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Unblemished Record: The Flawless Reign of Bernard Roundhill

In Air New Zealand, Alberto Vargas, Bernard Roundhill, Bixies, Blue Bonnet, Blue Bonnet Jams, board games, Bond & Bond, Butland Industries, C.L. Innes & Co. Ltd, Cadbury Fry Hudson, Cadbury's, Cereal Foods (N.Z.) Ltd, Champ pet food, Cheesecake art, Choysa Tea, commercial artist, Coulls Somerville Wilkie, Craig's canned foods, Craig's Jams, Crest Fine Foods, DB Lager, Diamond cereals, Diamond Pasta, Dolphin swinmsuits, Dominion Breweries, Duval Dimwit, Edmonds, Foodstuffs (NZ) Ltd, Four Square, Four Square Supermarkets, George Petty, Goldpack dried fruits, Goldpack Products, Holdsons games, Illustrators, Innes soft drinks and cordials, Irvine & Stevenson, J.R. Butland, Jason Products, Judith Ann Field, Ken Chapman designer, Kia-Ora jams, Lincoln Games, Little Chief socks, Ltd. calendars, Mabel Rollins Harris artist, McKenzies stores, Montana Wines, New Zealand Home Journal, Norman Rockwell, O-Tis oatmeal, Oak, Peter Pan ice cream, Peter the Pilot, Pin ups, Qantas Airways, RNZAF, Robinson's, Royal New Zealand Air Force, Sanitarium Health Foods, Scientology, Skippy the dog, Speights beer, St. George, Swiss Maid dairy products, Teachatot, TEAL Airways, The Mirror magazine, Thompson & Hill, Timaru Milling Co, Tiny & Droop, Wattie's, White's Aviation, Whittome & Stevenson, Winstone Limited, Wyona canned foods, Yates seeds on December 2, 2013 at 10.46

Diamond O-Tis by Timaru Milling back of Peter The Pilot on Active Service cereal card Album 1941 Bernard Roundhill BACK EDIT copy

An advertisement for Diamond O-Tis, by Timaru Milling Co., from the back of the “Peter The Pilot on Active Service” cereal card album, issued 1941. Designed and printed at Coulls Somerville Wilkie, Dunedin. Image courtesy of Dave Homewood, from Wings Over Cambridge http://www.cambridgeairforce.org.nz/

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Bernard Roundhill was probably Aotearoa’s most successful commercial artist, and certainly the most feted, in retrospect. He has come to be known as the “King of the Airbrush.” That’s a fair moniker; he was a pioneer and pretty much master of the technique in New Zealand. He’s also been described as “the founding father of commercial art”.
This a bit cheeky as he was not – that phrase indicates he was the first and possibly also suggests he was the best. Neither of these things are particularly true. All you have to think of is Joseph Bruno Moran, for instance, and a list of others that came before him and which no doubt he was beholden to. There’s no question he was easily and heavily influenced by others and ergo, indebted to those that were successfully working previously.

Portrait of Bernie Roundhill holding a book titled Information Circular NLNZ collection Nov 1945 Ref WA-00758-G Photograph  by Whites Aviation

Portrait of Bernie Roundhill by White’s Aviation, late 1945, holding a book titled “Information Circular”, which probably has one of his cover designs. NLNZ collection, Ref WA-00758-G

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Born in 1911, Hull, Yorkshire, England to John William and Mabel nee Tate – Bernie, as he was known to most, had two older brothers Kenneth Spencer and Maurice William, one older sister Mabel who was born 1908 in New Zealand, and two younger brothers.
 

Auckland in Fifty Years 1956 Bernard Roundhill  for Winstones Te Papa collection  copy

“Auckland In The Year 2000”, artwork for Winstone’s promotional book centrefold, 1956, is Roundhill’s most famous illustration. Image courtesy of Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, Reg: CA000659/001/0001

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John William Roundhill (b.1887), having also hailed from Hull, had immigrated to New Zealand in 1903 with his brother Alfred. They both worked as labourers in the Timaru, Canterbury area. He met Mabel Tate there whom he married in March 1905. Alfred met Mary Jane Dukes and married her also in Timaru, 1905.

Dolphin swimsuits illustration by Bernard Roundhill for Whites Aviation Ltd Ref WA-03719-F Alexander Turnbull Library EDIT

Dolphin swimsuits advertisement for Whites Aviation Ltd, 1950. Image courtesy of  Alexander Turnbull Library, Ref WA-03719-F 

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At some point between 1908 and 1911 the Roundhills returned to Britain, where Bernard was born. The family left England again in 1912 – for good this time. His brother Charles came into the world just before they returned to New Zealand. Many sources repeat information from others ad hoc without checking, and quote Bernard as being three years old on arrival; this is incorrect.

Edmonds Advertising Framed palsop 1 Bernard roundhill perhaps EDIT cfurther

Double page spread advert from a 1959  Edmond’s “Sure To Rise” cookbook, which I believe was the 4th printing of the Deluxe version of the 1956 8th edition.

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They settled in Gleniti, Timaru at first, and then later in the 1910s moved to Fairlie, South Canterbury. A younger brother , George, was born in 1917. By this time a young Bernard was already obsessively drawing.
One of the stories repeated that Bernard allegedly told was of around this time, seeing the first plane in New Zealand fly over, and chasing it across the fields with 25 shillings given to him by his father to beg the pilot to take him up – thus beginning his life-long obsession with all things aviation and space orientated and the sense of freedom that entailed. How fanciful this tale may be is worth consideration given that it was not until 1920 the first flight in Aotearoa flew across Cook Strait. Only the third flight in New Zealand the following year by Bert Mercer that was in the vicinity, when he flew from Invercargill to Auckland.

Bernard Roundhill Painting of a Baby Dog & Slipper for magazine cover 1950 EDIT

Painting of “Baby, Dog & Slipper” for a magazine cover, 1950. Image courtesy of Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, Reg: CA000660/001/0003.

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Roundhill studied architectural drafting by correspondence, in the late 1920s. Bernard was also a cabinet maker and learned the trade from his father – known as a perfectionist, as was apparently his spouse. This obviously had an impact on a formative Bernard and influenced his work practice.

Innes Cordial labels by Bernard Roundhill Te Papa copy

Innes cordial labels for C.L. Innes & Co. Ltd: from left – Reg: CA000680/001/0015 produced 1956, Reg:CA000680/001/0024 produced mid-late 1950s, and Reg:CA000680/001/0023, produced mid-late 1950s. Images courtesy of Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa

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He then moved to Timaru around 1931 where he got his foot in the door of commercial art,  trying his hand professionally at window display material – designing signs, price tags and jewellers’ cards for various businesses. During this period of the lean depression years he also created paintings on material to earn money, daubing demons and heroes on velvet cushion covers and firescreens to earn a meagre living; all the items being dispersed by two salesman friends.

Bernard Roundhill art - OAK WATTIE'S WYONA ROBINSON'S HOLDSON ST GEORGE PETER PAN BLUE BONNET SWISS MAID WONDER SET HAIRSPRAY Te Papa Collection between 1961-1977

A selection of Roundhill Studio designs for various companies. Although this photo looks like it dates from the late 1950s, it was actually taken of contemporary products sometime between 1971-1976. Image courtesy of Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, Reg: CA000672/003/0002

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This followed a move to Dunedin where work was still thin on the ground, and at first he would accept anything going – recalling one job akin to performance art where he painted on the velvet dresses of live models behind the display glass of a store in The Octagon. This led to some textile design work creating floral patterns.

Bernard Roundhill, Fissionable material. Framed calendar print, 1950s Dunbar Sloane

“Fissionable Material”,  framed calendar print, 1950s, likely commissioned by L. R. Allen & Co., Ltd. Image courtesy of Dunbar Sloane Auctioneers.

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However it was not long before he started to become successful. By 1933 he began working as chief designer for both confectioners Cadbury Fry Hudson and publishers Coulls Somerville Wilkie in Dunedin, who shared his much-in-demand services, split morning and afternoon. It was here working for the latter he created some of his most well-known work – the “Peter the Pilot” character for Timaru Milling Co ‘s O-Tis breakfast cereal, doing a number of adverts, packaging items, album covers, trade cards, and other merchandise; records state from 1939 to 1954. Although, Peter the Pilot had already been issued as an album by 1938, and he continued to work for this company through to at least the early 1970s.

Bernard Roundill for Winstone   from Peter Alsop book sampler CROP

Original artwork for Willy, Lofty, Tiny and Droop: concreting and drain-laying, illustration for Winstone’s promotional book, 1956. Image courtesy of Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, Reg: CA000659/002/0005

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About this time, Roundhill discovered the airbrush art technique after reading articles about American and German commercial art in a magazine, and inspired by this idea he developed it for his own work, purchasing an Aerograph with a hand-pump compressor, even constructing his own equipment and customising the process in order to create the smooth, graduated and mechanical effects he wanted to achieve. By his own estimation it took around seven years of long work days to learn the craft thoroughly enough to be comparable to the commercial artists he admired – whose work filled magazines like Popular Mechanics.

