Bacon Factory – Gordon Vogtherr

Gordon Vogtherr: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. It’s been a pretty hectic time with me, but we’ll see how we go.

Our family is one of three left … small business families … who were here in business in 1914. There’s Warren’s Bakery in Russell Street, F L Bone’s in Eastbourne Street here, and ourselves. Our factory’s on the corner of Warren Street and St Aubyn Street.

The talk – I think I’ll entitle it ‘The … nearly one hundred years and four generations in the business.’ I’ll take you through some of these pictures up here, [indicates slides] which are part of the story.

First of all I’ll give you some historical background, and then in Hastings. [Shows photo] This is Stortford Lodge. This is an aerial photograph taken in 1935, so there’s Maraekakaho Road, there’s Pakowhai Road and Omahu Road and Heretaunga Street. Our factory was on this corner here. The Stortford Lodge Hotel was across the road, and Sawyer’s business was here. Billy Lynch’s grocery was just across the road there. So that gives you a bit of background there.

This is the Stortford Lodge corner … our corner … about 1922. You see – note the big tree there, and there’s a Shell sign somewhere in there. There we are there – a sign round the tree. Later on the tree was taken out, and the sign there was mounted high up on the building. This building was a fruit cool store, an ice factory, a bacon factory and a petrol station. So this is Maraekakaho Road, this side is Omahu Road. Down the end here you’ll see … that building there, there it is there … The Elite Mild Cure Bacon and Ham Factory.

The earthquake came, February 3rd 1931 – my first day at school. So, there we are – that’s what happened with the earthquake – all the brickwork fell off leaving the cool store standing.

Here’s my grandfather, this man here – Carl Vogtherr, with … I’m not sure who this man is … but they were photographed on the wreckage, in that corner somewhere. [New photo] And this is the building rebuilt. You’ll notice that the wooden section still remains there, and that later became Richmond Cool Stores, for those of you who remember. And my Dad left after the earthquake, and when we came back in 1937 – he came back to try and rescue this business – and he [grandfather] wouldn’t have a bar of it. He [dad] said “Well, I’ll start on my own”. So Harry Mossman – I don’t know if you remember – he was a bit of a land agent and entrepreneur. He built this factory – oh, half of it is factory – here, next to what was Thompson Motors in Karamu Road. So Dad started the business, The Hastings Bacon Company, on his own, February 18, 1938. I was just starting high school. I was working there morning and night, and on my way to school.

We stayed there ‘til 1962 when Graeme Hill, a Wilkie’s driver, found it too tough trying to back into there with a big truck unloading pigs or product. So in the meantime Harry Mossman had died. The Guardian Trust took over his will, and the first thing they did was they doubled his rent. Double days rent. He said, “they can … go where they like”. He said, “It is time to move”, so we were able to purchase a property on the corner of St Aubyn Street and Warren Street, and that building was built then. It’s grown a bit like topsy, but there’s quite a big alteration made when St Aubyn Street was widened. William Gray was the engineer and thanks to him the Council agreed to put a second storey on. These other buildings are built later.

So my grandfather, Carl Vogtherr – he started off The Elite Bacon Company, and he carried on ‘til the business closed in 1938.

[Shows slides] Unfortunately the Stortford Lodge Hotel and the Criterion were too close together.

In 1914, the day war broke out … 1914, they opened a delicatessen in Heretaunga Street, next to the State Theatre, opposite Millar & Giorgi’s, not far from Otto Shattky the hairdresser and just down the road from the Grand Hotel. My grandmother Sophia ran that together with my Aunt Winifred … Winnie. So he was there till 1938.

My Dad came and started the business in February ‘38, and he carried on ‘til about ‘61. He had to retire because of ill health, and … well I’ll have been working there since 1942. I was there for forty-five years, so of the ninety-seven years that we’ve been in business, I was there for forty-five – too long. And when it came time for me to retire in early 1988, Claire came along. Now Claire was a registered nurse. She was a tutor in the Napier Hospital part-time. She was married at that stage and was tutoring there part-time, but the Hospital Board advertised her position on a full-time basis and she didn’t have enough qualifications to be able to take it on. So she said, “Can I come and work with you for twelve months?” Well it was a bit of a god-send, because we were just at the stage of pre-packing. Up ‘til that time we hadn’t pre-packed any product. You all know what pre-packing is. So it was quite a job – she took that on. And when I retired she said “I want to take it on”. So Claire’s taken [it] on and the business has progressed.

