Gordon Ernest Vogtherr Interview
It is 13th November 2017, and I’m introducing Mr Gordon Vogtherr in his home in Havelock North. Gordon, good afternoon.
Gordon, if you can just tell us something of your life history. You’ve been in Hawke’s Bay for a number of years, and I think we’ll find it very interesting, so I’ll leave it over to you.
All right. In 1917 my grandfather purchased a property at Stortford Lodge so there was a cool store, a bacon and ham factory, an ice factory and also a petrol station. So it belonged to our family from then on. My father worked in the factory, but just before the earthquake … perhaps a month or so before the earthquake … father and son had a fight, and my Dad cleared out. He wouldn’t have anything more to do with it.
At one stage he was chipping weeds on the railway line and also selling kerosene refrigerators. He was doing this at the time of the earthquake, and he was standing on the corner by the Cosy Theatre and was thrown across the street – ended up with his head against the big telephone pole and the bricks came tumbling down one at a time. He was very lucky not to be badly injured. He was with his bike at the time and he raced it home looking for me. As for me, it was my first day at school at Mahora School and I didn’t even know which door to come out, or go to.
My grandparents lived above the shop in Heretaunga Street East, and the frontage which was brick all fell away, and the timber construction was left. Dad couldn’t find the building because of this, but eventually did pick it out by the stairway going up to the second storey. He had a look to see what to take and left beautiful needlework and things like that, which under the circumstances weren’t very important for the day, and we were sleeping in a tent on the back lawn.
Early in the morning apparently my aunt came, and rushed in to say “It’s all gone … it’s all gone”. Dad said “What’s all gone? It was all there last night”. “Yes,” she said, “the fire’s gone through the whole block and burnt everything”. And so it happened, that the whole shop and all their belongings were burnt. The car, everything.
So that raised another problem. My Dad, looking for a job, had an offer from Auckland for a job and another one from Richmond in Nelson for the opening of a new bacon factory, the Blackbyre Bacon Factory at Appleby near Richmond. Mum said “Well, your parents have lost everything, let them have our house and we’ll take this job. It‘ll probably only last two or three months”. So we went down to Nelson and Dad worked very hard down there and put up with that for three and a half years. And he threw the keys across the table and told the Scotsman, Jimmy Wyllie, what he could do with his job. This is 1934.
We moved to Marton where Dad was able to start up a small bacon curing business on his own. This was in a property owned by [?Panne Lurijud?], the fish merchant in Marton. While in Marton I used to go after school and help Dad – he was just working on his own – and I would wait until he went home. He would be on his bike and I would run behind the bike to home down to Station Road. One day Mr Twigg, the local tailor … was on the committee of the Marton Harrier Club. He stopped Dad and he asked me “How far do you think you could run?” He’d seen me running all the way, and I said “Oh, I could run down to the railway station and back”. He said “Gosh – you‘d better come and join the Harrier Club.” I was about ten at the time, and later that year they had a group of about six of us young chaps, and they had racing on the park at Marton. A quarter-mile race, the following week a half-mile race, and the third week a three-quarter-mile race. I was no speedster, but I managed to come in third, and I’ve still got the Cup up on my shelf in the back room. It’s a reminder of a long time ago.
Dad continued with the business – built up a good business in Marton, Billy Stewart … Tom Barton, the two main grocers there. About 1936 or ‘37 the bank was contacting my father to say that the business in Hastings was in a serious financial state, and would he come back to Hastings and take over the business. He refused flatly – wouldn’t have anything to do with it. And in October 1937 he closed the factory in Marton and came to Hastings, and got to work to try and find a builder who would build a factory for him, and got Mr Harry Mossman, who was quite an entrepreneur, to build a factory to Dad’s specifications. He did this and in February 1938 the factory opened and that was the beginning of the Hastings Bacon Company.
My father worked very hard. He built up a solid business and in 1938 I began schooling at the Hastings High School. I never had any holidays – I used to go to the factory to work before school, at lunch, and after school. But he was still a good father – bit hard to live with at twenty-four hours a day, but he was good.
