Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Whau entanglement with Barney Keane

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.

But, to what extent and when did anyone named Keane have brickmaking associations with the Avondale side of the Whau River? He's still in the "obscure" part of my files, unfortunately. Hopefully, as more early newspapers are uploaded online for us to peruse, the murk at the bottom of the river's waters might get a bit clearer regarding this.

The main presumption at this stage is that the Keane link comes from Barnard (Barney) Keane. He appears in Auckland reports from the end of 1862, with the occupation of brickmaker, living in Albert Street in the city. His house was broken into. (Southern Cross, 7 November 1862) However, later reports push back his involvement with the brickmaking trade to c.1858. By 1866, he lived at Hobson Street (SC 8 May 1866) and by October that year was advertising for the purchase of a cutter.

 Southern Cross 1 October 1866

It looks like he diversified into trade with the Thames goldfields. By 1867, he had the cutter Catherine regularly plying the Auckland-Thames route. The main cargo from the Coromandel area, it seems, was lime. By January 1868, he had a office on Customs Street -- there, he lost his cool with a man named John Thomas Brown, striking him on the face and calling him "a rogue", and was later fined 5s by the courts. (SC 7 January 1868) From March that year, the Catherine began to carry sawn timber up from the Coromandel to Auckland, along with bricks going the other way. Cattle were conveyed to Auckland in the cutter as well, from Great Barrier Island. By September 1868, he also ran the cutters Rosina and Wahapu. His son Bernard attended the Auckland Western Academy and did well in grammar and geography. (SC 22 December 1868)

By the end of 1869, he had at his disposal a sizeable fleet of cutters conveying goods between Auckland and the Coromandel area -- Janet Grey, Catherine, Diamond, Sydney, Wahapu, Hope and Rosina. His gamble, taking advantage of the opportunity of the goldrush, had paid off. A launch, dubbed the Janet Grey, was launched for him in the middle of that year.

It appears he operated a brickyard somewhere close to the Auckland docks. Perhaps, even, at Brickyard Bay, part of what is now the Freemans Bay reclamation. He leased land from the Auckland Harbour Board. In the main, however, he was first and foremost a trading agent in construction material -- as such, he became involved, briefly, in the Whau Brickmakers affair of 1872, where the brickyard owners in West Auckland wanted a fairer deal for their wares with Brogden and the contracts for bricks that were on offer at the time during the Vogel push to build railways linking Auckland with the Waikato hinterlands.

A meeting of the Whau brickmakers was held on Thursday night last in the Whau Hotel at 7 o'clock. Mr. Kirby, of Auckland, bad been specially requested to attend, the object of the meeting being to appoint him as the sole agent for the sale of the brickmakers' goods. A little discussion took place whether it would be better to appoint Mr. Keane or Mr. Kirby. Most of the brickmakers were in favour of the latter gentleman, on the ground that Mr Keane is making bricks and buying at the same time, so that he was in opposition to a certain extent to other brickmakers. The question of appointing an agent was not finally settled by the meeting on Thursday, but a vote of confidence was passed in favour of Mr. Kirby.
Southern Cross 21 May 1872

Bolding mine. This article has been misinterpreted in the past by those looking for signs of early West Auckland brickmakers to mean that Keane was one of them. At this stage, considering the context of his business activities before the meeting, I think that is unlikely. He was trying to act as agent for the Whau yards, while actually competing with them to a certain extent from his own yard in the city. No wonder they went with Kirby to be their man at the negotiating tables.

But, hey -- Keane by name and keen by nature, he had another go at a piece of a lucrative part of the market. He knew, full well, that from the early 1870s onward, West Auckland looked set to dominate the brick making trade.