It’s not only progressed, it has changed. When I was there we couldn’t supply outside customers of any consequence. We didn’t have any trucks; we didn’t have refrigeration, but the advent of courier services made a wonderful difference. We only produced a quality product, and Claire has worked hard with the high-quality restaurants and businesses … Wellington, Masterton, Auckland … anywhere she can deliver the product overnight. So, that was a big advantage.

Anybody any questions? It’ll give me time for my brain to work. [Chuckles]

Question: Yeah – Gordon … Thompson’s Cool Stores … when did Thompson’s come into the picture at Stortford Lodge?

Gordon: That I’m not sure. I think they must have brought the whole block, because they’ve owned the block over the road, haven’t they? Can anyone else fill in that question? I think it was after the War, I’m not sure.

Comment:  About 1964-1965.

Gordon: Oh yes, all right. Any idea who owned that land?

Comment:  It’s been supplied, but that’s when the Thompsons I think took over.

Gordon: Oh, oh yes, all right. All right, well that gives us a bit of a background there. You’ll find some items scattered around here. I’m giving a bit of a history lesson.

I’ll start by saying with this talk – who are we? The first Vogtherr family history was researched by Dr Frederick Vogtherr Junior in 1892, going back as far as 974. But because it couldn’t be verified positively the second edition was published in 1908, and only went back as far as [?Eckhardt?] Vogtherr, born in 1416 … only back to that far. [Chuckles] And from then on all family information, artistic works, medical books etcetera can be verified at the various museums in Württemberg, Nuremberg, Strasbourg in France and also the British Museum. One Frank Muller did his thesis at the University of Strasbourg, entitled, “Unpublished works of Heinrich Vogtherr”, which amounted to a large book – here it is here. These are the unpublished works of him as an artist, containing many works. And this book was published in 1997. We were given a draft copy of this work in 1987 when we were there, when we celebrated the birth of our common ancestor, Georg Vogtherr, in 1487. So this thesis alone involved nearly twenty years of research.

When we joined the five-hundredth anniversary celebration, we were taken to many historic places relating to the Vogtherr family, and we saw a large memorial tablet to Georg Vogtherr in St Johanniskirche [St John’s Church] in Feuchtwangen, outer Ansbach where he was a Minister for many years. He was one of the first followers of Martin Luther in the peasant uprising of 1525. The memorial tablet was dated 1539 and includes a picture of his family, including those of their children who died. He suffered much from the Catholic Church and the Pope in Rome but would not bow to their dictatorship, which lead to the formation of the Lutheran Church.

Another memorial tablet in the little church In Mosbach, about four kilometres from Feuchtwangen, was erected to the memory of his son, Samuel Vogtherr, son of Georg Vogtherr. He died in 1584. That’s over five hundred years ago, so we’ve got to be careful with our name; to uphold it.

The other Vogtherr, Heinrich, was born in 1490 and died in 1556. He was a son of Heinrich, who was born in 1516[?]. They worked together as Heinrich Vogtherr the Elder, and Heinrich Vogtherr the Younger. They created wonderful works of art, much of which may be found today in museums throughout the world. One of the broadsides entitled ‘Adam and Eve’ by Heinrich Vogtherr the Elder, was widely acclaimed in the medical world for they went through many editions. It’s over there, on this trolley.

Now that there is dated about 1539, so it’s rather wonderful really. And we’ve learnt these were used for teaching in those days. It’s you know, getting on for five hundred years ago. Vogtherr was [??], and worked as a painter, wood engraver and printer in Strasbourg.