I was at school in Hastings until 1938-‘39, and in 1940 Dad sent me to New Plymouth Boys’ High School in the fifth form. That was pretty hard for me – I didn’t know anybody, it was a long way from home – but I got on. I had one or two friends from Hawke’s Bay – Frank Peach, Alan Brabant and Barclay McGregor from Maraekakaho. I stayed there ‘til about 1942. At the end of school in 1941 … we knew that Ivor Field from Waimarama had biked home from New Plymouth at the end of the school term, and Alan and I thought we‘d better have a go at that. So we left at half past four, early one morning, from New Plymouth and biked the first day all the way to Palmerston North. That’s about a hundred and fifty miles. We were pretty tired. The next day we biked home to Hastings, so we did the trip in two days – something I look back on. I would never want to do it again.
Wonderful in those days, with the bicycles the way they were.
Yes – mine was all right, Alan’s was a horror thing. I rode it once in New Plymouth and I vowed I’d never ride it again. [Chuckle] The bikes in those days weren’t like they are today, either. No, my bike was quite good, it was a Phillips – not a sports bike – it was okay. But Alan’s was a horror bike to ride. I wouldn’t ride a couple of blocks on it.
After biking home from New Plymouth I arrived home, I think, on the Thursday night and Monday morning saw me at work at the factory, in 1942. I had only one job, and that was at the factory, and that was from 1942 to 1987. My father was a hard task master. If I did anything wrong he’d blame me. At that stage I was getting involved in model aircraft, and just before Christmas one year I’d forgotten something and he threatened to smash them all up. Life wasn’t easy on a twenty-four hour basis.
You didn’t carry on and follow with the planes at Awatoto … kitset models?
Yes, I kept model aircraft. In those days it was control line mainly. Free flight was a plane that you would let go and it went its own way, and the control line is connected by wires. So I had a go at all those and eventually ended up with radio control. The first radio control was a Wright radio control designed and built by Les Wright of Paraparam, [Paraparaumu] who was the manager of HMV in Wellington. It was a pretty crude sort of an outfit but it did work. It gave us rudder-only control, and later the radio control gear became more sophisticated but nothing like what is available these days.
After leaving New Plymouth Boys’ High School, Alan Brabant and I had decided that when New Plymouth Boys’ High played Te Aute College, we were going to leave then. Our good headmaster had retired and the new man that was headmaster was pretty strict and we couldn’t bunk out to the pictures and things like that, so we decided to leave. So that was early in August 1942, and I of course immediately joined the Hastings Harrier Club. And later in the month the Club had organised the first Clive to Hastings Junior Road Race, from Clive to Hastings on the main road. And we got all the juniors together. Les Spurdle of Spurdle Brothers Signwriters – he was handicapper for the Club, and there were no flies on Les. I had only just come home from school and hadn’t done much training, but he put me on scratch for the first race and I was to remain on scratch for all the time that I was running, until mid 1950s. It so happened that this particular race in 1942 I did manage to get fastest time. I couldn’t win because the limit man had two minutes‘ start on me. He didn’t have two minutes’ start, he had ten.
Yeah, that sounds better.
I was running as a junior for another two years. The second year it was ice cold and we were virtually numb all the way down our fronts. I did win that race and got fastest time. The club members were quite keen on this event because they used to come to the factory and we’d have coppers there – two big coppers with hot water in them. We’d really have a good hose down with the hot water.
In 1944, the last year that I was running as a junior, the first Junior New Zealand Cross Country Championship was held at Miramar in Wellington. My mother took me down there. Three of us were out in front and it so happened that when the race finished after three and one-eighth miles we tied for third, so that was something worthwhile.
Sounds like a bit of a jackup, that race, to finish third …
No, no. [Chuckle]
… with a tie.
[Chuckle] No, I was running third but he made a race for the line at the last fifty yards.
Our grandfather and his family came to New Zealand at the behest of Mr Martin of Palmerston North, who incidentally set up the first Kiwi Bacon Company in New Zealand in 1907. He suggested to grandfather that New Zealand was a good place to bring up his family so they came out with the intention that Mr Martin would sell the Kiwi Bacon Company to my grandfather. For one reason or another this didn’t happen. The new owner, Mr Ernie Hansell, who later had the Red Rose Bacon Company in Wanganui bought the business, and he paid my grandfather £1,000 not to start within twenty-five miles of Palmerston North.
