Matakana's Victorian Brick Makers Identified

You might know that Morris & James makes pots from clay deposits on-site, but did you know that 19th century brick makers also had the same idea?

Mike Rose occasionally takes our pottery tour outside to check out a historic location on the Tongue Farm property, which includes a large number of broken handmade bricks, evidence of mystery brick makers from over 100 years ago. Thanks to a newly published history of Matakana “We Gathered Here” by David R. Grant (published by the author), we now know the identity of the Tongue Farm Road brick makers from NZ Herald articles in 1879 & 1880.

Grant has unearthed two items from the New Zealand Herald of 1879 and 1880, describing how a Mr Donnison and a Mr Dan had successfully completed two firings of 20,000 bricks each. The description of the site matches the one where the bricks were found.

Over 100 years later in 1977, Ant and Sue Morris had taken possession of the land that would eventually be occupied by Morris & James’ pottery, they discovered a large number of broken hand-made bricks embedded in the river bank, indicating the presence of a brick maker during the nineteenth century. This must have come as a relief to Ant, since he had bought the property to gain access to the clay deposit, but had had little opportunity to investigate its characteristics in detail. If the clay could be used to make bricks, there was a good chance that it could also be used to make pots.

Finding out who made the bricks was not easy: in those pre-internet days, historical information was frequently hard to come by. Some local historians, knowing John Manners (owner of a brick works at Brick Bay) lived nearby, assumed he and his sons must have been responsible for the Tongue Farm Road bricks as well, but the evidence was slight.

There is little evidence of the enterprise visible today, apart from the bricks and pieces of coal from the kilns. This is probably because the river banks are unstable and eroding rapidly. On another property across the northern boundary, there are earthworks which could indicate the position of the pug mill that the brick makers would have used – powered by a horse gin and used to temper the clay. The layout can be deduced from similar site in Paparoa, North Kaipara, which has survived sufficiently well to be properly excavated.

More information & photo credit: “We Gathered Here” by David R. Grant,