Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Searching for McVay's Freemans Bay tannery

Someone came up to me earlier this month, just after a talk I gave at the Central Library, about the McVay family tannery at Freeman's Bay. I see on the blog statistics that someone recently has been doing a bit of a search into tanneries there in the old bay -- so here's what I know to date.

George and John McVay are recorded as carpenters in the 1842 Jury List for Auckland.
...The large importations of stock, during the last 2 years, have not only supplied tho settlers with beef and mutton at moderate prices, but also with hides and skins. The numerous forests abound likewise with barks, peculiarly adapted for tanning : — and now, Auckland possesses a tanyard in which is produced leather of quality that will vie with European manufacture. The bark used in the tanyard of Mr. McVay is that of the native tree Towai, which is to be found all over New Zealand. ... The whole processes of tanning and currying are completely carried through by Mr. McVay, so that leather of every description, for the boot and shoe-maker as well as for the harness-maker, can now be purchased in Auckland, and at much cheaper prices than they can be imported ...

Southern Cross 19 April 1845

John McVay's enterprise was known as the Auckland Tanyard. So he operated possibly the earliest tannery in Auckland.

It is too commonly the practice, especially in the Colonies, to puff the qualities of any new ingredient or production, used in the arts of manufacture, or connected with the interests of commerce, before the intrinsic excellence of the commodity itself is fairly tested. We cannot, however, fall into this error, in extolling the qualities of the Towhai bark ; its excellent properties have been proved in a manner that leaves no room for doubt by our industrious townsman, Mr. McVay. The specimens of sole leather which he has produced, are even superior to much of of that which is imported from the neighbouring Colonies; and could he but obtain a sufficient quantity of hides, the capital now expended in the importation of leather would be saved and devoted to other purposes affecting the interests of the Colony.
New Zealander 25 July 1846

But the question I was asked was -- where was the tannery? It wouldn't have been far from one of the streams draining into the bay, for it required running water.

(By the way, there was a small tannery in O'Connell Street, connected possibly with the nearby boot making business of William Sansom, from c.1846 but out of business by c.1848. When that began isn't certain, but the McVay tannery still seems to predate it. Just.)

I started looking through the land advertisements.

Will Sell by Public Auction, on the premises, O'Connell-street, at 1/4 before 11 o'clock, on Wednesday next, 14th inst., MATERIALS of a Store and Dwelling House, adjoining the Tannery of Mr.
McVay, and at present in his occupation. The Building is about 46 feet in length, by about 21 feet wide, and consists of eight rooms, and a two roomed loft. The materials consist of weather-boarding, scantling, floor and ceiling joists, boarded partitions, glazed sashes, doors, &c, &c.
New Zealander 10 May 1851

Well, that's not much help. We'll move on.

John McVay died in 1852.

New Zealander 11 December 1852

George McVay advertised his tannery at Freemans Bay from December 1852.
ROBERT SCHULTZ & CO. are prepared to Sell by Private Sale the following valuable Town Properties at the 
Lot No. 1—22 feet frontage to Union-street, depth 91 feet, upset price £33. 
Lot No 2—22 ft. frontage to Union-st., depth 85 ft 2 in., upset price £32. 
Lot No. 3—22 ft. frontage to Union-st., depth 79 ft. 3 in., upset price £33. 
Lot No. 4— 33 ft. frontage to Union-st., depth 72 ft. 9 in., upset pace £35. 
Lot No. 5—335 — 33 ft. frontage to Union-st,, depth 63 ft. 6 in , upset price £33. 
Lot No. 6—35 ft. frontage to Napier-st., depth 63 ft. 6 in , upset price £25. 
Lot No 7—337 — 33 ft. frontage to Napier-St , depth 72 ft. 9 in , upset price £25. 
Lot No. 8—228 — 22 ft. frontage to Napier-st., depth 79 ft. 3 in , upset price £17. 
Lot No. 9—22 ft. frontage to Napier-st., depth 85 ft. 2 in., upset price £20.j 
Lot No. 10 — 22 ft. frontage to Napier-st , depth 91 ft., upset price £24. 
Lot No. 11 — 55 ft. 9 in frontage to Napier-st., depth 106 ft. 3x9, upset price £42. 

