Edward Bartley

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Edward Bartley


Edward Bartley

Jerseyman Edward Bartley, who emigrated to New Zealand, was known in Auckland for his microscopes, as well as being a builder and architect responsible for some of the city's prominent 19th century buildings

Family background

Born on 23 February, 1839, at Union Court, St Helier, Jersey, to Robert Bartley and Elizabeth Benest, Edward Bartley was baptised at the Town Church on 17 March 1839, his sponsors being his father and Mary Ann Willis, a friend of the family. He was the tenth child of the family and, like many of his fellow parishioners, was a typical mixture of English and native Channel Islands stock.

Only five of the 12 children would survive to old age. Edward's eldest sister Harriet (baptised on 29 June 1823), wife of William Vonberg, died on 12 August 1846 in St Helier. Twin girls, born in October 1828, had both died in infancy. Another sister Jane (born April, 1831), married Charles Hamon and settled in St Helier.

Louisa (born in March 1835), remained a spinster and later lived with the Hamons at Colomberie and worked with them in the drapery business.

William (born in October 1832) died at the age of four and Julia, the ninth child, died on 5 February 1830, aged 13.

Sister Eliza is said to have married John Hawley and emigrated to Australia"'. While no record of this has yet been uncovered, photographs of her, taken in Castlemaine, Victoria, have survived.

Of the two children younger than Edward, Amelia would follow her brothers to New Zealand as Mrs Thomas Queree. Alfred remained in Jersey. He was 21 years old when he died in August 1866, a tailor's apprentice.

From about the age of 13 Edward worked with his father and brother, both of whom were master builders. By the time he left Jersey with his brother Robert's family, aged 15, he had acquired some work experience and the saleable skills of building and carpentry.

Auckland in 1857, when Edward was 18 and working for E J Matthews


Edward's father was due to retire. He died just a few years after their departure, in 1857. It seems likely that there was insufficient promise in the business to permit the eldest son to improve himself, let alone the younger boy.

The economy in Jersey was tightening by the 1850s and many were to choose the time-honoured means to self-improvement — emigration. Having made their plans well ahead for a departure from London in June 1854, the family must have felt their decision a timely one. In March of that same year, conditions in Europe deteriorated further, leading ultimately to the British declaration of war against Russia.

Edward went with his brother Robert to London. Robert's wife Esther Kerby, their small children, and their possessions went with them. The group sailed from there on 20 June 1854 aboard the Joseph Fletcher. As on a previous occasion, she was to carry some passengers and cargo to the settlement of New Plymouth before carrying on to Auckland.

After a reasonable passage of 115 days, they reached New Zealand on about 13 October. Auckland in 1854 was no sophisticated port settlement. In the absence of a wharf, the ships anchored in midstream. Passengers and goods were transferred to lighters and run ashore on to the beach to disembark. In some weathers this could be a hazardous and nerve-wracking end to a long sea journey, especially so for parents of young children who had been penned up for several months. From the beach, the fortunate acquired drays to transport themselves and their possessions further into the town, the usual disembarking point being approximately the corner of the present day Queen and Shortland Streets.


There was no shortage of building work in Auckland. More often scarcity of materials was a greater obstacle. Men with good training, who could quickly adapt to colonial methods, were desperately needed. Men who were not above dressing their own timber in order to get the job done. It was hard physical work that was waiting to be done and there was plenty of it.

Edward himself recorded his reminiscences of his first experience of this new environment:

"We landed on a Thursday and commenced work on the following Monday, our first employer being A Black, who was about to erect a building of five two-storey shops on the corner of Queen and Victoria Street East for J S McFarlane. We started by placing into position wood blocks for the foundations, after which we proceeded with the wood

framework, all of which work was so strange to us as joiners and so vastly different to the employment we had been accustomed to at home.

"There were no timber mills and therefore all the boards had to be hand planed and the tongue and groove worked by hand. This was termed 'flogging the boards' and I found it anything but easy work to be constantly employed at from 6 o'clock in the morning until 6 in the evening".

Choral society

There was still plenty of time for other interests. In 1856 Edward was among the founder members of the Auckland Choral Society. It may well be at those gatherings that he first met Elizabeth Hannken, his future wife.

By 1857 he was working with E J Matthews. Edward was now 18 years of age. That year they began work on the Mount Eden Gaol, under the supervision of architect Reader Wood. Edward noted the extent of liberty allowed to the prisoners labouring on the site and their enterprise, particularly a shoemaker who undertook repairs to the workers' boots, for which payment was lodged with the authorities for collection at the completion of his term of detention.

Militia Act

The 1858 Militia Act had divided the country into military districts and a system of ballot was introduced. Allowances were made, however, for men to substitute service in volunteer companies in satisfaction of their militia duties and a great number did so, enabling a continuation of business and trade while satisfying their obligations to the nation's defence. Edward became a member of the Royal Rifle Company of Volunteers. Establishing himself in steady employment in Auckland as a builder, he married in February, 1859.

Auckland Supreme Court Building

The following year was a tumultuous one, both at home and abroad. The first battle of the Taranaki Wars at Waitara took place in March. Tension peaked around the country. By 1861 Governor Browne was still making heavy weather of the crisis in New Zealand. It would be September before Governor Grey arrived in Auckland to take command. By this time the American Civil War was underway and the growing international tensions made it difficult for the Governor to press his case for further resources.

While all of this was well reported and debated in Auckland, building work continued steadily. The escalation of war assured it. Even the discovery of gold in Otago had not yet had an economic impact on the town, although wealth and influence were already moving inexorably southwards.