CHAMP - CHAMP PET FOOD COMPANY - Skippy The Dog J R BUTLAND (dog food and cat food) 1950s EDIT copy 1

Champ dog food can label, featuring Skippy the dog, for J.R. Butland, late 1950s. Private collection 

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In 1935 he married his first wife Eileen Grace Morey in Dunedin. In 1938 they were living at 20 Cranley Street, Dunedin Central, – but then the same year they picked up and relocated with Bernard’s parents at 11 Littlebourne Crescent. Just to add to a crowded situation, Bernard’s brother Kenneth, a carpenter, was also living at the family home (his father John William was also now working as a carpenter). At this time Roundhill worked on the 1939-1940 Centennial Exhibition, as well as for Wattie’s (canned foods) and Speights (beer).

Choysa Tea for Bond & Bond 1950 Bernard Roundhill - Art New Zealand edit

Choysa Tea advertisement,  for Bond & Bond, 1950.

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This move may have had something to do with Bernard commencing military service that year – as a draftsman in the intelligence office of the 8th Brigade, mainly drawing maps. Leigh-Ellen Roundhill, Bernard’s daughter, is now an artist herself working on the Gold Coast in Australia – “Like so many other men, he did not speak of his war years. What I do know is that he was in the Air Force and did the Bombsight surveying (a device used by aircraft to accurately drop bombs, Bombsights were a feature of most aircraft from WW I onwards). Then his commanding officer would keep him back in Wellington to do map work. His work was very hush-hush and I was told he was part of the Secret Service. “

Crest - Bartlett Pears label  - Mike Davidson EDIT

Crest Bartlett pears can label, for J.R. Butland, late 1950s. Image courtesy of Mike Davidson collection

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In 1942 he moved over to the Royal New Zealand Air Force and worked for the Government architect’s office. All seriousness and secret business aside, Roundhill developed “Wing Commander Duval Dimwit” for their instruction manuals during this time to bring “a little humour into them” in the vein of the RAF’s Pilot Officer Prune – and also did brochure covers and pin-up art for aircraft noses, basically whatever was required or desired.

Innes Lemonade Bernard Roundhill 1950-1951 CROP 1

The Innes Lemonade girl. Poster artwork for C.L. Innes & Co. Ltd., 1950-1951. Image courtesy of Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, Reg: CA000672/001/0014

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It is said he moved to Auckland in 1939 although this cannot be true since his second wedding was in Otago – it wasn’t that long before the marriage with Eileen foundered and Roundhill had met someone else. I think biographers are confused in regards to Bernard’s service in which he was stationed in both Auckland and Wellington during those years, but not permanently. Eileen and Bernard begun divorce proceedings in late 1943. Still in Dunedin, he married his second wife Olive Ella Tasker, whom he had met in Wellington in 1944 whilst still with Eileen.

CREST tomato juice label copy

Crest tomato juice can label, for J.R. Butland, late 1950s. Private collection 

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In the process of research, I trawled through five hundred or more newspaper articles which ended up being mainly of various seemingly unrelated Roundhills competing in sports tournaments. There were adverts for a Miss M. Roundhill’s dress-making studio in the late 1930s-early 1940s in Lower Hutt (Alfred, Mary Jane and daughter Mary had moved there in the late 1920s). But there was hardly a thing of note – apart from his and Eileen ‘s divorce noted in an article unflatteringly entitled “Unhappy Marriages”.

design for Home Loan Poster Education 1960s Bernard Roundhill Te Papa collection crop

One of three designs commissioned by a home loan company, early 1960s. Image courtesy of Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, Reg: CA000662/002/0007

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So where was the scandal? That was it, I’m afraid – three wives and only one dissolution. The rest of the time it was clearly nose to the grindstone giving a glossy finish to plums on can labels – if any company wanted plump berries and healthful, fresh-looking vegies, or hi-tech planes and spacecraft from another world – Roundhill was the go-to guy for quite a stretch. Leigh-Ellen recalls Bernard was a very keen gardener, landscaping the family home and “grew wonderful vegetables, as well as planting many fruit trees which I used to climb”. No doubt the bounty from this was inspiration for his illustration work.

Four Square - fine things of the future - colouring book 1 brentzconz EDIT

Colouring book cover designed for Foodstuffs (NZ) Ltd’s Four Square stores, 1954. Private collection.

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Roundhill does not appear in the electoral roll in Auckland until 1946, so he and Olive must have made their move in 1945. During this period came a stint at an advertising agency studio; but it wasn’t long before he set up a freelance studio in Commerce Street. The couple resided in Dedwood Terrace, Ponsonby until the late 1940s to very early 1950s – when they moved to 1 Ranier Street, Ellerslie.

Four Square advertising picture - her list says butcher baker four square Likely Bernard Roundhill EDIT further final

 “A Treat in Store”, image possibly from a calendar, designed for Foodstuffs (NZ) Ltd’s Four Square stores, late 1940s-early 1950s. Private collection.

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By 1947 He was airbrushing ink and gouache with an air compressor and adding watercolour brushwork by hand on top to create illustrations with a highly finished look that nobody else was achieving. In “A Treat In Store” A girl accompanied by her spaniel and a trolley full of products (such as Bird’s Custard) in tow, is about to enter a Four Square corner store holding a shopping list. It is so obviously Roundhill work done for Foodstuffs New Zealand Ltd (Four Square and Pam’s), and is very reminiscent of his other softly-hued cheesecake work like “Fissionable Material”.

Four Square Store cover of puzzle  envelope 1950s 1949-1950 likely Bernard Roundhill EDIT

Promotional puzzle showing many of Four Square’s line of products. Dates for this item vary greatly from 1942 to 1959 – but it was actually issued in 1949-1950. Image courtesy of the Alexander Turnbull Manuscripts and Pictorial collection. Ref: Eph-F-GAMES-1950s-05-cover

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His pastel period of the late 1940s and early 1950s was all pinks, mints and aquas – and took a queue from the saccharine, romantic stylings of the very popular 1930s American calendar artist Mabel Rollins Harris’s idyllic works of children and glamour pin-ups. Even so the earlier work, such as his Peter the Pilot items, was markedly awkward and clunky in comparison to the later slick illustrations that became his trademark . Even further down the line when he’d really hit his stride, it was very hit and miss – there was often something a little wooden, and slightly distorted-looking about his renderings of people unless cropped close in a frame or off to the side to mask it. They were mostly neither graceful or believable; it was almost as if finish upstaged focus on form. Nevertheless, this work was still popular with clients – but let’s face it – still objects were his forte. Tomatoes and beans did not have to kick a ball or unfurl a sail.

Goldpack Apple Slices copy on the shelves in 1960 - Innes  Lemon Squash Cordial label mid 1950s copy

left: Innes cordial label, late 1950s, Image courtesy of Mike Davidson collection. Right: Goldpack dried apple box, late 1950s, private collection.

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From here he segued into calendar pin-up work of the early 1950s which he excelled at, probably because they were quite still and posed. Heavy influences are obvious on Roundhill’s cheesecake work from Alberto Vargas, George Petty, and the art direction of Esquire Magazine. They were created for Auckland calendar company L. R. Allen & Co Ltd. Auckland (which is still operating today), and some were used for W.D. & H.O. Wills (cigarettes).

Kauri Museum - Roundhill Peter the Pilot album 1939 -  Royal New Zealand Air Force display Rongotai Cover 1938

Right: Peter the Pilot’s “Century of Progress” album 1939. Image courtesy of The Kauri Museum collection, Matakohe. Left: Royal New Zealand Air Force, Rongotai display, souvenir booklet cover, 1938. The date begs the question as to whether Roundhill could have done this given he did not commence working with the RNZAF until the following year. Image courtesy of  Alexander Turnbull Library, who also question whether it’s authored by him. Ref: Eph-B-AIRFORCE-1938-01-front 

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Roundhill worked for many years as a freelance artist and purportedly established the Roundhill Studios, a large, stylish deco-style building – in Auckland in 1974 according to one of a few short articles that have been written over the recent years. Although the electoral rolls always give the address as Onehunga, it was actually in Ellerslie – at the same address as their home. Then another source describes his Ellerslie studio as “pre- supermarket days”- so 1950s.

Innes Tartan fruit cordials 1956 Te Papa edit

Innes Cordials packaging, for C.L. Innes & Co. Ltd., 1956. Image courtesy of Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, Reg: ACA000672/003/0007.

