Monday, October 24, 2011

The watcher on the hill: Partington's Windmill (Part 1)

"Partington's flour mill, houses and a ship in the harbour with fenced graveyards in the cemetery in the foreground," sketch by E Goring Corbet, January 1859, A-128-002, Alexander Turnbull Library.

Updated 20 November 2013

"Ask of me if you would know 
Stories of the long ago; 
I, the watcher on the hill," 
Softly sighs the old windmill.
"Roslyn", 1902

An email came in from a reader named Peter Grierson back in September: "Would love to see an article on Partington's Mill if you get the chance. This was a bona-fide windmill that stood on the site of the present day Langham Hotel for 100 years, until the short-sighted council of the day had it knocked down in 1950."

Initially, I thought: what was there left to blog about regarding the windmill, that hadn't already been covered? Partington's Mill is one of those heritage tragedies in Auckland which is still capable of causing sorrowful shaking of heads, and utterances of "Ah, the Mill!" when heritage-minded folk gather. Even for those such as myself, who are too young to have actually been around to see the old relic in its declining years. Thus, Partington's Windmill has been well covered by articles, paramount of which is the classic "Partington's Flourmill: The Winds Were Turbulent", by Patricia M French, published in the Journal of the Auckland Historical Society in 1967.

But, once the Historical Festival was over, as I promised Peter, I took a look. He emailed through a number of sources he had to hand. I found more on top as I looked further -- and became intrigued.

French tells us that Charles Frederick Partington, from Oxford in England, arrived first in Sydney in August 1841. He was accompanied by his father George and two of his three brothers, working as a carpenter. By the end of 1842 however, he'd crossed the Ditch, and was living in Chancery Street. The rest of the family followed over the years.

1845 saw Charles Partington working in Mechanic's Bay, still as a carpenter. French wondered, quite reasonably, whether he had become involved with Low & Motion and their flour mill there at the bay, for by June 1847 he'd entered into partnership with John Bycroft, taking over the Epsom Mill, built in 1844 by Joseph Low for architect William Mason. Was it this which gave Charles Partington the milling business bug passed down to three of his sons? Was he inspired in the beginning by the turning sails of the Epsom windmill?

His partnership with Bycroft lasted only two years. By 1850, Partington was looking closer to the still young trading centre of Auckland town for a place to set up in business on his own. By July 1850 he had title to two strips of land off Symonds Street, 8A and 9A of Section 36. Three years later, he was to add a third, the adjacent 10A, which today fronts onto City Road. (Deeds Indexes, LINZ records) There, he had Henry White build the brick windmill, in operation by August 1851, using the clay of the site to fashion the bricks into walls 27 inches thick and 6 levels high. As early as 1852, the windmill at Partington's Victoria Flour Mill became an artist's favourite.

Partington's windmill on the skyline of Auckland in 1852, seen from Queen Street Wharf. W S Hatton, reference B 078-012, Alexander Turnbull Library.

Partington soon expanded his business, from simply manufacturing the raw product of flour to producing a finished product: biscuits. For this, he needed a factory, which he built between his windmill and Symonds Street in 1855/56.

Southern Cross 12 February 1856

The Steam Biscuit Factory was to remain the mainstay of Partington family business on the site for nearly 90 years. The windmill, barely seven years old, was leased out to other operators.
WINDMILL. F. W. FLETCHER BEGS to inform the Public that he has leased the WINDMILL in Symond-street, belonging to Mr C F. Partington, and that it is his intention to grind Wheat on hire, on the most reasonable terms; and he assures all those who may employ him that strict attention will be paid to the producing a superior article. Auckland, June 7, 1858.
SC 8 June 1858 

NOTICE. VICTORIA FLOUR MILLS. In consequence of the ill health of Mr. F. W. Fletcher, CHAS. F. PARTINGTON begs to inform the Public that the Lease of the Windmill has this day been cancelled (Oct 16th, 1858). In resuming possession of the Mill, C. F. P. takes this opportunity of returning thanks for past favours, and hopes by strict attention to business, and the Manufacture of a good article, to retain the support of his friends and the public generally …
SC 19 October 1858 

Detail from "City of Auckland" map, J Vercoe & E W Harding, 1865-1866, NZ Map 18, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries. The Steam Biscuit Factory complex can be seen just beside the windmill. Charles Partington's home nearer Symonds Street (bottom right corner) straddles lots 9A and 10A.

