The story of Sunnydale and Landsendt

I was been fortunate to have started my life here 1965. The house was a little over 100 years old when I was born. Built in 1860ish it is West Auckland’s oldest home.

The story I’m about to tell starts from a time before the large orchards, when the old Oratia residents were the Carters, Parkers, Shaws, Parrs, amongst others and the family that lived in Sunnydale, the Thompsons, in the late 1880’s – 90’s.

William Thompson was poisoned by his wife’s lover. A love triangle that ended in murder. Divorce was difficult and pregnancy was a scandal. Alexander Scott was hanged at Mt Eden gaol and buried at Waikumete Cemetery.

Alexander Scott went to various chemists using false names to procure poisons. Arsenic, Stychnine, Cyanide amongst other potions to add to his friends’ food whilst pretending to care for him. Sarah Alice Thompson (wife) stayed in Thames with the Hall family during her confinement, knowing full well what was going on. Alexander lived near what is now 132 Parker Road. His house is no longer there but is now graced by the historic cottage built by Captain Theet.

William Thompson died from poisoning on the 30th September 1892. His wife Sarah was meant to appear in court as a witness in the murder trial but instead boarded a ship back to England without her children, two small boys aged 2 and 6 months.

A younger brother of William’s made the long journey to NZ to bring them home. And none of them ever returned.

The Hall family of 180 Parker Road are relatives of the Thompsons and by pure chance now live on the same road. The research I did into this murder has led us to become close friends. Ron Hall found roots he did not know existed and he was able to put names to faces to old photos he had of his great grandfathers.

It doesn’t end there though. Families, plants and gardens associated with this story cross continents and generations.

The connections are as interesting as the story itself. Doing the research was like living in a time warp, we unravelled it over an 8 year period, I liken it to reading a book but having to find the next chapter.

It all started with a couple of ladies who I thought were customers to our plant nursery back in 2001. The had gotten a letter from a woman in England who belonged to the same genealogy group as them. She had a distant relative whom had been murdered in Auckland in 1892. She gave vague details, but these ladies, somehow found the place. They took a photo of Sunnydale homestead for the lady and I copied the letter she had sent.

Monica Leat from England was doing some family history research and found Sunnydale, she also found me, and what a journey we went on together whilst doing this research. I had so many questions – Who were the Thompsons and what did they do? What happened to Sarah and her children?

Our journey together was exciting, I never had the opportunity to meet her as she died tragically of the flu in 2009. We are going to England this year and will be visiting her husband.

William Thompson was the nephew of John William Hall who lived in Thames and was a chemist and and gold assayer during the Thames gold rush. He was also one of New Zealand’s early botanists and had Halls Totara named after him. Not a lot was known about him so we approached the Auckland Museum library and unearthed a lot of letters. He started the NZ forest service, was an integral part in the design and planting of the Auckland domain and was a great friend of William Cheeseman who wrote the book Flora of NZ, in his letters to Cheeseman he mentions collecting plants in the Waitakere’s and in particular from his nephews property Sunnydale.

JW Hall lived with his wife in Thames and planted his property in native and exotic trees. Halls reserve is NZ earliest arboretum. DOC wanted to remove the exotics but with a bit more knowledge it is now considered a national treasure and all trees are protected.

Dick Endt (my dad) started introducing plants from South America in the late 1970’s. He was on a quest to find new and interesting fruit trees and later, rare palms. He was one of the people that started the NZ Palm and Cycad Society. He introduced Babacos, Cherimoya varieties, Casan, Lucuma, Mountain coconut palms plus many other rare palms. He gained an international reputation for his crops, particularly Babacos.

I started running the Landsendt business in the early 2000’s, turning Landsendt into a botanical garden. Dad had so many unusual and rare plants in his collection that it was a logical progression to start developing the orchard areas into gardens.

Around the same time I started developing the garden, I met Monica. Landsendt and Sunnydale became and intertwined story about gardens, plants, people, murder and more. The past and the present overlapped.

