“Warkworth is, after lying in a dormant state for nearly half a century, at last bestirring itself and judging by the traffic coming in from all parts of the surrounding districts and the new buildings going up, indications are that a progressive chapter has opened.” These words were written in 1901 and the report continued with a description of the large two storey store and dwelling under construction in the business street for the use of Civil Bros general storekeepers.
Henry and Elizabeth Civil, with their six sons aged one to 13 years, left Hexham, near Warkworth, England on 6 September 1882 for Plymouth docks where they boarded the sailing ship Peterborough bound for Australia. The steamer Rotomahana brought the family to Auckland from Sydney in 1883. After five years in the colony, Henry applied for land under the Homestead Act, and was granted 300 acres at Whangaripo, 10 miles inland from Matakana.
The steamer Maori brought George Civil and his brother William, both still teenagers, to the Matakana wharf with their horse and pack. From there, they walked to find the family land and, in a clearing surrounded by virgin forest, built nikau whares and prepared for the arrival of their parents and younger siblings.
It was some eight years later that the Civil family opened a butchery in Warkworth and soon afterwards acquired the store owned by J.B. Jordon on the opposite side of the street. The business prospered and in the new premises, built in 1901, were kept groceries, drapery, ironmongery, seed and boot departments, and on the west side was the butchery. Separate from this was a storeroom containing explosives and flammable goods. At the back and upper storey were seven large rooms fitted out as living quarters for George Civil and his family.
Advertisements appealed to customers for orders, which Civil Bros undertook to dispatch by steamer, coach, dray or packhorse to settlers in all parts of the district. With the coming of the railway to Kaipara Flats, a branch was opened there and another at Wayby. The expanding business gave employment to family members while others began new ventures. Fred Civil opened a sawmill and firewood business where the ANZ Bank stands today and in January 1921 Ray Civil, son of George, opened the Ford Motor Garage.
After more than 30 years of trading, it was announced in January 1927 that the general store known as Civil Bros had been sold to P.A. McDowell and so began another long association with Warkworth’s retail history.
The building, which was such a landmark in the main street of Warkworth, survived to serve as a stationery and bookshop, and the words Civil Bros in large lettering could still be seen on the top storey wall for many years. Eventually, in another “progressive chapter”, it could not escape demolition.