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There were two children of the union with Olive, previously mentioned daughter Leigh-Ellen – and also Dean Bernard Roundhill – who born in 1953. Leigh-Ellen says “It is possible the studio became registered as an Enterprise in the 1970s – but was indeed up and running by 1958. I remember a great deal of the studio as it was a big part of my life; this is where I grew up. My first recall is during the construction of the studio in 1957. It was attached to the family home in Ellerslie. Still only crawling, I climbed over all the building materials being used – only to be rescued by Bernard who was two thirds up a two storey ladder at the time.

Lincoln Electric Race Track box by Bernard Roundhill EDIT

Lincoln Electric Race Track box, 1950s-1960s, image courtesy of Clayton Blackwood collection.

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The studio was part of my play ground; and I wandered fairly freely in and out, watching my father and all the other artist staff work. I studied Bernard doing his airbrushing – no questions (to be) asked, so I was very still and silent as I observed. I learned a lot from watching them all, taking up art myself eventually. I recall him doing the beautiful fruit and flower labelling for Wattie’s and Yates, and various jam brands as well. And of course his Vargas lookalikes, which hung on the back walls of the studio.”

Little Chief Socks Bernard Roundhill 1949 Te Papa collection

Design for Little Chief Children’s Sox packaging, 1949. Image courtesy of Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, Reg: CA000662/002/0003

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As far as canned (and boxed) fruit and vegetable products, Roundhill was known to have worked on label illustrations for Wattie’s and Wyona (General Foods), Crest (Butland), OAK (Thompson and Hills), St. George (Irvine and Stevenson), and Kia-Ora (Whittome and Stevenson) amongst others from the late 1950s through to at least the early 1970s. He had a fairly distinct style and his work was much more polished than other illustrators due to his technique. He was probably responsible for the majority of these designs in the marketplace for at least a couple of decades. As well as can labels, the studio was producing designs for a wide range of products from puzzles, mobiles, and calendars to wrapping paper, chocolate boxes, magazine covers, stationery, food packaging, and board games.

Modern Aircraft Album  CEREAL FOODS (NZ) WEETIES VITA-BRITS KORNIES  RICE FLAKES1950S EDIT copy

Wonder Book of Modern Aircraft Album, issued by Cereal Foods (N.Z.) Ltd., around the mid 1940s. Private collection

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Clients of this period included Little Chief (children’s socks), Winstone’s Limited (building materials), seed packets for Yates and McKenzie’s Stores, and The Mirror magazine. He worked on Butland Industries’ Goldpack brand, as well as their fictional home economics rep Judith Ann Field, and mascot character Skippy the terrier for Champ dog food. Holdson, Lincoln, and Philmar (board games and toys), New Zealand Home Journal, Diamond cereals and pasta (Timaru Milling Company Ltd), The New Zealand Ministry of Tourism, Ballet Russe (makeup), DB Lager (Dominion Breweries Ltd), Innes (soft drinks and cordials), Bond & Bond Ltd (Choysa Tea), Dolphin (swimwear), Edmonds, and aforementioned Foodstuffs NZ Ltd brands. I am sure this is just a small sampling of companies he completed work for.
 

Oak - Orange Marmalade- Thompson and Hills - Mike Davidson - prob early 1960s prob Roundhill artwork

OAK orange marmalade can label, for Thompson & Hills Ltd., probably early 1960s. Image courtesy of Mike Davidson collection.

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Amalgamated Society of Carpenters and Joiners NZ Conference Chch Nov-Dec 1916 - Roundhill in it prob John William EDIT copy

Amalgamated Society of Carpenters and Joiners Conference, Christchurch, 1916. There is a Roundhill specified in the group, probably Bernard’s father John William – I am guessing middle of back row based on physical appearance. Image courtesy of Alexander Turnbull Library, Ref: PAColl-D-0423.

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However as his work progressed through the 1950s and the 1960s, the crafting of it became extraordinarily precise. The highly polished shapes and forms comprising his work were solid, smooth and soft cubist; reminiscent of Tamara de Lempicka’s celebrated Art Deco era portraits of European café society. The portfolio of images he created for Winstone, featuring the characters Willy, Lofty, Tiny & Droop are exemplary of this period.

Pin Ups - Bernard Roundhill copy

Left: “I Haven’t Got Much On Today”, 1950, Image courtesy of Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, Reg: CA000661/001/0006. Right: “Forgotten Something, Honey?” 1950-1951, Image courtesy of alisonmc on Flickr. Both likely calendar prints commissioned by L. R. Allen & Co., Ltd.

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In 1956 he designed his most famous illustration, the one that many people are familiar with – “Auckland in the Year 2000” – for Winstone’s, featuring streamlined, high tech craft whizzing between futuristic buildings of downtown Auckland, a feat of swooping late-Deco inspired line work exquisitely rendered to finished perfection with the airbrush by Roundhill. Interestingly, the illustration he is celebrated for was completely his own concept and creation, given carte blanche by the client to do whatever he liked to fill a double-page spread.

Rangitoto - Spaceport II - Auckland 2500 - The Ambassadors concepted 1960 completed early 1990s  Bernard Roundhill  Te Papa collection  copy

“The Ambassadors, Rangitoto Spaceport 11, Auckland in the Year 2500.” Begun in 1960, finished between 1990-1994. Image courtesy of Museum of New Zealand Te
Papa Tongarewa, Reg: CA000659/001/0002

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Also the influence of his early Scientology days, shine through in his work – in particular “The Ambassadors”, featuring space craft zooming over a futuristic Auckland harbour with Rangitoto looming in the background. The intergalactic pulp science fiction concepts, masquerading as religious tenets – of fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard who founded the movement – are obvious even down to the weird logo on the ship’s sail like a mutated cross between the Thetan and Illuminati symbols. This illustration somewhat mirrors the fable that Xenu brought billions of people to Earth in spacecraft resembling futuristic airliners, and stacked them around volcanoes. Still, they are rather visionary and you can compare them with what has come to pass in contemporary times and there are some remarkable features that have fortuitously become realties.

roundhill designs for Yates Seed Packets EDIT copy

Yates seed packets from the 1960s, Image courtesy of Sarah E. Laing collection, 44 Ways of Eating an Apple blog.  

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Roundhill, described as a quiet and withdrawn persona, had embraced the wacko cult in 1953, along with his wife of the time, during a period when he was, besides running the studio, deputy mayor of Ellerslie Borough (he had spent a number of years as a council member previous to this). An acquaintance who was teaching him the art of public speaking, passed him a book on the religion. He said of himself he “learned, through Scientology, to create art that could communicate to people….(through it I) received validation and learned to do it better and better.” The last part may have some basis in truth but the former is quite debatable since Roundhill had effectively been “communicating to people” very successfully through his work for a good twenty years before the religion ever came into his life.

skippy  - judith ann - ice cream baby - sanitarium bixies copy

Clockwise from top left: Portrait of Skippy the Dog,  for J.R. Butland’s Champ pet foods, 1950s, Image courtesy of Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, Reg: CA000672/003/0008. Point-of-sale advertising material for Sanitarium’s Bixies cereal.  Portrait of  Judith Ann Field, the fictional home economics rep for J.R. Butland’s Crest Foods, 1953. Image courtesy of Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, Reg: CA000662/001/0004. Painting of baby with ice cream and dog, probably done for a magazine in the early 1950s.

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Along with gravity, communication and its language was a concept that fascinated him and he ruminated on often as he undertook his work – of which he had an extraordinary ability to focus on, to the point of being able to exclude everything else going on around him that may have been distracting. “When I’m doing artwork, there’s nothing else in existence as far as I’m concerned” he once said.

Teachatot Game by Holdsons 1960s-1970s retouched Bernard Roundhill

Holdson’s Teachatot game box for Thomas Holdsworth & Sons, issued 1961. Private collection.

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During the 1960s and 1970s, he was a very busy designer and continued to complete a huge amount of work. He may well have been the most prolific commercial artist during that time. Between commercial work that continued to flow in – he returned to his former Depression-era occupation of painting mystical and symbolic scenes on dark velvet; he had flirted with this style again in his spare time in the 1950s, making greeting cards.
His creations in this genre were fantastic, kitsch, and…pretty awful really – in fact so much so that I am not going to include a picture of one (it’s true what they say about not quitting your day job). For someone who had built a reputation for cheerful, colourful and glossy work, these tacky renderings of Kingfishers, sailing ships, woodsmen and deer were surprisingly dark and creepy. But really, when you look hard at the characters in his commercial work like his portrait of Judith Ann Field and others – there is something slightly unnerving about their glazed stares and sinister Stepfordesque perfection – like they are aliens that have been zipped into a full body disguise.

