Digging for treasure in the photo archivesFebruary 26th, 2016
When I was growing up two photographs of Pitcairn Island adorned the walls in the sunroom of my grandfather’s house. One image showed the Hare family posing with a group of Pitcairn Islanders. The other showed a longboat being pulled ashore by men and women.
Hauling out a Pitcairn longboat in Bounty Bay.
The photographs were taken in 1928 by my grandfather, Luther Hare. A wooden box of glass plate negatives taken at Pitcairn Island were kept in his garage, together with others he took in Collingwood while gold mining and in Napier after the 1931 earthquake. My mother, Margaret, donated the negatives to the Alexander Turnbull Library (PA-Group-00272). Like much of the collections, they have not yet been digitised, so finding these treasures takes a bit of ‘digging’.
Luther (at front) with Pitcairn men.
The Pitcairn connection
Why was he there, taking photographs on Pitcairn Island? The Hare family’s connection with Pitcairn Island began with their early association with the Seventh Day Adventist Church. In 1885 my grandfather’s grandfather, Edward Hare, of Auckland, became the first New Zealander to convert to Seventh Day Adventism. His extended family in Kaeo quickly converted to the new faith. The following year, a missionary from the USA also converted the population of Pitcairn Island to Adventism.
In June 1892, Edward Hare’s 16 year old son, Arnold, sailed from Auckland on the newly refitted Adventist mission brigantine Pitcairn. The Auckland Star lists Arnold as one of the passengers in its report of the Pitcairn’s departure. He endured a stormy 37 day journey to Pitcairn Island, arriving on 27 July. From there they carried on to Tahiti and reached their destination, San Francisco, in October 1892.
The reason for Arnold’s journey was to take up a place as a medical student at the Adventist medical college at Battle Creek, Michigan. Maui Pomare was one of his classmates. Sadly, an escapade in the snow while recovering from measles led to a serious illness which damaged his kidneys and forced him to return home to Auckland. Using the Archives New Zealand, Passenger Lists, 1839-1973 database I found that Arnold left San Francisco in May 1895 on the Royal Mail steamer Mariposa. The Mariposa called at Honolulu and Apia before arriving in Auckland on 19 June 1895.
Having abandoned his dream of becoming a doctor, Arnold instead became an electrical engineer and inventor. He manufactured and sold bicycles, including the first safety bicycles in New Zealand, from a shop at 95 Karangahape Road. A search of Papers Past shows that he advertised regularly in the Auckland Star in 1898, as seen in this example. He patented some designs and won five gold medals at the Auckland Industrial, Agricultural and Mining Exhibition 1898-1899 for exhibits of electrical apparatus made by him.
Arnold was also a talented artist. In 1891, aged fifteen, he won a gold medal for a charcoal drawing at the Auckland Society of Arts Annual Exhibition. It took some time to find evidence of this, with the newspapers misnaming him ‘Arundel’ and ‘Oswald’. He studied painting under Louis John Steele, Charles Frederick Goldie's tutor, and consistently gained higher marks than Goldie.
Arnold married Helen Coppell in 1903 and their first child, Luther Sing Hare, my grandfather, was born two years later in Auckland.
Desperation, bankruptcy and blackmail
Ill-health prevented Arnold from working regularly and, soon after marrying, he became bankrupt. Bankruptcy notices for Arnold, dated 11 April 1907 and 15 January 1909, were published in the New Zealand gazette.
In 1909 he found a potentially damaging letter belonging to a well-known firm and, in desperation, resorted to blackmail. He was charged and found guilty of blackmail and, in June 1910, was sentenced to twelve months imprisonment with hard labour. I have Papers Past to thank for this revelation; bankruptcy and blackmail are not things that people usually choose to record about themselves and discovering these secrets is part of what makes family history research so addictive.
Arnold opened a shooting gallery and for a few years the growing family travelled through New Zealand. (Luther would later become a New Zealand champion and world record holder in small-bore rifle shooting.) It was probably during this period that Arnold learned the ancient art of sword swallowing. The family stayed no more than a few months at various towns, including Whangarei (1912-1913), Gisborne (1913), Dannevirke (1914) and Timaru (1914).
