Monday, August 10, 2009

William P. Kirkwood and the first Domain Brewery

Those who have read Dinah Holman’s history of Newmarket, Newmarket Lost and Found (2001) will know about the Domain Brewery in that area. The site, on Victoria Crescent, going back to the days of Hobson’s Bridge, a flax-mill there in the 1840s, followed by one brewery in the 1850s, and replaced by a grander complex owned by Brown and Campbell in the 1880s, after they had regained freehold over the land. Whittombe and Stevenson took over that building in 1901 and made their pickles there, then it was a place where biscuits were baked, and finally, from the 1950s to 1970s, the Dawson Printing Co. Ltd operated there.

But – this was not the first Domain Brewery. There was another, earlier business which today is not marked on its site. Rather, a business which succeeded it has the monument there.

In 1855, the White Swan, a steamer built in Scotland, arrived in Australia. By 1856, she was to have a group of part-owners: amongst them, and leading the pack, was William Phippard Kirkwood (c.1800-1866). Kirkwood became the managing director, and in 1858 accepted an offer from the New Zealand Government to have the White Swan operate here between Auckland and the eastern coastal ports of the North Island. By March 1859, William P. Kirkwood was over here, acting as the White Swan’s agent, and advertising the steamer’s services to readers of the shipping columns of Auckland’s newspapers. Early in 1860, Kirkwood’s ads were also touting the employment opportunities to be found in Hawke’s Bay; he’d become a kind of employment agent, probably.

Southern Cross, 22 March 1859

The White Swan was a popular ship, and its manager shared that popularity. Aucklanders in the early 1860s knew him as “spirited” or “energetic”. He certainly seems to have left a dynamic impression on those who dealt with him. While he was still managing the White Swan in January 1860, he offered to get the Auckland cricket team to Wellington and back “on exceedingly liberal terms”. The managers of the team accepted the offer, and took up the opportunity to have a match with their Wellington equivalent.

In 1861, there was a change of management for the White Swan. Kirkwood stepped down as manager, the ship returned to Australia for a time, and Kirkwood started another venture, this time on property at the corner of Grafton Road and Stanley Street, in Mechanic’s Bay.

DP 368, LINZ records

In May 1861, Auckland lawyer and business mogul Thomas Russell had Crown Grant title over an acre and 27 perches – and by August that year Kirkwood had built his Domain Brewery (located opposite the Stanley Street entrance to the Domain, so definitely capitalising on the reserve’s popular name.) He advised the public at that point that he had already made barley malt, and was working on brown stout and ales as well. By September, he also offered grain for horse feed. He sold his products retail from the Domain Brewery Stores at Vulcan Lane by July 1862, later known as the Domain Brewery Vaults. By November 1862, he was exporting Kirkwood’s Ale to Australia, the first shipment of Auckland-brewed ale to the Sydney market. The Southern Cross congratulated him, and hoped it meant the start of “a new and extensive trade”. They were right about that – our local brewers right up to today have not only followed in Kirkwood’s footsteps, they’ve set up shop across the Tasman as well.

The brewery operated three times a week. Yeast production was such that Kirkwood was able to provide ample to local bakers, and yes, the horses were still well-fed on the leftovers. He deepened wells on the property in 1864, and in 1865 seemed to branch out a bit further, advertising for a boy to drive a horse, and be able to milk. By late October, Kirkwood is documented as having three Chinese men in his employ – possibly, the first employer in Auckland of some of the first Chinese in this area. (Update 13 August 2009: three years before this, Auckland's hotels employed Chinese.)

It all seemed to go so very well – until, suddenly, William Kirkwood felt ill on an August Saturday in 1866, went home to his Grafton Road house earlier than usual, became worse, then died. He was buried in Symonds Street cemetery, the funeral including a large number of mourners.

Hotel Keeper John Copland assisted the estate administrators by becoming sole agent for the Domain Brewery brands, including Auckland Ale and Porter. But, the estate sales began in March 1867. The main sale came in May 1867.

The undersigned has received instructions from the Trustees of the Estate of the late W. P. Kirkwood and Son to sell by auction, at the Stores of Messrs. Eaton and Dewolf, Auckland, on Tuesday, the 28th May, 1867, at 11 o'clock a.m.,

THE VALUABLE FREEHOLD PROPERTY known as the Domain Brewery.