It is through this that grandfather came to Hastings and was able to lease the Lowe’s Coolstore at Stortford Lodge, which was on one corner – the other corner was the Stortford Lodge Hotel, which was some of the undoing of my grandfather, and the grocer’s shop across the way. This was early in 1914. They started a delicatessen in Hastings in Heretaunga Street East next to the State Theatre, and the delicatessen was opened on the day that war broke out, August 4th 1914. It is from that, just a couple of months ago, we celebrated a hundred years of bacon and ham curing in Hastings, and still with one family. I think there is only one other business that can equal that, or do better actually, and that’s F L Bone’s.
I think it’s very interesting because I read through it.
Yes, well this was done quite independently, it wasn’t done at the same time. I’ll give the reference.
To your father.
This is a biography from the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography:
‘Vogtherr, Ernest George Frederick. Bacon curer, businessman, art collector.’ By myself, Gordon Vogtherr.
‘Ernest George Frederick Vogtherr was born in Sunderland, England, on 18 February 1898, the eldest of four children of Sophia Vogt and her husband, Carl Wilhelm Frederick Vogtherr, a master pork butcher. Ernest was sent to live with his uncle and grandmother in Kendal, where he attended the Quaker Stramongate School. He then attended High Barnes school in Sunderland and, after his family shifted to Sunderland, Westoe Secondary School, but an economic slump forced him to leave at the age of fourteen to assist in the family business.
‘When Carl Vogtherr was offered a partnership in the Kiwi Bacon Company at Palmerston North by his uncle, Frederick Martin, the family emigrated to New Zealand, arriving in mid 1913. When the company was sold the following year they moved to Hastings and opened a bacon factory and delicatessen on the day war was declared in Europe. During the war the Vogtherrs were persecuted because of their German origin, but friends, namely Mr W Richmond, assisted them to continue in business. In 1917 they bought the Stortford Lodge Bacon Company and renamed it the Elite Bacon Factory. In addition, they operated a fruit cool store, an ice factory, and later a petrol station on the same site.
‘Ernest Vogtherr attempted to enlist during the war and was accepted for the 10th Reinforcements in 1915, only to be discharged before they departed overseas – because of his ancestry. In 1914 he had joined the Territorial Force, and belonged to the 9th (Wellington East Coast) Mounted Rifles for twelve years, eventually becoming Squadron Sergeant Major. During the 1931 Hawke’s Bay earthquake he was to serve in the special police force, which consisted largely of ex-army and territorial men, and in the Second World War he was Regimental Sergeant Major of the Hastings battalion of the Home Guard.
‘On 7th November 1923 Ernest married Doris Ridgway Corbin, a clerk, at St Matthew’s Church, Hastings. They were to have one son. During their married life Ernest was to rely on his wife for her level-headed approach to problems and meticulous accounting skills.
‘In October 1930 Ernest Vogtherr fell out with his father, and early the following year moved to Richmond, Nelson, to manage the Blackbyre Bacon Company for James Wyllie. In September 1934 he shifted to Marton to start his own bacon and ham curing business, the Rangitikei Bacon Company. In late 1937 he moved back to Hastings and set up the Hastings Bacon Company in 1938. The business flourished under his astute management, and continues to thrive, specialising in the product [production] of high-quality bacon and ham cured by a dry-stacking method used by the Vogtherr family since 1914.
‘As one who had experienced economic hardship and struggle, Ernest Vogtherr was always a champion of the underdog. An avid reader and follower of politics, he never hesitated to vent his feelings on a wide range of subjects in letters to newspapers and leading politicians. He contended that New Zealand was the best country in the world but that its people were afflicted by apathy and conformity. He also deplored the prevalence of social climbing. He sympathised with the ideals of the first Labour government but was not impressed with its record during the Second World War. Similarly, he was an adherent of the social credit philosophy but became dissatisfied with local social credit organisations’ emphasis on theory rather than action.
‘Vogtherr was involved in several sports. For many years he and his father kept racing pigeons, and when his son Gordon became a harrier, Ernest was instrumental in reforming the Hastings Amateur Athletic Club and Cycling Club …’ This was after the war … ‘of which he became chairman. He was later patron of the Napier Harrier Club. Both he and Gordon also had a keen interest in sports cars and took part in events such as the sprint at Gracefield, Lower Hutt, and the Paekakariki Hill Climb soon after the Second World War. In 1947 Ernest formed the Hawke’s Bay Sports Car Club, becoming patron and life member. Throughout his life he owned fine sports cars including marques such as MG, Alvis, Aston Martin and Rover. Even as a semi-invalid in later life he owned a succession of six early Porsches, and finally a three-litre BMW coupé.
