What the Pioneers Endured.
Mr. William Nelson, founder of the company, left Home as a boy in 1862, and came out to Auckland by the good ship Devonshire. He then spent six months tramping through the provinces of Auckland, Hawke’s Bay, Wellington, Nelson, and Canterbury. As a result of what he saw he made up his mind that Hawke’s Bay was the most promising spot to settle in. From this period up to 1880 Mr. Nelson met with varied experiences. He made a start by trying a small farm in the Kereru district. This he found to be too small for his energies, and before long he bought a run at Waipukurau. On the new property Mr. Nelson had the most uncomfortable time of his life. Just when he took it up sheep began to fall in value. From 20s. a head, they dropped in twelve months to 10s., and at the end of three years they were unsaleable. This was bad enough, but worse was to come. As a finishing touch to his struggle at Waipukurau, Mr. Nelson had a visitation of grasshoppers and locusts. “That visitation,” said Mr. Nelson, in speaking of it last week, “was so vast and appalling that it is useless to attempt to make anybody believe the magnitude of it.” It may be realised to some extent by the fact that a thousand acres of pasture in front of his house, representing the only piece of grass country that he owned, was eaten up and left as clean and bare as a floor- board in one night. Mr. Nelson says that this disaster has made him realise how cautious it is necessary to be in introducing enemies of the small birds. In the past forty years he has seen grasshoppers about in the province in comparatively small numbers, and he is convinced that but for the way the small birds devour them they would have created frequent plagues. The net result of three years’ working on this Waipukurau run was that the comparatively large capital put into it was lost, and the property had to be abandoned. When further struggle became useless, Mr. Nelson was at last obliged to hitch up his horse, and with a sad heart to drive away in his buggy, practically the only thing he owned.
In 1869 he set to work to retrieve his fortunes as a flax-dresser. Anyone old enough to remember that period will recollect how the flax trade generally panned out – that is to say, with an all-round collapse. Here Mr. Nelson was a little more fortunate than his neighbours. He did not lose his money, but he failed to make what he had intended to. After closing down on his flax business he returned to England, and spent the following eight years there, making his way back to Hawke’s Bay in 1880. In that year began Mr. Nelson’s connection with the meat industry, for under the style of Nelson Brothers and Williams, he commenced the Tomoana works as a meat preserving and boiling-down establishment. In 1883 he realised that the frozen meat trade was to be the thing of the future. The business was accordingly reorganised, and converted into a limited liability company, and Nelson Brothers, Limited, took form and being. The works were originally built to deal with 400 sheep a-day. Mr. Nelson, thinking that he was a little bit more far-sighted than his neighbours, made them so that their capacity could be increased to 800 a day. Everyone in the district looked upon this as utterly ridiculous, and it was generally thought that there was little prospect of the supply even keeping up to the 400 head, for which provision was originally made. To-day the Tomoana works are dealing with 3000 sheep a day, and there are two other works in the district which deal with about an equal number. This shows how little the residents of Hawke’s Bay realised what was eventually to be the magnitude of the freezing industry in the province.