The Incredible Tale (Fisherman and Boy ) 1953 Bernard Roundhill Te Papa collection edit copy

“The Incredible Tale (Fisherman and boy)”, 1953. Image courtesy of Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, Reg:CA000661/001/0003

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The most famous design he produced from the studio in his long career, one that went around the world, over and over, was during this period – the Air New Zealand Koru which was apparently designed originally in 1965 when TEAL became Air New Zealand and looked to replace its Southern Cross logo with something new and innovative. The koru was first applied to the tail of Air New Zealand aircraft with the arrival of the DC-10 in 1973, and has remained in use ever since.
Leigh-Ellen recalls: “I was banned from the studio when they were working on this, which was created by (graphic designer) Ken Chapman. I reasoned my way around that, and I watched the development of the project which was very exciting. I saw a lot of confidential things go on during it.” Although Roundhill mostly gets complete and unquestioned credit for this design, it seems he only came up with the original concept that was repeatedly returned to the drawing board, re-designed, developed and finished by members of his staff.

In amongst this period of great success resulting in the zenith of his most famous design – was also a period of tragedy for him. In 1967 his mother and his father John William and Mabel Roundhill both died within the year (sister Mabel had passed away ten years earlier). Then in 1969 son Dean Bernard Roundhill was killed in a road accident with a motorcycle at just 16 years old.

Whittomes Kia-Ora Jam - whittome & Stevenson- Mike Davidson prob early- mid 1960s prob Roundhill artwork

Kia-Ora jam can label, for Whittome & Stevenson, probably early-mid 1960s. Image courtesy of Mike Davidson collection.

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Winstone by Bernard Roundhill from  Peter Alsop's book

Original artwork for Willy, Lofty, Tiny and Droop: Roofing Tiles, illustration for Winstone’s promotional book, 1956. Image courtesy of Museum of New Zealand Te
Papa Tongarewa, Reg: CA000659/002/0004

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However clients kept him occupied while he delegated jobs to a staff that swelled to as many as sixteen at times. As well as most of the clients listed of the 1950s, in the 1960s-1970s Roundhill added Peter Pan (ice cream and frozen foods), Air New Zealand, Robinson’s (cordials and baby foods), Jason Products (placemats and coasters) Blue Bonnet (spreads and jams), Wonderset (hair products) Yukich’s Montana Wines, Swiss Maid (dairy), Craig’s canned foods, sauces and jams (Butland Industries) and Qantas amongst his roster during this period. Initially he had started employing others post-war period to help with the more tedious jobs like lettering, but the studio, which also had the rare distinction of being independent from an advertising agency, produced a number of respected designers like John Woodruffe and Graham Braddock. It wasn’t until the mid to late 1980s that Roundhill finally dipped his toe in the digital world of production – converting the studio which previously had run without even a photocopier.

In 1988 Bernard Roundhill was presented with the Gold Axis Award by the New Zealand Advertising Institute, for excellence in advertising communication and craft excellence. At the time it was only one of three that had been bestowed.

Yates Garden Painting Book - New Gold Dream -Bernard Roundhill  - Phillip Matthews - Listener Apr 20-26 2002

The Yates Garden Painting Book for children, issued 1953, replete with evil gnomes to give you nightmares.

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After Olive died in 1984, Roundhill married for a third and final time – to Peggy Lee (not the celebrated crooner). Peggy was a widow who had one son from her former marriage. She also claimed she was a writer and director, as well as a “highly trained” scientology counsellor. Peggy was a few years behind Bernard, having discovered the religion in 1961 through the Dianetics book which was held at Auckland University. It was after his second wife died they found had their faith in common; whether they knew each other earlier on is unknown but highly likely. They soon sold the Ellerslie property and moved to a cottage in Torbay.

Air New Zealand craft with Roundhill's Koru design All rights reserved by dbcnwa flickr edit copy

Air New Zealand craft with the Roundhill Studio’s Koru design. Image courtesy of and © dbcnwa on Flickr .

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His relationship and union happened with Peggy very quickly – who was by all accounts a very charismatic individual with “enough energy to power the national grid.” Controlling and possessive – she essentially closed Bernard off into a spiritual bubble, alienating him from his family. Leigh-Allen says “…I became estranged until two weeks before he died. I was banned from retrieving any of my, or my family’s things, from the house after (Peggy married him). Peggy told a lot of tales and I think Bernard just gave up (fighting it).” One journalist described her style as “cheerful embellishment.” Apparently in her world the truth was highly negotiable if inconvenient – see earlier story about Bernard and the aeroplane, which may have had a vague basis in legitimacy – but was pretty far-fetched by the time she had re-styled it.

So devoted were they that by 1994, the couple moved to Southern California to teach and lecture on the religion. To say that a move to the other side of the world to establish a new life in his early eighties was risk-taking is an understatement – not only was he very elderly but Bernard was suffering from Parkinson’s Disease. The couple spent much of their savings trying to find a cure and when the money and will power ran out – they decided to go home.
By the early 2000s they had returned to New Zealand and were living in Mairangi Bay on North Shore, Auckland where Bernard indulged in his favourite pastime; gardening. Towards the end, Peggy undertook the administrative role for Bernard’s art studio, which seems to indicate he continued to work in some capacity – although seemingly he started wind down commissions in the early-mid 1990s when his illness got the better of him. Nevertheless, he had been kept busy work-wise well into his eighth decade.

Yates Seeds_350 Art by Bernards Roundhill EDIT

Yate’s seed packet designs, probably early-mid 1950s. Image from the “New Zealand In Bloom” exhibition, 2005, courtesy of Museum of New Zealand Te
Papa Tongarewa.

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Peggy had a scientology website, which was a joint undertaking also showcasing Bernard and his work. It has since gone out of commission – likely it went down because she died in 2006, the year following Bernard – and the hosting has obviously since expired. Bernard had passed away in 2005 at age 94; but before that Peggy had spent three years between 1999 and 2002 sorting his archives in preparation for offering the collection to a museum. The archive collection effectively falls into three categories: original finished art, commercial art products (such as posters and ephemera), and then Bernard’s reference material, including some by his contemporaries. Ultimately the body of work went to Te Papa where it remains today as an example of how he styled some of our most recognisable brands through the seven decades of his remarkable career. In 2005 they showcased some of it in a Richard Wolfe-curated exhibition “New Zealand in Bloom.”

Young woman hitching 1951-1954 Te Papa collection

“Young Woman Hitching a Ride”, 1951-1954. Likely commissioned by L. R. Allen & Co., Ltd. for a calendar. Image courtesy of Museum of New Zealand Te
Papa Tongarewa, Reg: A000683/001/0003

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When working in other styles and genres such as the cartoonish and quirky “Surfing Santas” design for wrapping paper of 1950 – Roundhill showed that he was perfectly competent in capturing action adequately (although, on reflection, it seems likely this was designed by an employee). Everyone knows I am a devotee of some of his work like his hyper-real illustrations for Holdson; however his irregularity in a stellar level of illustration across the board tempts me to dub him overrated in comparison to the international greats – for as innovative as he was – butted up against them he tends to regularly fall short in consistence as well as imagination.

INNES - C L INNES & CO LTD  Strawberry Milk Shake & Ice Block Flavouring Syrup  1950S or 1960s Te Papa prob Bernard Roundhill EDIT

An Innes syrup label for C.L. Innes & Co. Ltd., produced mid-late 1950s. Images courtesy of Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, Reg: CA000680/001/0004

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The majority of his work speaks little of New Zealand culturally in that unique manner that defines such things as Kiwiana, and as such cannot claim that differentiation from the international work of others that would really propel it into its own unique genre.
But this is what happens when an attempt is made to reframe commercial work as high art – a concept and distinction that Roundhill always stated he was indifferent to; it is voluntarily judged under the harsh light of a new work lamp.
More than anything his oeuvre’s real value is as a time capsule of product showcasing packaging and advertising that stretches nearly seventy years. Although inspired by Norman Rockwell and his luscious Coca-Cola adverts, amongst other celebrated illustrators – Roundhill never quite reached that level excepting some of his brilliant futuristic scapes and was rightly awarded for them; but as such he ultimately may have just been a big fish in a small retouched pond.

Thanks to: Bridget Simpson, Reference Librarian, Central Auckland Research Centre, Central City Library. Jennifer Twist, Archivist, Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa. Leigh-Ellen Roundhill, Grant Cathro, Peter Michel, Lemuel Lyes of History Geek and Mike Davidson for interviews, images, and assistance with research.

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All content of Longwhitekid copyright Darian Zam © 2013. All rights reserved.

