Auckland Timber Company Building (Former)

104 Fanshawe Street, Auckland

  • Auckland Timber Company Building (Former).
    Copyright: NZ Historic Places Trust. Taken By: Martin Jones. Date: 25/11/2009.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 1 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 9583 Date Entered 23rd June 2011

Locationopen/close

Extent of List Entry

Extent includes the land described as Lot 2 DP 66463 (CT NA22C/1267), North Auckland Land District, and the structures known as and associated with the Auckland Timber Company Building (Former) thereon, and their fittings and fixtures. (Refer to map in Appendix 1 of the registration report for further information).

City/District Council

Auckland Council (Auckland City Council)

Region

Auckland Council

Legal description

Lot 2 DP 66463 (CT NA22C/1267), North Auckland Land District

Summaryopen/close

The Auckland Timber Company Building (Former) is a significant reminder of the importance of the kauri timber industry to the New Zealand economy in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Constructed in 1881-2, the four-storey brick building was the head office of some of the most important timber companies in the country, including the Auckland Timber Company (1881-8), the Kauri Timber Company (1888-1944) and Butler Brothers’ Limited (early 1900s). These businesses contributed to the transformation of the rural landscape in northern New Zealand, cutting and converting forests into timber products that were primarily used in the creation of the country’s distinctive wooden housing and for overseas export.

Located on Auckland’s pre-colonial waterfront, the site initially encompassed part of the cliff-face, foreshore and seabed of the Waitemata Harbour. It belonged to a broader landscape associated with use by several iwi, including Te Waihoua, Ngati Whatua and Ngati Paoa. Following the transfer of land at Auckland to the Crown in 1840, industrial activity developed in the area and increasing pressure emerged for the reclamation of land. In 1865, part of the site may have been infilled in association with the construction of a nearby gasworks – one of the earliest in the country. More substantial reclamation took place in 1875-6, involving the construction of part of a large basalt wall on the site to help retain the former cliff edge.

The reclaimed ground became a major centre for the kauri timber industry in Auckland. Kauri was viewed as a particularly valuable commodity from an early stage in New Zealand’s colonial history and was distributed extensively to centres overseas markets in Australia, the United States and elsewhere, as well as to centres throughout the North and South Islands. In the early 1880s, a large brick building was built on the site to serve as a head office, showroom, store and manufactory for the newly-created Auckland Timber Company (ATC). The office was linked by a bridge to the ATC’s main sawmill and manufacturing complex, erected on the opposite side of Fanshawe Street in 1878-80. Founded and managed by a major figure in the development of the kauri timber industry, George Holdship, the ATC was noted for its modern machinery and large scale of production. The company is said to have become the largest timber concern in the country, at a time when timber processing was considered to be New Zealand’s main manufacturing industry.

During the economic depression of the late 1880s, Holdship was instrumental in organising a takeover of many businesses including the ATC by an Australian-based syndicate - the Kauri Timber Company (KTC). The KTC was the largest industrial organisation to operate in Auckland Province during the nineteenth century, and immediately (1888) established its national headquarters in the former ATC office building. The building remained the head office of the KTC in New Zealand for more than fifty years, during which it had a major impact on the lives of workers and their dependents throughout the northern part of the country in particular. It also affected many others through its involvement in the mass-conversion of kauri and other timbers into items linked with the erection, decoration and furnishing of New Zealand’s wooden buildings, as well as for overseas export. In the early 1900s, the KTC office additionally became a headquarters for a concern linked with the exploitation of kahikatea, Butler Brothers Ltd. Butler Brothers was created by Joseph and William Butler, who have been considered the leading figures of the New Zealand timber industry during the first decades of the twentieth century.

The KTC office also continued to oversee production at the Fanshawe Street mill, including the conversion of kauri for military shipbuilding in the Second World War (1939-45), until the latter was destroyed by fire in 1942. By this time, the mill is estimated as having converted 456.8 million feet of timber. The KTC office closed down in 1944, after which the building was used for a variety of purposes including paint production, a night club and warehousing. It is currently (2011) part-used as offices.

The place has archaeological value for its ability to provide information about reclamation, and nineteenth-century kauri timber processing from a known sawmill site. It has architectural significance as part of complex described in 1884 as ‘surpassing anything of the kind in the Southern Hemisphere’. The place can be considered to have cultural significance for reflecting attitudes to the environment and natural resources during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, when unsustainable exploitation was mostly favoured. The place has historical significance for its strong associations with leading companies and individuals involved in the timber trade; and growing industrialisation. The place has social significance as the headquarters of two major employers in northern New Zealand, and for its impacts through the mass production of wooden products at a time when New Zealand has been described as a ‘wooden world’.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

The place has high historical significance as the head office of the Auckland Timber Company, said to have been the country’s largest timber company. It is also important as the subsequent headquarters of its main successor, the Kauri Timber Company, which was the largest industrial combination to operate in the Auckland province in the nineteenth century, and also the fifth-largest landholding company in the country.

The place is historically significant for reflecting important stages in the development of the timber industry in New Zealand, including the emergence of highly-capitalised and technologically advanced companies in the mid colonial period. It also reflects the dominance of a major large company funded by overseas capital in the late colonial kauri timber trade. It is linked with shifts during the early twentieth century towards the exploitation of kahikatea, reflecting the impending demise of kauri as a resource as well as the growth of dairying. The place is connected with a brief resurgence of kauri for use in military shipbuilding during the Second World War.

