Thomas J Harbutt, from the Harbutt family history, courtesy Keith Salmon
In 1876, Thomas Jefcoate Harbutt and his familyarrived in Auckland via the Hero. An ironmonger by trade, he was born in 1830, in North Shields, Northumberland. By his first wife, Elizabeth Leslie, he had two sons and two daughters. Elizabeth died in 1864, however; Thomas remarried, this time to Annabelle Jennings in 1867, and the family then moved to the island of Jersey. Three more sons were born there, along with two daughters. The family apparently returned to Northumberland briefly: an illuminated address was provided to Harbutt in 1875 following the announcement of the leaving his native land for the distant colony.
August 12. — A farewell dinner was given in the Albion Hotel, North Shields, to Mr. T. J. Harbutt, who was about leaving his native town for New Zealand, when a splendidly-illuminated address, in a large gilt frame, was also presented to him. It contained at the top striking portraits of Mr. and Mrs. Harbutt, and
bore the following inscription : —
Thomas Jefcoate Harbutt, Esq.
Respected and dear Sir, — We, the undersigned tradesmen of North Shields, beg your acceptance of this address, on the occasion of your leaving this country for New Zealand, as a token of our personal regard and esteem, and as a mark of our appreciation of your unswerving integrity, untiring energy, and amiability as a man of business, which have not only caused you to be endeared to, and respected by, all with whom you have come in contact, but have also been very materially the means of improving the commercial position of this your native town ; and also as indicating our earnest hope that, in your new sphere of labour, you may meet with the success which cannot fail to crown the efforts of one who has given such proofs of his energy and attainments.
Much of the personal information on the Harbutts comes from a series of family trees published on Rootsweb, a set of pages which provided answers to the origins of a number of streets in what was once Harbutt's Estate in Mt Albert.
On arriving in Auckland, the family initially settled in a store at Shortland Street, where Harbutt set himself up as a general grocer.
Auckland Star 27 April 1876
WANTED, for the Brush Trade, three or four young Girls; also one or two Drawing hands; 1s 2d per lb. given for horse hair.—Thos. J. Harbutt, Brush Manufacturer, Shortland-street.
But soon, he started to specialise.
Auckland Star 14 April 1877
He shifted his brushware manufacturing business to the corner of Victoria and Kitchener Streets (or Coburg Street, as the latter was known in the days before World War I). At some point in 1877, he purchased land at Devonport, called "Rosebank", and set up the family home, father to two more sons and daughters each -- although here is an ad were at least part was up for letting.
To Let immediately, “Rosebank," the well-known Tea and Strawberry Gardens, six-roomed House, outhouses, and 4 acres of first-class volcanic soil.— Apply to Thomas J. Harbutt, Brush-works, Victoria-street.
AS 25 August 1877
Auckland Star 11 September 1877
Harbutt did extremely well with his business. Locally manufactured brushes and brooms, using both local (horsehair and wood for example) and imported raw materials were of course cheaper than the imported versions from either Australia or as far afield as America or England. He apparently sold his products wholesale to the likes of hotel chains, for example -- and here, he had done well, setting up business just as the likes of John Logan Campbell, Louis Ehrenfried, Hancocks Brewery and the Seccombe family were on the rise and accumulating their hospitality empires.Upon the manufacture of brushware "Veritas" writes "Sir, —I was sorry not to observe amongst the exhibits at the Pastoral and Agricultural Exhibition of local industry brushware, now so well made here, and on asking the manufacturer I was informed that the support and patronage given to his goods, admitted quite equal, if not superior, and as cheap as imported, is so small that he is thinking of leaving, and has already had to discharge a number of hands, many of them after learning a new trade; this is greatly to be regretted because this industry has given employment to a number of girls and boys, and must tend to develop local talent. I trust, sir, the trade will do all they possibly can to encourage Mr Harbutt's manufactures, and retain this industry within the province his goods being admittedly better and cheaper than imported."