Now we’re getting to the stage of the Vogtherr family coming to New Zealand. My grandfather, Carl William Frederick … here, this man here … was born in Beerfelden near Stuttgart on the 9th August 1873. His mother Babette Martin, also of Beerfelden, vowed that if she had a son he’d be sent to England – presumably to avoid conscription – but he was sent after his confirmation, which was about fourteen. Carl was one of three children but he was the only one who survived. He lived with his uncle, Mr Vok, in Kendall in England, and was apprenticed to him as a pork butcher. He made rapid progress in his trade and at twenty-one was made a partner in the business, and at twenty-five married my grandmother Sophia Vok and took over the business. They had four children – Ernest, born 1898, Winifred in 1899, Leonard 1905 and Carl (or Mick), born in 1907. Grandfather Carl made amazing progress, and as a very young man owned houses and cottages, let for up to [4/6d] four shillings and sixpence a week. So … it’s a different day isn’t it?

As a breeder of rough coated Collie dogs he is world famous, and sold dogs all over the world. The Sunny Bay Collie Cottage Club in Kilimore USA, was founded with a trio of dogs purchased from him. In 1907 he was selected to judge the International Collie Club Show in Vienna, Rotterdam and Berlin. I have here the show catalogue from the Berlin show in April 1907, where he’s listed as one of the judges as Herr Charles Vogtherr, Sunny Bay, Clevedon, England. He also had moderate success as a breeder of fancy pigeons, once gaining third price with a Show homer at the big London Dairy Show. At Cruft’s, the famous dog show, he was well-known [as] a prize winner with his Collies. My Dad remembers him keeping pigeons, rabbits, fowls … Wyandottes were his favourites … guinea pigs, canaries, budgerigars and squirrels. In latter years he was known for his ability to cure any birds and animals. That was an uncanny ability. Carl was intensely loyal to Britain, and left the Lutheran Church because they insisted on him teaching his Sunday School class in German. He said, “My children are born in England and they are brought up English, and I will teach them in English or not at all.” For this, he and his friend were expelled from the Lutheran Church and both joined the Presbyterian Church. That’s some change isn’t it?

There were difficult times ahead and it was fortuitous that a cable came from Mr Fred Martin. The name Martin comes up again; it’s all inter-connected. I’m only just finding out some of this. This Mr Martin’s sister, Marie Schneider … and I found a picture with Lena Schneider’s death notice on the back, and it’s being framed now and I hope to have it – it’s another link in the chain. Fred Martin sent a cable – he’s an Uncle of grandfather – offering Carl a job and also a partnership in the original Kiwi Bacon Company in Palmerston North. At first Carl turned the offer down, but Sophia was made of different stuff and said, “if you don’t go, we will.” The upshot was a cable to New Zealand saying, “Coming; bringing family”. A reply from Mr Martin said Carl could come on his own if he liked, to which he replied, “If we come, we stay”, and that was that. The family was booked to leave London on the ‘Ruapehu’ on the 13th March, 1913; a thirteen thousand ton boat on a thirteen thousand mile journey, with a skipper making his thirteenth trip. What could you expect? [Chuckles] The six week trip from London to Wellington was harsh on Sophia who was seasick for most of the journey. So the Vogtherr family, number 87 in the Family History Book of 1908, in 1913 was now in New Zealand.

I’ll go back to Stortford Lodge. This is a letter that I wrote to the paper some time ago, referring to the book, ‘A Picture Book of Old Hawke’s Bay’. ‘Mr Editor.­ – May I add to and correct the interesting letter by Mrs Jeffery regarding Stortford Lodge, referred to in the book of ‘A Picture Book of Old Hawke’s Bay‘. The caption to the photograph of the Stortford Lodge store is obviously wrong.

‘Brothers Art and George Lowe owned the large brick-fronted building on the corner opposite the Stortford Lodge Hotel, comprising a fruit cool store, a butcher’s shop, an ice-making plant, and in the adjoining wooden building, a bacon factory. This wooden building was built of timber from the old Frimley canning factory.

‘My grandfather, Carl Vogtherr, opened a delicatessen in the centre of the Grand Hotel block on the day war broke out, August 4, 1914, and was curing bacon and ham in a rented chiller at the Hawke’s Bay Fruit Company in King Street.’

