Thursday, March 26, 2009

Of Eureka, Anchors, Henry Reynolds and Wesley Spragg

Image from NZETC.

I came back to Wesley Spragg (previous post) because of a sheaf of papers loaned to me by a Mr. T. J. Muir of the Matamata Historical Society over the weekend (which he gave me very kind permission to photocopy). They were notes of a speech he has given in the past on the history of the small town of Eureka, which is on the way between Hamilton and Morrinsville. This, I thought, was really cool, as I’d come through there on the bus to Matamata, and had wondered how Eureka had come by its name (a reconnaissance party looking for a site to use as a headquarters for roading and drainage operations to the Piako River “followed the high ground and arrived on the hill where Masters Road is today, famously announcing, ‘Eureka I have found it’, “according to Mr. Muir.)

Well, what really drew my attention as I read the notes in my motel room that night, brain half-dead after the day’s session at the NZ Federation of Historical Societies conference and AGM, was this bit:
“The company formed was named the New Zealand Land Company and later the Waikato Land Association. £600,000 Capital was raised in London … The Manager, Henry Reynolds, age 25 … lived at Eureka Headquarters with stables and accomodation for staff. In 1881 Reynolds as Manager of the Land Company organized the erection of the Tauwhare Cheese Factory. He resigned in 1886 to establish Reynolds and Co., the Pukekura Butter Factory and the ANCHOR brand used by the NZDCOOP Dairy CO.”
Details of Henry Reynold’s career can be found at the Cambridge Museum website, as well as the DNBZ. The published story behind Reynolds choosing the brand Anchor has two versions – either he had an anchor tattoo or an employee of his did. However, it may have been that Reynolds was following a trend of the period. There was an Anchor Shipping line then, and I also found reference to an “Anchor Preserving Company” in Nelson (1885) which made jams. (Wanganui Herald, 28 August 1885) “Anchor” brand cheese was being sold in the Waikato region in 1888 (Te Aroha News, 11 July 1888) and “Anchor” butter began to make itself known in the newspapers from around the same time.

In 1896, however, changing financial circumstances brought about his sale of his creameries and the Anchor brand to the NZ Dairy Association, managed by Wesley Spragg. So, I did a bit of digging, just out of interest, into Spragg’s background.

The Spragg family arrived on the Ullcoats at Auckland, 22 January 1864. The family at that time were: Charles and Mary Spragg and their children Elijah, Emma, Martha, Zante, Silas, Charles, and Wesley (Southern Cross 23 January 1864). 16 year old Zante died at the family home in Eden Terrace 3 August 1866. Charles Spragg junior attended the Auckland Western Academy that year. (Southern Cross, 22 December 1866)

A “Mr. Spragg” (quite likely Charles senior) occupied the chair at a meeting of the Newton Total Abstinence Society, February 1867 (Southern Cross, 8 February 1867), the start of the family’s long association with the temperance movement.

Mary Spragg died 2 May 1874, at their house in Eden Terrace, aged 61. (Southern Cross, 9 May 1874) Charles Spragg survived her until 22 August 1890, dying at Mt Eden, aged 71. (Otago Witness, 28 August 1890)

The Southern Cross of 5 May 1875 reported on a meeting of the Onehunga Band of Hope. President was John Bycroft of biscuit-making fame, one of the vice presidents was Robert Neal, and Wesley Spragg was treasurer. The names become important as Wesley Spragg’s story proceeds. Taranaki papers indicate that a Wesley Spragg ran a grocery story in New Plymouth, selling imported teas as well as other products during the 1870s. On 28 January, he married Henrietta Neal, and became closely associated in business with his new father-in-law, Robert Neal. By 1880, his business in Auckland, W. Spragg & Co, had been taken over by Robert Neal (ad, Waikato Times, 1 July 1880). Robert Neal’s prominent business was on the corner of Queen and Victoria Streets, the Theatre Royal building (today, the site of the National Bank building in Auckland, and once the site of Auckland’s first courthouse, gaol and execution spot). Neal began his business as a producer of “New Zealand’s Sauces and Pickles”. (Taranaki Herald ad, 19 August 1876)