AS 10 November 1877
NOTICETHOS. J. HARBUTTHas pleasure in intimating to his friends, Wholesale Merchants, Importers, and the Trade generally, that it is not his desire to change his locality, nor give up the Wholesale Manufacture of Brushes now carried on in Coburg-street, Auckland, but rather, from the very hearty expressions of sympathy and support which more recently has been given him, his firm determination is to keep pegging away, and with health and continued perseverance, to wait patiently the good time coming. The industry has taken good root, and he feels sure will not need transplanting. This notice he feels is due to the trade, as from a recent friendly paragraph in the public papers it might appear he had definitely decided to leave, and this might operate against him in their future orders. His best efforts are being put forth to make his Manufactured Goods a success, and equal to anything in the market, and he never was better prepared to receive and execute all orders entrusted to him, T.J.H. would take this opportunity of announcing that he intends gradually adding the Wholesale Manufacture of Painting Brushes, Household and Market Baskets, &c, &c, in addition to the Household Brushes now made in his commodious premises, Coburg-street, Auckland.
The Wellington Post notice the receipt by Mr Jeffs, of a sample of brushware, manufactured by Mr T. J. Harbutt, of Auckland. The Post says “They are really a first-class sample, and the prices are extremely low—about two-thirds the price of English goods."
Hundredth Trip of the s.s. Hero.
PRESENTATIONS TO CAPT. LOGAN AND PURSER COGSWELL.
A LARGE number of the most influential citizens assembled in the large room of the Insurance Buildings this afternoon, to witness and assist in the presentations to Captain Logan and Mr Cogswell, of the s.s. Hero, which steamer has just concluded her 100th consecutive passage to this port … His Worship read a letter from Thomas B. Harbutt, dated from the Brushworks, in which he begged to forward a coat-brush as a token of his esteem for Captain Logan, and stated that when he came here two years ago with Captain Logan he little thought that he would be able to present such a specimen of local industry. (The brush is very beautifully made, is engrossed with Captain Logan's name, and will do great credit to Auckland's industries.)
AS 3 April 1878
Knowing the admirable character of Mr Harbutt's establishment we have much pleasure in giving publicity to fill in an omission from our report:
"Dear Sir: I seem to have been unfortunate in not attracting the notice of your reporter at the late Cambridge Show. The "Herald" gives me three words, but you ignore my existence, which we little manufacturers feel sore about. You can do good service to such by a word in season. I employ now above 35 hands, young and old, and send goods all over the country, but I want the home trade here as well, yet find it the more difficult to secure, although the goods are acknowledged to be of value. I intend to show at Ellerslie Exhibition, when probably he may have a better opportunity of judging.—Yours respectfully, Thomas J. Harbutt."
AS 28 October 1878
(Second annual show by Auckland Agricultural and Pastoral Association) Brushware.—Mr T. Harbutt exhibited upwards of 50 varieties of brush ware and secured 1st prize.
Melbourne Exhibition 1880
Harbutt, Thomas J., Wholesale Brush Manufacturer, Victoria-street, Auckland— Brushware, made of bristles, hair, fibre, whisk, &c.; made by persons taught the trade within the last four years.
Thomas Harbutt was, it would seem, among the first, if not the first of the late Victorian employers in the city to institute the great tradition of the age, the Company Excursion.
We were glad to see that Mr Thos. J. Harbutt, brushmaker, on Saturday last set a very good example to the employers of Auckland in giving his employees an invitation to spend a day with him at the North Shore, which was responded to in a very unanimous and hearty manner. The party had a line and delightful day of it. They commenced their day's pleasure by leaving Auckland in the 10.30 boat, and after enjoying the pleasant trip across, assembled at the Devonport Hall, specially engaged for the purpose, and ridding themselves of their surplus clothing, started off for a ramble. After a pleasant walk upon the beach, and climbing hill and rock, they returned to the hall, to find that in the interval busy hands had been at work to meet the demand of their keen appetites. The hall had been tastefully decorated, and the tables bore evidence of a full supply of good things. Dinner over, off they went attain, evidently bent on enjoying themselves, and engaged in racing, cricketing, &c, returning to the hall at six for tea, to find that there was still a plentiful supply. After tea, the hall was lit up, and a number of musical pieces, duets, &c, were gone through in a very creditable style. During the evening a variety of games were played, and before breaking up a very warm and hearty vote of thanks was awarded to Mr Harbutt and family for the very excellent manner in which they had entertained their guests. After spending a pleasant day, the party returned to the city by the 9 o'clock boat. This is the first annual gathering of the kind in the trade, and we hope it will not be the last; for it must be gratifying to all to see such a good understanding between workpeople and employers.
