Fire, Storms And Losses

Copyright 1993   Anthony G. Flude.

By the year 1850, the Auckland township boasted a population of between 7000 to 8000 people, while exports from the port of Auckland had risen to a total of £51,000.

The firm of Henderson & Macfarlane speculated heavily on the export demand for kauri timber.
The brigatine SPENCER was bought by the company in 1852. It was the mate of this vessel who gave the company the idea for their 'house flag.' A bright man with many years at sea, the mate asked Mr. Henderson why the company had no flag. As there was a large consignment of kauri timber aboard from Henderson's Mill which was headed for San Francisco, Thomas jokingly replied, "Oh! Anything you like, I suppose. Saw Flag How about a Circular Saw, for instance". Within a few days a blue circular saw on a white background, appeared painted on the bow of the brigatine's gig. Thomas was impressed with the mates handiwork and decided that this would become the company house flag, to be flown from the masthead of all his sailing ships and in later years to be painted on the funnels of his steamers.

The New Zealand Government, despite repeated requests, had sofar refused to grant full legal title to the land which Governor Fitzroy had promised Thomas in 1844. To safeguard their interests in the land in the Henderson district, the partners now decided to purchase title to 6,500 acres of the land in dispute.
Sad news hit them in 1854 when they received news of the sinking of the SPENCER off the coast of Port Albert, Australia. Five of the passengers were drowned when they were swept away in the heavy swells while trying to make shore.
The barque GLENCOE had been added to the fleet in 1850 and had been used extensively between New Zealand and American ports. Loading her up again with a timber cargo, Thomas Henderson sailed with her to China to build up trade. While there, he loaded up with tea, sugar, spices and silks and added to the cargo, six cages containing 50 pairs of chinese ring-necked pheasants. Bad weather conditions were encountered during the return journey and only three pair were to survive to reach the port of Auckland.

Mr. Henderson took these birds in a cutter up to
      Henderson's Mill. A maori lady at the mill so enthused over the birds
      bright colours, that she got carried away and opened the door of the cage
      to touch them. Seizing their chance to escape, the remaining pheasants
      took flight into the surrounding bush. Thomas was extremely annoyed with the woman as he had intended to show them around before their final
      release. From these few birds in the Henderson district in 1858, the wild
      population has grown throughout New Zealand.
Ringneck Pheasant

Now a well known businessman in the Auckland community, Thomas Henderson offered himself as a political candidate for
      parliament in the elections of 1855 and easily gained his seat in the


The partners bought the barque KATE in 1860. She was to become a well known trading vessel on the China run and was also to complete several records of fast runs between Sydney and Auckland, until she was sold in 1868. Two years later she collided with an unknown vessel and sank with all hands.

The Barque Kate
With Circular Saw Flag At The Masthead
Another vessel, the 250 ton brigatine GERTRUDE was purchased for the Circular Saw Line from the scottish immigrants who had sailed from St. Anns Harbor, Nova Scotia with John Munro and 190 passengers in 1857, bound for Auckland. She was under the command of Captain Rose.
One dark night in 1858, fire broke out in the Osprey Inn in High Street, Auckland. Strong northwesterly winds fanned the blaze as firemen, volunteers and soldiers from the 58th regiment, wrapped around with wet blankets, fought the blaze. The only supply of water was the towns wells and the equipment available to the firefighters primitive. House after house caught alight as the flames spread through the wooden properties. Finally a house owned by Mr. Keesing was dynamited by the soldiers to make a fire break. The fire was finally brought under control. At daybreak it was found that 50 houses had been destroyed together with the Osprey Inn and Henderson & Macfarlane's Commercial Hotel! Property at over £30,000 had gone up in smoke.
Mr. Henderson re-built his hotel this time in brick. It still stands today, although extensively modified, After the fire, several meetings were called of the prominent businessmen in Auckland township.
In June 1859, it was finally decided to form the New Zealand Insurance Company with a capital of £100,000. Thomas Henderson was elected to be its chairman. The company offered 'unlimited liability of the shareholder's', against Buildings, Goods and Wares, Manufacturing, Farming Stock and Marine Risks.

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