Tobin’s Hawke’s Bay Butchery History


John Tobin writes:

After moving to Hastings from Wellington soon after the 1931 Hawke’s Bay earthquake, my father H. B. (Bruce) Tobin set up a retail butchery business in partnership with W. A. (Bill) Taylor, who was the stock buyer for the company.

Prior to this, in his single days, Dad was a shepherd for fourteen years on Frank Armstrong’s Akitio Station, in Southern Hawke’s Bay.

At one stage they had shops in Napier and Hastings and I understand they traded as ‘The Peoples’ Butchery’. The Hastings shop was located next door to, and on the western side of Kershaw’s furnishing and funeral directing premises. This later became the Co-op No1 butchery after Dad moved to larger premises four doors further along the block toward Havelock. Kershaw’s used to make their coffins and store their Mercury hearse at the rear of the furniture store. Their French polisher, George Murphy, was also the funeral director. Their chapel was located on Heretaunga St W, halfway between Nelson St & Southland Rd. Mr & Mrs Kershaw used to live in the house on the corner of Warren & Queen Sts.

So, starting from Warren St corner, the corner shop was Kelly’s Grocery and The U.F.S. Dispensary under the two-storey corner building (Begley’s Building). Then in the Hardings Building was Taylor’s Dry-Cleaning depot, Totty’s Florists (later to become Anne-Beau Lingerie), The Hawke’s Bay Butchery, Lushers Grocery and the Empire Restaurant. The next building was Kershaw’s. The next shop became the Co-op butchery after Dad’s move. Past that was Yates Grocery, Mena David’s dress shop (she lived in one of the two flats above Kelly’s shop), Bill Estcourt’s hairdressing shop, The Selphast Bakery, Ah Wing’s greengrocery, then Bon Marche, Ian Hickman Bookseller, Eastern & Central Savings Bank, Reardon-Wright tailors, then Nutter’s drapery & haberdashery on Karamu Rd corner.

I have no record of when the Tobin/Taylor partnership was dissolved. Dad continued trading as ‘The Hawke’s Bay Butchery’, a very successful retail butchery and small goods business with usually about six staff. I used to enjoy working there after school and from an early age I only ever wanted to be a butcher. When I left high school on my fifteenth birthday I began working in the shop full-time and gradually assumed managing the business about 1962. There was never a ‘hand-over’ date as such, and Dad continued at the shop until the late Sixties.

Dad was the President of the Hawke’s Bay Master Butchers Association for many years, attending National Federation conferences annually as well as being the local spokesperson for the trade to the media. During my last ten years, I was also the member delegate for Hawke’s Bay, attending the Federation conferences annually.

As there had always been some confusion between our shop’s name and The Hawke’s Bay Farmers Meat Company (Whakatu), I decided to personalise the business by appending “Tobin’s” in front of the name making it ‘Tobin’s Hawke’s Bay Butchery’. With a decision in 1972 to join the MASTERCUT promotional franchise group, another name to suit current trends saw ‘Tobin’s Tasty Meats’ evolve. (Another family suggestion was “John’s Juicy Joints”….). The staff was dressed uniformly as per the accompanying photo, and I was the first butcher in our district to wear shorts during the summer. Ours was also the first meat retailer (as we had become) to install an electronic insect repellent (fly zapper).

Trading became more difficult as time went by, as more retail meat outlets developed in the suburbs as well as the now thirteen shops in the main street alone. Tomoana and Whakatu freezing works both had retail shops too, but the crowning blow came during the 1960s with the arrival of supermarkets. We had to contend with the Self Help (later to be the New World) supermarket on Hastings Street corner, then also McKenzies almost opposite the State theatre. In an effort to compete I began trading on the late shopping Friday nights in 1976 – the first retail butchery to do so. Four years later Saturday morning trading was introduced and I (correctly) predicted that this move would be the thin edge of the wedge that would lead eventually to full weekend trading. Retail butchery had always been a very physical trade requiring long hours incorporating lengthy preparation, including going out to the abattoir at Tomoana Works to pick up the carcases, and cleaning down after a full day’s trading – usually in excess of 10 – 12 hours. With Friday nights those hours extended to 10pm – a 16 – hour day. It also entailed working back on most weekends for maintenance as, being a food premises, some tasks could not be performed while the product was exposed.

Freezing works strikes, which affected the abattoir, became more frequent, and this entailed securing stock from out of the district. On one occasion I had to drive to Masterton after work, stay overnight then collect a truck load of stock from a sympathetic trade colleague and return, facing a full day’s work on arrival. Relieving staff was also more difficult to find, which affected staff holidays.

That was enough. With no family member being interested in continuing the business, after nigh on 30 personal years, I sold the shop as a going concern in 1981, ending 49 years of family ownership.

Ironically, I sold the business to Charlie Keenan who now had the butcher shop on the western side of Kershaw’s, and – he wanted to move into larger premises. He converted his shop into a vegetable shop.

Original digital file


Non-commercial use

Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 New Zealand (CC BY-NC 3.0 NZ)

This work is licensed under a Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 New Zealand (CC BY-NC 3.0 NZ).


Commercial Use

Please contact us for information about using this material commercially.

Format of the original

Typed document

Creator / Author


  • Charlie Keenan
  • Mr and Mrs Kershaw
  • George Murphy
  • H (Bruce) B Tobin
  • W (Bill) A Taylor

Accession number


Do you know something about this record?

Please note we cannot verify the accuracy of any information posted by the community.

Supporters and sponsors

We sincerely thank the following businesses and organisations for their support.