Restoring health, wealth and reputation
In 1916 Arnold finally had an operation to remove three jagged kidney stones, two as large as bird’s eggs. He carried the stones in his pocket for many years afterward. Arnold’s health and earning potential greatly improved from this point. By this time they were in Kaiti, Gisborne, again, where Arnold and a business partner ran a motor garage for a couple of years.
In November 1917, the Evening Post reported that “the gratifying announcement was made in the Auckland Bankruptcy Court on Tuesday that, since his bankruptcy, 13 years ago, Arnold Hare, engineer, the debtor, had paid his creditors 20s in the pound out of his own earnings. Mr. Justice Cooper observed that it was refreshing to find a bankrupt behave as the debtor had done. To say the least, it was a tribute to his honesty. Hare’s discharge was granted.”
Having found a poem of Arnold’s, published in the Free Lance of 5 September 1914, I wondered if Arnold did not go to war because he was a conscientious objector. I looked at the New Zealand Army WWI Reserve Rolls, 1916-1917 on Ancestry Library Edition and found that he was conscripted into the Second Division of the Reserve. He had an ‘F’ classification because he had five children; Luther, Douglas, Raymond, Robin and Nellie, so the nature and strength of his convictions were never tested. A sixth child, Rene, would be born in 1922.
A quarrel between Arnold and his business partner saw the family leave Gisborne in 1918 and head back up the East Coast, first to Waipiro Bay, then Tokomaru Bay and on to Ruatoria where Arnold opened another garage. Eventually, bad debts and lack of business caused the family to leave the Coast for good and move to Wellington, where Arnold took a position as garage foreman for Munt, Cottrell and Co, the city's largest carrying firm.
They finally settled in Lower Hutt where, in 1924, they built three motorbuses in their back yard. With their ‘Red and White’ buses Arnold and his sons ran a Lower Hutt - Petone - Wellington bus service. The following year the Hares teamed up with the other three bus operators to form the Hutt Combined Service. It was a hugely profitable venture and a turning point in their lives. They were so successful that, in 1927, the New Zealand Government forced the bus owners to sell their businesses to them.
The buses the Hares built and operated from 1924 to 1927. L-R: Ray, Nellie, Rene, Arnold and Luther.
Holiday on Pitcairn Island
Arnold’s brief visit to Pitcairn Island in his youth had impressed strongly upon his imagination and he had always wanted to go back. So, with his bus business sold, he decided to take his family to Pitcairn for a three month holiday. They placed an advertisement in the Evening Post asking for donations of clothing, books, etc., to take to the Islanders.
View of Pitcairn.
Rock drawings that pre-date the Bounty’s mutineers arrival on Pitcairn Island.
The Hare family sailed on the Ruahine in early July 1928 and arrived off Pitcairn Island on a dark, windy night, after nine days at sea. It took five hours for the longboats to carry the family and the many presents they had brought through the rough sea to the safety of land. Among the presents they brought were the Island’s first piano, stationary benzine engine, honey bees, New Zealand flax plants, Norfolk pines, and grapefruit. Arnold’s uncle, Robert Hare, had served as a Seventh Day Adventist minister on Pitcairn in 1924 and the Islanders welcomed the family warmly.
View of Bounty Bay with Adam's rock in the distance.
Houses on Pitcairn.
Arnold and his sons attached a gasoline-powered bus engine they had brought with them to a longboat. About 350 gallons of aviation spirit had been left on the Island for a proposed round-the-world flight by famous Italian aviator Francesco de Pinedo: Arnold bought the fuel for use in the boat. Having a motorboat meant that the Islanders could intercept passing ships for trade. They named the boat the Helen Hare and, on 24 August 1928, celebrated by taking 58 people on a cruise around the island.
The motorised Helen Hare
Luther used another motor to make the Island’s first wireless transmitter which enabled the Islanders to send signals to ships up to 150 miles away. On 27 August Arnold completed Pitcairn’s first business deal with New Zealand by radio. His message, agreeing to a land sale on Pitcairn on behalf of the owner, was sent by radio and “passed from ship to ship - to the City of Batavia, to the Coptic and the Rotorua, to Auckland, and finally to Wellington”.
