For a century, Newton East thrived as a community of homes, factories, shops, schools, pubs and churches.

Then Auckland's motorways gouged through the central city and by the 1970s, the heart of one of its first suburbs was torn out.

From when the bulldozers churned through people's houses and a former cemetery , the area bounded by Newton Rd, Karangahape Rd and Symonds St began its conversion to being mainly a business locale.

Children's author Lynnie Howcroft is trying to rebuild a collective memory of the historic Newton East, which she describes as a "lost suburb".

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She was inspired to study the area's history after finding 19th and 20th century images of the area shot from high on Karangahape Rd's George Court Building and the top of the former Partington's windmill within the site of today's Cordis hotel at the corner of Karangahape Rd and Symonds St. The pictures by James Richardson and Henry Winkelmann are held in the Auckland Libraries heritage collections.

"The photographers climbed up on the roof lines and you can see Mt Eden and Mt Albert and you can see all the houses in the [Newton] gully.

Newton East from a Karangahape Rd building in 1928 showing Upper Queen St, Newton East School (centre), St Benedicts Church and Symonds St Cemetery. Photo / James Richardson, Auckland Libraries
Newton East from a Karangahape Rd building in 1928 showing Upper Queen St, Newton East School (centre), St Benedicts Church and Symonds St Cemetery. Photo / James Richardson, Auckland Libraries

Howcroft is a co-author of Barkell and Mr Arkell, the story of a fictional dog and his real-life owner, a Newton East brewer who unsuccessfully challenged Dr John Logan Campbell for the Auckland mayoralty in 1901.

She is planning two more children's books and a social history for adult readers about the suburb's killers, businesspeople and other characters.

"It was one of the first suburbs as Auckland grew. It was 1km outside the central area where everyone was buying land to create businesses and buildings. There were small farmlets and they considered it the country."

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Gradually churches were built, farmlets were subdivided in the 1860s and waves of immigrants moved into what was initially called Newtown.

A Karangahape Roads Board was formed and the future Newton East was governed by a Karangahape Ward that joined the Auckland City Council in the early 1880s.

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Howcroft said that by the 1940s and 50s Newton East's housing was becoming old and run-down and the area suffered the same fate as nearby Freemans Bay and Upper Nelson St - parts of it were a slum.

This facilitated sending the motorway through, which by the completion of the central sections in the 1970s had caused the demolition of thousands of houses and the departure of 50,000 residents.

Hugh Hamilton's bloody death

Hugh Hamilton, of Newton East, Auckland, died of a head wound in 1882. His wife and a man were acquitted of his murder. Drawing / The Observer, National Library
Hugh Hamilton, of Newton East, Auckland, died of a head wound in 1882. His wife and a man were acquitted of his murder. Drawing / The Observer, National Library

A tragic Auckland love triangle sent a mother overseas, ended the church hopes of a student, and was alleged to have caused the grisly death of a father of three.

Hugh Hamilton was sober when he came home from a lodge meeting in November 1882 and was bashed in the head with an axe, in a murder pact involving his wife and her intimate man friend.

Alternatively, he had stumbled home drunk from a Karangahape Road pub and he fell, fatally smashing his head on an iron bed frame.

These were the competing arguments a jury had to decide between in an 1883 trial that gripped colonial Auckland.

Hamilton, a 32-year-old employee of a firm of merchants, lived in East St, Newton East, with his wife Marion and their three children.

The central part of East St, along with the heart of East Newton, has long since been obliterated under the concrete, road seal and vehicles of Auckland's motorways. Its Karangahape Rd end, however, remains as a stub of old East St, while near its former Symonds St end lies today's Alex Evans St.

Thomas Priestly was acquitted, with Marion Hamilton, of the 1882 murder of Hugh Hamilton. Drawing / The Observer, National Library
Thomas Priestly was acquitted, with Marion Hamilton, of the 1882 murder of Hugh Hamilton. Drawing / The Observer, National Library

Thomas Priestly, a Presbyterian student of divinity, was a lodger next door to the Hamiltons with Marion's mother's family, the Neilsons.

He was like one of the family, often in the Hamilton's house and was said to be intimate with Marion, sitting on her bed and chatting with her when she was pregnant with her third child. Marion had talked openly with neighbours about wanting to divorce her husband.

According to Marion, who was in bed with her new baby, Hugh came home drunk around 1am on Tuesday, November 27. He stumbled and fell heavily. Her accounts varied and in one version she said he fell twice.

Marion Hamilton was acquitted of the 1882 murder of her husband Hugh in Newton East, Auckland. Drawing / The Observer, National Library
Marion Hamilton was acquitted of the 1882 murder of her husband Hugh in Newton East, Auckland. Drawing / The Observer, National Library

She got him onto a bed and bathed his badly bleeding head wound. He vomited profusely and it smelt strongly of beer. She sought help from her mother's house next door between 4 and 5am and a medical practitioner, Dr Walker, was fetched between 6 and 7am.

