Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Francis Gittos and the Domain at the Bay

Image of Francis Gittos, donated to the Avondale-Waterview Historical Society in 2004 by Murray B. Gittos.

I've been gathering up stuff on Avondale and districts history now since about 1983. Over that time, and especially when I get a chance to sit at a reader machine at the Auckland Central Library, there have been days when the pan I dipped into the current just holds gravel at the end of the day. But -- a happy but -- there are wonderful days which keep me doing this stuff I do, and I see the glitter of real gold amidst the rest.

Today was one of those days.

I've found out heaps, so much it'll take me a while to analyse it all, but this I just have to post up.

In 1890, Francis Gittos leased the Avondale South Domain and started up Blockhouse Bay's earliest known industry. Previously, it was thought he started a tannery. Even I thought that, considering he was marginally involved with the family business at Oakley Creek, then from 1885 at the succeeding "Bridgenorth" works in Westmere as manager (NZ Herald, 16 May 1885).

But -- no. The business he set up at the Bay was a wool-scouring works.  This would follow on naturally from his father Benjamin's own subsidiary wool-scouring works alongside the Oakley Creek tannery. Thanks to today's find, from the Herald, 26 February 1890, I even know that he had a partner in the venture, a Mr. J. Greenwood. Later, perhaps early in the 20th century, Francis found the business too much, and reverted to tanning in a smaller scale operation. Stan Gittos, in The Gittos Story of Leather, certainly associates Francis with the latter trade.

There have been recent publications giving the starting date of Francis Gittos' involvement with Blockhouse Bay as 1884. Possibly, this may be a carry-over from Peter Buffett's research, published two decades or so ago. The following article, though, sets the year firmly at 1890.


Notwithstanding the depression, no district near Auckland has made more progress by way of settlement during the last few years. Some six years ago the Avondale Road Board induced the Government to open up this district for settlement. A road from the Avondale railway station was opened up, hills cut down, bridges built, and a considerable portion formed and metalled. The land was cut up into small farm sections, and sold at from ₤5 to ₤25 per acre. A large number of settler’s houses have been built, sections fenced in, trees planted, and considerable portion brought under cultivation, and now producing very fair crops.

At the time the block was cut up the Road Board secured a recreation reserve containing 38 acres, adjoining the Manukau Harbour, at a place called Green Bay [present day Blockhouse Bay – note]. A large portion of land is also reserved all around the Bay,. Now called the Marine Parade. This place is now becoming a fashionable resort for picnics during the summer months and several families from Auckland and suburbs camp there to enjoy the benefit of sea air and sea bathing. It is quite common to see 400 and 500 people there now on holiday, and several tents pitched there for weeks together.

On the recommendation of the chairman of the Road Board the Government has proclaimed the reserve a public Domain, and appointed a Domain Board. The Board, with the consent of His Excellency the Governor, has leased the Domain for 14 years to Messrs. F. Gittos and Greenwood. The lessees’ contract to substantially fence the Domain, plant a belt of trees all round, and numerous clumps within the ground, also to plough up and lay down about seven acres on a level part as a cricket ground, etc., all rights to the public for the purpose of recreation are reserved. It is also the intention of the Board to erect dressing-rooms on the beach for sea bathing and other places of accommodation for picnic parties.

Messrs. Gittos and Greenwood have with the permission of the Board erected buildings for wool scouring on the south-eastern corner of the Domain, and on Friday last [21 February – note] they, in order to inaugurate the opening of their works gave a social gathering in their large wool-shed. Settlers with their wives and families from Mount Roskill, Avondale and Auckland, to the number of about 150 [here, the number needs to be confirmed, the copy of the paper filmed was creased at this point - note], sat down to an excellent tea, including all the delicacies of the season, to which ample justice was done. After tea speeches were delivered by the chairman (Mr. J. Greenwood), and Messrs Bollard and James Walters, after which an entertainment was given by the local talent of the district named, consisting of instrumental music, songs, recitations &c., in a very pleasing manner. At about ten o’clock the large room was cleared for dancing for a few hours, when everybody wended their way home in their various traps and on horseback, having thoroughly enjoyed themselves, and wishing success to Messrs. Gittos and Greenwood in their new industry.

Mr. Francis Gittos, of Messrs. Gittos and Greenwood, is one of the pioneers of the district, as twenty-five years ago with his father, he started the first tanyard in the district [here, the writer refers to the Benjamin Gittos tannery beside Oakley Creek, from 1864]. Ever since that time he has been associated withy Mr. Bollard and others in every good work for the benefit of the district. The settlers wish himself and his partner every success in their new undertaking.

It is pleasing to note the activity of the Road Board in this district. They are building bridges and culverts, grading and forming roads, and preparing metal to lay on in all directions, under the able engineering skill of Mr. John Boylan, C.E.
The Blockhouse Bay and Avondale-Waterview Historical Societies have been appealing to Auckland City Council through the Avondale Community Board to re-name the Avondale South Domain to Gittos Domain, to stop confusion (Blockhouse Bay hasn't been Avondale South for over 60 years) and to honour not only Francis Gittos who had such a lot to do with the good of the community for both Avondale and the Bay, but also his family (father Benjamin, and brothers John, James, and Rev. William Gittos.) Up until late last century, Parnell Rise was called Gittos Street after Rev. Gittos. It's time the name returned to Auckland.

There has been a history of trying to get the Domain renamed since 1998. The Avondale Community Board endorsed the suggestion last month. Here's hoping the Council committee agrees.

Update: On 2 December 2009, Auckland City Council's Arts, Culture & Recreation Committee approved the renaming  of the Avondale South Domain to Gittos Domain.


  1. I think "Francis Gittos Domain" would have been better than the "Gittos Domain" they went for.

    "Gittos" alone will consistantly make people think of variations of the word "git".

    Has the BHB Historical Society gone defunct? Their website sure has.

  2. Society changing as it has, there would be folk who would confuse the gender of "Francis" as well, so I think Gittos Domain is fine. Few had a problem with Gittos Street in Parnell for near 80 years.

    There's no problem with either the Blockhouse Bay Historical Society or their website -- they've simply changed their URL.

  3. Is this a relative Trevor William Gittos