Archive for the ‘T.C. Denne’ Category

Elbe’s Ice Cream: The Plot Thickens

In A&P Shows, Birds Eye Frozen Foods, Birds Eye NZ Ltd, Bodgies and Widgies, Denne Brothers, Dennis Knight Turner, Desserts, Elbe's Ice Cream, Elbe’s Milk Bar, Fonzies, Fred Elbe, Frozen Foods, Frozen Vegetables, Griffin’s, Happy Days, Heavenly Creatures, Hokey Pokey, Hokey Pokey ice cream, Ice Cream, Ice cream sundaes, John Waters' Cry-Baby, Juvenile delinquency, Laverne and Shirley, Louis Gottfried Christian Elbe, Mazengarb Report, Milk Bar Cowboys, Milkshakes, Moral Panic, Peter Pan Frozen Foods Ltd, Peter Pan ice cream, Rebels with a cause, Rockers and Greasers, soft drink, T.C. Denne, teenage decadence, The Petone Incident, Thomas Clement Denne, Tip-Top, Warren Elbe on January 12, 2015 at 10.46

Elbe's icecream logo 1950s copy

Recreation of an Elbe’s Ice Cream sign, imagined as late 1950s, inspired by their A&P stand logo (photo further down), and the colours of the milk bar interior.


Now, as we know from my previous article here, a lot of people like to mark their territory in hokey pokey history – and quite often that involves claiming they invented it.

Having read my story on New Zealand’s favourite ice cream flavour, an Elbe descendant contacted me. After trading quite a few emails (as well as a bit of cursory snooping by me) it was a done deal that there was more than plenty for a story here – contenders to the hokey pokey crown, scandalous behaviour, and juvenile delinquency!

Elbe’s first opened as just a milk bar at 98 High Street, Lower Hutt, Wellington, “next to Woolworths”. The earliest mention I was able to locate was in a humorous article “On Trial”, in the Hutt News, early July 1936 – in which a mock court case is conducted at the milk bar of Frederick Elbe Esq., as part of a stag party celebration. At that time, apart from milkshakes and sundaes concocted for customers on the spot – the Elbes made their own ice cream on the premises and sold pints, quarts, and ice cream party cakes commercially.

The story begins with Louis Gottfried Christian Elbe – who hailed from Uralla, New South Wales, Australia, born 1887 to Louis (Ludovick Gottfried Elbe, 1858-1936) and Mary Phillipa (nee Goddard, 1864-1953). By the time Louis was on the scene he was already a second generation Aussie; the family had arrived from Erbach, Nassau, Germany in 1855. In 1906 Louis married Ada M. Marshall in Newtown, Sydney. After marriage they resided at 91 Evans Street, in Rozelle.

Elbe's Milk Bar 1950s courtesy of Sherry Elbe

The interior of Elbe’s Milk Bar in its 1950s heyday. The colour scheme was a very modern cream, lime green and black. Image courtesy of the Elbe family.


Apparently quite mismatched – things went south with the union very quickly; in less than two years Ada had been abandoned. She quickly arranged for a court warrant issued in nearby Glebe, for Louis’s arrest – citing desertion. However it seems he had truly flown the coop. In not much more than a year, he reappeared in New Zealand, in 1909, now named Frederick Louis. A few short months had seemingly allowed him enough time to settle, meet, and marry Ann Elizabeth Lowry. Hopefully he was divorced from his initial wife first – but it doesn’t look hopeful right now.

Thus far my researches have been unable to locate any record of Fred arriving to Aotearoa. Running off, he likely switched countries under an assumed name.There’s no evidence that the Elbes ever divorced in Australian records, or that Frederick Elbe ever returned to Australia to sort this situation out before remarrying. The New Zealand Immigration Passenger Lists show no Elbes that even vaguely qualify. At least – not up until the 1930s when several records clearly indicate a Mr. F. Elbe, of the correct age and occupation, returning from Australia to Wellington on a number of occasions, from then on through to the 1950s. Not the kind of thing families really want to discover but that’s how it is – and not that uncommon either.

Why New Zealand? Perhaps he thought it best to get out of the country completely, but in tandem wanted to remain as close as possible to his family. So it was probably the most logical option. The speed with which he remarried indicates he may have already met his future second wife, perhaps in Australia, hence his absconding with no explanation. Either that or he was a very fast mover. It was more likely the latter – but we will probably never know exactly how it played out.

Anyway, now a Kiwi tailor named Fred (records show a registration for Elbe Tailoring Company Ltd in Wellington), his transformation was almost complete. Between at least 1919-1922 Fred Elbe was advertising suit making from 276 Lambton Quay; “fit and style perfection…above H.B.” (which stood for Hallenstein Brothers), and later 262 on the same street where H.B. now stood for “Hannah’s Building”. Grandchildren recall a one-time career as a traveller and a manufactory for belts and men’s suspenders later on.

Frederick Louis (Fred) Elbe- ( government name Louis Gottfried Christian Elbe) courtesy of Sherry Elbe

 Frederick Louis aka Fred Sr. (government name Louis Gottfried Christian Elbe), a tailor, was the first to come to New Zealand; it was his son that founded the ice cream business. Image courtesy of the Elbe family.


The couple eventually had three sons; Rowland Carl (1913-1987), Roy Sheldon (1920-2007) and Louis Frederick Elbe (1910-1982). Their parents both passed away in Hutt in 1966 respectively. However as an interesting aside, the couple seem to have been living separately from at least 1946. Around this time Fred’s mother had arrived from New South Wales and was residing with him. Given how some wives feel about their mothers-in-law, it may be why she moved out!

It was Louis Frederick (who like his father also called himself Fred – we’ll call him Fred Jr. from here on to differentiate), who actually established the Elbe’s brand. How exactly he gained knowledge and training of the  art of ice cream production remains unanswered. It was likely the business was started in the mid 1930s, although it’s now not known exactly what year. One source says “just prior to the war” which almost tallies with the earliest newspaper date. Fred Jr.’s two sons with wife Rewa Ellen, nee August, were Warren William and Maxwell Richard Elbe. However it’s Warren that people mostly seem to associate memories of the Elbe’s Milk bar heyday with. In the mid-late 1940s the Elbe’s takeaway product roster expanded to add “Homepacks’, and ice cream Christmas cakes “frozen extra hard”.

