Saturday, October 11, 2008

Our Warden of the Hundred: William Edgecombe

Image from NZ Graphic.

Updated: 30 April 2013

Arguably, Edgecombe was Rosebank's first gardener. It was he who placed the following advertisement in the Southern Cross in March of 1855:
Turnips and Potatoes Grown at the Wahu

Parties interested in bets respecting the measurement and weight of Turnips and Potatoes grown on Mr. Edgecombe's Farm at the Wahu, to be decided at the Exchange Hotel, Auckland, on Saturday, 31st inst. May see the same growing on the Farm as above, on Friday, 30th inst.
March 27th, 1855.
At the time he had his Avondale farm on Rosebank up for sale in October 1858, it was described as:
"A choice Farm of 200 acres, on the Whau, far and favourably known as Edgecombe's Farm. This is a property of no common description, Fenced and Cultivated, well and picturesquely Wooded, and abundantly Watered, bounded on one side by the Whau River, in which a vessel of 30 tons may load alongside the banks."
Even taking into account the exaggerations of land agents of that time and this, Edgecombe does seem to have created from an area where sheep farming was probably the best commercial use anyone could get out of the area (both John Kelly and Robert Chisholm were sheep farming in the early 1850s and 1860s-1870s respectively) -- a veritable farming paradise.

William Edgecombe (1814-1895) was born and christened in North Devon, the township of Milton Damerel, according to a family historian, Alan Taylor. According to Taylor, Edgecombe sailed to New Zealand with his wife Ann and arrived at New Plymouth in 1841, leaving in 1846 for Auckland. Another William Edgecombe had preceded him to New Plymouth, but remained there. The Auckland William Edgecombe eventually made his way north, setting himself up first as a butcher at Mechanics Bay, then a storekeeper, then as a cattle owner. He left the colony for a time in 1850, heading to California, but was back by 1852. Around that time he may have taken out a lease on Allotment 10 of the Parish of Titirangi, which was to become his Whau Farm, purchasing it outright in 1856. Certainly in March 1854, he was successful in the election for the Wardens of Auckland (sharing the job with John Russell and Benjamin Turner). In that position, he administered the isthmus cattle runs, particularly those in the Whau district. During a court case in 1854, where one Samuel Fleming breached a new bylaw made by the Wardens of the Hundred, Edgecombe deposed:
"I am a settler living at the Wahu; I am a licensed cattle holder for the district of Auckland; my cattle are mostly all running at the Wahu..."
(Note the spelling of "Whau" in those days of the mid-1850s.)

So, in amongst his cattle-dealing, his warden duties -- William Edgecombe found the time to grow some turnips and potatoes. "So what?" some today might say, but this was a very important thing back then, considering the Whau, along with much of West Auckland, was considered inhospitable to crop growing in any form back then, the soils declared to be "sour" and only good for grazing (hence the cattle and the sheep). It could be, ironically, that very system of agriculture which provided the start of the fertilisation and redevelopment of the Rosebank Peninsula into the later market gardening goldmine it became by the end of the 19th century. Back in 1855, Edgecombe was advertising a diversified land use for the cattle and sheep paddocks of Avondale which, one day, would prove to be an icon for our history.

But, by 1858, Edgecombe had had another career change come to mind. Land at what would become Western Springs, opposite Low and Motion's mill, came onto the market, so he put his Whau Farm up for sale and purchased the site of his Great Northern Hotel. (The buyer was Dr. Thomas Aickin, another experimenter in the agricultural field amongst others -- and in the 20th century, after subdivisions, Hayward Wright was to use 10 acres of the former Edgecombe land to develop new commercial fruits and plants, including the Hayward cultivar of kiwifruit.) Edgecombe's story doesn't stop there, of course -- his fame hit even greater heights with his hotel, fondly known still as the Old Stone Jug. But even there, on the scoria outcrops of Western Springs, he never quite forgot about the Whau. The initial boundaries of the Whau Highway District in 1868, at his instigation, included his Western Springs land for a time.

An additional note (21 January 2009): William Edgecombe's surname, over the course of his lifetime, went through a variety of spellings. This may have been due to assumptions, or changes in style -- one version, in the 1881 Newton electoral roll, is simply a straight-out typo. Here's a brief list of the varieties:

Southern Cross, 8 March 1850, p. 2 (public notice inserted by him) - "Edgcombe"
In the deed between him and Dr. Aickin back in 1859, his name is spelled Edgecombe.
In the 3 May 1879 death notice for his son (also named William) (NZH), it's "Edgcumbe".
Boylan & Lundon's plan of the purchase of his property (waterworks reserve) - "Edgecombe"
1881 Newton electoral roll: "Edgemnbe"
NZ Graphic 22 October 1892, p. 1046 -- "Edgcombe"
His own death notice: "Edgcombe"
Auckland Provincial Index offers "Edgecombe" and "Edgcombe"

His isn't the only name this happened to (Bernard "Barney" Keane is another -- Keane / Kean / Kane and probably also King). Ah, the joys of historical / genealogical research ...


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. This item conflates two different people - and has appeared similarly in a number of other articles elsewhere.

    I have extensively researched William EDGECOMBE (1812-1871) who arrived in New Plymouth in 1841 on the "William Bryan", was an early founder-settler of New Plymouth, lived there all his life, and was buried in Te Henui Cemetery, New Plymouth in 1871 with other members of his family.

    Meanwhile, the man above was running a hotel in Avondale.

    William arrived with his wife Mary (nee HEWLETT; 1802-1890), stepdaughter Mary Jane BROWN (who became HARRIS), children Mary Eliza (1834-1902; married James ALEXANDER); Alfred (1837-1878; married Mary Ann De'MARA) and Henry (1840-1860; died in Taranaki land wars).

    Newspaper articles and advertisements through the period show his presence in New Plymouth until his death.

    Mary Jane BROWN/HARRIS is an ancestor of my grandchildren.


    1. Robert is quire correct, i am descended from William James Egdecombe, som of William and Mary. The other William Edgecombe is reputed to be a cousin, I think Alan Taylor also said this. The William Edgecombe who went to Auckland evacuated out of New Plymouth, i think to Nelson when the Maori problems flared up, he later went to Auckland.i will try and find all my papers, i have researched the family since i was 16 - 39 years ago....My william James like his brother served in the local militia, unlike Henry though, he was not killed. My g-g-grandfather john Harriosn Robson married Annie Edgecome

    2. Robert isn't correct in his comment that there was a "conflation" of two different people in my post after all -- according to the article by Alan Taylor in Edgcombe Family Genealogy and History 1993 (pp.457-462), and you've confirmed this, kiwidealz, two William Edgcombes arrived at New Plymouth, but one (the subject of my post) headed to Auckland and his future careers there. I'll re-adjust my post yet again, basically restoring it to how it was originally -- but to make sure there is no further confusion, I'll add the name of the ship quoted by Alan Taylor.

      Perhaps, kiwidealz, you can let Robert know about the two Williams?

  3. Thank you for this -- my information came from an Edgecumbe family historical article loaned by Margaret Edgcumbe. Perhaps that author became confused over the William Edgecumbes. However where you write "the man above was running a hotel in Avondale", this is incorrect. The hotel was at Western Springs.

  4. Alan Taylor has done a fantastic job researching the Edgecombes and all alternate spellings....the Edgecombe Family History group is a good one to belong to....i was a member for many years

  5. Edgcombe's in my family tree. Very tricky figuring out everything.