Three years later, he was the chairman for the inaugural meeting of the Devonport Steam Ferry Company, and served on the board of directors. (AS 9.3.1881)
Auckland Star 3 October 1881
In September-October 1881, he changed his business once more. Selling off the brushware manufacturing side (AS 1.10.1881), he concentrated, from that point until his death, on brooms. Specifically, brooms made from American broom corn.
Auckland Star 3 October 1881
I wondered what on earth would have been the reason to discard around 50 product lines, items which were used in those days to clean debris and dust in flour mills, other factories, hotels, shops, the domestic household ... just for brooms? The answer? Brooms were more profitable by far.
… in the last year the country imported… brushware and brooms, £17,675. Of this last item, a large portion is for articles of the broom class, which could be very easily produced at home— the cultivation of the "broom corn" as a regular crop being a profitable occupation for the farmer, extensively followed in the United States, and now being introduced into New South Wales, and the manufacture of the brooms from this material a very simple process.
BOP Times 23.12.1879
He did add to the broom product lines, however, something called a "combination scrub and mop wringer."
PRELIMINARY ANNOUNCEMENT THOS. J. HARBUTT has pleasure in announcing to the public and his numerous Business Friends that he has joined MR A. EASTON in his PATENT COMBINATION SCRUB AND MOP WRINGER and will, in the future, carry on the wholesale manufacture of the same, at his Corn Broom Factory, Basque Road, from whence all orders will be promptly attended to. Patents have been scoured for the whole of New Zealand, as well as Victorla. New South Wales, England, America, &c. December, 1885.
Thomas Harbutt becomes the focus of this particular Street Stories post from June 1883, when he purchased just over 31 acres of land on Allotment 58 in Mt Albert from Bombay farmer Wright Lindsay. The land was split into two parts, thanks to the Kaipara Railway line which was opened in 1880. Three acres of future residential land fronting New North Road was separated from a farm of just over 28 acres, which came to be known as Oakleigh (after, I'd say, the Oakley Creek forming one of the boundaries. Oakleigh wasn't all that original though -- the other "Oakleigh" was in Waterview, beside the Star Mill site, known by that name from the late 1870s.)
There, Harbutt built a residence -- possibly at around No. 4 Woodward Road today (more later this post), and fathered still more children: three more daughters and a son.
Diagram from NA 36/177, LINZ records, crown copyright
Those who travel to Mount Albert cannot but be forcibly struck with that dangerous railway crossing at Morningside. It is somewhat singular that Mr Harbutt, at the recent meeting of the Mount Albert Highway Board, pointed out this danger, and urged that a bridge be constructed. The people will be somewhat aroused now to hear that yesterday morning, at about a quarter to nine, Mr Harbutt’s son had a narrow escape at that place. He was riding to town, and on coming up to the crossing and seeing the train, he at once drew back about 20 yards to allow it to pass, but as soon as the train came up, the horse was frightened, and instead of backing, he rushed forward to the train. The boy kept him back as much as he could till the train passed, when the horse bolted after the train, and came up so close that a carriage struck it a blow upon the leg, but not doing much injury. The boy and horse had to leap about 10 feet, which just saved them from a horrible death. It is time the railway authorities rectified this matter, or in the future some fearful accident may be recorded.
Initially, it appears that Harbutt used the 28 acre farm to raise income from it through renting or leasing.
TO LET The Oakley Dairy Farm at Mount Albert, now occupied by Mr R. J. Souster, containing 28 acres of good Land, and valuable water supply. The live and dead stock to be purchased at a valuation, for Cash.— Full particulars can be obtained on application to Mr T J Harbutt, Eden Terrace, or Mr F. A. White. Queen-street.
