Sunday, May 24, 2009

Henderson's Mill

The Henderson of today in general doesn't thrill me. The shops are okay, and I still call the main mall Henderson Square, although it's been West City for absolutely ages now. But getting out of Henderson, unless you catch the train schedule at the right time, or the buses, can be a real headache without private transport, and you can get easily skittled at some of the road crossings if you don't have eyes in the back of your head. Most of West Auckland, sadly, is far more car-friendly than it is pedestrian-friendly.

That aside -- I like visiting Henderson because of its history, and it has a fair bit of that.

To the left is Thomas Henderson (photo taken from an image framed on the wall of Mill Cottage). He and John Macfarlane built up the Circular Saw Line of trader shipping, and the sawmill at Henderson which lent the small settlement it's first name (among a few others): Henderson's Mill. He started out owning an inn called the Commercial Hotel in the city, with his partner Macfarlane running it, around 1843-1845. On 29 May 1845, four men from the 96th Regiment were arrested for "rioting", attempting to demolish Henderson's hotel, starting by pulling off the shutters to cries of "Go it 96!" and "Knock the house down!" The regiment had apparently undergone much in the way of slander and abuse from Aucklanders after the Kororareka events that year, and now they decided that enough was enough and Henderson's hotel was going to cop it. Two of the men, John Ford and William Gutteridge were found guilty and sentenced to 18 months' hard labour. (New Zealander, 7 June 1845)

So, Henderson turned to ship trading. He had an 18-ton schooner by late 1843 known as the Lucidan (incorrectly called Lucy Dunn by Anthony Flude and Dick Scott in their books, Henderson's Mill and Fire on the Clay respectively) valued at around £350. Ngati Whatua chiefs took a shine to the schooner, and wanted to exchange land they held in West Auckland for her. This they did in 1844. However, the deal kicked off a long, long process of claims and counter-claims between Henderson and the government, lasting right through to the 1870s, but in short he had crown grant title by 1855, and permission to possess the land by around 1847. Which means that the tile sculpture below, with pride-of-place at the Great North Road entrance to Henderson Central, always makes me smile inwardly.

How can a township be "founded" when there was just an unofficial agreement between local Maori and Henderson, for land only half of which he finally was only able to obtain title for, and there was no indication of a mill settlement established here until at the very earliest 1849? It is a nice set of tiles, though. (Perhaps they could have done a bit better with the raised water meter lid, however).

Something I found about the Lucidan, which may explain (if Flude was correct in his 1977 edition) why the ship was beached and stripped at Thames by her Ngati Whatua owners. On 27 October 1847, Joseph Burns, a local boat builder, murdered the Snow family on the North Shore, and made the crime scene look as if it had been a Maori attack. Witnesses pointed out at the coroner's inquest that on the night of the murders they had sighted a schooner close by resembling the Lucidan, the Maoris on board having had a sharp disagreement with Lieutenant Robert Snow two years before before the murder over raupo that Snow had taken from them. This led to an initial belief in Auckland that local Maori were about to attack. However, Burns was later hanged for the crime, once the truth came out.

Anyway ...

Before c.1849, Henderson may simply have used his land purchase as a loading site for kauri timber brought out from the Waitakere foothills. No one knows exactly when the mill was built, but it was certainly in existence by then. Before that date, Henderson could only fill large orders for timber along with other timber merchants at the time -- such as the Wanganui Blockhouse in 1847 and fencible housing. (Southern Cross, 31 July 1847) Flude speculated in his book that it was the sale of another ship, the John Bull, which financed the sawmill at Henderson; I couldn't find a connection between Henderson and that ship, but the Wanganui contract may have been enough to get Henderson going.

Close to the confluence of the Opunuku and Oratia Streams, a dam was built, and Henderson's Mill established, c.1849. Below, is the Opunuku Stream at Sel Peacock Drive.

A replica millhouse and water wheel was built in 1995, to celebrate Henderson's official sesquicentenary. This is operated and administered today by the West Auckland Historical Society. The original millwheel, however, was overshot, not undershot in operation and design.

Here's a short video clip of the mill wheel in operation, in its Opunuku Stream setting. Today, it has to be an undershot wheel, as there isn't a dam anymore (it would have been just a bit further up stream, they say the holes in the stream bed are from the dam). Still impressive to see, though.

The mill was producing large amounts of sawn timber and finished products such as shingles by early 1850, with one shipment I found in January that year being 27,000 feet of timber exported to San Francisco (SC, 15 January 1850), while 11,178 "pieces of sawn timber and 29,000 shingles" went to America two months later. (SC 29 March 1850). If their timber production fell away in the late 1860s, it may have been because vaster sources for wood were being tapped into down in Coromandel (especially by those associated with J. S. Macfarlane). It is believed that the mill was altered, its steam sawmills removed, to process flax for a time; I do know that David Henderson, Thomas Henderson's brother, went in for the flax trade in 1869, backed up by Henderson and Macfarlane, leaving the Whau Hotel behind. Thomas Henderson seemed more involved at that point with flax, flour and kauri gum, and was agent for John Lamb's Waitemata Mills at Riverhead. The mill itself disappeared from the landscape sometime during the 1870s.

