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The Cyclopedia of New Zealand [Nelson, Marlborough & Westland Provincial Districts]



Brunnerton is situated eight miles north-east of Greymouth, occupies an important position on the West Coast, and is second only to Westport as a coal-mining centre. It was formed into a borough in the year 1887, and, as the scene of the oldest coalfield in New Zealand, it has played an important part in the coal industry of the colony. The Brunner coal seam was discovered by Mr. Thomas Brunner, a surveyor in the employment of the New Zealand Company. In 1844–5, in company with two Maoris, Mr. Brunner travelled from Nelson to Westland along the Buller river. From Westport he voyaged to Grey and up the Grey river, and discovered the celebrated coal seam on his way. His trip was a very arduous one, and, in fact, so dangerous that the Royal Geographical Society gave him its medal in acknowledgment of his services. Work at the mine was first commenced in the year 1864 by Matthew Batty and party, who were the first to lease it from the Nelson Provincial Government. Subsequently, a compauy from Ballarat, in Victoria, worked the mine for about four years, when its lease was cancelled. The property was then worked for some years by the Provincial Government itself, and in 1874 a lease was granted for twenty-one years to a Melbourne firm, on the usual rent and royalty, and with a stipulation that for the first few years there should be an annual output of 12,000 tons, until the maximum reached 30,000 tons a year. However, in six months the syndicate sold out to Messrs Kennedy Brothers, of Greymouth, and these gentlemen disposed of three-fourths of their interest to the Westport Coal Company and Union Steamship Company. The mine is worked by means of a tunnel driven into the face of the Paparoa range. The system of working is what is known as the “board and pillar” principle. The plant is ot the latest type in the world, and it is estimated that over 2000 tons of coal per week could, if required, be brought to the surface. For many years the men in the Brunner mine had been accustomed to work with naked lights, as the mine was regarded as being perfectly safe in that respect, but the appalling explosion which took place at 9.15 a.m. on the 26th of March, 1896, when sixty-five men and boys were entombed, proved the contrary, with a tragical emphasis still remembered throughout New Zealand. Since then new methods have been introduced. It is expected that the Wallsend mine, which has been idle for some time, may shortly (1905) be opened up again. Of late the borough of Brunnerton has passed through troublous times owing to the competition of Westport; a factor which has done much to stagnate local trade, and reduce property values. The borough of Brunnerton is divided by the Grey river, and connected by a fine bridge. The south side of the river is in the provincial district of Westland, while the portion on the northern side is in the provincial district of Nelson, but the entire borough is in the electorate of Grey. Brunner, Walsend, Dobson, and Stillwater are included within the boundaries of the borough. There are four churches; namely, Anglican and Presbyterian, with resident clergymen, and Methodist and Roman Catholic; and there are three State schools—one at Dobson, one at Taylorville, and one at Stillwater. The nuns connected with the Catholic church conduct a private school, which is well attended. Mails arrive from different parts of the coast four times daily, and the post office is rated page 582
Grave of the Victims of the Brunner Disaster.

Grave of the Victims of the Brunner Disaster.

third class. Brunnerton has a Masonic Lodge—Lodge Advance, New Zealand Constitution—and a lodge of the Order of Druids. Brunnerton is connected by railway with Greymouth and with Reefton, about thirty-eight miles distant. At the census of 1901 it had a population of 1572 souls.

The Brunnerton Post Office was established about the year 1878. A fair amount of work is transacted in money orders, Savings Bank, and in Government Life Insurance business. Mails close daily at 8 a.m., 12.45 p.m. and 4.55 p.m., and arrive at 8.15 a.m. 12.55 p.m., and 4.55 p.m.

The Brunner Railway Station is, on account of its intimate connection with the coal trade, one of the most important on the West Coast. It is seven miles from Greymouth, to which it despatches enormous quantities of coal. The station buildings contain the stationmaster's and clerk's offices, waitingrooms, and luggage office. There is also a large goods shed, and three passenger trains arrive and depart daily.

The Taylorville Public School is a substantial wooden building, capable of accommodating 300 or 400 scholars. The class rooms are lofty and well ventilated, and there is also a large well-fenced playground. The school is the principal one in the district, and the building is one of the best under the supervision of the Crey Education Board.

Mr. Edward A. Scott , Headmaster of the Taylorville school, was born in Northumberland, England, in the year 1864, came to New Zealand in 1874, and received his primary education in the school of which he now has charge. Mr. Scott's first appointment was that of teacher in charge of the No Town school, and he was afterwards second assistant at the Greymouth District High School. In 1887, he was appointed first headmaster of the Dobson school. He held that position for over nine years, and gained excellent results at each annual examination. In 1896, Mr. Scott was promoted to be headmaster of the Taylorville school—the second largest under the Grey Education Board. He holds a Dl certificate. Since the institution of scholarships by the Grey Education Board, Mr. Scott's pupils have been almost invariably successful in winning the coveted honour, and though he has now been more than twenty years in the Board's service not a single bad report has been recorded against him. Mr. Scott takes a keen interest in all that pertains to the welfare of his profession; he was president of the local branch of the New Zealand Educational Institute in 1897, and represented the district at the annual conference of teachers at Dunedin in the same year.

