Settler Kaponga 1881–1914 — A Frontier Fragment of the Western World
In the early 1890s, as they read their Farmer and watched factory dairying develop around them, Kaponga's more established settlers must have been quite frustrated by their growing awareness of the changing markets and new technology that were creating an international trade in dairy produce. The main importer was Britain, whose farmers could not meet the demands of a steadily growing population and rising living standards. To enter this market one needed to shift from home manufacture, with its dubious quality control, to factory manufacture using new technologies and water or steam power.
Robert Cleland (c. 1851–92) as a prosperous Lower Hutt grocer c. 1886, with six of his children
(to his left Fred, Lena and Norman; to his right Harold (mounted), Tom and Hugh). In 1893,
doubtless with careers for the seven sons in mind, the family settled in the Toko district,
Taranaki, where Robert died suddenly six months later
Catherine Cleland née Burt (c. 1849–1941). Concerned at Toko's poor roads, her husband
Robert bought a farm on upper Manaia Road, and was about to move the family there.
Newly widowed Catherine and her nine children carried the project through and had a major
input into the district's farming. On the founding of the Dairy Co-op Harold had the largest
In 1881 the New Zealand government showed its awareness of dairying realities by offering a £500 bonus for the first satisfactory export of 25 tons of butter or 50 tons of cheese ‘produced in a factory worked on the American principle’.2 Alert Kaponga settlers of the early 1890s would have noticed that northern hemisphere dairy production lagged ever further behind demand, with American exports declining due to a growing local market. The development of refrigeration made the hungry British market available to the southern hemisphere. A Star editorial of 20 July 1892 summed things up. Britain's annual butter imports were now worth £13 million, her cheese imports £2.5 million. New Zealand's reputation on this page 133 wide-open market was being spoiled by the dumping of ‘inferior mixed butters’. Meanwhile Canada was establishing a good name for its cheese, a remarkable farmers' co-operative movement in Denmark had won a fine name for its factory butter, and across the Tasman Victorian farmers, with state encouragement and supervision, had entered the market with great success. Observant Kaponga folk were aware that to succeed on this market New Zealand dairying must learn from its rivals. They also knew that there were snags to be removed at every step from their bush clearings to the British markets. Before we follow the fortunes of Kaponga factory dairying let us look at some of those snags in the local scene.
Many of our new settlers are bachelors and do a little milking-five to fifteen cows. The storekeeper's visiting days are well known, so churning is the order on night or morning prior to his expected visit. The butter is placed unwashed and unsalted in a milk pan on the table of the whare, with a note alongside stating requirements for the next visit. Should rain set in (which unfortunately, often occurs), the storekeeper's visit is put off until the following week. The pan of butter in the meantime is stowed away, say under a trunk or some other unsuitable place, unwashed, unsalted, and no more thought about till the next churning. Eventually, the storekeeper's boy comes along, takes the new and old churnings, crams the same into a flour sack, and slings it with other lots into the bottom of the spring cart. Rain, mud, dust. or sunshine-all are equal to the lad, or butter. Arriving at the mixing room, the day's collection is pounded together, washed, sorted, put up in questionable kegs, and shipped to our home consumers.
But even this was not the worst. In 1892 recently appointed government dairy instructor Carl Sorensen* wrote that some Taranaki factories were ‘a disgrace to the colony’.
Several unscrupulous shippers collect all the dairy-made butter they can lay hands on at prices varying from 4d. to 7d. per pound. This is taken to what they dignify by the name of a factory, placed on a butter-worker, blended into a quality of uniform colour and texture, or, rather, want of texture packed in nice-looking kegs or boxes, branded ‘_____ Factory Butter,’ ‘Separator-made,’ or with similar false and misleading terms, whereupon it is sent Home to throw disgrace on the name of New Zealand shippers, and prejudice English shippers against New Zealand butter.