Upon returning from the war it was Roy who became “chief ice cream maker” at the milk bar. As the business and brand became successful, premises were purchased just across the road – and a factory started production under his management. A picture which has been taken of a stand around 1959 at a Bartons Bush A&P specifies some novelties such as vanilla slices and “Rockets” (the full name of the item is partially obscured; it’s either frozen, space or chocolate).

An image of the interior of the shop, taken in the 1950s shows that Elbe’s had expanded into a line of fountain syrups for drinks. Other items they served were soft drinks and fancy concoctions like peach melba, chocolate peanut and date snowball sundaes, the Snowman, the Rainbow Special – as well as individual Dixie-style tubs, vanilla slices, chocolate coated novelties (probably similar to Boms). There was also a full candy counter in the corner and a jukebox for the latest in pop music. Of course (the not-so-ubiquitous) milkshakes, about which Brigitte Bönisch-Brednich recounts in “Keeping a Low Profile: An Oral History of German Immigration to New Zealand”: “I vividly remember in my teenage years Elbe’s. The art of making milkshakes was developed to a very fine pitch.”

Ice Cream Cake box Elbe's Milk Bar 1950s RECREATION copy

Recreation of the Elbe’s ice cream cake box, seen on the top shelf  behind the bar in the 1950s photo of the milk bar interior (above). Gavin Elbe recalls “…these were about ten inches diameter and about three deep, with a glittery paper band around them – sometimes decorated on the top for special occasions. I never got one.” Harsh!


During the first half of this decade Fred Jr. registered a design he cooked up in collaboration with a Roy Butterworth (1904-1978) with the Intellectual Property office. I was unable to find out what exactly that was, but I speculated it was most likely a piece of manufacturing machinery or packaging rather than a recipe. Since Butterworth worked through the 1930s-1950s as an upholsterer, essentially pattern-making, I’d make an educated guess it was the latter.
The family story goes that another invention of Great-Grandpa Fred Jr.’s may have been the Hokey Pokey ice cream recipe which he then sold to Tip-Top, who have of course themselves claimed (falsely, it’s now fairly clear) that they actually invented it during the Forties. Further to this cuckooing of Elbe’s – Fred Jr.’s motorised ice cream cart now sits in MOTAT with a Tip-Top signage emblazoned on it instead of the Elbe’s logo (how it went from the Hutt to Auckland – I’m not sure).

Gavin Elbe, one of Fred Jr.’s nephews, recalls: “I was born in 1947, and I cannot remember a time when we did not make Hokey Pokey ice cream. In my school days I did odd jobs there at the factory during the holidays and weekends. As soon as I was old enough, I had the job of breaking up the slabs to put in the mixture.” He was unsure where the confectionery came from, but thinks that it, along with chocolate for novelty products, may likely have been supplied by Griffin’s – which makes sense since they were based in the local area. Then he tacked on – ” This was years before we were bought out by T.C. Denne…”
Wait, hold up a minute. Did he just say Denne? The same T.C. Denne who founded Peter Pan Ice Cream, that I’ve previously written about on a number of occasions?

Interesting, to say the least, that in all my research on the Dennes and their businesses, and the various interviews I conducted, they never once mentioned they purchased the Elbe’s business! I wonder if that got left out (deliberately) or perhaps just forgot to get a mention (unlikely). It makes one wonder that if Elbe’s were making Hokey Pokey first, then Peter Pan may have acquired the recipe with their purchase – and thus have to forfeit their claim to be front runner – or even one of them at all.

When I pushed Gavin for a little more of a fix on the date he states “the Hokey Pokey smashing definitely began (in my) pre-teens”, putting a definite date before 1960. In comparison to other confirmed dates from Peter Pan and Newjoy Ice Cream Co. this isn’t the earliest, so actually brings me no closer to solving the mystery of who made it first.

Elbe's Ice Cream ads 1943-1945 copy

Various Elbe’s product adverts from the Hutt News, from clockwise top left: April 1944, October 1944, November 1943, and November 1944. Images courtesy of the National Library of New Zealand.


“After Denne’s purchase of Elbe’s, we continued to make a range of lines in Lower Hutt for distribution. Until one day my father got a phone call from the Dennes to say he was to lay off all staff, and arrange the strip out of our factory. No visit – just a phone call. I still remember that day because I had biked down to the factory after school to do some jobs, as I frequently did, and found all of the staff in a sombre mood.”

Gavin vaguely recalls some kind of connection with ” Levin and Company, (and) with the Birds Eye brand as well – but I am short on detail.” I’ve tried looking into Levin a bit, who made a great deal of their money in Amber Tips tea from the 1890s onwards, and I am not sure where they are at these days – if it even still exists, or in what form. It’s a very old company, founded by some Jewish fellows, and going as far back as the 1850s. Seemingly during the war years one of the things they were handling was sugar – a very precious commodity for confectionery and ice cream makers, obviously. That said, ice cream makers were off the hook a bit more than chocolate companies because there was no rationing restriction on dairy – so sugar was their only problem. Birds Eye was not launched by Unilever in New Zealand until 1947, and Wattie’s as far as I know did all their frozen fruit and vegetables for them, and probably still do.

Levin and Company had both freezing and import-export enterprises so if it wasn’t to do with sugar, then it’s (more) likely the connection was distribution. Many of these companies were connected through distribution deals because they needed to pair up with others, for transport reasons, to make their enterprise profitable. It’s why so many companies that started off with ice cream branched out into frozen vegetables otherwise it wasn’t viable financially to distribute their product. This means many reciprocal deals were done to move product around the country efficiently.

One acquaintance remembers her father being friendly enough with Fred Jr. to “visit…shortly after the opening of the milk bar. We were given a tour of the business, including out the back, where ice cream was made. In a large freezer room were shown a box of peas, still in their shells. He opened one pod to show that the contents were in mint condition. He predicted correctly that this would be a major method of preserving food in the future.”

Although the mention of frozen peas is interesting, there’s no memory of any frozen vegetables ever being produced by the Elbe’s factory. So it is not really relevant to the fact that Peter Pan bought out quite a number of freezing businesses, including ice cream operations, up and down the North Island in a methodical campaign to advance their distribution over the years. However there may have been more of a motive at play here for the acquisition. Is it possible that Peter Pan got it’s Hokey Pokey recipe from its acquisition of the Elbe’s factory?

