Sunday, December 27, 2009

George Dixon and his Lion trade mark ginger beer

My favourite soft drink is ginger beer. I reckon it's a good choice as a favourite, considering ginger beer was around in colonial times, right alongside the spirits, beers and rotguts for the flourish of pubs and bush licence operations which sprouted like buttercups across an unmown paddock.

I also have a small collection of ginger beer clay bottles, to which I added another today from the Sunday Market. It had the above intriguing trade mark on it, first I'd ever seen on a local bottle of its kind. The "G D" stands for George Dixon of Wellington (1848-1883). [Update 28 February 2011: Jonathan Taylor, author of a research page on George Dixon, has corrected Dixon's birth year as 1848, not 1818 as the NZETC reference says. I've amended the date.]

Feilding Star 26 June 1883

The Cyclopedia of New Zealand termed his demise as just losing his life during a severe gale while on board the SS Taiaroa -- but contemporary reports had it that he committed suicide by jumping overboard.

"Mr George Dickson, the well-known cordial manufacturer here, committed suicide by jumping overboard from the Taiaroa. When he left Auckland it was noticed that he appeared to be very unwell. When the steamer got out to sea, after leaving the Spit at 1 a.m. yesterday, he became violently delirious, and three stewards were told off to watch him in turn. About 10.40 yesterday morning, during a heavy gale, a tremendous sea was shipped. The steward left him in order to put things straight in the saloon, which was flooded. Dixon was confined in the ladies' cabin, the stewardess watching him. Dixon took advantage of an opportunity to rush on deok and jump overboard, sinking at once. A mountainous sea was running, and it was impossible even to attempt to rescue him. He leaves a wife and several children."
Wanganui Herald, 27 June 1883

It was rumoured that his state of "ill health" was alcoholic delirium tremens.

However, these reports were refuted by a letter published in the NZ Herald a few weeks later. Dixon had apparently dreaded the passage to Auckland on the Taiaroa according to the writer, knowing he would be affected by seasickness during the voyage. When the ladies' cabin was flooded by a surge of water, Dixon was said to have panicked, dived out of the cabin, fell striking his head, rose unsteadily on the pitching deck, and toppled over into the sea. (Evening Post, 6 August 1883)

The New Zealand Accident Insurance Company, however, wouldn't have a bar of it. They declared that Dixon's death was not an accident at all but suicide (backed up by testimony from the crew), and refused to pay out on the ₤500 policy. Mrs. Dixon took them to court in October 1883. The jury, however, decided for the insurance company. (Christchurch Star 18 & 19 October 1883)

Mrs. Dixon took over the reins of the company ably and well despite the set-back, expanding the business, and even winning awards.

"At the various exhibitions that have been held from time to time, Mrs. Dixon has been very successful with her Aerated Water and Cordial exhibits, and was awarded prize medals both at the Wellington and Sydney exhibitions."
Mrs. Dixon may have wallpapered over the past in the glowing tribute to the firm as at 1900 -- but one thing is certain: she proved herself to be a true businesswoman.


  1. Now I am wanting some ginger beer. Reading about spirits and rot gut reminded me of the Australian mining town of Broken Hill. Those who drank spirits and rot gut had a higher survival rate than tea totallers who drank water. The water drinkers would often get typhoid. Not sure if this would apply to NZ.

  2. The ginger beer will see you right, Andrew, I'm sure of it. Interesting point you have there about the typhoid. Incidences here seemed to pick up from the 1870s ... right when the temperance groups started to get into stride. Not saying there is a certain connection, but it's a damned intriguing coincidence.

  3. 'Medicinal purposes' was a good reason to gargle the old rot gut lol.
    Hmmm ginger beer , yum :)

  4. Need I say (not trying to suck up to the Aussie audience here, but ...) that I do rather like the Bundaberg brand. Now I've realised that it's best to shake the bloomin' stuff before opening the cap ... ;-)

  5. The article has the year of birth incorrectly listed as 1818. Regrettably, the Cyclopedia of NZ was not always entirely accurate. I have colleced George Dixon bottles and family history for over 35 years. Some of my research appears here: George Dixon was born 29th April 1848. Jonathan Taylor (Taylordotcom)

  6. Cheers, Jonathan. I've amended the post, and added the link to your page. Thanks!