longwhitekid

Branded with a K: Kirkpatrick’s Canny Colossus

In "K", "K" Brand, Anderson & Son coffee and spices, Butland Industries, Canned Goods, Centennial Kirkpatrick House, Crest Fine Foods, David Owers coffee and spices, Denniston and Co, Duryea's Maizena, Faulding's, Frimley Foods, Frimley Fruit Canning Works, Heinz Watties, Henderson Sweets, Henry Jones Co-op Ltd, Imperial jam, IXL brand, jam, James Stedman, John Heaton Barker, Jumbo Baking Powder, Kirkpatrick, Nelson Jam and Fruit Processing Company, Playtime jam, Samuel Kirkpatrick, Sweetacres, The Nelson Fish Company, Thompson & Hill, Unilever, Wattie Cannery Ltd, Wattie's, Wheatena on August 17, 2012 at 10.46

It has taken me months on and off to find the material and finish off this recreation of a “K” jam label from a photo. Creating the fruit illustration was complicated and difficult. I believe it dates from the late 1920s- early 1930s.
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“K” brand was one of the longest lasting, and most popular product lines to come out of New Zealand. You probably haven’t heard of it, and it is true that it has been long forgotten since it shut up shop at the beginning of the 1970s – but it lasted ninety years in the cupboards and on the tables of Kiwi households.

A later version of the label above, probably late 1940s-early 1950s era. Photo courtesy of  Trade Me member Shakaya. 
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S. Kirkpatrick & Company was established in Nelson, “the fruit, hops and flower garden of New Zealand”, in 1881 where it came to be the most important business in the district – as its major employer. The firm’s biggest enterprise was jam, and following that canned fruit, vegetables and meat, and such was its impact – that it had a marked effect on the geographical nature of agriculture in the region, as well as other industries such as fishing. The business was quickly producing 1,000 units a day using up all those tons of pesky wasted fruit that local producers just couldn’t offload. It wasn’t long before the ‘K’ Brand of jam in its colourful label was recognised throughout Australasia.

Custard Powder and Egg Powder, Nelson Evening Mail, June 1905.
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Samuel Kirkpatrick was born in County Down, Ireland, between 1853 and 1854, where he went to school in Newry. After graduating from Walton College, Liverpool he spent five years with a wholesale food merchant learning the ropes. Kirkpatrick then emigrated to the U.S. for some years – working for tea wholesalers in both Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. In 1876 his entree to future success came with his removal to California where he worked in two large fruit canneries in San Francisco (in what capacity this work was exactly, I am unsure).

Teenage workers stir jam pans inside the “K” Factory. Image courtesy of Nelson Provincial Museum, F. N. Jones Collection, Reference 6×8 29
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Sources seem to differ on the date – but it seems Kirkpatrick probably arrived in New Zealand in 1878 and worked as a travelling salesperson for merchants and commission agents Renshaw, Denniston and Co, in Dunedin, through 1879. They sold farming equipment such as reapers and binders , as well as more workaday items from cornsacks to paint and wire. They were also agents for various loans, marine and fire insurance (the partnership dissolved by March 1880).

S. Kirkpatrick and Co. Ltd business letterhead, Courtesy of the Hocken Archives and Manuscripts collection, ref UN-023/144
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However Kirkpatrick, with his experience in agency, sales, foodstuffs and the canning industry together had his sights set higher. He could see the raw potential of the Nelson area with it’s ideal fruit-growing temperament – and it wasn’t long before he contacted a group he had heard had a similar idea and were investigating the establishment of a fruit processing plant in the area.

“K” multi-purpose canned meat label, circa 1900. Image courtesy of the Printed Ephemera Collection, Alexander Turnbull Library, Ref Eph-F-MEAT-Gear-130
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Kirkpatrick became not only a significant shareholder, but struck a deal to manage what was to be known as the Nelson Jam and Fruit Processing Company. He leased a former textile mill in Bridge Street as premises, from the Webley Brothers who had a company named ” Webley’s Nelson Cloth“. They had gone out of business due to competition amongst manufacturers and Kirkpatrick emptied the buildings offloading all the equipment to Kaiapoi Woollen Mills. Supposedly this occurred in 1876, but I’m guessing the date quoted is wrong, since firstly Kirkpatrick was documented working in the U.S. at the time, and also RD & Co were advertising sub-agent positions in 1878 – so that data seems to back up that he started working for them then – and not earlier.