Elbe's icecream and cola stalls Bartons Bush A&P late 1950s courtesy of Sherry Elbe

aTaken at Hutt Valley A&P show, late 1950s, Bartons Bush. Fred Jr.’s nephew Gavin Elbe remembers: “We had the concession for ice cream and Coca-Cola stalls, also a candy floss machine. My job was refunding the empty bottles, at two pence each – or a packet of chewing gum.”


As it did in every major city, business exploded during WWII due to the influx of R&R servicemen to Wellington; the Elbe’s business did not solely flourish because of this, but later Elbe’s provided supplies for the ice breakers who were part The IGY team ( The International Geophysical Year  was an international scientific project run from July 1957 – Dec 1958).
Gavin recalls “…they loved it (Elbe’s product) because it was much creamier than American ice cream. In those days it was a legal requirement for ice cream in New Zealand to have a minimum percentage of real butter and milk powder to help protect the dairy industry. Very early on I remember real cream was used, also.”
It should be noted  how the advent of a great number of foreign, in this case particularly American servicemen, had great impact on culture and business in large cities; and this in turn had a lasting effect on trends for foodstuffs, clothes, and entertainment that went on for decades – as it is particularly pertinent to the themes here.

By the 1950s the Elbes were, in the words of one of their punny former neighbours “creaming it…with true entrepreneurial skill the Elbes had in no time made a fortune and moved …to a flash two-story house in an up-market suburb.” With the interior of the milk bar decked out in a snazzy contemporary theme of lime, cream and black – Elbe’s had now become the hottest teen hang out in the Wellington area.

It’s recalled that “Friday and Saturday nights were so busy that a staff member would be stationed at the entrance, ensuring that when full, those wishing to enter matched those leaving. It was normal during peak periods for a queue to form outside – waiting patiently for their turn to enter.” Someone else remembers as they “…queued up round the street, (there would be) fighting to get in the front door.” So no doubt a “bouncer” was in place to prevent the scuffles as well.

It was frequented by local kids “at a (nebulous) loose end” – as well as “Bodgies” and their female counterpart “Widgies” – as they were known in Australasia; the monikers given to the down under equivalent of the American movement of “Rockers” and “Greasers”, or the British version – “Teddies.” “Bikers” per se, came later, in the 1960s; not to be confused with “Milk Bar Cowboys” who were basically Bodgies with motorbikes  – and the variation was lumped into this supposed ragtag bundle of various youth subculture groups. I s’pose the inferral is that there were bound to be wars between factions – but given their definitions (not much different from each other it seems), and objectives, it does not seem that it was as likely as expected.

The movement revolved around newfangled rock ‘n’ roll music, and was also influenced by rebellious teen movies like “Rebel Without a Cause.” Fashion icons were James Dean and Elvis, amongst others.There was an obsession with American style – which was to again resurface later on, in the mid-late 1970s with a feast of nostalgia for the period – exemplified in TV shows like “Happy Days”, “Laverne and Shirley”, and “Sha Na Na” (and also resulted in the cheesy retro snack Fonzies).

Elements of the Bodgie/ Widgie/Milk Bar Cowboy style featured pegged trousers and moccasins, Zoot Suits and luminous socks, exaggerated bright shirts, tight white tee-shirts with leather jackets, flannelettes with Adidas boots, or tight jeans and suede brothel creepers, topped off with a greasy “Rack” hairdo, or Brylcreemed quiffs  finished at the back with D.A. (Duck’s Ass).

As throughout history, with the pinpointing and victimization of many a minority, people took umbrage simply because the so-called “Milk Bar Cowboys” looked and acted differently to the plebeian majority. When fraternizing, add motorcycles into the mix and there’s bound to be public pearl-clutching to relish in. It all sounds very much like John Waters’ movie “Cry Baby”:

The Sydney Morning Herald critiqued “…’bodgies’ growing their hair long and getting around in satin shirts, and ‘weegies (sic)’ cutting their hair short and wearing jeans… confusion seems to be arising about the sex of some adolescents.” Apparently not so confused about sex; because then Elbe’s went from popular to notorious overnight.

Somehow an outrageous story got out that teenagers, some under the age of consent, were using Elbe’s Milk Bar as a meeting place to arrange illicit trysts in nearby Strand Park and down by the Hutt river. Their milkshakes were literally bringing boys to the yard. Young patrons were engaging in “sex acts”, and not only that – but somehow were obtaining contraceptives to boot. It quickly came to be known as the “Petone Incident.”

Moral panic was the headline of the day, exacerbated by the untimely incidents of two separate milk bar murders in Auckland (the fact that they could have happened anywhere seemingly irrelevant) and the horrific Parker–Hulme case (later made by Peter Jackson into Heavenly Creatures with its themes of teen perversion, angst, rebellion and tragedy). Sensationalist media reports of course did not help, but sold papers and made coin.

New Zealand’s Prime Minister of the time, Sir Sidney George Holland, attempted to use this simmering unrest to his advantage and called for a thorough investigation into this wanton depravity; a special committee was set up, chaired by a local lawyer, Dr. Oswald Mazengarb, to examine the supposed social factors that was causing “delinquency” and subsequent juvenile immorality. The hearings and investigations took place over a period of eight weeks.

The text of the Mazengarb Report, in full, the “Report of the Special Committee on Moral Delinquency in Children and Adolescents”, was released in late September 1954. It cites the appearance of witnesses Mr L. F. Elbe, of Elbe’s Milk Bar, Lower Hutt, along with employees Mr. W.L. Ellingham, and Mr. A.L. Lummis, who appeared in the hearing line-up and were examined under oath as numbers fifteen to seventeen respectively.

