Whatever Happened to Poor Waring Taylor? Insights from the Business Manuscripts
B. R. PATTERSON
Whatever did happen to poor Waring Taylor? Before attempting to answer that question, it is perhaps appropriate to first pose another: who was William Waring Taylor? His principal public commemoration today is a short street, the not inappropriate location of the Wellington Central Police Station for most of the present century. Beyond that, there is little. The secondary public record is virtually silent. A search of the Turnbull catalogues will not take an inquirer much further. There are no Waring Taylor papers, or none that have been located. The often useful Cyclopedia of New Zealand has a bald three lines, no more than a listing of official appointments held. If it is thought there might be clarification in the recently published Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, disappointment is in store. Although sister Mary rates nearly two pages, based largely on a friendship with the Brontes and, it is suspected, a desire on the part of the editors to boost the female entries, Waring rates only a passing mention in the same essay.
At face value, Scholefield's much maligned 1940 dictionary seems much more forthcoming. There, Taylor merits two paragraphs. We find that he was born in Yorkshire in 1819, and that his father was a wool merchant. We find also that he came to Wellington in 1842, aged twenty-three, and set up in business as a merchant. Almanacs suggest in Farish Street. Thereafter, his career, seemingly, was one of consolidation and progression. His business expanded. He became a bastion of the Wellington Chamber of Commerce. He acquired substantial real property holdings, including estates in the Wairarapa and at Rangitikei. As his business profile rose, so was his public persona enhanced. First elected to the Wellington Provincial Council in 1861, he served as Deputy Superintendent to both Featherston and Fitzherbert. From 1865 to 1875 he was also Speaker of the Council. Clearly, then, a man of considerable regional political influence; but Waring Taylor was not confined just to the regional political stage. In 1860 he was elected Member of the House of Representatives for the City of Wellington, and he held that seat for more than a decade. Other appointments came regularly. He was a member of a wide range
of public committees. He was appointed a member of the Waste Lands Board in 1873. In 1874 he was a founding member of the Wellington College Board of Governors. In this light, Scholefield's summation is interesting, and to a degree predictable: Taylor, he writes, was 'a delicate, ascetic looking man, rather retiring in disposition, but a useful citizen and highly respected'. He was also, he adds, 'a very capable sheepfarmer'. End of story —or almost. Consider Scholefield's last line: 'He retired from public life in the eighties, and died on 11 October 1903.' This implies retirement in his early sixties, a good age for the time, and presumably a well earned retirement of twenty years a figure of substance and respect; a revered founding father. I only say presumably, on the evidence readily available. The reality was very different.
My first inkling all might not be as portrayed came some fifteen years ago, when first reading the late Dr Graham Bagnail's monumental Wairarapa. Referring to Hales' and Murch's Flat Point run, Bagnall states 'After Hales' death, the trustees passed the administration of the run over to Waring Taylor, its fortunes and those of the family traditionally suffering by his debacle in 1884'. What debacle? We are not told immediately. But twenty-four pages on, our chronicler provides a partial answer. Outlining Taylor's problems with his own Wairarapa property, 'Manawa', Bagnall suggests that he was 'a kindly, wellmeaning muddler whose business failure and misappropriation of trust funds led to his conviction in 1885'. There is no more than that. More than a decade passed before it was possible to follow up these clues, but I think I at last have an outline; although, having said that, I must record that essentially I have been following in the footsteps of Bagnall. I believe that will be, however, the eventual realisation of almost anyone seriously working on the economic history of nineteenth century Wellington Province. Whatever the scholastic mountain scaled, there will invariably be a little marker at the top indicating AGB had already been there!
So, what did happen to Waring Taylor? As far as can be established, Taylor built his business interests solidly, or reasonably so, till the mid to late 1860 s. The core of his business was the import and export trade. He took consignments of goods, notably grain and groceries. He despatched local productions, particularly wool. Successive almanacs leave an unmistakable impression of comfortable solidity. He was not a leading light, no Barney Rhodes, no George Hunter, but he was nonetheless a prominent player. Arguably, Taylor's problems began with an 1868 decision to acquire 'Manawa', 12,000 acres at Whareama on Wairarapa's east coast. He acquired the property from John Bridges, Wellington manager of the Bank of New Zealand. The offer was eight shillings an acre, or just over £5,000 all up. Prima facie, this may seem an excellent price, but it is probable Bridges could scarcely believe his luck. At any rate, the Quaker Thomas Mason,
Bridges' agent during a visit by the owner to Britain, urged expeditious acceptance, the character of the land not being such as to make occupation easy and profitable without considerable outlay'. This was perhaps a generous estimate. Part of the run was broken; some parts were in heavy bush, other sections were in scrub. Moreover, there was a constant problem of marauding porkers. In one year alone 1874, a station cadet himself shot 3,000 of the beasts. Undeterred and possibly with visions of comfortable retirement as a landed gendeman, Taylor set to developing his Wairarapa acres. He had to clear the run, then lay down the cleared pasture land in English grasses. To facilitate flock management, it was necessary to subdivide and fence the property. It then had to be stocked. Not least, station complexes had to be erected (homestead, woolshed yards, outstations etc). All of this took money, a great deal of money; far more, apparently, than the profit margins from his existing businesses. Taylor was therefore compelled to borrow, and to continue to borrow, as and where he could, and at high interest rates. It is significant that the development of 'Manawa' was heavily concentrated in the 1870 s, a decade when under the influence of Vogel's fertilising millions, credit was probably easier to get than at any other time in the nineteenth century. He tapped local banks and investment funds; also private lenders. There was even recourse to British private capital.
