Toomath’s Buildings

Toomath’s Buildings

We are very sorry to see that the Toomath’s Buildings at 43-47 Ghuznee Street will now be demolished after the recent fire there. The classical Edwardian building was built in 1900 by the estate of Edward Toomath, a well-respected early settler regarded for his contribution to education.

Toomath’s Buildings prior to the fire
March 1992. Located at 43-47 Ghuznee Street, Te Aro. Visible businesses include River Rats Rafting Company, Yuyi Restaurant and Speed Equipment. Copyright Attribution: Wellington City Council, photographer Neil Price. Wellington City Council Archives, 00540-10-33

Here are some stories of the early tenants of this building:

Shop 43: Joseph McCabe – hairdresser and occupier 1915 – 1935

Joseph was a long-term tenant of this shop. In 1926 he suffered a break in when he discovered his till lying empty on the floor. Cigarettes, safety razor blades, other goods and cash were taken. Albert Duncan, a painter and James Frost, a barman were convicted.

In 1932, Joseph was fined £20 for using his hairdressing shop as a betting premises. Undeterred, he was fined again in 1935, this time £50 for ‘keeping premises as a common gaming house’. At the same time, Frederick Harding (a watchman) was fined £1 for having been on Joseph’s premises. He had been collecting a dividend. ‘I’m afraid this is going to cost you your winnings’ said the magistrate. Joseph died in 1940, age 74. His wife Elizabeth died in 1953. They are buried in plot Public 3/F/203.

McCabe Plot

Shop 45: Bitossi & Co – piano tuner and occupier 1925

Pilade (Peter) Bitossi was likely born in New Zealand but it is unclear whether his father is his mother’s first husband Giulio Orlandi, or second husband Antonio Bitossi. Shortly before Antonio’s death in 1929, he registered the births of all of his adult children and Pilade was not among them.

He was born in 1880 and by the ag of 17 was working as a hawker selling merchandise for his parents. It was at that time he got into some strife breaking the shop windows of Mr Carolin in Dunedin. This was in response to Mr Carolin not paying for an ornament he had purchased from Pilade. The judge felt that Pilade had suffered somewhat from spending 48 hours in a cell. He was convicted and discharged and had to pay 15s for the replacement windows.

By 1900 he was in the employ Edward Falkner who in 1909 charged with eighteen fraudulent dealings in pianos. In 1906 he married Blanche Hargood and they had four children.

He is buried in Ch Eng 2/E/242 with his wife and infant son who died in 1919.

Pilade Bitossi Plot

Shop 45: Joseph Devlin – grocer and occupier 1908-1916

Joseph was born in Arboe, County Tyrone, Ireland and came to Wellington in 1880. His obituary said that he was ‘one of those who saw Wellington grow from practically a township and he had many interesting reminisces of the old days in this city’.

He was a long-time trader at 30 Cuba Street but in 1908 his premises were put up for sale for removal by R Hannah and so he moved to Ghuznee Street.

In 1910 he appeared to be missing a boy:

‘Wandered from 47 Ghuznee Street, Boy aged 5, blue jersey, blue pants, tan socks and black boots. Would any person knowing of the same please communicate with J Devlin, grocer’. There were no further updates printed, so it is presumed the boy was found.

He died in 1937 aged 84. He is buried in plot ROM CATH/P/3 with his wife Bridget (nee Dalton) who died in 1943.

Joseph Devlin plot

George Hutton Poynter

‘he was of a lovable disposition and widely respected’.

Recently one of George’s descendants, Carol Bennett, contacted us seeking information on his grave. She has kindly shared this photo of the family to accompany his story:

George was born in 1835 in Newport Pagnell, Buckinghamshire. Growing up, his whole family were engaged in the business of shoemaking. A widower at age 23, he married as his second wife Fergus [Ellen] O’Connor Love in 1859. She was the daughter of a fellow cordwainer (shoemaker).

In later years George proudly recounted that he took part in the 1866 Hyde Park demonstration and other social and political reform movements of the era. By 1871 the family had grown to include children Lucy, George and Thomas and they were living in Northampton. At that point was George recorded on the census as being deaf.

