Info 5a1, Alexander Alison jnr.
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In 1881, two brothers, Alexander jnr.(1846-1923) and Ewen Alison (1853-1945), founded the Devonport Steam Ferry Company, and Ewen continued to manage the ferries until 1934. That company’s ferries were the main means of transport for North Shore residents wanting to travel to and from the City side of the Waitemata Harbour until 1959, with the opening of the Auckland Harbour Bridge.
In 1852 Alexander bought 5 acres of land fronting what is now King Edward Parade, and bounded by Duders Avenue, Domain Street and Cambridge Terrace. The property was just past the then eastern wharf. The family moved to that sparsely populated area in 1854, where he opened the first boat building yard in Devonport. By 1865, Devonport was a major centre for boat building in Auckland and New Zealand.
It is claimed that Alexander also built the first proper wooden house in the area. Its front rooms were certainly used for Church and other public meetings. Before the first Anglican Church in Devonport was built in 1855, Bishops Selwyn and Patterson were rowed over on a Sunday morning from the Melanesian Mission, at what is now Kohimarama, to preach at the Alison home.
At the time there were two heavily populated Maori kainga, or unfortified villages, in the area and Maori outnumbered the local Pakeha population. One was between Lake Road, Albert Road and Derby Street north of Mount Victoria, while the other was between Cambridge Terrace and Cheltenham Beach. This all changed in 1863 following Auckland becoming a garrison town as a prelude to the government’s march into the Waikato. Alexander became a sergeant in the North Head Volunteer Corps or militia.
Alexander continued his trade as a boat builder, specialising in five oared whaleboats, dinghies and cutters. His sons soon became expert rowers and sailors. He stood for election to the Flagstaff Highway Board in 1867, but was unsuccessful. However, he was soon to be off-side with the Board, when in 1869 he extended his seafront boundary on advice from a surveyor hired by the Auckland Provincial Council. The Council then claimed he had extended his property illegally and hired another surveyor to confirm this. Alexander and Jean were taken to Court charged with obstructing a road and Alexander threatened to prosecute anyone who pulled the wall down. On occasion the family threatened to physically defend their wall. The case dragged on through the Supreme (now the High) Court until 1888, after his death.
Alexander was also interested in science and astronomy and at his death was known for his “sterling qualities”, his “warm-hearted and genial disposition” and was “widely respected”. He died “peacefully at home”, after being ill for some time, on 26 June 1887. His wife Jean died on 4 February 1893, and they are both buried in the Anglican section of the Devonport cemetery, as is Roderick.
David Verran is a local history expert and auther of ‘North Shore; An Illustrated History’, available at most local bookshops.
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© JCC Glass
Updated 2nd December 2014