The history of Henderson's mill

When we look at Te Wai o Pareira today, it is easy to appreciate the natural beauty and the potential for the life-giving resource that we are working to restore. What we might not know is the significance of this awa to the creation of the place we call home. 

 

The town of Henderson owes its name to the timber mill established on the river and this name was also given to the waterway that played a pivotal part in its success, Henderson Creek. 

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Thomas Henderson was a blacksmith and engineer from Scotland who arrived in New Zealand in 1840 and quickly established himself in the business life of the new capital of Auckland. In 1844 Henderson and his partner Macfarlane reached an agreement with Ngāti Whātua chiefs for 17,784 acres of land between the Waitakere Ranges and the upper Waitemata harbour. 

This area was home to extensive amounts of native kauri. Valued by many Maori as rangatira of the forest, kauri trees can grow giant and provide protection and nutrients to other plants sharing their environment. Kauri was also a much sought after building material for many reasons, including its yield, versatility and interestingly, its buoyancy. Unlike many other types of timber, kauri floats in water, which makes its transportation and delivery into harbours considerably easier than other types of wood. 

In approximately 1849, Henderson established a mill at the head of the tidal estuary, Te Wai o Pareira. Unfortunately, there is little evidence remaining of the exact location of the mill, or the various dams that would have dotted the streams stretching into the Ranges. 

These dams were significant at the time as they utilised driving technology that was the first of its kind in New Zealand.

The location on Henderson creek was essential for this operation as it is the estuary that connects the various streams that flow from the Waitakere Ranges such as Oratia and Opanuku and then feed these waterways into the Waitemata Harbour. In addition to facilitating the export of timber, the tidal nature of the estuary also allowed supplies to be moved inland to support the growing community that was developing around the mill. 

The mill was established around 1849 and by 1864 it had felled most of the accessible trees on its land resulting in its closure In 1868.

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There remains little physical evidence of these operations, however, the legacy of the mill exists in the community that was established around it that grew to become the area now known as Henderson.

The other legacy of this time was the loss of the kauri forest. In the 15 years of operation, Henderson’s mill had felled 45 million super feet of kauri, which is roughly equivalent to 40 Olympic swimming pools worth of timber, leaving a significant impact on the landscape. In a similar way, the awa that helped to form our townships has also been spoiled over the years. However, it remains an important part of the life and well-being of the area and with our help, might one day be restored.

Citation:  This article is sourced from "Henderson: Heart of the West" by Vivian Burgess, Gai Bishop and Grant Cole; edited by Paul Moon; published 2017. This text has been adapted from Grant Cole's chapter in this book.