He returned to Britain the following year to arrange the shipment of an entire canning plant to set up in the new factory . He brought back with him his aunt , and his mother who was now widowed.
From the 1880s a large variety of jams, conserves, jellies and marmalades were produced in 1 pound and 2 pound stone jars. They also produced the preserves in glass jars, perhaps a bit later on. In the 1890s preserves were also available in 1lb, 2lb, and 7lb tins and they added that Kiwi classic lemon cheese to the roster. They were also marketing coffee under their own company moniker – although generally they were using the “K” label for almost everything at this point.

“K” marmalade advert, New Zealand Illustrated Magazine, August 1903

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Production had doubled by 1896, and the current factory buildings now being insufficient to cope with demand, Kirkpatrick purchased land at the corner of Gloucester and Vanguard streets for a new factory – in which he installed the most modern and efficient machinery and fittings of the time. His marriage of this same year lasted a very short time when his wife died from Tuberculosis by 1899. However at this point he was buried in work – with significant expansion of the buildings constructed to accommodate rapid growth, the company now had “the largest wooden building in the colony” and its own can making and printing plants – each can that came out of the factory was made and labelled by hand. Eventually the premises covered about 30,000 square feet.

“K ” Brand jam jar, date unknown – I am guessing 1920s. Photo courtesy of the Mataura & Districts Historical Society Incorporated collection.
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The company now branched out into coffee under the ” K” brand as well as spices – having bought the business of Anderson & Son, Wellington. “Jumbo” was a Kirkpatrick baking powder label of the 1900s that was acquired as part of the package with the Anderson transaction – who had previously sold the patent, trademark, and all the machinery to a coffee and spice merchant David Owers of Timaru in 1893. Somehow it made its way back to the original owners who sweetened the deal by including it, however even though heavily advertised by the end of the decade it seems to have been dropped from the list of products.

 Competition campaign by the Charles Haines agency, Hawera & Normanby Star, March 1923

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The business continued to grow rapidly and by 1901 the factory was employing 60 individuals full-time just in the off-season – and double during the busy period. Kirkpatrick had a concern not only with hygiene, but with good working conditions for his employees – which earned him great respect. “It is an interesting sight to see thirty or forty girls, neatly dressed, and in harmony with the general cleanliness of the whole establishment, picking and sorting the fruit with a quickness, which to the uninitiated must seem incredible. A happy feeling evidently exists between the girls and their employer, to judge by the contented faces the visitor sees around him”.
Kirkpatrick was described as a neat and “dapper man with a retiring disposition”. However for all his concern of his workers and their comfort – as well as his receding temperament it seems he was near in matters of quite insignificant things, and had no hesitation to voice his concerns; There is a letter in existence from Kirkpatrick written in 1917 when he was no doubt already rich. He writes to a handkerchief company complaining that there were only eleven handkerchiefs in the pack of twelve that he purchased and could they please reimburse him or replace the missing one.

Advertising for various “K ” products, date unknown but likely late 1890s-early 1900s. Note missing text which probably said “your grocer sells them.”
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Now with a large range of preserves, canned fruits, vegetables and meats (including pig’s feet in jelly, lobster, brawn, Irish Stew, ox and sheep tongue, Scotch haggis, boiled fowl, and curried rabbit to name a few) – In the decade of the 1900s the product range expanded in a massive way as follows: fruit mincemeat, honey, raspberry and table vinegar, pie fruits, poultry tonic, salad cream, tomato sauce, “K” Sauce, mushroom ketchup, pickles, condiments, curry powder, custard powder (six flavours), baking powder and egg powder, bird seed, Wheatena (presumably a product similar to Maizena and Creamota, to be used for both cooking and breakfast cereal) plum puddings, potted meats, ground rice, pea flour , pea meal and wheatmeal, linseed, arrowroot, spiced sausage flour, icing and castor sugar, desiccated coconut, cream of tartar, bicarbonate soda, citric and tartaric acid, carbonated ammonia, starch glaze, pickling spice, beef tea, dried herbs, hops, pickles, and boracic acid. “New lines are constantly being added”, noted an article of 1906, – such as gravy browning and tomato chutney in the 1910s.

