Leather Makers

the Gittos family of tanners and leather merchants, 1841-1991 1841Truttman, Lisa J Truttman, 2008

Part 4 The end for the Gittos Tannery
Just two years later, rumblings of dissatisfaction with the state of things along the Oakley Creek for the farmers who shared the water source with the tannery, came to the notice of the Mt Albert Road Board. In 1876, a Public Health Act had been introduced, replacing former Provincial Council control of public healthy issues with that by local health boards. Territorial authorities, such as highway district boards or road boards, were constituted as “local boards of health”, reporting to a central board. i Under the terms of the Act, nuisances to public health were defined, and each local board was required to inspect its district for nuisances. While offensive trades, such as tanneries and wool-scoring operations (both of which formed the basis for the Gittos’ business), could be outlawed outright within a borough under the Act unless written consent was obtained, a road board had few options, until far stronger powers were conveyed much later under succeeding Public Health and Municipal Corporations Acts. Four farmers adjoining the Gittos tannery (which was, then, just within the boundary of the Mt Albert Road Board) named Woodward, Edwards, Young and Howard, complained to the Road Board in 1878 that the tannery was poisoning the waters of Oakley Creek which flowed through their own properties. At another meeting, there were further complaints lodged, and a denial from the tannery. The board declined to arrange for an inspection of the creek, and invited all those affect to attend another meeting – only one of the Gittoses turned up. At yet another meeting, however, complaints were laid against Woodward and Young for spreading city night soil on their land; possibly a bit of tit-for-tat. The matter lapsed. ii

The Public Health Act was amended again and again in ensuing years, and in 1882 once such amendment dealt with drainage nuisances on the boundaries of contiguous boards.

Now, the Mt Albert petitioners took their campaign to another level,

approaching the Avondale Road Board to do something about shutting the tannery down. This board declined as well, and so Messrs. M. Woodward, John Burke, Thomas Young, Thomas Read and Wright Lindsay took the Avondale Road Board to the Police Court in April 1883 “to show cause why they should not cleanse a certain water-course, known as Oakley’s Creek, bounding the Mount Albert and Avondale districts.”

After hearing both sides, the complainants’ and the road boards’, the

magistrate ruled that “if the cleansing of the stream would be sufficient remedy he might have made the order for such being done, but as, according to the evidence adduced, the remedy involved the closing of the tannery, he could not make the required order.” The only option left to the complainants, under the Act, was to take the Gittoses to court themselves. This, they did in 1883, taking out an action for £1000 damages to water rights against the firm. The result this time was an injunction compelling a ceasing of operations at Avondale within three months. v Benjamin and his sons had already started to make moves to leave the district. It was reported in February 1883 that architect Edward Bartley had been commissioned to design a new tannery complex at Richmond, using the Western Springs water supply and draining straight into the Waitemata Harbour, “removed by the tide, so that no possible nuisance could arise.”

This was to become, from 1884. the new tannery

called Bridgnorth (site today near Savage Street off Old Mill Road), five acres in extent, with buildings from one to three storeys in height, designed by Bartley, built by a Mr. Morris and with brickwork by a Mr. McLean. The facility included caretaker’s residence, cart sheds, and stabling. Francis Gittos was back, serving as manager, and Elijah Astley received an early mention in the press, lately from Manchester (although via working for the Ireland Brothers at Panmure) and serving as head of the leather-dressing department. vii But in August 1884 came the first blow – Benjamin Gittos died, leaving the firm to his sons John and James.

