Sunday, January 25, 2009

Avondale’s riverside brickmakers

Very little is cut-and-dried about the story of the brickyards which appeared on the Avondale side of the Whau River from 1870 until 1900.

I’ve included a map (above) of most of the Rosebank Peninsula, taken from the map of the County of Eden in 1892 (Avondale-Waterview Historical Society records), with a numbered overlay of sites which all seem to play some part in the story of the Rosebank brickyards of the 19th century.

Site 1: Pollen Brickyard and Pottery – “Pollen’s Point”

We know that Daniel Pollen had a set-up involving brick and pottery kilns on his land near the tip of the Rosebank Peninsula from around 1860 if not slightly before that. Thankfully, there is documented evidence in the form of contemporary newspaper articles, as well as detailed archaeological research. Around 1860, John Malam was his brickyard manager, and from around 1863 it was John Ringrose. The last advertisement found for Pollen’s bricks is around 1871, but there may have been just a long dwindling off from that point.

John Malam, according to an obituary for Richard Thomas Malam from 16 March 1965, included in the J. T. Diamond collection at Waitakere City Library’s Local History Room, arrived in 1854, working as Nash’s brickyard before securing his position with Pollen. He died on 9 July 1899 aged 83.

We now enter a never-never world as far as the story of Avondale’s Whau River brickyards are concerned, made up of a patchwork of sources from oral histories (most related in the 20th century, to J. T. Diamond), some news articles, a very quickly done archaelogical study at the bottom of the racecourse land (due to development pressures), and some land records. Nothing, however, is conclusive at the present time.

We know that the Whau River area on both sides, between 1865 and 1880 and especially around 1872, had become the powerhouse district when it came to supply of bricks for any major project in the region. Boyd’s works in Newton was being eclipsed – he later invested in a Hoffman kiln, but is mainly known today for his pottery and ornamental work. The Mechanics Bay and Freemans Bay kilns were disappearing. The Whau brickmakers felt confident enough name their own price in 1872 to Brogden & Sons, then completing the Parnell Rail Tunnel – and were rather dismayed to hear Brogden refuse to use their bricks at such a price. This led to the brickmakers meeting at the Whau Hotel, refreshments provided by Mrs Poppleton, and an agreement to have a coal dealer in the city, William Kirby, as their agent. The brickmakers association does not seem to have lasted much beyond that year.

Site 2: Site owned by John Buchanan and Dr. Frederick William Wright, possibly operated as a brickyard by John Malam. Site 2A: Site owned by Dr. Frederick W. Wright, sold to Richard Ringrose.

Site 2 is in and around the Whau River end of Fremlin Place. All bar a small coastal strip is altered landscape under industrial use. Even the small reserve, with only a slender chance of having any remaining traces of mid-19th century land use.

In 1870, Charles Hazleham Rice purchased Allotment 8. Rice, who was also a father-in-law to Captain Robert David James (Mt Albert and New Windsor orchardist), saw another daughter Emma Eliza marry John Campbell Stratford, son of Dr. Samuel John Stratford. Rice’s farm (still to be located with certainty) was known as the Poplars. (SC, 3 May 1870) To arrange a marriage settlement for his son and new daughter-in-law, Dr. Stratford purchased around a third (23¼ acres) of Allotment 8 from Charles Rice for £291 in October that year, and in turn “assured and confirmed” to his partner (and son-in-law) Dr. Frederick William Wright and John Buchanan the land purchased from Rice. This was essentially held in trust for the newly-wed couple, with profits from the renting or leasing of the land to go to both the trustees and the couple. The property was eventually sold in 1887 by Wright and Buchanan to a Mr. Dawson.

The connections between this site and Whau River brick making are tenuous, but tantalising.

On 22 February 1870, John Buchanan placed this advertisement in the Southern Cross:
“WANTED BRICKMAKER, to make a KILN of BRICKS in the country.— Apply at Mr. John Buchanans, Queen- street, on Thursday, at 10 o'clock.”
In the 1875 list of ratepayers submitted by the Whau Highway Board, the names “Stratford and J. Malam” appear in connection with “part of Lot 8”. [File AP/2/27/543/75, Archives New Zealand) Malam was, as seen above, one of Pollen’s managers during the early period of his brick works, and in 1862 had purchased 10 acres across the river at Glendene.

In 1968, J. T. Diamond paid a visit by canoe to a site owned by “Daldy Engineering Co, Structural and General Engineers”, which was a tidal inlet, “second from the left upstream from the motor way bridge.” I still need to track down where Daldy Engineering was located 40 years ago, but the description sounds very like that of the inlet at Allotment 8, beside the Buchanan & Wright land. Diamond, however, thought that the area was connected with James Redfern, another Whau River brick maker, but one who mainly operated on the western side. According to the oral traditions Diamond followed, Redfern had found this site unsuitable, and so moved on to “Black Bluff” (which, it seems, was Lot 14 of Allotment 11. See below.) I haven’t yet found documented proof of Redfern’s connections with the eastern side of the river, however.

Diamond found, in 1968, rubbish and earth had been previously bulldozed onto the site, destroying any signs of brickworks. Buildings had been erected onto flattened part of the site. There were “broken, misshapen brick bats, mostly dark in colour,” nothing that attracted Diamond’s interest enough to collect as none had any significant features or marking.