Incidentally that is where he met my mother. My mother was a bookkeeper in the fruit cool store. And he was also working with Jimmy Wattie. Jimmy Wattie came to him one day, and tears were in his eyes. He said he’d applied for a job in the Post Office and they’d turned him down. [Chuckles] He had something wrong with his eyes and they turned him down. Maybe it was a good job. [Chuckles]

‘In 1917 the Lowe brothers sold their bacon curing business to my grandfather, which was then renamed the Elite Bacon Factory. The Lowe brothers were still responsible for supplying both steam and refrigeration to the bacon factory. During the peak season, however, refrigeration was insufficient to supply the whole system, the result being that my grandfather eventually brought the whole property, including the butcher’s shop through the mortgagee, Mr Bill Richmond.’

Now I read another part of the book that … I think it might have been this deal, that the owner somewhere didn’t want to sell to my father because of his German name, and Bill Richmond said, “If you don’t sell it to him, I’ll buy it,” and it went through.

‘The butcher’s shop was soon changed to a petrol station and in this form our family ran the whole complex till 1938. In the 1931 earthquake the complete brick frontage collapsed leaving the wooden portions standing. The building was refaced and remained in this state till rebuilt in recent years by Richmond Cool Store[s Limited]’.

Information here refers to my father’s autobiography, ‘No Regrets’. Some of this … there may be a bit of repetition, but it’d hurt worse to try and leave it out.

Early in the 1900s an uncle of my grandfather, Mr Martin, who owned the original Kiwi Bacon Company in Palmerston North, invited my Grandfather and family to emigrate to New Zealand to eventually take over the Kiwi Bacon Company. When this did not come to fruition, Carl Vogtherr was paid a sum of £1,000 not to start within twenty-five miles of Palmerston North for five years. Consequently, the family moved to Hastings and purchased the Lowe Brothers cool store at Stortford Lodge, and named the bacon factory, the Elite Bacon Factory. A delicatessen was opened in Heretaunga Street, next to the State Theatre just a way from Otto Shattky and was run by my grandfather, Sophia and my Aunt Winnie. This place was next to Otto Shattky, the hairdresser, opposite Millar & Giorgi on the day war broke out, August 4th 1914. There was quite a lot of trouble brewing that evening. They were all lined up and they were going to smash the windows and everything. See, we were new German people then … but the policeman came along and told them – he said “If you want to fight the Germans go over to Europe”. He was the saviour of that night for the family.

At that time my father, Ernest, worked with his father and several other people including Bill Mierdon, Jock McCormack and Bill Wilkins. Across the road was W G Lynch, the grocer, the Stortford Lodge Hotel, and next to that Sawyers’ Furniture Store. Things carried on as most family business do until 1931, when my father had a row with Carl, and he left the business to chip weeds on the railway and sell gas refrigerators.

Then the earthquake came, creating the mess that you can see. All the brickwork on the building collapsed but left the wooden sections virtually unchanged. At this time my father was offered a job in Nelson, which he took, allowing his parents to occupy the house. My grandparents lived up above the shop. That wasn’t uncommon in those days, and after the earthquake Dad went down to bring things back. He couldn’t find the shop, because like … as you see with the factory here, all the shop frontages – the bricks or ferroconcrete shop frontages – had fallen away. So in the end he saw a stairway and he thought ‘well that must be it.’ It was it, so he went upstairs and sorted through a lot of the things; took what was urgent, and he was still getting aftershocks and he eventually said to the other chap with him, “Come on, let’s go”. He said, “We’ll come tomorrow and we’ll take up my grandmother’s beautiful needlework and all beautiful glasswork and everything”. It didn’t come – fire went through the whole block, took everything … their car, their … everything at all. They had nothing left. So that was my mother’s suggestion that Dad take this job in Nelson and let his mother and father and my aunt live in our house.

