Monday, August 1, 2011

Burke's Brickyard on the Whau

Image from Western Leader, 16 January 1998.

This is an update, in the light of additional information from the Auckland Star, found by both Murray Wright and myself.  It is linked to the previous post, Avondale’s riverside brickmakers  (January, 2009) and incorporates some of the text from that post.

Charles Burke, a farmer and later tailor, purchased most of the southern half of Allotment 12 over a number of years from the mid 1860s until 1871. In the mid 1870s, he was part-and-parcel of the local scene at the Whau, taking part in events such as the Whau Excelsior (Temperance) Lodge entertainment evening on 21 July 1875 (Southern Cross)

In Simon Best’s report on the Burke Brickyard, his investigation 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. Simon Best used some of the oral traditions handed down to J. T. Diamond in his report on the remains of the Hoffman kiln at the Burke site in Avondale. One of these, from Sam Exler in 1977, has it that Murray & Sloan had a brickworks at Arch Hill and then made their second attempt at Burke’s. Another note claims that Murray & Sloan started on a brickyard at the foot of Rata Street (which has been claimed as a Redfern site in notes by Diamond), then worked at Burke’s, then Arch Hill. This appears to be negated by the directory and electoral roll information gathered by Best.

Murray Wright found the following article in Papers Past, and sent it through to me. It spurred me on to carry out an update on the slightly tangled story of Burke's Brickyard on the Whau. The story, though, is still somewhat of a dig through the clay to try to find enough pieces to fit together for the story.

Claim, £31 17s.
Mr Rees for plaintiff, and Mr Joy for the defendants. Mr Rees having explained the case, called Thomas Murray, who stated that he knew the defendants, who were the proprietors of Burkes brickyard at the Whau. He saw the three defendants on the 28th of December last, and gave them a memorandum or tender of terms upon which he was to carry on certain works. That memorandum was never properly signed; but he had seen it since in the possession of two of the partners, Campbell and Burke. He offered to make, burn, and deliver bricks at 16s per thousand, which terms were accepted by defendants. A statement to this effect was drawn up for the purpose of being signed, but as Mr Connell, solicitor, had gone to Coromandel when they called at his office the matter was neglected. He took possession of the brickyard at the end of December last year, and commenced to work on the 3rd January.
Auckland Star 11 May 1874

The next day, the Star announced the verdict -- and added a wee verse. Possibly one of the very few verses about an Avondale brickworks?
In the case of Thomas Murray against Neil Campbell and others, heard before Judge Beckham in the District Court yesterday, judgment for £26 12s 3d, was given for plaintiff. It is not a little singular that the majority of defendants in this action were Auckland tailors, and we may state that they bore their defeat with a magnanimity of spirit which proved them to be regular bricks. The defendants, be it known, are owners of a brickyard at the Whau, and the claim was for making and delivering bricks, hence the significance of the lines:
These makers of breeks
Became makers of bricks,
And toiled day by day
Between broadcloth and clay,
Though the action they lost,
They were not passion-crossed,
But bore it like men—
With amen, and amen.
Auckland Star 12 May 1874

This was the reference I'd come across earlier: where Thomas Murray worked for Neil Campbell and three others, the “proprietors of a brick-yard”. (Southern Cross, 12 May 1874)

By 1877, Murray and Sloane were over at Arch Hill, making flower pots and winning prizes. We know Thomas Murray was at the Arch Hill brickyard by late 1876 (Southern Cross 24 November 1876,  reported a court case over illegal bowls played near his kiln.)
Sloan, Murray, and Co.'s collection flower pots bricks, lime, &c, 1st prize.
Auckland Star 9 November 1877

By 1879, however, it looks like Charles Burke had some bricks on his hands.

Auckland Star  19 July 1879

Nearly two years later, his house burns to the ground.
A four-roomed house at the Whau, owned by Mr Burke, the proprietor of the brickfields, was destroyed by fire last evening. The details which have reached us are, however, very meagre. The house was unoccupied at tho time of the occurrence. Mr Burke sends his boy and girl up there every afternoon to milk the cows, and a report was current to the effect that they had lighted a fire yesterday for cooking purposes and had forgotten to put it out when leaving. Whether there is any truth in this report, we are unable to say. We have also been unable to ascertain if the house was insured.
Auckland Star 15 March 1881

There is little indication that he remained at Avondale much after that.

Thomas Murray and William Sloan with their Arch hill brickworks continued.

Auckland Star 30 August 1881

WANTED, two Men accustomed to digging clay or falling it at per yard; none but good men need apply Thomas J. Murray, of Sloan and Murray, Arch Hill.
Auckland Star 14 December 1881

Then, in February 1882, their partnership dissolved.

Auckland Star 9 February 1882

Later that year, a very short-lived business enterprise at Burke's brickyard in Avondale.

Auckland Star 4 November 1882

Thomas Murray popped up again at Avondale in late 1882. From the Weekly News, 11 November 1882, in a description of William Hunt's brickworks at what later was called Glenburn, on St Georges Road:
"Mr. Hunt has been fortunate in in securing the services of Mr. T. J. Murray, who has been in the New Zealand brick trade about 17 years, and in partnership with Mr. Sloan for nearly 15 years, of which time the last nine years was as Sloan and Murray, of Arch Hill."

Which would explain this advertisement -- not for Burke's old works, but Hunt's.

Auckland Star 28 September 1883

The following may refer to Burke's brickworks.
BRICKYARD, to lease at the Whau, and 5 acres of Land; rent, £50 per annum. —Guy Trenchard, 83 Queen-street.
Auckland Star 6 February 1885
(Update 3 October 2013: Found in passing in the NZ Herald:

"... the Messrs Kane have commenced working the brick-fields of Mr Burke ..." (26 February 1887) Nothing further after that.)

