21 February 2011

Bust on the stump

Fred Bust, c.1898
My paternal great-great-grandfather Frederick Robert Bust (yes, Bust!) was born on 16 July 1846 in Hull, in the English country of Yorkshire, the third child and first son born to Robert Day Bust and Mary Mason. Fred’s older sisters were both born 12,000 miles away in Auckland, New Zealand, Eliza in 1842 and Mary Jane in 1843. Although he may not have known until much later in his life, Fred also had several step-brothers and sisters living just across the Humber estuary in Lincolnshire.

Fred’s father, Robert Day Bust, had been born in 1812 in Lincolnshire, in the small town of Winterton. The Bust family ancestors had farmed in various parts of Lincolnshire since the 16th century but little is known of Robert Bust’s life until, in June 1833 at St Peter’s in Barton on Humber, he married Harriett Woodall. In the following eleven years he and Harriett had seven children together.

It appears that Robert then abandoned Harriett and their children, and took up with Fred’s mother, Mary Mason. Whether this happened in England or whether Robert escaped his marital responsibilities by fleeing to the South Pacific and met Mary along the way, is unknown. It is also not known whether Robert Bust and Mary Mason ever officially married, though Mary is listed as Robert’s wife on the New Zealand birth records of their daughters Eliza and Mary.

Robert Bust arrived in Auckland in the early 1840s and set about earning his living as a farmer and a butcher. His name appears on the 1844 Auckland list of jurors and the Southern Cross newspaper of 12 August 1843 reports the arrival of the ship the Sisters from Hobart with cargo including ‘Leicester Ewes selected by Mr Bust’. The 11 March 1844 edition of the newspaper carries the following notice:

R. D. Bust, having commenced business as Butcher, in Queen-street, where he will keep a good supply of the best Beef, Mutton, and Pork, and pay great attention to cleanliness, respectfully solicits a share of public patronage. Shipping promptly supplied. A good supply of excellent Vegetables, fresh from the Garden; Butter, Eggs and Poultry, supplied on the shortest notice. 

For Robert and Mary Bust, and daughters Eliza and Mary Jane, life in Auckland was good, business was booming and prospects looked positive. Then, early in 1845, an attack by anti-government Maori on the Bay of Island's town of Kororareka (now Russell) led to unsettled times. Like many early settlers, Robert Bust believed there was a genuine threat to the safety of his family and his future business in Auckland, so he decided to return home. The Southern Cross of 8 March 1845 lists the Bust family among the passengers departing for Wellington on the barque Caledonia, and all four remained aboard when that ship departed for London, according to a report in the New Zealand Gazette dated 10 May 1845.

Unfortunately the good times did not last long for Robert Bust and Mary Mason following their return to England. First, the auctioneering partnership he’d set up was dissolved, then Mary died on 24 March 1849 at Reading in Berkshire, and the following year Robert’s auctioneering business in Reading went bankrupt. As Robert had three young children to care for, it seems hardly surprising that he very soon took up with partner number three, Harriett Dreweatt. Just over a year after Mary’s death, on 29 June 1850, they were married in the Holy Trinity Church at Ryde on the Isle of Wight. Almost immediately after their wedding, Robert, Harriett and his three children emigrated, aboard the James Gibb, this time to Australia, arriving in Melbourne late in 1850.

So, by the time he was just four years old, Fred Bust had lost his birth mother, gained a stepmother and moved half way round the world to Australia. There his father was involved in sheep farming and auctioneering, and Fred very soon had six more brothers and sisters to play with. During 1861–62 Fred’s father served as the first Town Clerk of the Melbourne suburb of Brighton, but he was not a success in the position, and this was probably the reason the family emigrated again, in 1863, this time settling in Dunedin, New Zealand.

Fred was then seventeen, and he assisted his father Robert in business as a butcher and auctioneer. Robert obviously had extensive knowledge of farming and animal husbandry as, in December 1863, he published a small book entitled New Zealand versus the World as a Long Wool Producing Country. The book contains ‘calculations, explanatory remarks and data’ by ‘a practical sheepbreeder of English and Colonial Experience’, and expressed Robert’s opinions of the most suitable grasses and sheep for New Zealand conditions. Local authorities were certainly impressed by his farming knowledge as, in 1864, they appointed him Market Inspector for the province of Otago, according to the Otago Provincial Government Gazette of 31 August.