The place is also of value for its links with the creation of infrastructure to enable industry to expand in the 1870s under the premiership of Julius Vogel. The reclamation with which it is associated was part of a major programme to improve waterfront facilities in the city. The place is strongly connected with Auckland’s economic expansion during the 1870s and 1880s, and reflects close economic ties with Australian business and markets in the later colonial period. It is historically significant as a notable part of one of the three major centres for kauri processing in New Zealand.

Archaeological Significance or Value:

The place has archaeological value for incorporating a retaining wall and deposits linked with large-scale reclamation in the 1870s. Such features have the capacity to provide knowledge about reclamation processes during the mid colonial period. Containing timberwork in its floors, roof and supporting columns, the main building can be considered to have archaeological value for its ability to provide information about kauri timber processing in the early 1880s from a known sawmill site. The mill itself was noted for its advanced mechanisation. Other elements, such as sash windows, are also likely to provide information about the production of items created in the mill. Windows produced by the Auckland Timber Company were glazed inside the building.

Architectural Significance or Value:

The place has architectural significance for incorporating a building that formed part of a major sawmill and manufacturing complex, described in 1884 as ‘surpassing anything of the kind in the Southern Hemisphere’. At the time of its construction the building was referred to as one of the handsomest blocks of buildings in the locality. It appears to be significant as an unusual surviving commercial building of this size dating to the mid colonial era in Auckland. It can also be considered notable as an uncommon surviving industrial building of this era within central Auckland, employing large construction timbers to cope with industrial-scale activity; tall supporting posts to ensure maximum flexibility in the use of working spaces at each main floor level, and a considerable number of windows at the front and back of the building to provide ventilation and lighting to assist with working activities The frequency of windows in its front elevation can also be seen as advertising some of the products completed inside the building.

Cultural Significance or Value:

The place can be considered to have cultural significance for its role in the exploitation of kauri throughout northern New Zealand during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It is linked with a pioneering approach, which favoured the unsustainable exploitation of natural resources. Kauri in its natural environment became increasingly viewed as a notable symbol of New Zealandness and the uniqueness of the New Zealand environment. The large-scale exploitation of kauri contributed to a cultural shift to preserve and value aspects of New Zealand’s natural environment, including kauri forest.

Social Significance or Value:

The place has social significance as the headquarters of two major employers in northern New Zealand during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Activities organised and managed from the building had a significant impact on the lives of workers and their dependants, such as through the overseeing of wage rates and work conditions, and through the use of the ‘trucking’ system. The associated complex of which the place was a part was an important employer in the industrial and working class suburb of Freemans Bay.

The mass-production of an extensive range of timber items overseen from the place had a significant impact on broader society, allowing easily accessible wooden products to be extensively used in the construction, decoration and furnishing of buildings throughout the country. This occurred at a time when the number of New Zealanders living in wooden dwellings increased from seven out of eight in 1881 to an even higher number 30 years later.

(a) The extent to which the place reflects important or representative aspects of New Zealand history:

The place has outstanding significance for reflecting the importance of the timber industry in the late nineteenth century, when this was both ‘the great industrial activity of Auckland’ and considered by official sources to be the main manufacturing industry of New Zealand. As the head office of both the Auckland and the Kauri Timber Companies, it has special significance for reflecting major developments in the New Zealand timber industry - and broader industrialisation - during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, including the creation of large-scale companies to replace smaller, less mechanised ventures, and the emergence of dominant concerns linked with Australian finance and the overseas market.

The place has outstanding significance for its close connections with the mass-production of a large variety of timber products, at a time when New Zealand has been described as a ‘wooden world’: wooden items were stored, displayed and glazed within the main structure. Visually prominent, the main building reflects the importance of the Auckland waterfront as one of three major centres for the production of kauri during the late nineteenth century.

The place has outstanding significance for being associated with, and directly reflecting the large-scale modification of New Zealand’s landscape during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The main building was a headquarters for the exploitation and removal of much of the North Island’s native forest, particularly kauri and subsequently kahikatea. The retaining wall and underlying reclamation reflect a major modification of Auckland’s urban landscape to provide the relevant facilities for timber from these sources to be processed. The place reflects the development of waterfront infrastructure during the 1870s and strong economic growth in Auckland in the early 1880s.

(b) The association of the place with events, persons, or ideas of importance in New Zealand history:

The place has outstanding significance as the head office of the Auckland Timber Company, said to have been the largest timber concern in New Zealand; and as the New Zealand headquarters of the Kauri Timber Company, which was the largest industrial combination to operate in the Auckland province in the nineteenth century and the fifth-largest landholding company in the country.

The place also has special significance for its connections with leading individuals in the late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century timber industry, notably George Holdship - a major figure in the expansion and industrialisation of kauri timber processing - and the Butler Brothers, the leading figures in the first decades of the twentieth-century timber industry. Of the latter, the place has particularly close connections with Joseph Butler, who was a member of the KTC’s Auckland Board and subsequently a managing director of the KTC.

