit entertainment at which Hoskins had promised to help, Mr Penny, who was chairman, in introducing this item in the programme, said: "Mistah Hoskinsah, has consentedah, toah give us a reading from Shakespeareah"!

 

Many old boys will remember James Treadwell, who kept a boys' day school in Lichfield Street, near the present site of Sorensen's yards. His forte was mental arithmetic and spelling.

 

Then there was that genial-faced old baker,

148

Ritchie, with his white beard and shaven upper lip, and Sam Stewart, the pawnbroker of High Street (and later in Lichfield Street at the back of Strange and Co.'s) known to his large clientele as "Uncle Sam." And little Holloway, one of the original employees of the Christchurch Gas Company, with his small water-can with long spout, making his six-weekly inspection of the old type of wet meter, was almost a household word.

 

Sergeant Beck, the erstwhile "Peeler," be­came a coal hawker. His mournful "Coal, coal," was a familiar cry as he stood erect in his cart hawking his coal in the streets. And we all re­member Tovey, the postman, who occupied the brick cottage where the private letter boxes are today, with his peak cap at a very blasé angle and his letter bag slung over his shoulder, making his daily town delivery.

 

Rev. James Buller, of the Wesleyan Church, had his parsonage in the house which stood at the corner of the South and East Belts, now owned by the Tramway Board, and in later years resided opposite the German Church in Worcester Street on the corner afterwards the home of William Pratt. Buller was an outstanding preacher and drew very large congregations to his services at Durham Street Church. Hymn books were so scarce in those days that it was necessary to read each verse before it was sung, and we recall with great pleasure the wonderful organ extem­porisation by that well known and talented organist, Richard Trist Searell, in which he freely

149 

indulged at the end of the singing of each verse, before the minister read the following stanza.

 

And, concluding this chapter, my mind en­visages old Tibbs, the fish hawker. Tibbs was for many years an "institution" in our town and appeared to suffer from a perpetual head cold which made his speech somewhat amusing. On one occasion when offering my mother some fish at our back door, she told him she had no money, and he replied with great emphasis: "Dever bide the buddy bub!" And finally, the sedate old vendor of Winkles whose monotonous "Wink, wink, tiddly wink, wink," was a familiar sound in the summer evenings. Surely these reminiscences cause us to live over again those happy and care­free days of long ago. May we all be "boys" to the end of the last long mile.

 

So mote it be!