But the genuine factory producer had not only to overcome the British prejudices arising from these practices. His own product might well be compromised before reaching the refrigerated hold of the steamer. In 1890 Newton King, as president of the Taranaki Chamber of Commerce, told a parliamentary committee of the great difficulty Taranaki folk had in getting butter onto ships in Wellington, either by rail or coastal page 134 ships, without its being allowed to melt somewhere en route.3
We have already seen how in the late 1880s Henry Davy and William Hutchinson took the first steps towards Kaponga factory dairying by acquiring separators and taking milk from a few neighbours. In the early 1890s several others followed their lead, though the 1889–91 gap in the Star files makes it difficult to establish the details. Two newcomers among them were able to bring important Old World experience to Kaponga. We noted the Farmer's report of a Mr Candy, ‘a first-class dairyman’ among the 1891 ‘influx of South Island dairymen’ to south Taranaki. In fact four Candy brothers migrated to south Taranaki at this time, and two of them, William Ernest (1863-?) and Henry (1869–1963) took over sections on lower Palmer Road and began Kaponga's first cheese-making in a little factory they erected on the Kapuni River. They were sons of Charles Benjamin Candy (1825-?), a Somerset farmer who emigrated to Canterbury in 1860. For many years he was the chief prizewinner for cheese at the Canterbury A & P Show and in 1886 won the first prize for cheese at the Colonial and Indian Exhibition in London.4
This family was distantly related to C.F. Candy (c. 1834–1917), who was recruited in 1882 for Lincoln Agricultural College as an Old Country expert in cheese manufacture. Some of C.F. Candy's children migrated to south Taranaki and he spent his last 16 years in Kaponga with his daughter, Mrs Kime.5 After seven years on Palmer Road William Ernest and Henry Candy sold out and returned to Canterbury.6 Through them Kaponga dairying had an early link with Somerset's cheddar cheese tradition. Through Carl Sorensen it gained a similar early link with Danish butter factory tradition. While a government dairy instructor Sorensen wrote a valuable report on New Zealand factory dairying, emphasising what it could learn from the Danish experience.7 After less than a year he resigned to set up a small butter factory powered by the Kaupokonui River. The site was on Manaia Road opposite the Kapuni school, just north of Skeet Road. In June 1894 a Farmer reporter found Sorensen using his water power to turn two De Laval separators with a combined capacity of 660 gallons an hour. Sorensen returned to government service in October 1895.8
The sources are not altogether clear about Henry Davy's little factory, on Eltham Road just east of the township, powered by the Waiokura Stream. The 1891 Star Almanac lists Davy & Falkner as proprietors and J.D. Hurley as manager. However, it was commonly referred to as ‘Hurley's factory’ so it is possible that Hurley was a partner as well as manager.9 All is also not clear with a venture reported in the 30 June 1892 Star. On his Manaia-Opunake Road corner property F.W. Wilkie was busy extending his sheds and yards with a view to milking 100 cows over the coming season.
It is currently reported that Mr. J.D. Hurley intends putting up a separator on Mr. Wilkie's property … to separate the milk and take the cream and work it up at his factory at Kaponga. Mr. Hurley intends driving the page 135 separator by water power obtained from the Kaupokonui river, laid on with pipes, the latter arrangement being rendered necessary through having the Opunake road to cross.
The sources do not tell us whether this venture proceeded, and if so whether Hurley acted alone or in partnership with the storekeepers. Later in 1892 Hurley erected a small factory out to the west at Punehu (modern Te Kiri). A further venture of 1892 was the successful founding of a factory at Rowan by J. Crockett, initially for the milk of 300 cows. This venture finally merged with the Kaponga Co-operative Dairy Factory Company in 1898 and became a creamery.10 In the winter of 1894, when Kaponga's recently acquired L & M creamery closed for the season, A.J. Craddock bought a hand separator for the milk of the 60 cows on his Manaia Road farm. He did not rejoin the creamery for the new season but turned to cheese-making. Whether he took in any neighbours' milk is not known.11
Before moving on to the large concerns let us sum up the significance of this intermediate stage of small neighbourly ventures. They certainly showed the district the advantages of the new technology of the centrifugal separator. It saved much labour over the old pan-setting method and took out all the cream instead of only three-quarters. These small entrepreneurs must have benefited their suppliers financially and deepened the hunger for more ambitious ventures. They will also have encouraged the necessary higher standards of hygiene. They demonstrated ingenuity and initiative in using the local resources of wood and fast-flowing streams to creat waterwheels to run their separators. One would like to know more about their co-operative arrangements with their neighbours and their marketing. They probably sold to the storekeepers, giving them the problem of handling the disparity between this superior product and the curious mixture coming from the old-style dairies.
