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Avondale Historical Journal No. 25

Avondale Historical Journal No. 25

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Published by Lisa Truttman
Journal of the Avondale-Waterview Historical Society, Auckland, New Zealand
Journal of the Avondale-Waterview Historical Society, Auckland, New Zealand

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Categories:Types, Research, History
Published by: Lisa Truttman on Jun 25, 2009
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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In March 1977, Universal Homes bought an area of land just over an acre in size just tothe south of today’s Maple Street, between Avondale and Riversdale Roads, on the Rose-bank Peninsula of Avondale. By August of the following year, they were able to sub-divide that land, plus the adjoining section,to form a fan-shaped development whichis now known as Sceptre Place. Anyoneliving there today might think that this wasmerely former market gardening land, sur-rounded as it is by ground with histories of the plow and seed, and the closeness of theribbon of water we call the Whau River.But, there is a difference. The northernpart, the original 1.2.0 acres, has a differ-ent story attached to it – that of a familytravelling to New Zealand in the late 19
 century to start a business that, it seems,had never been known here in New Zea-land before.
The Bests arrive in New Zealand
There’s a gravestone in the George Max-well Cemetery for Sealy James Best(c.1829-1892), describing him as being “of Yeovil, Somerset”. Elsewhere, there ismore detail. In the 1881 English census,Sealy J Best is noted as having been bornin East Chinnock, some 3 ½ miles south-west of Yeovil, a parish situated on theriver Parret in Somerset. The name SealyBest appears as traces in birth records,marriage details and census returns from
The AvondaleHistorical Journal
September -October 2005 Volume
Best VarnishWorks story1—4Inside this issue:
The Society and AHJeditorial staff thank 
AvondaleBusiness Association
for their continued supportand sponsorship of 
Next meeting of theAvondale-WaterviewHistorical Society:
Saturday,1 October 2005,2.30 pm
Lion’s Hall, cornerBlockhouse BayRoad and GreatNorth Road
Please contact theSociety for details.
continued on page 2
Rosebank’s First Varnish Works:
Sealy James Best and sons (1885-1937)
by Lisa J. Truttman
Official Publication of the Avondale-Waterview Historical  Society Incorporated 
 My thanks to Mr. R. D. Bright for sending mea copy of Brett’s Almanac from 1890, whichhad this ad in it. As promised: The story of the Bests of Avondale. I have been off-and-on chasing down thestory behind Eric Waterfield’s recollections of the Best varnish works for four years now,and the following is the result. Eric — this article is thanks to you, for passing your preciousmemories on to the rest of us. — Editor 
The Avondale Historical Journal 
Volume 5 Issue 25
 Page 2
the 1850s to 1880s. There are records of a Sealy James Bestmarrying in Bristol in June 1853, a son (Sealy James) born inBermondsey, London in the third quarter of 1861, another(Charles) born there c.1866, and another (Albert Thomas)c.1867.
Bermonsey in the middle of the 19
century was a denselypacked industrial area, known for glass manufacturing, gluemaking, tanneries, warehousing, and colour and varnish mak-ing. It is quite possible that Sealy Best was carrying out hisvarnish manufacturing trade here, perhaps the West of EnglandVarnish Works he is said to have built and started. Two of hissons, by the mid 1880s, were “practical varnish makers” aswell. By the time of the 1881 census, he and his family wereliving at 48 Pomeroy Street, Deptford, in Kent.
Sometime between 1881 and 1885, Sealy J. Best made the de-cision to come to New Zealand. He, his wife Mary, and sevenchildren arrived at Auckland on 19 August 1885, aboard the
. By 2 October 1885, Sealy Best and William Baileyhad sub-leased just over 16 acres of land on the Rosebank Pen-insula, part of allotments 9 and 10, (12) and plans to erect avarnish factory there were made public the following month bythe
 NZ Herald 
as part of the Avondale district promising “tobe some day a great industrial centre”. (William Bailey, itseems, was a jam maker, and was perhaps sharing the land forhis own plans.) Solicitor William Henry Connell who ownedthe land finally sold 1.2.0 acres outright to Sealy Best on 13April 1887.
