Sam Tong (1849-1933) arrived in Hastings in 1879, and set up a business as that town's first undertaker and furniture maker in Karamu Road North (where the Jubilee Buildings are now).
When the Hastings Fire Brigade was established in 1886, Sam became the first fire chief. One of Hastings' great personalities, he was almost inseparable from his pet monkey called Ginny.
After the 1931 Hawke's Bay earthquake, the Tong family (Sam's sons now ran the business) decided every victim would be buried in their own casket, and worked non-stop to achieve this.
For many years, a persistent rumour has circulated that the bodies of the earthquake dead were laid out on the stage of the Hastings Municipal Theatre (now Opera House).
The victims were in fact taken to the YMCA building (since demolished, and was situated where the National Service Club is in Market Street). The stage area was in fact wrecked, and was exposed to the open sky.
I have spoken to an eyewitness, the late Lou Jillings, who climbed on the stage one afternoon, and said the area was wrecked. I am not sure what has given rise to this longstanding rumour.
The Hastings Borough Council's morgue used to be nearby, on the land where the old Hawke's Bay Power buildings and power house are situated, so perhaps some confusion has arisen because of this.
One other earthquake story that does the rounds is one where the young lady falls out of the Grand Hotel's third floor while having a bath, and the bath lands the right side up with her in it, and a policeman comes to her aid, placing his cloak around her.