Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Remains of the Auckland Meat Company

Another contribution from Paul Hafner (sent in late November -- thanks, Paul!): his photo of the AMC sign still clearly marked out in tiles, Devonport.

"I know that you like relics of signage. The other day (evening, rather) when I was in Devonport, I noticed these tiles at a shop now called Abigails (corner Rattray and Victoria Roads). I think there were quite a few of these shops at some stage, but not many of the tiled logos left, I guess."

The shop looks like something from around the 1920s. It looks like the shop's butcher's block made its way to the Devonport Museum.

So -- what of the Auckland Meat Company?

As happens with NZ firms, there was more than one by the name, but the first AMC didn't last all that long. From a works on Lorne Street in 1881, operated by Wilson and Mettam (Auckland Star, 12 February 1881), it expanded under new ownership to start a freezing works down at Waitara, near Patea in 1886. Then, apparently, reinventing itself as the NZ Frozen Meat Company, it hit the financial reefs known as the Long Depression and faded out.

Cue the rise of the second, and longer lasting AMC, from 1906.

Observer 22 September 1906

The core of the new Auckland Meat Company appears to have been Jabez William James Marks. Marks arrived in New Zealand in 1878, first working as a partner with John Rod and Henry Saint in a meat company in Wellington. By the following year, however, the partners were being called into meetings with their creditors. (Evening Post 29 August 1879) By 1881, he was working from Adelaide Road in Wellington. The following year, he was in Auckland working for Enoch Wood, a butcher in Symonds Street, then taking over the business.

According to the reminiscences of one of his sons, Marks was in business in Mt Eden by 1902 at the corner of Stokes and Mt Eden Roads. He expanded his business on moving to Dominion Road, establishing several butcher’s shops by 1906. By October 1906, he had joined two partners to form the Auckland Meat Company. These were Oliver Nicholson, the last Mt Eden Road Board chairman (1905-1906) and the first Mayor of Mt Eden Borough (1906-1918), and president of the Auckland Racing Club for 12 years; and Murdoch McLean, businessman and local politician (Mayor of Mt Albert by 1914).
The stalwart figure of Murdoch McLean will no longer be known among men, and those who knew him best will regret his passing the most keenly. He was one of the best examples New Zealand had of executive ability in large affairs, and the works of his father, the late John McLean, his brother Neil, and himself will long remain to remind us of this great ability. Of his 62 years, of life, 57 were spent in New Zealand, John McLean having brought his family from Nova Scotia in 1860. He retained all his life a pleasant suggestion of the accent of his forefathers. Mr. McLean was remarkable not so many years ago for his great bodily strength and his untiring addiction to work. He had tried even during the last year to carry out the public duties he set himself to do, and was a frequent visitor to Masonic Lodges as a Deputy Grand Master. In this connection he made a point of appealing most strongly on behalf of benevolent and patriotic activities of the Order, and was a highly successful appellant to the charity of those who heard him. His public life was marked by that executive ability which distinguished his business career, and as Mayor of Mount Albert —an office he relinquished when his health began to fail—he gave the borough the experience he had gained in thirty years' intimate acquaintance of Mount Albert matters and its local politics. The late Mr. McLean had many sorrows which he outwardly bore with great fortitude. One son was killed by accident during the McLean Bros preliminary work in the Otira tunnel, and two sons have been killed in action during the present great war. A third soldier son is still fighting in France. The deceased gentleman is survived by his widow, two sons, and three daughters. On Friday last the interment took place at Waikumete Cemetery, Mr Oliver Nicholson, Grand Master of the New Zealand Freemasons, conducting the ceremony. There was a very large gathering of friends and relatives. 
 Observer 22 December 1917

Marks himself was foundation president of the Auckland Master Butcher’s Association from 1906, remaining in that position for some years. Marks started as one of two Managing Directors of the Auckland Meat Company until 1912, when he became Chairman of Directors until his death in 1938. Was the decision in 1912 the result of his appearance in court in June of that year as co-respondent to a rather salacious and messy divorce hearing, with the jury finding he did indeed dally with one Annie Jane Adamson? (Lots more detail in true NZ Truth style in the issues of 8 and 15 June for that year).

The Auckland Meat Company was always the number two chain store operation to that of the Hellaby family. At the time of a 1919 strike of butchers, Hellaby's had 75% of the market. Nevertheless, the AMC proceeded and flourished during the 20th century, up until the 1980s. Some highlights included:

1920 – R S Briggs, butcher at Parnell Road AMC shop (AMC had taken over his business. He was once Mayor of Parnell borough) gassed himself in the back of his shop. (Poverty Bay Herald, 8 December 1920)

1969 – Manager of Ponsonby branch still carrying out daily deliveries by bicycle. (Auckland Scarpbook, Library database)

1974 – Opened first butcher shop in Henderson, at Henderson Square. (Auckland Scrapbook, Library database)

c. 1982 Auckland Meat Company proposal to subdivide holding paddocks land at Hamlin’s Hill opposed by NZHPT – former Maori pa site (Auckland Scrapbook, Library database)

1985-1986 – Last remaining butcher shop in Queen St to go. (Auckland Scrapbook, Library database)

1987 – Pacific Business Centre to be built on former holding paddocks owned by AMC in Mt Wellington.(Auckland Scrapbook, Library database)

There are some remains of the company around. The shop front Paul photographed in Devonport is one -- and then there's the Auckland Meat Company building on Dominion Road, now (thankfully) sans billboards and polka dots.


  1. In today's Herald online: Abigails closing down - "sunk by online sales".

  2. Nice to see the Dominion Road shop looking sharp! My late father John Sparnon managed this shop in the late 70s. As a young girl I remember the AMC kids Christmas parties.