Managing the new factory in primitive conditions was a challenge which lasted for three years, when Dad threw the keys across the table and walked out. We then moved to Marton where Ernest started up his own business, the Rangitikei Bacon Company, using for the first time, Holly Brand, taken from the Buchanan’s Flour Mill advertisement in the old Edmonds Cookery Book. Three years there, and the bank wanted Dad to return to take over the Elite Bacon Company in Hastings. He refused, but returned to Hastings where a Mr Harry Mossman built a new factory in Karamu Road next to the Public Trust. The business started up in February 1938. Again, at this time I was starting high school, working to help before and after school. Again, it was Holly brand bacon and ham. It was and is today a quality product which soon found a ready market. There’s some of our advertising literature. [Shows slide]

1942. I decided to leave New Plymouth Boys’ High School and wondered what to do. I was told by my father, “People always have to eat.” I listened. How true. So started the third generation in the business. During the War years we were kept very busy, the pair of us, busy supplying both army and civilian bacon and ham requirements. And our small business where I remember Frank Donnolly, who served us very well. During this period I was involved with the Hastings Harrier Club, being successful in provincial terms having won six out of seven provincial cross-country titles from 1945 to ‘52.

By the time 1962 came along we were having trouble with truck access to the factory in Karamu Road. The new trustees at Mossman Estate doubled the rent, so Dad said “Time to get out”, and he purchased a property on the corner of St Aubyn Street and Warren Street, where we still are. Here we built a new factory with good water supply, drainage and access. I designed that factory with a six-foot broom handle. [Chuckles] It proved very satisfactory and the water all went the right way. [Chuckle]

We had a good business. My father had retired due to ill health, and the business continued successfully. We had good staff whom we regarded as family, remembering Jim Beattie, Dick Berry, and particularly Judy Jude who is still with us, these two having been with us for over twenty years. In the office we remember Kitty Wishart, Heather Milne and Gwen Vernon, all who served the company well. We were presented with a tea set … the firm must have got together and dug into their pockets, or pinched some money out of the till, and they gave us a tea set – that was for forty years of service in the company.

By 1988 it was time for me to retire, and our third daughter, Claire, asked if she could join the firm, having spent a number of years nursing. Today it is still a family business. There are about six staff there whom we regard as family. But stringent health laws may compel Claire to move or re-build. Our four generations of bacon curing in Hastings have been exciting producing a high-quality product for ninety-seven years now, with a hundred years not too far away.

Years ago we used to get our pigs locally, but gradually the local supply dried up and our present pork supplies are mainly transported up from Canterbury – quickly, in modern refrigerated trucks. We have never killed pigs. All pigs come to us or have come to us as dressed carcasses. All our pork is from New Zealand grown pigs; no imported product. Our product today is still dry stack curing with no water added. Taking three to four weeks to mature ensures a mild-flavoured product.

Things have changed over the years. Whereas my years we couldn’t supply business out of Hawke’s Bay because of the suitable transport, as I’ve said before she’s now able to supply anywhere in the North Island overnight. In the early days of my involvement in the business I used to deliver orders on a butcher’s bike around town. We had numerous customers such as Cooper’s Store in Grays Road, later R C Bould, Ted Kelly, the grocer in Heretaunga Street across the road from Bill Maher, Windsor Park Store and MacDonald’s Grocery in Taradale, Harold Bush and Norman Donkin in Havelock North, together with White and Glennie, later to become Bourgeois Brothers, and Wilson’s Bakery in St Aubyn Street, Hastings. Mr Wilson Senior always said that the best pastry was made from fifty/fifty butter and lard.

We are happy of [with] our association with Hastings and Hawke’s Bay. My mother and father gave two stained glass windows to the new Cathedral in Napier in 1960, and in 1964 in celebration of fifty years of trading in Hastings, donated a large stained-glass window in St Matthew’s Anglican Church, Hastings. In 1989 we completed the large stained-glass window in memory of Cannon Button to celebrate seventy-five years in Hastings. Today Claire runs the business of Holly Bacon. We had two daughters involved, one in the office and one working there, and they got together and they voted the name out. Instead of Hastings Bacon Company they said “Our product is Holly, so let’s make it the Holly Bacon Company.” So, it’s now the Holly Bacon Company instead of Hastings. I didn’t have much say. So they’re still producing a high-quality range of bacon, ham, sausages and other small goods.

