Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Domain Waters 3: Mechanic's Hill

Edward Ashworth's "Mechanic's Bay", c.1843. Ref A-208-109, Alexander Turnbull Library

Third in a series. The first two are here and here.

Richard Simpson's presentation, both at his talk on 25th September and online, is in error when it comes to using the above simple sketch of Mechanic's Bay to illustrate the path of the Waipapa. The lowest reaches of the stream in the early days were more or less a swamp, before serious efforts to drain the swamp and channel the waters from the Domain streams by mill race came into use. It was in confluence with the Waiparuru (from Stanley Street) and the Domain Springs flow just before the rope walk which appeared just after the period Ashworth's scene, behind and beside the surprisingly large building which was likely the early store on the future Strand/Swan Hotel site. There is every possibility that the small undulating line coming down Mechanic's Hill towards the bay is not the Waipapa as Richard has labelled it -- but yet another small stream of water, draining the land as the Waipapa Stream does, as does the sister streams from the Domain, and the Waiparuru.

"Parnell and Mechanics Bay, Auckland, in 1864. Shows Parnell Rise and Maori men's hostel in the foreground." Ref 1/2-036270-F, Alexander Turnbull Library.

Ashworth's sketch, even given at least some artistic licence in terms of the lay of the land, illustrates what can be seen in the above image: a very rough landscape up Mechanic's Hill (Parnell Rise) towards Parnell, with gullies bearing their own small water courses which are not the stream recognised today as the Waipapa. Which, in turn, was named after the bay into which it, along with the other streams, drains. Even today (although, of course, beyond The Strand, the drainage is piped underground.)

Mechanic's Hill and The Strand, from late c.1850s. Ref 4-1118, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries

Another oddity about the hillside just off Parnell Rise is this photo from at the earliest the late 1850s (the hotel at the corner of Stanley Street dates from 1856). Hugh Stringleman's book Agricultural Heritage (2010) p. 38 makes the error of calling the "long building in the centre" the Rope Walk, when it definitely isn't. But -- what was it?

I went looking for the answer in old survey plans.

The building is approximately where Bedford Street comes off Parnell Rise today, according to Stringleman, so -- I looked there, and found that (a) that area was part of the Grammar School endowment property, and (b) that the building appears to be this:

Both details from SO 821, LINZ records, crown copyright

A rectangular shape on the plan, apparently just beside what was to become Mutu Street. The wording inside the black blodge left from the scanning seems to read "brick shed". So -- someone was making bricks in the vicinity, and using this structure as a dryer? I haven't tracked down the brickmaker yet, and would love to receive suggestions. Would this enterprise have been one of those utilising the Waipapa bush stream? Unlikely, when it apparently (according to Ashworth) had its own trickle to use. If the date on the National Library photograph is accurate -- whoever was forming bricks in the area didn't last long. But then, who knows? There are always more questions as time goes on when it comes to the Waipapa shores.

Update 5 October 2011: Carolyn Cameron, archivist for Parnell Heritage pointed out in the comments below that Stephen Gillingham is a likely suspect behind the brick store. He was operating as a brickmaker at Mechanic's Bay from c.1857 (Jury List) until only around 1860, when he was just described as a dealer.  Looks like he went on to be one of the churchwarders for St Barnabas' School at Parnell by 1861, and was selling up good, uncluding a machine for making drain pipes, by mid 1862. By December, his "valuable property on Parnell Hill," a seven-room cottage, and "extensive brick shed" were up for sale due to the mortgage. His lease was up for sale, along with the contents of the brick shed, earlier the following year. So -- the long white structure is Stephen Gillingham's brick shed, c.1857-1863. Cheers, Carolyn!


  1. Historical reports and sketches are being called into question. Fortunately official records have been kept, but even they are not trustworthy. It is all information for interpretation. While I am not an accurate recorder of history, I have learnt a lot from your questioning of everything. Must be time for a train post soon.

  2. Absolutely agree, Andrew. It's down to gathering as much info as you possibly can. Only then can you get some success sorting wheat from chaff. Cheers!

  3. Hi Lisa
    Check out Stephen Gillingham,
    Carolyn Cameron

  4. Great, Carolyn! Yes -- most likely him. I'll add that to the post. Cheers!