The family came to New Zealand in 1873 where sons Harry and William were born. William died at 5 days old.  George set up shop on Tinakori Road on the corner with St Mary Street and lived in Thorndon the rest of his life.

In 1883 Mr Milner Stephen ‘a gentleman possessed of marvellous power of curing all diseases’ visited Wellington and performed at the Athenaeum Hall. He asked all those in pain to come forward, but to keep a distance of at least 14 feet otherwise his power became disseminated! George was his 11th patient, having been ‘quite deaf for 20 years’. After breathing in to George’s ears, Milner said there appeared to be little improvement. ‘The power however had gone in, and further improvement would follow’. None has been recorded.

In 1885 George exhibited at the Industrial Exhibition:

‘Mr G H Poynter, Tinakori Road, Wellington has a very neat case of shoes and boots, the work in which appears to be a very superior kind.’

In the same year he applied for a patent for ‘an improved lawn tennis and cricket shoe’.

In 1886, the following was published in Lloyd’s Weekly’s long lost relatives column:

‘George Poynter with his wife and three children, left Northampton and sailed for Wellington, New Zealand some years ago. He was last known to be living at Tenigora Road. His father, 85 years old, would like to hear from him or his grand children’.

He then went into business with his son Thomas, the sign over the door then read ‘G H Poynter & Son’.

Ellen died in 1901 at 152 Tinakori Road after a painfull illness. His daughter Lucy (married to Edward Barnett) died in 1903. Edward is buried with their infant son at Bolton Street.

George Hutton Poynter died in 1905.

Ellen, Lucy and George are all buried in Public/Q/8.

By Julia Kennedy

Poynter family. Photo supplied.
George Hutton’s shop. Photo supplied.

Military Graves

To remember Armistice Day, we are sharing this photo of the Girls’ Club of the Women’s National Reserve, who as the caption describes, have not allowed a week to pass without placing flowers on the soldiers graves.

This photo was published in 1922 in the Auckland Weekly News.

It was in 1919 that the Girls’ Club first pledged to ensure that flowers were placed every Saturday on the graves at Karori in the newly formed Services Area. Donations of flowers were frequently requested.

‘It is the more creditable because all the girls are at work during the week, and to give up their Saturday half holiday must very often be real self-sacrifice. It is to be hoped that people with gardens will take note and that the girls will never lack the necessary flowers’.

In 1921, the flowers decorating the RSA hall for a ball, on the corner of Featherston and Brandon Streets, were gifted to the girls for use at the cemetery. Later the same year, they fundraised to purchase uniform green vases to attach to the graves as the wind was proving troublesome to keep the flowers on the graves.

In 1923 the club asked the public to help transport the wreaths left at the cenotaph out to Karori, explaining that if the girls took them by tram they would not be back in time for the afternoon service.

Winter made it hard to procure flowers and a 1926 newspaper article requested that those with anything spare in their gardens to leave flowers with a Karori tramway conductor who will leave them at the Karori depot.

Reports of the Girls’ Club maintaining the graves weekly, and then at holidays, continued up until ANZAC Day 1930.

If you want to read more about the sundial pictured in the background, please visit the story of Mathew & Elsie Holmes on our website:

Members of the Girls’ Club of the Women’s National Reserve, who have never allowed a week to go by without placing flowers on the graves. Courtesy of Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections AWNS-19220504-41-06

William Fielding

“one of those steady but undramatic designers who never sought, nor was subject to, the limelight.”

William was born in Lancashire and undertook his architectural training in Manchester. He came to New Zealand with his wife Lily (nee Midgley) in 1908 and set up his own practice in Wellington the following year. He designed nearly 300 buildings. Some of his most notable are:

Capitol Theatre, Miramar (now known as the Roxy theatre)

Congregational Church, Cambridge Terrace

Wellington Trades Hall, Vivian Street

Ward Memorial Methodist Church and Hall, Northland (now known as St Anne’s church)

William was also the architect of the Evening Post building on Willis Street. It was constructed in 1928 in the Chicago style.

‘The lower stories will be faced with polished granite in delicate tints of vitreous glazed terracotta. The construction will be steel framed and reinforced concrete, so that the premises will be both fire and earthquake resisting ….. Lavatories and strongrooms are to be provided on each floor’.