In 1862 Edward was now foreman for Mr Matthews and was engaged with his employer in demolishing the original St Paul's Anglican Church in Emily Place. Edward recalled that Colonel Mould of the Royal Engineers was the architect and the design was highly regarded. The colonel was a man of many talents. Active in the Taranaki, he returned to Auckland and set about organising recruitment, as well as supervising the provision of more satisfactory roads, so essential for improving troop movement to the Waikato. Edward now became Orderly-Sergeant of the No 5 Militia.

Wreck of Orpheus

The next year brought with it a great deal of tension and activity. It was, however, events on the sea, not land, which brought trauma and sadness to the town. Today it is difficult to appreciate the extent of the shock and grieving which affected Auckland when news came of the wreck of HMS Orpheus on 7 February. A subscription was immediately taken up in the town for the relief of personal hardship occasioned by the tragedy and the newspapers of the day gave considerable coverage to the event and its aftermath.

In his memoirs Edward wrote:

"I remember the wreck of the HMS Orpheus 7 February 1863, which took place on the Manukau Bar. The first we knew of the affair was by seeing drayloads of sailors being brought into Auckland. Commodore Burnett and 189 officers and men were drowned and for days after the wreck bodies were being washed ashore. Three officers succeeded in reaching the shore on a plank of teak from the wreck, and from this I made for them several mementoes such as picture frames, paper knives ... "

It was over the winter of 1863 that a war mentality began to characterise the Auckland community. Edward was ordered to the front that July, but his active service was short-lived. Eleven tradesmen were required to return to complete the Fort Britomart stores, as capacity was fast being outstripped by demand.

Mr Matthews and Edward, now aged 26, entered into a partnership in 1865 as Matthews and Bartley Builders. It was a difficult time for any new venture. The capital had been removed from Auckland in February, with the attendant loss of personnel and government contracts.

The goldfields of the south continued to pull people away to those areas of the country with more promise of wealth and few "native" concerns. The removal of the bulk of British troops was by now inevitable, no matter how much decried by the Auckland businessmen and speculators. The partnership, however, seemed fortunate in regular contracts. The Wesleyan Church in Pitt Street was one such, being completed and opened in October 1866. The Supreme Court building was another.

Auckland Savings Bank

Own offices

February 1870 saw Edward moving to a greater degree of independence with the lease of offices in Albert Street, on his own behalf. The Auckland Directory of 1873-4 shows that he had moved to Market Place by then, but still as a carpenter and builder.

On the evening of 9 April 1870 Edward laid aside commerce to pursue one of his cultural interests at the offices of Henry Partington in Queen Street. The occasion was the inaugural meeting of the Society of Artists. James Baker took the chair for the meeting, at which the following committee was proposed: J Baker, T Warner, T S Hall, T Symons, Dr F Wright, Mr Eastwood and E Bartley.

From then on meetings were regularly held, the next occasion using the YMCA premises as a venue, where an annual exhibition was proposed. A sub-committee was formed to organise the forthcoming event, informally styled "the Hanging Committee". The exhibition opened in February 1871. Edward's involvement was to continue for a number of years, both in his capacity as office-holder and as an exhibitor.

By 1871 he had settled in the North Shore district of Devonport. He built his family home, which still stands today, on the corner of Victoria and Calliope Roads. Bartley Terrace, which runs below the house, was named for him.

By the early 1880s Edward was working as a designer and architect in his own right. The Auckland Savings Bank building in Queen Street; the Abbott's Opera House; St John's Church Ponsonby; the Jewish synagogue in Princes Street; and the Holy Trinity church in Devonport are just some of his commissions in this period.

There was much in the Devonport district to attract his considerable energies, besides his career. Edward shared with other men of his generation a sense of duty to his fellow citizens. Such a philosophy was widely held, not just within his Masonic connections, but also as a virtue of the Victorian attitudes of service and charity to one's community. He served on the Devonport Roads Board from its first meeting in 1883 and progressed from there to the first borough council of Devonport in 1886.

From his earliest days in New Zealand Edward had been a supporter of the "eight-hour day" movement. He was also fully in favour of free, secular and compulsory education. He firmly believed it was the responsibility of the community to provide an opportunity for even the poorest to pass to highest qualification in his chosen trade or profession.

As a member of the Devonport Jubilee Committee he was instrumental in the opening of a new amenity in August 1887. The Devonport Free Reading Room was opened "to provide facilities for acquiring and disseminating literary and scientific knowledge". Edward was to demonstrate his microscope at this venue often, along with lectures and participation in various scientific societies and organisations held in the library or council chambers of an evening.


Edward served on the board of the Devonport School for 35 years and it was in a room of that school that he began his technical education classes for the boys of the district in 1891. Many young men were to learn there the skills of joinery, carpentry and technical drawing. In 1895 he broadened his educational interests to wider Auckland, as one of ten who attended a meeting on 2 October 1892 to establish the Auckland Technical School. The first meeting of subscribers was held in 1895 and the school was opened in Rutland Street by Sir Maurice O'Rork on 10 June 1895. This institution continues today as the Auckland University of Technology.

The Auckland Exhibition of 1898 was a marvellous occasion for the city. Edward served on the building committee and experienced further satisfaction from the exhibits. His technical school students collected first-class honours for a number of articles designed and constructed by them. In January 1899, as part of the Exhibition, Edward participated in the "Scientific Conversazione" at the Choral Hall. This evening of science and exploration gathered together over 100 microscopes and assorted instruments for the edification and enjoyment of the public. This extraordinary display was organised by Edward, along with Professor Thomas and Mr Petrie.

Edward continued in his career as architect in the new century, serving as vice-president of the Institute of Architects in 1902. In his later years, his sons carried on his contribution to Freemasonry, to the arts and music, and to community service.

After his death in Devonport in 1919, one of his microscopes was cared for by his grandson George F F Hartley. Now in the new millennium it is still treasured by a new generation of descendants.

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