The 1870 s, was a period of madcap optimism, and, as in more recent times, there was to be an eventual reckoning. When the financial bubble burst, Taylor still had his compounding bills to pay. By the early 1880 s he was in a classic fix. His outgoings consistently exceeded his income. He was in a mortgage squeeze, and his creditors were clamouring. The unfortunate Waring's response was a 'rob Peter to pay Paul' solution. Recklessly he juggled his accounts, stumbling from crisis to crisis, paying off a little here, appropriating a little there, getting ever deeper in a mire largely of his own making. (Given the happenings of the past few years, its possible to have some sympathy for his predicament, if not to condone his actions.) The situation was one that could not last. By mid 1883 his National Bank accounts were overdrawn by more than £B,OOO. Further credit facilities were withdrawn. In November of the same year a civil action for recovery of interest outstanding was launched by a disgruntled British investor. While a temporary patching accommodation was reached in this instance, it was becoming clear the only way was down. On 28 June 1884, on the petition of a group of local creditors, William Waring Taylor, merchant, was adjudged bankrupt in the Wellington Bankruptcy Court. Documents filed at this time reveal his total liabilities as exceeding £91,000, with over half these liabilities unsecured. Conversely, his assets, by his own estimate, were in the order of £78,000. This left a shortfall of £13,000.
The official assignee's report, presented to the Bankruptcy Court two months later, caused a furore. That Taylor had indeed been bumbling was now plain. Major irregularities in his books were found as far back as the 1850 s. He had made little attempt to balance his books from June 1873 —an interval of more than eleven years. There was also bad news for some previously sanguine secured creditors. Independent estimates of the value of Taylor's stock-in-trade more than halved the claimed value. Further, with regard to his real estate (valued at £44,000) it had been found that 'with a few trifling exceptions, the whole is mortgaged to an amount far in excess of the realisable value'. Far from being saleable assets, Taylor's town and country properties were, in fact, likely to swell the unsecured liabilities. Worse was yet to come. In a slating indictment, the official assignee, Charles Christie Graham, revealed the true extent of Waring's naughtiness. For several years the interest outgoings had been largely met from trust monies. A good dozen instances were cited: funds placed in his hands for investment had been misappropriated; in other instances, trust accounts had been plundered. With the documentation being extensive and complex, a few examples must suffice. St John's Church, recently destroyed by
fire, had been insured by Taylor as representative of the Northern Assurance Company. Payments by the parent company, however, had been converted by Taylor, the church authorities being consistently fobbed off. There was also his involvement in administration of the W. B. Rhodes estate, the redoubtable Barney having died in 1878. Rhodes' will had named Taylor as one of the trustees, but, in the assignee's words, the latter's trusteeship had been of 'a very peculiar and questionable character'. To April 1884 over £20,000 had been received by Taylor on behalf of the estate, and had been appropriated by him for his own purposes. It was also suspected other sums had been obtained by Taylor in the names of other parties. Though, under pressure, some of these monies had been repaid in early 1884, nearly £IO,OOO was still owed to the estate at the time of the bankruptcy. Most blatant, however, was his administration of the James May estate. May had died in London in 1881, and amongst the assets entrusted to Taylor's stewardship were 1,014 fully paid up Bank of New Zealand shares, valued at £24,000. It was now revealed that 778 of those shares (value £18,000), had been sold by Taylor immediately probate had been granted, part of the proceeds being diverted to settlement of his debts with the Rhodes estate.
From the publication of these revelations, some form of retribution was inevitable. In short order Taylor’s listed assets were realised, though not, it should be noted, without bitter quarrelling amongst the various creditors. His mercantile stock was knocked down at bargain basement rates to fellow merchants. His various properties were put to auction. His beloved nemesis the ‘Manawa’ run, passed into the hands of one
of his principal overseas creditors, George Dixon of Birmingham, for £23,500; that is, at one third less than its claimed valuation. Dixon, incidentially, was a cousin of Taylor's, which demonstrates that this was one case where blood was by no means thicker than water. As does the fact that another of the clamouring overseas creditors was sister Mary. At any rate, there could be no question as to Taylor's destitution by the end of the year.
Well before the end of 1884, however, criminal charges had also been laid, Taylor being accused of fraudulently appropriating money as a trustee or agent. The case came to the Supreme Court in January 1885, with Chief Justice Prendergast on the bench. 10 Amidst intense public interest, the tawdry little drama played to packed houses for most of the month, Mr Jellicoe prosecuting, and Mr Shaw appearing for the defence. It is perhaps indicative of the interest aroused that the case was exhaustively reported in both major Wellington dailies, also drawing comment in newspapers in other centres. Finally, on 20 January, the jury retired and, as the New Zealand Times reported the following morning, after ‘not very lengthened consultation’ the defendant was found guilty on all but few minor counts. 11 Strangely, however, sentencing was deferred, a number of legal points raised by the defence being referred to the Court of Appeal for decision. This was scarcely to the liking of the Times, whose bloodlust had become increasingly obvious through the month, but its editor reluctantly conceded that comment had necessarily to be postponed ‘until the whole sorry business shall have been finally setted’. 2 If there was any faint hope that Taylor might escape on technicalities, these were dashed when the arguments were heard by Justice Richmond, in the Appeal Court, in May. In
the absence of new evidence, the Justice saw no reason to intervene. On 7 July 1885, William Waring Taylor appeared for sentence. Even here there is a footnote. At the January hearing, bail had been granted on consideration of £I,OOO, plus two sureties of £I,OOO. It had been anticipated that these latter would be put up by close family, or by former business colleagues. The sureties were apparently not forthcoming, for the Evening Post of 7 July, in reporting at length on the sentencing, states that the prisoner appeared to have become stouter during his incarceration in the Terrace Gaol, and that his whiskers and moustaches had become noticeably longer. Seemingly, by this time, the once-respected Taylor had become a pariah. In pronouncing sentence, Prendergast was characteristically stern. Nothing but a severe penalty would suffice: the prisoner’s age, sixty-six, was the only factor that could be taken into account. He did not intend to address any observations towards the prisoner, nor was there any reason to take into consideration what the prisoner had been in times gone by. As the following morning’s Times states, ‘His Honor then sentenced the prisoner to five years’ penal servitude.’ 13
Further uproar then broke out in the capital. To the Times editor, the sentence was little enough; indeed, far too little. He wrote that William Waring Taylor holds the undisputed championship amongst New Zealand defaulters and scoundrels . . . the severest sentence permitted by the law would not have been unduly harsh as the reward of his infamous actions . . . If in the long years of his life he had not yet learned that it was wrong to rob the widow and the fatherless, and to cheat everybody who trusted him, so much the worse for him. It evidently needed an exemplary lesson to hoary-headed rascals that their gray hairs would not be allowed to go in extenuation of their evil deeds.
