could well have been made on the site of the new asylumbuilding itself. Thomas submitted his tender for the supplyof bricks on 5 January 1864. He’d submitted a tender priceof £3 16/- per thousand bricks for a total of 900,000 to beproduced over 7½ months. This was an amazingly boldstep on his part, as he himself later said that he wasn’t in thetrade before that point; he had no machinery, sheds or “therequisite apparatus for conducting the business”, only theclay. He had made no contingency preparations for the on-coming winter of 1864 when he’d tendered, and reliedheavily on exemptions from military duty for both himself and his foreman. Thomas indeed thought that the fact thatthere was a militia service call-up happening at the time hetendered for the work would be advantageous: “The militiawere on service when I tendered. I thought the fact of theirbeing on service would be an advantage to me as manywould like to take employment, to escape militia duty,”according to Thomas’ later testimony before the ProvincialCouncil.Lacking any brick making equipment at all in early January,he wasn’t even able to submit samples of his bricks, whichhe was supposed to have done on tendering for the contract.In his tender, he asked to be “provided a little more time”for the delivery of the total number of bricks, “say twomonths.” So from that point, he’d planned to produce the900,000 bricks over the course of nine months, not just overseven as specified in the tender documents. Thomas clearlythought that the extra two months had been agreed to, usingGraham’s letter confirming acceptance of his tender on 11January as proof. However, it is possible that Thomas didnot check the specifications of the contract he’d signed on20 January properly. The Superintendent could not havealtered the terms of the tender without also cancelling thetender entirely and asking those who had already tenderedalong with Thomas (including Dr. Pollen) to resubmit underthe altered conditions. Also, the specifications called for thefirst delivery of 180,000 bricks in February 1864. Thomas,in his testimony, emphatically denied that the specificationswere the ones to which he’d signed. Pollen himself ex-pressed grave doubts, saying that in his opinion it was “aphysical impossibility” for Thomas to “half perform thecontract in the time specified.”Thomas had the backing of J S Macfarlane & Co, an Auck-land merchant and shipping firm of some note in that pe-riod, whose offices he used as a return mailing addresswhen he tendered for the contract, and he also assured theSuperintendent “J S Macfarlane & Co will become suretiesif required.” Two weeks later, the situation had changedsomewhat, with Thomas himself putting up half of the£1000 bond, while the rest was split between merchantsThomas Macky and Thomas Milne Machattie. There wasno further record of J S Macfarlane & Co’s involvement.Mr. Daldy a day later, in reply to a question from Mr. Kingin the Council’s session, said that the separate tendering of bricks, instead of treating the contract to build the asylum“as a whole”, was due to operations “being considerablyfacilitated by having the supply of bricks ready.” (Daldywas apparently completely unaware that the successful ten-derer was not only a novice, but starting absolutely just
The Avondale Historical Journal
Volume 6 Issue 31
Creek, then across the creek in a strip that extended to pre-sent day Pt Chevalier Road. This appears to have been therump left over from the sale of the much larger Allotment 19(to the north of Oakley Creek) which was given to GeorgeRussell of the Hokianga in 1845 in exchange for some landclaims elsewhere. As at 1845, the land which was to becomeAllotment 18A was described as “reserve”. By 1849, obvi-ously, the government saw fit to dispose of it, and so theRooney-Chandler-Brereton partnership purchased it.
Thomas’ mill may well have been in operation well beforeApril 1859. The dates of land title in 19
century Aucklanddo not necessarily indicate the start of occupation of thesesites – Rooney bought out his two partners in December 1857and May 1858. The story of Thomas’ Star Mills deserves tobe told in detail in a later separate article. There are no cleardescriptions known as to the site of the mill, as the contem-porary references were not precise, and even varied from theidentified photographs we have today (see caption on facingpage.)Suffice to say, however, that John Thomas was indeed a flourmiller, residing beside the Oakley Creek in the Whau district,as at the early 1860s. At some point in late 1863, he decidedto be a brick maker as well. This, as it turned out, was agrave business error.
The Lunatic Asylum
The situation with regard to accommodation for the mentallyill in Auckland had become dire by 1862. The Head Keeperreported to the Auckland Provincial Council then that moreroom at the existing Asylum, then on the Domain, was desir-able. On 26 February 1863, the Council appointed a SelectCommittee, made up of Messrs George, King, Martin, Rowe,Daldy and Dr. Pollen, “to take evidence and report on thebest site for a Lunatic Asylum.” The Superintendent, RobertGraham, presented plans a day later to the Council.On 31 March, the Select Committee came up with a secondof two options: the Reserve at Oakley’s Creek (“No. 29”,although this may have been a simple mis-numbering error,when they meant Allotment 30). “Your Committee,” theyreported, “after having visited several proposed sites, andtaken evidence of the Provincial Surgeon, are of opinion thatthe Reserve at Oakley’s Creek, No. 29, should be recom-mended to the Provincial Government as being the most eli-gible site for the erection of a Lunatic Asylum, from itscheerful aspect, nature of the soil, supply of water, and easydistance from town.”By September, plans from England by a Mr. Barrett weresubmitted to James Wrigley, an Auckland architect, whoadapted them as there was apparently “a material defectlikely to affect the health of the inmates”. A Select Commit-tee considered the architect’s report in October, and by earlyJanuary 1864 the tender for supply of bricks for the asylumwas advertised.
Thomas’ brick contract
It’s uncertain where John Thomas had his brick yard, butgoing from some descriptions, most of the bricks he supplied