The place also has strong links with members of the KTC’s Auckland Board, including two mayors of Auckland - Thomas Peacock and Lemuel Bagnall - prominent newspaperman Henry Brett, and leading builder A.R. Watson, as well as one of the province’s leading architects Henry Wade.

Including through its associations with its surrounding complex, the place is connected to notable events such as the 1890 maritime dispute, the 1913 Waterfront strike, and the production of timber for military ships during the Second World War. It is also linked with the Auckland visit of the Kingitanga leader King Tawhiao in 1882 as part of a measured healing of differences following conflict in the Waikato and elsewhere during the 1860s.

The place’s retaining wall and underlying reclamation are significant for their connections with the Auckland Harbour Board, and Julius Vogel’s programme of economic expansion through the development of infrastructure and overseas borrowing. Possible earlier reclamation on the site is associated with the construction of the Auckland Gas Company gasworks, one of the first such operations in New Zealand.

(c) The potential of the place to provide knowledge of New Zealand history:

The main building is significant for its capacity to provide information about timber processing techniques from a known nineteenth-century timber mill site. The place may provide knowledge about glazing and window production techniques from a known producer. The place’s retaining wall and reclamation material have the potential to provide knowledge about large-scale reclamation processes during the 1870s.

(f) The potential of the place for public education:

Located beside a major thoroughfare and close to the waterfront in Auckland’s CBD, the place has potential to provide public education about the importance of the kauri timber trade in Auckland and northern New Zealand. It forms a prominent and rare visible reminder that the Auckland waterfront was one of three main centres for the processing of kauri timber in New Zealand.

(k) The extent to which the place forms part of a wider historical and cultural complex or historical and cultural landscape:

The place forms part of a broader landscape along Auckland’s waterfront and in Freemans Bay that reflects the area’s importance in industrial production during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The place forms a connection between better-preserved waterfront areas to the east, and Freemans Bay, which still retains aspects of its former industrial character.

Summary of Significance or Values:

This place was assessed against, and found it to qualify under the following criteria: a, b, c, f and k

Conclusion

It is considered that this place qualifies as a Category I historic place.

The place has outstanding significance as the head office of both the Auckland Timber Company and the Kauri Timber Company, respectively said to have been the largest timber concern in New Zealand and the largest industrial combination to have operated in the Auckland province. It reflects the importance of the timber industry in the late nineteenth century, when this was considered by official sources to have been the main manufacturing industry of New Zealand. The place has outstanding significance for its associations with the large-scale modification of New Zealand’s landscape during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries; and for its close connections with the mass-production of a large variety of timber products. The place also has special significance for reflecting major developments in the New Zealand timber industry - and broader industrialisation - during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries; and for its close connections with leading individuals in the late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century timber industry, notably George Holdship and the Butler Brothers.

Linksopen/close

Additional informationopen/close

Historical Narrative

Early history of the site:

The site initially encompassed part of the cliff-face, foreshore and seabed of the pre-colonial waterfront along the Waitemata Harbour. It belonged to a broader landscape associated with use by several iwi, including Te Waihoua, Ngati Whatua and Ngati Paoa. The site was located midway between Te Hika a Rama – a small bay or gap in the cliffs at the foot of Nelson Street - and a much larger bay at Waiatarau (also known as Waiwhakaata or Waikookota), which contained a major settlement on its western headland at Te To. The bay’s eastern headland, Te Paneiriiri, lies a short distance to the west of the site and has been traditionally linked with activities carried out by Ngati Paoa.

In 1840, a large area of land at Auckland was transferred from Ngati Whatua to the Crown for the creation of a colonial capital. Initially developing as New Zealand’s main military and administrative centre, the town supported commercial and industrial activities including those linked with the exploitation of the region’s natural resources. During the early colonial period, the site adjoined an area of settlement that spread along the waterfront between the town’s main commercial centre in Queen Street and an industrial suburb at Waiatarau, renamed Freemans Bay. The latter was a centre for timber production from an early stage in colonial development, with sawyers described as present by 1841, and increasingly supported other manufacturing activities, including boatbuilding, flour milling and brickmaking.

Reclamation of the foreshore:

As Auckland’s economy expanded, there was increased demand for commercial and industrial land along the waterfront, including beneath the cliff face extending between Nelson Street and Freemans Bay. Early reclamation in the vicinity of the site took place in 1863-5, when the Auckland Gas Company erected a gas works on the western fringes of Te Hika a Rama or Brickfield Bay. A plan of the city in 1866 appears to show reclaimed ground extending into at least part of the current property. Gasholders and other major structures were located immediately to the east. The gas works was one of the first to be established in New Zealand, shortly post-dating the opening of similar operations in Dunedin (1863) and Christchurch (1864).

In the 1870s, the site formed part of a more extensive reclamation between Hardinge Street and Nelson Street, which was itself an element in a major programme to improve waterfront facilities in the city. The works were commissioned by the Auckland Harbour Board (AHB), which had been established in 1871 to administer and develop the port of Auckland. Power to raise funds for the reclamation project was granted under the Auckland Harbour Act 1874, passed during the premiership of Julius Vogel. Vogel was noted for his promotion of ambitious infrastructure programmes, designed to boost New Zealand’s economy.

