The Inside Story – tales behind the names in Massey.

We often don’t give a second thought to the stories behind the names of our roads, schools, creeks and more, but delving into the history of Massey I have unearthed some interesting facts and anecdotes.

The suburb itself was named in 1915 after one of New Zealand’s most significant politicians, the then Prime Minister William Ferguson Massey (1856-1925).  Prior to that, the sparsely populated area was known as Lawsonville, after settler John Lawson who had an orchard by the creek that also bears his name.

Elizabeth Freeman (nee Gregory), who was born in Lawsonville in 1898, described it as, “wilderness, supporting a few cottages…a windswept, low [manukau] scrub desolate area, the ground being exceptionally poor”. Lawson’s Creek was home to a number of gum diggers who built simple whare on its banks. Read an 1889 New Zealand Herald article reporting the fate that befell one such man.

English settler John Henry Colwill (middle row, second right) who started a typewriting and supplies business in central Auckland in the late 1890s would later make his mark on the area.

In the early 1900s the successful businessman turned his sights turned towards the west and purchased approximately 1,500 acres in the area that would become Massey. He established Lincoln Park Orchards, offering a home delivery service and the opportunity to sample fresh fruit at his city office, Colwill Chambers, Swanson Street, and built a house on land he named Lincoln Park Estate. Lincoln Road, Henderson, and Lincoln Heights School reference these.

In Massey East Colwill’s surname has informed a road and a school, while Moire Road is named after his daughter. It is believed that Royal Road has its origins in the Royal Barlock typewriters he imported from England and his launch Waimumu, on which he travelled from the city to his rural property, is referenced in a road of the same name.

A man from Madeira known as Don Buck (real name Francisco Rodrigues Figueira), ran a gum diggers’ camp on his land near the Swanson Stream at the bottom of what is now Don Buck Road. The camp came to the attention of the authorities following a death in 1912 (read the New Zealand Herald article about it here) and the following year it was inspected by the District Health Officer, as reported here. Despite the reputation of the camp, locals evidently found Don Buck to be a gentleman.

He is recognized with a reserve, a road and a school bearing his name. Local historian Marianne Simpkins has written a poem about this colourful character, a copy of which hangs in the Massey Library. At the West Auckland Research Centre you can listen to Marianne’s interviews with several locals who had tales to tell about the man from Madeira.

Massey started its development as a commuter suburb after the North West Motorway extension in the late 1950s and opportunities arose for families to subdivide, e.g. the Sturm’s orchard property on Royal Road came up for sale in 1966:

Sturm Avenue today:

Dairyman Mr Spargo worked for Colwill and also had a small farm on Royal Road. One of the first roads (clay, unsealed) to be constructed in Massey after Royal, Colwill and Moire Roads was named after him.

The McWhirter family farm is currently being developed; roads and residential property are rapidly transforming the landscape. McWhirter Farm Lane, off Westgate Drive, references the family and part of the farm is earmarked as a Special Housing Area by Auckland Council.

I've only scratched the surface of the stories behind the names, so if you have any insights please feel free to share them in the comments below.

Find out more about Massey in these Auckland Libraries’ resources:


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