Very approximate extent of William William's original land claim (in yellow, down to the Manukau Harbour coastline), overlaid on 1890 County of Eden map.
A S Hamilton on the Timespanner FB page asked, “Do you have anything on the naming of Penrose and in particular Penrose House? I've always wondered what was on that hill between Penrose Rd and Portman Rd and it turns out to be the remains of a large estate and an old manor called Penrose House.”
The links for the name Penrose are certain in this country. William Williams named his farm Penrose Farm, and Penrose House (renamed "Scotswood" by the Fletchers) was built by the then-owner of Penrose Farm in 1885, so that follows through. What remains uncertain is why William Williams in the 1840s-1850s chose the name “Penrose Farm”.
He was born in Cornwall in 1806, in the town of Penryn, in the same parish (Budock) as Penrose Farm, which was due south from Penryn, on the southern coast. But there are apparently no surviving records as to whether the Williams family ever lived on Penrose Farm, worked there, or had any connections with the farm’s owners or tenants. Williams, according to family tradition, was known to have declared quite often that “Penrose Farm in Budock had the finest pasture-land, and raised the best beef and the very best quality mutton, in all of Cornwall,” but he also said that there was only one thing in common between his Auckland farm, and the one in Budock, and “that was the name.” So … no one is sure why Williams felt so inspired as to plant the Cornish name on the Auckland landscape. The total area claimed, fronting onto Manukau Harbour, may have inspired the name as well (Penrose Farm in Cornwall was on the coast). Then again, perhaps, and more simply, it reminded him of Home.
As a young man in Penryn, he was articled to a firm of architects, but also developed a talent for painting in oils and water-colours. Plans by the New Zealand Company were publicised in Cornwall, said to have inspired him, so he decided to settle in the new colonies, choosing Hobart first before moving to Adelaide, practicing as an architect, before briefly (very briefly) touching down at Auckland in 1840. He was away back to England before the year was out, not returning to Auckland until the middle of 1842.
GGM Mitchell in his book The Penrose Farm Story says that in 1842 Williams spotted an early land map, where part, near Tamaki, was inscribed “volcanic soil of the finest description.” Apparently, this made Williams go off in search of that piece of land, and on finding it, made an agreement with the Maori owners and then began to make representations to Governor FitzRoy for a title. In this, he stepped into the same waiver of pre-emption mess that bedevilled Thomas Henderson of Henderson’s Mill fame for the next twenty or so years. Williams claimed a total of 789 acres of land, but by the time Governor FitzRoy’s successor Grey had arrived, plus petitions and hearings, the total claim allowed came down to 253 acres (east of Great South Road) in 1847. Williams probably received that title only due to the fact he was already occupying that part of the claim (much of the rest to the west was swampy, later owned by J Dilworth), a stone house in existence until 1850 when it was gutted by fire, replaced with a weatherboard house which also burned down in 1894, then replaced by a timbered house in 1895 at 80 Commissariat Road. The crown grant cost Williams £63 5/-, plus £123 paid out to the Maori owners and to surveyors for the original claim. Williams appealed for compensation, but failed.
The farm, as per Deeds Index 5A.522, LINZ records
Williams purchased a further 91.5 acres immediately to the north of the 1847 grant of land in 1853 (this included what was later known as Bailey’s Hill, up to Penrose Road) for £200, bring the total acreage up to 344.5 acres. When the Deeds Index begins in in 1856, this is the complete Penrose Farm.
The name Penrose Farm was used by Williams from 1843 (when he thought he had the full area). He used it for breeding Lincoln and Border Leicester Sheep, calling his operation “Penrose Stud Farm”. But the word “stud” was dropped by the 1850s. By 1847 anyway, he was briefly a hotelier at Shortland Street, until 1848, of the Royal Exchange Hotel. He also purchased further land, at Pakuranga (“Little Penrose Farm”) and residential lots at Panmure.
The Penrose Farm land documentation was brought under Deeds Index (5A.522) in time for the lease of the farm to the Maclean brothers, Robert and Thomas Every Maclean in 1856, the lease itself dating from 1854. The Macleans are well-known for their Bleak House Farm at Pakuranga. So, it appears that Williams had ceased the notion of running a farm himself on the rocky ground, instead turning his attention to being a merchant and ship-owner, particularly as part of Williams, Hinckley and Company, with a storehouse on Fort Street and schooners, ketches, and cutters for trade up and down the coasts and to Australia.
Penrose Farm and Bleak House Farm were run by the Auckland Agricultural Company from 1867 under the Macleans. The brothers had taken out a number of mortgages from Williams and others until they sold Penrose Farm to James Bailey in 1868 and 1872. They remained as leaseholders to Bailey until he returned to New Zealand in 1879, at which point the Company ceased to use the farm. (But Bailey replaced Thomas Every Maclean as head of the Company). Penrose House, built on Bailey’s Hill in 1885, remained in the Bailey family until 1944, when it was purchased by the Fletcher family.
The Bailey family subdivision of the farm, 1927. DP 20687, LINZ records.
By 1927, when the Bailey family surveyed the farm for subdivision, Commissariat, Bailey and Aranui Road were all in existence. In the 1950s, State Highway 1 carved across the western side of the farm, more or less cutting it off from Great South Road.
[Just a side note: GGM Mitchell’s 1959 book The Penrose Farm Story was republished in 2001 by Cadsonbury Publications. This is the version I’ve been able to access from the library. It has a good index added by the publisher in the new version, but the only critique I have is that the publisher (Robin Mitchell) has gone through all the book and added values in dollars alongside Mitchell’s figures – and all would be incorrect, as the figures are simply doubled. This, of course, does not bring in necessary factors such as inflation and true currency values. It would have been better in my opinion if GGM Mitchell’s manuscript had been left as-is in that regard.]