A contract for the Hardinge Street project was awarded to Martin Danaher in October 1875. Danaher had previously undertaken works for the AHB in Mechanics Bay. The project involved cutting back the pre-existing cliff face, erecting a stone wall to retain part of the exposed edge, and infilling the adjoining seabed with earth. Carried out by hand and cart, aspects of this undertaking were hazardous. A workman was tragically killed when part of the cliff edge collapsed during the cutting back process. The retaining wall was at least 200 feet long and formed part of the southern boundary of the current site. The works appear to have been still in progress towards the end of 1876.

Following completion, the reclaimed area accommodated an extension of the main road servicing the city waterfront, Customhouse Street - later renamed Customs Street West, then Fanshawe Street. This separated a series of allotments that were created on either side. Those on the south lay at the foot of the cliff retaining wall, while those to the north fronted the harbour. In 1877, the AHB offered many of the allotments for lease as 66-year holdings.

The Auckland Timber Company and its sawmill complex (1878-80):

Major occupants of the new land included some of Auckland’s largest timber firms, notably the New Zealand Timber Company (NZTC) and the Auckland Timber Company (ATC). Numerous structures linked with the timber industry were soon erected on either side of Fanshawe Street. They included the Auckland Timber Company Building, which formed the head office of a major new sawmill and manufacturing complex, described by the American consul in an official report published in 1884 as consisting of ‘splendid buildings, surpassing anything of the kind in the Southern Hemisphere’. The comments were contained in the consul’s report on the New Zealand’s timber industry, which were furnished to the Department of State in Washington prior to December 1883. Other contemporary accounts refer to the complex as ‘one of the largest, if not the largest, in the southern hemisphere’: The complex was created by the ATC immediately following its formation in late 1877.

Timber production was an important feature of Auckland’s economy during the colonial period, when the city relied considerably on the exploitation of local resources. Kauri, which grew only in northern New Zealand, was viewed as a particularly valuable commodity from an early stage in the country’s colonial history. Used especially in the house- and ship-building industries, kauri timber was distributed extensively to centres throughout New Zealand, as well as to overseas markets in Australia, the United States and elsewhere. By the early 1880s, the total area of kauri forest was said to amount to some 180,000 acres (72,843 ha). At this time, the Auckland waterfront was one of the three major centres for kauri processing in New Zealand.

The ATC was one of the foremost timber companies in the country, and was heavily involved in the exploitation of kauri. It was leading member of a select group of highly-mechanised enterprises, which increasingly replaced the smaller-scale operations that had characterised earlier years. The founder and managing director of the ATC was George Holdship (1839-1923), a notable figure in the industrialisation of kauri timber processing, and an astute businessman with a particularly strong awareness of the ‘administrative and technological advantages of scale and concentration in timber manufacture’. A nephew of the owner of Partington’s windmill, Holdship had initially trained as a carpenter before setting up his own timber firm in the 1860s, which included a sash and door factory in the Auckland suburb of Newton. Profiting from the economic boom of the 1870s, he subsequently transformed his private business - George Holdship and Company - into the heavily capitalised Auckland Timber Company Limited in December 1877. Immediately after its formation, Holdship began erecting an extensive sawmill complex on the reclaimed ground at Fanshawe Street as the flagship and powerhouse for his new enterprise.

During the period when the reclamation was commissioned, Holdship had been a member of the Auckland Harbour Board and the city council. The ATC subsequently obtained leasehold land on the northern side of Fanshawe Street, and also purchased property on the south side of the road, where its head office - the Auckland Timber Company Building - was to be built. The factory complex on the northern side of the road was constructed in 1878-80, accommodating a large sawmill, a seasoning yard, a wharf and a network of tramways. Modern in its machinery and highly mechanised in its manufacturing, the mill was described in 1879 as containing ‘every description of vertical, circular, and breaking-down saws, deal frames, and other kinds of machinery, both American and English, of the latest patents and improvements.’ Its upper floor was to be devoted to producing joinery and turned goods using ‘planing, morticing, turning, and sand-papering machines, and every other class of machinery necessary in woodworking manufactures’. By 1880 approximately a quarter-of-a-million feet of timber could be sawn and manipulated within the complex each week. The complex was a major employer in Freemans Bay and the city, accommodating 180-200 employees.

Construction of the Auckland Timber Company Building (1881-2):

The Auckland Timber Company Building was erected on the south side of Fanshawe Street as the administrative centre and ‘shop window’ of the complex. Its construction was apparently envisaged as part of the original concept for the factory, as allotments on the south side of the street were reported in 1879 to have been obtained for the erection of offices, a glass warehouse and stabling. Comprising an imposing brick building four storeys high, the new structure was mostly built in 1881. In March 1882, its internal fittings were being completed.

Incorporating a connecting bridge across Fanshawe Street to the main sawmill, the building was integrally linked with the rest of the complex, both physically and functionally. The structure was intended to be multi-purpose, containing offices, show rooms, a glazing manufactory and storage. It was initially referred to as ‘the glass and show warehouse of the Auckland Timber Company.’ This can be seen to reflect its role as an interface between the ATC and the general public.