Hobbies? Carl Vogtherr, as I’ve told you – he was a keen man for birds, animals, and in fact recently an old Cup came to light from the Poultry Society that he won in 1924. It’s been kicking around our place for ages … wondering what to do with it. I thought that ‘well, I’d get in touch with the Poultry Society and they said “yes”, so they’ve now made it one of their special prizes and each year Shirley and I are called on to present the trophy to the winner. But it just shows that they were involved. He also liked the Collie dogs. He was always in town … he always rode a bike around town with his waxed moustache and leather gaiters. Yes – the dog, Scamp, always went with him wherever he went into town.

Even before he died … Grandfather … he had business problems because of drink. As I say, the Stortford Lodge Hotel and the Carlton were too close. But when things eventually fell over, he never drank a drop after that, of drink. He was rather amazing. Ted Kelly … in those days he used to work in the back of Ted Kelly’s shop … and he used to offer him a drink, “Come on, have a drink”, and he wouldn’t touch it. So as you can imagine our house was dry, always dry. Dad wouldn’t sanction any drink in the house and my mother wouldn’t sanction having a gun in the house. [Chuckles]

And Ernest, my father, was also a keen pigeon fancier, and with Grandfather won many pigeon races from all parts of New Zealand … the South Island down as far as Invercargill. He was a real curse, because on Saturday afternoon nobody was allowed to move, all clothing had to be off the line, and keep still, otherwise the birds might be scared away and they wouldn’t go into the loft, and he wouldn’t be able to get their ring off to go and put in the pot. Thank heavens those days are over.

Ernest and I were interested in English sports cars, which for him included three three-litre Alvises in the fifties; an Aston Martin DB24; the series of six Porsches and a 1970 three-Litre BMW. Well, I had two cars specifically – a 1937 MG which David Mackersey now owns – you might see it over the Art Deco weekend – and a 1950 Healey Elliott which went to Adelaide in Australia.

I think that’s just about all for now – there’s a bit of time. I could give you a bit more background of Dad if you wish to fill in the time, or how about some questions?

Question: Do you still own a sports car?

Gordon: No. No, I had falls a few years ago and when I got over those I found that I couldn’t get down to do the work, and I didn’t want to. So I thought ‘that’s the time’, and we got rid of them. Since then I take an interest in historic aircraft, so … [Laughter] They’ve all got nuts and bolts.

Question: [Inaudible] … Jack Greer?

Gordon: Oh! Oh yes. Now … just as well we’ve got daughters isn’t it? Recently one of our ex-employees, Jack Greer, died. He was ninety-one. He and I worked side by side on the bench for twenty-six years. He was a real solid man … he was good. In fact, I’ve got an email from his daughter-in-law today just saying how much they appreciated what we did for him. But he was really wonderful, Jack. In latter years he was at Mary Doyle and they thought the world of him. You couldn’t wish for a better man, a family man to be part of your family.

Comment: I would just like to compliment you on your wonderful daughter, Claire. I do know her competency in nursing and it was very sad the day she left us to go and run Holly Bacon, but since then I have acquired many hams … [Chuckles] No, no! [Laughter] No matter who tasted it, they say “what beautiful ham.” I’ve just had my eightieth, and you’ve no idea how they appreciated the ham.

Gordon: Oh, very good thank you.

Question: How many have you got working in the factory now?

Gordon: I think – Claire’s not here – I think there’s about six … not very many. It’s a small family business. With what’s happened in recent years I wouldn’t want to work in a big firm, or a big factory or anything like that. I couldn’t stand it. In a small business such as ours … it’s been going for nearly a hundred years … you have to make the decisions. If they’re right it’s okay; if they’re wrong you take the blame. But – you can do it immediately. If you see something wrong you can make the decision and say, “we’ve got to alter that.” You don’t have to go to the directors, or the trustees, or people higher up. It’s a real joy to work in your own business, and I thoroughly recommend it to anybody with any thoughts of doing it. You’ve got to do it right, though – the money that you handle isn’t yours, it’s only part of it.

