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Terminus: Lives at the mouth of Te Auaunga (Oakley Creek


Part 2: The Tanners

Lisa J Truttman

Updated 30 July 2012

Garrett Brothers (1878-1891)

In September 1878 George William Binney sold the property to the Garrett brothers – Thomas, William, Robert, George and Richard Zachariah Garrett, tanners of Wakefield Street 1 who had arrived in New Zealand from King’s Country, Ireland in 1870. Within five years of their arrival they operated successful boot factories in Wakefield Street and in New Plymouth by the time Allotment 18A was purchased.

The Allotment 18A purchase was followed by that of the adjoining Allotment 18 in May 1879 from David Nathan 3 and also Allotment 17 (together becoming known as Oakleigh Park). At this point, the mill dam was still in existence, as was the original 1859 water right.4 There would have seemed to have been little need for the dam, as the Garretts set up a tannery here, but if they followed a similar if smaller-scale model of operation to that of the Ireland Brothers in Panmure, the dam could have provided them with a head of water to power the mill to grind bark for their tanning liquor, rather than wheat into flour. In this way, it would not have mattered if the Oakley Creek water was not the cleanest at the time; the Gittos tannery was still operational upstream until 1884, and farmlands adjoining the creek would have added to the pollution, as well as sewage from the Asylum just to the east. Part of the description of the tannery as at April 1879 5 included mention that a large Vickers pumping engine “not only raises water for the general service of the establishment, but provides the whole place with a superabundance of the necessary liquid.” Because of the above reasons why water from the Oakley Creek would have been an unlikely source for the Garrett’s tannery for anything other than motive power, I suggest that this pumping engine had been used to bring water to the surface from a basalt aquifer spring, part of the Mt Albert West aquifer which was also the source for the spring feeding the Wairaka Stream through the Asylum farm (Rooney’s former property at Allotments 31-33, gazetted as Asylum property in 1879). The author of the NZ Herald article made much of the “springs rising from the subsidiary strata caved over by the lava streams which issued in days of yore from Mt Albert,” and wrote that the tan-pits, “models of ingenuity”, were to be “fully supplied from a

small branch creek or ‘ana’ branch which emerges from the main creek somewhat higher up, and which at all times is sufficient for subsidiary purposes.”

It is possible that the Garretts may have entered into an agreement with the landowner of much of the northern side of the mouth of the Oakley Creek, John Mattson,

directly opposite Allotment 18A, to set up their pits on his property. Their tan pits may have been close to where a small stream did indeed once flow, arching out from under the Pt Chevalier side of the Great North Road, close to the Asylum property, and cutting across the scoria ground to flow into the Oakley channel close to the mouth. This small stream, which features most prominently in the detail of a map advertising the Springside land sale by Mattson of 1884 (Allotment 19),

may have

been the “anabranch” referred to by the NZ Herald reporter in 1879. The area immediately across from Allotment 18A would not be used as a quarry to a large extent until at least 1910, land”,
9 8

and even in 1930 was described partly as “level grass

but the Springside map does suggest that quarrying was in progress further

west on “Mattson’s Flat” by 1884.

If this is correct (some further archaeological evidence would need to be found as proof, but what hasn’t been destroyed during motorway construction in the 1950s and 1970s will shortly be erased due to widening of the motorway soon to occur) then there would have had to have existed some connecting link between the two Garrett sites: the tan pits and the tannery. This may have been the unusual feature drawn by surveyors in 1913 – a bridge or ford (most likely the latter) between the southern tip of the Birkenhead Borough Council quarry, and part of the coastline of Allotment 18A.

The two NZ Graphic photographs might have been taken from the vicinity of

the bridge/ford, and so are looking not directly south towards the mill building, but towards the south-west.

The 1879 article goes on: “Just below the tan-pits is the curriers shop and drying shed, which latter is not yet thoroughly completed, and other large improvements are in course of construction.”

