Freemans Bay was an Auckland slum, an inner-city address of infamy that authorities feared was a home to sickness, crime and unrest.

You wouldn't know it today, however, when little timber cottages in Ireland St carry valuation tags of more than $1.4 million.

But in 1946, the Herald described Freemans Bay as a rat-infested, overcrowded, unsanitary slum that endangered the health of Aucklanders.

The tone had been set by 1900, according to the social history Urban Village: "This was where the 'dangerous' classes of unskilled, often unemployed labourers indulged in urban evils such as prostitution, gambling and the demon drink."

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"... the lower reaches of industrial Freemans Bay embodied all the worst elements of the colonial dream gone wrong," wrote the book's authors, Jenny Carlyon and Diana Morrow.

By mid-century, mostly small, dilapidated homes shared much of the area with industrial operations such as the gasworks and the city's rubbish incinerator.

The Herald is running a five-day series, "The Slum Killings", on five murders and one manslaughter from the 1940s to the mid-1950s connected to inner Auckland, mainly Freemans Bay.

Read more:
Auckland bride Mary Eileen Jones was killed by 'British secret service' fraudster
Aucklander who killed for love sentenced to life for manslaughter
Aucklander Lee Hoy Chong killed for $200 and a packet of opium
Jury urged mercy after mum convicted of killing sons
The killings in Auckland's Queen St that fuelled a moral panic


The Auckland City Council was so concerned by Freemans Bay, a locality that originally extended up to Hobson St, that in 1951 it declared 137ha of the suburb would be felled in a slum-clearance plan.

Most of the area would become flats and terraced housing with green space in between. The rest, on the slopes below Nelson St, was slated for industry.

Building motorways was on the minds of authorities too. The Auckland Harbour Bridge was opened in 1959 and the southern and northwestern motorways were inching towards the central city. Spaghetti Junction was designed in the 1960s and the Nelson St and Hobson St ramps were connected to the motorway system in 1973.

Nelson St lost its southern end as the motorway churned through, dividing the old Freemans Bay and eradicating parts of residential areas.

The slum clearance was total on the city side of Union St, where commercial buildings and the City Works Depot - now portrayed as "industrial and chic" - were built.

But on the other side of Union St, progress was slow in building the new housing. The council cut back the slum-clearance scheme and in 1973 abandoned it - paving the way for renovation and climbing property values as city-living gained new popularity.

From the late 1940s, after World War II, prosperity, the baby boom and the quarter-acre dream drew people to suburbs further out and the inner-city attracted first urbanising Maori seeking work, then Pacific Islands immigrants.

The population of the CBD and inner ring of suburbs reached 68,000 in 1945, but crashed to about 35,000 by 1981, before climbing back and over the 100,000 mark by this year.

The CBD fell from about 10,000 in 1945 to fewer than 2000 in 1991 and now with the apartment-building boom has more than 44,000 residents. Freemans Bay fell from about 10,000 to below 4000 and is now about 4400.

The series
• Govind Ranchhod, April 1949
• Lee Hoy Chong, May 1950
• Stephen and Peter Wingrove, December 1949
• Eileen Jones, July 1942
• Alan Jacques, July 1955, Sharon Skiffington, March 1955