John, aka “Oldrider”, writes on a forum that he was one of those “Milk Bar Cowboys” in the 1950s Hutt. Dubbed so “because we rode bikes, cavorted with the ‘sexually active’ girls from Hutt Valley High school and Petone Tech, and hung around the milk bars in the weekend. I was definitely a member of that group of guys and gals so named…a great bunch of people to associate with. So, yes, I used to frequent Elbe’s Milk Bar among others (it wasn’t only milk bars that were frequented, either) – but I was not responsible for the saga. The girl in question lived just down the road from me.  (In retrospect) it was pretty pathetic press run by the “Truth” newspaper about the behaviour of the so-called ‘juvenile delinquents’ of the day. They made it very big news, (but it was) pretty tame stuff really!”

the Bodgie A E Manning Wellington Reed 1958 Dennis Knight Turner design copy

“The Bodgie” by A. E. Manning , design by Dennis Knight Turner, published by Reed, 1958.  Formula: If you added a motorbike to a Bodgie, Rocker, Teddy or Greaser  – rather like making a shake – you had instant “Milk Bar Cowboy.”


Another member recounts the bounties of the hilariously nicknamed private school “Sacred Tarts”: “I remember well, afternoons in the early Fifties ,when I rode my bike from Naenae College into the Hutt. There, we’d meet up with girls from Sacred Heart College, and do a bit of ‘experimenting’ in the back booths at Elbe’s. But not until I’d scoffed a chocolate peanut sundae first! Their gym frocks always smelled, well, inviting.”

So there was definitely some kinky stuff involved, it’s true. That particular individual who is recalled as being in the middle of it all apparently refers to the fifteen year old girl who decided to blab to the authorities about the sexcapades of what she called the “Milk Bar Gang”, and numerous young people in the area allegedly confessed to police their instances of “sexual misconduct” (probably defined as hickies at that time) – however it’s said some were actually charged with carnal knowledge of minors. It’s all a bit vague, really. Too hazy for my liking – and deliberately, I suspect.

However Elbe’s was hardly the “notorious den of teenage lust” it was made out to be, except maybe lust for sweet treats. Merv Griffith says that rather than rumpy, the goal was to “pick up a bird”, and subsequently “the main aim was to go like hell; the louder the screams from the pillion seat, the more successful the mission. Apart from that it was to sit round and comb your hair and try and look beautiful on your bikes. Then you would go in and have a milkshake.” So more toffee than totty. Not exactly titillating stuff.

Even local member of parliament of the time Michael Moohan called them on it and opined it was the report itself that was internationally stigmatizing, dubbing it sensationalist. “I think it is a terrible thing…to give the impression that there is such a grave problem….when such is really not the case.”

However governments usually aren’t very interested in the facts unless they happen to marry with some kind of desired outcome. One way they use situations like this is basically for crowd control, often by scapegoating. Recurrently Instigating “moral panic ” is the perfect way to regulate a society. If the truth of what was involved in “The Petone Incident” was known  – there probably wouldn’t have been that much fuss, or subsequently a reaction. However, once people start actually looking for reasons to break up the party – they can usually find one if they really want to.
Thus a post-war movement for independence essentially came to be considered a “problem” simply by issuing pamphlets to hundreds of thousands of households regarding this revolting rebellion of unbridled teenage decadence.

cry-baby-clan copy

“The Cry Baby Clan”: Still from pope of trash  John Waters’  hilarious 1990 musical satire on juvenile delinquency and moral panic. Recommended watching.


 The report ultimately laid the blame on a breakdown of dreary urban Nuclear family life; the culprits were teen temptresses, comic books, working mothers, rock ‘n’ roll, and modern cities. Oh, also peace time (because that’s really a bad thing, right?) and generally having too much money (also a terrible burden to anyone). Maybe they should have called it the “Moot Report” since the only astoundingly new thing there was a style of music. Mazengarb, a notorious right wing killjoy and puritanical prude, disapproved wholeheartedly of just about everything as most fundamentalists do – and the list was long. As most fundamentalists also do – I am sure he was hiding something. I like to call it the J. Edgar Hoover Principle, and it’s a pretty reliable rule.

The report resulted in the drafting of new Acts increasing censorship of “obscene and indecent content” in publications, The Child Welfare Amendment Act which made sexual behaviour officially “delinquency”, and the banning of contraceptive sales to minors, because the one thing every parent wants is an underage pregnant daughter to deal with, right? The lack of logic is mind-boggling, and that’s something that hasn’t changed.

The impact had its desired effect, though. Alison Gray discusses in her review of “Patched: The History of Gangs in New Zealand” by Jarrod Gilbert, that “I was in primary school in Lower Hutt. I can still remember my parents discussing the report behind closed doors and banning us kids from going anywhere near the notorious Elbe’s. We had no idea what they were on about, but we knew it had something to do with people not much older than us, behaving very, very badly. Our minds fairly boggled. It was my first experience of a moral panic and it was a little bit scary. I realise now that it was probably even scarier for my parents. The “juvenile delinquents” looked like us, walking down our streets, and sitting in the very booths where we ate our ice cream sundaes. No wonder my parents were afraid!”

Silver-Tex condoms The Killian MRG Company 1950s Te Papa GH010168 copy

Silver-Tex, by Killian MRG Co., 1950s. Image courtesy of Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa collection, ref GH010168. Something I never thought I’d ever be writing a caption for on this blog; condoms. The only other example I’ve seen thus far is Durex from the early 1960s. It wasn’t even made common knowledge that they were available, if at all (some businesses like the strictly Catholic Galliens, flatly refused to sell contraceptives) so they weren’t exactly advertised – and the object obviously wasn’t to keep them if you could help it – so few examples survive.


Nevertheless there wasn’t much to worry about because by the beginning of the next decade, the “Milk Bar Cowboys” would be finished – replaced by the British Mersey sound, and all that new movement entailed. It was farewell Jailhouse Rock, and welcome to Carnaby Street. Following that, the Hippie movement. Inevitably ensued by an older generation’s shock and disgust. And so it goes on, generation to generation. Here’s a long overdue idea – maybe it’s easier just to get used to it.
As for Prime Minister Sidney Holland who rehashed this often used “moral panic” tactic to bolster his polls – could he have been less disingenuous? It was, in the end, hardly a boon for him – as he won another term that year anyway. Those in the know say that ultimately it had little effect on that outcome, and it was wasted energy beating up the situation; however the damage it all caused was done and it was deep, destructive and lasting.

