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Volume 5 Issue 25
The Avondale Historical Journal
Official Publication of the Avondale-Waterview Historical Society Incorporated
Rosebank’s First Varnish Works:
Inside this issue: Best Varnish Works story 1—4
Sealy James Best and sons (1885-1937)
by Lisa J. Truttman
As promised: The story of the Bests of Avondale. I have been off-and-on chasing down the story 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 precious memories on to the rest of us. — Editor
Next meeting of the Avondale-Waterview Historical Society:
Saturday, 1 October 2005, 2.30 pm Lion’s Hall, corner Blockhouse Bay Road and Great North Road Please contact the Society for details.
In March 1977, Universal Homes bought an area of land just over an acre in size just to the south of today’s Maple Street, between Avondale and Riversdale Roads, on the Rosebank Peninsula of Avondale. By August of the following year, they were able to subdivide that land, plus the adjoining section, to form a fan-shaped development which is now known as Sceptre Place. Anyone living there today might think that this was merely former market gardening land, surrounded as it is by ground with histories of the plow and seed, and the closeness of the ribbon of water we call the Whau River. But, there is a difference. The northern part, the original 1.2.0 acres, has a different story attached to it – that of a family travelling to New Zealand in the late 19th century to start a business that, it seems, had never been known here in New Zealand before.
The Bests arrive in New Zealand
There’s a gravestone in the George Maxwell Cemetery for Sealy James Best (c.1829-1892), describing him as being “of Yeovil, Somerset”. Elsewhere, there is more detail. In the 1881 English census, Sealy J Best is noted as having been born in East Chinnock, some 3 ½ miles southwest of Yeovil, a parish situated on the river Parret in Somerset. The name Sealy Best appears as traces in birth records, marriage details and census returns from
The Society and AHJ editorial staff thank Avondale Business Association
for their continued support and sponsorship of this publication.
My thanks to Mr. R. D. Bright for sending me a copy of Brett’s Almanac from 1890, which had this ad in it.
continued on page 2
The Avondale Historical Journal
Volume 5 Issue 25 Page 2
duced on the site (also involving linseed oil and spirits of turpentine) was very involved. The Herald provided a summary 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, and while still molten, the gum was poured into settling tanks, and allowed to settle over some days. After being pumped into a wrought iron drum and spun for some hours, again the gum was placed into settling tanks and allowed to remain there until matured. It certainly appears that the Best & Murray “Avondale Varnish Works” was one of the first, if not actually the very first, varnish manufactories in the country. Previously, raw kauri gum was exported as-is to be processed and products such as varnish imported for local use. “No doubt when Messrs. Best and Murray have proved to the satisfaction of the Government that they have established the industry, they will get a rebate of duty on the raw materials imported, so as to aid them in excluding the foreign product,” in the opinion of the Herald at the time. By 1890, the “Best” trade mark was a feature of the New Zealand Varnish Works of Avondale, Auckland, “Manufacturing the Finest Class of Varnishes, Japans, Lacquers, etc.”, with Mitchelson & Co of Auckland as their sole agents. This may have been Edwin Mitchelson, an Auckland merchant who through his wife Sarah purchased the varnish factory land from Sealy Best in July 1892. On 2 August 1892, Mary Best purchased 7 acres, 3 roods and 30 perches, or nearly 8 acres, of Lot 15, Allotment 11 from Avondale farmer John Boyd for £400. This land fronted onto what was soon to be Riversdale Road, right on the shore of the Whau River, just to the south of the varnish factory. From then on, the family had a home in Avondale. The purchase took place just a day before the death of Sealy James Best on 3 August. The family continued the business based at Avondale for a couple of years as S J Best & Co; down to 1894/95, the Avondale factory was listed in directories. But in 1896/97 came a change. There appeared “Best S.J. & Co. N.Z. Varnish & Paint Works; offices & stores, Customs street east, Auck, manufacturers of all kinds of varnishes, japans, lacquers, French polish &c,: paints ground in oil and ready mixed: oil & colour merchants: established 1885.” There was no longer any mention in the trade directories of an Avondale factory, but there is no reason to suspect that it stopped producing material that would have been delivered to the new headquarters at 43 Customs Street, between Gore and Fort Streets. The Mitchelsons transferred the varnish factory land at Avondale back to Sealy James Best (the eldest son), engineer, Charles Miller Best, varnish manufacturer, John De Renzy, merchant and William Hope De Renzy, accountant as “tenants in common” in October 1895. The De Renzys transferred their interest to the two Best brothers in 1909 but then took up a lease from them over the land.