(the tiles have subsequently been painted over)

In the infancy of radio, the ‘Evening Post’ displayed the election results on its building. In anticipation of the 1935 election results, the newspaper reads ‘In addition to posting up of returns, results will be announced as they come to hand through a public address loud speaker system, installed for the occasion so that those on the fringe of the crowd unable to view the entire board will be at no disadvantage’.

William was elected a Fellow of the New Zealand Institute of Architects in 1915. He served as chairman of the Wellington branch of the New Zealand Institute of Architects. He was also a member of the Hataitai Bowling Club and represented New Zealand at the 1930 British Empire Games in Toronto.

William died in 1946, aged 70. His funeral service was held at the Congregational Church he designed. Also in this plot is his wife Lily who died in 1951. And his mother Mary (nee Turnbull) who was the first interment in 1916.

Plot: Public/M/228

You can read more about the Evening Post editor of the time, Joseph Parker and the Evening Post founder on our website.


By Julia Kennedy

Bowling Team, William Fielding is on the right hand side. Evening Post 2 July 1930
Election night crowds outside the Evening Post building, Willis Street, Wellington. Crown Studios Ltd :Negatives and prints. Ref: 1/1-032710-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/22640077
Fielding plot courtesy of FindaGrave

John Andrew Chapman

‘he was a young New Zealander – tall, handsome, kindly, chivalrous, with some of the old world culture as an added grace – a man of whom all men spoke well and whom all men liked’.

John was the second son of Rev John Chapman Andrew of Ica Station, Wairarapa. His mother was Emma Fendall and the Christchurch suburb of Fendalton is named for her brother’s landholding there.

On 7 April 1904, Inspector Ellison received a cable from a constable at Martinborough to say that John Andrew was lost in the bush. He had been on his first deer stalking mission over Easter with friends James Wilson and W.E. Hughes on the Whatarangi Station.

They had set up camp 25 miles southeast of Martinborough. On the Tuesday morning John left camp on a solitary stalk saying that if he was not back by nightfall, they shouldn’t worry as he may camp out overnight. It had been arranged between the party that if any one of them ‘got bushed’, the signal to be used was five shots from a rifle. Recent visitors to the station reported thick fog in the area which may have accounted for the delay in his return.

The Premier, Mr Seddon, on his arrival in Featherston for a holiday requested that a selected detachment of artillerymen skilled in bushwork be sent from Wellington to assist with the search. By the 11th April it was estimated that over 100 men were involved in the search and were being paid 10 shillings per day. A substantial reward of £400 was also offered.

On 12th April the sad news reached Wellington that John’s body had been found by Frederick Steffin, a member of another hunting group. For three days Steffin’s party had heard shots in the Ruakokoputuna district in response to their firing but attached no importance to them until they arrived in Martinborough and heard of the missing man. Steffin and his friend Jack Ross went back to where they had heard the shots the previous week. They found John’s body with a rifle and empty cartridges were lying next to it. All of the ammunition had been used.

An inquest was held in Martinborough. Dr Andrew, brother of John, examined the body and determined he had died several days earlier. His opinion was that John had died due to exposure to damp and cold.

John was born in Wellington and attended Nelson College where his father was headmaster. He attained a BA at Oxford University and on his return to Wellington was admitted to the bar in 1891. He married Jessie Morrison in 1894, the daughter of another Wairarapa settler John Morrison of Blairlogie. The couple have five children, then youngest of which was only 9 months old when he died.

He was member of the Council of the Wellington Law Society,  a member of the Wellesley Club and vestryman of St Mark’s Church.

The funeral was held at St Mark’s Church conducted by the Rev Coffey. The Premier, Mayor and several members of the city council attended. The last rites were performed graveside at Karori Cemetery.

Jessie remarried and his buried in Nelson. John is the only interment in this plot.

Ch Eng/O/61

By Julia Kennedy

John Andrew Chapman. NZ Mail
Chapman Plot, courtesy of FindaGrave

Memorial Benches

By Julia Kennedy

Two marble seats add to the symmetrical layout of the original part of the Soldiers Cemetery. They were presented by the Women’s National Reserve (W.N.R) in 1920.