Dr. S. J. Stratford (c.1802-1871) “was formerly an assistant-surgeon in the 72nd Highlanders, and emigrated to Canada in 1830, where he had the medical charge of the troops stationed at Bytown,” according to an obituary in the Southern Cross. He was a member of the Royal College of Surgeons (1826). He came to New Zealand in 1855, and set himself up as a “Surgeon, Occulist, and Aurist”, at first in the city, and later at Parnell. From the beginning, he was a promoter for the encouragement of Canadian immigrants to New Zealand – and his future son-in-law, Dr. Frederick Wright, was one of those who came here from there. Dr. Wright was assistant surgeon to the Prince Alfred Light Horse, the volunteer corps with a number of local Whau residents as members – and through which, Stratford and Wright may have had a connection with the Whau’s John Buchanan.

Site 2A is part of Allotment 5, fronting onto what is now the Motu Manawa marine reserve, and the only part of this north-eastern coastline which remained an exception to Robert Chisholm’s total landholding. In 1872, Dr. Daniel Pollen sold the 30 acre farm to Dr. Frederick William Wright (co-owner of Site 2) for £300. I have previously looked at this property for any association with Traherne Island and other shellbanks in the marine reserve, considering its relatively close proximity. Shell, of course, was readily burned in special kilns and in heaps for lime. Pollen was aware of this – hence, his ownership of the largest shellbank of all in the area, Pollen Island.

Dr. Wright in turn sold the property to Richard Ringrose. The Ringrose family had associations with Whau River brick making going back to John Ringrose working for Dr. Pollen in the early 1860s. Richard Ringrose died in 1879, and Dr. Wright called in the unpaid mortgage, selling the property again. Eventually, it became Enoch Althorpe’s farm.

Richard Ringrose may have used the land just as a farm – after all, he was surrounded by Chisholm’s farmland, used for grain crops and sheep. Hopefully, more information about the Ringrose family may come to light. It is very difficult obtaining information on the family from the J. T. Diamond collection in the Henderson branch of Waitakere City Libraries at the moment, as the digital index is not available for researchers to directly search through. Hopefully, that resource will become more accessible with time.

Site 3: Suggested Aickin brickyard – Aickin’s Point (J. T. Diamond) Site of Archibald Bros. Pottery from 1903.

J. T. Diamond asserted that Dr. Thomas Aickin had a brickyard on his property, but the descendants claimed no knowledge of it. It may have been that Dr. Aickin leased, without documentation, part of his land at Aickin’s Point to any of a number of brick makers who appear in records of the district (Thomas William Murray, William Sloan, or William Thane – the latter person around in the district from c.1875, from Southern Cross, 29 December, to 1881 when he appeared on the electoral rolls.) The earliest confirmed works at Aickin’s Point are those of the Archibald Brothers – but this is only from 1903.

Site 4 & 4A: Possibly sites for Murray & Sloan partnership, later James Redfern (Site 4 is “Black Bluff”)

On 3rd October 1863, a lease between William Innes Taylor and John Bollard gave the latter the right to start up a brickyard on the Whau River frontage of Bollard’s half of Allotment 12 (Site 4A). That is the first and last clear documentation that we have to date that anyone may have had an idea to start a brickyard in that part of the Whau River area. There’s no reason to think that Bollard didn’t consider this extra income, but I will be visiting the Auckland Museum library soon to peruse his financial and farming records to see if there might be some more clues left behind for us to see.

In Simon Best’s report on the “Burke” Brickyard (Site 5), his invesitgation included part of the background of a couple of brick makers named Thomas William Murray and William Sloan. The first, from around 1871 to 1875 had a leasehold property at the Whau on Allotment 11, while the latter lived on a leasehold site on Allotment 12. This information however, if the two worked together, places them not so much at the “Burke” Brickyard, as it does place them on or close to Bollard’s farm: the other half of Allotment 12 from Burke’s land, plus part of Allotment 11, also owned by William Innes Taylor and eventually purchased outright by Bollard in the early 1880s. More on Murray and Sloan below.

James Redfern, according to Diamond, on finding the clays insufficient at the first site he tried on the Rosebank Peninsula side of the Whau River (Site 2), then moved to “Black Bluff, about ¼ mile above Best’s”. By Best’s, I take it he meant the Best’s Varnish Works, which we know was where Te Wiata Place is today. Just above that is the part of Allotment 11 adjoining Bollard’s farm at Allotment 12. Diamond also notes that Black Bluff was “Haslam’s”. John James Haslam lived on Wharf Road (Ash Street), but owned Lot 14 of Allotment 11 from 1883 until he died in 1911. He was the holder of a number of patents for horse-powered earth-elevators, inventions for conveying silt, sand and gravel, and self-discharging pontoons. Little wonder, then, that this part of the river was called Black Bluff. Haslam’s work there would also have completely wiped any record of a brickyard, even a small wood-fired one, as ever having existed there. The land was later owned by the Segedin family. Tony Segedin Drive now wends its way along the curve of the Whau River Coast there.

Site 5: The “Burke” brickyard, operated by B. Keane/Cain c.1903 (documented). Other operators undocumented.

Image from Western Leader, 16 January 1998.

Update 1 August 2011 -- I've revamped, updated and corrected the text for this part of the post at a new one: Burke's Brickyard on the Whau.


  1. Thanks for the interesting information. Brickmaker Bernard Keane commissioned two cutters from my great great grandfather,William Hanson. They were the 14m 'Janet Grey' (named after Keane's wife), and the 13m 'Catherine' (named after Keane's eldest daughter, and perhaps Hanson's wife who died during its construction). Keane owned the vessels for 6 and 14 years respectively. Not only did they carry up to 15,000 of his own and others' bricks per trip to/from Auckland, but sawn timber, general cargo and mail. Murray Wright, Blockhouse Bay

  2. Hi there, Murray.

    Thanks very much for your own interesting information -- it's wonderful hearing from someone with family connections linked with Bernard Keane. If you have anything further to share, please do -- there's still much I don't know about Keane and his business. Cheers!