the 1850s to 1880s. There are records of a Sealy James Best marrying in Bristol in June 1853, a son (Sealy James) born in Bermondsey, 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 19th century was a densely packed industrial area, known for glass manufacturing, glue making, tanneries, warehousing, and colour and varnish making. It is quite possible that Sealy Best was carrying out his varnish manufacturing trade here, perhaps the West of England Varnish Works he is said to have built and started. Two of his sons, by the mid 1880s, were “practical varnish makers” as well. By the time of the 1881 census, he and his family were living at 48 Pomeroy Street, Deptford, in Kent. Sometime between 1881 and 1885, Sealy J. Best made the decision to come to New Zealand. He, his wife Mary, and seven children arrived at Auckland on 19 August 1885, aboard the Kaikoura. By 2 October 1885, Sealy Best and William Bailey had sub-leased just over 16 acres of land on the Rosebank Peninsula, part of allotments 9 and 10, (12) and plans to erect a varnish factory there were made public the following month by the NZ Herald as part of the Avondale district promising “to be some day a great industrial centre”. (William Bailey, it seems, was a jam maker, and was perhaps sharing the land for his own plans.) Solicitor William Henry Connell who owned the land finally sold 1.2.0 acres outright to Sealy Best on 13 April 1887.
“New Zealand Varnish Works, Avondale”
Between the time Sealy Best sub-leased the Rosebank property and his eventual purchase of the Whau River coastal property in 1887, the New Zealand Herald paid a visit to the factory site in early October 1886. It is from their correspondent’s report that a description is available of what was, in effect, one of the earliest industrial complexes on the Rosebank Peninsula. The buildings were constructed from corrugated iron with angle iron framing (no wood utilised, it was noted – quite possibly due to the ever-present risk of fire from the furnaces) and comprised 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 at the time of the Herald’s visit. The furnaces had large firebrick lining set in massive brickwork underground and covered to the floor with cast-iron fire plate. Wrought iron grating admitted air to the furnaces, while the chimney was also of strong wrought iron, quarter inch thick, and galvanised in 12 feet lengths. The oil-copper was similarly set in brickwork with fire-brick lining. The machinery was driven by a 5-horse power vertical engine and boiler, with water for the boiler coming from the river, and coke for the furnaces supplied by the Auckland gasworks. Even the packing cases for the finished product were made on site, with circular and band saws described during the 1886 visit, as it was the intention of Sealy Best and his (then) partner Mr. Murray to not only supply the local market but also to export to Australia. Processing kauri gum, the main ingredient of the varnish pro-
The Avondale Historical Journal
Volume 5 Issue 25 Page 3
company was incorporated under the new Companies Act as at 20 May 1920, with the following objects: • To acquire & takeover business of varnish and paint manufactures carried on at Auckland by Paterson & Esam under name of S J Best & Co. • To engage in the business of manufactures of oil colour paint varnish enamels red Percy Best appears on & white lead painters and the records as an engiartists requisitions stains neer, living in Avondale distempers and all kinds of (quite possibly on the products or substances family’s Riversdale used for painting decoraproperty) in 1904. By tive or protective work. 1910, he’d obtained • Also in business as work for Archibald glaziers paint paperhangers Bros, one of the local oil & colourman picture brickyards. His brother dealers & framers & imCharles also appears in porters, exporters & deal1904, living at Avondale ers wholesale/retail in but also proprietor of paints colours glass papers Best & Co in Auckland. oils etc. By 1905, the firm had • Printers & bookbind(briefly) set up a branch Part of Sceptre Place, July 2005. Photo courtesy George Baird ers office at Harris Street, Wellington. By 1909, • Oils for machinery and Albert E. Best joined his brothers in appearing in the dimotor vehicles rectories, as a co-proprietor of Best & Co along with • Financial & commission agents Charles. Only in 1910 does Sealy James Best, their elder • Brokers brother, appear in the directories, as living at Riversdale Road. He does not appear to have had a directorship in While the registered office remained as 43 Customs Street, the company, but due to the interest with Charles in the and the company name was the same, bewilderingly everyvarnish factory land at Avondale he must have been inthing else was changed. “Paterson & Esam” appears to have volved to some extent. been a firm connected with one Campbell Paterson, a merchant from the North Shore who was also a varnish and On 10 September 1915, Mary Best sold the “equity of repaint manufacturer. It seems that sometime before May demption” of her Riversdale Road property to her eldest 1920 his company had taken over the day to day operations son Sealy J Best for the nominal sum of 10 shillings, “out of S J Best & Co, while still operating under that name. Inof the natural love and affection” she felt towards her deed, the list of three directors in 1920 show no members of son. This meant that her son held the right to prevent a the Best family connected with the firm at all – controlling mortgagee sale by the mortgagor as he had an interest in interest rested with Paterson and his partner Ivo Burnet Durthe property. Five days later, she died and her son proban Esam, with approximately 1/3 going to Arthur Edward ceeded to pay off the remaining £200 State Advances Skelton, a solicitor. By 1921, Skelton’s shares were held by mortgage. a Robert Burns, and Paterson had 280 more shares from Esam. S J Best & Co. assisted the surrounding community while they were in operation in Avondale. The organising committee for the Victoria Hall, on the corner of Rosebank Road and Orchard Street in Avondale, appreciated the free varnish provided for their new acquisition from “our local varnish manufacturer” in 1897.