The above Lots are subdivisions of allotments No. 30 & 31 of Section 43, and immediately adjoin Mr. McVay's residence, in Freeman's Bay. Lots No 1, 2, 3, 9, 10 & 11 are all at present under clover. A good substantial fence runs through No. 8& 9. No. 3& 4 are also fenced on one side. 

Southern Cross 8 May 1855

Now, this looks interesting. What we have is the legal description "30 and 31 of Section 43" adjoining McVay's residence. So, I turn to the 1866 Vercoe and Harding map of Auckland (reference NZ Map 18, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries).

The land being sold in 1855 was between Union and Napier Streets, and right at the corner of those streets, so I suspect the tannery was close by. Much of it is under the Northern Motorway today, or is in grassed and vegetated reserve.

A George McVay turns up on Wellesley Street as a tanner in the 1856-57 jury list. John McVay isn't on that list at all. George McVay advertised that he was in Freemans Bay as well -- if he was on Wellesley Street, this was probably at the Victoria Park end of that long road. But when he died 24 August 1863, it was at his home on Union Street, aged just 42.

A house in Union Street occupied by a Mrs McVay was struck by lightning later that year.
It appears that during the storm a cottage in Union-street, Freeman's Bay, occupied by Mrs. McVay, was struck with the electric fluid, which split and splintered one of the verandah posts in front of the house, shattered the weather-boarding in the end of the cottage, broke through the roof by the side of the chimney, and burst a large stone ink bottle, the fragments of which broke several pieces of crockery. A lamp and other articles were thrown from the shelves ; the kitchen utensils, which were of tin, were thrown off the nails on which they were suspended ; and the clock was stopped at the same time (nine o'clock). Seven of the family were in the house, and the effect of the shock deprived Mrs. McVay of hearing for about a quarter of an hour, leaving a ringing sound in her ears. The remainder of the family experienced a similar sensation. The shock appears to have been felt by other persons residing near, but providentially no one was seriously injured. Mr. Hunt, living next door to Mrs. McVay, had his arm paralysed for some time. 
 Southern Cross 21 December 1863
Finally, this last note from the 1890s.

An old colonist, Mrs John McVay, widow of the founder of the first tannery in Auckland, died at Napier on Monday. She arrived with her family in Sydney in 1837, and four years after came to Auckland in the schooner Shamrock, commanded by Captain Daldy.
Auckland Star 1 November 1892

There passed peacefully from our midst at an early hour yesterday morning, at the age of sixty-nine years, a very old colonist in the person of Mrs McVay, after an illness resulting from an attack of bronchitis of over four months. In 1837 she, with her father, Mr George Deuchar, and a sister, arrived in Sydney, her mother having died on the passage from Home. Mr Deuchar intended settling in New South Wales, but after experiencing several dry seasons, followed by a disastrous flood on the Hunter river, decided to leave for Auckland, subsequently farming land at Epsom, near the city of Auckland. Capt. Daldy, who is still resident in Auckland, is we believe, the only survivor in the colony of all those twenty-nine passengers and crew who made that first trip to Auckland in the brig Shamrock, reaching port after a long and tempestuous passage on the 1st day of July, 1841, about fifteen months before the arrival in Auckland of the first emigrant ship, the Jane Gifford and Duchess of Argyle, whose jubilee has just been celebrated. 

Over a year afterwards Miss Deuchar was married to Mr John McVay, who was a fellow passenger from Sydney in the Shamrock. Mr McVay subsequently established a tannery in the middle of what is now the city of Auckland. About fifteen years ago Mrs McVay came to reside in Napier. She leaves a family of five sons, two of whom are Messrs George and John McVay of this town, and one daughter, Mrs D. Miller, residing is Christchurch.
Daily Telegraph 31 October 1892

It looks like Sandy, regular reader and commenter on this blog, has already spotted and photographed the Deuchar/McVay gravestone in Grafton Cemetery. John McVay, according to what Sandy found on the gravestone, died in 1852, aged 39. When George McVay died in 1863, that was virtually the end of the McVay's tannery business in Auckland. By that stage, Benjamin Gittos in Avondale, along with the Ireland Brothers at Mechanics Bay and later Panmure, would have dominated the market, until the Garrett Brothers in the mid 1870s.

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