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The Baron of Britomart: John McKail Geddes and Brown Barrett

In Albert Brewery, Anchor coffee, Annabella Mary Geddes, Arthur Cleave & Co, Barrett and Co, Barrett Ltd, Britomart precinct, Brown Barrett, Brown Barrett (Picton) Limited, Browno for gravy, Buckland’s Building, Butterfly tea and coffee, C. H. Furness & Company, coffee, Colombo Garden tea, Colonel Wynyard, Couldrey House, Crown coffee, Dominion Breweries, Ehrenfried Brothers, Elam School of Art, Excelsior brand, Geddes Terrace, Golden Butterfly coffee, Gregg & Co, Gregg's, H.P. Sauce, Hazelbank mansion, Hazelwood House, Hermann Brown, J. Nimmo & Co., J. Wiseman & Sons saddlery, John McKail Geddes, Judge Thomas Bannantyne Gillies, Kempthorne Prosser & Co, Lion tea, Mary Geddes, Newton Meat company, Olympic swimming pool, Rangiwai House, Sinclair Geddes Estate, Sir Frederic Truby King, Standard tea, Tea, The Excelsior building, The Masonic building, The New Zealand Plunket Society, The Perano Brothers whalers, The Stanbeth building, tomato sauce, UNXLD, Wenderholm House, Whittome & Stevenson, William Webster, XLCR brand, YWCA on December 29, 2012 at 10.46

BROWN BARRETT'S RANGE 1948 edit copy

An advert featuring the Brown Barrett range from a Four Square (Foodstuffs NZ Ltd) Christmas brochure, 1948. Image courtesy Mike Davidson collection.

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Brown, Barrett and Co was a longstanding foodstuffs company that was present in New Zealand from the late 1860s until the mid- 1950s.
Their biggest trade hands down for many decades was tea and coffee; but of course like all the ubiquitous “coffee and spice merchants” of the era – also dealt in a variety of peppers and sundry other taste bud- ticklers that were utilized to dress up dreary (and no doubt often slightly stale) meals.
So, how did John McKail Geddes become involved in the industry? Through a very early Gregg’s, as it turns out.
He was born in Malta in 1844 to Alexander Geddes and Janet Stevenson, but obtained his education in Scotland. He was by accounts a much liked man – who “bubbled over with good spirits”, and is described as “exhaling a wealth of good nature and camaraderie.” It is nice to have those personal descriptions – as they are far and few between of my subjects in usual circumstances – given that the focus is often on success, notoriety and finance.

Golden Butterfly Coffee - Brown Barrett - Observer 8 August 1908 Page 11 copy

Observer, August 1908. Courtesy of the National Library of New Zealand.

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His first foray into the workforce in the U.K. was for a Solicitor; at this time he is known to have been residing in Perth Burgh, Perthshire. In 1862 he decided to emigrate to New Zealand aboard the ship Nelson, where he promptly went to Dunedin and began working at W. Gregg & Co., where he learned how to roast coffee, says his grandson, also named John McKail Geddes (now in his eighties, I’ll refer to him just as John Geddes for this article to avoid confusion).
With some years of experience in the industry now under his belt – in 1870 he moved to Auckland and joined the company of Brown, Barrett and Co, which had been founded two years previously.

Brown Barrett's Baking Powder label  copy

A recreation I have made of the Brown Barrett Baking Powder label, in a photo further down,  likely from the 1930s.

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Hermann Brown (b 1836) was a German who started the business in1868 with his partner of the time in Thames, in the heady days of the first big gold rush there – upon which the company built its early and quick success. It wasn’t the first boom in this “new” country – so smart guys who wanted to make a pound knew how to capitalize on the communities that quickly grew up around any industry explosion, no matter how brief. I found a reference to him being an early, yet short-lived, settler in the Pahi-Paparoa area in the mid 1860s. He claims to have farmed for the first 18 months or so before starting the concern and then making his way “to town” to establish himself there.
Little is known (nor have I been able to find anything) of the other half of the original equation, Mr. Barrett, except that he is described in the news as a “co-religionist” – which must mean he, like Brown, was also Jewish. By 1869 the partners had removed to Auckland from Thames and established the Brown Barrett and Co’s Steam Coffee Mills in High Street, Auckland. In a December advert the partners, calling themselves Brown & Barrett, claim to have had 15 years experience in the trade (I don’t know what kind of maths they were using – perhaps it was different then). Actually, they purchased an already established set-up from J. Nimmo & Co. Brown is quoted as recalling “only six or seven buildings in Customs Street, and Quay Street – it was practically non-existent “ – very early days for the town, but never too early for coffee. Barrett departed at some point, most likely in the mid 1880s – leaving Brown and Geddes – of which the latter quickly progressed to partner. Hermann Brown, who seemed to also have been the Imperial German Consul to Auckland for quite a number of years, was still partner in 1888, but had left the country by 1891, returning to Sondershausen, Germany for the rest of his life.

Butterfly Tea - Lion Brand Tea - Brown Barrett Ltd - Auckland Star  19 April 1923  Page 13 copy

Auckland Star, April 1923. Courtesy of the National Library of New Zealand.

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Records of the 1880s-1890s also show imports such as tobacco, soap, refined sugar, potted fish (sandwich pastes), wax candles, acetic acid (used as a food additive – mostly for the pickling of vegetables and other foods), cocoa, preserved oysters, methylated spirits, confectionery, as well as embroidery machines and patterns. And in the 1900s-1910s – Californian Syrup of Figs and lime juice, preserved fish and ginger, sauce, writing ink, culinary essences, canned apples, milk and fish, mustard, canned and preserved pineapple, pocket vestas, and nuts.
Brown Barrett also seemed to have some sort of arrangement up until the mid-late 1890s with Dominion to use beer for something brewed (vinegar starter perhaps? ), a partnership which ceased when Dominion merged with Ehrenfried Brothers and incorporated operations at the Albert Brewery, Queen Street.
Geddes was sole owner by 1892 – now the rich and successful man he had always dreamed of being. Like many of his ilk who were winners in the foodstuffs industry he wasn’t quite as bold as to step into politics and the like (he left that field to his wife); but he certainly played his part as a civic-minded individual – being the captain of the A Battery of the Auckland Artillery, prominent in the Masons, and president of the Auckland Bowling Club amongst other endeavours.

Brown Barrett & Co - The Drink Question - Bay Of Plenty Times, Volume XXIV, Issue 3630, 29 November 1897, Page 6

Bay Of Plenty Times, November 1897. Courtesy of the National Library of New Zealand.

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He married Annabella Webster (b 1864, Mangungu, Hokianga, NZ,) in 1887 in Devonport. Geddes was already well-known as a wealthy merchant when he wed the quarter -Maori Mary, as she liked to be known – who was 21 years his junior. It should be noted that Mary had a fairly interesting family history herself, as daughter of noted pioneer and organ builder William Webster. Mary Geddes is often quoted as being half-caste, but in fact this is not true; it was her mother, Annabella or (Anne) Gillies.

coffee and chicory ads  copy

All from the Evening Post, January 1925, excepting the periwigged gentleman who was advertised in  January 1927. Courtesy of the National Library of New Zealand.

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They had seven offspring: Mary Annabella (b 1887), Alexander (b 1890, later chairman of anthropology at Auckland Museum, a proponent of the Polynesian arts there), Jessie (b 1891), William (b 1893-1950, known as Bill, later Lt. and MC, and All Black for a split second), John (also known as Jack, 1895-1903), Robert (b 1898), and Hermann (b 1901, no doubt named in honour of Geddes’ late business partner, known as Mac, later Waitemata City Councilor).
Alexander, William and Hermann are known to have entered the family business, William as managing director and Hermann as factory manager after WWII.

Self Help cook book 1939 - Brown Barrett's tomato sauce copy

Advert from the Self Help Cookbook, 1939.

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The first two children were born at “Wairere”, a  house  in Alfred St, Auckland central. The family recalls it was quite near Greys Avenue, overlooking a gully. However they were well-known for their  two story mansion, “Hazelbank”, which Geddes purchased in 1892 (NA 63/119, LINZ records), the year he became owner of the company and had begun to make his fortune.  It was once a seven acre estate at 56 Wynyard Street in Auckland central (the stables were situated where Carlaw Park offices and car park are now). Another source claims that McKail Geddes was residing in Manukau, Auckland, in 1890, which may be possible.  Another vague relative of the family, (who felt no need to give me further explanation), claimed that all of the children were born at Wairere, which also happens to be the name of an area over and north-west of the Waitakere ranges. This led me to the assumption (and a bit of a goose chase) that it was a homestead and/or country retreat for between 1924-1928 Brown Barrett is advertising for a farmer and farmhands, and handyman with knowledge of gardening to “take charge of a small farm at a seaside residence, about fifty miles from Auckland”. As it turned out this wass more likely to be in regards to “Wenderholm” (now known as Couldrey House) the seaside home of Major Whitney which Mary McKail Geddes purchased in 1919 as a country residence (she also ran cattle and pigs on the property). It was sold off in 1928  to Captain Thomas Caradoc Kerry. But as Lisa Truttman points out, in his time “McKail Geddes owned swathes – central Avondale, parts of the Wolverton area (Blockhouse Bay side), and some land in the Bay.”

Looking west along Customs Street East from the corner of Commerce Street showing the Excelsior Building George Grey Collection

Before it was cut in half: “Looking west along Customs Street East from the corner of Commerce Street, showing the Excelsior Building.” Note Kempthorne Prosser signage. Courtesy of Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, 1-W106.