See also Mr Partington and his hemp.

In 1866, Partington updated and refitted his steam biscuit factory. The local press were wowed.
We visited yesterday the extensive flour mills and steam biscuit bakery establishment of Mr. Charles F. Partington, which have been fitted up with new and improved machinery. The buildings are situated on the west side of Symonds-street, nestled in umbrageous shrubbery and trees, and almost hid from the view of the passer-by. The first noticeable improvement we observed, before entering the mill, was a new coke kiln, constructed on the newest and most; approved principle, for producing a superior kind of fuel. ... Passing from the kiln we entered the boiler-house, where there is erected a Cornish boiler, suitable for an engine of 15-horse power. It is placed in such a position that as little heat as possible may escape, which is in itself an important consideration.

Next to this apartment in the engine-room, where a patent vertical or steeple engine is erected, of somewhat greater power than is required to keep in motion the various machinery. It is constructed with a superheater, which heats the water above boiling point, before it enters the boiler. From the engine-room we enter the steam mill, which is fitted up with a pair of French burr stones, together with dressing and smutting machines complete, Here the wheat is ground, separated, and the flour conveyed into the bakehouse.

In the bakehouse there is what is termed the mixing machine, capable of mixing 3 cwt. of flour every ten minutes. After the dough is properly mixed, it is passed through two powerful bake rollers, then rolled out into sheets thirty feet long. These are cut up into smaller lengths, and afterwards passed through the cutting machine, during which process they are joined and form one continuous sheet. The sheet of prepared dough then passes underneath the cutters, which separate and stamp the cakes, the scraps being removed at the same time by a very simple and ingenious arrangement. The cakes of dough, which are all exactly of the same size and weight, are passed along and laid on the travelling oven, which is 36 feet long. The biscuits, in passing through, are thoroughly and evenly baked, which process occupies from eighteen to twenty minutes. They are dropped on to the kiln, there allowed to remain for a certain time in order to dry thoroughly, after which they are packed in bags or cases. There are different cutters used for producing all kinds of fancy biscuits, picnics, &c. The biscuits are of first-class quality ... The machinery is capable of baking thirty tons of flour in the week. All the machinery is T. and T. Vicars and Co.'s (Liverpool) patent, which obtained the prize at the London Exhibition of 1862. ... The water used is principally supplied from the roofs, there being such a large surface, and is conveyed to the different parts of the bakery establishment by piping. Mr. Partington first introduced steam machinery for baking into Auckland about twelve years ago. The new machinery was obtained with the twofold object of economising labour and producing a superior quality of biscuit, and was erected at a cost of between £2,000 and £3,000. The whole of the machinery, including the engine, has been erected in a most creditable manner by Mr Partington's two sons, under his own supervision. Adjoining the steam biscuit manufactory is the windmill, which was erected in 1850, and contains a number of lofts for storing biscuits. It is the intention of the proprietor to export larger quantities of biscuit than he has formerly done.
SC 3 October 1866 

However, the first of the major Partington mill fires apparently did considerable damage to the new structure.
A narrow escape from fire was made on Friday night, at Mr. Partington's mill, Karangahape Road. About midnight, as constable Hoare was passing along the road, he observed a glare in one of the windows, and on looking through he saw a large heap of biscuits burning on the floor of the bakehouse, close to the oven. The constable at once aroused Mr. Partington and two of his men, who live on the premises, and by the exertions of the party the flames, which had reached nearly to the roof of the building, were extinguished. The floor in front of the oven was bricked, but the fire had caught the boards adjoining, and burned them in three or four places. The building is not insured. 

SC 3 December 1866

How much this had an impact on Charles Partington's disinterest in the milling and baking trade from that point on isn't known, but essentially he now seemed much more interested in either developing quartz stamping equipment during the rush in Thames -- or selling his Symonds Street property. The Victoria Mill and Steam Biscuit Factory disappears for a time from the advertising columns.

