Meanderings about Cox’s Creek

Today I was surprised to find out that the source of Cox’s Creek—or Opoututeka (Opou, for short)—is the spring that was tapped by the old DYC vinegar factory behind Allendale House, the ASB Community Trust building on Ponsonby Rd. (It’s now the giant grave of the Soho development.) The area was called Tukitukimuta, “the beating of the flax,” presumably because the spring offered ready water for the preparation of flax. The creek that ran in a crescent down and around to what is now Cox’s Bay in Westmere provided a natural boundary between the territories of the Ngati Riu (based at Te Reho on Waioteao [Motions Creek] and elsewhere) to the west and the Ngati Huarere (based at Okahu [Orakei], Horotiu [Queen St and environs] and Te Tatua [Three Kings]) to the east.

Wonderferret, “Stables,” Flicker (21 Oct 2006) [from where the hole now stands—or doesn’t]

It ran (to anticipate) from Pollen St, down Williamson Ave, through Grey Lynn Park, through some intervening streets and across Richmond Rd near Woolworths, then through Cox’s Creek Reserve into Cox’s Bay in Westmere, as represented in the line that snakes through Grey Lynn Park here.

The Path of Cox’s Creek. Detail of “Street Map of the City and Suburbs of Auckland Compiled from the Latest Information” (Auckland: Upton, 1917), Auckland City Libraries [see Google Maps].

The gentle slopes about the stream were a mahinga kai, a place of seasonal food gathering, and thus a wahi tapu (likewise, from soon after the arrival of the British, John and Jane Cox [!] had market gardens downstream in Richmond on the Bay).

Harold Young, “Grey Lynn Looking Towards Coxs Creek” (16 Apr. 1898), Auckland Art Gallery/Toi o Tamaki.

The area, like the isthmus of Tamaki (Auckland) as a whole, was much contested, from the 1680 incursion by the Ngati Whatua led by Kawharu on. After the withdrawal of Kawharu’s taua, the Waiohua, led by Kiwi Tamaki and based at Maungakiekie (One Tree Hill), settled the abandoned territory—at least until another hapu of Ngati Whatua, the Te Taou, invaded about 1750. The Ngaoho line of Te Taou united Ngati Whatua and Waiohua. Settlement by Ngati Paoa (from the south-east) on the Tamaki and incursions by Ngapuhi (from the north) followed. From 1820, the area was ruled from Mangere by Apihai Te Kawau of Ngaoho. Ngaoho helped Ngati Paoa repulse the Ngapuhi (c. 1821-22), then settled at Te Reho with satellite settlements at Pahurihuri (in Kaipara), Okahu Bay and Horotiu. They were joined by Te Taou and Ngati Tahinga (from the south) by 1824. By 1835 they had gained muskets and a more secure hold on the isthmus, but by 20 March 1840, when the Treaty of Waitangi was signed with the British, they were again under threat and ensconced in two fighting pas at Okahu.

In the wake of the Treaty, Te Kawau lobbied for Tamaki as the new colonial capital. Hobson agreed, the land was gifted to the British as a tuku rangitira [see pp. 3-4] in consideration of the advantages to be gained from commerce, education and health and the protection of all under the law, and the Surveyor-General, Felton Mathew, finalised the site. After a brief negotiation led by the police magistrate Captain Symonds and Te Kawau and others, the British “bought” the isthmus in several blocks, Grey Lynn being part of the first and smallest block of 3,000 acres, the Mataharehare, Opou and [Maunga] Whau block, traded in September 184o for £200, 4 horses, 30 blankets, 10 cloaks, one tent and one sealing box (or, some say, for £200 worth of goods).

From 1841 what we know as Grey Lynn and Westmere were together called Newton District, an area of 900 acres (3.6 km²), being Sections 8 and 9 of the County of Eden. The land was auctioned off from June 1844: most of what is now Grey Lynn was sold to John Kelly, a surveyor, then, soon after, via a land agent, Jean P. Du Moulin, to John Israel Montefiore for about £1000.

Three years later, an area of 314 acres bounded by Surrey Crescent to the west, Richmond Rd to the north, Ponsonby Rd to the east and Great North Road to the south was onsold to James Williamson (1814-88) and Thomas Crummer (c.1814-58). They farmed it as Surrey Hills Estate.

Harold Young, “Surrey Hills Looking Towards Great North Road” (1897), Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki.

In 1883, Williamson and Crummer sold the farm to the Auckland Agricultural Co. Ltd., run by Thomas Russell; he subdivided it into 272 residential lots.

Plan of Surrey Hills, Arch Hill and Eden Terrace, Compiled from Original Plans and Surveys by Boylan and Lundon, District Engineers” (Auckland: Wilson & Horton, 1880), Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki.

In 1868 the Newton District, divided into the Surrey, Sussex (Grey Lynn) and Richmond (Westmere) Wards, had become the Newton Road Board area; in the early 1880s it became the Newton Road District, and in 1885 the borough of Newton. In 1898 it was renamed Grey Lynn, to commemorate its parliamentary representative from 1891-93, Governor George Grey. By 1902 the land had been further subdivided into about 800 rateable properties owned by about 720 ratepayers; the population of the borough was 4100. Most of the houses in Grey Lynn—mainly Californian bay villas and bungalows—were built from the 1880s to the First World War, and have never been replaced, making the suburb reputedly the largest concentration of 19th-century wooden houses in the world.

As it is described in the Cyclopedia of New Zealand (1902), Grey Lynn sounds as bourgeois as it now is (skipping over its working-class heyday in the first half of the twentieth century and the influx and efflux of Pasifika settlers in the second):

It consists of undulating land, and is dotted with large clumps of trees. The average level is considerably higher than that of Auckland city, and it is recognised as a healthy suburb. One of the best views of the beautiful Mount Eden is obtainable from Grey Lynn; to the north, overlooking Ponsonby, the glimmering, placid waters of the Waitemata are seen; and on the south-west, the horizon is formed by the Waitakerei [sic] Ranges, which genially shelter the district from the cold southerly winds. The visitor is struck with the new and neat appearance of the buildings—not an old residence is to be seen, and in every part of the borough building is in full swing. This sign of progress is not to be wondered at, considering that, apart from its other advantages, sections are cheaper there than in any other district adjacent to the city. Yet as the land is being so rapidly taken up the prices of property are continually advancing, and local residents who bought sections a few years ago could now sell them at treble their purchase prices.

In 1914 it was amalgamated with Auckland City.

  • “Grey Lynn,” The Cyclopedia of New Zealand (Christchurch: Cyclopedia Co., 1902) 523-26.
  • Kaaren Hiyama, High Hopes in Hard Times: A History of Grey Lynn and Westmere (Auckland: Media Studies, 1991).
  • Kawaru, Hugh. Land and Identity in Tamaki: A Ngati Whatua Perspective. 2001 Hillary Lecture. Auckland War Memorial Museum Maori Court. Auckland: 2001.
  • E. Earle Vaile, “The Suburbs,” Some Interesting Occurrences in Early Auckland: City and Province, ch. 21 (Christchurch: Whitcombe and Tombs, 1955) 46.