While on Pitcairn, Luther, taught at the local school.
Luther leading an exercise class on Pitcairn Island.
Pitcairn Island School 1928.
Although it was his connection with the Seventh Day Adventist Church that had originally brought him to Pitcairn, Arnold, his wife and children were not Adventists. The Islanders, however, were dedicated Church goers and these photographs show them wearing their Saturday best.
In Church, Nellie Hare 2nd from right.
Photograph probably taken in the Saturday school class.
In their Saturday best.
On his return to New Zealand Arnold gave a talk called ‘Lovely, lonely Pitcairn’ on Wellington’s 2YA radio. In an article published in the New Zealand Herald on 15 Oct 1928, Arnold stated his intention to return to Pitcairn Island in a few months. They planned to stay a couple of years or “until we get tired of the life”, with Luther and one of his brothers employed as schoolteachers.
Coutts Bros and Hare
The family never returned to Pitcairn Island. Instead they tapped into the property market, buying houses and converting them into flats. You can see advertisements for the flats in the Evening Post . Then, in February 1929, they bought the business of Messrs. Coutts Bros Ltd and formed the carrying company Coutts Bros and Hare Ltd. The business survived the Depression (though in three difficult months their 19 trucks were reduced to three). They later bought out the firm of Fitzgerald and Pearce, with premises at 197 Willis St, Wellington.
The Cocos gold and the family’s own Pitcairn
It was not long before the family was again planning an adventure on the high seas. In the early twentieth century various expeditions had attempted to locate the vast treasure that legend asserted pirates had buried on Cocos Island, off Costa Rica. When, in March 1934, a Mr McVicar claimed to have learned the location of the treasure from a fellow prisoner during a term in Costa Rican prison, the Hare family planned an expedition to find it.
In August 1934 newspapers were reporting that the Hare family would build a 40ft auxiliary ketch, ship it by ocean liner to waters close by Cocos Island, and sail the ketch from there. They planned to enlist two Pitcairn Islanders to help sail the boat. Walter Nash, Finance Minister (and, later, Prime Minister), a close friend of Arnold’s, was asked to go with them. Funding for the venture had already been obtained and in 1935 the Hares built the boat at their Aro St business premises. They named her the Pitcairn.
Perhaps they discovered that McVicar’s story was untrue. Arnold died in 1938: perhaps his health deteriorated before the venture could get underway. Perhaps the family business kept them all far too busy. In 1936, the Labour Government made changes to the licensing of the carrying industry and fixed rates, and from then on Coutts Bros and Hare flourished.
Whatever the reason, the Pitcairn did not sail to Cocos Island. Using Watt’s Index to the N.Z. section of the Register of all British ships, 1840-1950, I found that my grandfather’s brother Ray registered the Pitcairn in 1938. He owned her for many years but, as far as I know, she never left New Zealand waters.
Luther on board the Pitcairn
Gifts to, and from, Pitcairn Island
The Hare family maintained their friendship with the Pitcairn Islanders for many years. Mum can recall the gifts the Pitcairn Islanders sent them when she was a child. The presents included handcrafted bamboo back scratchers and oranges - carefully wrapped in the sheet music that the Hares had sent them to use on their piano!
I'll leave you with a selection of Luther's photographs. He took many pictures of the Pitcairn Islanders; some are formal portraits and others show them going about their everyday life. Members of the Hare family appear in some of the photographs but the Islanders remain unidentified. My hope is that their descendants will recognise them and contact the Library so that their names can be recorded for future generations.
From left: Thursday Moses Skelly Warren holding two of his grandchildren (the youngest being Merle), Miriam Warren, Roberta Young.
Fred and Maimi Christian.
Sidney ‘Chips’ Christian and Ethel Christian.
A feast on the Island.
From left are Ray Young, Ken Warren, Chester Young, Douglas Hare, Sterling Warren, Raymond Hare, and Andy Warren.
Horse working at the mill.
Teaser image: Thursday Moses Skelly Warren's grandchildren (the youngest being Merle) and Miriam Warren.