View from Auckland Harbour, c.1864, with the windmill on centre skyline. Andrew Thomas H Carbery, reference E-248-q-102, Alexander Turnbull Library

In the early 1870s, the sale of Partington's Symonds Street land began, along with the equipment from the mills.

Auckland Star 7 December 1872

The old windmill that has kept sentinel over Auckland for so many years is, we are informed, doomed to destruction, and in a few weeks the place which once knew it will know it no more ... the owner possesses a hard and obdurate heart. He, having no such refined sentiment, prefers to see the land cut up into building allotments, and so its destruction is not likely to be averted. It is said that one of the arms of the mill having come off some time ago, threatening destruction to life and property, has so intimidated people as to make the land in its vicinity less valuable at such prices as it would otherwise command.

It will be missed, will the old mill, by captains of vessels making for our harbour ... Old salts making the harbour, who have been absent for a time, will be under some sort of hazy impression that they have lost their bearings, or have not kept their weather-eye open, which will cause them to swear sheets and halliard. The mill will also be missed by young gentlemen who "won't go home till morning", and who had to depend greatly upon the mill for assistance to guide them on their erratic course ... if Partington will only spare that mill, we promise him his name shall be handed down to posterity in the eternal columns of this journal.
NZ Herald 9 January 1873

Auckland Star 15 March 1873

The Southern Cross reported on 4 June 1874 that the "largest and most complete biscuit-making plant south of the equator" was sold to John Lamb of Riverhead.  In January 1877, Charles F Partington died, and the remainder of his land and buildings was inherited by his wife. In August that year, the remains of the Partington estate was transferred to two of the sons, Charles Frederick and Edward Partington. But, as it turned out, the remainder of the history of both the windmill and the factory would come to be dominated by the eighth and youngest son, Joseph.

Joseph Partington, c.1881, from the Evening Post, 20 November 1941

Joseph Partington (1858-1941) was only 18 when he first entered into business for himself as an engineer, millwright and machinist, a year before his father's death. Born on the Symonds Street property, his childhood was probably dominated by the family business.

Auckland Star 30 September 1876

His brothers Charles and Edward, trading as Partington Brothers, restarted the mills at Symonds Street in mid 1877.

Auckland Star 29 July 1877

Then in 1879, Joseph Partington disposed of his Wakefield Street business, a year before his brothers left the Symonds Street mills to take on a lease from Auckland City Council for the "Western Mills" on Western Springs, the enterprise formerly run by Low & Motion.  For a while, he operated a smithing business at the junction of Cook and Nelson Streets, then went into partnership with his brothers, but at Symonds Street.

Auckland Star 26 July 1879

On 1 December 1880, he withdrew from the partnership with Charles and Edward.  His brothers, though, saw little point in continuing at Symonds Street at all, so it seems. By mid 1881, Henry Partington, a land agent and family member, was advertising the sale of the mills land at Symonds Street. Joseph protested.

Auckland Star 8 July 1881

The advertisements for a sale went ahead, however.

Auckland Star 13 September 1881

Until, in December 1881, Joseph Partington purchased the factory buildings beside the windmill, along with the right of way leading to Symonds Street (Deeds Index 18A.17). His brothers retained the windmill and the right of way leading to Liverpool Street.

Auckland Star 12 December 1881

Detail from T W Hickson's "Map of the City of Auckland", 1882, NZ Map 91, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries

From that point on, until clear through to 1921, things became complicated, at least in terms of land history documentation.

His name on the title for the biscuit factory, Joseph Partington took out a mortgage with Charles Stichbury in December 1881. Partington dissolved his partnership with Osmond in October 1885, and carried on alone. Stichbury died, and when his will was probated in January 1887, the mortgage was inherited by James Stichbury. There was a subsequent Supreme Court hearing in 1892, and a Mr Evans received title over the land, probably through mortgage default. In June 1895, Joseph Partington took out a 10 year lease from Evans. Then Evans, two years later in September 1897, sold the property to James Wilkinson. At that point however, Partington's lease was still in place, and had 8 years to go.

Detail from map, 1886, by George Treacy Stevens. NZ Map 374, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries. A stylised version of both the windmill and the steam biscuit factory can be seen.

