Thursday, October 9, 2008

History of "Banwell" (part 1)

(Note from 2003) While interviewing for "Heart of the Whau" in 2001, a resident living next door to "Banwell" contacted me, and invited me around to her place to view papers she had borrowed especially from the current owners of the house. To Mary Fitzpatrick, I remain infinitely grateful. Part of the following formed a contributing source for the book.

The “Banwell” story begins in 1836, with the reason why John Shedden Adam and his brother and sisters would have come to a land half a world away from their home in Scotland.

On 11 January 1836, soon after Ngati Whatua had returned to the pa called Karangahape near Puponga Point on the north shore of the Manukau, one Thomas Mitchell, assisted by the Methodist missionary, William White, secured the marks of Apihai Te Kawau, Kauwae, and Tinana Te Tamaki to a deed purporting to sell forever the whole of the Tamaki Isthmus between the Manukau and Tamaki `rivers' on the south and the ‘Waitemata `river' on the north, and from the Tasman sea to the Hauraki Gulf. The price was 1000 pounds of tobacco, 100 dozen pipes, and six muskets.

On 3 November 1838, following Mitchell's death by drowning, the title was purchased from his widow for £500 by a group of largely Scottish entrepreneurs under the name of the New Zealand Manukau and Waitemata Land Company.

(, sighted 2001)
With wonderful promises of mild climate and fruitful harvests, the Scottish businessmen, led by Patrick Matthews, set out glowing prospectuses in 1839 to their fellow Scots, who bought shares in land in a country they had never seen. It was expected by one and all that Cornwallis was to be the future for the Auckland isthmus. The transport offered to the new land, however, was less than expected.

The first chartered ship, the barque Brilliant, was little better than a coffin ship. It left Glasgow on 31 December 1840 and was almost wrecked before clearing the coast of Scotland. The captain put into Cork Harbour where he and all the crew – except for an apprentice and the cook – walked off. Some passengers followed. A less particular captain was found, on one account a more sober one, another crew was signed on and the longest voyage made by any ship at any time sailing between Britain and New Zealand was again underway. With calls at Sierra Leone (and here the cook deserted), Cape Town, Melbourne (where more passengers left) and Hobart, the Brilliant did not reach the New Zealand coast until 27 October 1841 – 301 days after leaving the Clyde.

(Fire on the Clay, by Dick Scott)
While James Adam arrived on the Brilliant after that interminable voyage, his brother John Shedden Adam (1822-1906) arrived on the Jane Gifford, accompanied by his sister Elizabeth. The Adams family had come with £1200 total land shares from the Land Company. But almost immediately they were met with disappointment. The settlement at Cornwallis was scarcely that – no fine roads, no houses ready to be lived in. Instead, local Maori took pity on the hapless immigrants, building huts for them as shelter.

And also, there were questions as to the true ownership of the land at Puponga Point.

Following the establishment of British sovereignty the company's claims were presented to the Land Claims Commission by Captain W C Symonds, its New Zealand agent. But no Maori witnesses appeared before the land claims commission in 1841 to certify the deed. Meanwhile the company had sold subdivision sections to settlers in the United Kingdom, as if it did have title, and immigrants were actually on their way out in the ship Brilliant. At the request of the Secretary of State in London, Lord John Russell, the executive council in New Zealand, decided, on 18 October 1841, that the Manukau Company would be granted four acres for every £1 it had spent on colonisation, in the area where it had any proven valid claim. The formula of the Pennington awards to the New Zealand Company was thus applied to the Manukau Company. On the figures of expenditure presented this would have entitled to them to 19,924 acres. However, soon after this decision, W C Symonds was drowned and, lacking an effective local agent, the company's claims before the land claims commission languished.

On 3 July 1843 the commission reported that no Maori witnesses having presented themselves during three advertised hearings, the company's claims were not proven. Meanwhile the settlers of the Brilliant had arrived, distressed and bitter at having no titles. The New Zealand administration gave them permission to squat on a defined area at Karangahape, pending the hearing of their claim (which at the time, was expected to be at least in part in their favour). Many dispersed but about 30 settlers huddled in bush material huts on the land, presumably with Ngati Whatua agreement

By now, James Adam had drowned (in the same incident as Symonds), and John S Adam decided to cut his losses. In 1843, the immigrants were offered an acre of Crown “waste land” for every 4 acres they held in Cornwallis. John S Adam took up the offer, and was granted Allotment 85 in the Parish of Titirangi, in the Whau District. This is a remarkable fact, in that previously the earliest known settlement of the Whau District, which included modern day Avondale, had been after the Auckland Land Sales of 1844, waiting for 1845 before men such as Henry Walton and Daniel Pollen started building their homesteads in the district. But, it would seem, due to the connections of either Adams, the rest of the Cornwallis settlers, or both – the government of the day gave part of their “waste land” area as a grant ahead of schedule.

According to A Man of Many Parts by Graeme Adam, John S Adam was “determined to make a life for himself and to help his sister and James’ widow … had a small farm and a house on the hill to match.”

It has been theorised that this original house on the site was a kit house, with kauri beams having been shipped to England, dressed to size, roofing and other items added and then everything shipped right back to New Zealand, with a design close to that of Australian styles of the era, with deep verandahs. However, considering that the Adam family were “well-established” by 1844/1845, I question the amount of time the above arrangements would have taken. Adam most likely had a small, colonial-style house, perhaps similar to Acacia Cottage (presently in Cornwall Park, the dwelling built by Campbell and Brown). After all, in other notes found in the T. Lowe papers from 9 Acton Place, it is said that John Adam “had a powerful lobby of friends” which included John Logan Campbell, the builder of Acacia Cottage. It is said that the building had 3 fireplaces, timber-beamed floors and “an overall feeling of homely elegance”. This would have been Adam putting his skills to work – as he was “a skilled surveyor and architect of considerable wealth”.

On 1 December 1845, his father wrote to him from Edinburgh:

I am glad to see that you are at work with potatoes and pumpkins. I wish I had the opportunity of giving you lessons on farming.

I do not think the place you have chosen is as pleasant as one would be with plenty of water.

I think if you decide on remaining in New Zealand at all, you should look out for a pleasant situation of about 50-100 acres near the seaside, and having a stream of water, and purchase it and sell your ownership.
As it was, John Adam felt his talents were wasted as a “yeoman farmer”. In 1846, he settled up his affairs in New Zealand, and moved to Sydney, never to return. However, his allotments, now including much of allotments 83, 84 and 13 (much of New Windsor and Avondale Central bought during the actual land sales of 1845), still remained in the combined ownership of himself and his sisters.

In the Lowe papers, there is a brief reference to the house being removed and sent to a Mr Russell, apparently a business partner of Adam, perhaps in Australia. If so, then Allotment 85 holds no real remnant of that early 2 year occupancy of J. S. Adam.


  1. Thanks for the information on John Shedden Adam. It was particularly helpful as almost nothing was known about him in NSW where he went after NZ.

  2. all very interesting so ... who owns the tiltes in nz? Adam's relos do they have claim to this.

  3. John S Adam sold up everything the family had title to in New Zealand, as far as I know. It took a couple of decades. I'd be interested to hear if the family still claim something.