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More on Hazelbank later, but for now, back to the main topic. Through the late C19th to the early twentieth century, Brown Barrett had several brands of tea such as UNXLD, Colombo Garden, Standard, and Excelsior (sometimes referred to as XLCR). but the most popular were Butterfly and Lion, lasting well into the 1920s and 30s (in an Auckland Star advert for Butterfly of October 1915, the company claimed the brand was over fifty years old which cannot be true given that it would pre-date formation of the company).
Coffee was on offer under at least eight different labels over time from the 1870s on including Anchor, Golden Butterfly, Lion and Crown brands (Gregg’s also had an Anchor Brand, Lion Brand  and Crown Brand coffee at the same time just to confuse the issue) – and the Brown Barrett brand was still being produced until at least the end of the 1940s in a can.
A brand launched in the 1890s, UNXLD – which comprised of baking powder, self raising flour, egg powder, cornflour, coffee essence, pepper and spices, as well as coffee and tea.
Coffee/Chicory essence or combinations thereof, were issued under the Excelsior and UNXLD brands with their self-named label also hanging on into the early 1950s.

BUTTERFLY COFFEE BROWN BARRETT AND CO - Poverty Bay Herald10 December 1910 Page 3 copy

Poverty Bay Herald, December 1910. Courtesy of the National Library of New Zealand.

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However by the late 1920s they had pretty much dropped all the superfluous, frilly names which were likely created to give the impression of variety, and thus less of an appearance of monopoly in the marketplace. The self-named named Brown Barrett brand emerged as the lasting and triumphant, if predictable, one – and had a fairly broad range of products in its heyday of the mid 1920s to mid 1950s: Tomato sauce, peanut butter, Worcestershire, mustard, cocoa, coffee essence, cordial (orange and lemon, lemon barley water, grapefruit), coffee and chicory, “Browno” for gravy, fruit juice, curry powder, pepper, custard, baking powder, jelly crystals, “H.P”. sauce (it’s unclear whether they actually had a license from the British manufacturer Garton, at some point to make it domestically, or were just agents), and canned goods included tomato soup, sausages and beans, spaghetti, whitebait and coffee.

BROWN, BARRETT AND CO. (John Mckail Geddes)

John McKail Geddes, from the Cyclopedia of New Zealand, 1902. Courtesy of the NZ Electronic Text Centre.

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Like a few other companies over time such as Nelson Moates and Fuller-Fulton, they advertised often and plenty with a variety of highly illustrative, amusing adverts for their products some of which I have posted here further down.

Brown Barrrett sign outside H and J Binsted Avondale where they later owned the land 1880s

A general store, later extended in the early 20th Century to become Atkinson’s drapery, Avondale, Auckland 1880-1889, showing a Brown Barrett sign painted on the building side. Courtesy of Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, 7-A9460.

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Geddes retired from the company in 1908, and died 1910 in Auckland of complications from Diabetes. A newspaper article of 1906 reports him being run over by a car but this does not seem to have had anything to do with his rapid decline. In a weird coincidence, his former partner Brown also had a transport-oriented accident the same year upon his visit to Auckland – where he gave a lengthy interview to the paper about his life in pioneer times and the founding of the company. Before he left, he ended up falling foul of a tram, ending up in critical condition with three broken ribs amongst other injuries .

brown barret baking powder of the 1940s and probably 1950s copy

Various vintage pantry items. The Brown Barrett tin on left dates from the mid 1940s-early 1950s and appears in the 1948 ad at the top of the post, the one on right likely late 1930s and I recreated the label – three images down from the top of the post. 

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Mary died much later than her husband in Remuera, lasting until the ripe old age of 91 in 1955 . But her finances were likely somewhat reduced in comparison to former times. She had been left a rich widow both from company profits as well as shrewd land and building investments by both her husband and Brown together, who were in a position to take advantage of the late 1880s financial depression that ravaged others. As such, by 1899 they owned the entire block in Customs Street, Britomart, with the exception of “Buckland’s Building” at number 34 on the corner of Gore Street. Geddes Terrace, which was named after one of the number of tracts of land he owned- this one in Avondale – still exists today. Lisa Truttman from Timespanner covered his property doings here in “Binsted’s Corner”, and more about Geddes, including his bronze medal for rescue, in “The Man Who Named a Terrace”

Butterfly Tea - Brown Barrett Ltd - Auckland StarPage 12 copy

The brand was sometimes separately advertised as “Blue Butterfly”. Auckland Star, October 1924. Courtesy of the National Library of New Zealand.

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Mary Geddes is well remembered in her own right (ironically far more so than her husband now) as an outspoken advocate for women’s rights and welfare – as well as an early champion of Maori culture – long before it was fashionable or even particularly acceptable, especially in the upper echelons of the “society” she was part of. She was, in fact, as a good friend of Sir Frederic Truby King, and became one of the founding committee members of Plunket, amongst other organizations. She played a significant role in the YWCA for many years and was president for six. “They were pretty predominant people in Auckland”, opines Andrew Geddes, “they paid for the frontage of the Saint Andrew’s church in Symonds street, including the tower.” However according to the history books, it was not until 1882 that the tower and portico were added, long before the couple even met. Perhaps they made some contribution to church hall or the new organ, during 1904-1907. However Mary was the proponent of the building of the William Gummer-designed YWCA headquarters in Queen Street. Quite a fearless and extraordinary lady, it seems.

HP Sauce - Brown Barrett Ltd - Auckland Star  24 June 1926 Page 20 edit copy

 Auckland Star, June 1926. Courtesy of the National Library of New Zealand.

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While things were very comfortable with just over 100,000 pounds banked upon her spouse’s passing (that’s roughly eleven million bucks today, not including the various properties, and the profits that continued to roll in), she utilized her wealth to further these philanthropic concerns and was throwing open the grand family home and grounds for parties and fundraisers well into the early 1930s. “Oh yes, I spent some time at Hazelbank as a child. So we grew up with all those people, marvelous parties there. Christmas with a tree and real candles (on it)…. I think once they set fire to the tree and the fire brigade had to come and put it out!”, says John Geddes.

Self-Help Co-op recipes and household hints 1932 - Brown Barrett's tomato sauce   (1)

Advert from the Self-Help Co-op recipes and household hints cookbook, 1932.

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The depression hit Brown, Barrett & Co hard and the business apparently “went under” according to one source. I haven’t found any evidence of this, and since they didn’t seem to close their doors – exactly how far under is a question. Certainly Hazelbank had to eventually be dispensed with and was acquired by the government in late 1939, along with the adjacent Sinclair Estate property – no doubt at a cut-rate price. It was immediately earmarked for demolition but this was not done until much later. A university map of the grounds dated 1959 shows the site marked “Sinclair Geddes” clear, bar one odd building to the south end which is clearly Hazelbank.

Butterfly Lion XLCR Standard Teas - Baking egg powder pepper spices coffee - Brown Barrett - Auckland Star, Volume LII, Issue 164, 12 July 1921, Page 10

Auckland Star, December 1898. Courtesy of the National Library of New Zealand.

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However demolition did eventually happen, and it’s a shame – since at the time, it was one of the older grand houses left in Central Auckland city – and significant as well, having belonged to Auckland colonial figures Judge Thomas Bannantyne Gillies (who served as Attorney-General amongst other posts, and apparently drew up the country’s first code of law) and later Colonel Wynyard (also quite a talented artist who did many sketches of early Auckland city, but oddly – not one of his own house that I have seen). An article mentions numerous military items of archaeological interest having been found on the grounds.

BROWN BARRETT WORCESTERSHIRE Evening Post, Volume CXI, Issue 12, 15 January 1926, Page 4

 Evening Post,  January 1926. Courtesy of the National Library of New Zealand.

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Up until this time it was known as “Hazelwood“, but the McKail Geddes family sought to slightly rename it to truly claim it as their own and the “bank” obviously refers to the steep grade of the property down towards Grafton Gully. The mansion eventually became part of the Auckland University; and housed Elam School of Art, probably sometime after 1949 when the Grammar School Building burnt to the ground.

Garden party at Hezelbank Auckland Star, Volume LVIII, Issue 281, 28 November 1927, Page 10

Fundraiser for Young Women’s Christian Association at Hazelbank, Auckland Star, November 1927, with a demonstration of YWCA exercises. Courtesy of the National Library of New Zealand.

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Eventually it was replaced with more practical buildings around the early 1960s, and a reference to it in an article about the new Elam building of 1963 states “apart from a lot of scrub and rubbish, some magnificent trees were left as legacies from the old Geddes house, long since vanished with the exception of the picturesque old bakehouse wall of brick…The condition and location of the wall made its retention undesirable… the building was very deliberately sited as to enable the retention of as many trees as possible.”