“New Zealand Varnish Works, Avondale”
Between the time Sealy Best sub-leased the Rosebank propertyand his eventual purchase of the Whau River coastal propertyin 1887, the
 New Zealand Herald 
paid a visit to the factory sitein early October 1886. It is from their correspondent’s reportthat a description is available of what was, in effect, one of theearliest industrial complexes on the Rosebank Peninsula. Thebuildings were constructed from corrugated iron with angleiron framing (no wood utilised, it was noted – quite possiblydue to the ever-present risk of fire from the furnaces) and com-prised what was termed as the “factory proper”: drying room,gum room, engineer and blacksmith’s workshops, and office.A two-storey brick warehouse was intended to be erected as atthe time of the
visit. The furnaces had large firebrick lining set in massive brickwork underground and covered tothe floor with cast-iron fire plate. Wrought iron grating admit-ted air to the furnaces, while the chimney was also of strongwrought iron, quarter inch thick, and galvanised in 12 feetlengths. The oil-copper was similarly set in brickwork withfire-brick lining. The machinery was driven by a 5-horsepower vertical engine and boiler, with water for the boilercoming from the river, and coke for the furnaces supplied bythe Auckland gasworks. Even the packing cases for the fin-ished product were made on site, with circular and band sawsdescribed during the 1886 visit, as it was the intention of SealyBest and his (then) partner Mr. Murray to not only supply thelocal market but also to export to Australia.Processing kauri gum, the main ingredient of the varnish pro-duced on the site (also involving linseed oil and spirits of turpentine) was very involved. The
provided asummary of some of them: the raw kauri gum was scraped,chopped into uniformly-sized pieces, and then melted in“copper pots of complicated form”. After melting, andwhile still molten, the gum was poured into settling tanks,and allowed to settle over some days. After being pumpedinto a wrought iron drum and spun for some hours, againthe gum was placed into settling tanks and allowed to re-main there until matured.It certainly appears that the Best & Murray “AvondaleVarnish Works” was one of the first, if not actually thevery first, varnish manufactories in the country. Previ-ously, raw kauri gum was exported as-is to be processedand products such as varnish imported for local use. “Nodoubt when Messrs. Best and Murray have proved to thesatisfaction of the Government that they have establishedthe industry, they will get a rebate of duty on the raw mate-rials imported, so as to aid them in excluding the foreignproduct,” in the opinion of the
at the time.By 1890, the “Best” trade mark was a feature of the NewZealand Varnish Works of Avondale, Auckland,“Manufacturing the Finest Class of Varnishes, Japans,Lacquers, etc.”, with Mitchelson & Co of Auckland astheir sole agents. This may have been Edwin Mitchelson,an Auckland merchant who through his wife Sarah pur-chased the varnish factory land from Sealy Best in July1892.On 2 August 1892, Mary Best purchased 7 acres, 3 roodsand 30 perches, or nearly 8 acres, of Lot 15, Allotment 11from Avondale farmer John Boyd for £400. This landfronted onto what was soon to be Riversdale Road, righton the shore of the Whau River, just to the south of thevarnish factory. From then on, the family had a home inAvondale. The purchase took place just a day before thedeath of Sealy James Best on 3 August. The family contin-ued the business based at Avondale for a couple of years asS J Best & Co; down to 1894/95, the Avondale factory waslisted in directories. But in 1896/97 came a change. Thereappeared “Best S.J. & Co. N.Z. Varnish & Paint Works;offices & stores, Customs street east, Auck, manufacturersof all kinds of varnishes, japans, lacquers, French polish&c,: paints ground in oil and ready mixed: oil & colourmerchants: established 1885.” There was no longer anymention in the trade directories of an Avondale factory,but there is no reason to suspect that it stopped producingmaterial that would have been delivered to the new head-quarters at 43 Customs Street, between Gore and FortStreets. The Mitchelsons transferred the varnish factoryland at Avondale back to Sealy James Best (the eldestson), engineer, Charles Miller Best, varnish manufacturer,John De Renzy, merchant and William Hope De Renzy,accountant as “tenants in common” in October 1895. TheDe Renzys transferred their interest to the two Best broth-ers in 1909 but then took up a lease from them over theland.