Today, all that remains is the archaeology, and Mill Cottage, part of the original mill settlement and now the home for the West Auckland Historical Society. Over the next few weeks, from 30 May, they tell me they're holding a display of some of the findings from the examination of the former mill site.

Interpretative sign at Mill Cottage. Again, not really accurate, but at least it hopefully fosters an interest among locals and others to do some digging themselves into the history of West Auckland.

Update: 27 May 2009.
Further update: 29 May 2009
Comment and correction regarding the mill wheel here.


  1. Have been discussing a water-driven mill on Brian's archaeology forum here, I think you'd enjoy some of the subjects that come up for discussion :)

  2. I have read this story with interest as Thomas Henderson and John MacFarlane were related to me. Thomas and John were brothers in law. You will note how MacFarlane is spelt with a capital F.After John MacFarlane died in 1860 another brother, Thomas MacFarlane came out from Scotland to help run the company. John Sangster Macfarlane isn't related to John MacFarlane

  3. Hi John,

    Yes, Thomas Henderson married Catherine Macfarlane (small f, as noted in the marriage register). The children of Henry Macfarlane, her brother, spelled their names with a small f as well. Seeing as you're related to John Macfarlane, you'll probably be aware that his brother Thomas spelled his name with a double f -- the only one of the family to do so.

    Check other parts of the blog, and you'll read all about John Sangster Macfarlane -- as I've said elsewhere, he's no relation, but might have been the reason why Thomas changed the spelling of his name. Just a thought.

  4. I haven't had time to research the MacFarlane's except for my ancestor Margaret McIntosh nee MacFarlane. Still trying to find information on her 80 odd grandchildren. I found this site while searching for an e-mail address for Anthony Flude who wrote about the McIntosh family farming in the Hutt Valley and a connection to William Hay who came out on the London in 1840. Anthony says Hay was related to Henderson, McIntosh and MacFarlane. Was he a cousin or just the father of James Hay who married Christina Jackson MacFarlane, daughter of Thomas MacFarlane. I will have to look at how the MacFarlane name was spelt as I couldn't find Thomas MacFarlane in the Scottish Census or any of his family.

  5. Send me an email, and I'll put you in touch with a member of the McIntosh clan related to the Macfarlanes. I've got a fair amount of information on the family, now. Be cautious with information from Anthony Flude, though, and check things he writes about thoroughly. His book Henderson's Mill is, for example, laced with inaccuracies.

  6. By now you should have received an e-mail from me. Have you heard of anyone who has a copy of Thomas Maxwell Henderson's will? The Railways were intersted in which of his children got what and advertised in an Auckland paper for any descendants through a third party.

  7. Sorry, John, no email as yet:

    Ah yes, Thomas Henderson's will -- I've been hunting for that as well. Though I came close when I spotted the will for a Thomas Henderson lodged in Wellington, but no dice. While John Macfarlane's will is recorded in the deeds books, Henderson's isn't, because by the time he died the banks had fairly well everything. Still, something may yet come up some day.

  8. I have sent an e-mail to your address but if it doesn't arrive you better let me know and I will give you my e-mail address here. I have no idea what happened to Henry or Mary MacFarlane. I am aware of her death but know nothing of where she lived or her husband or of what Henry got up to etc.

  9. Hi there, I have come across your very interesting blog once again as I research family history (I contacted you a year or so back regarding my Bell ancestors who had the leather tannery at Whau Creek). I'm trying to find the parents of my great great grandmother Bridget Lynch who lived in Auckland from at least the 1870's. I suspect her parents were a Peter & Bridget Lynch and I keep coming across a Peter Lynch who lived/worked at Hendersons Mill in 1860. He may have also lived around the Kaipara Harbour before and after that date according to census records but there are two Peter Lynch's in the area at the time. Have you ever come across this name in your West Auckland explorations?
    And a funny coincidence - I note your mention of the murders by Joseph Burns ex HMS Buffalo. Bridget Lynch married a William Henry Marshall in Akl in 1873. William's father was William Henry Marshall snr who was also one of the Buffalo's ex naval men who settled in Auckland. He bought land with Thomas Duder in Elliot St and I have been told he was on the jury at the time of the trial although I haven't seen evidence of this. There are a few interesting tales relating to the men of the Buffalo. A timber merchant(Joseph?) Kennedy who Kennedy Bay on the Coromandel was named after, was apparently also on the ship at the time of the wreck. He was later murdered by crew of a ship The Three Bees he was travelling in to bank profits of his milling! The three crewmen had been timber workers from NSW who fled back to Australia where they committed further murders and one later confessed to the killing of Joseph Kennedy. Wild old times indeed!

  10. Hi Nicola,

    Sorry for taking so long to get back to you. Peter Lynch was apparently still at Henderson's Mill in 1862, when it was declared he had no freehold over land he claimed gave him the right to vote. So, aside from the two references (1860 and 1862), that's it.

    Thanks for the extra info re the men of the HMS Buffalo.