We turn now to the Loan and Mercantile's Mangatoki venture. The factory's jubilee booklet gives the credit for initiating the venture to John Stevenson, the L & M's Wanganui manager, and Mahoe farmer David A.L. Astbury.* Astbury had seen press reports that Stevenson's firm was prepared to erect or finance factories and wrote to him suggesting that Mangatoki might be a suitable area. Eltham storekeeper C.A. Wilkinson had built the Mangatoki factory in 1891. ‘Marksman’ of the Yeoman (7/3/91) described it as ‘one of the most complete establishments of the kind I have yet seen’ but unfortunately Wilkinson's backers did not fulfil their guarantees, forcing him to close down. The factory passed into the hands of Chew Chong, who sold to the L & M. The Farmer of July 1896 described the new venture's beginnings under manager Andrew McWilliam:
The Somerset Connection. Charles Benjamin Candy (c.1825–1905) and Emily née Saxby
(c. 1827–1917) and family on their 50th wedding anniversary, 22 March 1905. William Ernest
(1863-?, 2nd from right, back row) and Henry C. (1869–1963, on right of front row) farmed
on lower Palmer Road. The oldest son, Frederick (on right of back row) farmed near Manaia
1891–1902. Charles Britten (2nd from left, back row) farmed at various places in south
The Scandinavian connection. A de Laval centrifugal cream separator. The Dane Carl
Sorensen and other pioneers were using this Swedish invention of 1878 in the Kaponga district
by the late '80s and early '90s. A similar drawing, printed from a rather battered plate,
illustrated an advertisement in the NZ Farmer through the 1890s
This gentleman, who we may mention is by birth a Creole of St Croix, and by upbringing and education a Scot of Galloway, brought with him to his task theories and experience gained in one of the most successful dairy undertakings in Scotland, viz., that of the Wigtownshire Creamery Company. His ideas were strictly utilitarian, and left no room for fads. He holds that half the success of manufacture lies in cleanliness, not as the term is frequently understood, but as near an approximation as possible to such an ideal as the cleanliness of snow. Hence it is that in the alteration of the factory, which took place in the winter of 1894, and in the erection of the tributary creameries now numbering five, the architect … was required by Mr McWilliam to carry out everything in such a way as to be readily accessible to scrubbing brush and broom, which are ever at work, thus ensuring everywhere the pure sweet atmosphere on which a high value is set.
On the wet winter afternoon of Friday, 30 June 1893, about 150 Kaponga farmers came over muddy roads to the meeting advertised for 4pm to consider the L & M's proposal of a dairy factory at Kaponga. Storekeeper Frank Canning was elected to the chair and the L & M's John Stevenson further explained the nature of the offer. After various questions were satisfactorily answered the meeting gave enthusiastic and unanimous support to David Astbury's motion of acceptance. A schedule of cows promised was then taken, showing 550 for Kaponga, 50 more than at Mangatoki. There was an abrupt change of mood after the L & M's announcement late next evening of a change in its plans. Apparently it had envisaged three factories, at Mangatoki, Kaponga and Punehu (Te Kiri), each with associated creameries. On further thought it had decided that two factories would be more economic, with Kaponga becoming a creamery attached to the Mangatoki factory.