According to a 1996 article on Roy and Nola Elbe and the milk bar history, entitled “Elbe Romance Blossomed Over Counter’ by Lee-Anne Edwards for the The Hutt News, it’s said the the ice cream factory ceased manufacturing around 1960 and had at least one ownership change before the Dennes of Peter Pan Frozen Foods came into the picture; but details are now unknown.  I’m not sure when the milk bar its self closed – I know the Elbes still had it in the very late 1950s as Andrea Elbe, Fred Jr.’s granddaughter, recalls an amusing anecdote in which “…the power went off one night, and my dad Warren had to race down there. He reckoned that Mum deliberately caused it because, pregnant with me, she had terrible middle-of-the-night cravings for ice cream. She got her wish!”

It’s not known how much the so-called “scandal” marred the business interests of the Elbes who were unwittingly caught up in it. However the fact that the milk bar apparently changed hands before the decade was out may be telling – except that the new owners must have been trading on the Elbes’ good business name – because that didn’t change. Bill and Betty Lummis acquired the milk bar and ran it through the 1960s. Their son Lox served with his brothers Brian and Kevin, who says that in their day “…bad behaviour never happened inside, my dad would not stand any nonsense like that.” So Elbe’s heyday as a denizen of vice, corruption and commotion was put paid to.

THE MAN IN THE STREET Upper Hutt Leader Number 22 20 June 1946 - Copy 1 copy

I don’t know what they or it says.  Since the riddles hint at matters equestrian, one can assume that as Fred Elbe Jr. accumulated some wealth, he dabbled in the business of racehorses. Upper Hutt Leader Number 22, 20 June, 1946. Image courtesy of the National Library of New Zealand.


Today Amalgamated Video occupies the original site on the southern end of High Street. However to add a little bit to its iconic status, it has been announced just recently that Artist Tim Barlow is recreating Elbe’s Milk Bar with the three Lummis brothers – as an installation this year – one of 11 artworks that will form “Common Ground’, Hutt City’s inaugural public art programme as part of the Fringe festival.
In that case, I guess that Elbe’s won’t be forgotten any time soon; and the family can in retrospect be pleased that they played a star role in a very interesting and significant piece of New Zealand’s history.

Thanks to the Elbe family -Sherry, Andy and Gavin , and Vicky Ireland for their assistance with information, material and images for this story. Also thanks to several sources for permission to quote their work: Both Andrea O’Neil  and Alex Fensome at Dominion Post as well as Papers Past all on behalf of Fairfax Media; Oldrider and others at Kiwi Biker forum, social historian Alison Gray, and Merv Griffith’s recollections from Ben Schrader’s “City children and youth – Bad behaviour”, published by Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, © Crown copyright 2005–2015 Manatū Taonga Ministry for Culture and Heritage, which were originally quoted with permission of historian Redmer Yska from his book “All shook up: the flash bodgie and the rise of the New Zealand teenager in the fifties Auckland”: Penguin, 1993, p. 66.


Addendum late Oct 2015: I’ve been meaning to add these for months – pictures of some of the family members mentioned in this article, which were kindly passed to me by Fred Elbe Sr.’s granddaughter Andy Elbe, after the article was published in New Zealand Legacy magazine. 

Elbe family From L Fred Jr Fred Sr Rowland Elizabeth Ann nee Lowry Roy late 1920s edit sml

The Elbe family: From L, Fred Jr., Fred Sr., Rowland, Elizabeth Ann nee Lowry, and Roy, taken in the late 1920s.


Fred Elbe jr and Rewa Ellen marriage edit

Fred Elbe Jr.’s marriage to Rewa Ellen August, 1933.


Marriage of Ernest John August and Mary Adam 1905 Rewa Ellen's parents Ann Elizabeth Lowry knew them edit

The marriage of Ernest John August and Mary nee Adam in 1905. These are the parents of Rewa Ellen August, who became the wife of Fred Elbe Jr. However Ann Elizabeth Lowry, who became Fred Elbe Sr.’s New Zealand wife, knew them as she was part of the wedding party and is third from the right. It’s curious, because did the family forget that they were associated with the Augusts before Fred Elbe was ever in the picture? Or just a weird coincidence? 


Louis Frederick (Fred Jr) Elbe (b1910) and Rowland Carl (b1913) c 1915-1916 edit - Copy - Copy

Louis Frederick (Fred Jr.) Elbe, with Rowland Carl Elbe, circa 1915.




All content of Longwhitekid copyright Darian Zam © 2015. All rights reserved.

Leaving a Legacy: Denne Drinks and Peter Pan Ice Cream

In Denne Brothers, Denne's Delicious Drinks, Peter Pan Frozen Foods Ltd, Peter Pan ice cream, T.C. Denne, Thomas Clement Denne on October 29, 2013 at 10.46

Cinema Advertising Lantern Slides 1958-1961 screen cap WATERMARK copyCinema Advertising Lantern Slides 1958-1961 screen cap WATERMARK copyCinema Advertising Lantern Slides 1958-1961 screen cap WATERMARK copy

REMOVED Peter Pan Ice Cream glass lantern slide advertising for cinemas, made between 1958-1961, probably by Andy Keen. Courtesy of the Denne family collection.

Note: Due to repetitive theft by those who take my intellectual property from this blog without my permission, and reproduce it as merchandise for sale on sites such as Ebay, Redbubble and Trade Me,  I have now watermarked some of the images. If you are interested in purchasing merch of other images you can head to my personal Redbubble store.
Two images have been temporarily removed as they have been reproduced and offered for sale repeatedly by a Christchurch-based junk dealer. I have done this out of respect for the generosity of the Denne family, and also for Archives New Zealand who allowed me to reproduce a piece under a PAID license which was clearly denoted and yet did not deter him from stealing from private AND public collections. Just one reason why I no longer publish.