A coroner's jury at the York Hotel in East St ruled that Hamilton's death was accidental. He was buried two days after he died.

His friends and pre-marriage family weren't happy, however. Rumours reached the police and on December 30, 1882, Hamilton's body was exhumed for examination by a panel of four doctors, including Walker.

He told the Police Court: "In my opinion the corner of the bed could not possibly have caused the wound. The wound could have been caused by this axe [an exhibit in court] - by the back of the axe, which coincides with the shape of the wound.

"At the post-mortem we applied the axe to the wound and it fitted in exactly."

Although no human blood was found on the axe, there was evidence it had been washed and that Marion Hamilton had covered it up with weeds in the back yard.

Hugh Hamilton had been to an Orange Lodge meeting in Karangahape Rd. Afterwards he went to two pubs - O'Dowds at the corner of Pitt St, and the York Hotel. He drank a shandy and was sober, witnesses said.

Priestly hadn't given an alibi to the police and he lied about where he was staying at the time of Hamilton's injury and death, but there was no evidence he was at Hamilton's house.

Marion Hamilton and Priestly were found not guilty by a Supreme Court jury. Justice Thomas Gillies - a former cabinet minister and former Auckland superintendent - after highlighting to the jury a crucial gap in the Crown's circumstantial case, criticised both defendants, once they had been acquitted, for their "indiscreet familiarity" with each other.

"You," he lectured Hamilton, "a married woman, have brought yourself into this position by your indiscreet familiarity with a single man, and by talking indiscriminately of your family troubles."

Hamilton later departed for Sydney under her maiden name.

Priestly gave up his church ambitions and planned a lecture tour, promising to speak about prison life and details of the case, but he ran into trouble at Onehunga.

An angry crowd, 200 strong, protested, assaulting him on his way to the Masonic Hall, and throwing rotten eggs at his promoter.

In a newspaper interview Priestly denied being "improperly intimate" with Marion Hamilton and suggested that when on her deathbed, she might "confess the dread secret" of how her husband died, if she knew.

The Newton Rd whipping

In 1882 the neighbours of a volatile household in Newton Rd tried to stamp out its domestic violence with some home-grown vigilante justice.

Mr Howie, who was known to have maltreated his wife, came home drunk and bad-tempered once too often, prompting Mrs Howie to summon three women from the neighbourhood.

The posse pounced on Howie, threw him onto his bed and bound him tightly.

One of the women produced a horsewhip and Howie was thrashed.

But the violent lesson seemed to wear off quickly: Howie was arrested and charged for being drunk and disorderly. He was fined 20 shillings (about $176 today) and ordered to pay costs in the Police Court.

The following week, a Robert Howie was back in court to argue - successfully - for the withdrawal of assault charges against two men.

The alleged assaults on Howie had occurred at Newton at around the date of the whipping incident.

Howie's lawyer said the alleged assaults were a private family matter.

The spurned lover who killed a married woman

Gwendoline Johnson was murdered at a house in Randolph St, Newton East, Auckland in June 1931. Photo / Herald, National Library
Gwendoline Johnson was murdered at a house in Randolph St, Newton East, Auckland in June 1931. Photo / Herald, National Library

Gwendoline Alice Johnson was stabbed to death in bed at a boarding house by her jealous lover.

Pahara Rameka Kere, 31, would later claim that the trigger was her slinging a racist slur at him.

Switching from te reo Māori to English for the first time in his Supreme Court testimony, Kere said of Johnson, "... she looked at me and said to me, 'What do you want here, you black n****r?' From that instant I did not know what happened. I just simply went off my head."

Pahara Rameka Kere, also called George Rameka, was convicted of the 1931 murder of Gwendoline Johnson. Photo / Auckland Weekly News, Auckland Libraries
Pahara Rameka Kere, also called George Rameka, was convicted of the 1931 murder of Gwendoline Johnson. Photo / Auckland Weekly News, Auckland Libraries

He had gone to 47 Randolph St at about 8.30 on a Wednesday morning in June 1931. The front door was unlocked and he had gone armed with a knife and a bottle of poison.

Johnson, 40, shared an upstairs bedroom with Queenie Lawrence, a 17-year-old daughter from the first of her two marriages. Johnson's husband was away working on a ship, the Niagara.

Kere took a gulp of poison and entered the room. Queenie, asleep when he came in, was woken by her mother's screams.

Kere said to Johnson, "You'll pay for this Gwen", and stabbed her in the chest. He stabbed and slashed her repeatedly, leaving 13 wounds.

He removed the poison - a bottle of Lysol disinfectant - from his pocket, threw some on Queenie's face, temporarily blinding her, and took a swig.

Johnson said, "Catch him, Queenie, he will hang." Kere briefly struggled with Queenie, stabbing her in an arm, as Johnson, now standing out of bed, said, "It is all right, I am dead", and collapsed to the floor.

Kere leapt to hold the door as someone approached from outside.

