What’s in a Name – Grey Lynn

While looking at the history of Grey Lynn Volunteer Fire Brigade, I soon cottoned on to the fact that it started out as the Newton Brigade, named after Newton Borough which it originally served. This caused a little confusion , with two other brigades often referred to as “Newton” and/or “Karangahape” , first a volunteer station near Howe Street on Karangahape Road (March 1869 – November 1878) and then City Brigade’s out-station, in Hereford Street, (1886 – 1902). These, in the district we now refer to as Newton, probably had better claim to the name “Newton”.

I was not the only one confused: back in the day the Newton Borough Council decided to change the name of the emerging suburb to make things clear. But not without a struggle to find a suitable title.

Newton Borough Council

The new Council of Mayor Robert Warnock and 9 councillors had its first meeting on 14th December 1885, when it confirmed John Currier as Town Clerk, attended to administrative matters and resolved to meet weekly while it was getting established, then fortnightly. The borough included Surrey Hills, Richmond and the Reed brothers’ farm.

Robert Taylor Warnock
The Cyclopedia of New Zealand – NZETC

Robert Taylor Warnock, co-founder of Warnock’s soap and candle factory, came to the mayoralty in the transformation from the Newton Road Board where he had been Chairman for 13 years, so he was well known in the district and well-experienced in local politics.

At subsequent early meetings councillors decided such things as development plans for Surrey Hills (a subdivision near today’s Surrey Crescent), the levels for roads, installing water pipes, street lighting, putting in drainage systems, and works such as a new swing bridge across Cox’s Creek – as well as administrative, licencing and statutory matters.

The fledgling Newton Council also attended to other important matters such as dog control, collection of night soil, signs for street names, straying cattle, public health matters and building regulations.

In June 1886 the Council’s novel proposal asked the Government to create a loop railway line from the Auckland to Kaipara/Helensville northern route so that the Borough would be served with a station in the new Surrey Hills Estate. “Fully 30,000 people would benefit,” the Council canvassed: the Government replied the suggestion would be kept in mind. “… just in case the line was routed around Newton way”.  It never eventuated: but more than 130 years later a loop is being constructed, although it will not connect anywhere near Surrey Crescent.

Council suffered losses in a fire which consumed St George’s Hall, in which it had established its offices. The blaze also took out 4 shops. The City Fire Brigade had no need to assist, the fire being beyond its boundary, but it attended only to find the flames had a hold on the whole place. Brophy’s Star Hotel was threatened, said to have been saved by several jets the firemen put up. The Council decided to invest in a safe in which to keep records, etc. There was no mention at the time that the Borough should have a fire brigade: lack of a water supply in most of streets probably ruled it out. But a brigade was formed in January 1899, 6 men and a manually-dragged hose-reel, to be housed in a fire station soon to be built on the apex of Williamson Avenue and Rose Road.  It would be shared with the Borough Council: its new headquarters in offices above the fire station. (The building survives).

Newton Fire Station (left of building) and Council Chambers above, c1890, Daniel Manders Beere – Alexander Turnbull Library

Choosing a new name

The next chapter for the Council was a change of name.

Choosing a new name, and having it approved, had not been straight-forward. In May 1898 the Newton Borough Council grew weary of confusion with the nearby Newton Ward of Auckland Council and looked for a new name. “Pukeroa” and “Opou” were suggested but the likes of “Surrey Hills” or “Surrey Town” were favoured by some councillors because, they said “we’d be lost with a maori name”, but then again there was already the Surrey Estate which might lead to further confusion.  “Richmond” also got a look in, along with “Windsor”, “St Leonards”, “Martin”, “Ranfurly” and “Westbourne”. “Windsor” was a favourite and was left in abeyance while more thought was given. But postal officials turned down “Windsor” because it was “already in use”.

“Westville” Chosen – Others Preferred

In June 1898 “Westville” was picked.  “Get it gazetted immediately”, said the new Mayor Stephen Ambury, probably tired of discussing the new name, and well he might be…. but by July, second thoughts. “Surrey” was now preferred, but disallowed by officials. Turning back to a Maori name, in October “Moekau” was mentioned (was this a prankster’s suggestion?) along with “Onslow” to remember Lord Onslow, Governor of New Zealand from 1889-1892. In November “Whareou” (Maori for ‘new town’) was finally selected and sent off for gazetting, but it, too, was ruled out. “It’s not a true maori word,” said the officials in Wellington, “and we suggest the Council consider the names “Tokaroa” and “Te Rehu”, noting that the latter is the real maori name for the district”.

A Decision

Late in 1898 Councillor Samuel Brown spoke up, suggesting Sir George Grey, twice Governor of New Zealand and for several years parliamentary member for Newton, should be remembered in the district’s name and he suggested the coined“Grey Lynn”, “Lynn” meaning dwellings near a torrent or stream. Apt when you think of the stream running into Cox’s Creek.

Sir George Grey: not universally liked as Governor but gave his name to the suburb, Hanna Studio – Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, 346-A13113

Sir George had died in London in September 1898 so his memory was still to the forefront. Despite a little political-type discussion over embracing the name of the former Governor in this way, it was adopted and in January 1899 officials accepted Grey Lynn, to take effect from 16th August 1899.

Thus, the name Grey Lynn was born. The then mayor, John Wisdom Shackelford, said the sign on the windows of the council chambers would be changed and so would the Council’s Seal. “We must do all we can to publicise the new name, bringing it into prominent use, accepting there will be some difficulties”.  Among those changing names was the Grey Lynn Volunteer Fire Brigade which, for not even a year since its formation, had been known as Newton Volunteer Fire Brigade.

The Grey Lynn Borough Council ceased as a local authority when, in 1914, it amalgamated with Auckland City. The name endures for the suburb, and for many local entities, while for many years in the past it was also the name of a Parliamentary Electorate.




Papers Past, National Library of New Zealand

Minute Books: Newton Borough Council and Grey Lynn Borough Council


RCC 10/2018