The editorial continued in similar vein for more than a full column, concluding in the following terms: 'We must not allow any mere sentiment of pity for the man who has fallen so low to dull our perception of the enormity of his crimes .... His offences have been of the meanest, basest, most infamous character'. By this time, or soon after, Waring Taylor was on his way to Hokitika jail. It was in this way, then, as Scholefield tactfully puts it, 'a useful and highly respected citizen . . . retired from public life in the eighties.' A question has been answered. You now know what happened to poor Waring Taylor.
What then, has been the reason for this vignette? The sad little story has not been recounted, I hasten to assure, simply as an exercise in historical voyeurism; nor as a tantalising little bit of pre-dinner prurience at the safe distance of one hundred years. There are lessons in it. Reading on and between the lines, it is possible to learn a great deal about the nineteenth century Wellington business environment: about the gullibility of investors willing to simply hand over money in the hope of quick returns; about the willingness of leading businessmen to take ridiculous risks to safeguard their personal positions; about the lack of accountability in terms of business practices, at least until something went badly wrong. Although, having said that, perhaps what is being talked about is ongoing and timeless something to do with the human condition. Might not the episode that has just been described be as equally well set in the 1980 s as the 1880 s, with modern names being substituted for that of the unfortunate Taylor? The libel laws deter me from suggesting possibilities. Be that as it may, what I have presented is a case study; a case study of the fall of a prominent nineteenth century Wellington merchant house. It is not unique, more a variant on a theme. An important feature, at least in the context of this year's lecture series, is that it was largely compiled from materials held by the Turnbull. Why, you may ask justifiably, devote considerable time, in fact years, to disinterring the deeds and misdeeds of the nineteenth century Wellington business community? The answer is the research is but one
part of a much wider project. At present I am endeavouring to complete a book, provisionally to be entitled Wakefield, Wool and Waste Lands. Broadly, that is what the book is about. It is a study in colonial political economy. It is about the impact of a British devised ideology, incorporating economic, political, and to some extent, social permutations, upon the founding of a settlement. Hence the concerns with Wakefield, or more correctly, 'Wakefieldism'. It is also about the modifying effect of wool, once that commodity was accepted as the regional staple, in preference to the favoured cultivation of grain crops. It is also very much about waste lands, land being the prime resource in the settlement. Ownership of land was the vital key to wealth, to prestige, and ultimately to power. But there is also significance in the chosen subtitle, A Study in the Dynamics of Settler Capitalism. A central theme is the concentration of economic, and political, power in a New Zealand setdement; in short, the formation of elites. Put cynically: who got what, where and how?
Necessarily, the investigations for the study have been wide-ranging. The question of land ownership, for example, has been extensively probed. Equally, the nature of changing land use has been explored. The emergence of a commercial sector has been traced. The dimensions of settlement trade have been established. Linking all the parts together, the operation of the colonial political system has been reconstructed. Nevertheless, as research progressed, an important hunch was borne out. I refer to the critical role of the Wellington merchant houses in determining the shape of development in the southern North Island districts to the 1880 s. The role, however, was never static, and its changing nature can be graphically demonstrated. With grain estates being central to the economic order envisaged by promoters of the New Zealand Company, merchants had not figured greatiy in pre-settiement thinking. Almost as an afterthought, but essentially to assist in estates formation, British mercantile interests were to be encouraged to establish in the settlement, either as representatives of existing concerns or operating independently. Their functions were to arrange for the supply of estates' requirements, and for the marketing of the planned crops. It was never likely that ambitious businessmen would ever have been satisfied with such support casting. The early failure of the grain estates simply accelerated the inevitable. By the end of the 1840 s a new breed of merchants, many of them newcomers from the Australian colonies, had crowded out the Company-endorsed contingent and were in the process of imposing a grasp on the infant economy. Befitting their entrepreneurial philosophies, they had their thumbs in many pies. Control of the import and export trades was no more than a beginning. They soon also wrested control of shipping and finance, at the same time buying into, or underwriting, any activities promising handsome returns. They were middlemen par excellence, and by creating initial
advantage they provided themselves with springboards to even greater dominance in future. By the 1870 s, not withstanding the rise of a pastoral elite, the merchant dominance of the settlement economy was almost complete; and it was largely confined to the 'magnates' or merchant princes, of the City of Wellington. Although small, incorporating no more than a dozen at any one time, this select group, through the diversity of its business interests, wielded immense power. Control of the rural sector was effectively maintained through scale of personal holdings, through liens and a network of nominee arrangements, and through monopoly of the means of supplying and servicing rural properties. In the towns and townships of the southern North Island, merchants had become the largest owners of prime urban real estate, and through their control of resources could boost or wind up enterprises at will. Settled in increasingly plush Lambton Quay offices, the magnates were well placed to call the developmental tune.
