Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 33, September 1989
A FAMILY HISTORY - THE BROWNS AND THEIR BIKES
by B. Merle Binnie (nee Brown) Sept 1988
I was pleased to be asked to write something of the Brown family to which my father belonged. His name was Samuel Hutchinson Brown and he came to Waihi from Thames, his birthplace, in 1899, when he was 21, and he lived in Waihi for the rest of his life.
The Brown family of which my father was a member, came from Sheffield, England, not travelling to N.Z. all together, but in three stages between 1863-1870.
Mr. Samuel Brown, my fathers grandfather was born in 1820, and his family numbered 8 - 5 sons and 3 daughters - but three of the sons and one daughter died young. Two of his daughters married men named Donovan and Wild, and my father was in touch with these relatives.
The eldest son of Samuel was my grandfather Cyrus Joseph. Samuel settled in Victoria Street, Auckland, where he had an engineering business, and Cyrus spent his first years between Thames and Auckland.
The second son, Samuel Carey (known as "Uncle Carey") came last to N.Z. and brought with him Miss Mary Ann Dakin, who married Cyrus in 1870 and thus was my grandmother. They settled in Thames and stayed there all the rest of their lives.
Meanwhile, "Uncle Carey" in 1867, built the mill in Durham Street, Auckland, which has always been known as "Brown's Mill". It was solidly built of brick with no lining. The ceiling was very high and there was a large entrance where horse drays could bring grain inside. About 1900, some brothers named Smith took over the work, and in the 19530s they bought it. Later, they built a mill at Freeman's Bay and in recent years the old mill has been used as a Craft Centre. Uncle Carey lived in Sussex Street, Grey Lynn and became the first mayor of that suburb. He had five sons and five daughters but half of these did not marry, some dying young.
In Thames, my grandparents worked hard to make a good life for six children, three boys and three girls. Grandpa worked for years in an ironmongery business run byMr. James Renshaw. Being very handy he taught his sons to use tools and built them a fine workshop, putting in a lathe and other such things.
News came from Sheffield relatives of the new safety cycles, and Grandpa ordered some second hand ones for his sons. Later he ordered more to sell to willing buyers. His eldest son Isaac had been working as a plumber, but was very gifted in the use of tools, and Grandpa sent him to Sheffield to learn all he could of the manufacture of cycles. On his return he opened the shop known as Isaac Brown & Co., and soon was busy making cycles, which were known as "Hauraki" or "Eagle" models. They were so popular that soon Grandpa and the two other sons were all in the firm - other men also, including a clever man from Sheffield who later married Mabel, the youngest daughter. His name was Sidney Hobbis, a favourite of us all.
Unfortunately, Uncle Isaac took ill with appendicitis, and died, because in those days there was seldom an operation. This was tragic for family and business. He left a wife and 5 young children. The family decided to carry on the business in Isaac's name.
As years passed, it became too expensive to make their own cycles, and they then had them sent from England, beautifully packed in their separate pieces, in huge wooden crates. Busy days followed sorting the pieces, then making the cycles. A new shining cycle was a grand sight. In those days the price was under 10 pounds - i.e. 20 dollars. Of course they were not like today's cycles. They had a hand and foot brake, but no gears, and bell and lamp were extras.
Waihi was growing to its height and my father (another Samuel) was sent to open a shop there in Uncle Isaac's name. In 1899 the roads were still very poor, and Waihi a waste of dusty (or muddy) clay or fern. My father's shop was built on the piece of ground which is now the carpark of the Salvation Army. The shop had a high part at the back as it climbed the hill, so was a roomy place, and my father lived there while the house on the hill behind was built (it is still there). He was courting Rhoda Collier of Coromandel, but it was not easy to visit her. On a number of times he did it this way. Leaving Waihi on his bicycle as soon as the shop closed on Saturday, he would bike to his home at Thames and have a night's sleep. Rising early, he would bike on to Coromandel and spend the day with Rhoda, returning to Thames in the evening for another good sleep. In early morning he hiked back to Waihi in time to open the shop. All roads were metal, full of potholes, and plenty of small and larger hills.
They married in 1903 and lived in the Martha hill house, and it was there that my sister Gladys (later Mrs. Charles Gracey) and I were born. My mother was worthy of his love which never faltered all his lifetime.
My parents were great workers in the Baptist Church, and my father served on the Hospital Board for many years and on the Patriotic Committee during the 2nd World War.
Uncle Isaac's son Allan opened a shop in Paeroa for a while. The businesses expanded to sell gramaphones [gramophones – E], radios, prams, etc. Cycles became less needed as cars came in. My father was amongst the early car owners and started with a Ford. He loved his cars and used them to give people pleasure. He died in 1958 and my mother in 1960, in Waihi, aged 80 and 77.
The younger son of Cyrus, Uncle Edwin, carried on at Thames until retirement, when his son Stanley became manager. Of recent years, his son David (great grandson of Cyrus) has been running it, and the name has changed to Edwin Brown Ltd.
And now in 1988, "Brown's Mill" has been in the news, because it was demolished on August 5, without a permit. This does not concern the Brown family so I'll say no more, except that I wrote a letter to the "N.Z. Herald", and have since been asked to write this history. Much more could be said of them, but all I'll say is - 'Thank you if you have read thus far'.