In part one of ‘The Garden’ we looked at Chinese market gardens in the Hutt from the 1880s to the 1940s. In part two we are introduced to William Yan Foon, market gardener, green grocer and Petone resident of the 1890’s. Here is the story his family shared with us:
William Yan Foon (c. 1867—1950)
William with his grandson Tony circa 1920. Image: belonging to a private collection
At the age of 18 or 19, William was brought to Auckland from Canton, China, to work as a farmhand for his uncle. Unhappy with the situation, he departed in the night to begin his journey to the Wellington region.
By the 1890s William was market gardening in Alicetown, and selling fresh vegetables door-to-door. Eventually he established himself as a greengrocer, with the High Class Fruit and Vegetable Shop opening in 1934 on the corner of Jackson and Fitzherbert Street, Petone.
Alicetown 1910. Image credit: Aldersley, David James, 1862-1928. Alicetown, Lower Hutt. Ref: PA5-0417. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/22768777
William was one of a few Chinese immigrants to gain Naturalisation in 1896 (equivalent to Citizenship today); this would have helped him in business and in his community standing.
William’s Naturalisation Certificate, 1896. Image curtesy of Archives New Zealand, Te Rua Mahara o te Kāwanatanga
William’s wife Mary (née Crighton, 1864–1942) was a British immigrant of Scottish descent, and was central to his connection to the wider world. She was said to have been “his everything”, taking a key part in business communication.
When they met, Mary was a recent widow with three children, who worked for William, taking in laundry and cleaning his shop. As times were hard, Mary decided to return to Durham, England, only to find the condition of life much worse there. She wrote to William asking him to support her to get back to Petone. He agreed on the condition that they marry, to which she accepted.
The couple lived a busy life, working together in the family market garden and having four more children together. At the age of 78, Mary died in a tragic accident, perhaps due to her habit of wearing black. She was struck down one evening while crossing the road in Petone during WWII blackouts. William lived into his 80s, and the two are remembered with love by their descendants.
William at 27 Ariki Street with his Rover. Image: belonging to a private collection