A brief history of Warkworth township

About Warkworth and its founder

Warkworth township, or Brown’s Mill as it was back in the day, had its beginnings in a water-powered timber mill. The proprietor, John Anderson Brown, was a key figure in both the local timber industry and the development of the area.

In 1853, Brown officially established Warkworth as a planned settlement, purchasing 153 acres of land for £69 and another 81 acres in his daughter’s name. He named the area after a Northumbrian village, “set splendidly on a loop of the river Coquette and crowned by a castle” and close to his birthplace.

One of the most flourishing towns in the province

An advertisement in the New Zealander on 27 May 1854, described the beautiful district of Mahurangi, 24 miles from Auckland thus: “Its fertile and majestically timbered lands; its splendid Agricultural and Grazing capabilities; its fine harbour; its rich possession of Nature’s scenic grandeur; its numerous respectable settlers; and indeed its almost innumerable recommendations.” The township, sitting at the head of the Mahurangi River, would become “one of the most flourishing towns in the province.”

Quarter acre lots were selling for £6-15 each, although initially, there was no great rush to buy.

warkworth township

John Anderson Brown

Born in Newcastle-on-Tyne in 1801, John Anderson Brown travelled to New Zealand in 1840.

“A tall, loose-made man, marked with smallpox scars and a pronounced squint, he was known for his fast, low talk in a Newcastle accent, and a missing finger on his left hand”.

Upon arriving in Auckland, he set up in business but he soon ventured northward.

Earlier histories

Māori had settled in The Mahurangi Harbour area since at least the 13th century. As Warkworth is the uppermost navigable point on the Mahurangi River, it was a crossroads between overland traffic and waka, known as Puhinui, referring to the river’s waterfalls.

Brown’s arrival

In 1843, Brown began squatting on land along the Mahurangi River. With two companions and a Māori crew, he set out in a whaleboat looking for a place to establish a sawmill. Rowing up the river as far as they could go, they reached the place where the Mahurangi Stream cascades into the tide. Given the ample timber supply, Brown decided this was a suitable site for a watermill.

By 1844, Brown’s sawmill was operational. A waterwheel fed from an upstream dam powered the mill which sat on the river’s western side. A flour mill was soon working on the opposite bank.

Streets like Mill Stream, Mill Lane, Brown Road, Palmer Road, and Millstream Place are reminders of the area’s early industries.

Warkworth Library

A northern hub

As Warkworth developed, it became a hub for timber and also shipbuilding. “A large and flourishing business was carried on at this time, and a very busy and animated scene there was all about the bank of the river.”

By 1859, Warkworth had its own post office and library, with Brown serving as its first postmaster.  1863 saw the establishment of the Mahurangi Highway Board. The Mahurangi School opened the same year. The Red Bluff Orchard that Edward Morrison planted in 1873 was one of New Zealand’s largest orchards by 1914, with some 250,000 trees.

The Warkworth Hotel

A thriving community

Brown was a devoted Anglican. Around 1860, he offered a site of three acres for a church. Christ Church was consecrated on 30 April 1876. However, Brown did not live to see it. He died at his home on 2 July 1867, at the age of 66, and was buried in the churchyard he had given. Bridge House Lodge, which sits on the site of John Anderson Brown’s home next door to the Warkworth Bridge, is the oldest surviving building in Warkworth.

The attractive and lively town of Warkworth today stands as a living monument to its founder, John Anderson Brown. His vision and efforts laid the foundation for a thriving community.