Question: Gordon, what about telling us something about your Dad? He really was involved in so many things, including the Art Gallery and Museum in Napier.

Gordon: Well, I’ve got some … here in case we had a bit of time. This is, I’ve got an article here on Dad. He was in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, No 4. It’s headed, ‘Bacon Cure; Businessman; Art Collector’. He had many of these letters that he wrote to the Ministers and to the paper, and you people perhaps don’t remember those things. But I think they appreciated what he wrote. He was hard hitting. I’ll go through this for you:

‘Ernest George Frederick Vogtherr was born in Sunderland in England on February the 18th, 1998, the eldest of four children.’ I’ll try and skip a bit of this. ‘He was sent from Germany to live with his uncle and grandmother in Kendall. He attended the Quaker Stramongate School. He then attended High Barns School in Sunderland, and after his family shifted to South Shields, Westoe Secondary School, but an economic slump forced him to leave at the age of fourteen.

‘When Carl Vogtherr was offered a partnership in the Kiwi Bacon Company in Palmerston North by his uncle, Fred Martin, the family emigrated to New Zealand, around mid-1913. When the company was sold the following year, they moved to Hastings and opened the Bacon Factory and delicatessen in Hastings. During the war the Vogtherrs were persecuted because of their German origin, but friends notably W Richmond, assisted them to continue in business. In 1917 they brought 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 name … 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 as an Inspector – one of three Inspectors – which consisted largely of ex-army and territorial men. And in the Second World War he was Regimental Sergeant–Major in the Hastings battalion of the Home Guard.

‘On the 7th of November 1923, Ernest married Doris Ridgeway Corban, a clerk at … I’ve got here St Matthew’s Anglican Church, but also the fruit company. They would 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 fell out with his father and early the following year moved to Richmond, Nelson, to manage the Blackbyre Bacon Company for James Wylie. 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, especially in the production of high-quality bacon and ham cured by 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. Doesn’t take much does it?

‘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 a Social Credit philosophy but became dissatisfied with [the] Social Credit organisation’s 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 and Cycling Club, 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. He provided the car; I drove it. [Laughter] We had fun in those days.

‘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 Coupe.

‘In 1960 he retired after serious illness but remained managing director of the ‘Hastings Bacon Company’. Now I know only too well. [Laughter] About this time he developed an interest in art collecting. He was an enthusiast photographer and always had an eye for beautiful things. Now he built 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 Goldie paintings in his collection. He encouraged local artists, who he engaged to produce limited editions of Christmas cards for the Hastings Bacon Company for years. He and Doris were generous benefactors with donations included 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, Hastings.

‘Ernest wrote two books – his biography, ‘No Regrets’ – it’s here somewhere; and an account of his art collecting, ‘Your Bid, Sir!’ The first one was 1965 and the ‘Your Bid, Sir’ was 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 in Havelock North on 28th of October ‘73, and was survived by his wife and son.’ Thank you.

I think that’s enough … thank you very much.


Michael Fowler: Well thank you Gordon for coming along to speak to us tonight. Gordon of course and Shirley come along to our meetings anyway. I guess when you were talking I was thinking about how colourful the Vogtherr family has been, and what real characters they are, and also how they were immersed in the community as business owners. And I believe that it really does make a big difference when you don’t have business owners that are actively engaged in their community. There’s not a lot we can do about that. I was thinking too, you’re a bit of a ‘Mr Hastings’ actually – I think we can almost give you the title of ‘Mr Hastings’. Gordon’s very paternal over Hastings and lets us know the right way to go. Long may that continue.

Gordon: Look at my father. [Laughter]

Michael: So, thank you Gordon for coming along – you’ve made a great amount of effort. And also your wonderful assistant Madelon’s been helping you as well, so thank you as well, Madelon.

Gordon: Thank you. [Applause] I’ve often said to Claire, “I hope she puts as much time into her business as she puts into some of these other organisations she’s involved in”. [Chuckle] I would like to say thank you for Madelon – I don’t think I could have done it without her, and I appreciate it very much. Thank you, Madelon.

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Landmarks Talk 8 February 2011


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