Auckland Star 29 November 1894

Then, we have the windmill itself, and Mill Lane, the right of way leading to Liverpool street.

The Windmill, from the Symonds street end, 1898. Extreme left is the northern end of Joseph Partington's Steam Biscuit Factory. Left of centre (beside the windmill) is the residence divided between Partington and Wilkinson as it was bisected by the boundary line. Behind that house was a two-storey brick stable built for T Hope Lewis, which sparked the Wilkinson-Partington feud. Reference 4-150, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries

Partington Brothers, Charles and Edward, retained ownership of the windmill side of the property, and used it to raise loans, possibly to support their operations out at Western Springs. As part of that, they conveyed a moiety or part interest in the property to Joseph Partington in June 1886. According to Joseph, this took the form of a lease with right to pay off the mortgages and thus purchase the entire property. With his brothers absent from the scene, Joseph probably considered that at that point he had complete control over the entire site, both the factory and the windmill. Unfortunately, he was wrong.

His brothers were declared bankrupt in August 1887. One of the existing mortgages, with Queen St jeweller (and, apparently, a shareholder of the soon-to-be shaky Bank of New Zealand) Richard Beck, was called in during 1892, and Beck then sold the windmill half of the property to James Wilkinson for £330. Now, according to Joseph Partington (as later reported by George Everard Bentley), he'd approached Wilkinson himself as Wilkinson was "a shining light in the Wesleyan Church", the same church to which the Partingtons belonged. Perhaps Partington felt that, as a fellow Wesleyan, Wilkinson would work in with him, and allow Partington to continue his business there without hindrance. A lease of three years was arranged between Wilkinson and Partington. During this period, Partington was bankrupted from the end of 1892 to the end of 1893, released from bankruptcy in May 1894.

In 1895/96, the lease ended and was not renewed. (Wilkinson may have had concerns over Partington's bankruptcies, amongst other things). From that point on, Wilkinson arranged with Partington that the latter could only be a tenant as far as the windmill went, and even that was only on a week-by-week basis. Another reason why this might have happened was the odd position of the main mill residence -- cut in half by the boundary between the factory land and that of the windmill, with Partington living in one half, next to, as his chronicler Bentley was to put it in 1898,  8 members of the Wilkinson family, with the mother "unhappily a raving lunatic", screaming for much of the time. Whether this was correct or not, it clearly showed that any admiration Partington may have once had for his fellow Wesleyan evaporated. As those who knew him were to say in the following century, after Partington's death: once he took a dislike to someone, that dislike remained.

On 20 August 1897, Wilkinson served his tenant Partington with a notice to quit. Partington retaliated by removing machinery from the windmill to the factory. Some of that equipment, Wilkinson later charged, belonged to himself.

Wilkinson sold a piece of land in behind the dual-accommodation cottage in November 1897 to surgeon T Hope Lewis, who lived elsewhere on the block, for the purpose of a stable. Partington was furious, petitioning the Council against allowing a building permit for the stable which, at two storeys, made it difficult for Partington to safely repair the dilapidated sails of the windmill. The stable would have been wooden, but the Council approved a brick structure instead. Partington blamed the fact that T Julian, the stable's builder, was also a city councillor.

Partington wrote a letter to the NZ Herald on 22 February 1898 about the stable, his petition against it, that Wilkinson and Lewis were both able to build wooden dwellings in brick areas, and that the Council should have no control over Mill Lane. Wilkinson countered his points in a letter published in the same newspaper three days later. Because the Herald refrained to publish Partington's further response (Wilkinson had accused him of illegally uplifting equipment and machinery from the windmill, and had taken Partington to court over it), Partington then went on the warpath.

Cover (detail below) of "The Story of the Old Windmill", 1898, G E Bentley. Copy held at Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries.