Carrying out research for the project has been a protracted task, already intermittently spanning over ten years. The research for the overtly business sections of the book has involved several lengthy sojourns in the Turnbull reading rooms, first in the Free Lance building and more recently in the Library's current home. Not all of the necessary records of course were located in the Turnbull. Many minor sets were turned up in smaller local repositories. One of the single most significant individual collections, the Rhodes papers, was found in the Canterbury Museum. And I well remember, a half dozen years ago, finding material from early regional stock and station agencies in the Australian National University's Archives of Business and Labour. Nevertheless, the Turnbull has contributed the greater part of the core material. Having located them, how were the records to be used? Initially, I did all of the things that a diligent economic historian even a bastardised one like myself should do. I faithfully perused ledgers, I scrutinised balance sheets, I tapped away on a calculator. I also made several discoveries. One was that the broken nature of the extant statistical data did not easily lend itself to sophisticated manipulation. Another was that if I really wanted to know what happened, it was essential that I concentrate on people; people as individuals as well as in the aggregate. As an alternative to the 'great man syndrome', I settled on what is essentially a 'collective biography' approach. This involved the creation of individual case files, and subsequent transcription to computer databases. Though scarcely exclusively business-oriented, the land ownership files perhaps illustrate the scope of the data collected. For the Provincial Government years, between 1853 and 1876, four separate files make up the set of data. First, there is the 'Crown land sales' file. This records every sale of Crown land in Wellington Province over the twenty-three
years. In all, nearly 7,000 transactions are recorded. With all purchasing details being included (location, acreage, price and name of purchaser) it is possible to determine broad aggregational trends. Allied to this is the 'Pastoral licences' file. From this it is possible to determine the identity of runholders, the size of runs, the dates they were held, and the costs of interim occupancy. Less satisfactory, but critical, is the 'Private land transactions' file, compiled largely from Lands and Deeds records. It is less satisfactory through being founded on sampling of the records, a story in itself, but one for another time. Finally, there is the 'Crown land purchasers' file. Having identified the purchasers from other files, it was essential to know something about them. Hence, information was collected under a series of headings. From these it has been possible to build up profiles of classes of purchases, as well as to compile material for individual case studies. Subsequently, other information, for example wealth data from probates, has been noted. The land files constitute but one example. Altogether there are nearly thirty computerised sets of data, encompassing a wide range of economic and political activities. From this sort of information, the bare bones of the study have been distinguished. Yet the work would be fairly sterile without meat on the bones. It was in this respect that contemporary business records proved invaluable. While I started with the idea that such records would provide provender essentially for the business chapters, I soon found that information from this source was pertinent to almost every chapter. There was little that businessmen weren't interested in! I knew, or thought I knew, what happened; the business records helped establish why, and a great deal more besides.
The value of business records can be further demonstrated through reference to one of the larger collections in the Turnbull, the papers of the Bethune and Hunter partnership. Bethune and Hunter was the first major business house established at Port Nicholson, dating from April 1840. Apart from its origin as a Company-endorsed enterprise, it may be considered typical of the large houses which had come to dominate by the 1870 s. The founding partners were George Hunter and J. Kenneth Bethune. Though soon challenged, then outpaced, by rivals, Bethune and Hunter remained a major player on the Wellington business scene throughout the nineteenth century and well into the twentieth century. What records, then, survive? Of particular interest are the records for the period 1840-1876. Despite their relative bulk, the early Bethune and Hunter papers are still essentially broken. That is a constant problem in working with nineteenth century business papers. While the Bethune and Hunter outward letterbooks are nearly complete, no other series approach these in fullness. There are few examples of inwards correspondence, purely financial records are very disjointed, and in many other instances single volumes only survive. Insofar as the partnership's farming activities are concerned, the outward
letterbooks are usefully augmented by correspondence in the Hunter family papers. In contrast, in the Levin and Company papers, the most readily comparable collection, only a single letterbook for the period (1866-1868) survives. As compensation, the Levin collection incorporates a wealth of documents deposited by clients. The papers of other contemporary firms are even more broken. Fortunately, in the case of Bethune and Hunter, it is the outward letterbooks which are most promising for wider studies of the business-related environment. Beyond content analysis of the letters, beyond tallying correspondence to various destinations, thereby determining the firm's business links, the letterbooks are unbelievable sources of gossip. Interspersed with the normal curt business letters, there are long reports on local affairs to Bethune and Hunter's overseas 'friends' and to selected local confidantes. These provide both insights and texture to the harder evidence.