The seats were designed by Mr W Page and the marble was supplied, and design executed, by Messrs Hansford and Mills. They cost £60 each. At that time they were placed, the newspaper described the location as “being in front of the rose gardens and near each seat is a Spanish chestnut tree”.

The W.N.R was launched in August 1915 to demonstrate that in addition to a reserve of man-power, New Zealand also had a reserve of women-power. Women were invited to register their names for employment in professional and clerical fields, farming, shops, factories and domestic employment.

In 1918, at the request of the W.N.R, WCC set apart a portion of Karori Cemetery for a soldiers’ memorial cemetery.

In 1919 an offer from the W.N.R Girls’ Club was made to decorate the graves with flowers regularly, and also to plant flowers when the borders were ready. This work was continued every Saturday for several years.

Memorial bench 2022
Memorial bench inscription, 2022
Memorial bench, 2022
Soliders cemetery 1925, photo courtesy of Alexander Turnbull Library ref 1/2-045825-G

Memorial Kauri

On the right hand side of the original Soliders’ area is a magnificent Kauri with a bronze plaque underneath which reads:

“Memorial Kauri Planted By Sir James Allen G.C.M.G, Armistice Day 1926, erected by W.N.R”.

Sir James addressed the crowd and said that the tree he had planted was a very small one, but as the years went by it would grow, a great kauri, symbolic of the strength, stability, and grandeur of the services of those men and nurses who gave up their lives for their country.Sir James was a prominent New Zealand politician and diplomat. He was New Zealand’s Minister of Defence during World War I and had visited all war grave cemeteries in New Zealand. We’re fortunate to have a photo from the occasion, as recorded in the Evening Post, and to see the size of the young Kauri that was planted on that day and is now nearly 100 years old.

Evening Post, 12 November 1926
Memorial Kauri, 2022
Kauri plaque, 2022

Mathew & Elsie Holmes

By Julia Kennedy

A sundial is placed on the upper slope of the right-hand side of the original Soldiers’ section. It was a gift of Mrs Holmes (Elsie), in memory of her husband Lieutenant-Colonel Holmes N.Z.M.C (Mathew).

Holmes was invalided back to New Zealand but succumbed to influenza in the 1918 pandemic.

Underground History have a wonderful post that covers his biography in detail:…/dr-mathew…

Mathew married Elsie Rawson in 1909 and they had two daughters. Elsie was an active member of the Women’s National Reserve and was president of their Soldiers’ Graves Committee, who made deputations to parliament pressing for the Soliders’ section at Karori to be realised. In 1919 she was elected president of the Soldiers Wives’ Club.

Elsie took her children to spend time in Scotland and England for the early part of the 1920s before returning to Wellington in 1924 where her “fresh ideas” were used to renew efforts to plant out the Soldiers’ section. In 1926 she was voted president of the Wellington Women’s National Reserve, during the absence of Mrs Tripp to England.

Elsie returned to live in England and in 1940 was credited with instigating the “Pigs For Victory” project from her house in Chelsea. “The idea was first started by Mrs Matthew Holmes, slim, smart, silver-haired New Zealand woman. She told me she put up a notice asking people round her to bring their scraps to her front garden”. Sufficient scraps were collected to feed 20 pigs.

“Having tackled this problem successfully Mrs Holmes turner her attention to another job. She heard that scrap metal was needed, so asked people to drop old razor blades, keys, locks, badges and brass buttons through her letterbox. Neighbours in their enthusiasm began bringing iron bedsteads. When the letterbox proved inadequate Mrs Holmes borrowed an empty house. She acquired her efficiency in the last war when she was president of the Women’s National Reserve”.

Elsie died in Wellington in 1969 aged 86, and her ashes are interred with her husband Mathew at Karori Cemetery.

Plot Public 2/I/273

Mathew Holmes memorial sundial, Services Section, Karori Cemetery
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Sundial-1024x683.jpgMathew Holmes memorial sundial, Services Section, Karori Cemetery

Elfie Williams

Elfie Clare Williams – ‘Dresden China’

By Julia Kennedy

Elfie was one of thirteen children born to Thomas Coldham Williams and his wife Annie Palmer Beetham. Thomas was the oldest born New Zealander at the time of his death in 1911.