One of Dad’s early friends in the Palm Society was man named Michael Poulgrain, also an avid international plant collector. Both being obsessed with rare plants, they swapped stuff. Many of his treasures are now growing at Landsendt.

Years later we discovered that Michael is the great grandson of JW Hall. That was a really special moment for me to know so intimately the relevance of this connection that had such a tragic past.

People often ask “how was your father able to bring in so many plants, when it is now impossible”

It is a good question and has two sides. Exotic plants got a bad rap in the early 90’s as being weeds. MAF stopped all new plant introduction and the public opinion changed, Exotics became unpopular. Not for me though!

Conservation of plants globally is really important. Gardens are a refuge for many species that may be or have become endangered or rare. A NZ example of this is a scientist who travelled around Northland collecting kumara varieties from different tribes and families. This collection was grown at the Mt Albert Plant Research Centre DSIR. It was not deemed valuable as a crop and they were going to delete the experiment. The scientist had the foresight to take the collection with him to Japan where he lived. Years later someone found out about the collection and it was returned to NZ and given back to the people. This story highlights the importance of saving special plants.

We have plants in our garden that may have no value her but with habitat destruction in South America they may lose them, but we will still have them. We keep in contact with plant people there and they know what we have. Gardens are living treasures.

During the Babaco era, Dad collected virus free plants from Ecuador. A few years later all of the Ecuadorean plants became infected with a Nematode. Dad sent clean stock back. He also helped Ecuadorians with propogation techniques. Their government sponsored him.

The other obvious necessity of exotic species is that is what we eat, build with, feed our animals. We must look after these plants as we need them and for the rare and endangered ones, they need us.

MY FAMILY

The Endts came to Oratia in 1951. They were part of the first wave of Dutch immigrants. The first home they lived in was on Parker Road and owned by the Davidson family. This family also owned the neighbouring Sunnydale farm. The extended Davidson Clan with also include the Gash, Latham, Parkin and Allen families still live in Oratia and mostly Parker Road.

My grandparents, Ann and Jan Endt established themselves in Oratia. They bought a 2 acre property in Nola Road. My grandmother who left behind a beautiful garden in Holland soon created a beautiful rose garden here, which was one of the first open gardens in NZ. She donated proceeds from these events to the SPCA. She had a rose named after her “Ann Endt” My grandfather was a photographer and he captured so many beautiful images of Oratia in the 50’s and 60’s.

My parents were so fortunate to be able to purchase Sunnydale farm from the Davidsons. Dad jumped at the chance when he found out they wanted to sell the farm. He had just finished his diploma in Horticultrue and wanted his own orchard. The timing was perfect for my newly married parents. This was 1960. He called the new farm Landsendt after his family farm in Holland.

Fast forward 57 years. I live with my husband Anthony Melling in the Sunnydale homestead. We returned to the farm initially to pay off our mortgage faster. We have a cottage at Bethells Beach. That was 24 years ago. We ended up staying, raising our three sons in Oratia and running the Landsendt business, first as a subtropical nursery, then after developing the gardens, we started hosting weddings in 2006. The last wedding here a week ago was our 150th.

Over the years we have become organic. We don’t use any pesticides. We have noticed an increase in birdlife and wildlife in general. We have 31 brid species that live in or visit our garden. The brown gecko is not common but this summer we have seen two. The green and gold bell frog which used to be common is now in steep decline ( and a threatened species in NSW) they breed in our garden every year. In our native bush at the back of our 20 acre property there are glow worms, Koura, Kokupu, Fresh water mussels and short finned eels.

We value with very special place for all of the above.

It has been a difficult time over the last couple of months to hear of watercares plans to use so much of Parker Road to build a new water treatment plant. There is so much history here. The families, the history, the ecology, this proposal will destroy all of this.

I hope my story shows how interconnected everybody is on Parker Road and for such a long time back in history. The stories have so many threads. These are being woven now as everybody tells their own story.

Landsendt was endorsed as a garden of national significance in 2009

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