It was described in a later ad as a “first class farm, 4 miles out, 28 acres, volcanic, fine creek, 8-roomed house and outbuildings."
Auckland Star 14 August 1883
In 1883, Thomas J Harbutt introduced his "Kapai" brand for the corn brooms he manufactured, importing the raw material from America, via his son Lawrence who lived there in the early and the late 1880s (one of Lawrence's children, however, was born in Auckland in 1885). Lawrence (1861-1937) appears to have written a pamphlet which met with some interest from Queensland -- part of his father's efforts, I would say, to save money, make more profit, and pay less for importing broom corn from a closer source.
"Hints for the Culture of Broom Corn,” by L. Harbutt, Kapai Corn Broom Factory, Auckland, N. Z., is the title of a pamphlet which gives all that is to be said upon the subject it treats of. Broom corn grows in Queensland quite as readily as any other sorghum, and there is no reason why its manufacture should not become one of our industries. Mr. Harbutt has established a factory at Auckland and is prepared to buy any quantity of the broom-brush from Queensland growers at from £16 to £30 per ton for good samples, and a higher price for choice parcels. We should be glad to see him come over to Queensland and start a similar factory here, for most assuredly he could by a little publicity of his intentions obtain any quantity of brush to work upon. In the United States there are no less than 625 factories engaged in making brooms and whisks, employing 5206 hands turning out brooms to the value of $6,600,000 annually. We have in past years referred to this subject and given instruction as to the method of growing the plant and preparing the broom, but we shall avail ourselves Mr Harbutt’s pamphlet to again, in an early issue return to the matter. In the meantime we would mention, upon the authority of Mr James Warner, Survey Office, Brisbane, who kindly forwarded us the above pamphlet that he has received from Mr. Harbutt a small packet of the right kind of seed, and that it will be sown in the garden of the Acclimitisation Society with a view to future distribution.
The Queenslander 2.7.1887
Auckland Star 14 June 1884
From 1884 to 1889, Harbutt was even a feature at Eden Terrace. Somewhere along Basque Road, just down from the Upper Symonds Street shopping precinct, he had his second factory.
Auckland Star 13 November 1884
From 1884-1885, Harbutt gradually withdrew from his Devonport property and sold bits off, as he increasingly made Mt Albert his home.
NZ Map 4497-6, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Council Libraries
Auckland Star 13 November 1886
Things weren't easy for Harbutt from the late 1870s, as the Long Depression began to bite, however. As seen above, there were rumours early in the piece that he might have packed up his business altogether and left, due to circumstances. In 1886, he appealed to the City Council against rates demands he had some difficulty meeting due to cashflow problems (AS 15.1.1886). Later that year, things came to a head, and he let some of the leases go which he had built up around the city.
Still, what was the product contribution made by the 16-year-old Sydney, Thomas' son, to the Sunday School Industrial Exhibition of 1886? I think you would have guessed -- brooms. (AS 23.11.1886)
Auckland Star 27 February 1889
In 1888, Thomas Harbutt moved back to the city, and the following year set up the Kapai Corn Broom Company -- a firm which was to last into the middle of the 20th century, well past the founder's lifetime.
Auckland Star 22 October 1890
Kapai Corn Broom Company shed near graving dock, as seen from bottom of Hobson Street, early 1890s. Ref. 4-585, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Council Libraries
The Kapai Corn Broom Company, Ltd. (Thomas J. Harbutt, managing director), Manufacturers of Corn Brooms, Bass Brooms, House Bellows, etc., corner Victoria Street East and Coburg Street, Auckland. Bankers, Bank of New Zealand. It is now nearly a quarter of a century since Mr. Harbutt concluded that the manufacture of corn brooms (known as ordinary American brooms) should be undertaken in this Colony, in order that the people might save the excessive freight on the imported article, and that the wages of those engaged in the manufacture might be paid and retained in the Colony instead of being, so to speak, sent away to America. In order that no loss might arise from want of knowledge of the industry, Mr. Harbutt sent one of his sons (Mr Lawrence Harbutt) to San Francisco to thoroughly learn the trade in all its branches.
