Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 11, May 1969

by Irene Brenan

Mr. Joseph Brenan, the founder of Brenan & Co., was recognised throughout the Thames Valley as a sterling and highly respected character. He was a keen participator in and patron of Sport - Rugby, Athletics and Racing - besides which he laid a sound foundation for the business that has expanded enormously over the past 80 years, to reach its present proud standing in the district.

Born in Dublin l86l, my father left London with his parents on the passenger ship "Ernestina," 1048 tons in Command of A. Fillan Esq., Lieutenant - R.N.R. They arrived in Judges Bay, Auckland 19th Feb. l865 after a voyage of 109 days, this being considered a remarkable trip [remarkably quick? – E]. The rebel Chief Te Kooti was then on the warpath, and all passengers were escorted with a Military Guard to the Albert Barracks (now Albert Park). They had to live within the Barrack Walls. After the surrender of Te Kooti he was detained in the Howe Street Barracks. My father spent his childhood in the residential quarters there when his father was Hon. Manager, but after the pardon and release of Te Kooti the Brenan family moved to a new home in Ponsonby. After leaving school he served his Apprenticeship with Messrs. Gee & Potter, and later worked for Cousins & Atkin., Coach and Carriage Builders, being employed mainly as a spring specialist.

Mr. Brenan visited Paeroa several times before deciding in 1889 to purchase the farrier business of a Mr. Jackson, his first shop being in Belmont Rd. In March l890 this property was purchased by the opposition farriers and he carried out his trade in the open till October when the late Mr. Wm. Nicholls lent him money to build a new smithy in Normanby Rd. This was enlarged in 1892. During this period my father entered the Transport line of his business through force of circumstances, for he took over the Carrying Business of two of his clients. In 1910 the shop was pulled down and the blacksmith, spring and wheelwright buildings were re-erected and enlarged on the property purchased from Mr. W. Phillips in Belmont Rd., William St. and Marshall St.

Editor's Note: When Mr. Brenan settled in Paeroa, he brought with him his wife and their first son Philip. The family lived for some years in Willoughby St. but in 1911 a new house (later Park View Hospital) was built in King St. Other children were our contributor Miss Irene Brenan who worked for the firm for some years but now lives in Auckland and is a Director of the company; Eric, who died in l891, and Sgt. Errol Lyndon Brenan who was killed in Flanders in 1917.

Mr. Philip Brenan who took over the reins controlling the firm during the 1st World War was a very capable man with great natural courtesy. Educated at Paeroa and later Kings College, he was an outstanding sportsman and took a keen interest in local body affairs. A foundation member of the Paeroa Borough Council in 1915, he was Mayor from 1919 until 1925 and served on the council until 1958.

The story of Brenan & Co. will be continued in our next Journal, but here we include some reminiscences by men who were employees in the firm's early days.

The late Mr. Ernie Moore who died last year related some of his experiences with the firm which he joined in 1910 being apprenticed to the wheelwright and body-building section. He said:-

At that time there was a very capable man named Dick Faul employed as a wheelwright. He was a little hunch-backed chap of wonderful vitality, and the perfect tradesman. He taught me to build wheels and they had to be finished like furniture - or else! Also employed as a carriage builder was a man named "Nadger" Sorensen, grandfather of two men now employed by the firm, Dee and Joe Mathieson.

At this stage Brenan & Co. had about 35 horses and their job was to convey goods arriving by boat or train for outlying districts. The company specialised in heavy transport, carting heavy machinery to the mines at Komata, Karangahake, Waikino and Waihi. These horse-drawn vehicles were specially designed by the efficient staff. Six-wheeled vehicles were a common sight in those days, carting loads up to 20 tons on 6 inch iron tyred wheels built by the company. We had to light a fire in the back yard to get the iron tyres hot to place on the wooden wheels. When they were in position they were cooled with water from a hose or bucket.

In the days of horse-drawn vehicles there was great competition especially at the A. & P. Shows. I was told by Mr. Joe Brenan to build a rubber-tyred sulky, to be varnished in the natural wood and all iron work to be matched in colour. This sulky was for none other than that good horseman, Maurice Crimmins who was a very popular man in this sport. There was not a more pleasantly surprised man than myself when I received a telegram from New Plymouth stating that the combination received first prize.

Then came the farewell to the horse; and horse-drawn vehicles so the existing buildings had to be altered to house motor vehicles which were mostly Dennis trucks with solid tyres.

Mr. L.J. Shaw, a former Mayor of Paeroa, joined the staff of Brenan & Co. in 1915 as an office boy, later going to the blacksmiths shop, striking for a while and then to the body-building shop where he worked for 5 years.

"Joe was an astute and tough old gentleman, always 'on the ball'," he said. "He was very fair in his dealings with the men and a good worker himself. I remember a contract he had for carting logs from the kauri bush at Waitawheta. They were hauled by tramline to Owharoa Station and thence travelled by rail to Paeroa and tramlined to the Junction Rd. jetty, where they were made into rafts in the river and taken to Auckland. Another contract was the carting of coal from the Paeroa railway siding (about where Jetten Engineering Works are now) down Junction Rd. by tramline and across the Maori Flat to the gold extraction works on the bank of the Ohinemuri River.

All the trucks and equipment were made by Brenan & Co., the coal lorries being specially designed with a triangular shaped frame down the centre. They were loaded by hand but were self-unloaded. As the hinged sides were dropped the coal would shoot off the centre frame. In 1919 I left the body-building shop and took on driving a five-horse team, mainly on deliveries of heavy goods to outlying districts.

The company also had a contract with the Northern Steamship Co. which ran a daily (usually nightly) service between Auckland and Paeroa. The two ships engaged were the Waimarie and the Taniwha which berthed at first at the Puke Wharf above the site of the bridge, but when this was built, the Ngahine Wharf below the bridge was used, and the daily cartage from these wharves was considerable. I remember that Brenans then owned a hearse which was often driven by my brother Reg. or by George Neil, who also drove the last horse-drawn team in 1928, but by then the firm already had 5 Dennis Motor Lorries, a Jeffrey and the first pneumatic tyred International on the road."

Mr. J.P. Sinnet recalls - "My first memories of Brenan & Co. go back some 50 years when my father as a teamster and later as a truck driver, worked for the firm. My elder brother served his apprenticeship as a blacksmith and worked beside Charlie Gosper, Dick (Silver King) Chamberlain, Ernie Moore, and the Sim brothers, Norman and Bert, "Blazer" Winter and Alec Armour, all of whom were blacksmiths, wheelwrights and coach painters. Joe Brenan, senior, had his own forge and worked each and every day with his staff."

Mr. John Carlton referred to Brenan & Co's branch at Karangahake where he and the late Mr. George Dent were in charge. "Brenan's established the branch to transport coal from the railway station to the power-house at the Talisman Mine. It was hard work as all the coal had to be shovelled by hand into the big tip drays which had extra high sides. Each one held about three tons of coal and was drawn by three heavy draught horses. George and I would deliver eight loads a day and five on Saturday. On occasions we had to get shingle from the river and load it on to the railway trucks for delivery in Paeroa."

We deeply regret that MISS BRENAN has died in Auckland, since this article was typed. She spent all her early life in Paeroa and was very happy to help us.

[see part two in Journal 12: Brenan and Company continued - E]

Our Contributor - Mrs. Thelma Crimmins (nee Clarkin) was born in the district and after an absence of some years returned in 1928 when she married the late Bill Crimmins the eldest son of Maurice so well known as a Coach driver. A very public spirited person, she has been the Paeroa representative on the Thames Hospital Board for the last 10 years.