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  • Keith Newman

Tobacco plans stubbed out

100 acres grown along Cape Coast Random tobacco plants continue to appear in Haumoana and Te Awanga gardens and paddocks more than a century after the closure of a short-lived experiment by the founder of the New Zealand Tobacco Company.

In the lead up to WW1 a promising crop of tobacco covered 200 acres of land from Parkhill down to the coast until mildew and a phobia about German management temporarily put an end to those plans.

German tobacco entrepreneur Gerhard Husheer, first travelled to New Zealand in the late 1880s when he became convinced it had potential as a tobacco growing country.

After living in South Africa during the Boer War and marrying Norwegian Bertha Peterson and establishing the Allied Allied Tobacco Company, he returned to New Zealand in 1911 with his wife and three sons. With the help of the Department of Agriculture he began to experiment with tobacco at a number of locations including Pakipaki and Clive Grange. In 1912 he became manager of the New Zealand Tobacco Company and helped establish plantings of up to 100 acres, along with air-curing barns and flue-curing kilns which were erected alongside storage facilities. A transplanting machine was imported from Canada capable of planting two and a half to three acres a day.

The first factory with machinery for processing was built near the present National Tobacco Company site at Port Ahuriri, where domestically grown leaf, including Gold Pouch, the first toasted tobacco in New Zealand was successfully marketed.

A short harvest Leaf production increased during World War I, with different varieties grown and often blended with imported strains of American, Turkish and Balkan tobacco.

In May 1914, it looked like tobacco might become a major industry for Haumoana and Te Awanga, with locals and workers gathered for a tobacco harvest festival at the Clive Grange tobacco farm to celebrate the first harvest. Sports events were held during the day with refreshments and prizes provided by NZ Tobacco Company manager Mr G Husheer and his wife. A social with a range of entertainment was held in the evening in the new store room. A toast was raised by Mr E. Maney stating Mr Husheer had treated his employees generously. Mr Husheer hoped that in the near future he could provide full time jobs for all employees. It wasn’t to be. The next crop was hit by mildew, forcing the closure and sale of the Haumoana farm, although stocks of leaf had been stored to last the next 2-3 years. By the end of the WW1 the business was paying handsome profits to its share-holders, but a group of directors forcibly evicted Gerhard and his sons from the factory, having decided the Husheers, because of their German decent, should no longer be in control.

Gerhard founded a new syndicate on the old gumfields at Riverhead west of Auckland. Then, in 1922 formed the National Tobacco Company, acquiring full ownership from shareholders of the New Zealand Tobacco Company. Those who had ousted him from his successful Ahuriri business had virtually run it into the ground after loyal supporters walked out in support of the Husheers. Gerhard Husheer now purchased the premises and plant and rebuilt the industry with leaf suppled from Riverhead and Te Atatu.

The factory was destroyed during the 1931 Hawke’s Bay earthquake but Husheer had made a fortune and had a new art deco styled factory created on the old site and was soon back in production. The factory was taken over by Rothmans Tobacco Company on his death, aged 90, in 1954. The building is now considered one of Napier’s main art deco attractions.

Sources: Tobacco Harvest Festival, Hastings Standard, 12 May 1914 Elizabeth Hill, Between Two Rivers, CHB Printers and Publishers, Waipukurau, 1990, p 177-188 Photos: Gerhard Husheer from; NZ Tobacco Company prospectus from Port Stories and the crop picture from an article in the Auckland Weekly News, 13 March 1915.

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