Jumbo was a short-lived Kirkpatrick foray that had been around for a decade with two previous owners, before it came into their possession. From the Nelson Evening Mail, August 1900
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Kirkpatrick & Co. also acted as agents for a variety of international products such as Nestlé, Peters, and Kohler’s chocolates, Henderson’s sweets by  James Stedman of Sydney (later better known as Sweetacres) as well as Faulding’s products like eucalyptus extract., cloudy ammonia, and olive oil.

Another children’s competition campaign of 1922, again by Kirkpatrick’s preferred advertising agency – Haines.
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In 1904 Kirkpatrick acquired The Nelson Fish Company – a producer of smoked, chilled and frozen fish which was packed in pumice and sent far and wide. In prime position on the edge of the Nelson harbour, the large, hygienic white premises also did a roaring trade in ice.

The “K” Factory,  October 1900 from the Auckland Weekly News. Courtesy of Auckland Council Heritage Images, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, AWNS-19001012-4-6
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Now in its heydays, the Kirkpatrick enterprise was during this period apparently the biggest canning and jam factory in Australia and New Zealand combined.

“K” spag with cheese had been around since at least the 1930s, but these  probably date from the early 1950s era. Photo courtesy of Trade Me member Shakaya.
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Kirkpatrick in his spare time was quite the sports enthusiast with a particular fondness for the game of hockey, and eventually became president of the Nelson Association. In 1924 he founded and first presented the silver ‘K’ Cup as the trophy for women’s hockey. He was a Freemason and held the rank of deputy grand master of the District Grand Lodge of Westland and Nelson. Like many foodstuffs industry bigwigs such as Barker (Four Square) and Dustin (Buttermaid), who found that wider power came with industrial clout – he also stepped into the public eye via favoured community organisations, and inevitably into the more political arena serving a term as a city councillor from 1898.

“K” advertising blotters issued in 1925. Original photo used for composite is courtesy of Graham Bulman.
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He died in 1925 and the Henry Jones Co-op Ltd purchased the company (an Australian company founded by Henry Michael Jones, famous for the IXL brand which also had with an extensive range of food processing plants in New Zealand cities as well as Tasmania and Melbourne). In 1913, Kirkpatrick had made a grab for the financially-troubled Frimley brand so this was also part of the takeover. At some point in the late 1930s it was passed from Henry Jones to Wattie’s – one of their earliest acquisitions – if not the first in a long list of brands they snapped up to eventually become number one. I covered the Frimley brand in brief here :

https://longwhitekid.wordpress.com/2011/06/26/saucing-material/

The “K” Factory in October 1964, just after news of the Wattie’s takeover. From the Nelson Photo News. Photo courtesy of the Friends of the Nelson Library Inc.
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In the 1920s ads for tomato soup, Xmas puddings and a product named “Musto” (a spice base mix for making piccalilli and chow chow, later made by Trent’s, The NZ Coffee and Spice Co Ltd,  under their Good Cook line) appear in newspapers as well as on other advertising like blotters. The 1930s saw canned spaghetti in tomato sauce, or with added cheese; baked beans, vegetable soup, and that good old depression staple pork & beans. Things took a more exotic turn with loganberries, dessert raspberries, and diced fruit salad on offer. By this time fruit and vegetable products on sale under the “K” label were in the dozens.

Famous Wellington grocery store and delicatessen Fuller-Fulton advertising Kirkpatrick Soups. Evening Post, June 1935
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“Imperial” was a subsidiary brand trademarked in 1909 and lasted well into the 1930s. Although it was registered to cover just about every category of product under “K”, it seems it may only have ever been produced as canned jam. Still – it was around for a good quarter century so can be deemed successful.