There may have been a considerable complex of

buildings comprising the tannery during the 10-15 years of its operation at Oakley Creek. As George Garrett was said to have been a tanner at Gisborne, and then Wakefield Street, at the time of the last will and testament of his brother Robert,


had wondered if a tannery in Gisborne had replaced that at Oakley Creek. But the obituary for the last surviving Garrett brother, Richard Zachariah in 1933,


to the erection of a tannery on the Oakley Park Estate at Avondale (Waterview), and that they had retail shops “in most of the principal Southern towns.” So the Oakley Creek tannery appears to be the one referred to in the bankruptcy meetings with their creditors in January 1891. 14

Robert Garrett was the manager of the brothers’ tannery at Oakleigh Park, living there and becoming chairman of the Pt Chevalier Highway District by 1881. 15 By 1883 the tannery appears to have been in full operation, with “a large muster of hands” reported to be on the lookout for a whale which swam near the mouth of the creek in January 1883. This was forced further up the creek by a number of boats connected with the tannery until the tide went out so it could be beached and then despatched. 16

By March, the brothers started holding auction sales of their goods at the Wakefield Street boot factory, claiming to give up on the boot business and devote their whole time to tanning and fellmongery, 17 but this change in business plan probably never completely took place: they still had the Wakefield Street factory as at 1888 when a fire broke out there. 18 In 1885, the brothers took out a lease for land on Karangahape Road from Auckland City Council, and had the Garrett Buildings built at the corner with Howe Street.

The firm even apparently attempted to institute annual clearing

sales of livestock at Oakleigh Park, the first (and, as it turned out, only) sale taking place on 24 January 1887. 20 At the time of his death and ensuing probate, sections had been marked out along the southern edge of Allotment 17, fronting onto then-Albert Street (two of which Robert Garrett owned, they appear in the probate Deed, and may have been the site of his residence on Oakleigh Park).21 These sections may have been the start of the “tannery village” set up for the workers, which appears to have included the cottages along Great North Road between Oakley Creek and Cowley Street.

Robert Garrett’s death in September 1887

put the family’s finances into somewhat

of a disarray, as all stock was put on sale and “the whole of the Estate” realised “in order to arrive at a settlement, prior to re-arrangement of Partnership.” A

mortgage was taken out by the brothers with the Bank of Australasia in December



which they repaid and cleared in October 1889, a month after taking out yet

another mortgage with the Auckland Permanent Co-op and Investment Society.

This was to secure £5000 “and further advances”. There was a further mortgage with the National Bank in April 1890, possibly as the effects of the Long Depression

were making themselves felt as far as the brothers’ business was concerned.

In 1888, however, the business was affected by a bootmakers strike. Coming out from that, the brothers chose to invest money into new manufacturing plant the following year.
27 28

A fire which broke out in their Karangahape Road building

didn’t seem to

affect the business, but this was the period of the Long Depression. On 23 December 1890 the brothers filed for bankruptcy. When the bankruptcy was closed on 15 February 1893, their assets were realised at £3387 9/6, and on 29 March 1895 the firm was discharged from the bankruptcy. 29 They retained assets such as their buildings on Karangahape Road, but the Auckland Permanent Co-op under power of sale transferred Oakleigh Park and the tannery site to Wilhelm Paganini Hoffman by at least 1891 30 (the power of sale was recorded as part of a final liquidation in 1900.) 31 The original 1859 Thomas water right was taken by gazette notice and incorporated with the rest of the Asylum grounds in 1893. 32 By this stage, if the dam had somehow survived up until then, it would have surely ceased to exist from this point.

All that was left from the tannery was the 1873 mill and outbuildings (disappearing around 1909), the four cottages along the Great North Road frontage associated with the tannery (gone in the 1950s) and disused tannery tanks which created a nuisance by 1900, so much so that neighbour Mr. Sansom complained to the Avondale Road Board about the stagnant water.

The Board sent a member, Brokenshaw, out to

inspect the nuisance and report back to the Board’s chairman. Sadly, as this was in 1900 and before the days of detailed municipal record-keeping, we don’t know what the outcome was – but, it is highly likely, that the tanks were either removed or buried, somewhere under the fields of Oakleigh Park.

Wilhelm Paganini Hoffman (1891-1913)

There is no indication that Hoffman, having purchased the tannery property, used it in any way other than as part of his leased lands. According to one letter writer to A H

Walker in the 1950s, Hoffman used Oakleigh Park simply as a sheep farm, with a large house in the middle of the property where his manager lived. the first of the NZ Graphic photographs, appeared to be in a state of some disrepair.
36 35 34

By the time of

the surviving mill & tannery buildings

In October 1902, the property was transferred to Hoffman’s wife, Sophia.