The Brunner Mines Sick and Accident Fund is maintained by a contribution of one half-penny on every ton of coal taken from the Brunner mine. It is paid by the company, and in case of any of the mine employees meeting with an accident, a weekly allowance of twelve shillings and sixpence is made from the fund, which was inaugurated in 1892. The Sick and Accident Fund and Grey Valley Accident Relief Fund are separate funds, and there is also the Grey Valley Medical Association, by means of which members paying one shilling and three pence fortnightly obtain medical relief for themselves and families.

The Grey Valley Accident Relief Fund , Brunerton. There are 260 members who pay a weekly subscription of sixpence each. When a member who has paid his dues meets with an accident, which unfits him for work, he receives an allowance of twenty shillings a week.

The Grey Valley Workers' Union . Registered address, Buck's Head Hotel. Taylorville, Brunnerton. The Union is managed by a president, delegates, and a committee of twelve. It was formed in the year 1896, immediately after the Brunner mine disaster, and is affiliated with all the trade and labour unions on the West Coast. Its objects are to raise funds for the protection of labour, and, as far as the light of science can make provision, to prevent loss of life and health amongst the workers. The subscription is one shilling a month. Half-yearly meetings are held on the first Monday in May and the first Monday in November.

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McIlroy, Alexander , M.B.C.M., Edin., Physician and Surgeon, formerly of Brunnerton. Dr. Mcllroy is now (1906) practising his profession at Lumsden, in Southland.

Buck's Head Hotel (Robert Russell, proprietor), Taylorville, Brunnerton. This fine two-storied building contains fourteen rooms, eight of which are bedrooms. The dining room is well appointed and capable of seating over thirty people, and the spacious billiard room contains one of Alcock's best full-sized billiard tables in excellent order. The proprietor, Mr. Robert Russell, is referred to in another article as chairman of the Greymouth Harbour Board.

Mr. A. F. Bruhn , who was formerly manager at Brunnerton for Hildebrand and Co., was born at Rutherglen, Greymouth. After leaving school, he entered the employment of Mr. Russell, butcher, Greymouth, and remained with him for nearly three years. He entered the service of Messrs Hildebrand and Co. in the year 1896, and was appointed to the management of the firm's Brunnerton branch (now closed) in the year 1898. Mr. Bruhn is now (1906) in business as a butcher at his native place, Rutherglen.

Armstrong Brothers (David Armstrong and George Armstrong), General Storekeepers and Bakers, Taylorville, Brunnerton. Bankers, Bank of New Zealand, Greymouth. This firm's business was founded in the year 1886, and was taken over by Messrs Armstrong Brothers in 1895. The premises are conveniently situated, almost immediately opposite the Wallsend-Taylorville bridge. Besides doing a good business as general storekeepers throughout the country districts, Messrs Armstrong Brothers claim pre-eminence for their bakery.

Mr. David Armstrong , the Senior Partner, takes the general management of the store, and attends to the buying and financial portion of the trade. He was born in Dumbartonshire, Scotland, in 1859. In 1874, he landed in Wellington, by the ship “Alexandria,” and followed various pursuits before going to the West Coast. For ten years, he engaged in mining at Westport and Brunnerton. During the existence of the Brunner volunteers Mr. Armstrong was captain of the corps.

Mr. George Armstrong , the Junior Partner, was born in Dumbartonshire in 1872, and came to New Zealand with his family two years later. He learned his trade of baker in Westland, and, later on, joined his brother in partnership. Mr. Armstrong is a member of the Order of Druids. Though he is still interested in the firm of Armstrong Brothers, he is now (1906) also engaged in business as a storekeeper at Cobden, and is mentioned in that connection at page 274 of this volume. His portrait appears at page 286.

Mr. Richard Johnston was born in Melbourne, Australia, in 1862, and came when a child with his parents to New Zealand. He was employed in the butchering trade at an early age, and has successfully continued in it. He was the principal butcher on the first Midland Railway works, and afterwards owned the leading business in Brunnerton, with a branch in Greymouth. Mr. Johnston takes a great interest in municipal and other matters. After the division of the Brunner Borough into wards, he stood for election for the east ward, against three well-known residents and was returned at the head of the poll by a large majority; and he was re-elected, unopposed, on three subsequent occasions. For some years he took an active part in volunteering; and is a Past Master in the Order of Freemasons. He afterwards removed from Brunnerton to Cobden.
Mr. Robert Alison , Manager of the Tyneside Coal Mines at Brunner, was born in Ayrshire, Scotland, educated in England and Germany, and served his time in the well known firm of Messrs Simpson and Wilson, of Glasgow, with whom he remained eight years. As an experienced mining engineer his knowledge was gained from Messrs Archibald Russell, of Lanarkshire, among the largest coalmasters in Scotland. Mr. Alison was assistant general manager at Hamilton, the firm's headquarters, and had charge of the sinking of three shafts, besides doing a considerable amount of work in opening up and developing the firm's numerous properties. He was engaged
Mr. R. Alison.

Mr. R. Alison.

in England by the London directors of the Greymouth-Point Elizabeth Railway Coal Company, Limited, to act as the Company's mining engineer at Brunnerton, where much that was profitable to the Company was done under his direction. The whole of the work of bridging the Grey river, laying the railway to Point Elizabeth, and developing the coal mine was carried out under his superintendence. The mine is now (1906) the property of the Government of New Zealand, and Mr. Alison is manager at the Tyneside mines in the Brunner district.