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Leather Makers Part 1

Leather Makers Part 1

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Published by Lisa Truttman
Story of the Benjamin Gittos & Sons tanneries in Avondale and Richmond, Auckland. The family had associations with leather working and making for 150 years
Story of the Benjamin Gittos & Sons tanneries in Avondale and Richmond, Auckland. The family had associations with leather working and making for 150 years

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Published by: Lisa Truttman on Nov 24, 2008
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01/27/2013

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Leather MakersLeather MakersLeather MakersLeather Makers
the Gittos family of tanners and leather merchants, 1841the Gittos family of tanners and leather merchants, 1841the Gittos family of tanners and leather merchants, 1841the Gittos family of tanners and leather merchants, 1841----1991199119911991
Lisa J TruttmanLisa J TruttmanLisa J TruttmanLisa J Truttman,,,, 2008200820082008
Part 1
Early settlers to New Zealand came to a land stranger than their homelands of Scotland,England, Wales and Ireland, but fairly rapidly they began to study and experiment withour native trees and plants to work out how best to utilise them and either make life easierin the new colony, or to turn a profit. In the Hokianga in 1841, one Benjamin Gittoslooked at the native trees near where he and his family, newly arrived in the colony, lived– and pondered on how each different bark would do in order to provide the curing agentfor animal hides. From out of that curiosity would spring a business that lasted into theearly 20
th
century, and a landmark industry in the history of the Avondale district.Tanneries in early Avondale and Waterview were located near sources of running water.One was started by John Buchanan, near the head waters of the Whau Creek c.1878 ;others appeared for a time along the banks of the Whau on the Rosebank Peninsula;while two existed along the Oakley Creek, that of the Garrett Brothers at the site of Thomas’ Mill at the mouth of the Oakley later in the nineteenth century, and the earliertannery of Benjamin Gittos just south of what is now Avondale Heights. Only those of the Garretts and Gittos family were full-scale commercial set-ups, lasting longer than afew years. John Buchanan’s business, known as the Riversdale Tannery, was operated byBell & Gemmell, both of whom may have been former employees of the Gittos tanneryfrom the 1860s. An enduring tannery business, Elijah Astley’s (another former Gittosemployee) just across the boundary in New Lynn, was also located near the Whau River.
 
 
 Arrival in New Zealand Arrival in New Zealand Arrival in New Zealand Arrival in New Zealand
Benjamin Gittos was born in 1808 in the town of Bridgnorth, Shropshire. His fatherappears to have been a draper and tailor, and also at some point an auctioneer. For somereason as yet undetermined, Benjamin left hishome in 1826 to emigrate to Australia, but hisship was wrecked on the Godwin Sands beforehe left British waters, and he ended up instead inthe village of Ingleton, County Durham. There,he met and married Ann White, and they hadtheir first three children there: William, Hannahand Mary. It is said that Benjamin was a welleducated man, and took on tutoring as a sourceof income in Ingleton.In 1840 came the decision to emigrate to NewZealand and the new settlement of Te Mata, inthe Hokianga, being founded by Ann’s twobrothers, William and Francis White. TheWhites were Wesleyan missionaries at theMangungu mission station. The Gittos familyleft from London on the barque
 James
, as steerage passengers, and after ports of call atHobart, Port Nicholson (Wellington) and the infant Auckland, they arrived at the Bay of Islands in April 1841, before going inland to their destination at the Hokianga.There, they named their home “Ingleton” after Ann’s home village. Whatever hadhappened in 1826 that had precipitated Benjamin’s initial journey away from hisbirthplace, he seems to have shut the door firmly on that part of his past. His first twosons, William and Francis (the latter being the first son born in New Zealand) werenamed after his brothers-in-law, and the name “Ingleton” was to follow the familythrough to 1884.
 Benjamin Gittos. From MurrayGittos collection.
 
 The family grew by two while at the Hokianga, sons Francis and John born there.According to his great-grandson Mr. Murray B. Gittos in his book 
First There WereThree
(a history of the White and Gittos families), Benjamin’s education earned him asolid reputation up north and he taught the children of the other settlers for a living. Butthis alone can have hardly been enough to sustain them.In a later statement from 1870, Benjamin described his experiments with finding the rightmix of natural dye and tannin in the bark of native trees around his home.
When residing on the Hokianga River, in the year 1841-42, I tested the variousqualities of the towai, rimu, tanekaha and hinau barks, and although the resultsshowed that they all contained a portion of astringent qualities, yet by nomeans sufficient to guarantee a profitable return for the outlay of capital. Thetowai was deficient in the gummy, resinous properties for which the Englishoak is so celebrated; the rimu possesses too much gum of a dark blood colour,and too little of the tanning principle; the tanekaha has a superabundance of dye, with a moderate amount of tanning principle, which latter is counteracted by the presence of a large quantity of turpentine; and the hinau contains toomuch black dye, which must be very objectionable in the appearance of leather.
 
1
 Benjamin may well have gained some knowledge of tanning and tanneries from hisbirthplace at Bridgnorth (located on the River Severn, and the site of several tanneries upthe river) or in Durham, where while I couldn’t find a record of a tannery at Ingleton,they appeared to be scattered throughout that county, as long as there was flowing waternearby. He had early contact in that period in the Hokianga with Bishop Pompallier(although Gittos himself was Wesleyan Methodist) as the bishop, according to Gittosfamily tradition, regarded him as:
…the only really educated man in the north and later, in Auckland, Pompallier arranged for Benjamin to teach in the Catholic school while awaiting thearrival of priests qualified in teaching. Given the antipathy that existed between

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