The building’s architect is currently unknown, although George Holdship himself was responsible for the design of the main sawmill and manufactory. The connecting bridge was designed and built by ATC staff. It is possible that the architect Henry Wade (1835-1900) was involved. Wade had worked as a manager for Holdship, having arrived in New Zealand in 1863, and continued to be involved in Holdship’s business affairs including as a significant shareholder of the ATC. Later described as ‘one of the leading architects of the Province’, he designed other structures in the waterfront area, including offices for the adjoining New Zealand Timber Company in Fanshawe Street in 1882. He was secretary and treasurer of the Auckland Institute of Architects in the mid and late 1880s. The builder may have been A.R. Watson, a leading Auckland contractor, who was one of seven founding shareholders of the ATC. At the time of construction, part of the site was owned by another of the initial shareholders, William Crush Daldy. William Crush Daldy senior was a prominent Auckland businessman and politician, and a long-term member and first chairman of the Auckland Harbour Board. His son, of the same name, was also a shareholder and the secretary of the ATC.

The building was of comparatively simple Free Classical appearance, with a frontage of four bays to Fanshawe Street. This incorporated offset doors and large windows at ground floor level. Rows of arched sash windows were present on all other floors. The west end of the bridge pierced the façade at first floor level to provide direct access into the building from the rest of the complex. Measuring 70 x 60 feet and incorporating a basement, the warehouse was imposing in its dimensions. At completion, it was described as ‘one of the handsomest blocks of buildings in that locality’.

Internally, the building contained five floors including the basement. The ground floor of the building was divided between a suite of offices on its eastern side, and ‘a show-room in which are exhibited some handsome specimens of mantelpieces, ornamental tables, brackets and fancy turnery &c.‘ on the west. Much of the rest of the building was used for activities associated with the glazing of sash windows. Glass of all kinds - ‘plate, ground, fluted’ - was stored in the basement; the second storey contained glazed sashes ‘packed ready for delivery’, as well as a depot for mill stores and other equipment; and the third storey was occupied by the glaziers department, where unglazed sashes were deposited as they arrived directly from the factory. The fourth storey was occupied by turnery and manufactured goods of various kinds, including carved trusses and turnery for bedsteads and tables, ‘ready for the cabinet-makers to remove and fit together’.

The design and use of the building reflected Holdship’s promotion of mechanisation, and the closer integration of activities linked with the manufacture of timber products. A steam engine was used to work a hoist that transferred goods between all floors. It also drove a putty mill and other machinery. It was powered by steam pipes carried across the associated bridge from the main factory. The bridge itself was of wire suspension type, with rails to allow the transfer of goods from the factory on trollies.

The inclusion of showrooms can also be linked with Holdship’s advertising of the value of timber products, and kauri in particular. In 1873 and 1880, he respectively exhibited at the Vienna and Melbourne Exhibitions. The company name was painted on the side of the building, taking advantage of its height and prominence in the local landscape. In January 1882, the complex was one of the sights shown to the Kingitanga leader King Tawhiao (?-1894) when the latter was visiting Auckland as part of a measured healing of differences following the takeover of Maori land by colonial authorities in the Waikato and elsewhere in the 1860s. While passing the showrooms, a bouquet was dropped into Tawhiao’s carriage from the recently-constructed bridge.

Immediately after the office building was completed, the remainder of the complex was projected to expand. In 1884, the ATC mills and works were described as ‘one of the most extensive industries of the kind in the colony’. From the outset, demand was such that converted timber from the ATC’s other mills at Whangaroa, Port Charles and Kennedy’s Bay in the Coromandel Peninsula - as well as from other sources - was brought in to feed the door and sash window manufactory. Logs were also directly rafted to the Auckland mill for processing from the Upper Waitemata harbour.

Operating during a period of considerable industrial growth in the colony in 1881-6, particularly in Auckland, the ATC is said to have eventually become the largest timber concern in New Zealand. This occurred at a time when timber-milling had not only become ‘the great industrial activity of Auckland’, but the timber business was more broadly regarded by the Registrar-General as the greatest manufacturing industry of New Zealand. In 1886, Auckland’s sawmills, in particular, were regarded by official sources as ‘amongst the best in the world...fitted with the most approved machinery, not only for general conversion, but for the manufacture of doors, window sashes, &c.’ The ATC head office was at the centre of such developments, and was prominently featured in advertisements for the company’s products which claimed that the business had the ‘largest plant of the most modern machinery in the colonies’.

Use as the Head Office of the Kauri Timber Company:

During the late 1880s, the kauri timber trade was affected by a downturn in Auckland’s economy, which heavily reduced demand for its products. Australia remained a stronger market, with cities such as Melbourne continuing to undergo a building boom. As many New Zealand companies struggled to remain in business, Holdship took advantage of the situation to promote a merger of the most important timber concerns, supported by Australian capital. He enlisted the support of David Blair, a leading Melbourne timber merchant, who like Holdship is said to have made previous attempts to create a more dominant timber company in New Zealand. In 1888, a syndicate formed in Melbourne purchased many of the mills and accessible forests in northern New Zealand at comparatively low prices.

Known as the Kauri Timber Company (KTC), the new organisation was ‘the largest industrial combination to operate in the Auckland province in the nineteenth century.’ A contemporary Australian publication also referred to it as ‘one of the largest industrial undertakings in the colonies’. Based in Melbourne, the KTC endeavoured to dominate and profit through monopoly control. It became the fifth-largest landholding company in New Zealand.