Only 80 turned up for the next Kaponga meeting on the matter, on Friday afternoon, 14 July. Canning, as chairman, began by saying that most settlers were annoyed by the creamery proposal and he knew of only one who was satisfied with it. (This may have been Astbury who seems to have been in close consultation with the L & M.) Canning then told of correspondence he had initiated with a Herbert Chester who had offered settlers near Pahiatua a better proposition than the L & M one. Chester wanted more information, Canning had supplied it, and was now awaiting Chester's response. (Chester represented a provision importing firm of Tooley Street, London, which had provided most of the finance for factories opened in October 1892 at Ballance and Mangatainoka.) F.W. Wilkie suggested setting up a co-operative factory but the meeting did not seem prepared for the expense of this. In the event Chester did not come to Kaponga's rescue and the settlers reluctantly accepted the L & M creamery.
The Kaponga creamery got under way in September 189312 and on 13 page 138 November ‘Our Own’ reported that it already needed another separator. A good account of the plant and the first season was provided by a special reporter of the Farmer (August 1894), who visited during the winter close down in June 1894.
The plant comprised a neat 3 ½ horse power horizontal motor and two De Laval Alphas, capacity 320 gallons per hour each. I met Mr Percy Lewis, the manager, … who told me operations would recommence some time in August next. During the last season the maximum daily was 1,300 gallons; during the next it was expected that they would be treating 2,000 gallons per day. The milk of 800 cows and more had been dealt with, and more still would be in the immediate future. The Kaupokonui river adjoining could well furnish power enough to drive the machinery, it was true. As, however, the little river was subject to quick and heavy freshets in times of great rainfall, rising, indeed, three feet in the hour occasionally, the risk of races carried away and consequent trouble was enough to turn the scales in favour of the steam engine.
The five years that the Kaponga settlers had with the L & M creamery before setting up their own co-operative factory in 1898 provided them with invaluable experience, enabling them to handle their own concern with wisdom and assurance. The L & M arrangement had many of the features of a co-operative venture. The settlers initially had to guarantee their cows for three years, but this was soon reduced to one year. The L & M's charges for working expenses, interest on capital, depreciation &c were clearly set out. The books were open to inspection by an elected committee of suppliers. At the end of each season profits or losses were allocated to suppliers on a pro rata basis. In its first year the L & M advanced the sum of 6d per gallon, but low returns from the London market had to be recouped from the next year's supply, so that the average payment for the first two years was 3d per gallon.
At each annual meeting the suppliers were able to bring all aspects of the concern under close scrutiny. We list here some of the questions raised at the well-attended 4 August 1896 annual meeting. Was manager McWilliam under enough constraint in restraining working expenses since he had no pecuniary interest in the concern and was practically uncontrolled by his Wanganui superiors? Was the extra expense of shipping to the Glasgow market justified by the prices received? Would it not be cheaper to ship the butter to Wellington from Waitara or New Plymouth than continue railing it? Why were purchasing agents not pressured to reduce their commissions?
The Board of Advice consisted of six suppliers and the manager. The first board had David Astbury as chairman, and three settlers representing creameries within the Kaponga district: Geoffrey O'Sullivan (Kaponga), Robert Gibson (Riverlea) and Judge (lower Palmer Road).14 The board continued to have a good Kaponga representation and reported to the local suppliers from time to time at meetings in the Kaponga town hall. The board's minute book shows that it supervised the running of the concer very closely.15 It reorganised the way skim milk was weighed and returned to suppliers. It had the Kaponga skim milk vats relocated more conveniently. It supervised arrangements for sending butter to Wellington. In March 1898 it had Kaponga creamery manager Lewis dismissed. By the time Kaponga settlers set up their own co-operative they had had a thorough schooling in the details of dairy factory management and had a good idea whom to elect to manage their affairs.
The movement for a co-operative got under way in mid-1897. Its basis was well expressed in a letter from ‘Strathearn, Kaponga’, in the Star of 29 June:
A big majority admit that a creamery is a mistake here. In a central district, and a large supply of milk, there ought to have been a factory, and a co-operative factory at that. The price paid by the Loan and Mercantile has been page 140 less than the average of the factories run on the co-operative system, and owing to this three large suppliers left last season and I hear of others leaving. After the close of this season, this is going to be bad for those that remain. Several of the suppliers talk of starting a co-operative, and I trust they will not only talk about it, but do it…. Doubts have been raised by some strong supporters of the L. & M. as to the suppliers of a co-operative agreeing. I think this is mere talk. I have lived a few years here, and find they get on together as well as in most districts I have lived in, and the general opinion is that the shares would soon be taken up.
