Monday, May 16, 2011

A view of Mechanics Bay, 1850

Detail from SO 676, crown copyright, LINZ records

A while ago, while looking through Land Information New Zealand's online collection of old survey plans (I think I was searching for old plans for Western Springs at the time), SO 676 came up out of the sequences. Nothing whatsoever to do with Western Springs -- this is a survey plan prepared for the registration of hospital endowment land in the vicinity of Auckland, 1850
Colonial Secretary's Office, Auckland, 5th September, 1850.
The Trustees of the Hospital Reserves, being empowered to lease the undermentioned allotments or parcels of Land for any term not exceeding twenty-one years, are willing to treat for the disposal of the same on reasonable terms. Persons desirous of renting the said allotments, or any of them, are requested to make application, in writing, addressed to the Trustees of the Hospital Reserved Lands, at this Office. A. Sinclair, Colonial Secretary.
New Zealander, 17 September 1850, p. 4

This particular detail from the plan (above) shows section 31, just over half an acre at "Shipwright's Yard, Mechanic's Bay". Thanks to the hospital reserve leasing, I can fairly confidently date the plan to 1850. It shows, though, much more than a few lines drawn across what was then a muddy beach area.

In 1850, there was a grocers shop at the foot of what is today Parnell Rise, and a large stable building right in the path of the future road. These appear to have been the Government Stables, until at least 1852. This was all, of course, before George Leech's hotel, called variously "Shipwright's Arms" (1856), "Victory of Sebastopol" (1857) and eventually "Swan Hotel" from 1859.

The Strand itself is shown as a narrow carriageway, heading over a small bridge over the Waipapa Stream.

Once it crossed the Waipapa, The Strand began to wend its way up the steep cliffs, skirting the worst of the slope until it met  Parnell Road on the other side of the point.

There is another alteration of a similar kind required at Mechanics Bay immediately adjoining the town. Here there, is a sharp turn at the bottom of an elevated ground — this turn is within a few yards of a cliff of 20 to 30 feet, overhanging the sea beach, and if this alteration is not made, it will cause the death of the first person whose horse happens to run off with him. It is not simply awkward and objectionable, but is, positively, highly dangerous. 
 William Brown, letter to the editor of the Southern Cross dated 9 March 1849, published 10 March

Today, The Strand has been realigned and starts further along, but a fragment, coming off Parnell Rise as it once did, is now called Shipwright Lane.

The shipwright it relates to could have been George Darroch, whose business flourished at Mechanics Bay around 1847, or Henry Niccol (The latter name is an update addition to this post [made 29 June 2011] after information received by Peter Haynes, from the Darroch family of descendants. Henry Niccols appears at Mechanics Bay by March 1849 according to advertisements in the New Zealander. Did Darroch have a brief period at Mechanics Bay, then sell to Niccols?) By the early 1850s, however, Darroch had moved to Mahurangi. Having the hospital endowment land so close to his shed probably didn't help.

Update (30 June 2011): This information from an email from Peter Haynes:

Hi Lisa,

The last advertisements by George Darroch at Mechanics Bay available in paperspast are in mid-1947, whereas Niccol is advertising boats for sale there in the early 1850s, the period covered by the estimate of the plans you found. I've attached an example.

I checked the history written by my cousin (which is very unreliable and full of errors) and it refers to George Darroch plying his trade on what is now Victoria Street at some point.

My own history is not much help. It notes that, "The Darrochs initially settled in Auckland, where George commenced building small craft on the Auckland waterfront, now the central business district. In 1843 the family was listed in the Police Census as living in a wooden house on West Queen St, which was the first street off Queen St below Wyndham Street. In 1844 they were listed as living in a
raupo house in Freemans Bay. George is listed in the 1844 Jury List as Ship Carpenter of Albert Street, presumably his place of business. In 1845 the family are listed in the Police Census as tenants of the Colonial Government, living in a wooden house in Mechanics Bay." (I'll change that I think, as they probably just moved around a lot in 1844. Who knows?)

The Darrochs moved to Mahurangi West in 1852 after purchasing property there, and then to Marriage Bay near Scotts Landing at Mahurangi East, where vestiges of the yard can still be seen in the beach. But some developers bought the property a few years back, and the remaining home mysteriously burnt down, as so many empty houses that stand in the way of developers' profits are wont to do.

Cheers  Peter

The Strand was laid out for wheeled transport up to the developing suburb of Parnell -- but in 1850, Parnell Rise was accessible from Mechanics Bay by a long set of steps (right) cut into the steep slope. That must have been a real gut-buster, before the road was formed. Another road headed south, between the Waipapa and the slope.

I'll stick my neck out and say that the draughtsman for the survey office plan was Charles Heaphy, going by the detail applied to the shading of the topography of the cliff face, and that "by 1847, struggling to make a living, he left for Auckland to take up a job as a draughtsman in the Survey Office of the colonial government. He later became Chief Surveyor." (NZ history online). So, he was there at the right time, in the right position, and at the right place ... there's a sketch of his, showing early Mechanic's Bay, at Sir George Grey Special Collections:

Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, ref.4-5181

This sketch is signed by Heaphy, with the library dating it to the period 1850-1859. I think it's at the earlier end of that range. There's the small wooden bridge on The Strand, before the road veers north and up over a slight rise, past Darroch's shipyard. The top of the shed on the beach can just been seen. The cows graze in that other road which headed south, beside the Waipapa Stream. The timber sawing at the left could well have been for Darroch's timber boats. Out of view, to the right, would have been those steps, and also out of sight, to the left, the future site of Leech's hotel.

In 1855, the bridge was replaced and the start of Parnell Rise, replacing those steps, dates from later that decade.

(Update 18 May 2011: a correction -- the old Strand met up with the end of Parnell Road, not as far as St Georges Bay. Thanks to David Hirtzell and his adeptness with Google Earth and overlays, who emailed an overlay to me tonight. Cheers! )


  1. Really like these old maps with little details on them. And that's a great one you've found there Lisa. I never knew about the steps at bottom of parnell rise.

  2. Thanks, David. I'm a cartophile from way back -- just adore maps.