Holdship was appointed the managing director of the New Zealand operations, and established his headquarters in the earlier ATC premises. The Auckland Timber Company Building became the head office for the KTC in New Zealand, a function it was to retain for more than half a century. A local Board assisting Holdship and the KTC directors in Melbourne comprised several notable individuals including the Auckland businessman John Brown and a Member of the House of Representatives, Thomas Peacock, as well as previous Holdship associates such as Henry Wade and A.R. Watson. Affairs throughout the KTC’s extensive activities in New Zealand were overseen from the building, including those related to the associated mill in Fanshawe Street which expanded by absorbing the adjoining mill of the New Zealand Timber Company to be the company’s main manufactory. Two other mills taken over by the KTC in Auckland were dismantled and sold. Twenty-three mills in outlying kauri forest districts continued to operate.

The KTC initially struggled to make a profit due to the collapse of the Melbourne market. Holdship was relieved of his office duties in 1889, and in 1890 left for Britain where he sold his shares in the business. Industrial disquiet led to a rapid growth in unionism among the KTC workforce, with recruitment by the Auckland Knights of Labour, the Kauri Timber Workers’ Union, and the North New Zealand Federated Timber Mill and Bushmens’ Association. In 1889, the KTC reduced wage rates, and a dispute developed over the company’s use of the ‘trucking’ system, whereby workers were partly paid in provisions from general stores controlled by the KTC, or obliged to purchase goods from these stores at a high price. Caught up in broader unrest, the Auckland mill was also partly closed during the maritime strike of 1890, the country’s first big nationwide industrial dispute.

Following the election of the First Liberal Government in the 1890s, the company resisted government attempts to reduce the size of its holdings, and to improve wage rates and conditions in spite of rising profitability. New directors to the Board included the prominent Auckland newspaperman, Henry Brett, and a future mayor of Auckland, Lemuel Bagnall. In 1901, the KTC appointed a former union man and president of the North New Zealand Federated Timber Mill and Bushmens’ Association, T.H. White, to manage the Auckland mill. White occupied a house immediately to the southwest of the head office building, overlooking the factory complex.

The period 1890-1906 saw continued growth in sawmilling in Auckland, and wood products remained central to the provincial and city economies. In 1907, the mill was one of the largest in the country, rivalled only as an employer by the Taupo Totara Timber Company mill in Mokai. Both employed 300 hands at a time when the average mill had just 20 employees. The KTC mill was described in an official report as ‘one of the best-equipped and most complete plants in the Southern Hemisphere, both for the conversion of the log into planking and also for the manufacture of joinery, in which the firm deals largely’. It had an annual cutting capacity of 14 million feet of kauri, brought to it by scow from sources between Mangonui to the north and the Coromandel Peninsula to the south. More generally, the KTC employed some 5,000 to 6,000 people throughout the region in the early 1900s, and claimed that ‘the welfare of the whole population in the districts over which its operations extend is intimately associated with that of the company’.

The large scale of the KTC operation in Fanshawe Street is shown by a catalogue of circa 1906, published by the Auckland office. It included a birds-eye illustration of the main office building with its connecting bridge to the joinery department on the north side of Fanshawe Street, and a large box department adjoining the latter. Timber is shown stacked in large yards to the west of the office and factory, and in the process of being delivered by road and by sea. Along with size came the creation of a great variety of products, most of them standardised: the catalogue exhibits elements of all kinds that were used to build, adorn and furnish timber structures throughout New Zealand. Seven out of eight New Zealanders lived in a wooden dwelling in 1881, leading to the view that ‘nineteenth-century New Zealand was a wooden world’. The proportion was still higher 30 years later.

Diversification and shared office use:

Peak production of converted kauri occurred in 1905. Milling of this resource subsequently went into a gradual and then more sudden decline, as accessible trees became fewer. By 1914, ‘the kauri forest was reduced to a mere remnant and the province’s economic centre had shifted from extractive industries to the intensive pastoral pursuits characteristic of its rural areas’. Official concern was expressed about the preservation of kauri, and it increasingly became regarded as a notable symbol of both New Zealandness and the scale of change to the landscape brought about by pioneer activities. The first kauri reserve was created in 1899. In 1913, 200 acres (80 hectares) of the largest remnant was proposed as a national park. A forest sanctuary at Waipoua was finally designated in 1952.

In the early 1900s, the KTC diversified into the milling of kahikatea or white pine, which was used primarily for making butter boxes. The KTC began to share their main office with the White Pine Company - taken over by the KTC and Mitchelson Ltd in 1907 - and related interests run by Butler Brothers Ltd., founded in the same year. Joseph and William Butler were the leading figures of the New Zealand timber industry during the first decades of the early twentieth century, and were heavily involved in the kahikatea trade. Joseph Butler (1862-1934) became a Board member and managing director of the KTC in 1913 and William Butler (1858-1932) the first president of the Dominion Federated Sawmillers’ Association in 1917. Butler Brothers’ Ltd. board meetings were held in the Fanshawe Street office. By 1920, the White Pine Company’s offices had been replaced by those of Stuart and Chapman, sawmillers.