In introducing this valuable property to the notice of brewers, capitalists, and others, the auctioneer desires to impress upon them its value as a safe and profitable investment. An extensive and highly remunerative business has been, and is now being, carried on at this brewery. The plant is new and in full working order. The business connection is extensive, and the purchaser would therefore be able to command an immediate and lucrative return for his outlay. The Brewery consists of substantial Buildings, with ample Cellarage, Steam-boiling Apparatus, Refrigerator, Steam Engine, Malt Mill, and all the appliances of a first-class Brewery establishment. The Plant is sufficient to brew 44 hogsheads, at one brewing per day. Water is laid on the premises, and there is always an abundant supply. The above valuable property is within the boundary of the city of Auckland, and is pleasantly situated, being close to the Government Domain. It has a large frontage to a principal thoroughfare (Stanley-street), and must rapidly increase in value as a business site. There is a large stock of malt and hops on hand, which (if not previously disposed of) can be taken at a valuation at the option of the purchaser of the Brewery.”
Southern Cross 7 May 1867

The stock sold, but the property and buildings were withdrawn from sale at the last moment. Another stepped in, one Henry Phippard Kirkwood (has to be a relative with that name), and he began to operate the brewery, endeavouring to keep it going. In June 1870, his luck ran out, as he faced bankruptcy. Provisional trustees stepped in to try to keep it running as a going concern. In March 1872, the Golden Crown Distillery bought the buildings and the site, and stated to the press that they would keep the brewery in operation themselves, under their own name. Finally, though, they too sold up, and the brewery closed for good in May 1875.

Eventually, it was purchased by George Fraser of the Phoenix Foundry, in conjunction with a John Buchanan (I have no idea if this was Avondale’s John Buchanan or not). The Phoenix Foundry expanded from the site it had adjacent and just down from Kirkwood and his brewery, and the first Domain Brewery faded into history.

At least one of the interpretive plaques beside the Phoenix Foundry monument alongside Grafton Road today, near where State Highway 16 has sliced through the top part of Kirkwood’s site, mentions a brewery was once there.

The Phoenix Foundry operated in Stanley Street
between 1866 and 1950. One of the foundry's furnaces
was unearthed in 2002 as part of the construction of a
stormwater treatment device for the
Transit New Zealand Grafton Gully Project.
The remains of the furnace consisted of four flues and
part of the casting floor onto which the molten metal
was poured. Foundry castings, slag, scrap metal and
slagged bricks were concentrated around the furnace
remains. Nearby were large industrial wells relating to a 19th century brewery and further north the remnants
from the early 20th century Waiwai bottling plant
were also uncovered.
A section of flue has been reconstructed and gifted by
the Grafton Gully Project Team."

According to 2001 aerial photos, it was a carpark; today, it seems to be a verdant grassy island surrounded by Stanley Street, Grafton Road, and the roar of the motorway.

Newmarket Lost and Found
The White Swan Incident
, Mike Warman (2002)
Southern Cross, Melbourne Argus
Land Information New Zealand records
NZ Map 18, Vercoe & Harding's 1866 plan of Auckland, Special Collections , Auckland City Library (shows the layout of the Domain Brewery beside Fraser's foundry).


  1. Kirkwood got out while the going was good with respect to management of the White Swan: the following year, on 29 June 1862, it was shipwrecked with a large number of politicians & officials on board on its way from Auckland to Wellington. Fortunately, or regrettably, according to your taste, most survived.

    Timing, as they say, is everything.

  2. Lovely to read about my great-great-grandfather,WP Kirkwood. Can't add much, other than to confirm that Henry Phippard Kirkwood was his son. Thanks for the story.

  3. How wonderful to hear from you! Thanks for your comment.

  4. Well hello :-)
    Our graves and blogs connect again.
    William Phippard KIRKWOOD's grave

    A lady transcribed it on my flickr site today, i did a search of his name and TA DA..your site was the first to pop up for me :D LOL!


  5. Heh! At this rate, we'll have the market cornered! :-)

    Very cool -- thanks for the extra info!

  6. I have been following the steps of William Joseph Cawkwell who was the owner of the "Crown Distillery" that bought William Kirkwood's site to distill Whisky up until 1875....are there any photo's of the old building(s)

  7. Not that I know of, off-hand -- but you could try the Sir George Grey Special Collections at Auckland Central Library to see what they have in their collections, or even the Auckland War Memorial Museum.