Early history of the site:
The site of the former Auckland Gas Company Offices and Workshops is located in Waiatarau (Freemans Bay), a place traditionally used by Maori for settlement, fishing and trading. A pa at Te To on the western headland of the bay was occupied by Te Waiohua before the Auckland isthmus came under the control of Ngati Whatua duing the eighteenth century. Te Paneiriiri on the eastern headland is associated with activities carried out by Ngati Paoa. Following the purchase of land in 1840 for the creation of a colonial capital at Auckland, Freemans Bay developed as an early industrial working class suburb and supported enterprises including brick making, sawmilling and timber working. Maori continued to maintain a presence in Freemans Bay over the ensuing decades, including a waka landing site.
The land occupied by the future Gas Company offices was initially a waterfront site on the western side of the bay. Part of a Crown Grant made to Alexander Thompson in 1847, the holding passed through several hands before being purchased by the Auckland Gas Company. The Company obtained the southern part of the site from Donald Hugh Mackenzie, ships chandler, in 1876 and the northern section from Samuel Jagger in 1881. The land was to ultimately allow expansion of the company’s operations, which had initially been created further east in Brickfield Bay as one of the earliest gas works in New Zealand.
The Auckland Gas Company and the Beaumont Street site:
The Auckland Gas Company had been founded in 1862 as one of Auckland’s pioneer companies, at a time when gas first became an important utility in New Zealand. Used for street lighting in London in 1814, gas was soon taken up for similar purposes elsewhere, including several Australian cities in the 1840s and 1850s. The first gas works in New Zealand opened in Dunedin in 1863, to be shortly followed by Christchurch in 1864 and Auckland in 1865. The provision of street lighting, in particular, has sometimes been seen as symptomatic of a middle-class desire for physical and moral security in public places. Gas heating was slower to gain public popularity, and did not become widespread until the later challenge from electricity.
The Auckland Gas Company created its first gas works beside Nelson Street in Brickfield Bay in 1863-5. Its chairman for most of the first 30 years was the notable politician and businessman, Sir Frederick Whitaker (1812-1891), who was twice New Zealand premier. The business was one of New Zealand’s first joint-stock companies, with its initial share issue taken up by a broad range of investors, including other prominent members of Auckland’s business community. Joint-stock companies of this period mostly provided services that required greater capital than could be provided by private entrepreneurs individually, often due to the scale of their operations or the need for expensive plant.
The works initially provided piped gas in the central city, including for shop window displays and lamps on the outside of private businesses, such as public houses. This supply formed the first source of reticulated energy in the city and was significantly in advance of the provision of other public utilities, including water mains and electricity. In 1871, the Gas Company Act allowed the business to lay gas mains in a twelve mile circumference from the Chief Post Office in Shortland Street, effectively providing it monopoly of supply. The company soon acquired holdings in Freemans Bay, purchasing land on the Beaumont Street site and also creating storage space in gas holders at the junction between College Hill and Franklin Roads. In 1883, a second gas works was established in Lake Road, Devonport to supply the North Shore.
No major construction appears to have initially occurred on the Beaumont Street site, as it is shown as open paddocks on a birds-eye illustration of Auckland in 1885-6. Although difficult economic times set in with the onset of a depression later in the decade, the demand for gas again increased significantly in the 1890s, partly stimulated by the introduction of the Welsbach Incandescent Burner and the steady popularisation of gas for cooking. In 1897, the Gas Company embarked on the second main phase of its production in Auckland, systematically replacing its Nelson Street works with a much larger plant on the Beaumont Street site. This occurred against a backdrop of complaints about high gas prices and monopoly control, which had caused Auckland Council to explore ways of introducing alternative energy supplies in the form of electricity. At the time, the company was said to have been the fourth-largest gas producer in Australasia.
Construction of the Auckland Gas Company Offices and Store (circa 1902):
The new works were intended to allow increased production, and to assist financial security by being situated on land that - unlike Nelson Street - was free from the constraints of a lease under the control of parties connected with local councils. Excavations to remove a substantial incline at the site would enable the construction of ‘handsome and extensive new buildings’ and also assist with the reclamation of a large part of the adjoining waters at Freemans Bay, which Auckland Council had agreed in 1894 should be converted into a public park. A tender for the excavations was issued in October 1897, and by April 1898 the contractor, Daniel Fallon, was overseeing the removal of material, which was then being taken to the reclamation by tip-wagons drawn by a locomotive. In the same year (1898), plans were drawn up for the layout of the new complex.
