Come and visit us at our whare to see the full story in our newest display – The Garden of Perfect Happiness. Perhaps you remember William Yan Foon and his fruit and vegetable store on Jackson Street? We’d love to hear your stories of arrival, immigration and food.
In the following three part blog series we share the story of William Yan Foon, and trace his whānau right up until today.
In part-one we acknowledge the Chinese immigrant farmers of the Hutt Valley, in part two we meet William Yan Foon and his family, and in part three we wrap up with Laurie Foon, great granddaughter of William, self-described ‘eco-fashion designer, eco creative, good projects collaborator, good business consultant, and good local stories storyteller’.
Chinese Market Gardens in the Hutt Valley
Image credit: Te Aro Seeds Limited :Garden annual, 1949-1950. Printed by L T Watkins Ltd., Cuba Street, Wellington [Front cover. 1949].. Te Aro Seed Company :[Garden guide or garden annual – price lists. 1900s-1940s]. Ref: Eph-A-HORTICULTURE-TeAro-1949-01-front. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/22625370
Once an area of lush rata forest, the fertile soil of the Hutt Valley made for excellent market garden farming in the 1880s to 1940s, supplying Wellington city with more than half of its fresh fruit and vegetables at peak production. In the 1900s, a series of stop-banks (continuous mounds of earth built next to a river) were constructed to control flooding from the Hutt River and stabilise farmland.
Image credit: Market gardens at Lower Hutt. Evening post (Newspaper. 1865-2002) :Photographic negatives and prints of the Evening Post newspaper. Ref: EP/1957/3722-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/22869953
By 1904, the majority of farmers in the Hutt were Chinese immigrants, who earned a living selling their produce. They faced a rising wave of anti-Chinese sentiment and tension. One of the worst incidents occurred in 1890, when pressures erupted into a violent clash leading to the death of a young man, and the hospitalisation and near-death of another.
The Chinese Immigrants Act of 1881 was the first legislation to restrict entry to Aotearoa New Zealand for any one group of people. A poll tax of £10 was introduced, and in 1896 this rose to £100 (estimated at NZ$13,400 today). International ships were ordered to limit Chinese passengers or face heavy penalties.
Image credit: Arthur Yates & Co. Ltd, Auckland :What to sow in the garden now. Yates Reliable Seeds. .. Arthur Yates & Company Ltd :[Horticultural sales catalogues. 1932-1933]. Ref: Eph-A-HORTICULTURE-Yates-1932-02-back. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/23010524
In the 1930s and 1940s, the Labour Government strove to meet a boom in population growth with ambitious social housing development across the Hutt Valley region. In 1940, it was decided that market gardens should be relocated to the Otaki-Levin district. Farmers were forced to sell their land for the housing development, and the birth of the Hutt Valley region as a suburban city progressed, with streets, buildings and houses soon replacing the gardens.
Image credit: Market gardens at Lower Hutt. Evening post (Newspaper. 1865-2002) :Photographic negatives and prints of the Evening Post newspaper. Ref: EP/1957/3721-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/22492207
1947, Aerial photograph taken by Whites Aviation. Image Credit: The suburb of Alicetown with the Western Hutt Road in foreground looking east to the Hutt River, Lower Hutt City, Wellington Region. Ref: WA-07213-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/30645663