tonks brick factory

Enoch Tonks's brick factory on Webb Street near Pukeahu. This photograph shows what the typical brick factory looked like in the 1890s.
Credit: Alexander Turnbull Library. Reference: 1/4-015511-F. Permission of the Alexander Turnbull Library, National Library of New Zealand, Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa, must be obtained before any re-use of this image.

From the 1860s until the 1950s Mount Cook boasted major brick-making sites, both at the prison and on surrounding streets, including Wallace Street (Hill Bros), Taranaki Street (Murphy Bros), Webb Street (Tonks) and Hanson/Tasman Street (Back/Overend). The hilltop provided a plentiful supply of clay for prison bricks. The Murphy Bros works continued on Taranaki Street until 1952, with their site now being Wellington High School’s playing field.

Prison bricks

Wellington city in 1899 with mt cook in the centre

Alexandra Barracks and Mount Cook Prison brick factory can be clearly seen in the centre of this photograph of Wellington City taken in 1899.
Credit: Alexander Turnbull Library. Reference: 1/2-104075-F. Photograph by Henry Elis Leopold Brusewitz. Permission of the Alexander Turnbull Library, National Library of New Zealand, Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa, must be obtained before any re-use of this image.

As the Mount Cook prison did not house any prisoners, the work making the bricks was done by prisoners from the Terrace Goal (now the site of Te Aro School), who were marched in irons through the streets each day.

The prison bricks, which were marked with an arrow, were reportedly ‘without equal’ and of ‘superb quality’. They were used in the many buildings on Buckle Street, including the 1894 police station, the 1907 Garrison Hall and the 1911 Defence Stores. Other buildings in the city that used the bricks, with the prison’s broad arrow concealed, include Turnbull House on Bowen Street and the interiors of Parliament house. The arrows can be clearly seen on the bricks used for the retaining wall on Tasman Street, which was built around 1900.

Closure of the brickworks

While many of the other brickworks closed or moved, the Mount Cook prison brickyard served until 1920. Before departing the site the prisoners had one last task on Mount Cook – to clear the brick kiln, gaolers’ quarters and workshop in preparation for the construction of Wellington Technical College.

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