Designs for the site encompassed a large retort and coal store building in the western part of the property; structures on the southern boundary such as a purifier house; and extensive open areas devoted to coke heaps. A large office and store fronting the newly-created Beaumont Street was also envisaged, presenting a public face to the works and partly screening the more industrial structures that were located to the rear. Initial elevation drawings in 1898 indicated that this building was to be two storeys in height, with a central, pedimented entrance bay. More detailed plans for the structure were drawn up in October 1901.
Consisting of a substantial brick structure, the office building is likely to have been erected soon after the plans were drawn up, and during a period when the remainder of the initial complex was completed. Construction of parts of the complex had begun by early 1901, and at the beginning of 1904 it was noted that ‘completion of the new works is now in sight’. By the end of 1904, three retorts within the complex were functioning, and in 1906 gas production was fully taken over from the Nelson Street works. A survey of Auckland undertaken in 1908 shows the two-storey office building in existence, in association with single-storey corrugated iron structures attached to its northern elevation. The central pediment on the front of the building contains the lettering ‘The Auckland Gas Company Ltd. 1902’.
Presenting its most ornate elevation towards Victoria Park, the office structure appears to have been at least partly erected on reclaimed ground. Externally, the building’s architectural style was influenced by late nineteenth-century Italianate commercial design, and incorporated Palazzo elements that were frequently used to provide more light and many storeys. The main elevation was symmetrically arranged to incorporate four bays on either side of a central main entrance, and included piers separating each bay; brickwork that encompassed string courses, window surrounds and other elements of a contrasting colour; and rusticated surrounds to segmental-headed windows at ground floor level. The rear of the building also employed polychrome brickwork, but to a lesser extent. Bricks were produced by the company, with its Devonport Fire Brick Works being referred to in 1902 as ‘the only works of the kind in New Zealand’. Lettering on the central pediment and the use of the logo ‘AG Co. Ltd.’ on glasswork in the central front door can also be seen to have reinforced the building’s identity.
Internally, the building accommodated space for office work and storage in separate parts of the structure. The southern part contained a general office at ground floor level, with a counter for receiving customers in its southeast corner and facilities for a clerk, fitters and telephones along its western wall. The northern part of the building housed a general store that was accessed from a door at the rear. A central lobby from the main building entrance provided access both to the general office, and to a pay office, strong room and lavatory at ground floor level. The building’s upper storey was reached from a large staircase in the main lobby, and from a smaller set of stairs inside the general store.
The building may have been designed by the company’s engineer, Chenery Suggate (1850-1935), who had been appointed to his post at approximately the same time that the move to the Beaumont Street site was being considered. Prior to his arrival from England in April 1897, Suggate had gained experience in the manufacture, construction and management of gas plant, including at Sheffield and Plymouth. Suggate was responsible for overseeing the excavation works at Beaumont Street and is known to have designed other parts of the Auckland Gas Company’s plant, such as a large gasometer erected in 1901 - at this time the largest in New Zealand. However, it has also been suggested that the architectural firm of Edward Mahoney and Son may have been involved in construction of the new building. A notable and relatively prolific architectural firm, this business had been responsible for creating the company’s head office in Wyndham Street in the 1880s and was to later design extensions to the Beaumont Street offices in 1910.
At the time that the new building was being designed and constructed, company directors included notable Auckland businessmen and politicians such as J.H. Upton, Thomas Peacock, and the newspaperman J.L. Wilson. The firm had approximately 200 employees, and its mains network extended some 112 miles, ‘to the Avondale Asylum on the west, Onehunga in the south, and Remuera on the east’ .
Assisted by construction of the new works, the business continued to expand in the ensuing years, with gas production more than doubling between 1901 and 1910. The number of consumers also rose from 8,100 to more than 18,000 by the same year. Further expansion of the Beaumont Street site was anticipated with the purchase of adjacent land belonging to the Star of the Sea convent in 1906.