The Avondale Historical Journal 
Volume 5 Issue 25
 Page 3
S J Best & Co. assisted the surrounding community whilethey were in operation in Avondale. The organising com-mittee for the Victoria Hall, on the corner of Rosebank Road and Orchard Street in Avondale, appreciated thefree varnish provided for their new acquisition from “ourlocal varnish manufacturer” in 1897.
Percy Best appears onthe records as an engi-neer, living in Avondale(quite possibly on thefamily’s Riversdaleproperty) in 1904. By1910, he’d obtainedwork for ArchibaldBros, one of the localbrickyards. His brotherCharles also appears in1904, living at Avondalebut also proprietor of Best & Co in Auckland.By 1905, the firm had(briefly) set up a branchoffice at Harris Street,Wellington. By 1909,Albert E. Best joined his brothers in appearing in the di-rectories, as a co-proprietor of Best & Co along withCharles. Only in 1910 does Sealy James Best, their elderbrother, appear in the directories, as living at RiversdaleRoad. He does not appear to have had a directorship inthe company, but due to the interest with Charles in thevarnish factory land at Avondale he must have been in-volved to some extent.On 10 September 1915, Mary Best sold the “equity of re-demption” of her Riversdale Road property to her eldestson Sealy J Best for the nominal sum of 10 shillings, “outof the natural love and affection” she felt towards herson. This meant that her son held the right to prevent amortgagee sale by the mortgagor as he had an interest inthe property. Five days later, she died and her son pro-ceeded to pay off the remaining £200 State Advancesmortgage.
The company without the Best family
For some reason, or perhaps many reasons, everythingchanged in 1920. Charles and Albert Best’s names disap-pear from the Auckland Directory in 1921. Albert Bestwent on living at Riversdale Road, and died still livingthere on 28 October 1936, at the age of 61. But by 1937Charles was living in Melbourne. He may well havemoved there earlier the previous decade. He transferredhis interest in the Avondale varnish works property to hiselder brother Sealy on 5 March 1920, and leaves the re-cord at that point.In papers deposited with the equivalent of the CompaniesOffice in 1920, William Charles Vallance advised that hewas acting as solicitor for S J Best & Co on 22 April. Thecompany was incorporated under the new Companies Act asat 20 May 1920, with the following objects:
To acquire & takeover business of varnish and paintmanufactures carried on at Auckland by Paterson &Esam under name of S J Best & Co.
To engage in the business of manufactures of oil colourpaint varnish enamels red& white lead painters andartists requisitions stainsdistempers and all kinds of products or substancesused for painting decora-tive or protective work.
Also in business asglaziers paint paperhangersoil & colourman picturedealers & framers & im-porters, exporters & deal-ers wholesale/retail inpaints colours glass papersoils etc.
Printers & bookbind-ers
Oils for machinery andmotor vehicles
Financial & commission agents
While the registered office remained as 43 Customs Street,and the company name was the same, bewilderingly every-thing else was changed. “Paterson & Esam” appears to havebeen a firm connected with one Campbell Paterson, a mer-chant from the North Shore who was also a varnish andpaint manufacturer. It seems that sometime before May1920 his company had taken over the day to day operationsof S J Best & Co, while still operating under that name. In-deed, the list of three directors in 1920 show no members of the Best family connected with the firm at all – controllinginterest rested with Paterson and his partner Ivo Burnet Dur-ban Esam, with approximately 1/3 going to Arthur EdwardSkelton, a solicitor. By 1921, Skelton’s shares were held bya Robert Burns, and Paterson had 280 more shares fromEsam.In February 1922, the directors of the company decided tochange the name to “Camp”, and by order of the Court inMarch S. J. Best became The Camp Paint & Varnish Ltd.The company was duly incorporated under that name inJune that year, and advised the Registrar of a change of ad-dress to 5 Alexandra Street (now Airedale Street) in the city.But by November 1925, Paterson had moved to Melbourne,and forfeited his shares by the end of 1926. The directorsmet in May 1929 to change the company’s name back to S JBest & Co, and this was duly done by order of the Court inJune. By now, the directors were Esam, Burns and JohnKenderdine.From January 1932, the managing director was Reginald
Part of Sceptre Place, July 2005. Photo courtesy George Baird 

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