Auckland city alongside the harbour in 1906 Signs advertising the business and Brown Barrett & Co EDIT

“Auckland city alongside the harbour in 1906”, Showing signage advertising Brown Barrett & Co. Courtesy of Alexander Turnbull Library Manuscripts and Pictorial Collection, Ref: 1/2-008338-G

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These must have included some of the Hazel trees after which the property was originally named. John Geddes remembers as a child the big old Pohutakawa trees being quite impressive in size, even then. I suspect this part was facilitated by Hermann “Mac” McKail Geddes, since in a news article of the time he was 69 and he says he was born in Hazelbank. Hermann “Mac” McKail Geddes and his wife removed to Titirangi where they bought the heritage-listed “Rangiwai” house and gardens behind Lopdell House, the remainder of the 2000 acre Atkinson Estate. He became well-known as a proponent of flora protection and associated zoning issues, while his wife Ethelyn started up Titirangi Theatre in 1935. All round they were an active and interesting family. In this case he had a personal interest to retain some of the historic garden of the Sinclair Geddes block.

half of excelsior building L and Stanbeth House middle 2009

Customs Street East: The Stanbeth Building in the middle, Excelsior building to the left, and part of the Masonic building to the right. © and courtesy of geoff-inOZ on flickr.

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An overlay of the 1959 map with current satellite imagery shows the new Elam building laid out exactly on the site of the mansion. I would say that the building was demolished between 1959 and 1963.
I am not sure what the remaining land was used for but there were plans to build state housing flats there from the outset of the acquisition – which was still being discussed five years after the purchase, into the mid 1940s. This scheme never came to pass. Says John Geddes: “No, that never happened. They were very careless actually and they just shut the place up. They didn’t even use it for the war. The family always thought it was a bit of a failure that they didn’t keep it for something.” Unfortunately I was unable to find any images of the mansion at all, but surely a noted building with a series of remarkable occupants would have had to have been the subject of a photographer’s lens, and stashed somewhere? I had no luck.

The Masonic 30-32 Customs Street East, Brown Barret McKail Geddes

Masonic House, with Buckland House – the only building in the block not owned by Brown Barret & Co – distinguished by the last three rows and square street front windows on the Gore Street end. Courtesy of the Britomart website, © Cooper and Company 2012.

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All that said, somehow the actual “Brown Barrett” brand lasted well into the 1950s. There is mention of it, now with the name slightly adjusted to Brown Barrett Ltd, with premises at 79 Carlton (later Carlton Gore) Road, Newmarket – a building was auctioned in 1930 (possibly the Stanbeth, but maybe the Excelsior since soon after that was halved to widen the streets) and the company moved. It was likely here that the factory was victim of a serious blaze, one of the worst of the year it was said – in 1940. Andrew Geddes recalls “… a kauri four storey building. It was a great big wooden building right next door to Whittome & Stevenson’s. They were in total opposition to each other, both producing similar products.” That must have made for some interesting times. John Geddes remembers : “I was a kid at that stage and I would go and help pack the  Butterfly tea, which before the days of plastics each box had a fancy little painted lead toy in it – soldiers, ducks sheep, cows. We would try to collect a set. Growing up at the factory was part of my childhood. It had a lovely view of the playground and the Olympic Pool nearby which my father had a hand in helping build.” In the 1940s, Butterfly was sold off to L.D. Nathan who were keen to have the total market.  The last adverts I find for the brand are in 1938, presumably it was only purchased for its market share and then subsumed.

C H Furness sign on the back of Stanbeth House EDIT  copy

Furness & Company signage seen from the Britomart car park, on the back of the Stanbeth building. They were the major lease-holder from the 1920s to the 1970s.

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Government records show that the company applied for a fish canner’s license for the Auckland branch in 1942, and then in 1943 for Picton, demonstrating that, the financial difficulties of the 1930s aside – the company had grown enough to open a South Island production set-up . John Geddes remembers his father “Mac” (Hermann “Mac” McKail) Geddes “got interested (in the possibility of tinning seafood) and he started running around in the war time (looking for opportunity) . He moved to Picton and set up a very efficient factory. I think it came about mostly because of their own initiative, but they had the advantage of being part of the scheme of providing food to the Brits on convoy. It was a bit of a picnic really.” He remembers “Dad was an expert on fish canning”, starting with pilchards out of Queen Charlotte and Pelorus Sounds, for the British market. Then after that they moved on to canning can eels in Christchurch in Lake Ellesmere. They were “big nine footers”, recalls John. “Those too were put into cans and sent off to London. That was a seasonal thing because the catching of eels was done with the great rise and fall of the lake and the immigration of eels to sea – when it rose to such a height it would break through the sandbanks and somehow the eels knew and would swarm out. That was the principal time when father was there catching them. He used to anticipate this by getting bulldozers and dredging channels before the big high tide so the salt water would come pouring through and all the eels, thinking the banks had been broken , would come charging up and they would come up these channels and be gaffed.” (a gaff is a large iron hook attached to a pole or handle and used to land large fish). Later, there was whale meat production which we will get to further on in the story.

lift accident in city warehouse  copy

 A lift crashed in the Stanbeth building, after the teeth on a cog wheel broke and a rope unwound, and falling forty feet with five passengers in it  – including one of the daughters Mary Geddes. John Geddes says “…as she sailed to the bottom she had the presence of mind of counting the floors she passed!” Although most passengers broke their ankles, she got off with a sprain and went on to  undertake significant social work throughout Australasia, like her mother. Auckland Star, 31 January 1929. Courtesy of the National Library of New Zealand.

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The canner’s license seems to have been filed for cancellation by 1953, and this is that last official mention of a date I can find directly associated with the company.
By 1946 Brown Barrett (Picton) Limited also obtained a license for tinning fruit and vegetables. Throughout they were constantly advertising situations vacant (one requiring “splendid girls”, another “intelligent men, no experience essential”) – for food packers, manufacturing assistants, washers, labelers, bottlers and other staff. It goes unsaid – war time meant short labour and they did have a contract to supply tomato-based products and whale meat for the troops, whilst continuing to make “non-essentials”, right up until the end of the war. My favourite ad insisted that the prospective employees “apply in their own handwriting.” I don’t know whose else they would use.

Mary (Annabella Mary Geddes) (centre back) and her family, 1890s

Anabella Mary Geddes (centre back) and John McKail Geddes (right) and their family, 1890s. The man to the left is likely Mary’s father William Webster. Private collection, courtesy of the Te Ara website. 

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Of course the most famous building now associated with Brown, Barrett & Co is “The Excelsior”. It opened around 1897 at 22-24 Customs Street East, Britomart.
It was actually one of four warehouse buildings that the company requisitioned or built on in the vicinity and it was never actually used by Brown Barrett for the business – they had another premises at 30-32 Customs Street East, two doors down from The Excelsior, “The Masonic” – where they operated the coffee roasting house. (Previous to this they had roast or mill premises around the corner in Wyndham Street, and before that a very well-established set-up in Elliott Street near the entrance of Darby, from 1876 to the early 1890s; High Street previously mentioned was the very first, before that).

Instead, The Excelsior was the long term home of many other businesses. The first to hold a lease were Kempthorne, Prosser & Co (drugs and medicines, beauty and health products, manures and fertilizers, cleaners, culinary essences). Later, J. Wiseman & Sons saddlery, and Arthur Cleave & Co, printers. In the 1940s  it was a Bank of New Zealand. The western portion was removed in the 1930s to widen Commerce Street so it is today half its size, which sounds rather forlorn – but only looks narrow.

uni map copy copy

A map of the Auckland University grounds of  1959, showing Hazelbank marked in red on the Sinclair Geddes block. At this time it was being used as Elam School of Art. Published in “UOA Main Campus Development”, 1987. Courtesy of the Fine Arts Library, The University of Auckland Library.

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The Masonic was acquired in the late 1880s and remained in the Geddes family until 1945. Today Buckland’s Building at number 34 is almost indistinguishable from The Masonic, appearing as one large building – however the last three vertical rows of windows and the square street front windows define it on the Gore Street end.

Next door , between The Excelsior and The Masonic, is Stanbeth House at numbers 26- 28. The front half of this four-storey building, on Customs Street East, was built in 1885 as a warehouse for Coupland & Company. The rear half, facing Galway Street, was added by McKail Geddes in 1908. A number of Kauri gum merchants in the early 1900s,  the Old Age Pensions Office, the New Women’s Club, in the forties the Auckland Wool Stores and British General Electric, and also some eateries  – grill rooms and cafés – were some of the occupants over the decades.
Today the backs of the buildings are fairly unremarkable, facing on to the car park area. However, I did spot a painted sign that remained up on the wall in a corner – “C. H. Furness & Company” . They were the major leaseholder from the 1920s to the 1970s in the Stanbeth building. Who knows how old it is, but it’s nice it has been left – maybe not deliberately.