Additions to the Auckland Gas Company Office (1910 and 1912):
Immediately following the creation of the new works, direct competition emerged in the form of electricity produced by Auckland Council. In 1904-5, the Council undertook the construction of a Municipal Destructor Building on a nearby site facing the southern side of Victoria Park. This soon also incorporated a Power Generator Building (1907-8), which took advantage of heat generated by the destructor to generate the first municipal supply of electricity to Aucklanders. A joint destructor-generator building had been proposed in 1902, but by this time only two others had been erected around the world. By 1906, sixty had been constructed.
Perhaps mindful of the impressive polychrome brick complex erected on the Destructor site, the gas company soon added a major extension to its office building, in broad accordance with initial concepts created in 1898. A twelve-bay extension, two storeys in height, was added after 1909, when plans were consented. The additions were designed by Edward Mahoney and Son, who advertised for tenders in May 1910. A third storey for the southern half of the addition was designed at the same time but was ‘to be erected at future date’. Consent for this element was applied for in early 1912, and construction appears to have been undertaken soon afterwards as it is present in a photograph taken in September of that year. Chenery Suggate had resigned as company engineer in 1907 and was replaced by James Lowe, a future manager of the plant.
Edward Mahoney and Son was initially established by Edward Mahoney, a founding member of the Auckland Institute of Architects. From 1895, the firm was controlled by his son, Thomas Mahoney, who had joined the practice in 1876. During its lifetime, the business undertook the design of many notable buildings in the Auckland area, including a number of religious, commercial and domestic structures. Significant works undertaken after 1895 included the Dilworth Terrace Houses, Parnell (1899) and the completion of St Patrick's Cathedral in 1901.
The 1910 and 1912 additions to the gas company offices housed workshops and additional storage space. The ground floor of the 1910 extension contained a cart dock accessed from Beaumont Street; a store to the south of the dock; and an office, pattern store, and shops for joiners, smiths and fitters in the central and northern parts of the building. The second storey held two larger spaces, employed respectively as meter- and stove-repairing shops. The third storey evidently enclosed a large single space accessed by a staircase and lift.
The additions were visually similar to the earlier structure, employing vertical piers, polychrome brickwork and a regular pattern of windows in each bay. The extension was however plainer in appearance, perhaps reflecting a more industrial use. Although erected using similar brick exterior walls, construction methods also differed with the employment of a composite steel and concrete floor system. Many office buildings retained brickwork as external facing for concrete in the first decade of the twentieth century, maintaining the appearance of traditional load-bearing construction.
The incorporation of a stove repairing shop can be seen as indicative of the rising use of gas for cooking and heating during the early 1900s. By 1911, half of the company’s gas was being sold for purposes other than lighting, and in 1917 approximately 60 per cent of the output was for heating and cooking. Newspaper advertising promoted this technology, carrying slogans such as ‘No Coals to Carry, No Fires to Lay, No Chimneys to Sweep.’
The period 1908-1919 is said to have been when the gas boom was at its highest.
Subsequent use and additions:
Comparatively minor alterations were carried out to the building in ensuing decades, including the addition of a latrine at the rear of the initial office building in 1920. A single-storey extension to the north of the 1910-12 additions is believed to have occurred in 1924 for the accommodation of boilermakers and blacksmiths (later demolished). Proposed alterations in 1927 included the modification of windows in the main elevation of the 1910 ground floor extension to permit more natural light to enter the building. Some internal walls were also to be removed. Latrines at the southern end of the first floor workshop were consented in 1940. Plans for the installation of a lift were drawn up in July 1947 and a permit granted early the following year. Minor changes to changing facilities were proposed at a similar time.
The improvement of amenities within the building may reflect shifts in working conditions. During the First World War (1914-18), there were disputes between the company and its employees over pay and working hours. By 1922 gas workers received higher wages. However, in the depression years of the early 1930s pay was reduced. Strikes by gas workers took place during the Second World War (1939-45), resulting in the creation of a Works Production Council that was representative of workers, the company and the Government.
Competition from electricity also grew substantially, especially following the construction of the Kings Wharf power station in 1913, and the formation of the Auckland Electric Power Board in 1921. In 1938, the First Labour Government excluded gas from all state houses and buildings. Problems were exacerbated during the Second World War by the Australian Government’s prohibition of coal exports to New Zealand, producing a serious drop in the company’s gas-making capacity and forcing restrictions on supply. Plans were subsequently drawn up for substantial modifications to the company’s plant and operations, eventually costing over £1 million and carried out over a fifteen year period.