Unfortunately the Bust auctioneering partnership went bankrupt in September 1866, so Fred tried his hand mining on the North Otago goldfields. That venture was also short-lived, and by the time he was 20 years of age Fred was back living in Oamaru. There he joined the Oamaru Rifles, and when he went to live in Auckland briefly around 1867–8, he was a member of the North Shore Volunteer Cavalry. He served in the militia at Tauranga in 1869, and apparently ‘had some lively experiences hunting Te Kooti and his head’. Fred later reported that he had been awarded the New Zealand War medal for his service during the Mohaki Massacre but, in fact, the Defence department had rejected his 1904 application, as too much had time had elapsed since the war to prove he had actually ‘served under fire’.

By the end of 1869 Fred had been discharged from the militia and returned to Dunedin, where in January the following year he married Jessie Naismith Hastie, daughter of Alexander Hastie and Margaret Hanna, settlers from Scotland. Fred remained in Dunedin until late 1874, then moved to Oamaru where he opened a butcher shop. He rejoined his old volunteer corps, the Oamaru Rifles, and was at this time a keen athlete and fine rifle shot. With his wife, he was also an active worker in the Baptist church of Otago Province during these years.

Caricatures of Fred from local newspapers

In 1883 Fred was declared bankrupt, but he must have secured other employment as the family remained in Oamaru until the beginning of 1886, when he and Jessie and their seven children moved to Whangarei. There Fred started another butchery business with Mr Harrison, one of his sister Eliza’s in-laws. Fred joined the local Rifle Volunteers, and again took an active part in the social and political events of the district.

By April 1887 though the Busts had moved again, this time to Auckland. Fred joined the local City Guards, and became a member of the Masonic fraternity, and it was during these years in Auckland that Fred came into public prominence. Like many New Zealanders who suffered during the depression of the 1880s, Fred recognised that workers needed to be united in their demands for better wages and conditions, so he joined the local Butchers’ Union. He rose quickly through the ranks, serving as secretary of the Auckland Journeyman Butchers’ Society during 1890–91 and as secretary of the Auckland Trades and Labour Council during the 1890 Maritime Strike. During these years he was frequently lampooned by the cartoonist in a local newspaper, the New Zealand Observer and Free Lance, as the illustrations here show.

Riding the tide of his public prominence, Fred sought nomination as a Labour Member of the House of Representatives in the 1890 general election, but he failed to secure enough votes. Soon afterwards, because of his knowledge of butchery, Fred worked with government minister William Rees on drafting legislation for the Slaughterhouse Act Amendment Act of 1891. However, when Rees subsequently recommended Fred for the newly created slaughterhouse inspector position, the deal was exposed by the Observer newspaper and Fred suffered much negative publicity. This public humiliation was probably the reason why he suddenly changed careers in 1892 and moved to the West Coast of the South Island to take up a position as prison warder at the Hokitika gaol.

Wellington Conciliation Board. At left: Fred Bust,
president of the Operatives Butchers' Union
By 1899 though Fred had returned from this self-imposed exile and was living in Wellington, where he was again involved in the meat industry. He served on the Wellington Trades Council and as secretary of the Wellington Butchers’ Union, though resigned from both positions in January 1901 on starting his own business. In 1904 he joined the New Zealand Veterans’ Association, and in 1906 unsuccessfully petitioned the Defence department for the award of a long service medal for his membership in the various provincial volunteer units; his service was not contiguous and amounted to less than the required number of years.

In 1907 the Bust family returned to Auckland, and Fred again became involved in the union movement. He served as secretary of the Auckland Slaughtermen’s Union until 1910, and was a fervent supporter of the move towards compulsory arbitration. As he wrote in an article in the Auckland Star in March 1907: ‘What we want as workers is industrial peace and finality, not peace at any price, but peace brought about by moral suasion, by fair, legal conciliation.’ He was an active member of the pro-arbitration Auckland and Suburban Local Bodies’ Labourers' Union, representing the union at the Court of Conciliation, helping to organise events like a fund-raising concert for the victims of 1914 Huntly Mine disaster, and serving as the Union’s vice president during 1913–14.

Ellerslie Municipal Band. Fred Bust is the elderly gent,
pictured at the extreme right
In 1912 at the age of 66 Fred gave up his career in the butchery business and became weighbridge master at Auckland City Council’s garbage destructor. He was elected to the Ellerslie Town Board for the 1915–17 term, and his last public effort was the establishment of the brass band for that district.

He died at his home in Ellerslie, on 7 March 1919, after a short illness. He had been a prominent leader of the Labour movement and a man of great energy and enthusiasm. As one of his granddaughters wrote soon after his death, ‘whatever he put his hand to, he did with all his might.’ Fred joined his wife and 2 children in the family plot at Purewa Cemetery, and left behind 3 sons, 5 daughters, 37 grandchildren, and 8 great-grandchildren.