IGA stores advertising, circa late 1950s-early 1960s.
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According to IPONZ, It seems as if the Crest brand (almost unknown now, but during the 1950s it was in fact far bigger than Wattie’s) also came under the auspices of Kirkpatrick & Co while it was under ownership of  the Henry Jones company. After being passed from behemoth Butland Industries to Unilever, it was a very short time before it was sold on again – seemingly a year or so. For just a few months in 1960 the company had some sort of joint arrangement with Wattie’s over the brand – which was over by November of that year when all the categories were re-registered solely to Heinz Watties.

An event at the Kirkpatrick family home, Nelson. Provenance and year of photo unknown, but looks to be late 1920s-early 1930s judging by the costume styles.
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In 1964, Wattie’s took over S. Kirkpatrick & Co., Ltd., as well as Thompson & Hills Ltd – now both subsidiaries of The Henry Jones Co-op Ltd in the same factory. So at this point the round-up included OAK, Playtime, and “K” brands. By 1971 they had dismantled the brand and shut down the Nelson factory which was producing all of these labels as well as, of course, a number of Wattie’s products and Watties-owned brands by this point in time.

Known as Kirkpatrick House for well over 70 years, the home served as a charitable girl’s boarding house and then a backpackers.  Photographed in 2009, it still stands in Mount Street as part of a new estate.
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By the end of the 1960s “K” jam and soup had lasted the whole distance, with the last record of product I have seen, being of marmalade in the final year of business. But sadly that was the end for the Kirkpatrick name as far as foodstuffs (as well as Thompson & Hills’ Playtime Jam – which had been around since at least the 1920s).

“K” jam label from my personal collection, circa mid-late 1960s
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The factory site was eventually demolished to construct a New World supermarket – in a somewhat ironic turn a Foodstuffs NZ Ltd – initiated chain built on the very spot where founding father of Four Square,  J. Heaton Barker had worked for Samuel Kirkpatrick up until 1901 (I covered this in my previous article).

“K” soup label from my personal collection, circa mid-late 1960s
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The family residence in Mount Street was called Kirkpatrick House ( later Centennial Kirkpatrick House ), and still presides high on the steep hill looking down to the factory site; it can be easily seen from the supermarket parking lot. It had been left by Kirkpatrick in his will along with a substantial monetary bequest to provide a roof for daughters of deceased Freemasons who needed somewhere to stay when they came from rural areas and surrounds, to finish their education at Nelson College for Girls (eventually anyone sponsored by a Masonic organisation was eligible). Perhaps they also worked in the factory, especially during peak season – it’s highly likely as the “K’ factory was always short-staffed. Hundreds boarded there over a seventy year period until the late 1990s when it became a hostel – the Club Nelson Backpackers. The house was sold off as one of several lots of land in late 2011, part of what is now an “eco” housing estate project .

Marmalade advert, Evening Post, July 1911.
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Nearly ninety years later, his estate still sponsors girls to board at the college’s in-house accommodation. Samuel Kirkpatrick played a major role in the Nelson district’s development, through his fostering of agriculture, horticulture , significant employment of labour – but also charitable acts which have become a lasting legacy.

A Miss Bush in a rather unfortunate outfit advertising Kirkpatrick & Co’s strawberry and raspberry jams, as well as orange marmalade, around 1898. Image courtesy of the Nelson Provincial Museum, Tyree Studio Collection, Reference: 62826.

Postscript June 2014: When I wrote and posted this article, I am not sure how aware I was that William and Frederick Tyree, the photographers, were my great-aunt’s uncles. Never expecting to have even a tentative connection to anything I research, I was nevertheless quite pleased to discover this family connection.

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Addendum Sept 2012: This label just in from a British dealer. I have never seen this before and I am guessing it dates somewhere around 1900s-1910s. Why would a previously unseen-for-sale-in-the-Anipodes label end up in the U.K., one might ask? 

This may be the answer, in an ad from a Grocer’s Review magazine of 1948 which shows the can in one of the photos at the top of the post. By accounts, “K” had quite a market not only in Australia, but made it as far as Britain as well.  Image courtesy of Mike Davidson, who scrounged it up from his magazine collection especially for me. 

