Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Street Stories 23: Homage to a business partner

Detail from DP 123, LINZ records, crown copyright reserved.

My friend Margaret Edgcumbe alerted me to an article in the NZ Herald last week, about Logan Terrace in Parnell.
"The Logan Tce section is near the village centre, known for its galleries, cafes, restaurants and boutique stores. Before being subdivided, it was part of the homestead belonging to Auckland founding father Sir John Logan Campbell."
Uh, no. The original name of the street was Campbell Terrace, before a change in 1917 to the current name, and both "Campbell" and "Logan" do stem from a tip of the hat, as it were, to John Logan Campbell, who lived nearby and was a businessman of note in 19th century Auckland (there will be many commemorating the centenary of the death of the "Father of Auckland" this year).

But ... JLC didn't own the property, so it wasn't given his name or part thereof for that reason. The owner at the time of subdivision was one Patrick Comiskey (thanks again, Margaret), an Irishman who had done quite well for himself out here in the colonies. Including a business relationship with JLC.

Patrick Comiskey, son of Joseph Comiskey of Castleblaney, County Monaghan turns up in the early 1860s in the Papers Past records as a partner with Michael Abbott Cassius in the firm of Cassius & Comiskey, storekeepers in Greymouth and Hokitika, selling “Quicksilver, Blasting powder & fuse, Gunpowder, shot and caps, Axes, adzes, drills, hammer.” (West Coast Times, 26 July 1865) By 1867, the partners on Mawhera Quay were also selling Peruvian guano. In 1866, Comiskey was one of the directors of the Hokitika and Greymouth Railway Company. The business closed in Greymouth in December 1867.

Comiskey ran for election representing Greymouth on the County Council in 1868, but pulled out of the contest in December that year. Cassius & Comiskey dissolved in July 1869, leaving Cassius to continue on his own. By November that year, Comiskey was trying his luck on the Thames goldfields.

“The people must surely be mad to keep coming here,” he wrote to Cassius. “I do not know what they are going to do. Nine tenths of the claims on the Thames are not worth a penny. I could name hundreds of claims that have been formed into companies and then … sold at big prices, that are not worth anything to-day. Unless something turns up soon, there will be lots of people glad to return to Hokitika.” (reported in Westport Times, via North Otago Times, 26 November 1869)

He was back on the West Coast by early 1870, but left soon after to go to England (and possibly his hometown in Ireland).

In September 1873, Comiskey while in England married Mary Ann Bamford, daughter of Robert Hanbury of Bole Hall. “The tenantry on the Comiskey estates in Greymouth have reason to congratulate themselves upon the circumstance of their landlord (at second hand) having been elevated to the condition of a married gentleman, and of the probability, according to the Hokitika papers, of his better-half and he visiting them in the course of their, marriage tour. A notice of the matrimonial alliance appears in the usual column. On the authority of the West Coast Times a private letter from England, received in Hokitika, states that Mr Comiskey (formerly of Cassius and Comiskey) has married a lady of wealthy family.” (Grey River Argus, 9 September 1873) Mr & Mrs Comiskey arrived in Auckland as saloon passengers on board the Cyphrenes on 19 April 1874. In Newmarket, they had an accident in June when a horse drawing a buggy they had hired from Crowther’s shied on the Parnell Road, sending the couple over and down an embankment. Patrick Comiskey appears to have been knocked unconscious, and suffered worse injuries than his wife. He returned to Hokitika in September, and resumed his interest in West Coast affairs and politics.

He was back in Auckland by April 1876, now a JP. The whole of his household furniture was up for sale at Remuera in February 1877, and by June he was in Whakatane, assuming the office of coroner there (and running a company called the Whakatane Cattle Company). But, as if he wore a rubber band, he was back in Auckland by November that year. He still maintained his West Coast interests as well, but by 1881 styled himself as a gentleman, from Auckland.

The other principal shareholder of the Whakatane Cattle Company with Comiskey was John Logan Campbell (Bay of Plenty Times, 16 August 1881) – hence, quite likely, the reason why Comiskey named the street through his 1881 Parnell subdivision Campbell Terrace. (He was also a co-director, along with Campbell, of the NZ Frozen Meart and Storage Company in 1883, so the two men knew each other at least reasonably well. From 1878, Campbell was a fellow Parnell landowner).

Meanwhile, the Comiskeys had a residence somewhere along St Georges Bay Road (Auckland Star 19 October 1881). He was involved with development along part of Rutland Street East (now bounded by Cleveland and St Georges Bay Roads) in 1882 (Star, 14.3.1882).
 Star, 17 June 1884
His business career here in New Zealand was quite detailed, beyond the scope of this summary. He travelled again to England in the late 1880s, to secure additional finance for his enterprises in the South Island. While in Brighton, Mrs Comiskey fell, bruised her leg, and it had to be amputated. Sadly, she later died there in May 1888. Comiskey sold up any remaining effects in Auckland, and from that point on resided in England. He died in December 1906.

Patrick Comiskey, news of whose death was received by last week's English mail, was a prominent man in Auckland twenty years ago. At that period he was one of the largest investors in mining and business enterprises in the city. In the earlier days of the colony Mr Comiskey had been a member of the mercantile firm of Cassius and Comiskey, on the West Coast goldfields, and had laid the foundations of his fortune in mining and commercial enterprises there. And when he transferred himself to Auckland, there were not many speculation schemes of importance with which he was not in one way or other associated. Merely to mention a few of them involves a glance at historic concerns that were of the first importance in their day, but have long since passed out of existence.

For example, Mr Comiskey was one of the directors of the Thames Valley- Rotorua Railway Company, which commenced the construction of the railway from Morrinsville towards Rotorua, and eventually disposed of its interests to the Government. Then, he was for some time chairman of directors of the old Union Sash and Door Company, now absorbed in the Kauri Timber Company. Another venture in which he held a directorship was the New Zealand Frozen Meat Storage Company, which took over the meat business carried on by Fisher and Company, and engaged in export trade, sending away the first big cargo of frozen meat that was loaded in Auckland. During the booms at the Thames in the early eighties the time of the Prince Imperial and Cambria patches Mr Comiskey was an extensive and successful speculator. Before he left Auckland to take up his residence in England, New Zealand fell upon bad times, and Mr Comiskey suffered in common with others who had risked their money in business enterprises. It is understood, however, that he subsequently prospered in South African mining speculations, and that he died in affluent circumstances.
Observer, 9 February 1907

By the way, Comiskey’s old partner Michael Cassius, who had amassed a considerable fortune from his West Coast dealings and retired to Europe in 1874, died in November 1891.

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