It was the woman in charge of the house, Lucy Keesing, who had deduced what the shouting was about. The previous night, she had pushed Kere out of the house when he threatened suicide.

Keesing started smashing through the bedroom door with a flat iron before Kere let it open; she hit him with the implement.

Kere dropped the knife and took off. Keesing flung the flat iron after him but he got away. He raced off down the street, hopped into a waiting taxi and went to an elderly relative's house in Freeman's Bay.

Later he was arrested and taken to Auckland Hospital, where Queenie, too, was a patient.

The Auckland boarding house at 47 Randolph St, Newton East, where Gwendoline Johnson was murdered in June 1931. Photo / Auckland Weekly News, National Library
The Auckland boarding house at 47 Randolph St, Newton East, where Gwendoline Johnson was murdered in June 1931. Photo / Auckland Weekly News, National Library

Kere had met Johnson, Queenie and Queenie's brother Sidney, 18, at a dance in Newton's Orange Hall in April 1931. Johnson was described as "Miss Driscoll", Queenie's "sister". Queenie explained this in court by saying that before ceasing work upon her latest marriage, her mother had found it easier to obtain factory jobs under the name Miss Driscoll.

Kere introduced himself as George Rameka, a stock agent from Tauranga. Other evidence was that he had done relief work on West Auckland roads.

A World War I veteran, he was separated from his wife and had two children.

He went to the races with Queenie, her "sister" Gwen and Keesing and there were numerous other meetings at boarding houses. Kere and Johnson were described by one workmate of his as like man and wife, and by another, who was also a flatmate, as lovers.

After winning £35 (about $3886 today) at the races, Kere lent Johnson £24 ($2665) to pay debts.

During his trial for murder and attempted murder, Kere said they were friendly until they had an argument when he ran out of money to pay for a taxi. Johnson later refused to accompany him when he called round to take her out to Otahuhu.

He was filled with jealousy and anger and this was when he threatened to commit suicide at her lodgings and was thrown out.

There was conflicting evidence on whether Kere was mentally unwell. The jury found him guilty, but pleaded for mercy.

Justice Smith imposed the mandatory death sentence, but he was spared the noose, the Government commuting his sentence to life imprisonment.

An inside job

The Atta Taxi Company's service station in Upper Queen St, Newton East, Auckland, which was robbed by two armed men in August 1938. Photo / Herald, National Library
The Atta Taxi Company's service station in Upper Queen St, Newton East, Auckland, which was robbed by two armed men in August 1938. Photo / Herald, National Library

When the sawn-off, double-barrelled shotgun was pointed at Frank Pickering, he watched it carefully and noticed that it was cocked, ready to shoot him dead.

The man pointing the weapon was wearing a black mask and rubber gloves, as was his accomplice, who was armed with a length of lead pipe.

Pickering was the attendant at the Atta Taxi Company in Auckland's Upper Queen St. Alone in the building at 3.45 on an August Monday morning in 1938, he had been passing the night by reading when he heard a knock at the door.

"Thinking it was one of the boys wanting some benzine [fuel] I pulled back the bolt on the door and opened it."

The armed men backed him, hands in the air, into the office. One found the key, hidden in the cash register, for the small iron safe.

Unlocking the safe, they snatched more than £226 (worth around $23,500 today), stuffed it into a sugar sack, and sprinted off up Upper Queen St, passed a milkman, and disappeared towards St Benedicts St.

Frank Pickering, night attendant at a taxi service station in Upper Queen St, Newton East, Auckland, was held up by two armed men in August 1938. Photo / Herald, National Library
Frank Pickering, night attendant at a taxi service station in Upper Queen St, Newton East, Auckland, was held up by two armed men in August 1938. Photo / Herald, National Library

It was an inside job.

The gunman was Arthur Vincent Stickings, 30, a former Atta driver who at the time of the hold-up was a out-of-work seaman. The lead-pipe man was Harold Last Gray, 49, an unemployed ship's stoker. Both had turned to heavy drinking by the time Stickings cooked up the plan.

He was desperate; his money had ran out. He remembered Atta's lax security from his time as a driver and thought how easy it would be to rob the place and make a fresh start overseas.

There was no intention to harm anyone, it would be claimed at their trial. The weapons were purely for intimidation.

A rented car was waiting for them after the robbery and they fled to the countryside. They divided the money equally, drove back to the city at about 6.30am, put the gun, masks, gloves, lead pipe, and leather bag and cheques from the safe into the sugar sack, and tossed it from the Mangere Bridge into the Manukau Harbour.

A taxi took them and a woman to Pukekohe, where they boarded a train to Wellington.

Gray - who later said he hadn't seen Stickings with any shotgun cartridges - caught a ferry to Lyttelton. Stickings went to Sydney.

Both were arrested within eight days and Stickings was extradited back to Auckland.

The pair pleaded guilty to armed robbery and were sentenced to prison with hard labour, Stickings for four years, Gray for three.