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Devonport Heritage 2017, an incorporated society formed in 2017, promotes heritage and sustainable development in Devonport.

Buchanan Street


Buchanan Street dates from the later part of the 19th Century and is one of many streets in Devonport that is named for one of its early Councillors, William Buchanan.

The street currently comprises 37 residences of many styles and eras and has changed markedly over the past 140 years.


William Buchanan

William Buchanan was born the 6th July 1834 in Irvine in Ayrshire on the west coast of Scotland. He came from a farming family but on leaving school he became an apprentice watchmaker. At the age of 17 the census of 1851 has him living with his grandfather in Newton in Ayrshire and his trade was recorded as apprentice watchmaker.

Six years later at the age of 23 William Buchanan left his home town and traveling via Plymouth he emigrated to New Zealand. The voyage of 110 days was aboard the "Joseph Fletcher" and he arrived in Auckland on the 19th March 1858 together with 143 other passengers embarking on a new life in the young colony.

So began William Buchanan's new life and a life that was to be significant. Records of the time record the fact that within 2 weeks of stepping off the ship he was already setting up his new business. He was to establish a watch and clock making business in the heart of Auckland City, as this advertisement from the Daily Southern Cross shows

With this notice of William's intention to establish a new business it was then but 14 days before he again took to the Southern Cross with this advertisement heralding the opening of his shop in Shortland Street, Auckland

For the next 6 years William Buchanan operated his business from the premises at Shortland Street. Imaging what the city streets of Auckland looked like some 160 years ago is hard. Very fortunately there is a painting by an unknown artist, titled "Maori the Fishmonger Selling Crayfish" (c.1860-1865) showing a Maori man sitting cross-legged before a number of crayfish. A shop frontage in the background is of the commercial premises of watch and clockmaker William Buchanan in Shortland St described in catalogue at the time of auction sale in 2010 as being one of the earliest businesses to be established in Auckland.

The next chapter in William Buchanan's life occurred in 1860. In January of that year - the 17th January to be precise a young lady of the name of Rosanna "Annie" Carroll arrived in Auckland on board the ship Nimroud after a similarly long voyage from England.

Annie was born in 1831 and hailed from Belfast, Northern Ireland.

Later that year in the Church of St Matthews in the City of Auckland Annie Carroll and William Buchanan were married and before the close of the year they celebrated the arrival of their first child - a son born Archibald Buchanan.

Over the next 14 years the Buchanan family grew with a total of 5 sons and 2 daughters.


By August of 1864 William Buchanan decided that the business of watch & clock making and repairs was over so with typical style and business acumen he announced in the Daily Southern Cross his intention to sell up, liquidate his stock and cease his business.

It is surmised that around this time the Buchanan family moved to the North Shore and most likely Devonport.


In March of 1865 clearly with the wherewithal to partake of the leisure of sailing on the harbour William fell foul of a boating accident as reported in the 7th March edition of the Daily New Zealander

"Boat Accident.β€”An accident occurred yesterday in the harbour which was fortunately for the parties concerned unattended with much damage. We understand that a small sailing boat in which were Mr. Buchanan and another gentleman, was endeavouring to weather the bows of the ' Viscount Canning,' lying in the stream, and not being aware that the t Wonga Wonga' was slowly steaming on the other side ol the vessel till too late to avoid a collision, came athwart the bows of the steamer and was immediately capsized. Mr. Buchanan's friend had just time to step on to the anchor of the ' Wonga Wonga,' and scramble aboard ; but Mr. Buchanan was thrown

into the water and clung to the boat. The steamers directly stopped her engines and lowered her 1 oat and picked up Mr. Buchanan and towed the boat alongside the vessel where she was bailed out and put to rights. The only damage sustained being the loss of a pair of boots and a good ducking, Mr. Buchanan having been some minutes in the water before he was picked up."


1869 sees a momentum event for the young colony as the Queen's second son Prince Alfred Earnest Albert, Duke of Edinburgh visits New Zealand; the first royal visit to the colony. William Buchanan has by this time established himself into the circle of 'political and influential settlers'.

William Buchanan along with 19 other gentlemen of the City write a letter to the Duke requesting his stay in New Zealand to be extended so as to facilitate a meeting in Ngaruawahia with the Maori chiefs, this being a troubled times with the Waikato being the centre of the New Zealand wars.


In 1872 William Buchanan together with John Hay formed the Auckland and North Shore Ferry Company a business operating a growing fleet over the coming decade servicing not only Devonport but shipping to the Coromandel and other areas of the Hauraki Gulf.

Williams activity in local government began in this year with his election to the Provincial Council of the North Shore.


By 1876 the Ferry Company was growing and with the growth came the need for more ferries, a new paddle steamer 'The Tainui" was built locally at the Niccol & Sons yard and launched in 1875 with William's daughter, a young Martha Buchanan.

With this need for more ferries William took on the investigation of sourcing new ferries from England. Quotes had been received from Niccol and Sons for the sum of eleven thousand pounds. Whilst in England William visited many years and looked into the option of a ferry delivered from there for estimated costs totalling eight thousand pounds. This matter together with the question of the suitability of the expenses for his trip with a budget of five hundred pounds (equivalent to $45,000 in todays currency) lead to a shareholder meeting whilst William was in England which was extensively documented in the papers at the time. A key question raised was to the appropriateness of buying a boat from England rather than retaining the earnings of the company in the local economy.

These images represent the style of the paddle steamers of the time and are of such vessels in Auckland. The bottom right image shows these vessels which when ending their commercial lives were apparently dragged onto the beaches of Brown's Island and left to rot. Once of these ferries is the Tainui.