By 1922, better class kauri was virtually restricted to uses such as shipbuilding and cabinetmaking. In 1930, the KTC office was advertising ‘large stocks of Jarrah from the Company’s mills and forests in Western Australia’ and imported Oregon from North America, as well as native timbers such as kauri, rimu, totara and matai. More general social and economic events had an impact on the business. During the 1913 Waterfront strike, special constables or ‘Massey’s Cossacks’, lined the street outside the mill to protect the premises. In 1927, the effects of economic constraint were such that the Auckland mill temporarily reduced its hours from 47 to 34 hours per week. During the early part of the Second World War (1939-45), the complex was involved in the milling of kauri for military shipbuilding. In 1942 the mill burnt down, by which time its total production is estimated as having been 456.8 million feet of timber. The associated bridge may have been destroyed at this time or at another point subsequent to 1927.

The KTC initially continued to use the office building as its headquarters, when it was also occupied by offices of Red Pine Timbers Ltd. and Matai Timbers Ltd., as well as the Butler Brothers’ Ltd operations. The mill site was subsequently relinquished for use in the production of wooden craft to assist with the United States military effort in the Pacific conflict. Local KTC production continued at a mill in Mt Eden. The Fanshawe Street office was evidently vacated by the KTC when new yards and premises were opened in Penrose in 1944. The office property was sold to Austral Super Paint Ltd in the same year.

The KTC continued to operate in New Zealand until its local operations were taken over by Fletcher Timber in 1961.

Subsequent use and modifications:

Austral Super Paint, paint manufacturers, remained owners of the former office building until 1962. Internal alterations under their ownership included the creation of a timber-lined mezzanine floor in 1951. By the early 1970s, the property is recorded as occupied by Vandenberg Wholesalers Ltd. and Byron Motors Ltd., motor dealers, although minor alterations to close door and window openings were applied for by Turner and Growers Ltd. in 1971, when the building is described as a warehouse and at least part-used for storage. Used by a variety of tenants such as printers and night club owners in the 1980s and 1990s, other minor modifications included internal partitioning to the first floor in 1980 and repair work in 1989. Fibrolite roofing was replaced in 2004-5.

The more substantial removal of internal partitioning at basement, ground and first floor levels - including the 1951 mezzanine - occurred prior to 2010. Pre-existing columns and staircases were retained. A single-storey workshop, erected after 1918 to the east of the building, was also demolished.

Parts of the building remain in commercial use.

Physical Description

Context:

The former Auckland Timber Company Building is located close to the Auckland waterfront, in the western part of the main city centre. It sits on the south side of Fanshawe Street, a main arterial route connecting the city with the western suburbs and the motorway system to the North Shore. Recent industrial and commercial properties adjoin it to the east and west. Land on the north side of the road, which accommodated the site of the Auckland and Kauri Timber Company factories, has been redeveloped for commercial, residential and recreational use associated with the adjoining Viaduct Basin.

The site consists of a prominent brick building, with a small area of flat land to its west, and a low cliff edge surmounted by a steep, basalt retaining wall to the south. The building fronts directly onto Fanshawe Street and is highly visible from this direction. The rear of the building directly adjoins the base of the cliff and the retaining wall. The latter forms a notable feature of the landscape, and extends for a considerable distance beyond the property boundary to the east. A few other remnants of the nineteenth- and early twentieth-century industrial landscape survive in the immediate vicinity. A large brick structure remains on the gasworks site to the west; and a small brick pumping survives to the east. Industrial and commercial premises of the same period remain on the east side of Graham Street.

Main building:

Exterior:

The main building is rectangular in plan, incorporating four storeys and a basement. It is of plastered brick construction, with a corrugated iron roof. Visually, the structure is designed in a simple Free Classical style.

The building is divided into four structural bays, defined on the front (north) façade by rusticated pilasters terminating in a relatively simple parapet. It has sculptured spandrels between the pilasters. The pilasters are carried up to parapet level.

The ground floor of the main façade contains large windows and several doors, two of which are of six-panel type. The first to third floors have pairs of smaller windows with heads in the shape of segmental arches: the windows are of double-hung sash type, as once manufactured inside the building, and incorporate two lights. One oversize aperture at first floor level (also with a head in the shape of an arch) indicates the location of a bridge that once spanned Fanshawe Street. This opening has been blocked up. A parapet at the top of the main frontage is comparatively plain.

The east and west elevations are generally plain. They contain a few apertures, including segmental windows at ground floor level on the east side of the building, and a blocked door at second floor level on the same elevation. The latter once provided access from the rear of the building. Blocked apertures also survive between shallow external buttresses at ground floor level on the west side. The parapet at the top of each elevation is of plain design.

The rear (south) elevation faces on to a narrow road access from Graham Street, and extends for two storeys above road level. The elevation incorporates central doorways at both levels, with the upper entrance being reached via an external staircase. Rows of segmental windows flank each entrance. These contain double-hung sashes of four-light type. The top of the elevation is surmounted by a parapet of the same design as on each side wall.

The roof contains two parallel, north-south gables, concealed behind the parapet. The gables are hipped at each end. A brick chimney survives within the east wall, near its northern end. This has a stack of simple design.

Apart from the removal of its associated bridge, and a few minor modifications - including the addition of plaster - the exterior appears to be comparatively unchanged from its nineteenth-century appearance.