A meeting of the above tradesmen took place on Monday evening, at the Whau Hotel, according to advertisement. At the hour appointed all persons interested in the business were present, and I noticed Mr. Kirby and Mr. Keane. After partaking of an excellent supper, provided by Mrs. Poppleton, the cloth was removed and the business of the evening commenced. Mr. John Malam, being called to the chair, in opening the meeting, said that the object of the meeting was to take into consideration the high price given for coal and the scarcity of that commodity, and to decide whether it would be advisable for that meeting to raise the price of bricks. It was unanimously agreed to raise the price 5s per thousand, on account of having to use the Newcastle coal, which costs 10s. per ton more than Bay of Islands coal. After the business of the meeting was concluded, some hot discussion took place between Mr. Keane and Mr. Kirby. The former gentleman said that Mr. Kirby would never make any money in the business he has undertaken, but would lose. Mr. Kirby said if it was a business of that sort Mr. Keane ought to draw out of it, as he must have been losing money the last fourteen years in the business, and he thought it was time some one would step in and relieve Mr. Keane from his losses. On the whole all parties present seemed to enjoy themselves, and the meeting broke up at 12 o'clock. — [Whau Correspondent.]
Southern Cross 6 June 1872

He was certainly "exporting" via schooner (his stock part of others' in the hold) medium quantities of bricks, between 400 to 2000, along with pipes and lime, to places such as Poverty Bay, along with his old Thames trade via the Catherine.

He was doing something "in the bush" in September 1872, advertising for labourers. Exactly which bush, I don't know. Considering his trade links, it could have been anywhere. (Auckland Star 7 September 1872) He applied for six men to dig clay in January 1873. (AS, 15 January 1873). By February 1874, he seems to have been dealing with "Clark's flanged pipes" (I wonder whether this was anything to do with the Hobsonville Clarks? -- AS 20 February 1874) and applying to "two good carpenters for Tauranga" in April 1874.

He had a new cutter, The Evening Star in September 1874.
A cutter was launched this morning from the yard of Messrs Henderson and Spraggon. She has been built for the builders and Mr B Keane. Her dimensions are as follow :— Length of keel, 42 feet; overall, 47 feet; breadth of beam, 14 feet; depth of hold, 4 feet 4 inches. Tonnage: 18 tons register. She is intended for the brick and sand trade, and will be captained by Mr Hutley. The new cutter has been named after this journal, "The Evening Star," and in return for the compliment we can only wish her a similar share of prosperity to that which has attended our own career. The vessel was launched complete in every particular, with her sails bent and her crew on board. She went off beautifully, and sail was made within a minute of her settling on the water. Under canvass she appeared to great advantage, and she is undoubtedly a useful little boat.
AS 14 September 1874

Reclamations by early 1875 caused him to move his business to allotments next to Holdship & Co the timber merchants at Custom Street east, but 10,000 bricks still went down to Thames on the Catherine later that year. 

He produced lime there as well, but by March 1877 he had finished a new lime works at Whangarei, producing "Whangarei Stone Lime in any quantity", and "Mahurangi Hydraulic Stone Lime ... adapted for Concrete Work. Will set hard under water, as foundations belonging to Messrs Combes & Daldy, Fort Street, will amply testify ..." (AS 2 March 1877) Keane was certainly on a roll, and looked to be on a roll with his business.

Then, difficulties.

The Reclamation Nuisance.—A letter was received from the Auckland Oil Company, denying that their mill was the cause of the nuisance complained of by the residents of Graham and Hardinge streets, and suggesting that it was produced by the "suffocating fumes " from Mr Keane's limekiln, and the volumes of smoke emitted from the respective sawmills of Messrs Holdship and Co., and Messrs Jagger and Parker.—Mr Keane also wrote, promising to abate the lime-kiln nuisance.
AS 10 December 1880

William Carder and Bernard Keane were involved with bankruptcy in 1883. Again, I wonder if this was anything to do with a Hobsonville connection. (AS 25 May 1883)

PETITIONS.—Cr Garrett presented a petition from the residents of Clarence-street, Ponsonby, praying that Mr Barney Keane should be ordered to either remove or abate the nuisance caused by his brick kiln...
AS 24 August 1883

A lad named Bowden, resident in Ponsonby, and employed at Mr B. Keane's lime-kiln in that district, met with a painful accident this morning, which may involve the loss of one or more fingers. He was busied about some of the machinery when his right hand was caught in one of the cog-wheels and the fingers terribly lacerated and torn before he could be released. Dr. Knight having been sent for, dressed the wounded member, affixed a compress upon it, and had the young sufferer removed to the Hospital, where it was found necessary to amputate the injured hand, the operation being performed by Drs. Haines and Bond. His father works at Vickery's foundry.
AS 8 July 1884

His son Barnard, now married, lived on St Mary's Road in Ponsonby by December 1885.