“The commanding new corner shop between Queen and Victoria streets, and situate under the Theatre Royal, has been let to Messrs. Spragg (jun) and Neal, who intend opening it in the grocery business. Mr Spragg has been for some years located at Onehunga in a grocery store, and Mr. Neal is well known as the manufacturer of Neal's sauces.” (Southern Cross, 23 November 1876)

Fortunes for the rest of the Spraggs appears to have been mixed. Wesley’s brother Silas, originally working on staff of one of Auckland’s shortlived newspapers in the 1860s, went south to Otago and made him name as a highly skilled journalist, before joining the Hansard staff in Wellington. Meanwhile, a fire took place at Maungaturoto, Northland, in late March 1878, and completely destroyed the residence of Mr Charles Spragg (whether this was father or son is unknown). “Nothing was saved from the dwelling, and the inmates escaped with difficulty.”
(North Otago Times, 1 April 1878)

Meanwhile, the New Zealand Frozen Meat Company was inaugurated in Invercargill, on 8 June 1881, with a meeting of the promoters adopting a prospectus and declaring capital of £10,000, with the aim being to engage in the export frozen meat industry. (Waikato Times, 9 June 1881) By 1885, the Company had a butter department, and Wesley Spragg was in charge.
“Mr. Spragg, the manager appointed by the New Zealand Frozen Meat Company for the butter department, has been in Waitara the last few days, to look at a site for the erection of buildings for receiving butter. The plans are now in the hands of the architect, and may be expected here in a few days … one great advantage to settlers will be that cash will be paid as soon as brought in to the store, and the great facilities offered here, by being able to at once put it in the cooling chambers, should place the company in a position to defy competition, and show handsome profits on this much wanted industry.”
(Hawera & Normanby Star, 8 September 1885)

Things didn’t work out all that well for the Frozen Meat Company.
“At the beginning of last season (says the Auckland Star) the New Zealand Frozen Meat Company started the manufacture of butter themselves, contracting with farmers throughout the country for a regular supply of milk. Branch establishments were started in various places for receiving the milk and forwarding it to the chief depot. Everything gave promise of a continued success. It turns out, however, that these favourable anticipations have not been realised, and the company have given up the business. Fortunately for Auckland, an enterprise of so much promise is not to be abandoned— a private company, which is neither connected as a body or individually with the Frozen Meat Company, having taken the business up.”
This private company in 1886 had the financial backing of John Bycroft (Wesley Spragg’s associate from the Onehunga Band of Hope days) and called itself the NZ Dairy Association, producing “Association” brand butter. Wesley Spragg was the manager for the new firm.
“He has obtained offers of assistance from outside amounting to a capital of several thousands of pounds to carry on the work. His new principals are substantial merchants. Mr Spragg will continue to manage the new business, which will be called the New Zealand Dairy Association, and will have no connection whatever with the New Zealand Frozen Meat Company. It will, however, be carried on in the same building, and with the same appliances that the former department used. As far as possible, the proposed engagements of the Frozen Meat Company will be taken up, all the arrangements being carried on at the point where the company leave off. "
(Otago Witness, 17 August 1888)

The new venture proved successful.
“The New Zealand Dairy Association, Auckland, have during the past year made about 150 tons of butter, most of which has been sent out of the colony. They intend to pay 3d per gallon for milk next year. In an interview with a Herald reporter, the manager (Mr. Wesley Spragg) recently said: l am not wise enough to be able to say how it will be best to dispose of the butter to be made four months hence; but as it has been ascertained that the food products existing at any one time in the world never exceed six months' supplies, we hope to be able to get a market somewhere for the butter we may manufacture."
(Otago Witness, 11 July 1889)

From c.1883, Wesley Spragg was living in Mt Albert, and ran for election to the Mt Albert Road Board in 1895, losing by 9 votes. (Observer, 11 May 1895) His business venture however proved more successful. In 1896 His New Zealand Dairy Association bought out Reynolds and his creameries network, and gradually exchanged their “Association” brand for that of “Anchor”. The rest, as the cliché goes, is history.


  1. Bycrofts were selling Anchor brand flour from 1881 which predates reynolds use of the brand name by 5 years

  2. Anchor brands for various things were quite common for decades before Reynolds -- but he is credited with introducing the brand here for dairy products.