September 1902, the Avondale Road Board became aware that Auckland City Council wanted to use Oakleigh Park as a nightsoil depot. They refused the Council’s request, knowing how strong the level of public feeling in the district was against such a depot.

By 1904, due to the absentee land ownership, the Road Board felt

they had to ascertain exactly who did own Oakleigh Park.

In September 1904,

Auckland City Council began depositing their nightsoil on the farm, and the Road Board actively opposed it, considering even erecting a tollgate to stop the carts. Their solicitor advised caution to the Board, saying that such traffic was not covered under the Public Health Act and so fell outside the Board’s jurisdiction. However, he suggested other means of curtailing the practice, by using technicalities such as “width of tyres”, “excess of stipulated weight to each pair of wheels to the carts”, and “the number of animals employed to draw the same.” may not have lasted very long.

The nightsoil deposits

In 1909, the last known sighting of the old 1873 mill and the later tannery buildings appears as a photograph in the NZ Graphic. 40 In August 1907 Sophia Hoffman dies,41 and her family sells Allotment 18A to Jane Reid Todd, the wife of contractor Samuel Henry Todd in 1913. 42 While the estate was being sorted out and titles to the property applied for, the Avondale Road Board once again noted a nuisance arising from Oakleigh Park – this time, the shanty buildings of Chinese market gardeners there. The Board felt by June 1912 that the buildings were in breach of their by-laws, and requested that their solicitor take action “against the Chinamen at Oakleigh Park.” In July the solicitor responded recommending that the District Health Officer be approached to condemn the buildings, but in August Mr Dykes, who owned part of the farm, said that the Chinamen’s lease expired in 12 months and wouldn’t be renewed. Nevertheless, the Board informed the Health Department. 43

The Todd-Bray family (1913-1951)

At this stage, not much is known about Samuel Todd, apart from the fact he was a contractor, and apparently well-known in West Auckland for buying houses and cottages and relocating them.

The four cottages which appear between the Oakley

Creek and Cowley Street in a 1949 subdivision plan for Allotment 18A appear on the earlier 1913 plan least the turn of the century.
47 46

do not

but they do appear to have been inhabited from at

Jane Reid Todd was born Jane Reid Laing in 1876, a daughter of George Laing after whom Laingholm is named. Leonard Bray was her nephew-in-law, marrying the daughter of Jane’s sister, Margaret Sharp in 1906. enjoying a round trip to India. 49

Jane died in January 1939, from

Calcutta fever while on board the Narbada with her husband and two daughters,

In 1939, title for Allotment 18A was transferred to the executors of Jane Todd’s estate: Samuel Henry Todd, a farmer of Green Bay, Archibald Laing a Waitara schoolteacher, and Leonard Bray, then an Onehunga contractor.

The Bray family

business in Onehunga is well-known. They started in 1865 as firewood merchants and cartage contractors, then moved into footpath forming and other works for Onehunga Borough Council by the turn of the 20th century. After Leonard Bray joined the firm, the company took on larger contracts, including roading in the Onehunga, Mt Albert and Mt Roskill areas, concrete paving the main road from the Wharf at Onehunga to Royal Oak and the Great South Road from Harp of Erin to Market Road amongst other major contracts. After 1937, the contracting plant was sold and the company continued to be suppliers of coal, firewood, cement and “all builders requirements”.51

Just as the coastline of the estuary at the mouth of the Oakley Creek has changed and continues to change, both through man-made alterations to the landscape and natural build-up and erosion of the muds, silts and rocks in the vicinity, so has the landscape of Allotment 18A. It is still unknown at this point exactly how the Todds and the Brays utilised the land at Allotment 18A, but it would have been in their best interests