One of the tasks I have been attempting is establishment of the stability of Wellington firms in the period 1840-1876. This has involved identifying firms: when they formed; the principals involved; when they crashed. Many, it scarcely need be emphasised, did crash —Waring Taylor was by no means alone. Yet searching for these firms can be akin to searching for the proverbial needle in the haystack. Given the quicksilver-like nature of many business associations prior to the advent of limited liability, much of the initial research has to be through newspaper notices. There, in the classified columns, can be found notices of the formation of partnerships, notices of dissolutions, and much more besides. From such sources, from current almanacs and from jury lists and electoral rolls, it is feasible to construct cross-sectional inventories of firms extant at selected dates. Two listings, roughly for the opening and close of the 1840 s, suggest the extent of change in the course of a decade. In 1842, there were twenty-one merchant businesses. Subjectively assessed, the major players were Bethune and Hunter; W. Fitzherbert; Ridgway, Guyton and Earp; W. B. Rhodes and Company; J. Smith and Company. There were fifteen merchant business in 1851. Eight had survived from 1842, including the five named above. Additional major names in 1851 were W. M. Bannatyne and Company; Hervey, Johnston and Company; Levin and Company; W. W. Taylor. Yet compilations such as this, while indicative of the scale of mercantile activity, leave open many questions. What ensured the longevity of some firms? As critically, where did the 'disappearing' merchants go, and why? Recourse to collections such as Bethune and Hunter can provide some answers. While the formation of rival enterprises, understandably, was dealt with somewhat coolly, it is hard to fully convey the relish with which the demise of rivals was discussed;
or the extent to which the commercial corpses were picked over in setting out reasons. In the 1840 s, for instance we have the case of one Thomas Machattie, merchant of Lamb ton Quay, represented in the 1842 listing as a partner in Hay and Machattie. From the newspapers and almanacs we know he was in apparently healthy business in the early 1840 s, occupying a substantial building, accepting consignments from overseas, obtaining out-cargos as and where he could. Then he disappears without trace. From Bethune and Hunter we find he overreached himself: his capital was always minimal; the building occupied had been secured for a nominal down payment; the overseas consignors had not been paid. Furthermore, Machattie was badly hit by a post 1843 downturn. It is only from Bethune and Hunter that we learn of his farewell to the settlement: peering anxiously over the stern of a headsbound schooner, with a police cutter pulling hopelessly in pursuit! He was literally headed for 'Sydney and the bush'. As a further demonstration, in the 1850 s there is the case of James Smith, who featured in several early mercantile partnerships. With each of these partnerships having been in rivalry with Bethune and Hunter, it is no surprise to find Hunter in 1856 gleefully conveying that Mr Smith had experienced three bankruptcies in the preceding sixteen years, and that a fourth was confidently expected any day! Mr Smith, he writes 'although carrying on large businesses . . . has never ever kept a cash book'. There was also, he suspected, a worrying little drinking problem. Hunter's expectations
were realised. In 1857 Smith crashed again, as he was also to do in 1862 and 1866; all faithfully recorded, one might add, by the magnanimous Mr Hunter. Then, in the early 1860 s there was the resounding collapse of William Bowler and Co, with the local firm owing £76,000 to Jardine Mathieson of London and Hong Kong. This was initially puzzling, as Bowler, though not setting up at Wellington until the early 1850 s, had promised to be a commercial leader. Certainly, a messy court case in 1862 reveals bad commercial misjudgments, but for the real reasons, or some version of them, George Hunter's pen is again revealing. There was political turmoil in the Province in the late 1850 s, and Bowler aspired to be a leading politician. He sought to establish himself from a position of power. The strategy was to make himself the leading merchant in the settlement. Consequently, he imported at a loss, he bought wool at a loss, all in the endeavour to get the major market share, and on the credit of his British correspondents. As Hunter writes, he 'ruined the market, did no good for himself, and played the very mischief with everybody'. And, one might add, he also lost his Provincial Council seat before every achieving his objective. Once again, the sanctimonious George attributes part of the problem to fondness for liquor. Quite apart from providing evidence of the volatility of nineteenth century commercial Wellington,
it might be suggested these random examples also have the potential to provide insights into social history. What does the 'derring-do' tell us about the social order? How was it that James Smith was able to repeatedly come back after multiple bankruptcies? What of the role of liquor? Was there an alcohol problem and, if so, how widespread? The merchant records have the capacity to tell us who was buying liquor, of what sorts, and in what quantities. It has also been necessary to look at the health of individual firms in more detail, particularly the leading firms. Bethune and Hunter, itself, went through two especially rocky patches, one in the 1850 s, then in the early 1870 s. The 1850 s crisis is of particular interest, the very survival of the firm being in question for a time. The upheaval was the direct result of the death of one of the founders, Kenneth Bethune. There was nothing particularly exceptional about this, of course. One of the great deficiencies of the partnership system then common was that there were no defined lines of succession in terms of executive responsibility. By colonial standards, Bethune was not a young man; over forty when he took ship for a return visit to England in mid 1854. Partly the trip was a rest cure, he had not been in the best of health; partly it was to arrange extended credits in the old country, Bethune and Hunter already having much of their capital invested in illiquid assets. Bethune also had another, a more personal, motive: he was seeking a wife. In Scotland his eye fell on a young lass, Martha Goldie. She was only fifteen, but as his partner, Hunter, confided in a letter, it was said 'a most physically mature 15'. Anyway, there is insufficient information to say whether or not it was a marriage
made in heaven, but several months after the nuptials Bethune died. We have Hunter's testimony that exhaustion was a contributing factor! When news filtered through to the settlement of the death, Bethune and Hunter became almost literally paralysed. Before the marriage the bride's family had prudently insisted on a marriage agreement. A half share in the firm, therefore, immediately went to the new Mrs Bethune. What would she do? Would the capital be withdrawn? No one knew. In early 1856 Mrs Bethune arrived in the settlement, accompanied only by an aunt, remember, by this time she was still only sixteen. Nevertheless, she personally engaged in negotiations with the worldly Hunter for nearly a year. The negotiations must have been reasonably cordial, Hunter recording that Mrs Bethune has been 'quite friendly, and making propositions'; and when concluded honours were even. The money was to be left in for five years, until Mrs Bethune reached her majority, but with respectable annual interest payments of £4OO, and with Hunter having first right of refusal thereafter. How typical this case may be I am unable to say, but surely there are some interesting suggestions for women's history? In passing, the most notable thing about the 1870 s crisis was that Hunter, with the firm again in straits through unsecured debts and
a shortage of working capital, was forced to appeal to the Hon. Algernon Gray Tollemache for relief. Tollemache, I believe, was one of the wealthiest stakeholders in nineteenth century Wellington. How many have ever heard of him? A brother of the Earl of Dysart, he was a peripatetic visitor to New Zealand shores between the 1840 s and the 1860 s. During these visits he took every opportunity to add to already considerable land holdings in the colony. His true significance only becomes apparent, however, from commercial papers. Michael Campbell, in a well known thesis, estimates that Tollemache had up to £150,000 invested in Hawke's Bay to the late 1860 s. My own researches suggest he had a great deal more invested at Wellington. As early as 1851 he owned fifty-five Wellington town sections. Four years later he had already secured over 17,000 freehold rural acres, more than three times the holding of any other contemporary. Tollemache was just one of a surprisingly large group of aristocratic British rentiers, albeit indisputably the leader of the group.
