Sunday, October 26, 2008

Moses Exler's pottery

Image: one of Moses Exler's ceramic lions, on display at Auckland War Memorial Museum.

It is not certain exactly when Moses Exler (1835-1900) arrived in Auckland. He landed at Brisbane in December 1874, and then decided to move on to Wellington, and finally Auckland where he worked first at George Boyd’s potteries in Newton, then at a Grey Lynn works, before settling in Avondale, on two sections between New Windsor Road and Tiverton Road. He purchased the two sections outright in 1882 and 1883 (the latter in a mortgagee sale), but may have leased them from the owners c.1879. By October 1880, he’d attracted the attention of the NZ Herald:

“Another local industry has been started in the Mount Albert District, about a quarter of a mile from the land taken up by the French vignerous for vine-culture. It is that of pottery-making, &c., by Mr Moses Exler. He had visited the Waikato and other districts without finding a piece of land so suitable as that which he has selected, which contains nine different varieties of clay. He is at present engaged in making flower pots, vases, and ferneries, also encaustic and ornamental tiles for gardens. Mr. William Aitken visited his place, the other day, and gave him, by way of fostering local industry, a large order for the latter articles, as has also Mr. Samuel Morrin. Mr. Exler is at present supplying Messrs. Mason, Wren and other gardeners with all they require in the above descriptions of pottery manufacture, and the industry promises to become thriving and lucrative, as the articles can be produced under the price of foreign importations.”
In 1882, the Herald said:
"Adjoining Captain James’ nursery is the Brick, Tile and Pottery Factory of Mr. Moses Exler, situate on a section of some six acres in extent. Mr Exler is a working man, and he and his two lads do all the work. Considering these circumstances, what he has accomplished by patient industry, in eighteen months, is something wonderful. Here are made drain and ornamental tiles, drain pipes, jars, bread-pans, and all kinds of brown ware, the latter class of goods having a glaze equal to that of similar ware turned out in the Staffordshire potteries. Had Mr. Exler looked the Province over he could not have got a piece of land with seams of clay better adapted for his purpose, and even Ingersoll would admit that this is not one of “Moses’ Mistakes.” In his kiln at the time of our visit were over 500 dozen of flower pots, drain tiles, and bricks. The flower pots, which are of excellent manufacture, are turned out in some cases as low as 4 ½ d. a dozen – about the English price. He has a good demand for all the bricks he can make, while his flower pots are furnished largely to the nurseries of Messrs. Wren, McDonald, Palmer and Green. Mr. Exler also exports flower pots to the South. He has a fine seam of white clay on his property, very suitable for the finer classes of houseware, but owing to lack of sufficient capital is unable to do much in that way. These valuable seams of clay seem to run down to the railway station, where in the face of the railway cutting they can be seen several feet thick."
The distinctive brick house at the corner of Exler Place probably dates from just after 1882, replacing an initial home which was little more than a “clay floor and shingle roof.” It is likely that the house also served to advertise the quality of Exler’s work to all who passed along the road, one of the main routes toward Onehunga.

His eldest son, also named Moses, was drowned in the Whau River on 5 July 1885.
“He had been working all night attending to a kiln that was burning, and in the morning, being all black from the smoke and coal dust,, the deceased and a coloured man named “Harry”, who had also been up all night watching the kiln, decided to go to the river for a wash. Exler being unable to swim, wished to go in the fresh water higher up the creek, where it is not so deep, but Harry asked him to go lower down to the salt water, alleging that the other was too cold. The deceased refused to do so, saying, “No, I won’t go there; if I do, I’ll be drowned.” Ultimately, however, his companion prevailed upon him to go into the salt water. They waded across the creek together in safety, but as they were coming back, Exler must have got into one of the blind channels, for he suddenly drifted away from his mate, and was drowned before he could assist him. This occurred at the portion of the river between Bell’s Tannery and the Whau Bridge. [Today, just north of Olympic Park.] As soon as the news reached the village, Mr. Richard Bollard came into Auckland to inform the police of the accident. At that time the body had not been recovered. Between one and two o’clock the body was discovered by a party of searchers near the boathouse of My John Buchanan. [Possibly just upstream from the Whau Bridge.] The deceased was a bright intelligent young man, universally liked by those who came in contact with him. He was engaged to a young lady residing in Grafton Road, whom he was in the habit of visiting on Sunday evenings. She was naturally surprised at not seeing him last evening, and it was not until this morning that the sad news of his unfortunate death reached her. The deceased was well known in Auckland, his father having been employed at Boyd’s Brick Works, and afterwards at the premises now occupied by the Arch Hill Brick and Tile Works.” (Auckland Star, 6 July 1885)
Exler potter was awarded two gold medals at the Auckland Exhibition of 1898-1899. His fired pots were used by local nurserymen. Decorative roof ridging from the pottery was used as one of the features of St Paul’s Church in Symonds Street. The pottery eventually closed in 1965.

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