Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Daniel Pollen of Whau Flat

In the George Maxwell Memorial Cemetery at Orchard Street and Rosebank Road, there is a headstone for one of the colony of New Zealand's Premiers: Daniel Pollen. He held the position only from July 1875 to February 1876, but fulfilled a number of other important roles, including that of Colonial Secretary (equivalent to today's Minister of Internal Affairs). He also lived on the Rosebank Peninsula for part of his life, dying at his homestead near the tip of the area in 1896.

His Avondale story begins in 1855, after he had served as a medical officer on Kawau Island for the copper mining companies, and as he was beginning his political career in the Auckland Provincial Council. That year, he purchased from Mr. Kelly Allotments 2, 3 and 4, just down from the reserve area at the end (which is the present-day karting track). One of his sons was born on the property a year later. By mid 1860, however, a daughter was born at Eden Crescent -- possibly an apartment used by Pollen while he was engaged in his political career.

Around 1860, he had engaged John Malam as manager/brickmaker on his Rosebank property, facing the Whau River. By 1863, Malam's position belonged to John Ringrose. In the same year, a time when the Waikato War was beginning and the government sought a means to maintain good lines of communication with the troops heading to Ngaruawahia and beyond, another opportunity presented itself to Pollen: pottery. More precisely, telegraph insulators. A potter of skill arrived in Auckland in September 1863: John Wright. Pollen snapped him up and put him in charge of his pottery kilns, responsible for meeting the contract requirements. By 1865, this proved a failure. John Wright seemed to be more interested in using Pollen's kilns to produce fancy goods for display in exhibitions than he was the more humdrum work of insulator manufacture. The arrangement between Wright and Pollen ceased, and Wright went his own way, starting potteries in New Lynn, Ngaruawahia and Paparoa.

In 1864, Pollen had lost a tender for producing 900,000 bricks of various colours and shapes for the new Lunatic Asylum, but picked up much of the contract from 1865 after the winning brickmaker, John Thomas of the Star Mill, defaulted. Later that year, his brick yard was in full production, and a cutter named Whau carried the product to Auckland, where it helped to fill a need for bricks for new buildings under construction during the small war boom in the local economy. By 1866, advertisements for "10,000 bricks, Pollen's best Auckland make" appeared as far away as the Taranaki Herald.

By 1868, a potter named Storey, originally from Onehunga, had set up at Pollen's yards producing domestic earthenware and the insulators. By then, however, competition was fierce in both the brick and pottery field, with John Malam setting up just across the Whau River, and Joshua Carder's Waitemata Pottery Works producing good quality pottery. The latest advertisement I've found so far for Pollen's bricks in 1871; it is quite likely that his works beside the Whau River operated only from 1860 to that date.

Daniel Pollen has left his legend behind in Avondale's history. Basic knowledge of our past almost always includes a mention of Pollen's Brick Yards, even if none of the other brickmakers are recalled. Whether he began the enterprise just to see if he could, or as an attempt at a canny investment -- he certainly left his mark on our story.

An update (18 December 2008) here.

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