Some months ago now, I was kindly invited by Auckland-based historian Lisa Truttman to pen an article for NZ Legacy Magazine, the official journal of the New Zealand Federation of Historical Societies, Aotearoa’s longest running heritage publication. Lisa has been a fantastic supporter of my work on the Longwhitekid project, and it was an honour to fulfil her request. A reconfigured version was published, of a story I had previously posted on this blog back in early April 9, 2012, entitled “How it All Pans Out” – about T.C. Denne’s soft drink and ice cream business.
There has been quite a resurgence of interest lately, propelled by a company reunion, which has been organised for November the 2nd of this year; and Central Hawkes Bay Settler’s Museum are also having an exhibition on the topic to coincide with this – it opens after the 1st November and runs until 26th January 2014. It’s nice to think that this is all happening just a few months shy of what would be the 100th year since the establishment of the Denne Drinks business; an anniversary celebration, if you will.
During the year a stack of information had come in from various sources to add to the history of Denne Drinks and Peter Pan; so as a result I pretty much had to start from scratch and rewrite the whole thing, then edit it back down to the 2000 words required. The Legacy version was still not complete and posed a number of major questions regarding the story (since resolved).
Subsequently, I ended up with the full version of the story at 12,000 words, just sitting around. Wondering what to do with it, since it was now way too big to post to this blog – it seemed only fitting really to do a bit of a rewrite, add all the images I’ve made or gathered up during the course of my research, and publish it as a small book about the company and Denne family history, so that people attending the reunion and exhibition could buy and enjoy it.
Foolishly, I thought I was going to be able to achieve this and have it ready during the last four weeks of the school semester, not realising that I had a very long list of assignments yet to do. Nearly complete, and suddenly realising I was cutting it pretty fine -I decided to postpone it rather than fail my course. What was I thinking? Not much, apparently. Anyway I am not sure when the book will now ever see the light of day, if at all. However, you can buy Peter Pan cards in my Redbubble store here.
Certainly since this article was published, it now seems it falls quite short – given what knowledge I have gained of of the missing pieces of the story – but here it is anyway, with a few extra images. This appeared in the Vol 25, No 1 edition of Legacy which was in-store January 2013. Enjoy.

No 1 Factory & truck with stone jars 1930

Two trucks, a 1928 Dodge and a Chevrolet, emblazoned with the company name and packed full of neat rows of stoneware crocks, sit outside the original Waipukurau factory in 1930-1931. Courtesy of the Denne family collection.


I never fail to be surprised that something that has been a long part of people’s lives disappears so rapidly, but doesn’t fade from one’s memory so quickly. Mention ‘Peter Pan’, and most remember it as being famous for their cold confections.
The brand originally came from T C (Thomas Clement) Denne’s soft drink business. T C’s parents arrived in New Zealand from Kent in 1875 and settled in Mataura in Southland, where T C was born in 1881.

Peter Pan railway card advertising circa 1968 NZ Archives collection WATERMARK copy

REMOVED  Railway advertisement, circa 1968. Artist: Unknown, NZ Railway Studios, Painting and collage on board, 225 x 420mm. Reproduced courtesy of Archives New Zealand The Department of Internal Affairs Te Tari Taiwhenua, Reference: AAAA 20991 W5860 1 F.


At fifteen, he was seriously injured in a local paper mill – his hand de-gloved between rollers, necessitating grafts. The family were still in Mataura in 1902, but by 1904, T C was in Milton; secretary then deputy conductor of the brass band. Music was to remain a life-long love and any lingering effects of his accident did not impede his endeavours.
The family had moved to the logging town Horopito in the King Country by 1908 and T C commenced business with John Madsen. They purchased a number of sections in 1908-1909 and are described as storekeepers; a photograph shows both standing outside premises they had at National Park. Their shops thrived with the communities benefitting from the boom in the timber industry – spurred by the completion of the Main Trunk railway line in 1908.

Peter Pan Fabulous Dazzle Poster Bob Godfrey  recreation by Darian Zam circa early-mid 1960s

Recreation of a mid-1960s hand screen-printed poster for the Peter Pan Dazzle, by Bob Godfrey.  


By 1912 the relationship had dissolved. Denne sold his part “to take up another business closer to town” and this was likely his entrée into soft drinks. A 1908 report mentions “numerous cordial proprietors of Horopito, charged with selling over-proof [alcoholic] product”. T C perhaps acquired one of these concerns and to learn the trade quickly he sat at someone’s knee.

Treasure Tip recreation copy WATERM copy

Recreation of a mid-late 1960s  wrapper for the Treasure Tip novelty, designed by Bob Godfrey,  


In 1913, he married Agnes Morris and his last mention in the area was in February 1914, in a letter to the Crown Lands department in which he refused to pay arrears.
Extraordinarily confident, he mastered brewing, extraction and aeration and set up two factories expeditiously.

In 1914, T C appeared in Queen Street, Masterton. An advertisement in January 1915 depicts ‘Denne’s Aerated Waterworks’ and a factory producing soda water, non-alcoholic ale and beer, and cordials. Simultaneously he was producing vinegar in Eketahuna, although the family say this was his first business. “Eketahuna had this beautiful spring, hence the factory there”, says Yvonne Sutton, T C’s granddaughter.

DENNES DELICIOUS DRINKS - Wairarapa Daily Times - 23 December 1916 - Page 8<

Denne’s Delicious Drinks, Wairarapa Daily Times, 23 December 1916, Page 8.


Between 1916 and 1919 advertisements for ‘Denne’s Delicious Drinks’ make mention of the ‘dry district’ of Wairarapa. That electorate banned alcohol from 1908 to 1946, so fermented drinks were booze-free, and his move to the area likely reflected his devout Seventh-day Adventism. By 1917, he was conducting Masterton’s Silver and Brass Bands. In 1919 he quit “for business reasons”, and sold his factory which was then renamed ‘Crystal Springs’ by partners Neill Wotton.
T C departed for good, being publicly presented with an engraved conductor’s baton.

Peter Pan Lemonade Blueberry Poster Bob Godfrey    recreation by Darian Zam  circa mid-mid 1960s

Recreation of a mid-1960s hand screen-printed poster for the Peter Pan Blueberry, by Bob Godfrey.  

His business carried on at Eketahuna – a factory receipt proves his residence there until July 1926. In Waipukurau, he immediately established a new factory.
In 1929, looking to expand, T C purchased ice cream equipment from Lionel Swain in Waipawa. Swain also suggested the brand name ‘Peter Pan’ – although it was used from the mid 1930s, it was only trademarked in 1946.

Denne Cordial Factory and Cioal Yard Reciept Eketahuna 1926 credit Tony Smith

Denne’s Drinks and Coal Yard, reciept from Eketahuna factory, July 1926. Image courtesy Tony Smith collection.


