Story: Burnand, John Henry Davis

Page 1 - Biography

Burnand, John Henry Davis

1850–1919

Engineer, sawmiller

This biography was written by R. D. Stanley and was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand BiographyVolume 3, 1996

John Henry Davis Burnand (known as Harry) was born on 2 December 1850 at Paddington, London, England, the son of John Henry Burnand, gentleman, and his wife, Harriette Davis. The Burnand family emigrated to New Zealand, arriving in Nelson in the Royal Albert on 18 May 1853. They settled in Massacre Bay (Golden Bay), where Harry's father died on 4 March 1854. Two years later his mother married Henry Handyside, an engineer and surveyor who later became Nelson provincial engineer.

Burnand evidently served his apprenticeship as an engineer under his stepfather. He moved to Wellington in 1873, joined the Public Works Department and worked on the Wellington–Masterton railway construction project in the Hutt Valley. In 1880 he was an inspector on the Carterton section of the line and by 1881 he had moved to Kawakawa, Northland, where a railway was under construction.

By 1883 Burnand was the inspector of railway works on the Hamilton railway bridge contract. In his spare time he took an active interest in the social life of the town as a vocalist in many concerts and other entertainments, and was involved in both football and rowing. He moved to the remote King Country site of the Poro-o-Tarao railway tunnel construction project about 1886, again as inspector of railway works. Here he remained until 1891, and it was probably during this period that he made the acquaintance of his future business partner, J. W. Ellis, a storekeeper. In December 1889, together with a younger man, W. French, they made an adventurous trip down the Ongarue and Whanganui rivers in three canoes which they had built themselves at the tunnel site.

On 19 February 1891, at the Registrar's Office in Te Awamutu, Harry Burnand married Lily Hunter; they were to have three children. Later in the same year Ellis invited Burnand to join him in a sawmilling venture which Ellis had started at Kihikihi in 1886 and moved to Otorohanga in 1890. The business was faltering and the services of a competent engineer were badly needed. The offer was accepted and the Burnands moved to Otorohanga.

With the operational side of the sawmilling venture in competent hands, Ellis and Burnand began the expansion which would make it one of the leading sawmilling firms in the country. In 1903 it was registered as a limited liability company with headquarters at Otorohanga, the directors and major shareholders being Ellis, Burnand and businessman Henry Valder. In 1905 the headquarters was moved to Hamilton.

Burnand's role in the company was that of engineer and manager of field operations, based at first in Otorohanga and, after 1912, at Manunui, near Taumarunui. He surveyed and designed the many tramlines, bridges, tunnels, sawmills and other engineering works that were needed. In his spare time he continued his interest in music, becoming president of the Taumarunui musical society and a regular attender at the weekly rehearsals, as well as being a member of the church choir. He was also well known as a photographer and took many photos of the bush and the sawmilling operations.

Harry Burnand died suddenly at the company's bush camp at Mangapehi on 25 March 1919, survived by his wife, Lily, a son and a daughter. His younger son had been killed in France during the First World War. He was buried in Taumarunui cemetery and a memorial from his employees marked his grave. His obituary said of him that 'a heart of gold beat beneath a somewhat rough exterior' and described him as a genial, courteous gentleman who had been a considerate and kindly employer.