Then, the one clear connection between Barnard Keane senior and the making of bricks in the Whau district.

BRICKMAKERS.—Tenders are invited for Making Bricks at the Whau. Tenders returnable by noon of 10th September. Lowest or any tender not necessarily accepted. For full particulars apply to B. KEANE, Customs-street.
AS 6 September 1886

But ... where exactly? By now, Avondale had been so-named. It could have been anywhere, even up as far as Hobsonville at a stretch. Without more information, there's little to link Barnard Keane senior with an Avondale brickyard enterprise.

And then, two months later, he died.

The remains of the late Mr Bernard Keane were conveyed to their last resting place,the Symonds-street cemetery, yesterday afternoon. The cortege left the residence, Hobson-street, and the body was first conveyed to the United Methodist Free Church, at the junction of Pitt and Vincent-streets, where a short service was conducted by the Rev. Mr Worboys, and the Rev. Mr Macfarlane delivered a feeling address, in the course of which he made reference to Mr Keane's sterling merits as a man and a Christian.
AS 1 December 1886

Included in the selling-up of his estate was: "Brick-yard and machinery, at Avondale, lease of 16 years to run, with 100,000 green bricks set in kiln ready for burning." (NZ Herald, 20 March 1888) Elsewhere at his death he had a brickyard and machinery at Ponsonby, with a lease of 35 years to run; lime kilns at Whangarei Heads 19 acres freehold; 2 years lease on 177 acres at Sandspit; an office on the corner of Little Queen Street and Customs Street in the city, 56 years left on the lease; and a 12 year lease on allotment and buildings corner Hobson and Custom Streets.

His business kept going for a while, probably as executors sorted out debtors and creditors. Then his widow's residence at Hobson Street was sold, and that was that.

What of Barney junior, the man who, as a lad, was a good grammar and geography scholar. It might have been him who ended up with the Auburn Dairy on Hobson Street by April 1895. (AS 19 April 1895) Then, maybe, as a carter from May 1899. No sign found, as yet, that he was connected with Avondale. But who knows what might be around the corner?

Meanwhile -- that caption in the NZ Graphic. I have a bit of a wild hypothesis, here. Perhaps the NZ Graphic had a mix-up of names, and instead of hearing "Keane's", they heard "Cairn's". Seeing lots of bricks littering the landing, and signs nearby of former brickyard workings, they may have presumed it was a brickyard owned by Mr Keane in 1903, but -- what if the yard had not been in use for some time prior to 1903 (which is likely), and it was "Cairn's landing". An Edwin James Cairn had a market garden and orchard along Riversdale Road, a fair distance away further down river, but -- he also had an interest in a yacht, the Poneke.

FOR SALE, Yacht Poneke. 30ft, all gear new this season, well found, dingy, etc. —E. J. Cairn, Avondale.
AS 2 March 1903

There are references in the papers later in 1903 to Messrs Best and Cairns in connection with the Poneke, and the Best family in Avondale did have links with boats and boating on the Whau River further in the 20th century ...

Just speculation on my part, and it can't be taken seriously as a solution just yet. I'm chasing info on Edwin Cairns as well, as an early Avondale gardener ... which is probably why I'm unlikely to be bored with local history research any time soon.

But is there a connection between the Barnard Keane family and Avondale? At this point -- not substantiated.

Update 2 June 2013 -- I've added the list of properties Keane had at his death, included in his estate as at 1884, and a kiln full of "green bricks" at Avondale is mentioned. He could well have had use of Burke's yard - the 16 years left on the lease would tie in with c.1904. We have got a record of a fire at "Craig's brickyard" in November 1888, which I have hypothesised could have been at Burke's. So, Keane may well have operated at Burke's for two years only in the late 1880s. Why would the NZ Graphic  and the NZ Herald make reference, then, to "Keane's brickyard" near the Whau bridge in 1903, 15 years after it had ceased being Keane's?