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Addendum early Jan 2013: I found this ad for the Musto product by S. Kirkpatrick & Co, April 1921. This was part of a series from a campaign by the Charles Haines agency for the “K” brand.

MUSTO KEWPIE - K KIRKPATRICK - HAINES - Auckland Star 4 April 1921 Page 8 copy

 

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  1. Hi,
    It’s wonderful to see your blog & photos. I lived at Kirkpatrick House (KH or KMI – Kirkpatrick Masonic Institue) for 4 years in the early 1980’s and have always been very interested in it’s history. So glad it’s no longer a backpackers & will be restored to it’s original state by the new owners.

    Samuel Kirkpatrick was a special & generous man by all accounts. I have a decorative box that has a label of ‘K Yellow Gage Jam’. A friend who also lived at KMI bought 3 and gave my sister & me one each. I’m curious to know where they came from and if ours all have the same label. I have many photos of inside & around the house. I’ll hunt them out to see if there are references to the factory. I know that under the stairs there were boxes of what I think were stamps for the tops of jar lids. These were all sold at auction in 1999. Thanks for all your research, it’s fascinating. Cheers, Jo.

  2. Thanks for your comments Jo, much appreciated. I’d love to see that Yellow Gage label. My guess is that like other stuff that’s been floating around for years and pops up with regularity in mint condition – it most likely was discovered upon the building being demolished and sold to second hand dealers. I’ve never seen any stamps or smaller labels from the K brand crop up yet, though. I guess they will one day.

    • Hi, the heavy round metal stamp I remember, is on one of your other posts which has a photo of 4 cans on it. It’s the ‘Catching up with the kid’ post, 7th photo down. It is the third can from the left – a large ‘K’ with concentric rings around it. I’ll happily send you a photo of my yellow gage label, if you’ll tell me how I put a photo in the comments. Cheers, Jo

  3. Hi Jo, it sounds like they were perhaps the unsoldered discs for the tops of cans.I wonder why they ended up stored under the stairs in the house? That’s odd. It would be awesome to see the label.

  4. Thanks so much for this story. I found a bottle near an old cabin in the mountains. It has a large K on it and was obvious –old. It states “Kirkpatrick’s coca on it (not cola). and is obvious a soda bottle. It is intact. I have searched the net and can not find anything on the background. Do you or anyone know if “K” made a cola????

    • How odd. Well, if I had heard of that no doubt I would have added it to the story! Nope, that’s a new one to me. ‘Coca’ drinks during this time were marketed as a tonic drink, usually in the form of ‘health wines.’ Maybe this was during the period they were also making wines per se. It’s not a real stretch since raw medicinals/household, fermented drinks and cordials were in their product roster. However, you’re correct, there’s no mention of it, not even in the papers so it must have been a very short-lived product. I’d say a very rare item. I’d love to see a picture of it for my records, maybe even add it to the story!

      • Morning,

        Another chapter begins for Kirkpatrick House. It is for sale again. My sister (who also lived at the house to attend school) visited recently and the additions to the original house are either gutted shells (kitchen, laundry, utility & cloakrooms downstairs & dormitories, bathrooms, sickbay upstairs) or removed entirely (recreation room – a small separate hall where the girls would put on an annual performance to commemorate Samuel Kirkpatrick’s birthday).

        It is so sad looking at the real estate agent photos. While the woodwork and a lot of internal features are intact, it is a shadow of the former glorious house when we lived there as children. I have photos which I took on a visit back just before it closed as a residence for girls if you are interested. Here is the real estate link, cheers, Jo
        http://www.nz.open2view.com/properties/355151

      • Hi again Jo, thanks for this information and the link. It was interesting to see a lot of shots of the interior. I wonder if it was all done in compliance with the heritage act, or if any even applies to this building (doubtful, I feel). Also interested to see what will happen to the memorabilia the new owner accrued during their tenure including a bunch of very old, unopened cans.

      • I have no idea what it would be worth as I’ve never heard of it before. You can’t attach pictures here, unfortunately. I will email you.

    • Thanks for the quick response. I am in process to clean the dirt and grit from the inside of the bottle. When clean, I will photograph and send you a copy. what might be the value of this item be??

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