The most significant result was the new Clover West Vertical retort plant, which came into operation in October 1948, ending restrictions on supply. By-products such as coke and tar had previously been sold by the company, but it subsequently expanded its arrange to include chemical products such as ammonia and timber preservatives. Following the creation of the Auckland Harbour Bridge, a high pressure pipe was installed from the Beaumont Street works to connect with the North Shore network in 1960, after which the site supplied gas to the entire Auckland metropolitan area. In 1968, new plant was installed as a prelude to switching from coal-based production to natural gas, which by the 1970s was being piped to Auckland from the Kapuni gasfield. Many of the earlier buildings within the complex were demolished, although the offices and workshops building was retained and converted for use as commercial office space in 1979-80.
In 1997, the Auckland Gas Company ceased to exist, and was renamed Enerco Ltd. Much of the land was subsequently redeveloped for residential housing, when a 1924 addition to the offices and workshops building was also demolished. The remainder of this structure was conserved in 2001-3, and has since been used for retail activity. Together with an Exhauster Building to the west, it forms the main surviving remnant of the former Auckland Gas Company complex.
Engineer: F W Chenery Suggate (c.1902 offices and store)
Architect: Edward Mahoney & Son (1910 & 1912 additions)
Physical Description and Analysis:
The Auckland Gas Company Offices and Workshops (Former) is located in Freemans Bay, an inner suburb to the west of Auckland’s Central Business District (CBD). The building is situated on Beaumont Street, a connecting road between the CBD and the city’s motorway system. The structure sits on flat ground, on the edge of a reclaimed area that encompasses a large open area, Victoria Park. The park is a local amenity, containing historic structures including the former Campbell Free Kindergarten (Record no. 7537, Category I historic place), erected in 1910, and a park-keepers cottage.
Other notable historic structures surrounding or lying close to the park include the former Auckland Municipal Destructor and Depot (constructed from 1904 onwards; Record no. 7664, Category I historic place) in Victoria Street West, and the former Freemans Hotel in Drake Street (Record no. 610, Category II historic place), which dates to the 1880s but was extended in 1908-9. These structures collectively form reminders of Freeman Bay’s historical role as a notable industrial and working class suburb. Other places of significance include the former site of Te To on the western headland of Freemans Bay; Te Koranga, where fish were dried at the foot of Victoria Street West; and a waka landing area on the former foreshore.
Visually, the Auckland Gas Company Offices and Workshops (Former) is separated from a large part of the park by a flyover for the motorway system. A number of trees flanking Beaumont Street also screen its front (east) elevation. The building is surrounded to the north and rear (west) by an area of high-density modern housing on the wider Gas Company site. It is the main visible remnant of the works. An Exhauster Building also survives, and is located further west, within the area of housing.
The exterior of the former Auckland Gas Company Offices and Workshops is comparatively well-preserved, visually retaining many of its circa 1902, 1910 and 1912 elements. It consists of a two-storey brick structure, with a third storey in the central part of the building.
The circa 1902 element consists of a two-storey structure, located at the southern end of the building. It is of brick construction, with a corrugated iron roof. Its style is based on Italianate architecture used for commercial and industrial buildings in the late nineteenth century, and contains elements that have been described as Palazzo in design. The structure’s Beaumont Street façade is symmetrical in appearance, having four bays on either side of a central entrance and pedimented parapet. Each bay is defined by a vertical pier that is surmounted at parapet level by a spherical ball. The structure utilises polychrome brickwork, which is more pronounced on its front and south elevations. Here, red brick aperture surrounds and a string course at first floor level contrast with the yellow brickwork used elsewhere in the structure. The wide central entrance to Beaumont Street contains doors with ornamental features that include glasswork bearing the logo ‘AG Co. Ltd.’ The pediment at parapet level incorporates the lettering ‘The Auckland Gas Company Ltd. 1902’. A bricked-up customer entrance is visible in the south wall of the building.
The 1910 addition extends northward from the earlier element and is twelve bays long. Its style is similar to the circa 1902 structure, but it contains fewer ornamental flourishes. Red brick detailing is restricted to the heads of apertures on its Beaumont Street elevation. Its windows are wider than those in the 1910 structure. Many of those on the ground floor have been replaced by larger, 1920s apertures.