Excelsior Coffee and Butterfly Tea ads 1905-1921 VARIETY copy

A variety of Excelsior Coffee and Butterfly Tea ads from between  1905-1921. Courtesy of the National Library of New Zealand.

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The Excelsior, Stanbeth, and Masonic were recently refurbished with attention to heritage detail, as part of the recent rejuvenation on the Britomart precinct.

Post-war, a number of events happened one after the other that knocked the company down and every time it became a little more difficult to stand back up.

From the mid to late 1940s, the end came for many Government ration contracts that had been set up with many businesses to supply the troops. They were extremely busy, stressful and distracting times, with a lack of manpower to boot. But with all that going on, some like Wattie’s didn’t take their rise in fortunes for granted: they saw this obvious change as inevitable in coming and made moves to get around the sudden massive dip in profits by looking to development of other products . For others succession planning to cope was not so successful.

Butterfly tea - UNXLD baking powder flour coffee essence coffee pepper Brown Barrett co Observer  2 December 1907 Page 20

Observer, 2 December 1907. Courtesy of the National Library of New Zealand.

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In 1950 another serious blaze at the Carlton Gore Road site almost completely destroyed the business with damage estimated at over £50,000. Most of the two main floors, with equipment and stock, were lost but the front portion of the (two-storey, not four, the article states) building and basement was saved. Six fire engines were engaged and water was pumped from the Olympic swimming pool nearby. John Geddes recalls : “a dramatic fire, at night time caused by an electrical fault – and two stocks of coffee and sugar being in close proximity to each other. One caught fire then it moved to the other. It happened when I was getting ready for a stage two exam for my BA in economics. I wasn’t even allowed to go and watch it because I had to get organized for the next day! “ says Andrew Geddes: “It happened when I was at school, Kings Prep. I remember I looked out through the dormitory windows and I could see the whole side of the building on fire and then it blew up. The whole shebang burnt down. They rebuilt, but that consumed a lot of the company capital”. Andrew Geddes thinks it was mainly the fire that started the downhill run of the company’s deterioration. John Geddes remembers that “it didn’t end the company; the company have insurance and if anything had improved it!”

Brown Barrett's coffee and chicory essence Advertisement in The Mirror early 1930s

Brown Barrett Advertisement 1930-1935. Kenneth Magill collection, Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. Ref: C-105-015.

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Meanwhile in the South Island, after Brown Barrett Ltd moved on from Lake Ellesmere, they got into a very successful business of canning whale meat – “tasty and nourishing, cooked ready to serve with salt added, immerse in boiling water for 15 minutes to serve hot, ideal for pies and stews” read the can labels. “Thousands of tins were sent away to famine-stricken Europe”, says John. One contract alone was for the equivalent 304 tons. The Perano Brothers’  business was established in 1911, and Joseph and Gilbert Perano carried it on until 1964 when whaling was brought to an end. However while it lasted it was a very lucrative partnership indeed. “They cut the meat up into three ton steaks, carted them into Picton to the factory and then as they did with the pilchards , they would salt it in barrels to store it. Eventually it went to Britain canned”, recalls John Geddes. Things were going well, apparently until the Agricultural Department intervened and according to John “this is where the problem came in – the content of a shipment went bad because it hadn’t been properly cooked, which it would have been if they had been allowed to stay with fisheries department. But they were directed to do what was required by the agricultural department instead. It went off as the ship was coming in to Southampton so that meant that the whole consignment had to be tossed. It was government bureaucracy” that caused the problems.

Brown Barrett's coffee and chicory essence, Advertisement in The Mirror 1 January 1933

Advertisement from The Mirror,early 1930s. Courtesy of Alexander Turnbull Library Manuscripts and Pictorial Collection, Ref: 1/2-137416-F

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On top of that, In the early 1950s William (Bill) McKail Geddes fell ill. “My uncle Bill had cancer of the brain and died” – remembers John Geddes, “So dad had to come back to Auckland to run the Newmarket operation, there was nobody else”.
Subsequently he got involved with Newton Meat company, and Brown Barrett Ltd procured a contract for tinned pork. John Geddes says: “Father made more profit in one year that had ever been made before – and he invested the whole lot back in. As the machinery arrived, Suddenly the pork market collapsed and Mr. Breeze canceled his entire contract – Dad didn’t have any follow on. He was buggered, so that coincided with having to go back to the banks .”

BUTTERFLY TEA FREE TOYS Auckland Star, Volume LXIX, Issue 36, 12 February 1938, Page 11

John Geddes remembers helping pack the free painted lead toys in with the boxes of tea at the Carlton Gore Road factory, as a youngster. This advert  from the Auckland Star, February 1938. Courtesy of the National Library of New Zealand.

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At that moment new policies had just been introduced that restricted ready overdrafts that many companies like Brown, Barrett Ltd regularly needed access to in order to be able to acquire bulk raw ingredients , at crucial times, for later production. Says John Geddes: “The firm survived by virtue of getting overdrafts – particularly for tomatoes – which they used to buy in vast amounts in the prime season when they couldn’t process them for the market – and they would be condensed and put it in kerosene-style four gallon tins. They were used whenever Brown Barrett wanted to manufacture soup, baked beans or spaghetti; they would crack open the big cans. In those days it was a matter of sorting out a exactly what was needed and what would be purchased (in advance, taking into consideration what was wanted) by Four Square and other customers. The marketplace was highly competitive – if Wattie’s dropped the price on something they’d be stuck with all the stuff so they were pretty critical about everything that they did. It was highly sensitive but it worked. I think it was just a case of the monetary policies, it was just coincidental bad luck that the bank said at the time “you can go somewhere else and find it”. So you’re quite right to question – “it was an old company – how could it collapse?” Well , for a number of reasons. They did extremely well up until the crisis of the whale and then the pork. Looking at the old balance sheet it was just awful, but you know, they had managed to survive (until then).
Then the family put my father out of commission because he was getting a bit distraught in sole charge. In one incident he went to see the manager and threw a live cartridge on to the table and said “that’s what you’re doing to us!” and that was enough for the rest of the family to say “let’s put this company into liquidation because there’s not going to be much future.” They really railroaded my father – and it was the best thing that could have happened to him because he lived for another 20 years and went on to have a successful career in council”.

UNXLD baking powder - Poverty Bay Herald 18 February 1911 Page 3

UNXLD was a brand Brown Barrett & Co launched in the 1890s. Poverty Bay Herald, February 1911. Courtesy of the National Library of New Zealand.

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Taking the entire company history into consideration, the end is a movie-worthy saga in its own right. Around the time Mary McKail Geddes passed away, the business was dismantled. “The ownership was spread all over the family, but grandmother was the major shareholder. The business finished in 1955 and that’s because the company was no longer going to be sustainable. It wasn’t forced by debt or anything like that”, says John. I did find reference to the Excelsior Buildings and Investments Limited company offices being “gutted” in 1959. Whether it was still even in the family by then – I don’t know, but it would have been the last one in the block left.
So as it turns out – it was the result of a number of different events that compounded and thus resulted in the closure of one of New Zealand’s longest-running and most successful foodstuffs businesses. In the end it was a difficult and sad, but entirely voluntary decision of the family to close the doors for good.

Excelsior half removed for Commerce Street  Sir George Grey Special CollectionsAuckland Libraries 580-515

The Excelsior Building 1940-1949, after half has been removed to make way for the widening of Commerce Street in the 1930s. BNZ are in occupation, and Stanbeth House next to it has British General Electric and Auckland Wool Stores residing. I just had a flashback to sitting in the pokey little cafe at the front of the bus station, bottom left, drinking tea and smoking ciggies whilst waiting for the school bus on cold winter mornings. All gone now, of course. Courtesy of Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, 580-400.

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Special thanks to Victoria Passau at the Fine Arts Library, The University of Auckland Library , Lisa Truttman at Timespanner, and also Joanne Graves, at Central Auckland Library Research Centre, for research assistance on the University grounds and Hazelbank estate. Also thanks to Bevis England at Fringe Media, and members of the McKail Geddes family – Andrew and Janet Geddes, John and Claire McKail Geddes.

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All content of Longwhitekid copyright Darian Zam © 2012. All rights reserved.

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aMcKAIL GEDDES Hazelbank

Addendum Feb 2013:  Finally! A part image of the Hazelbank house. Courtesy of descendants of John McKail and Mary Geddes, who dug this up for me eventually from an old family album. Although somewhat cropped, you can *sort of * get an idea of what it looked like, with the house seemingly facing north-east, with the front facing away from Symonds Street looking down to the gully, according to the 1959 map. Or fronting more towards  the (now missing part of) Wynyard street, which would make more sense. That is presuming that the building shown in the grounds drawing is  Hazelbank, it’s unlikely it had been replaced just yet. 

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