Campbell Ritchie Agnew Interview

Today is the 6th June 2018. I’m interviewing Campbell Agnew of Havelock North on the life and times of the Agnew family. Campbell, would you like to tell us something about your family and where they came from, and what they did?

The information I have on that, Frank, is my grandfather came from Ireland; I can’t say whether it’s northern or southern, ‘cause I don’t know. And my grandmother, his wife, was Irish also, but I have no other details on that. I can’t even recall her maiden name. And he came to Hawke’s Bay after arriving in New Zealand – probably came to Wellington, but that’s a guess. And he spent time in Hawke’s Bay doing what, I don’t know, before he bought the farm that is in Lawn Road here, that he then spent the rest of his life on;  farming it and then retired on it.

Yes, now this farm you’re talking about, Lawn Road, was that the block that was called Moore Edge?

It was called Exmoor.

And that was pretty wet country, wasn’t it, with springs?

Yes, it was, Frank. Yes, and it had creeks running through it; and the springs and the creeks were all dealt to over the years as the farm went from pastoral into agriculture or horticulture.

Did he ever milk cows there?


So he was a dairy farmer. Would it have been in the late 1800s?

[Traffic noise in background] Once again, I can only guess at late 1800s; very late.

Sure. So many people that came out then, a few cows was the only way they could get some income.

I understand Grandfather Agnew was in Twyford first; and just from hearsay, I have an idea he ran a horse transport company from Taradale to Napier before he bought the farm here.

So now you’re mentioning Twyford; so there’s a link between Grandfather Agnew and the Agnews of Twyford?

That was my grandfather and his brother, were the two … I don’t think they actually came to Twyford, I think they were in Crownthorpe.

They moved down, that’s correct, yes. I always remember him, he used to stand so straight – like a gun barrel, his back was. I was always a bit apprehensive of him, but he had a twinkle in his eye … had a smile.

Yeah – from my memory of him … I can’t remember how old I was when he passed away, but it wasn’t a lot of time I knew him but he was a very gentle, calm person.

And so he would have grown crops?

I don’t think he was into any of that, Frank; that was when my father became [the] operator of the property. He bought additional land to Exmoor which was called Moore Edge.

Do you know who that belonged to?

I would have thought it was the Nelson family.

Yes, it was a natural boundary really, wasn’t it?

Yes, yep. So my father early on in his life was agricultural contracting, and I think that was what was happening on the property not under my grandfather’s guidance but when my father took over.

Just coming back to your grandfather, he had more than one son?

Two sons.

One was Jack?

Jack …

He was the Agnew Refrigeration man in Hastings, wasn’t he?

That’s right, yes. Yes, he had stores in Napier, Hastings, Palmerston North and Levin.

Agnews was the name, wasn’t it?


But it’s disappeared, and Tony was the last one, wasn’t he?

Yes, Tony took over from his father. And the business was wound up due to the competition by what we call multi-nationals, or large chain companies.

So then your father, Doug, took over the running of the farm. That was a whole new direction, wasn’t it?

Yes. It’s not something I can give you precise dates on, but it was about the commencement of the expansion by Wattie’s Canneries out of just fruit; and my father was the first to be involved in growing the peas for the company, which I think was either during or just after the Second World War.

Those days, the peas would have been taken by truck and threshed in at the canneries, wouldn’t they?


He grew beans?

We grew peas and beans, tomatoes. I can’t recall any other crops, Frank, but in that rotation of peas and beans there was ryegrass, and that third year fallow. So the farm was doing the cropping, doing the grass seed, and doing livestock raising.

How big was the farm in toto?

I think the Exmoor/Moore Edge farm was a hundred and twenty acres.

I always remember the Model U Allis Chalmers tractor he had was the biggest tractor in Hawke’s Bay at the time almost, and it was really quite famous.

Yes, it was the first rubber tyre tractor in Hawke’s Bay, and my sister-in-law still has it …

Good Lord!

… sitting down there in the shed.

Just down the road?


I’ll be blowed!

And it was probably purchased because he was contracting, so they didn’t have to load a tractor to take to properties throughout Hawke’s Bay. Yes, I think that tractor was 1938. I mean just after the war he got the first of the Nuffields that he had a series of.