Elfie was born in 1873 at Lansdowne, Wairarapa where her father owned shares in the station which was 2000 acres and at various times other stations: Brancepeth Estate (49,000 acres) and Annandale (15,000 acres).

Consequently she lived quite a charmed life. She began performing the piano at charitable and church events from a young age; acted as bridesmaid at many society weddings; and all of her outfits, appearances and travels were reported in the newspaper:

‘a lovely dress of palest dove grey’ ‘white silk with real lace bertha’ ‘black and pale blue corduroy stripe’ ‘pale yellow brocade and lace’.

In October 1898 the Governor General, the Earl of Ranfurly, held a fancy dress ball at Government House to celebrate the arrival of his son, Viscount Northland, who had just finished his schooling at Eton College (the Wellington suburb of Northland was named in his honour). The invitations were limited to 500 so as to ‘avoid any crushing’. A number of attendees clubbed together to procure the services of a special hairdresser from Melbourne. Elfie was among the guests. She wore a costume she called ‘White Dresden China’. Her mother went as Lady Castlewood and her sister Una went as Stephanie de Beauharnais.

In 1906 Elfie sailed to England, first class. She returned in 1909 after a stay in Switzerland.

Her parents retired to Auckland and Elfie visited Wellington often, staying with family members dotted along Hobson Street. She was the honourable secretary of the “Two Garment” society which redistributed clothing to charitable organisations and authorised “sisters” requiring clothing.

Elfie died at 53 Hobson Street (now Queen Margaret College) on 11th January 1913, ‘after a short illness’ and was interred at Karori. She is the only interment in this plot which is a double width and she is buried 9ft deep, anticipating further interments. Her mother died at Windsor, England in 1916 and is buried there. None of her siblings died in Wellington.

At her death her estate was valued at £21,000.

Plot: *Ch Eng/X/663

Photo courtesy of Auckland Libraries ref NZG-18981119-0656-05
Elfie Williams plot, courtesy of FindaGrave
Photo courtesy of Auckand Libraries ref NZG-18981119-0654-05
Photo courtesy of Auckland Libraries ref AWNS-18981118-04-02

Mary MacArthur

Midnight Tragedy In Wellington Harbour

The harbour collision of the steamer ‘Cobar’ and the launch ‘Mavis’ on 8th February 1924 resulted in the deaths of Mary Burden MacArthur and Daphne Tyree. Mary (20) and Daphne (15) lived in Alfred Street and were tailoresses in the employ of Haydon Lubransky in Newtown.

The night was dark and calm when Frederick Williams had invited a party of 14 aboard his launch at 9:30pm. The witnesses vouched the party was all sober and there was no alcohol on board. Frederick had asked them all to keep watch while he steered. There was a hurricane lamp on deck and electric light in the cabin. They were travelling at about 5 knots on their return from a visit to the Hinemoa which was lying off ‘Kaiwarra’ when the collision happened.

As they approached the boat harbour, Frederick heard a scream and looked to see the Cobar about 100 yards away and coming directly for the Mavis. He altered course but they touched the starboard quarter of the launch and the boat heeled over.

Three girls and one man fell in the water. Two were rescued from the water and Mary’s body was shortly recovered and taken aboard the Cobar. Her head was badly injured, apparently by the screw of the steamer. The Japanese war ship Yakumo came to the scene  and flooded the area with searchlights. Other boats rushed to the search also. The survivors were taken aboard the Yakumo while the search continued for Daphne to no avail.

An inquest determined that Frederick ‘committed an error of judgement in failing to give the bigger vessel clearance’.

On 25th February, part of a body was found floating near Te Aro baths, assumed to be that of Daphne’s.

Mary was buried in this unmarked plot at Karori Cemetery. Her father James died in 1951 and was cremated. Her mother died in 1952 and is in the same plot as Mary.

Plot Ch Eng 2/G/399

MacArthur plot courtesy of FindaGrave
Wellington harbour ferry Cobar taken between 1920 and 1925. Image courtesy of the Alexander Turnbull Library ref 1/2-197415-G
Photo courtesy of Auckland Libraries ref AWNS-19240221-38-01
Photo courtesy of Auckland Libraries ref AWNS-19240221-38-04