What we have here is a mixture of local pride (why should flourishing Kaponga be a satellite of little Mangatoki?), self-interest (co-operatives are making better payouts), and apprehension about the L & M's prospects as suppliers on the fringes of its district switch to competing concerns. Doubts about the settlers' ability to raise the finance and to work together are dismissed as idle talk. This covers most of the issues the settlers needed to weigh up. One other was put forcefully by David Astbury in the Star of 11 March 1898. He could see the co-operative movement and the L & M in a head-on clash, resulting in two weak systems and a waste of capital in redundant facilities. He wanted a negotiated co-operative take-over of the L & M concern. But that was not how it worked out.
A meeting of those interested in a co-operative was held in the Kaponga town hall at the end of February 1898 and adjourned for the collection of further information.16 When it resumed on 10 March William Swadling reported that the canvass for cows had 900 already promised. F.W. Wilkie and W.J. Barleyman* had seen the Hawera banks and found that favourable terms were available. Mr Graves, Bank of New South Wales, was present and addressed the meeting on banking arrangements. James Kowin of the London firm of Lovell and Christmas gave information ‘as to advances and dealing with produce’. Kowin also probably recommended a combined butter and cheese factory, as he is known to have considered this the best proposition,17 but the settlers would not yet have been ready to be this adventurous. What gave the meeting cause to pause was the L & M's attitude.
At the meeting, with a letter to read from L & M's John Stevenson, was the Scottish Riverlea farmer George Hemingway. Glasgow-born, Stevenson had come to Wanganui as a child in 1855 and had had a distinguished career in the town's commercial and public life.18 His long letter to the sympathetic Hemingway showed that he was not going to yield his Mangatoki venture easily:
Kaponga Creamery of the Loan and Mercantile's Mangatoki butter factory, 1895
Nevertheless, the meeting decided to write to Stevenson ‘asking terms for purchasing the Kaponga creamery’. Nothing came of this.
On Saturday evening, 2 April 1898, F.W. Wilkie chaired a meeting at
which Stratford solicitor W.G. Malone was present to draw up articles of
association of the Kaponga Co-operative Dairy Company. There were 21
founding subscribers taking a total of 730 £ shares. Among them were
several of the pioneers of the early 1880s: W.J. Barleyman (70 shares),
Maurice Fitzgerald (50), William Swadling (30) and F.W. Wilkie (25). The
biggest subscriber, with 140 shares, was Harold William Cleland* of upper
Manaia Road, a member of the well-to-do family from the Hutt. Other
more recent arrivals subscribing well were William Greig (50), Richard
Mellow (50) and Invalid predicate
(40).19 By this time 1400 cows were
promised. Meanwhile Stevenson offered the L & M suppliers new arrangements for the coming season, including a division of profits each quarter. A good number signed up.20
The co-op elected a directorate of F.W. Wilkie (chairman), H. Cleland, G. O'Sullivan, M. Fitzgerald, W. McLachlan and W. Greig. They appointed storekeeper George Tindle* secretary, decided that their factory would be of the latest and best in style and fittings, and would make butter only at the outset. From then on they moved fast to be ready for the new season. page 142 In May they accepted tenders of £565 for the erection of the factory and manager's cottage and of £185 15s for a creamery and cottage at Riverlea. On 9 June they selected R. Newitt of Normanby as manager, from 27 applicants.21 The factory was built on the eastern bank of the Kaupokonui on the northern edge of the township. Meanwhile the L & M's good offer had won back a number, including some signatories of the guarantee for the co-op.22
The new venture's morale must have been boosted when 25 delegates of Taranaki co-operative dairy factory companies met in the Kaponga town hall on 26 July 1898, chaired by their own F.W. Wilkie. A wide range of matters were discussed: government grading of produce, government inspection of farmers' facilities, pasteurisation, shipping services to Britain, a dairy school for factory managers and for farmers and their sons, the branding of produce, the worth of the National Dairy Association. Present by invitation and making a valuable contribution to the discussions was Canadian J.B. MacEwan, who had served briefly as the government's chief dairy expert in the mid-1890s.23 He had since entered dairy merchandising and had just spent three months in London watching the arrival of New Zealand produce. His presence is another example of how, through the years, Kaponga dairy farmers were kept constantly aware of the inter national aspects of their enterprise. The day concluded with the forming of a Taranaki association of co-operative dairy factories.