And now the children. Was Dougal the eldest?

Yes, Dougal was Doug and Margaret’s eldest, and I was the second child, and the youngest son was Stewart.

Now you all went to which school?

We all were educated at the Mangaterere Primary School until secondary school age, and then we were all boarded at Dannevirke High School for our secondary education.

Where did you go to work when you left school?

I worked locally here; ooh, I don’t know for how long … two or three years, and then I leased some land, Frank; started doing my own thing. And then in 1971 or 2 [‘72] I bought a farm in Otane, and I farmed there for five years.

And was that a grassland farm?

It was a combination of grass and some cultivated ground growing just peas and barley.

And one day you met your wife?

No, I met her before we went to Otane.

Oh, okay. Was she a local girl?

No, she was from Lower Hutt.

Oh, you imported ..?

I didn’t import; she was working in Hastings.

Aha … and so you were married; and children?

We had two children … still have, actually. A daughter, Jane, and a son, James.

And what do they do?

Jane is in Auckland in the IT business, and James is in London. He’s a merchant banker.

And your older brother, Dougal – did he work on the family farm?

He left school and worked in the bank in Hastings for a while, and then I think he came to the farm.

And he married ..?


What was Helen’s maiden name?

Yes … no, that’s not coming to mind, Frank.

And then your youngest brother?

Yes, Stewart.

What did he do?

He had an interest in livestock, and he worked in Feilding on the sheep stud farms for some years learning that business.

And who did he marry?

He married Jill Brown from Feilding.

And sadly you lost both your brothers quite early in life.

Stewart, yes – he was mid-forties when he passed away; but Dougal only passed away four years ago.

It still seems early, though.

Yeah, I know. Yeah, it is [by] today’s standards, Frank, yeah.

Now coming back to Campbell … tell us about some things that you did that really complemented your farming?

Yes, well as far as interests go I’ve got just an interest in general sport, although a particular interest in rugby which I played myself after school for a couple of years. And then my other very strong interest is motor cars which isn’t anything to do with agriculture, Frank.

It’s as a result of agriculture, isn’t it?

Well, yes, I suppose that’s true.

But you took a lot of pride in your ploughing locally and nationally, didn’t you?

Well I don’t know why I got an interest in it. I can recall going to the matches with my father, which I don’t remember my other two brothers doing. I used to tag along when he went to Patangata and Takapau to plough; I took that up in 1969, I think, to start my competition years. Spent some years learning the ropes, and then went on to be able to represent certain clubs in the North Island at the national championships, which I did on several occasions.

What sort of plough were you using?

I started with a Reid & Gray and then had an English ………. plough.

The Reid & Gray was just a standard mould board, was it? Or were they modified?

I think the Reid & Gray I had converted to a Duncan mould board. I only used it for two or three years. It was something I think I converted in the third year I used it, to a Duncan mould board. And then the same happened with the Ransomes – we converted them to Duncan mould boards. They were much more suited to what we were trying to do competition wise.

I remember the truck that your father had all loaded up, heading south to a ploughing match …

That was a Chev. [Chevrolet] It was pre-war; in fact the one you probably remember … he had two of them, but the one you probably remember had a wooden frame cab.

No, the one that he took down south …

You mean going to New Zealand championships? No, he never took a tractor with him; he always took the plough on a trailer, towed it behind the car.

So you ploughed in the North Island and the South Island?

Yes, yes. I’ve for many years ploughed the North Island circuit. We had I think in the early days six clubs ran events in the North Island; the latter years it built to seven. And I used to follow that circuit when I could, just as time allowed, but used to go to most of the matches, and I ploughed in all the clubs at one time or other, but probably not all the clubs every year. And then when I was able to qualify to plough in the National Championships, I went to the South Island.

That photo that I’m looking at here, that’s in the South Island? Gosh that soil is even, isn’t it?

Oh, it’s lovely down there. It’s all covered with dairy cows now, but in those days it was the bread basket of New Zealand … grain, grain, grain.

So you gave up ploughing, I guess?

I did, yes, a long time ago, Frank.