The company without the Best family
For some reason, or perhaps many reasons, everything changed in 1920. Charles and Albert Best’s names disappear from the Auckland Directory in 1921. Albert Best went on living at Riversdale Road, and died still living there on 28 October 1936, at the age of 61. But by 1937 Charles was living in Melbourne. He may well have moved there earlier the previous decade. He transferred his interest in the Avondale varnish works property to his elder brother Sealy on 5 March 1920, and leaves the record at that point. In papers deposited with the equivalent of the Companies Office in 1920, William Charles Vallance advised that he was acting as solicitor for S J Best & Co on 22 April. The
In February 1922, the directors of the company decided to change the name to “Camp”, and by order of the Court in March S. J. Best became The Camp Paint & Varnish Ltd. The company was duly incorporated under that name in June that year, and advised the Registrar of a change of address 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 directors met in May 1929 to change the company’s name back to S J Best & Co, and this was duly done by order of the Court in June. By now, the directors were Esam, Burns and John Kenderdine. From January 1932, the managing director was Reginald
Volume 5 Issue 25 Page 4
Douglas Mossman. During this year, the directors voted to voluntarily wind up the company, even to the point of appointing a liquidator. But by 1940, the company was still in operation, and another change of name came in 1944 to Best Paints Ltd. The head office for Best Paints Ltd moved to 59 Courtenay Place, Wellington, in 1954, and by January 1957 was in liquidation. Its only assets by now were shares in Taubman’s paints. These passed to Dominion Motors Ltd, “as distribution in specie”. Indeed, during the late 1940s, the address for valuation notices from Auckland City Council to Best Paints Ltd. was care of “E. C. Nimon, Dominion Motors Ltd, Myers St.” Best’s warehouse in Airedale Street. Due to shortage of kauri gum and the development of synthetic paints etc. the little family industry closed down in the mid thirties.” At that time, however, Sealy Best had little if any say in the running of his father’s business. The buildings at the varnish factory site were described in 1927 as a “brick factory and wood shed at back”, a far cry from the extensive complex described in 1886. It was serviced by a right-of-way, described as 1260 feet long, “very rough”. At one point, it was “too wet” for the council valuers to visit. He sold the property finally at the end of 1936 to a labourer named Toti Baker, who defaulted on his rates to Council and so the property was on sold in 1946. By March 1977, the property which was once the site of one of this country’s earliest varnish manufactories was owned by Universal Homes, and would soon after be subdivided and covered by housing as part of Sceptre Place. Sealy Best died 28 November 1937 at a private hospital. His Riversdale Road property went to his sister Emily Jane Best in 1938, and then to his brother Percy in 1943. Percy Best, the last of the Best family in name in Avondale, died in 1951, and the property was transferred to Arthur Henry Tait, who in turn sold the property to Beazley Homes in 1963. Shortly thereafter, Te Wiata Place was formed, and the property subdivided for homes. There is little if anything left of the early business and its successor. 5 Airedale Street has vanished, since the construction of the Mayoral Drive in the 1980s cut across the bottom of the street. We have the relics of old advertisements from the late 19th century, to remind us, tantalisingly, of what once was. Eric Waterfield mentioned a varnish settling tank finding its way, via the Tait family, to MOTAT– enquiries there proved fruitless, except for a suggestion that the Matakohe Kauri Museum might be approached as they had close links with MOTAT during the formative days of the early 1960s. If this tank still exists, and has provenance linking it back to Avondale, it will be the only physical remains of the enterprise started here by a varnish maker from out of Somerset, England, nearly 120 years ago, a pioneer largely forgotten today.
Eric Waterfield, member of the Avondale History Group who put together Challenge of the Whau in 1994, has clear memories of the Avondale varnish factory, still run by an aging Sealy Best in the late 1920s. “…some 300 metres from the house was a big stand of mature Radiata pine trees behind which was an old factory partly in ruins and covered in pine needles and blackberry bushes. Despite its dilapidated appearance and on subsequent visits we found out that it produced varnish from kauri gum. We met its owner, a white-haired old man who invited us in to a smoke-filled interior, where he introduced himself, and we were to spend many happy hours “helping” Mr. Best. “To melt the gum, huge iron cauldrons were set in steel grating at floor level located over coke fires below. The cauldrons contained a syrup-like liquid which was the melted kauri gum. Little did we realise we were in NZ’s first gum varnish factory founded in the 1880s by Mr. Best’s father. One of Avondale’s first motorised carriers owned by a Mr. Hunter used to have to force his truck through the overgrown lane to deliver coke, gleaming empty tins and sacks of gum and take away tons of varnish which, incidentally, was amongst the world’s best varnishes at that time. Mr. Hunter delivered the varnish to
The Avondale Historical Journal
Published by the Avondale-Waterview Historical Society Inc. Editor: Lisa J. Truttman, 19 Methuen Road, Avondale, Auckland Phone: (09) 828-8494, 027 4040 804 Fax: (09) 828-8497, email: firstname.lastname@example.org Website: http://www.geocities.com/avondalehistory/ index Society information: Subscriptions: $10 individual $15 couple/family $30 corporate We meet once every two months, first Saturday of the month: February, April, June, August, October, December. The Journal and our Newsletter are published in those months.
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