The co-operative factory opened on 2 September 1898 with a supply of 100 gallons. At the company's first AGM on 5 September chairman Wilkie was sanguine about the coming season and reported that a good offer for their first production should enable them to pay more for their butterfat than their rivals. By the end of October the company ‘had a supply of 2200 gallons, which is daily increasing, and take in 500 gallons daily at the Mangawhero Road Creamery’ (i.e. Riverlea).24 Wilkie told the second AGM, held in the town hall on 4 September 1899, that ‘the year had proved very satisfactory for the whole concern and prospects were very encouraging for the next season’. The question of changing to water power was discussed as firewood was proving a very heavy item of expenditure. An indication of the industry's place in the local economy was given by ‘Our Own’ on 22 November 1899:
Business is good and our factories are flourishing. As an instance of what the dairy industry means to the district, I may mention that this month the paysheet totted up to the nice little sum of £1400 for the Kaponga Co-op suppliers. Considering that quite one-third of the cows have yet to calve, it means that the increase in the supply of milk with the present favourable weather and the additional quantity to be drawn, between £2000 to £3000 will be paid monthly when the flush of the season is on.
There would also have been a significant payout to the considerable minority still with the L & M.page 143
The tussle between the co-op and the L & M forced decisions on the settlers in the little centres surrounding Kaponga, and so helped to define the boundaries of the Kaponga District. The outcome was that Kaponga gained an extensive sphere of influence to its west, where the only substantial rival was distant Opunake, but was hemmed in on the east and south by the strong competition of Mangatoki, Eltham, Okaiawa and Manaia. The co-op showed its determination to claim the west by immedi ately competing with the L & M at Riverlea. In the 1898–89 season the majority stayed with the L & M. The next season began with an inconclusive debate in the schoolroom on a motion supporting the L & M. The Riverlea ‘Our Own’ (3/10/99) described the outcome:
… the meeting dispersed without the motion being put, but it was practically put the next morning at the respective creameries, and lost, as the following will show: Eight suppliers at the L & M Creamery with a total of about 320 gallons, and 21 suppliers at the Co-op. with a total of about 920 gallons.
It must be highly gratifying to the Kaponga Co-op. shareholders the way in which their creamery has made advancement here. Last season it started with about 6 suppliers, and this season 21 suppliers. In round numbers I suppose there will be a total supply of over 3000 gallons at both creameries, the L & M's total being about 800 gallons and the Co-op. about 2,200 gallons for the ensuing year. It was vice versa last season.
At Rowan it was the settlers, not the co-op, who set the pace. When chairman Wilkie met them in their schoolroom on 27 June 1898 he was rather reluctant about a creamery at Rowan in the meantime. He probably wanted to concentrate on the contest with the L & M rather than pick off Crockett's little Rowan factory at this stage. But led by James Sexton—the Rowan settlers—E. Wright, Richard Dingle and Alex Finlay persisted. A deputation waited on the co-op's directors, who agreed to write to Crockett ‘re terms for the purchase of his factory’ and to call a meeting of their suppliers on the matter. Nothing came of these moves, so the following autumn the Rowan folk petitioned the co-op's shareholders for a creamery. They were successful. Apparently no agreement was reached with Crockett as a new creamery was erected.25 To the east, though it will have picked off some of their suppliers, the co-op made no direct challenge to the L & M's two creameries on Palmer Road, Mahoe, to the north and ‘Kapuni’ to the south.