Yes. And you have part of the old farm here?

Well, it’s not really; this block that I’m farming [was] purchased as a family trust in addition to the Exmoor/Moore Edge land. And there was another farm purchased from the Cambridges, which was the eighty acre farm that Dougal farmed, which is across the road here.

How big is this block then?

This is eleven hectares.

Twenty-eight acres about, isn’t it?

‘Bout twenty-seven, yeah.

So you obviously grew some crops for a start?

Well, yes; I sold the farm in Otane and we bought … because, and bought this property. I bought my two brothers out of this property, being a family trust; and as the property didn’t have a house, we bought the house in Havelock. And then I farmed this for two or three years, Frank, and then went into grape growing on it.

Right. And who did you grow grapes for?

Pretty much just about everybody. [Chuckles]

Well if you didn’t you would be taken over … I grew grapes for McWilliams, Cooks, Corbans, the French group …

That’s exactly what happened to me. I originally signed the contract with McWilliams, which you know, as you’ve just stated … but I did also contract with the Auckland companies when they looked down to Hawke’s Bay here to get better grapes than they were able to grow on their own sites up there, because of the weather. So I was one of the early ones doing that on a consistent basis.

Right – all on this block?

Yes, yes, yes, it was on this block.

And then at some stage you became Johnny Appleseed and planted some apple trees, didn’t you?

Yes. That was about the variation in the way the grape industry went, and just looking for something that was more of an alternative. So I planted the first block of apples, and I’ve now gone on from doing that to planting a second block of apples and then getting totally out of the grapes and planting all the rest of it in that.

Did you used to take part in grape harvesting during the season?

Yes. Yes. When I came back from Otane I worked for Did Ericksen [who] was the local contractor at that time through … I got to do that, Frank, through the association with Did on the grain company we owned in those days.

Oh …

And while I was not doing a lot here it was quite a good fill in to drive a grape harvester for him. And then of course, our other owner of the grain company got killed, and I took over running that for three or four years.

Yes – that was …

Gordon Nowell-Usticke.

And is it still …

The grain company no longer exists. We built the business to the point where we had it running very nicely, and then the grain available in Hawke’s Bay started decreasing. The property that we had the grain plant on was very valuable and somebody wanted it for other commercial uses, and so – we were only running the grain company at like, half capacity – and it was decided by the other two shareholders … they wanted out, Gordon Nowell-Usticke’s widow particularly, so we realised the value in the company by selling.

You must’ve had apples now for what – ten years?

No, I’d be close on thirty – it’s about twenty-eight years, Frank.

Since you planted the first apples?


Time flies, doesn’t it?

Oh, well I’m not sure whether there’s much fun in it. [Chuckle]

No. It creates some negative cashflow, and sometimes it has some positive cashflows …

[Chuckle] Yes, it’s interesting. I said earlier that the idea of apples was to smooth the ups and downs of the grape industry, and … have to say the apple industry has just been just [chuckle] the same – up and down, up and down.

Well, I … the big corporates have been able to pull some money out of it; our overseas prices have certainly firmed, haven’t they?

Yes, we’ve done some great work with varieties that’s put profitability back in, which I think we’re probably over the hump of at the moment, Frank, from what I’m seeing happen.

So you run this block mainly with contract pruners?

No, no. The work done here is by myself, apart from the hand thinning work and the picking. All the rest is done by myself.

You don’t spray as much as we used to.

No, we don’t.

Do you have to irrigate this block?

I do. Yes, I’ve got irrigation and I do it on demand; I’ve got metres to tell me when to do it, so even though you probably could grow without, there are times when you’re damaging your fruit if you don’t have sufficient water up there, and the very hot days, you’ll sunburn, so …

You mentioned that you have a love of cars – have you raced them or do you just like driving?

I did competition motorsport before I started property owning and realised that the two didn’t fit, [chuckle] and sensibly decided to just go property owning.

So what sort of a car were you chasing round the ..?

I had quite a series of cars in those times, Frank, there was just the … what do you call it? Cars that were particularly good for competition in those days.

Like Anglias and Humber 80s ..?