  1. Thank you for your articles. Your enthusiasm is commendable, however there are some points which beg to be addressed.

    Bernard Keane's assocation with the Whau – Jack Diamond clearly established this. In his well documented notes held in the Waitakere Library he notes a number of personal communications to him by descendants of the Whau brick and pottery families & other sources:
    Dick Malam c1954 “said that Barney Cain had a kiln by Bourke's by the Whau River. These were on the banks of the river at the back of the Avondale Racecourse.”
    Mr Bollard “wrote that Barney Cain bought out Bourke.”
    Jimmy McGillway c1952 “Barney Cain's brickyard was on the Whau River by the racecourse where Bourke's brickyards were.
    Crum office records 1979 - “1/ Bourke started just below the Whau Bridge. Later he leased it to Barney Cain and finally J.J. Craig during a boom. 2/ Bourke's – Murray and Sloane – Barney Cain – J.J. Craig.”
    Diamond's own conclusion is that “Cain bought out Bourke's brickworks and built a new kiln.”
    He further states, “Another feature which suggests that both owners operated on the same site, is that there is evidence of only one jetty and landing, the latter being confined to the foreshore in front of the kiln sites.”

    Note: a/ The advertisement by B. Keane for brick-makers at the Whau 6/9/1886 fits with the timeline above and Murray & Sloane's departure from the Whau by late 1876, and the Avondale Brick Company advert 4/11/1882.
    b/ Diamond perpetuates a mistake by Mrs Crum implying that the Cain family who moved to Akles Bay, Whangaparaoa, c1895 were the same family as Bernard Keane who had a brickworks on his substantial land at Wade Heads c1858-66. Keane sold that land in 1879, having relocated to Auckland many years prior to that.

    2/ Miscellaneous
    Only once or twice is the nickname 'Barney' seen in newspaper articles. Perhaps it was the name people called him, however he always signed his name Bernard in official documents.
    The land in the bush was probably his 700 acre holding near Kawakawa.
    Keane leased the land now known as Islington St, Ponsonby for a brickworks in 1869. This brickworks was kept until after 1886 when his estate was wound up. His son James ran it until his death in 1881, then probably by Bernard jnr.
    Carder Brothers had a pottery next to Keane's Ponsonby brickworks. Keane and George Carder applied for a patent in 1882 for “The Ponsonby Kiln”. George and Walter Carder were sons of Joshua Carder of Limeburners Bay, Hobsonville.
    Keane had a 26t cutter and a 30t schooner named Janet Grey. No launches.

  2. Thanks for your comment, Anonymous.

    Firstly -- I've studied Dick Malam's remembrances in the JTD collection at Henderson library. In at least one other instance, his recollections to Jack Diamond proved to be inaccurate, and based on second-hand information, with regard to New Lynn items. Note the difference between "Cain" and "Keane". As I said, one Barney Keane had a brief interest in the area in the 19th century, but just before his death, and I have yet to find a contemporary reference for his son being involved.

    If a Barney Cain existed, he didn't "buy out Bourke" (the name was Burke). The land and rates records do not support that -- the Burke family were leasing the brickyard through to takeover by the Avondale Jockey Club. They were the ones who purchased from the estate.

    The McGillway recollection dates from the same period as that of Dick Malam, so does rely on hearsay. It also post dates the NZ Graphic caption -- still the only piece of evidence found from the period linking Cain/Keane with the Whau River.

    You do realise the Crum office records consisted of notes tacked onto a wall of the office, from bits and pieces heard about about by the family? Not to be discounted totally, but from there is also sourced another piece of unproven conjecture, regarding Dr Aickin's so-called brickyard (which the Aickin family deny existed.) Like a lot of recollection/oral history, such sources need to be examined against documented evidence before being accepted or disregarded.

    Thanks, though. The more of us out there looking for bits and pieces of the puzzle -- and there are a number still missing, the better.

  3. Just found the relevant title from my records for the brickworks property, owned by Charles Burke to his death in January 1902 -- NA 40/36. Worth a look at via LINZ.

  4. Interesting my great grandfather Daniel Keane went to to Wairoa and after being a boarding house host in Aratapu became involved with making concrete pipes and I believe other concrete articles. He had six sons and five daughter. Earlier he had somthing to do with building the Avondale asylem and other buildings

  5. yes, that Daniel Keane was my great grandfather also, my grandfather being his son, Charles Henry Keane.

  6. There is very little mention of the Kelston Sabulite Road brickworks. I remember as kid in the early 80's my father and I attending a angry-gathered protest of some sort. Demolition were ocurring to the front facade of a brick building and the locals were annoyed. I played there as a kid aged 5-6. - A 40-70 meter brick road exists buried to this day.