It was early days in the industry and T C built a 16-foot lean-to, as he assumed he would have only a limited market. Ice cream was initially churned in a bucket and sold in bulk.
Soon after, T C’s son Tom (Thomas Vernon Denne 1916-1983) joined the business. The 1930s saw smooth growth, unimpeded by the economic depression, but certainly plans were being made to establish a permanent ice cream business. The Tokomaru Steam Engine Museum have a 1937 ‘Sisson’ model, bought from the Dennes – “acquired 1967, a generator for power cuts, never used”. Dependent on local dairy cattle for the first decade, the company’s rapid growth meant ingredients had to be shipped in.
By 1940, ice cream had usurped the soft drink business – so that part of the business was sold.

Denne lemonade labelled circa 1928-1940 credit Tony Smith

Denne’s soft drink bottle with original contents ad label intact, produced between 1928-1938. Image courtesy Tony Smith collection.


The first ‘novelty’ product, the ‘Peter Pan Pie’, arrived in 1945. Even with automated machinery, the ice creams were hand wrapped. This was later improved under T C’s son Haydn (Maxwell Hayden Denne, 1921-2008) who joined in 1945. Much of the production machinery was devised on site; Haydn built the first fully articulated freezer truck in New Zealand from an old army chassis, beginning what was to become a large custom fleet.

Denne lemonade bottlr  Label  circa 1928-1940

A recreation of the Denne’s soft drink bottle label above, produced between 1928-1938. Image courtesy Tony Smith collection.


Haydn became the creative force behind products, developing recipes and techniques, and eventually issuing a new novelty every six weeks. John Denne, T C’s grandson, says: “There were heaps of different flavours of ice cream. But one of the best was Hokey Pokey”. In the early days, the hot toffee was poured into cut down milk powder tins, then smashed and spooned in by hand, as the product exited the churn. Both grandchildren remember that occurring in the mid-1950s and it’s possible Peter Pan were creators of this iconic treat.

Peter Pan Products - original ice cream shed TC Denne Agnes Denne and poss Lionel Swain  1930

Tom and Agnes Denne on the right, and a refrigeration technician, with their first ice cream churn in 1929. Courtesy of the Denne family collection.


Highly popular 1960s novelties included ‘Nutty Cha Chas’, ‘Pink Elephants’ and ‘Jolli-Lollis’ – an iceblock mix in a plastic sachet. “That was an innovation too”, says John, “we may have been first”. Peter Pan seemingly cornered the market in novelty product – a specialty gimmick were ices with imbedded confectionery.
Tony Dean, who worked there from 1966 to 1973, recalls “the Treasure Tip, with jelly babies inserted manually”. Other products were ‘Red Knight’, ‘Honey Bunny’ and the movie-based ‘Hello Dolly’. Many likely capitalised on contemporary popular culture, and were promoted with colourful, garish advertising by artist Bob Godfrey.

Pink Elephant recreation REVISED CROPPED WATERM copy

Recreation of a mid-late 1960s wrapper for the Pink Elephant novelty, designed by Bob Godfrey.


I stumbled on this story through the sale of a poster lot at auction. Yvonne says “He had a distinct style; posters were printed in his department, originally the local morgue. It still had the marble slabs! When they were rebuilding the hospital, some structures were bought by the company and transferred to the site. The whole layout made use of whatever they found”.

peter pan ice cream sandwich board 1950s

Peter Pan ice cream sandwich board, probably 1950s, image courtesy Cheryl Kelly.



T C died in 1950 and his sons assumed his mantle with fervour. John says “Dad handled marketing and sales, Haydn did the production – he had the creativity”.
By 1965, under Tom’s management, ‘Peter Pan’ was now the third-largest ice cream manufacturer in New Zealand with 153 staff and 53 trucks covering a network of depots.

T C Denne & Co crock 1930 credit Brian Turner

These stoneware crocks these were first issued in 1928,  and then again two years later.  A small number of these two issues exist today now selling well into the hundreds each. Image courtesy of Brian Turner.


Tony Dean recalls ‘Peter Pan’ also had a contract to distribute Hellaby’s frozen chicken and peas. In the 1960s, this expanded to fish fingers and fillets, squid, beans, mixed vegetables, and corn. John recalls “Sanfords was one seafood supplier. Sadd’s in the South island processed frozen vegetables. Perishability means – to make distribution work you need a good range. It was mainly stores we delivered to – there weren’t large supermarkets like today. Delivering ice-cream wasn’t enough – so over time we developed many products”. Advertising from the 1960s shows frozen pastry, and fast food snacks marketed as ‘Chinese’. There was a line of milkshake syrups, and ‘Tru Fru’ sundae sauces.
Hazel Hori, who worked there from 1963 to 1965, remembers “Many Waipukurau people spent part of their lives there. My dad was employed for many years, my mother; my brother, and me – during school holidays.” It was a rite of passage to do a stint before heading out into the world.

Peter Pan Products - frozen pastry box 1960s  back

The back of a Peter Pan one pound frozen pastry box, designed by Bob Godfrey, mid-late 1960s.


The Dennes were known as fair, generous employers; they even had a ‘Peter Pan Bus’ to transport staff. Former workers praise them highly. Says John, “We valued our staff very much. When I became a pastor, it had trained me in that administering aspect, because my father would visit workers in hospital.” In 1962, John started working in quality control and eventually became assistant manager. “Dad was keen for me to be management so I went through all phases – no special treatment. He was disciplined but fair and generous – also forgiving if someone did him wrong, giving them another chance”. He was “inventive and innovative in business, extremely hard working, rising at 4 a.m. every morning – working long hours.”

Peter Pan Bonanza Checkerboard Poster Bob Godfrey    recreation by Darian Zam  circa mid-late 1960s

Recreation of a mid-late 1960s hand screen-printed poster for Peter Pan checkerboard ice cream, by Bob Godfrey.


In 1964, the Dennes sold shares to Hellaby’s to free up cash flow for their next expansion. Several companies were grouped under ‘Peter Pan Foods Ltd’ in anticipation. Yvonne says “This was significant because it was strictly a family company no longer… the first time they took anything out besides wages”.