The next blow – was bankruptcy in 1891. John Gittos, giving his statement before the Official Assignee in 1891,


that the business of B. Gittos & Sons was prospering up to 1883. The civil action for damages, however, forced their hand in moving to Richmond earlier than they had planned. The injunction on operations at Avondale meant that they effectively couldn’t operate for 18 months, given the amount of time it took to set-up the new tannery and have the pits curing. The sale of their “Ingleton Estate” at Avondale was only partly successful, so capital couldn’t be immediately freed up from that direction. They tried to compensate by reducing the total amount of the business’ overdraft – but the bank, by now, wanted even more reduced, then security, and then declined all further loans. An attempt to float the business in 1888/1889 as a limited liability concern also failed – and now, Auckland was in the depths of the Long Depression. The tannery went to their mortgagors, Parker & Jagger, for nearly £2000 less than the price they paid for the buildings alone in 1883/1884. Finally, chased for overdue interest, John and James Gittos declared bankruptcy. One thing that stood John Gittos in good stead was the goodwill the company had with those it had dealt with over the years. “The creditors present stated that they desired to express their high appreciation of the conduct of the debtors during the past five year, and their manful efforts to pay their debts under the exceptional and adverse circumstances in which they were placed, owing to the stoppage of their business and other causes, and that the unsecured debts have been reduced to so small an amount as specified in the schedule: also that the Official Assignee be requested to facilitate the bankrupts’ discharge.” ix John Gittos had been a strong supporter of the St John’s Methodist Church in Ponsonby for many years, including holding the posts of trustee and lay preacher. He had donated the church’s organ and bell. But, according to Murray Gittos, soon after the firm had filed for bankruptcy a deputation of church trustees visited John and

advised that in the circumstances it was appropriate that he relinquish his office in the church. John apparently continued to worship at St. John’s even after this had happened, but when a second deputation arrived on his doorstep, this time from St Stephen’s Presbyterian Church asking him to join them, he did so. He was to become Manager and later Elder at his new church. x The firm of Benjamin Gittos & Sons continued to be listed in the directories until the latter part of World War I,

although from the mid 1890s the business was styled in

advertising in those same directories as “John Gittos & Co, Leather Merchants.” John Gittos was back to the original business his father began in 1857 – importing leather, and making boots and saddles. He died at Devonport in September 1919, and is

buried at Waikaraka Cemetery in Onehunga. xii The tannery at Richmond didn’t long survive him, if at all – it vanished from the directories in 1919. The land was vacant for a long time before it was purchased for housing. Brother James Gittos after the bankruptcy lived in his own home in Ponsonby, but never married. He died accidentally in 1930 when he fell down the back steps of his home, aged around 83. Francis Gittos started up his own, small tanning operation on land he leased from the Crown from 1890 xiii in what is now the Avondale South Domain at Blockhouse Bay. This tannery was towards the bottom of the slope down Lewis Street.

Still, Francis Gittos left his mark in the Blockhouse Bay district, as he had in Avondale. the His family of the



(Anglican) Chapel of the Good Shepherd, St Andrew’s Church hall, and the Green Bay Mission Hall (this last building now a Baptist church).

Just after World War I he moved

to his last home at Eldon Road in Mt Eden, and died there in 1924, after losing a leg to gangrene after a stroke.
Avondale South Domain land leased by Francis Gittos from 1890. LINZ record, NA56/293

He is buried at the George

Maxwell Memorial Cemetery in

Rosebank, Avondale.

The family’s close association with leather, however, was to continue down to 1991, with Stan Gittos, grandson of Francis, the last of the line to cut bootlaces by hand from leather, the last lace cut on 12 November that year. xvi


F. S. Maclean, Challenge For Health, A History of Public Health in New Zealand, 1964, p. 422 Dick Scott, In Old Mt Albert, 1983, pp. 61-62 iii Maclean, p. 417 iv NZ Herald, 7 April 1883 v Statement by John Gittos, NZ Herald, 26 January 1891, p. 3 vi NZ Herald, 17 February 1883, p. 5 vii NZ Herald, 16 May 1885

viii ix

NZ Herald, 26 January 1891, p. 3 NZ Herald, 31 January 1891, p. 4 x First There Were Three, p. 99 xi Wises Directories xii First There Were Three, p. 99 xiii NA56/293, LINZ records xiv R. Walker, “Let Us Worship”, from The 1990 Blockhouse Bay Settlers Handbook, p. 12 xv Family history notes from Murray Gittos xvi Stan Gittos, “The Gittos Story of Leather, from 1842-1991”, via Murray Gittos.

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