Story: Adams, Luke
This biography was written by Gail Lambert and was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand BiographyVolume 2, 1993
Luke Adams was born on 21 May 1838 in Fareham, Hampshire, England, the son of William Adams, a brickmaker, and his wife, Jane Barber. After serving an apprenticeship as a potter, Adams married Sarah Jane Churcher at Newchurch, Isle of Wight, on 15 July 1860. They had three sons and a daughter before Sarah died in childbirth in 1870. Luke married Mary Annie Stow at Fareham on 29 May 1871; they were to have four daughters and four sons.
Plagued by ill health from a lung condition, and with many small potteries in Hampshire and other nearby counties closing down, Adams accepted a position with William Neighbours at his brickworks in Christchurch, New Zealand. He left England on 2 June 1873 aboard the Punjaub with his wife, Mary, the four children from his first marriage and Mary's first child, Edith Martha. There were about 30 deaths during the voyage and Edith, aged 15 months, died of measles. The family arrived in Lyttelton, New Zealand, on 20 September and disembarked about a month later, after being quarantined at Ripapa Island. They settled at Sandhills (Brooklands) near the Styx River.
In 1875 Luke Adams left Neighbours to return to his real craft as a potter. He took up a position with Austin, Kirk, and Company, owners of Farnley Brick and Tile Works, producing domestic wares. Six days a week he rode over 10 miles across country to the factory where he worked a 10-hour day. In 1881, when the company closed their pottery-making section, Luke Adams purchased surplus moulds and plant, and rented a property in Carlyle Street. The family moved to Sydenham and with help from the three sons of his first marriage, William, Albert and Francis, Adams built a kiln and established Luke Adams Pottery. Within a year the site was sold and the firm was forced to move. Assisted by William Neighbours, with whom he had remained firm friends, he built a kiln and workshop in Colombo Street, Sydenham. An old house and shop already on the premises became the family home until 1965, when the business was sold to Consolidated Brick and Pipe Investment.
Although described as a quiet man who did not go out very often, Luke Adams was actively involved in the business community and attended St Saviour's Church in Sydenham. He was a member of the Industrial Association of Canterbury (later the Canterbury Manufacturers Association), the Canterbury Agricultural and Pastoral Association, and was the proud winner of numerous awards for pottery from various exhibitions and shows, including an award in the 1880–81 Melbourne International Exhibition and a bronze medal at the Colonial and Indian Exhibition in London in 1886.
Luke Adams died in Sydenham on 24 February 1918, and Mary Adams died in 1936. Adams was a skilled potter who could hand-throw a six-gallon pot weighing more than 26 pounds and standing 20 inches high on the wheel, a feat requiring great skill and strength to execute. His achievements in the New Zealand clay industry are notable. His firm created a tradition in domestic colonial pottery and in the field of art and design. After his death the family carried on the business, which was successful for 84 years. Luke Adams and his family had the ability to recognise and adapt to a changing market – a combination which deservedly earned the company the record as the longest-operating pottery in New Zealand.