These images represent the style of the paddle steamers of the time and are of such vessels in Auckland. The bottom right image shows these vessels which when ending their commercial lives were apparently dragged onto the beaches of Brown's Island and left to rot. Once of these ferries is the Tainui.


The final two decades of Williams life were spent quietly at his home in Grey Street in Devonport. His obituary published in The Auckland Star on the 24th April 1900.


This afternoon the remains of Mr William Buchanan of Devonport were interred at O'Niell's Point Cemetery and was attended by a large number of the deceased's friends, many gentlemen belonging to the club going over to pay a last token of respect to the memory of a highly esteemed citizen.

Mr Buchanan arrived in the colony in the Joseph Fletcher as far back as 1857, and in the early days carried on business as a watchmaker and jeweller in Shortland Street. Later on he became a partner in the firm of Hay and Buchanan. For the last quarter of a century Mr Buchanan has lived a somewhat retired life. In the earlier years, however, Mr Buchanan filled various honorary public positions, being a member of the City Council, the Harbour Board, and at the time of his death was a trustee of the Auckland Savings Bank.

Mr Buchanan was one of the original founders of the old North Shore Ferry Company. About 2 & 1/2 years ago Mr Buchanan first began to fail, but during the last 3 months has been confined to the house. His illness commenced with a bad attack of influenza, from the effects of which he never entirely recovered. Dr Mackellar, assisted by District Nurses Williams and Laing, attended him in his illness. The deceased had reached the age of 66 years. He leaves a widow, daughter, and five sons. Mr A. Buchanan, solicitor, of this city, was the eldest son. Dr. Buchanan, another son, had the misfortune to arrive too late to see his father, being a passenger by the Mararoa, and was not released from quarantine soon enough to see his father before his death. During his many years residence in this city Mr Buchanan was highly esteemed on amount of his strict integrity.

Buchanan Street History

Turning from the history of William Buchanan back to Buchanan Street. It is likely that the street was established around 1870's. This section plan from 1850's shows the primary sections 20 & 20A which comprise Buchanan Street and Rattray Street, bordering Kerr Street to the North.

By 1890 the street and some of the earliest houses are details and the West side of the street has been divided into separate house sections. On the Eastern side of the street to the North and the corner of Rattray street the main property of number 18 shows clearly with what was at the time a large orchard surrounding the rear of the property.

The Southern section of Buchanan Street comprising the original section No. 20 was in part owned by Auckland Grammar School as shown in this map from 1900 when expressions of interest were sought for 50 year leases on the land.

The earliest photo of Buchanan Street is this 1920's picture taken from the side of Mt Victoria from Kerr Street looking south and showing the first five houses on the West side of the street all built around 1880 - 1990 from numbers 21 down to 13. In addition the original No.1 Buchanan Street is clearly seen as an imposing two storey property down by the waterside at the bottom on the street.


Th street was well documented through aerial images taken between 1940 and 1975 as per the following images


the hospitals of Buchanan Street

A common theme of the history of Buchanan Street is the medical services operated over the years. The lineage dates back to 1911 when Number 4 was operated as Greenhill private hospital between 1911 and 1918. 

Number 18 - Cotswold maternity hospital operated from 1919 to 1927 and then in 1925 Number 19 became Pentlands maternity hospital and operated in that form for over 50 years.

Pentlands was built originally in 1893 by James Mays - another early settler and significant family in Devonport in the 19th Century. James built Number 19 called Lowestoft at that time for his wife Kate.

The property is currently a family home.

James Mays was born in 1850 in Leicester, England. At the age of 8 he together with his older brother Oliver and 2 sisters and parents emigrated to live in Devonport. He started his career as an apprentice builder although in the 1880 he was seduced by the discoveries of gold in the Coromandel and it is likely that he made his fortune in this endeavour. He also met his wife Kate who came from the Coromandel area. In addition to Number 19 James also built Number 22 Buchanan Street. His older brother is well known in Devonport history being the first schoolmaster and later a councillor. James died in 1933.

The property at number 19 is shown in this picture from c. 1910 which shows one of the first cars in New Zealand - an Overland which apparently this car parked outside of number 19 was one of only 9 in the country at the time.

2018-03-12 16.17.42.jpg

The property at number 19 was extensive comprising two storeys and a large garden comprising a stables and also a fernery. The horse stabled in the back garden can be seen in this family photo of the Mays from around the same period with the three Mays children, Galdys, Earnest and Roy together with Slide the horse and Pero the dog.


The Pentlands maternity hospital was operational between 1925 and 1975, it was then used as an outpatient facility for community psychiatric patients before being returned in the 1980 to residential use initially as flats, and then in the 1990's a single family home.

It is hard to say how many New Zealanders started their lives at Pentlands but it would be many thousands (the name comes from the hills to the South of Edinburgh, the home of Sister Jessie Milne who ran the hospital for many years). 


Other Buchanan Street Properties

In researching this history of Buchanan Street a number of properties revealed some classic images from a bygone era.


I am enormously grateful to the following people for their contribution, support and hard work in researching and investigating the history of Buchanan Street.

Anna Clarke : Devonport Museum

Gail Lyons : Devonport Museum

Harvey Brahne: North Shore Archives

John Gore: 8 Buchanan Street former resident

Shaarina Taylor: 21 Buchanan Street

The history of Buchanan Street was written and presented by Alistair Helm who with his wife Nicola Gainsford and their three dogs live at number 19.