This done, Mr. Harbutt set his inventive genius to work on improvements which seemed to him to be necessary, and he produces brooms of a quality which cannot be equalled by any over-sea importations. Indeed, considering the superiority of Mr. Harbutt's brooms over the imported corn brooms it is surprising that any of the latter should still come to the Colony. The output of the Kapai Corn Broom Company amounts to about 100,000 brooms per annum, and the turnover would be doubled if this first-rate local article were bought by the public. Mr. Harbutt was awarded the silver medal at the Wellington Exhibition of 1885, and a bronze medal at the Indian and Colonial Exhibition, London, in the following year, and these honours prove the excellence of his goods. Many other articles are manufactured by the Kapai Corn Broom Company, but only a few can be mentioned here, such as the spiral chimney sweeper, a long-handled cobweb sweeper, a long-handled scrubber for verandahs, dairies, etc., and the ordinary house bellows. All these and many others were recently exhibited at the Auckland Exhibition, where they deservedly gained first prizes. At present the raw material is imported, but it is Mr. Harbutt's opinion that at least a thousand acres of good land might be profitably set aside for the growth of the corn required by his factory alone.
Assuredly the Kapai Corn Broom Company should be encouraged by all who wish well to the Colony, as only those who have watched the growth of the industry can form an idea of the energy and perseverance exerted by Mr. Harbutt and his sons in bringing it to its present state of thorough-going efficiency.
From 1889, Thomas Harbutt started making moves to have broom corn grown not just in Australia, but here as well.
Mr Harbutt, the well-known corn broom manufacturer of Victoria-street east, purposes bringing three of his sons from America to take up land at Te Puke or the Victoria Valley for the purpose of growing corn for the manufacture of brooms. At present Mr Harbutt has to import his broom corn from America, when the article might be produced locally.
Then, he may have considered that, as he had so many acres at Mt Albert, scoria dotted but still arable, he might give it a bit of a go there -- just to show the New Zealanders it was possible.
Tenders wanted for Ploughing about 10 to 15 acres Land at Mount Albert—Apply T. J. Harbutt, Corn Broom Factory, Victoria-street: or, at his residence. Mount Albert, before 9 a.m.
As a trial crop, Harbutt's Mt Albert broom corn turned out to be a success, despite some recollections handed down from descendants of the adjoining Woodward family that it failed. It certainly convinced Te Puke farmers that it was worthwhile to take part.
T. J. Harbutt, of the Kapai Broom Factory, Auckland, went to Te Puke last Friday week to ascertain the capabilities or that district for growing broom corn, of which his celebrated brooms are composed. He returned to Tauranga last Friday, and tells the local paper that Te Puke is extremely well adapted for growing this crop. He endeavoured to induce the settlers there to take up the culture, which many of them promised to do. Mr J C. Galbraith has agreed to assist in this direction. Mr Harbutt will therefore send some choice broom corn seed, brought from America by his son. Mr Harbutt recommends that settlers sow only a few acres as an experiment, and that the sowing should be in October or November. Enough seed to sow 40 acres will be sent to Te Puke, and along with it will be sent a corn broom planter, which puts in two rows at a time.
Corn Broom.—This industry is gradually making its way, several consignments of brooms having been sent South lately, and two during the past week. There is every possibility of this industry being still further developed, as a member of an American firm who has been on a visit to this city was so impressed with the prospects of the Corn Broom Manufactory that he has entered into arrangements to join the firm, and proposes introducing steam machines to make and sew the brooms. The millet itself is also to be grown here, two sons of Mr Harbutt having taken up a block of land at Te Puke and the land is now being prepared for the crop. That millet will succeed here was proved by a patch of 10 acres previously grown by Mr Harbutt at Mount Albert.
Auckland Star 4 August 1900
By September 1900, "Harbutt's Plasticine, billed as "the new modelling material for artists, schools, and home amusement: The Child's Delights", was available for sale at that most fashionable of retail outlets, Smith & Caughey's. (AS 11.9.1900)
Thomas Harbutt died in 1903.
