A Man, A Plan, A Tram: A Truth about Takapuna's Tramway

Image: Takapuna Tramways & Ferry Company directors, 1907-1912 (left- right, from top row): Paul M Hansen, John Brown, Alexander R Morrison, Edwin Mitchelson, Henry Brett, Henry Hopper Adams, Captain James Smith, William J Geddis, and William Blomfield. 

Paul Maximilian Hansen had a plan for Tāmaki Makaurau. The Danish-German immigrant and London-based entrepreneur envisioned an electric tramway network that would emanate from the Central City to reach every corner of Auckland, stretching far into sections that were still farmland and bush. He desired this system out of no sense of altruism, community connectedness or transportation efficiency. No, he and his cabal of investors wanted it so they could sell property. Specifically, their property.

Image: Muir & Moodie. Postcard of Lake Takapuna (Pupuke), 1909. Museum of  New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa PS.002450.

By the early 1900s, the Coromandel goldfields were depleted, their vast wealth pocketed by Aotearoa’s nouveau riche, who bought massive tracts of land around the periphery of Auckland City. On the North Shore, a group of lawyers, newspapermen, realtors, and mine owners, most of whom had been business partners in the gold rush, focused their attention on the little-developed area directly north of the Borough of Devonport, from Old Lake Road to Crown Hill. From the mid-1890s, they purchased dozens of properties with plans to subdivide as soon as they could be guaranteed a profit.

Image: Paul Hansen (second from right) and other men celebrating the inaugural trail run of the Auckland Electric Tramway, November 1902. Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections 755-ALB39-06.

At the same time, interest in the North Shore by weekenders and summer vacationers was increasing at a rapid pace and local transportation was not able to keep up with the demand. Plans in 1885, 1898, 1902, and 1906 to construct tramways between Devonport and Lake Pupuke had failed, largely due to disinterested locals and risk-averse entrepreneurs. The lack of enthusiasm for the 1898 scheme, promoted by Paul Hansen, led to a shift in focus and the creation of the Auckland Electric Tramways system. Hansen quickly proved with this network that an electric urban tramway was viable and that it greatly increased the value of land along its route.

Image: John Brown addressing the crowd at the sod-turning ceremony for the Takapuna Tramways & Ferry Company, held at Hall's Corner on 9 February 1909. Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections NZG-19090217-0029-01.

On 31 August 1906, the Waitemata County Council received a request from Hansen’s lawyers for franchise rights to build an electric tramway from the Devonport borough boundary to the Lake. The Council accepted the offer and Hansen announced the plan to the public. The Observer forecasted, ‘This ought to make the Lake district boom.’ This was not just hopeful thinking. William John Geddis and William Blomfield, co-owners of the newspaper, owned several hectares along the proposed tramway line. If all went according to plan, they would turn a handsome profit from land sales. And they were not alone. When the Takapuna Tramways & Ferry Company’s prospectus was published on 16 September 1907, it became abundantly clear who this tramway was intended to benefit the most.

Image: Beresford Street in Bayswater Estate, 1912. Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections T0002.

In addition to Hansen and Geddis, the directors of the new tramway company included Henry Brett, owner of the Auckland Star and The Weekly Graphic; Henry Hopper Adams, an influential mining agent; Captain James Smith, a well-respected merchant mariner; and John Brown, chairman of the Direct Supply Company, an importer. Brown and his business partner Alexander Roger Morrison had purchased O’Neill’s Point in 1904 with plans to subdivide and install a ferry terminal below the cliffs. This made them vital to the planned ferry and tramway system, but their personal stake did not extend much beyond the Bayswater Estate, which was subdivided and listed for auction by Hansen in December 1909. Nevertheless, Morrison replaced Brett as a director of the company that same year and briefly served as chairman.

Image: The Weekly Graphic. A party at Henry Brett's house, Te Kiteroa, published 6 December 1911. Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections T0301.

Brett was only associated with the Takapuna Tramway for about 18 months, but he was the company’s largest single shareholder and had much to gain from property sales along the route. Amongst other properties he owned in the area, he held several large sections around Hauraki Corner, smaller sections of bushland on the southeast and east sides of Lake Pupuke, and pastureland in the Wairau Valley. His luxurious Victorian-style mansion, Te Kiteroa, sat on Killarney Street above the lake. Many of these properties were subdivided in the late 1910s and early 1920s. Brett used his two newspapers to heavily promote the construction of the tramway, and his prominence in local affairs earned him a seat on the first Takapuna Borough Council in 1913.

Image: Advertisement for the Shakespeare Estate by Paul Hansen & Company, 1910. Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections Map 9800.

In direct contrast to Brett, Paul Hansen was the guiding light of the project but had little to gain personally from the venture. He only owned one relatively small property along the tramway line, a home south of The Promenade in Takapuna named Mon Desir. He sold this in 1909 to Audus Raynes, who converted it into a luxury hotel. Hansen benefitted more from his realty firm, Paul Hansen & Company, which oversaw the sale of several subdivisions created by his colleagues, including the Lakeville, Bayswater, The Strand, and Shakespeare Estates.

Image: Herman John Schmidt. William Blomfield (centre) below a sketch of himself, surrounded by Auckland Star staff, ca 1921. National Library 1/1-001243-G.