There is another context in which there is a Tollemache link. Obviously, the whole question of changing land ownership patterns is central to the study outlines. From the databases previously noted, it has been possible to build up broad alienation patterns: to establish the changing popularity of districts, to ascertain average prices paid and, most tellingly, to discern the most enthusiastic aggregators. What papers like Bethune and Hunter can show is just how things worked at the individual level. In the 1850 s and 1860 s the greatest interest was in pastoral land. From the early 1850 s it was possible for pastoralists to pre-emptively purchase strategic sections such as homesteads, river courses and coastlines on runs they occupied under licence. Few, however, had the funds to completely freehold their runs at this stage. That left large acreages, temporarily held under licence, which, though nominally protected by strategic purchasing, could nevertheless be vulnerable to predators with capital. Under the prevailing land regulations it was equally possible for alternative purchasers to secure virtually any non-freehold land, whatever the terms of interim occupancy, for hard cash. Competition became so cutthroat that the relevant sections of the book have been entitled 'Catch as Catch Can'. The corollary was that elaborate additional defence mechanisms had to be devised. Consider the case of Thomas Guthrie, occupier of the 'Castlepoint' run on Wairarapa's east coast. In 1855 Guthrie was awarded 25,000 acres under licence, land which he had been illegally holding since the late 1840 s. Initially he bought sparingly; less than 1000 acres to 1860. The link with Bethune and Hunter is that they were Guthrie's agents. With capital invested in him, they were ready to defend, by any means. The lengths to which the firm was prepared to go is revealed by an intriguing correspondence in late 1860 and early 1861. In December 1860 Hunter informs Guthrie he has reason to
believe that 'a gentleman is making his way towards you, in company with Mr McManaway the surveyor, for the purpose of selecting a station . . . we rather think he has taken a particular fancy to yours'. Guthrie is urged to hasten to Wellington by steamer, but in any case to send a plan of the station with the most vulnerable points marked. He is nevertheless enjoined to keep the matter confidential; for reasons which will be revealed. Two weeks later there is another letter. No 'hostile' applications have been received at the Land Office, relief being expressed. But receipt of the marked plan is acknowledged. This is now in the hands of the Chief Clerk of the Land Office, who will produce it as a prior application if and when any hostile application is received, a procedure, it need scarcely be added, totally illegal, if not immoral. Guthrie is again urged to come to town, and advised that 'if £I,OOO [can be got] . . . from Mr Tollemache, Mr McManaway the surveyor says that he will make you perfectly safe'. In the course of the defence then, the upright Hunter had suborned both a senior Crown official and Mr McManaway the surveyor. It is assumed both had better-lined pockets as a result! Yet it was possible for people to be caught off guard, even wily old birds like W. B. Rhodes, reputedly the toughest merchant in Port Nicholson. The same gentleman capitalist threatening Guthrie, identified through Bethune and Hunter as a Van Diemen's Land settler, F.R. Arthur, made his pre-emptive strike three months later. In April 1861, without warning, he walked into the Wellington Land Office, slapped £5,000 in gold on to the counter, and withdrew with 16,000 acres of Rhodes' Manaia property in his possession. It may not surprise that Hunter's reaction was amusement; but Rhodes' comments are beyond quotation. As to the role of 'Mr McManaway, the surveyor', there is no word.
Before leaving the matter of pastoral financing, a case discovered in the Levin papers is also perhaps worth recounting. Banks, although it is not generally known, were legally constrained in regard to lending on the security of land until the end of the 1860 s. It was this which led directly to the formation of bank-backed mortgage and loan companies, the Bank of New Zealand for example, being closely linked to the New Zealand Loan and Mercantile Agency Company. The manager of the Bank of New Zealand at Wellington in the late 19605, as well of the Loan and Mercantile Company, was John Bridges; the very same Bridges who sold 'Manawa' to Waring Taylor. The public Bridges was certainly an abominable 'no man' to many seekers of finance, but the private Bridges was infinitely more flexible; particularly if the desperation of the inquirer (in the absence of a Tollemache) equated with the prospect of high personal profits. Explaining that neither Bank nor Agency could help, out of the sheer goodness of his heart Bridges would sometimes undertake to loan money to respectable parties (himself or nominees), and then to on-loan that money to the
original inquirer at interest up to six percent above the going rate. It should not surprise that the solid, but relatively inconspicuous, Bridges was, by the 1870 s, a wealthy man, the possessor of a solid share portfolio, and the owner of properties in five provinces. Merchant hands are also detectable in manipulation of the colonial labour market, and in determining the tenor of industrial relations. The evidence is particularly striking in respect of the country districts. The deliberate depressing of rural wage rates is, of course, something recently alluded to by John Martin in his Forgotten Worker, and material to be found in Bethune and Hunter serves to amplify some of his comments. The best examples are in the late 1860 s, a time when Wellington Province was entering the economic doldrums. With commodity prices falling, especially for wool, the merchants concluded that wage cutting was the only answer, this despite the fact that, with sheep farming becoming more intensive, there was growing labour demand. What evolved was a sort of colonial 'Round Table'. With Bethune and Hunter in the forefront, the Port Nicholson merchants combined. The first step was the forcing of new wage rates on properties
they themselves directly controlled. There the slashes were severe, in the order of fifty percent in some cases. And the message was clear: no negotiations. Accept lower rates, or leave. To make sure such edicts were enforceable, the merchants recruited scab gangs from among the West Coast Maori. There were, Hunter suggested, double savings in this. It was not necessary to provide shelter for ‘natives’, and they might be expected to catch their own food. The second step was ensuring that other runholders conformed. This was achieved through the simple expedient of calling meetings in the pastoral districts, there confronting runholders prepared to stick with what Hunter termed ‘the old extravagant system’, reminding them of their outstanding credit balances, and then informing them of likely interest rate increases if they failed to fall into line. The last word on this should perhaps be left with George Hunter. Surprised at criticism of the tactics, he responded in the following terms: ‘the labouring classes have had too much of their own way and, instead of trying to help their employers, whom they have brought to the verge of ruin, they think of nothing but themselves’. 28 Surely there is a familiar ring to this? The lesson is: the merchants expected to be obeyed, and generally there were.
