The Avondale Historical Journal
Volume 5 Issue 25
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
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.