Sad fire recalls pioneer
MEMORIES of one of Hawke’s Bay’s remarkable and astute business pioneers, Mr William Nelson, have been revived by the destruction of Waikoko House on the Tomoana showgrounds near Hastings.
Waikoko burned to the ground after more than 100 years as a major Hastings landmark.
Mr Nelson, Waikoko’s original owner, is best known as a pioneer in the meat freezing industry, but this was only one aspect of his eventful life.
English-born, he came to New Zealand with his brother, Fred, in 1862 after gaining business experience with the family firm, Nelson and Company, makers of meat extracts, soup and gelatine. He leased Arlington Station, four miles from Waipukurau in 1866, but had to sell his sheep after the property was over-run by grasshoppers. Then he opened a ﬂax mill at Mangateretere, but it closed because of a lack of skilled workers.
In 1881 he opened, in partnership with his brother- in-law, Mr J. N. Williams, the Tomoana Meat Preserving Works. He patented his own preserving process, using every part of the animal.
The meat was steamed under high pressure in an iron boiler, and tallow was casked and the gravy was canned and sent to England to make Nelson’s Soup.
But Tomoana had been planned for ready conversion to freezing as soon as the process was perfected. The first shipment sailed in the Turakina with 9000 carcases on board and the following year 82,000 carcases were exported.
Mr Nelson was a major shareholder in a venture known, and not always kindly, as the Syndicate. With county engineer Mr C. D. Kennedy and contractor Mr George Latham, he formed a company to reclaim land which is now known as Napier South. It was an ambitious project and met bitter opposition.
But the first auction of the land in 1908 sold sections for up to $4000 an acre.
Streets in the new suburb were named after Syndicate members – Nelson Crescent, Kennedy Road and Latham Street.
Not only was the scheme ambitious, but it was also highly dangerous, as Mr George Nelson, son of William Nelson and working engineer on the project, later admitted.
“Only the watertightness of a bank of earth stood between us and ruin,” he once said. “An accident could have drowned Napier”.