The assumed omnipotence of the merchants is also reflected in a final sketch. The operation of the body politic is obviously central to my study. Early analyses of electoral returns, however, revealed a possible conundrum. Why was it, with so many educated men in the pastoral districts, that the districts were so frequently represented, both in the Provincial Council and the General Assembly, by town dwellers? Could it be that rural men were simply too busy? Certainly, an argument could be advanced in that direction. Or was there some other
reason? A possible answer lies in the Bethune and Hunter papers. That the merchants were not shy is axiomatic. They had no problem in suggesting the foest possible' candidates to their rural correspondents. Equally, they were quite forthcoming in suggesting the best ways in which votes might be cast. When these 'requests' or 'suggestions' were juxtaposed with paragraphs indicating the extent of debit balances, and the possibility of interest reviews, it is likely that, for all but the most brave, the requests became commands, the suggestions well nigh irresistable. The merchant influence occasionally went beyond suggestion. The body politic of most relevance to Wellingtonians prior to 1876 was the Wellington Provincial Council. Broadly, Wellington provincial politics falls into two phases. Between 1853 and the late 1860 s there can be no questioning the ascendancy of a coalition of pastoral and closely aligned interests, foremost among the latter being leading city merchants. This, in itself, is interesting, for most other townsmen were cast in opposition. After 1871, however, a coalition of town interests moved to the forefront. The only common bond with the past was that the leading merchants were again central. Yet, while the merchants' influence is indisputable throughout, it was only for a short time that they were at the visible cutting edge of politics, that is, exercising power in their own right, rather than through nominees. This was in the recession of the late 1860 s. In an earlier work the situation has been described thus:
The real strength in Featherston's 1868-1871 Executive was reposed in . . . several hard nosed merchants . . . They were the co-prescribers in attempts to force down doses of particularly strong administrative medicine . . . Cost cutting, maximum immediate returns on investment, above all the primacy of private enterprise, had been their maxims in private life, and they saw no reason why such principles should not be successfully translated to public affairs'. With the active involvement of such as John Johnston, Edward Pearce, W. B. Rhodes and the übiquitous Hunter, and with Waring Taylor as Acting Superintendent for nearly two years, they largely succeeded. By 1871, the Provincial administration was a leaner, and infinitely meaner, machine. A new agenda had been set: what was good for business was regarded as good for the Province. Surely it was no coincidence that over the same period, 1868-1871, the Wellington Chamber of Commerce, the nearest formal approach to the present day 'Round Table', was put into recess? Or that it promptly reformed once an agenda had been set, and actioning power had been passed back to career politicos? The point being made is that, as today, the nineteenth century Wellington merchants generally placed little store in direct participatory involvement at the upper political levels. They knew where real power, economic power, lay. They already had it. They set the score, and the political pipers played the tune.
Deliberately, my paper has not been constructed to one cohesive theme, although perhaps one has been emerging. Instead, what I have tried to do is share with you some of the insights to be found in nineteenth century Wellington business records. It is my firm belief that without understanding our business past, we cannot fully comprehend our economic past, and if we do not fully comprehend our economic past, we but partially grasp a great deal about ourselves and where we have come from. Though it is suggested gentiy to the Friends of the Turnbull Library, man, or for that matter woman, does not live by high culture alone. It is bread, not cake, that has been described as the staff of life.
It is for this reason that I regret the relatively low priority long accorded business records in our custodial institutions. Lest it appear that I am unfairly tilting at generations of archivists and manuscript librarians, let me hasten to add that any neglect has been perfectly understandable. Business history, as a genre, is very poorly developed in New Zealand. Scholarly fads have been elsewhere. With limited demand, such collections are often well down on arrangement schedules, therefore intelligence of the resources is not readily available to other potential exploiters. A further consideration is that some potential users and, it is suspected, custodians, are daunted by the form of business papers, even if the barriers are more apparent than real. These in economic terms, are all demand side problems. I would suggest that there are also supply side problems. The value of business records already in the Turnbull has, I hope, been demonstrated. Nevertheless, most of those records are there simply by chance: mere windfalls. To the best of my knowledge, with the possible exception of a short period in the 19705, there has been no consistent, much less vigorous, acquisition policy with respect to business records. I would urge that this oversight be addressed, and look forward to the day when business records are pursued with the same enthusiasm as literary papers. There is also another plea to those who will collect in future. In uplifting an enterprise's papers, try and cast the net as widely as possible. Though I have been fortunate in what I have found, I have yet to locate one nearly complete set of business records for the pre 1880 period. It is as important to see a firm in the round as it is to see a society in the round.
