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The Chelsea Sugar Refinery Wages

My experience is concerning the Chelsea Sugar Refinery Wages. This is one of the wage bags used to carry cash from the Bank and transporting it to the Works. In the early days when there was no BNZ in Birkenhead, the cash had to be picked up in the City and carried by passenger ferry to Chelsea.

Every Thursday, the Refinery Chief Clerk, Stanley Preston Cross would catch the 8 o’clock ferry to Auckland to meet up with another clerk from the Town Office. Together they would enter the Queen Street Bank building, via the wicket door in the Main front door prior to opening time to uplift the payroll cash. They then had to physically count it out to make sure that the Bank had not short-changed them and that they were not going to be "out of pocket" when the wages were all packeted up. Before leaving the Bank, the wages bag was first padlocked and then chained to a leather wrist strap worn by Mr. Cross. Loaded firearms – two Smith and Weston revolvers – which incidentally did not have any safety catches were concealed in coat pockets and the pair emerged from the Bank (again via the wicket door) into a taxi to be whisked downtown to the Ferry Buildings.

Then it was a 30 minute ferry ride on the 10 am trip to Chelsea jetty, with intermediate stops at Northcote and Birkenhead wharves. At 10-30 they disembarked at Chelsea, where the Refinery Manager was waiting to escort Mr. Cross and the payroll along the long ramp and safely into the Refinery office. During the next hour and a half, the cash was counted, checked and packeted into the individual pay envelopes ready for handing out to the workers.

Whenever there was a foul-up and the cash did not balance up – it was all hands to help recheck the envelopes to find the error. How often we would go right through them, only to find the mistake in some of the last envelopes to be checked. A frequent error was to include, or miss out the elusive 10 bob note – we eventually got wise and put the elusive 10/- on the outside of the roll of banknotes so it could be seen easily without having to unroll all the notes when searching for the mistake.

When the Highbury Branch of the BNZ opened in Birkenhead, the payroll was picked up from there and we had the local policeman to escort the loot back to the Works. Later still, a security firm was engaged to convey the cash from the Bank direct to Chelsea and our own staff were relieved of the task. Nowadays, the pay packets are filled and delivered by a Security firm and that aspect of the pay office duties no longer exists.

Reflecting on the firearms we so nonchalantly carried, I hate to think what the result of tripping over or stumbling would have been with revolvers having no safety catches – luckily that never seems to have happened but it sure makes you think in retrospect.

- Edward Farrington


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