Chinese in Hataitai

Moxham Avenue about 1910, looking up towards Overton Tce. Goa Street on right. The west side of Moxham Ave opposite the school is laid out in vegetable gardens. The dark line crossing the gardens is the Waipapa Stream. There were more gardens further along to the right of the picture.

There have been Chinese people living and working in Hataitai since the early days of the community. One of their first enterprises was market gardens along Moxham Avenue.

An early mention of gardeners comes from November 1881, when the Gaming and Lotteries Act was brought into law. Within a few days of the Act coming into force the police raided Ah Lung’s house in Taranaki Street where a group of Chinese market gardeners were playing Fan Tan. Messrs Ah Lung, Ah Hing, Ah Tee and Ah San were fined £5 each. After an Evening Post editorial condemned the police raids, a woman wrote to the paper:

Sir-All rightminded people must feel grateful for the way in which you have vindicated the cause of the poor helpless Chinamen. Will you permit me to tell you the debt of gratitude which I owe to one of them who resides at Kilbirnie. My husband has been unable to obtain work for a very long time, and this good Chinaman has sent my children many a basket of vegetables during that time, and this is his reward – to be handcuffed, taken to prison like a criminal, fined £5 and costs. Not saved indeed from the cruelty of British subjects: but never mind, good Chinaman, you shall have your reward. My children were hungry, and you fed them.

(EP 21 - 23 Nov 1881, 19 Dec 1881)

CW Taylor recalled in his memoirs an incident which would have happened around 1905:

One of the gardens was right opposite the school, laid out in neat beds of vegetables and watered by the Waipapa stream that ran through them. Charlie and his friends used to go and help in the gardens. They would get the young carrots that were weeded out, or help pick the young peas and be given some to eat. Although Charlie was friendly with the Chinese, some of the “hard-case” boys would cheek them and then run away. The boys often played after school in an abandoned house on the edge of the gardens. One day the boys that used to annoy the Chinese came running through the long grass and into the house calling out to Charlie and his friends to hide as the “chinks” were after them. They looked and saw the oldest Chinese man with a long knife they used for cutting vegetables coming towards the house.

We were frightened, but the other boys crawled through a hole in the floor and hid under the house where they couldn’t be seen, as it was dark there. The Chinaman came in looking for them, but we said we didn’t know where they were.[…]He hunted around, but finally went away to our great relief, as we thought he might hurt us with the knife, but he was a kindly old man, a great big man with a pigtail. All the Chinese wore them in those days and I think he just meant to frighten them. But it put a stop to the teasing that went on.

(C. W. Taylor, Tales of old Kilbirnie)

Taylor also says that around this time a Chinese man known as Charley Wong Fong came over the hill from Newtown twice a week to sell fruit and vegetables. He had a pole over his shoulder with a large basket of produce on each end, which he sold before returning home. Charley was well known and respected in the neighbourhood.

The Government was worried about foreigners in New Zealand during World War 1 and in 1917 compiled a Register of Aliens. The following Chinese men resident in Hataitai appeared on that list. Although some of them had been in New Zealand a long time, it was not possible for Chinese to become naturalised New Zealanders and so they were considered aliens.

Register of aliens

By the 1920s there were several fruit and vegetable shops operated by Chinese. These included Joe Say in Waitoa Road, Qung Kee in Moxham Avenue and Hataitai Road and the Ngans at 6 Moxham Avenue who used part of their premises as a laundry depot for collars. In July 1920 Ngan Teen and Ngan King (aged 14 and 12) started at Kilbirnie School. Their parent or guardian was Ngan Fen of 6 Moxham Ave and their previous school was noted as "China".

In 1922 the Hataitai Municipal Electors’ Association wrote to the council asking that it do a surprise night inspection of Qung Kee in Hataitai Road, stating “residents have noted with apprehension the large number of Chinese, who are housed in these fruit shops, which suggests a total disregard of city bylaws regarding air space, etc.” The Council inspected various premises and found no major problems. They did advise Mr Ngan Gin on the corner of Moxham Ave and Waitoa Road that he might not use a shed at the rear of his premises as a dwelling house. The property owner was Mr Warden, a grocer in Courtenay Place who leased the Hataitai shop to Ngan Gin. Mr Warden wrote to the Council saying that Mr Ngan had used the shed as a dwelling without his knowledge. He went on in Mr Ngan’s support: “he tells me that he has a place to live in at the gardens down the road, by which I assume he means the Chinaman’s gardens Moxham Avenue. In all other respects he is a law-abiding Chinaman and is clean and causes no annoyance to anybody.”

1929: View from the hill looking down to All Saints church and Moxham Avenue. Beyond the church are market gardens, with glasshouses to the left of the church spire. This was the site of Ting's garden and seed raising business, and later the Latter Day Saints church was built on the site.