Mr Thomas J. Harbutt, who died at his residence, at Mount Albert, yesterday afternoon, was a native of North Shields, where his earlier business experience as an ironmonger was gained. He came to Auckland about 28 years ago from Jersey, and introduced the broom manufacturing industry into this part of the country, establishing the Kapai Corn Broom Company, of which he was manager till his death. He was 73 years of age, and he had done service as member of different local bodies, such as the City North Licensing Committee, Mount Albert Road Board, and Mount Albert School Committee, besides which he was for many years honorary choir master of the Beresford-street Congregational Church. His death was accelerated by a fall from a trap he sustained some weeks ago, He leaves a widow, fourteen children and five grandchildren. His third son is secretary to the Auckland Liedertafel and six of the elder members of the family are in Australia.
He also served on the board for Pt Chevalier School as well. (AS 19.5.1892)
"Mrs Harbutt", photograph by Herman J Schmidt, 1912, ref 31-69474, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Council LibrariesThe image above from the Sir George Grey Special Collections is that of his T J Harbutt's widow Annabelle, who remained at Mt Albert, living at the corner of New North and Woodward Roads, until her own death in June 1928. For a total of 44 years, therefore, she was a part of the community at Mt Albert, often taking part in activities at the local Methodist churches. A man included in another photograph in the series resembles her son, Sydney.
Detail from DP 15058, LINZ records, crown copyright
The Harbutt's home appears to be the wooden house indicated here, in a 1921 survey plan organised by her son, Sydney Jefcoate Harbutt (1870-1956).
Aerial from Auckland Council website, 1940
It is possible that the large building in the above aerial from 1940 is the same one, shifted back towards the railway line, possibly to make room for the later retail premises which dominate the corner (once known as Harbutt's Corner) today.
Aerial from Auckland Council website, 2008
Hopefully, the Mt Albert Historical Society will be able to explore the possibility further, and see if it is correct. If it it -- this would mean the house is one of the oldest in Mt Albert, that although shifted is still on its original land, and is associated with a family with connections both to the local heritage of Mt Albert, but also significantly Auckland's commercial and industrial history.
Photo taken 26 April 2012
Detail, DP 18277, LINZ records, crown copyright
As far as the streets are concerned:
Harbutt Avenue: (DP 17247, 1932, named possibly by the subdivider, Sydney J Harbutt) Obviously named for the family.
Jersey Avenue: Sydney Harbutt's birthplace, along with five of his siblings. Sydney J Harbutt didn't live in Mt Albert -- he organised the subdivision of his mother's property from Otahuhu.
Newcastle Terrace: Newcastle, a main centre in the Harbutt family's home county of Northumberland. Sydney J Harbutt's grandfather, another Thomas, was born in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, according to the Rootsweb pages.
Jennings Street: Possibly one of the last subdivisions of the Harbutt Estate. Jennings was Annabelle Harbutt's maiden name.
Detail from Deed 1256, LINZ records, crown copyright
Also, even a bit of Avondale history is involved with this: in 1922, Annabelle Harbutt transferred (NA 31/176) part of the Oakleigh farm area to the Avondale Borough Council for use as a quarry (top of detail above). Another quarry site was in operation immediately below that as at 1924, apparently used by private contractors. These two quarries, plus a small part of the Woodward farm above at Allotment 60, and a strip of land fronting the Kaipara railway below, came under railway proclamation in the late 1940s.
Detail from DP 40792, LINZ records, crown copyright
Right through to the late 1980s, this area was earmarked as part of a proposed rail line linking the Rosebank Peninsula industrial area with the main Western rail line, to ease transport of goods and raw material from the peninsula to the rest of the region and the country. The rail line would have passed through what is now Harbutt Reserve, Phyllis Reserve, across Oakley Creek to Heron Park, then out along the north-eastern edge of the peninsula, through reclamations which also never came to be.
Aerial from Auckland Council website, 2008
Instead, today, we have the above named reserves -- starting with this one, Harbutt Reserve, mostly likely named because the main access is from Harbutt Avenue.
It would be nice to have a sign here about the origins of the name, the family, and the brooms.