  11. I was wondering, and I have been asked by someone from the West Auckland Historical Society, to find out what type of Craft coluld navigate Henderson Creek. Surely only ships with the shallowest draft could make it to near the Millwheel at high Tide. Any info would be appreciated

  12. Probably, like John Thomas with his Star Mill at the edge of the tidal part of Oakley Creek in the early 1860s, cutters were the craft used, able to sail up the river so far to landings, unload, load up, wait for the tide to return and sail back down. Scows, the real masters of river traffic, came much later.

  13. Several years ago, I planned and wrote a Henderson study unit for a local school I was working at. Two classes of students on a bus toured the historic sites of Henderson using a pamphlet of all of the sites I put together. We ended up at Corban's making scones with cream we made. I also smile when I see the Henderson sign knowing the real story. Most people who live in Henderson do not appreciate the wealth of history around them. I think the council should do bike trails in the summer around all the historic sites. I enjoyed reading this blog, thanks.

  14. Hi. Reminds me of the sign recently erected near Swanson claiming it was founded in 1854- what was founded then was only a sawmill in the bush, the town did not come until the 1880s under the Village Settlement Scheme- but that is a side issue
    What fascinates me more is the story behind Hendersons land claim- in which he allegedly claimed just under 18000 acres as fairly purchased from local iwi, iwi did not dispute the sale, but owing to irregularities in the European machinations around acquisition of title, and despite a lengthy stoush, he was awarded only 5000 acres by the Land Claims commission- the balance of about 12000 acres being neatly deemed alienated from Maori title, not awarded European title, and therefore, thank you very much, waste land demesne of Her Majesty. The Government were adroit at land grabs, and got much of West Auckland for zip.
    But the nub of my question is this. In the Henderson book recently published by the West Auckland Historical society, a precis of Henderson's claims is given. He was asked twice for a survey plan to back up his claim- the first not good enough so he was told to do it again- yet nowhere can I find or come across this plan. Someone mentioned a plan 844E in the House of Representatives papers. I would perhaps look in the Land Information NZ title deeds but would not know where to start in a lengthy back chain of title derivations. As a duly lodged document in a land claim process it must exist in an archive somewhere.
    Can you please, either with existing knowledge, or by detective work, unearth these plans from whatever archive they are in, and publish them?
    It is one thing to have a rough sketch of where the boundaries may have been, but would be ten steps better to actually have a plan, showing the boundaries relative to ground features.

  15. just found this
    CT 76/189 as the prior of the Assets realisation board title deed might be a good place to start?

    1. You need to consider such cases as Old Land Claims, and familiarise yourself with Turton's Deeds (which is available online via Victoria University's NZETC.

      In this case, S Elliott's January 1845 survey for Thomas Henderson, “Plan of an Estate situate between the West Shore of the Estuary of the Waitemata and the top of the Kauri Forest on the Manukau Ranges, Purchased by Mr. Thos. Henderson from the Chiefs of the Nga Te Watua: Rewiti, Hira and others of Oraki", is OLC 283. You can purchase a copy from Land Information New Zealand for $15 and they'll email it to you. I recommend you get the colour version, it costs nothing more than the b/w, by some of the details, what there are of them, are easier to see on a computer screen.

      The 1869 survey plan, another in the OLC series, is OLC 284. Again, that's $15 from LINZ, and again, I recommend the colour version.

    2. Thanks so much for that Lisa, you are a fountain of information. Vivien Burgess has sent me some similar plans in the meanwhile including this one, and there is a good outline of the area superimposed on the modern topography in the back of the recently published Henderson history book.
      I remain surprised by the vagueness of the boundaries, and the lack of reference to land feature names considering they were purchasing from iwi, but I guess it was a quick and vague purchase.
      When Henderson repossessed the Lucidan, and Fitzroy was so quick to uphold the interests of the chiefs but so perplexed in how to deal with Henderson, it has to be remembered that the spirit of the times was heavily weighted toward preserving Maori interests, even it seemed at the expense of settler interests. The first two governors, Hobson and Fitzroy, were appointed under a very pro-aboriginal administration in Britain, heavily influenced by the Aborigines Protection Society and Exeter Hall, and under the Protector of Aborigines, George Clarke, every effort was made to placate and protect Maori. Hence Fitzroy's quick defence of the chiefs' interests but his less thorough provision for those of Henderson and Macfarlane
      This disparity (racial bias toward Maori if you will) caused huge frustration among the settlers, and when the tide turned in England and the pro settler, pro NZ Company administration rose to prominence in Parliament, and Grey was sent out, the tide changed and settler interests came to the fore. The pro-Maori administration of 1840-1845 is often overlooked in our early history.
      Grey of course was a shrewd and duplicitous personality, rather than the hero he is often made out to be, but that is another story, as they say.
      Again thanks for the information, most appreciated

    3. I could go into all the research and spiel I wrote up for "Timbers Fortune" years ago on that topic, but I won't, as it is quite a few pages. :)

      FitzRoy's problem was that he was trying to please everyone at the same time. An impossibility, of course.

      Henderson's surveyor was already getting on in years when asked to try to hike up the Bush-clad hills of the Waitakeres. No wonder, really, that the plan was found to be insufficient.

  16. homework so it is not so good but i did not know that cool