May I leave you with one final thought: what I have presented in this paper are some sidelights on the operation of nineteenth century laissez-faire capitalism in this particular part of New Zealand. By and large, it was a time when power was concentrated in few hands, and when the dominant philosophy was: what is good for the wealthy is good for the wealthy, and damn the rest. One of the most common aphorisms related to history is that those who do not learn from the events of the past are doomed to repeat them. While I would readily concede the debatability of that contention, would that the denizens
of the high-rises immediately surrounding us were keener students of history and less enthusiastic exponents of economic theories proven bankrupt more than a century ago.
The text of an address to the Friends of the Turnbull Library delivered at Turnbull House on 23 August 1991.
REFERENCES 1 Cyclopedia of New Zealand (Wellington, 1897), I, p. 263. 2 Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, edited by W. H. Oliver (Wellington, 1990), I, pp. 435-36. 3 Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, edited by G. H. Scholefield (Wellington, 1940), 11, p. 376. 4 A. G. Bagnall, Wairarapa: an Historical Excursion (Masterton, 1976), pp. 328, 352. 5 Levin & Co. MS Records 1347. Alexander Turnbull Library. (Hereafter Levin Records.) Folder 5/1/1, T. Mason to J. Bridges, 9 July 1869. 6 Levin Records. Folder 5/1/1, T. Mason to J. Bridges, 10 June 1869. 7 New Zealand Times, 16 July 1884. 8 Notes by A. G. Bagnall, dated 24 May 1974, in possession of writer. 9 New Zealand Times, 9 August 1884. 10 The case is exhaustively reported in both the New Zealand Times and Evening
Post in January 1885. 11 New Zealand Times, 21 January 1885. 12 New Zealand Times, 21 January 1885. 13 New Zealand Times, 8 July 1885. 14 For a general discussion of the changing role of the merchants see: B. R. Patterson, 'Reading Between the Lines: People, Politics and the Conduct of Surveys in the Southern North Island, New Zealand, 1840-1876' (unpublished Ph.D. thesis, Victoria University of Wellington, 1984), vol. 2, pp. 171-97. 15 Computerised database: 'Land Dealings, Province of Wellington, 1853-1876', held by writer.
16 The headings were: birth and death dates; place of birth; details of parentage; arrival and departure (if left); occupations in New Zealand; business activities; political offices; social clubs and organisations; residence; land purchases; other.
17 Bethune and Hunter. Records. Acc. 81-34. Alexander Turnbull Library. (Hereafter Bethune and Hunter Records.) These comprise general outward letterbooks; NZI Agency letterbooks; general and special ledgers; journals; cash books; invoices; miscellaneous records including public sales records, bond store accounts and order books; record of freights. Also Hunter Family. Papers. MS 49. Alexander Turnbull Library.
18 Bethune and Hunter Records. Outward letterbook IA. G. Hunter to W. Hawkins, 30 December 1846.
19 Bethune and Hunter Records. Outward letterbook 5. G. Hunter to H. H. Willis & Co., 19 November 1856; G. Hunter to Willis Gann & Co., 18 December 1856.
20 Bethune and Hunter Records. Outward letterbook 11. G. Hunter to Willis Gann & Co., 8 February 1862, 14 June 1862; Outward letterbook 12. G. Hunter to Willis Gann & Co., 11 October 1862. See also Levin Records. Folder 9/1/1.
21 Bethune and Hunter Records. Outward letterbook 5. G. Hunter to H. H. Willis & Co., 14 February 1856; Outward letterbook 6. G. Hunter to Willis Gann & Co., 25 March 1857.
22 Bethune and Hunter Records. Outward letterbook 29. G. Hunter to A. G. Tollemache, 12 February 1876. 23 For discussion see B. R. Patterson, 'The Land Office Business: Crown Lands Acquisition and Disposal in the Wellington Provincial District, 1840-1876' (unpublished working paper, Victoria University of Wellington Economic History Group, 1988). 24 Bethune and Hunter Records. Outward letterbook 9. G. Hunter to T. Guthrie, 14 December 1860, 28 December 1860, 26 January 1861. 25 Bethune and Hunter Records. Outward letterbook 10. G. Hunter to A. McMaster, 25 April 1861. 26 Levin Records. Folder 5/1/1, Notes of landholdings, J. Bridges. 27 B. R. Patterson, 'Reading Between the Lines . . .', vol. 2, pp. 189-91. 28 Bethune and Hunter Records. Outward letterbook 19. G. Hunter to D. &W. Hunter, 3 August 1867; Outward letterbook 20. G. Hunter to H. Buxton, 4 January 1868; Outward letterbook 21. G. Hunter to T. Guthrie, 23 July 1869; Outward letterbook 23. G. Hunter to T. Guthrie, 25 November 1870. 29 See, for example, Bethune and Hunter Records. Outward letterbook 16. G. Hunter to T. Guthrie, 20 February 1865 and 11 July 1865, G. Hunter to H. Buxton, 10 July 1865; Outward letterbook 18. G. Hunter to R. Langdon, 19 January 1866; Outward letterbook 21. G. Hunter to T. Guthrie, 9 July 1869; Outward letterbook 23. G. Hunter to T. Guthrie, 25 November 1870. 30 B. R. Patterson, 'Reading Between the Lines . . .', vol. 3, p. 598.
Permanent link to this item
Whatever Happened to Poor Waring Taylor? Insights from the Business Manuscripts, Turnbull Library Record, Volume XXIV, Issue 2, 1 October 1991
Whatever Happened to Poor Waring Taylor? Insights from the Business Manuscripts Turnbull Library Record, Volume XXIV, Issue 2, 1 October 1991
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