to maximise the amount of land available for later subdivision and development. It is possible that the area was used as a tip for roading and contract works spoil, and that much of the basalt used to line parts of the creek are part of these reclamations, or even reused parts of the substantial brick and scoria base of the old mill itself. Objects found on the site today would therefore come under question as to their true context with the site, whether or not they were remnants of the old mill building and tannery additions, or simply late 19th century-20th century contractor’s rubbish – or even, as will be seen, residue from the quarries which were in close proximity just across the waterway. Areas of basalt walls on the northern and southern sides of the mouth of the Oakley Creek could also be associated with the possible bridge/ford structure of 1879-c.1930. An unofficial roadway appears to have been used in the 20th century, up until subdivision of Allotment 18A in the late 1940s-1950s. This led from Great North Road in the east, between Cowley Street and the present-day culvert across the creek, and angled sharply at the end down towards the creek in the west, ending close to the area of the possible bridge from the tannery site to the Birkenhead quarry. This appears clearly on 1940 aerial photographs, as a clear dotted line in a set of Lands and Survey Maps from the period of World War II, 52 and a possible roadway or right-ofway on a 1956 City Council plan.53 In 1923 Abel Fletcher, a tenant at “Mr Todd’s paddock at Oakley Creek” warned that “any persons using same as a right-of-way” would be prosecuted for trespass.

This was after the best days at the Birkenhead

quarry – perhaps Fletcher was bothered by people using the unofficial route as a shortcut past the official Great North Road bridge.

In the early 1950s, the land at the western-most end of Allotment 18A (15 Cowley Street) was sold to a builder Seymour Blain who constructed a bungalow and additional workshop outbuilding on the site from wood and fibrolite. Another wooden dwelling was built in 1951-52.

How much of any original traces of the mill and

tannery was left after this development remains unknown.

To the immediate west of 15 Cowley Street, however, is a reserve area owned by Auckland Council, part of an unformed road remaining when that to the south of Allotment 18A from the original Crown Grant was realigned in 1913. This area, is

examined, may have some indicative evidence left of what was once in that place nearly 120 years ago.

Where were the mills?

The mill dam first features on the Thomas deed of April 1859, but may have dated from as early as mid 1855, when Rooney purchased the farm on the eastern side of the Oakley Creek. This dam appears to have been located on a line leading across the creek from the boundary between Allotment 30 and 31.

There are no clear descriptions known as to the site of the mill, as the contemporary references were not precise,

nor even if there had in fact been more than one mill

there on the banks of the creek. A photograph exists in the Auckland Central Library’s Special Collections which was initially (and incorrectly) captioned as being the first Star Mill.

Errors of assumption with identifying the images of mills have

also been made before,58 and this is the case with this example – it actually shows the Waitangi Falls mill in Waiuku. In 2006, however, it was used by the then-owners of 15 Cowley Street in publications and presentations as an image of John Thomas’ mill from the c.1860s. The owners however, Peter McCurdy and Robyn Mason, were misled by the incorrect caption, which has now been fixed.

Some speculation is noted in Price’s 2001 book that “we were advised that the Mill’s grinding stones became fill for Auckland’s North-Western motorway extensions beside Oakley Creek.” 59 It is hard to see how the mill stones or any of the specialised machinery of the mill would have survived the demolition and ensuing farming/residential development over the period of 1910-1950. Of course, they may have simply ended up buried, under a century of clay, soil and rampant weeds, in the gully at the end of Cowley Street. Even items such as the remains of a boiler found at the end of Cowley Street may have simply been a discard from either one of the two quarries which functioned in the 20th century on the other side of the creek or just part of Seymour Blain’s workshop.

The last published photograph of the mill building


shows one building at the

extreme right which might have been part of a series of drying sheds for the tannery. The photograph does show what may be the edge of another part of that building. A lot more ground would be needed therefore for the mill building, lean-to addition and the drying sheds for the tannery than could be accommodated at the present suggested site close to the so-called “mill wheel cutting” (actually a part of a stone retaining wall along the coastline, possibly linked to the bridge/ford and road leading from the Birkenhead Council quarry) at 15 Cowley Street. This would likely include part of that site, but extends across the unformed paper road to the gully immediately to the west.

The exact location of the mill will remain uncertain, however, unless archaeological investigation finds remains of the brick foundation of the building at least. Given the amount of change and land use of the site during the 20th century, this proof may never be found.