Yes, and Ford Cortinas. But since those days I’ve just owned cars on an interest basis, for personal use.

I think it’s something that you sort of grow out of eventually.

I really wish I had. [Chuckle] No, I haven’t grown out of them, no.

So during all this period of time, did Margaret work?

No, Margaret worked for the Justice Department because she was in that line of business when I met her. I think she was working for a thing called Psych Services then, whatever that meant; and so in the Justice she was involved with the Probation Officers, supervising people.

Now your children went to local schools?

Yes, they did all their schooling in Havelock North.

And their names are? And when were they born?

Jane was the eldest, our daughter, and then James was born. And they were born in the seventies.

Both Havelock Primary?

Yeah, that complex of schools that is the kindergarten, the primary, the intermediate and the secondary school. And that’s why we bought the house in Havelock rather than build on this property when we bought it, because the children were just starting that exercise and we could see the value to be close to the schools. And we’re still there.

And travelling – have you as a family travelled a bit?

Yes, we’ve done local, national and international travel.

Have you played any sport like golf or fishing?

I had to sort of retire from a lot of active sport because I injured myself at rugby; sort of limited what I could do then, Frank. So my sport has been on the screen more than …

Comfortable watching. [Chuckle] Have you ever been to Richardson’s museum in Invercargill?

Yes. Yes, I have. I went there before it was public. Richardson became involved in sponsoring the New Zealand Ploughing thing through his company, Allied Petroleum. When he first put that together I was on the New Zealand Ploughing Executive, and he invited us in there one afternoon and he showed us around, which was just amazing. But it’s changed since I was there, and I understand originally he had this old bakery building that he had … converted.

[Speaking together] Oh, is that what it was originally?

Yes, but I understand there are additional buildings to it now.

There are – it’s fifteen thousand square metres in size; it’s got a huge restaurant.

Yeah, well see none of that was there when we were there, because it wasn’t public, and it was his private thing which he was doing. And it was well set up, Frank, it wasn’t just a big shed full of gear. But I understand that the sons just pushed on and on; it’s a tribute to him – he’d gathered all that material together. What was great when I went was he was telling stories about securing this, and securing that, and how he’d competed against me in Winton, with this truck, and we’d found it in the shed some years later.

It shows the affluence that’s behind it, because everything that’s there is prepared beautifully.

What’s interesting you making that comment about money, because we were told by somebody who knew him well that he used to bike down there to the museum; you know, like the famous man in Timaru with the finance company – he used to have the old Veedub [Volkswagen] car. Bill Richardson used to bike into the Board meetings; but he invested in that.

So and both your children are now what age approximately.

In their forties … just in their forties, yeah.

And grandchildren?


How many?

Got three grandsons, yeah.

And what age are they?

Oh, they’re ten down to three.

Well, can you think of anything that you haven’t told me?

Not really, Frank. The early history is just not with me. I was never, I suppose, stimulated enough to get it and now those things have gone. And we can see and regret … like Tony, my cousin, lives in Taradale and another cousin from my father’s sister, he lives in Wellington; and we meet every now and again and have a meal together in Havelock. We talk about this … how we didn’t gather all the information about the history.

It’s never too late though; today we are doing exactly that by recording what you know at this point. Somewhere along the line someone else will have some of the history that you don’t know.

Yes, although we know in our case, our big historian passed away about five years ago; that was my cousin, and she followed that and was interested in that, and had all that information, but we didn’t get it. My mother had a lot of that information and she’s passed away.

Well that’s something we didn’t mention, and that‘s when your father and mother … can you remember the dates that they passed away?

No, I can’t, Frank. No, my father passed away some years ago; my mother … I don’t know … within the last ten years.

Yes, time goes on.

It’s quite a usual happening I understand, Frank. The first generation … the second knows it but doesn’t pass it on to the third, and the third tells the fourth, [but] doesn’t tell them what they’re missing. They go looking.

That’s right. Well I think that’s probably given us a good coverage of the Agnews and where they came from and where they are today. So thank you, Campbell, for sharing that with everyone. Thank you.

Original digital file


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Interviewer:  Campbell Agnew


  • Campbell Ritchie Agnew

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