William Geddis and William Blomfield, as mentioned above, owned the Observer which both promoted and lampooned the Takapuna Tramway throughout its existence. Blomfield, also the cartoonist for the newspaper, even took a swing at himself once in 1919 when he was Mayor of Takapuna and a director of the company. Blomfield took over Geddis’ seat in 1909 when the latter moved to Napier. Geddis and Blomfield owned the land on either side of Blomfield Spa, but they did not subdivide until 1925, though they may have intended to when they became involved with the company. Unlike most other investors, Geddis convinced his brother-in-law, Frederick William Weston, to invest. Weston lived on a property on Lake Town Road (now Jutland Road).

Image: The 'Waitemata' hauling a maintenance wagon on the Takapuna Tramway, 1912. Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections T0475.

Blomfield, meanwhile, managed to convince his wife’s uncle, Henry Hopper Adams, to invest in the transportation company. He was well-known in mining circles and his family was prominent on the North Shore. His grandsons were the Smales brothers of Smales Farm. Adams owned the substantial Taharoto Estate west of Lake Pupuke, which he subdivided in 1911, as well as a smaller section in Belmont named the Egremont Estate, which was subdivided in 1910. Adams became increasingly involved in Takapuna and Auckland politics, so gave up his seat as tramway director to Edwin Mitchelson in 1910. Mitchelson served as chairman of the company for most of its existence.

Image: Walter Bowring. Group of Puriri trees in a bush near Lake Takapuna, published in the New Zealand Graphic on 24 March 1894. Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections NZG-18940324-0279-01.

Mitchelson and Adams, alongside the final original company director, Captain James Smith, had partnered in numerous ventures in the years prior to 1907, especially in Thames. Near Lake Pupuke, they jointly owned the Puriri Estate on the west side of Taharoto Road, which they began subdividing in 1909. Smith and Adams also owned two small sections along Northcote Road, today’s Smith’s Bush Reserve, which is bisected by the Northern Motorway. The complicated history of Adams and his relationship to Blomfield, Smith, and Mitchelson is explored in detail in Philip Hart’s working paper: ‘Henry Hopper Days: A Te Aroha Miner Who Became A Mine Owner’ (University of Otago, 2016).

Image: Frederick Hargreaves. Takapuna as viewed from the room of Te Kiteroa, immediately before the construction of the tramway, ca 1908. National Library 1/1-002816-G.

All this manoeuvring and scheming by the North Shore elite resulted in very little at first. Due to delays in the construction of the tramway and the dredging of the approach to Bayswater Wharf, the SS Pupuke operated as a for-hire excursion vessel from February 1910 to the end of the year. The first two trams finally began service between Bayswater and Milford on 22 December 1910, just in time for the Christmas holiday. But the company’s hope of electrifying the tramway system never happened, and a long-awaited second ferry was only purchased in 1921. Despite the seeming success of the venture, the company could not turn a profit. The ferry paid, but the trams did not. In 1912, the board of directors offered to sell the system to the County of Waitemata. This offer was repeated almost annually to the Takapuna Borough Council until the tramway finally ceased operations on Tuesday, 26 April 1927.

Image: R. Hofmann. Camp for German Internees at Motuihe Island, 1917. Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections WW1-P-001.

Where was Paul Hansen in all of this? Trying to make the best of a bad situation. The subdivisions his Paul Hansen & Company put up for auction from 1908 to 1911 failed to sell quickly, though they ultimately contributed to the development of Bayswater, Belmont, Hauraki Corner, Takapuna, and Milford. By February 1916, he had become so frustrated with the tramway company’s lack of progress that he offered to buy a new ferry and electrify the system himself. Frustratingly, these plans were derailed when Hansen was arrested as an enemy alien on 19 April 1916 due to xenophobia aroused by the First World War. He quickly lost his director’s seat and his real estate firm wound up. Hansen was released from internment in December 1919, but he never returned to the Takapuna Tramway and sold his remaining shares in 1923. He resumed dabbling in real estate, operating as Paul Hansen & Son. However, his passion died along with his only child, Roberts, in 1928. Hansen passed away on 23 February 1938, a decade after the end of the Takapuna Tramway but at the height of the Auckland Electric Tramway that started it all.

Check out the exhibition 'The Tramway that made Takapuna' on Level 2 of the Central City Library, running from 1 November 2023 to 29 January 2024. Join Derek R. Whaley discussing the construction and promotion of the Takapuna Tramways & Ferry Company at the Whare Wānanga, Level 2 Central City Library and on Zoom on Wednesday, 15 November at 12pm. Visit Our Auckland for event details and booking

Author: Derek R. Whaley, Senior Librarian Research - Online Researcher Services

Select bibliography:

David J Balderston, The Bayswater Harbour Ferries of Auckland to Takapuna (Frinton-on-Sea, UK: Grey Gull Ferry History, 2015).

David Verran, “Paul Hansen: tramway entrepreneur,” Tramway Topics 254 (February 2014), pp6-9.


  1. Where was the planned powerhouse for powering the tramway going to be located? How did Hansen plan to power his electrified tramway in 1916?

    1. Kia ora,
      We reached out to the blog author, and he had this to say:
      Interesting question but one I can’t really answer with any certainty. From everything I’ve found, the electrification of the Takapuna Tramways & Ferry Company line never advanced beyond the proposal stage, so I am not sure where the power plant was to be located. The best guess is that it would have been at or near the Takapuna tram shed, which was on Lake Road where the bus stops and ANZAC carpark is today. The original 1908 plan had the power plant across the street from there, where the Ministry of Social Development offices now are, but I have never seen a power plant proposed for the actual tram shed site. Considering the power plant would also provide public electricity for streetlights and some commercial businesses, it would have made sense to place it somewhere near central Takapuna, and the tram company already owned that entire property, so there was excess space for it.


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