Peter Pan Tom and Haydn Denne

Peter Pan management Tom (Thomas Vernon) Denne Jr.and Haydn (Maxwell Hayden) Denne, early 1970s.


By 1965, Peter Pan was the area’s main employer and it started to expand with a new site, a defunct dairy complex approximately a kilometre further from town. Thus, the factories came to be numbered. Number One was the original site on Cook and Ruataniwha Streets (street numbers 177-183). This was where ice cream tubs, packs, novelties, and waffle cones (also packed in boxes as individual products) were manufactured, and was simultaneously ‘Head Office’. Gradual additions over decades created an expansive jumble.
Frozen pastry started at Number One and then moved to the bakery at Number Two factory, further out at Takapu Road, where doughnuts and other goods were made. Number Two focussed on ice confections, as well as ice cream and frozen foods.

Peter Pan Exotic Chinese Poster recreation 400 dpi  copy copy

Recreation of a late 1960s hand screen-printed poster for Peter Pan Chinese Foods range, by Bob Godfrey.


By 1972, Hellaby’s subsidiary Peach Products owned 50% of ‘Peter Pan’. That year was pivotal to the future of the company, but not for that alone.
‘Peter Pan’ had an arrangement with Haighs, a subsidiary of Dalgety’s and one of the largest frozen food producers. Both distributed products reciprocally, an efficient relationship. Problems started when Dalgety’s sold Haighs to General Foods (under the Wattie’s General Foods Corporation umbrella).
General Foods were the producers of ‘Tip-Top’ and known to extinguish any other competing brands using any tactics necessary. A previous attempt to squelch ‘Peter Pan’s’ business had failed. John Denne remembers “Tip-Top moved in to Wanganui to take over. They told stores that we were out of business – so they took down the advertising. Dad went to court and won. I stayed for weeks repairing the damage.”

Now, General Foods had significant leverage in Haighs and immediately they severed ties, leaving Peter Pan without the means of distribution. This move caused debate in Parliament regarding the Trade Practices Act and its extension to domestic manoeuvres. Suddenly it posed a threat to livelihoods, which continued through various strategic operations over the next five years.The halcyon days had passed. An article reported: “…it was only when James Wattie exchanged his role from Captain Hook to Tinker Bell that Peter Pan seemed to have a future again.”

Jolli Lolli wrapper Bob Godfrey   recreation by Darian Zam  circa mid-late 1960s

Recreation of a Jolli Lolli wrapper, designed by Bob Godfrey, circa mid-late 1960s. 


In 1974, ‘Peter Pan’ was taken over by Hellaby’s, who quickly closed down some branches. There was upheaval in the ranks and an industrial strike in protest. In 1977, Hellaby’s flipped ‘Peter Pan’ to Premier Foods, who closed operations starting 31 March, and commenced to dismantle the company.

Peter Pan Hello Dolly Poster recreation 120 dpi 13 cm W

Recreation of a late 1960s-early 1970s hand screen-printed poster for the Hello Dolly novelty, by Bob Godfrey.


Through 1977 to 1978, an assistance programme had been initiated by the Department of Labour, and cutbacks continued through 1979 with redundancy packages offered. Soon after that ‘Tip-Top’ stepped in to take on the manufacturing and market core of the business.
Most remember the premises operating as ‘Peter Pan Sales, Waipukurau’ until 1986. Then in 1988, the paperwork was filed for closure of the last divisions.

Peter Pan Products - Peter Pan ice cream box and van 1965

Peter Pan ice cream box and van, 1965. Originally published in Meat Market, R & W Hellaby’s trade magazine. Image courtesy of Hellaby Holdings.


aJohn decided on a different career path and left town in 1971, bypassing the business transactions and politics. Does he think he had the best years? “I was only there for nine, but loved it. Seeing the demise of the company was painful. Knowing what it cost my Dad, he had greater pain. Seeing his life work, building an international trade – collapse under the greed of big business, who didn’t regard the livelihood of small town people, was cruel. He was remarkably gracious but the stress contributed to his early death. I still feel that pain.”

Denne Lime Squash Label from Taranaki printers proofbook circa 1930s credit Tony Smith

 Denne’s soft drink bottle label, 1930s. Image courtesy Tony Smith collection.


Jan Gosling, at Waipawa Museum remembers “when we moved nearby the buildings were still there with faded signs – it seemed sad. It’s funny how things change, disappear – and you forget what was there.”

In 1998 the factory was demolished; the only remains being the mechanics workshop and staff cafeteria; now it is ‘Hatuma Engineering Supplies’. The Number One site is renumbered and renamed. The allotment now has a Health Centre; set back from where the expansive buildings of Peter Pan once represented all that was good. Although the ‘Peter Pan’ trademark remained in limbo for over 20 years, with the rights renewed to ‘Tip- Top’/’Fonterra Brands’, it finally lapsed in 2009, bringing the saga to a close forever.

Peter Pan Ice Cream and Frozen Foods Waipukurau - two Artic Trucks outside  No 1 factory

Two Artic trucks outside the Peter Pan factory on Ruataniwha (now renamed to Takapu) road, late 1960s-early 1970s. Author of image unknown.


Thanks to John Denne, Yvonne Sutton, and Selina Gentry, all descendants of Thomas Clement Denne,  for research material, memories, images and memorabilia. Tony Smith, historian and collector for information on Denne drinks as well as photos of his collection and items of ephemera. Bridget Louise Wellwood , curator of the Eketahuna Mellemskov Museum. Pam Blackberry (1968-1970) and Tony Dean (1966-1973), both ex-employees of Peter Pan Frozen Foods for their recollections of working at Peter Pan. Merrilyn George, historian and author, for research notes. Jana Uhlirova, curator, Central Hawkes Bay Settler’s Museum. Andy May and Donna Gwen Hoby, one time acquaintances of the Dennes. Colin and Esma Stevenson, owners and curators at the Tokomaru Steam Museum. Doug Ellison, Caretaker at Norsewood Pioneer Museum. Jan Gosling, curator at Waipawa Museum. Stanley Fraser, historian. Lisa Truttman, historian and author of the Timespanner blog and the Timespanner Facebook page, and Brian Turner for image of Denne crock. 
All content of Longwhitekid copyright Darian Zam © 2013. All rights reserved.