The 1912 heightening of the building is seven bays long, and is situated at the southern end of the 1910 addition. It is constructed of slightly paler yellow brick than the earlier elements, and follows the simpler style of the 1910 additions, incorporating red brickwork above aperture heads on its Beaumont Street elevation.
Information about the interior is derived from recent plans and reports.
In 2000, the interior of the circa 1902 building was described as being reasonably intact. The brick layout of the initial structure remained largely in place, including three rooms reached from the central lobby. One of these was a strong room with a vaulted roof and a safe. Original ceilings, window joinery, architraves, some skirtings, fireplaces and staircases also remained in situ to provide evidence of the quality and character of the original interior. Some of the ceilings were of board and batten type. Some ceiling roses remained. The grand, central staircase to the upper level survives.
The interior of the 1910 and 1912 additions has been more substantially altered. Surviving early fabric includes exterior walls, some joinery and the building structure. Concrete floors and steel columns remain, as do steel roof trusses and beams. Early staircases have been replaced. Interior linings in 2000 were considered to have dated from recent alterations.
Two-storied workshop extension
Addition of third storey to southern part of workshop extension
Latrines added to rear of offices
Single-storey addition at northern end of earlier structures
Enlargement of ground floor windows of 1910 addition
Modifications to interior
Demolition of 1924 workshops and 1920 latrines, and conservation of remainder of building
Construction of offices and store
Brick, with corrugated iron roof (circa 1902)
Brick with concrete and steel, and corrugated iron roof (1910 and 1912)
1st June 2011
Report Written By
Cyclopedia of New Zealand, 1902
Cyclopedia Company, Industrial, descriptive, historical, biographical facts, figures, illustrations, Wellington, N.Z, 1897-1908, Vol.2, Christchurch, 1902
Frederick William Furkert, Early New Zealand Engineers, Wellington, 1953
New Zealand Herald
New Zealand Herald, 12 July 1932, p. 6; 28 September 1933, p. 6.
, 5 February 1901, p.3; 4 February 1902, p.6; 3 February 1903, p.6; 2 February 1904, p.4; 7 February 1905, p.3; 6 February 1906, p.3; 5 February 1907, p.3; 4 February 1908, p.3; 14 May 1910, p.4; 4 February 1913, p.9; 21 September 1936, p.26
Geoffrey G. Thornton, New Zealand's Industrial Heritage, A.H. & A.W. Reed, Wellington, 1982
Auckland City Council
Auckland City Council
Auckland City Environments, Property file, 90 Beaumont Street
Theses and Reports
Theses and Reports
Frederikse, F.W. et al, ‘The Beaumont Street Gas Works’, B.Arch assignment, University of Auckland, 1970
Theses and Reports
Theses and Reports
MacCauley, Heather and Bruce Petry, ‘Proposal for Classification: Buildings Classification Committee Report’, NZHPT, February 1989 (copy held by NZHPT, Auckland)
Theses and Reports
Theses and Reports
Matthews and Matthews Architects Ltd., ‘The Auckland Gas Company Buildings, 90 Beaumont Street, Auckland: Cultural Heritage Assessment’, Auckland, 2000 (copy held by NZHPT, Auckland)
Theses and Reports
Theses and Reports
Truttman, Lisa, ‘Research Summary, 20 Beaumont Street, Freemans Bay (former Auckland Gas Company Offices and Store’, report for Auckland City Council, July 2008, p.2 (copy held by NZHPT, Auckland)
Keenan, Michael, ‘Financial Management Strategies in the Auckland Gas Company, 1862-1915’, in Hunter, Ian, and Diana Morrow (eds.), City of Enterprise: Perspectives on Auckland Business History, Auckland, 2006, pp.72-92
Auckland Gas Company Ltd. 1962
Auckland Gas Company Ltd., Auckland Gas Company Limited: 100 Years of Progress, [Auckland, 1962]
Prichard and Tabb 1967
Prichard, Muriel F. Lloyd, and James Bruce Tabb, One Hundred Years of the Auckland Gas Co. Ltd, Auckland, 1967
A fully referenced registration report is available from the NZHPT Northern Region Office
Please note that entry on the New Zealand Heritage List/Rarangi Korero identifies only the heritage values of the property concerned, and should not be construed as advice on the state of the property, or as a comment of its soundness or safety, including in regard to earthquake risk, safety in the event of fire, or insanitary conditions.