‘In 1960 he retired after a serious illness but managed Managing Director of the Hastings Bacon Company. About this time he developed an interest in art collecting. He was an enthusiastic photographer and always had an eye for beautiful things. Now he built up a small, select collection of rare New Zealand books, early English watercolours, figurines and porcelain. Later he added etchings, drawings and lithographs, most of which were purchased in England. At one stage he had six original C F Goldie paintings in his collection. He encouraged local artists, whom he engaged to produce limited editions of Christmas cards for the Hastings Bacon Company for years. He and Doris were generous benefactors; their donations including the two rose-windows in the Cathedral Church of St John the Evangelist, Napier, and the large stained-glass window in the south transept of St Matthew’s Anglican Church, Hastings.
‘Ernest wrote two books: his [auto] biography, ‘No Regrets’ in 1965, and an account of his art collection, ‘Your bid, Sir!!’, 1969 – privately printed, only fifty copies of each were produced. Essentially a self-made man with a great zest for life, Ernest Vogtherr pursued his diverse interests with vigour and enthusiasm. He died at his Havelock North home on 28 October 1973, and was survived by his wife and Gordon.
‘Doris Ridgway Corbin’
‘Born 4th June 1896, Died 29th November 1985. Dorothy was one of a family of six children of Frederick William Corbin and Mary Jane Ridgway, comprising four daughters, Gertrude, Doris, Winifred and Alice [?Lau?], and two sons, Frederick and Bertram. Winifred died aged eighteen and eleven months, the others all living to a ripe old age. They were brought [up] at Mangaonga in the Seventy Mile Bush, along with the Bayliss and Scharnweber families, literally chopping down the bush to build their homes and create farms.
‘It would appear the Corbin family moved to Hastings around 1910, Doris being confirmed at St Matthew’s Anglican Church on March 12th 1911, by Reverend J B Brocklehurst, and was a member of St Matthew’s Girls’ Friendly Society in November 1914. Gert, Doris and Lau were long-time members of the St Matthew’s Choir. Doris was a keen sportswoman, being in the Hastings hockey team in 1915, and was a hockey rep in 1916. She also belonged to the Hastings YMCA gymnasium class in the early twenties. Doris was a very capable secretary and bookkeeper, working for some years on the office staff of Hawke’s Bay Fruitgrowers, about 1916 and ’17, alongside Jimmy Wattie who later went on with Harold Carr to form J Wattie Canneries Limited.
‘Doris married Ernest Vogtherr on 7th November 1923, living in the home they had built at 707W St Aubyn Street Hastings. There was just one child, Gordon Ernest, born on 26th October 1925.
‘After Ernest fell out with his father, and the devastating earthquake of 3rd February 1931, Doris suggested Ernest should take a job offered in Richmond, Nelson, managing a newly-opened bacon factory at Appleby, thus letting Ernest’s parents have their home. Those Depression years were difficult, living with furniture made out of petrol cases etcetera.
‘In 1934 the family moved to Marton, where Ernest opened his own business, Rangitikei Bacon Company, Doris doing the bookkeeping. She also took part in Church activities, joining the Mothers’ Union, making friends with Jessie Baxter, who remained a valuable life-long friend.
‘1937 they moved back to Hastings where Ernest opened his own business, the Hastings Bacon Company, early in 1938, Doris again doing the bookwork and taking down correspondence in shorthand.
‘In 1950 they moved to Coleman Terrace, Napier, then to Westshore, and finally to Havelock North in 1970. In 1954 Ernest and Doris took a trip to England and Europe, Ernest taking delivery of a new 1954 Alvis Grey Lady Drophead Coupe. 1957 they took a Pacific cruise aboard the ‘Johan van Oldenbarnevelt’.
‘In 1961 Ernest had a big operation and Doris became a devoted nurse and devoted companion. Ernest became a semi-invalid, while Doris cared for him.
‘In the foreword to his book ‘No Regrets’, Ernest dedicates the book:
‘To my wife Doris, without whose cheerful cooperation I should have achieved nothing.
‘On the world field of battle, in the bivouac of strife
you will find the Christian soldier represented by his wife.’
How apt! My mother.
‘After Ernest died in October 1973, Doris moved to a flat in Hastings near the St Matthew’s Church, and later was in Duart Hospital before passing away on the 29th November 1985.’
Original digital file
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Interviewer: Jim Newbigin