J. Crum (via Diamond notes) recorded that Burke's site was leased to J. J. Craig “during a boom.” He was correct, it seems. The following report was well before J J Craig bought the Hunt Brickyard on St Georges Road from Bycrofts. The only other Avondale location may well have been Burke's by the Whau River.

An incipient fire was discovered at Craig's brickyard at Avondale yesterday, and was fortunately put out before any serious damage was done. The fire was first observed in the woodwork on top of the kiln by Mrs Schraft, a neighbour, who called her husband's attention to it. He extinguished the flames with considerable trouble, and not without some damage to his own clothing, and thus saved a roof and two wooden sheds from destruction.
Auckland Star 5 November 1888
The Assessment Court sat at Avondale this morning at 10 o'clock.
Mr R S Bush, S M, was judge. Mr John Bollard appeared on behalf of the Board. Mr. R. F. Bollard (valuer) was also present. Eleven objections had been lodged, but only two objectors appeared. Chas. Burke, part 12, parish of Titirangi, 16 acres, valued at £520. The appellant asked that the valuation be reduced by £200. After evidence was heard the valuation was sustained.
Auckland Star 1 May 1895

TO LET, at Avondale, Paddocks for Grazing. —Apply Chas. Burke. Avondale.
Auckland Star 24 November 1897

The text of a January 1902 lease between Burke and Walter W. Daw which made reference to a kiln and buildings (surrendered in February 1904 after Burke’s death, so the entire site could be sold to the Avondale Jockey Club.)

“The Lessee may use the said demised property in the production of bricks, pottery and other ware … shall and will keep proper accounts of bricks, pottery and other ware made … or whether any earth part is used … shall not nor will in digging for or excavating brick earth or sand do any needless damage to the said demised lands or premises … shall not nor will sell or remove from off the hereby demised premises any earth clay or sand in an unmanufactured state …”

Until 1904, Moss Davis (who held a lease over the eastern half of Burke’s farm for the Jockey Club) was bound to allow “right-of-way and passage at all times during the currency of this lease by day or by night on foot or on horseback and with or without horses, carts and carriages laden or unladen and other animals and vehicles through over and along the piece of land …” The access was via today’s Wingate Street.

Auckland Star 4 June 1903

And, in 1903, the Whau Canal tour stopped off at Mr. Keane’s brickworks – Keane or Cain being one of the names which keep cropping up in the Whau River bricks story, as perennial as the grass.

The 1903 party from the Waitemata-Manukau Canal Promotion Scheme, alighting from the steamer at Keane's Brickworks, during the 1903 inspection of the proposed canal route. From The New Zealand Graphic, 25 July 1903.

There is a much clearer version of this image at Local History Online (click on West Auckland images, then search for Burke's) but I'm not convinced that the library's caption identifying this site as Burke's landing, at the bottom of Wingate Street, is correct This is what I have put as a comment to that site tonight.

There is doubt as to whether this is "Burke's Landing" at all. The NZ Herald reporting this event referred to the steamer reaching "Keane's" as the tide was falling. (NZH 16 July 1903) The NZ Graphic of 25 July 1903 captioned this photo as "The party leaving the steamer at the head of the Avondale Creek" and described that the steamer dropped the party off half a mile from the Whau Bridge. Burke's brickyard (and any landing, if it existed) was too close, being at the end of Wingate Street. The brickyard at Burke's had no need for a landing at that stage -- bricks then were carted directly to Great North Road. The location of this photo, considering the curve of the river, may well have been from the end of Ash Street -- the site of today's Rata Street bridge.
Overlay on aerial photo of part of Avondale Racecourse (top right) and the Whau River, from Auckland Council website.  "A" is the site near the end of Ash Street, "B" is the Burke brickyard. Whau Bridge is at the bottom right.

At the other Ash Street site, there are reportedly still a lot of brick rubble on what was part of the racecourse property. This was formerly land owned by John Bollard, on Lot 12 -- which Sloan apparently had a lease for, in the early 1870s. It is also a likely site for the area identified by Diamond as "Black Bluff". I've yet to see the name Keane in association with Burke's brickworks in the contemporary newspapers. The original Bernard Keane, often suggested as being involved at Avondale, was instead associated with Hobsonville, Mahurangi and Whangarei, as well has having his own brick and lime works in the central city in the 1880s.

The Burke site is today all residential, now, all traces of the past gone. Even in 1998, Simon Best reported finding mainly what constituted a rubbish dump – old bottles, imported ceramics, animal bones. Not surprising – the Avondale Road Board had their rubbish dump at the end of Wingate Road.

I suspect that there's more information out there. Just a matter of waiting.

Update 21 August: as per the comments below, 10 August saw a bit of a clearing up as to where the landing was -- definitely  Site A, identified by Simon Best as part of the Burke's yards, as it was his section of Allotment 12. But, it doesn't explain one thing: why there is only that reference, a single article and caption, to a Mr Keane having a brickyard at Avondale. More on this in a further post.


  1. Thanks for the update, Lisa. As you say - rather entangled tale. The Burke site shown in the Clough & Best 1998 report with respect to the archealogical dig and find of Hoffman kiln appears to centred on and include the land jutting into the creek between A & B shown on your map above. I visited the site this week and the 1903 photo is clearly taken from the bank to the left of the area circled A where the channel meets the bank. That measures 820m or 1/2 mile downstream from the bridge.

  2. Hi Murray,

    Got your email sent to the library -- looks like you've cleared up the location confusion. I'll do some updating to the post tomorrow. Hopefully, though, the library will emphasise that it is Keane's landing, as per the NZ Graphic article.

  3. Have you been able to establish the forenames of the Keane/Kane/Cain family.
    H Duggan