The dead tell tales
Historian Lyn Williams looks at who’s buried in our local cemeteries.
Frank Farrell was known in Hamilton as ‘‘the Benzine King’’, due to his longestablished business selling motor fuel from his Collingwood St garage. His obituary in the Waikato Times described him as one of Hamilton’s pioneer businessmen, and certainly he seems to have played a major part in facilitating the use of the private motor car. Not only did Farrell’s Garage service vehicles, it supplied petrol (benzine) using the first petrol pump in Hamilton, perhaps the first in the country.
After Farrell came to Hamilton in the early 1900s, he ran a hansom cab business, then switched to motor taxis. According to one of his former employees, John Asplin, Farrell began selling Plume petrol from his house in Anglesea St, but after he bought Bert Moss’ garage in Collingwood St he built a concrete storeroom at the rear of the shop, and another on the river bank near Fairfield Bridge (not then built), to store the fuel. The fuel arrived in tins on the paddle steamers Manuwai and Free Trader; these were manually unloaded and shifted to the shed using rollers and later taken by truck to Collingwood St.
The first bowser they had was not connected to an underground tank – that came later – instead the bowser was filled with tins of petrol and wheeled out onto the footpath each day. From there the assistants filled cars using a hand-pump. When an underground tank was installed in the alleyway beside the shop, it was filled with petrol manually poured from the tins and pumped up from there to the permanently fixed bowsers.
Farrell was responsible for bringing the first petrol tanker to Hamilton, driven from Auckland by one of his staff. The tanker was escorted down Victoria St by the Hamilton Brass Band with crowds turning out to watch. The tanker had only 200-gallon capacity, but nonetheless – bulk fuel had arrived!
Frank Farrell contributed in other ways as well: he was a member of the Hamilton Borough Council for six years, on the Te Rapa Drainage Board and the NZ Land and Drainage Board and was Hamilton’s representative on the Auckland Harbour Board. He ran a successful farm at Te Rapa and his interest in racing saw him become a life member of the Waikato and Ngaruawahia Racing Clubs.
Petrol pioneer: Hamilton’s Benzine King, Frank Farrell, is buried with his wife, Clara, in the Catholic section of the Hamilton East Cemetery. Their daughter, Dorothy, who died at the young age of 26, is in an adjacent grave. Photo: Lyn Williams