Interior:

The interior is divided into four main levels, with an additional basement storey. The basement, ground and first floor levels have had most of their internal partitioning removed and consequently incorporate large open spaces. The upper two storeys retain subdivisions to accommodate ongoing commercial use. Throughout the building, most wall linings and some ceiling linings have been removed. Many interior elements have also been sandblasted.

In spite of these modifications, the building retains widespread evidence of initial construction methods, materials and use. Information about later alteration also remains. Notable surviving features include the employment of large construction timbers to cope with industrial-scale activity; tall supporting posts to ensure maximum flexibility in the use of working spaces at each main floor level, and a considerable number of windows at the front and back of the building to provide ventilation and lighting to assist with working activities. The windows and mechanised sawmarks on many surviving timbers inside the building reflect methods of production at the time of construction.

Suspended timber floors on all main levels are supported on large horizontal timber bearers, corbel beams (or pillows) and vertical columns. All columns act as props, being discontinuous at each floor and bearing on the column below. Bearers consist of individual timbers up to 9 m long, and measure 460 mm x 230 mm in section. The columns at floor levels other than the basement are generally over 4 m tall and measure 225 mm x 225mm across. Basement columns are shorter. Floor joists measure approximately 75 mm wide x 305 mm deep and are centred approximately 550 mm apart. The timbers contain evidence of both mechanised circular saw and reciprocal saw marks.

The basement contains a concrete floor. Its walls are predominantly of basalt. A low brick feature against the east wall has an unknown function, but may be linked with its early use for storage. In the southeast corner, a small brick room contains a heavy metal door and has a vaulted roof. It may have been used as a strong room.

The ground floor retains a similar room directly above that in the basement. Elsewhere at ground floor level, the main space contains evidence of blocked up apertures in both its east and west walls. A short flight of timber steps from the main door from the street into the former showroom survives, associated with vertical wall linings. Wall linings elsewhere at this level have been removed. Surviving ceilings are predominantly of board and batten type.

Similar evidence survives at first floor level, although its ceiling has been gibbed. A brick fireplace remains against its east wall, and window frames in its south wall display elegantly crafted mullions and other details. The floor and many of the posts at this level display considerable signs of wear. The blocked entrance of the bridge from the associated factory is visible.

Throughout all levels observed, traces remain of a large central opening for a hoist throughout the building. The roof consists of large timber trusses supported on a central row of timber posts. Internal staircases connecting the ground and first floor exist at the north end of the building, and connecting the basement and ground floor, and first and second floors on the south side of the structure. The top storey is currently accessed from the exterior.

Retaining wall:

The retaining wall is built of large basalt blocks set in mortar. The wall sits on top of a low cliff edge of natural rock. The top of the wall is at road level. The north face of the wall incorporates a cast iron water pipe. Outside the registration, to the west of the building, the wall also incorporates a low parapet with coping and contains at least one through-pipe.

Construction Dates

Other
1863 - 1865
Possible reclamation in eastern part of site

Other
1875 - 1876
Reclamation and construction of basalt retaining wall

Original Construction
1881 - 1882
Construction of the Auckland Timber Company Building, including associated bridge

Other
-
Demolition of bridge

Modification
1951 -
Insertion of first floor mezzanine

Modification
2009 -
Removal of partitions at basement, ground and first floor levels. Removal of first floor mezzanine. Demolition of post-1918 workshop

Construction Details

Brick, with basalt basement walls, timber interiors and a corrugated iron roof

Completion Date

20th May 2011

Report Written By

Martin Jones

Information Sources

Appendices to the Journals of the House of Representatives (AJHR)

Appendices to the Journals of the House of Representatives

1907, Session I, C-4, pp.7-15

Archives New Zealand (Auck)

Archives New Zealand (Auckland)

BADZ 5181/29/171

Auckland Weekly News

Auckland Weekly News

11 October 1879, p.18; 29 May 1880, supplement; 4 March 1882, p.3

Daily Southern Cross

Daily Southern Cross

14 October 1875, p.1, 27 October 1875, p.3; 11 April 1876, p.2; 29 April 1876, p.3; 10 May 1876, p.2; 29 November 1876, p.3

Evening Post

Evening Post

23 April 1942, p.10

Stone, 1973

R. C. J. Stone, Makers of Fortune: A Colonial Business Community and its Fall, Auckland, 1973

Auckland City Council

Auckland City Council

ACC 210 35, North Ward Valuation List 1882, folio 65

Auckland City Council

Auckland City Council

Auckland City Environments, Property file, 102-106 Fanshawe Street

Theses and Reports

Theses and Reports

Carter, Benita, ‘The Kauri Timber Company, 1888-1914’, M.A. thesis, University of Melbourne, 1972

Articles

Articles

Jackson, Kenneth, E., ‘Guilt by Association: Attempts at Domination of the Late-Nineteenth- and Early Twentieth-Century Auckland Timber Trade’, in Hunter, Ian, and Diana Morrow (eds.), City of Enterprise: Perspectives on Auckland Business History, Auckland, 2006, pp.93-107

Griffin, G.W., 1884

G.W. Griffin, New Zealand: Her Commerce and Resources, Wellington, 1884

pp.65-6

Simpson, T.E., 1973

Thomas E. Simpson, Kauri to Radiata: Origin and Expansion of the Timber Industry of New Zealand, Auckland, 1973

Other Information

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.