Partington commissioned New Plymouth journalist George Bentley to write The Story of the Old Windmill, of which 1000 copies were printed by Albert Spencer. Aside from the printed statements made in the booklet mainly against Wilkinson and his character, describing him as "an avaricious and flint-hearted landlord", the front cover is interesting, said to represent the two mills 20 to 30 years before the publication.
[The] neat fence and shrubbery to the right have been superseded by dwellings and other frontages ... which run up to within 14 feet of the Mill and in a line with the right hand post of the open door of the old biscuit factory at the back. The left street boundary now would cut through the hind quarters of the horse in the shafts of the laden waggon standing in front of the Mill, the space between the latter and the boundary being about 10 feet.
Bentley was convicted of publishing a libellous pamphlet (he distributed 300 copies of the pamphlet, while another 600 were taken by Partington) in September 1898, and sentenced to time served. But Partington, even though he did no time in gaol thanks to posting bail, and wasn't involved in the first court case, didn't get off lightly. Wilkinson sued him for £200 damages for libel, with £100 awarded plus costs in December 1898. Two days before Christmas, Partington was once again in bankruptcy, when he failed to pay Wilkinson his money.

The Windmill and Mill Lane, 1898. Reference 4-149, Sir George Grey Special Collections.

It appears that Partington had prepared for this eventuality. In August 1898 he assigned the lease for the factory over to Miss Frances Dynes -- his housekeeper -- for £200.  He claimed to have sold the rest of his assets to her as well and was working for her, at the factory, for 30/- a week. Before she came to testify before the official assignee, however, she refused to do so, and had to be arrested and escorted to the hearing.
Frances Dynes deposed that she had been housekeeper for Mr Joseph Partington for nineteen years and she claimed the whole of Mr Partington's estate. She bought it last March. She bought everything Mr Partington possessed for £200, and she also gave him £20 for mining shares. She bought the estate because Mr Partington was going to England. However, he did not go. Witness paid for the estate £60 in March, 1898, there was £20 due to her for wages at the same time, which made £80. The next payment was £20 in August, 1898, which made £100. She paid £50 next, also in the month of August, making £150. The next payment was £50, and also £20 for shares, all in August. Some of the payments were made in the sitting-room at Mr Partington's house. This was the first money. The next sum was paid in the sitting-room, also the two other sums of £50 were paid in the office of Mr Reed, Solicitor. She thought the £22 was paid in the house. Her sister, Jessie. Dynes, was present when the payments were made in the sitting-room. She could not give the actual dates when the amounts were paid. Witness said she saved the money and kept it in an iron box. Her first payment was made from this box and she had some left in it yet. Her sister also gave her £75; she still had got the £75. She kept about £300 in the iron box; it was her savings from her wages. She kept no bank account. She got £1 per week for her services, and Mr Partington supplied the house. She had got £1 per week ever since being in Mr Partington's house. All of the moneys she paid came out of the iron box. Witness was further examined as to her purchase of the business of Mr Partington, and who managed it. The purchase, she said, took place in March. Mr Partington kept the books and managed the business for her. She kept no bank account after she went into business. Various deeds and assignments were then put in by Mr Cooper. Witness said she bought the business because she liked it; and Mr Partington wanted the money to go to England. She did not know at this time of Mr Partington being engaged in litigation, but she did know of the dispute between Partington and Wilkinson. She did not know how much money was at present in her little box.
Auckland Star 29 March 1899

Partington's application for discharge from bankruptcy was initially declined. I haven't yet found out when he did finally receive discharge. But it is possible that his enemy Wilkinson didn't get see a farthing of his award for the libel.

At the close of the Windmill's first five decades, Joseph Partington was still in residence and working at the factory, alongside James Wilkinson, without even a fence between them.

To Part Two.

The Mill, 1898. Reference 4-2619, Sir George Grey Special Collections.


  1. Wonderful, indepth account of Partington's Mill thank you Lisa - most interesting.

    Gail & Graeme

  2. Just read in Auckland Star (17th-19th November 1941) via about death of Joseph Partington. Very interesting story and had to find out what happened to mill as I had never heard of it but it seems it ended up demolished like ma ny other historic places in Auckland . ...Graham Austin

  3. By now, Graham, you've no doubt read Part 2.

  4. Great find. A little treasure trove. Thank you for putting this together.

  5. This mill was my ancestors. I have a drawing of it on my wall

  6. Timespanner, is there any way we could get a copy of this article to attach to our drawing, for our children and grandchildren.

  7. The Partingtons were family ancestors so I have been thrilled to read this.