1 2

27M.431, DI 9A.935, LINZ records Southern Cross, 17 November 1875, p. 3 (4) 3 32D.419, LINZ records 4 And even in late 1889, when Robert Garrett’s probate was registered. See Deed 111029, DI 9A.935, LINZ records 5 NZ Herald, 24 April 1879, p. 6 6 Title holder for Allotment 19 from 1874. CT 1/63, LINZ records 7 NZ Map 2695, Special Collections 8 ACC 213/103a, Valuation fieldsheets, City Archives. This was the approximate date for the start of the Birkenhead Borough Council quarry. See also CT 626/62, the official title document for Birkenhead’s usage 21 years later. 9 DP 23806, LINZ records 10 DP 8447, drawn by A.B. Morrow for Mrs Jane Todd, 13 February 1913. LINZ records. See Part 3, however – H Mattson applied to the Auckland Harbour Board in 1904 for permission to build a bridge across the creek. This may have been that structure.) 11 ibid 12 Probate file, BBAE 1569, Archives New Zealand 13 NZ Herald, 14 January 1933 14 NZ Herald, 6 January 1891, p. 3 15 Dog registration advertisement, NZ Herald, 9 February 1881 16 Evening Star, 17 January 1883 17 Advertisement, NZ Herald, 9 March 1883, p. 1 18 Weekly News, 6 October 1888 19 Date on parapet of building at 473-525 Karanghape Road 20 NZ Herald, 19 January 1887, p. 8(1) 21 Deed 111029, DI 9A.935, LINZ records 22 Obituary, NZ Herald, 13 September 1887 23 Advertisement, NZ Herald, 1 February 1888, p. 2

24 25

R22.806, DI 9A.935, LINZ records R33.460, DI 9A.935, LINZ records 26 R35.410, DI 9A.935, LINZ records 27 Advertisement, NZ Herald, 9 January 1889, p. 1 28 Weekly News, 9 February 1889 29 BBAE 5628 1890/88, Archives New Zealand 30 Jack Dragicevich records in his Waterview Heritage Character Study (2007, p. 31, fn. 25) that Hoffman “purchased a large chunk of Garrett’s land holdings” in 1891 (DI 7A.463, R42.87, LINZ records). Hoffman was elected to the Avondale Road Board in May 1892 (Road Board minutes, City Archives). He would have been a ratepayer in the district as that point to be eligible for election, so it is possible he had taken over the property by that stage. 31 R68.247, DI 9A.935, LINZ records 32 DP 5131, LINZ records. The creek bed was surveyed in October 1888, and finally taken in 1893, by gazette notice (p. 1239) 33 Avondale Road Board minutes, 2 May 1900, AVB 1/2, Auckland City Archives 34 Unsigned letter to A H Walker, 29 January 1959, A H Walker papers, Special Collections, APL 35 Ref A1683, Special Collections, from NZ Graphic 10 September 1898 36 R86.546, DI 9A.935, LINZ records 37 Avondale Road Board minutes, 1 October 1902, AVB 1/2, Auckland City Archives 38 Avondale Road Board minutes, 3 August 1904, AVB 1/2, Auckland City Archives 39 Avondale Road Board minutes, 5 October, 2 November, and 7 December 1904, AVB 1/2, Auckland City Archives 40 Ref A1730, Special Collections, from NZ Graphic, 11 August 1909 41 R140.513, DI 9A.935, LINZ records 42 CT 213/202, LINZ records 43 Avondale Road Board minutes, 19 June, 3 July, and 21 August 1912, AVB 1/2, Auckland City Archives 44 Conversation with Trevor and Fay Pollard, 2006 45 DP 37119, October 1949, LINZ records 46 DP 8447, LINZ records 47 Wises NZPO Directories 48 Sara-Jane Laurenson, The Bray Saga – The early history of descendants of Thomas Bray and Sarah Bray (née Tarr), 2001; Laingholm Museum history website 49 NZ Herald, 9 January 1939 50 CT 213/202, LINZ records 51 Norine Borchard, Untold Stories of Onehunga, 2004, pp. 102-103 52 NZMS 2A #2248, 1940-45, Special Collections 53 ACC 015 9642/89, City Archives 54 Auckland Star, 1 October 1923 55 Valuation field sheets, City Archives 56 “A Drive on the Great North Road”, New Zealander 27 April 1861 only refers to Thomas’ Mill in relation to the dam that the traveller must have noticed on crossing the Oakley Bridge. The 1873 reports likewise give no clear indication as to location: unnecessary in those days, as everyone obviously knew where the mill was! 57 Ref 7-A2820, Sir George Grey Special Collections 58 A confusion was discovered by the author in 2007 between photos of John Lamb’s Waitemata Flour Mill and those of Low & Motion’s mill at Western Springs, in the Binns Collection, Special Collections. 59 Price, 2001, p. 74 60 A1730, Special Collections

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