Before the days of rail and truck, goods unloaded at ports were transported by cartage contractors to warehouses and shops around the country. One such company operating on the central docks of Auckland was J. J. Craig Merchant and Cartage.

The Craig family business was started by John Craig in 1865 and passed to son Joseph James Craig following his father's death when Joseph was 25 years old.

Joseph, eager to expand and grow the business, took over several burgeoning mining and timber operations around the country to maintain the company's position at the forefront of the nation's rapidly developing industries.

The oil portrait of Joseph James Craig at Whangārei Museum. Photo/Supplied
The oil portrait of Joseph James Craig at Whangārei Museum. Photo/Supplied

While operating nearly 200 draught horses in central Auckland, J. J. Craig started shipping New Zealand timber in bulk to New South Wales, Australia, on his new fleet of barques, returning with full holds of coal.

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These sailing ships were so important to Joseph that he named several after his children, including the Hazel Craig and the Jessie Craig. Three other ships, the Margarita, Quathlamba and Royal Tar are listed under the J. J. Craig agency in Lloyd's Register of British and Foreign Shipping 1900-1901 Vol. II.

A copy was donated to Whangārei Museum (1986.122.21a) by Joseph's daughter Jessie Messervy Richmond (nee Craig).

She had inherited Lloyd's Volumes I and II from her mother Jessie Craig (nee Campbell) and hand-signed the copy held by the museum in 1951.

While investigating these antique volumes I discovered a sheet of unused Craig company letterhead that was quietly tucked away on page 40 of Volume II, marking the location of Joseph's company entry.

Whangārei Museum's Lady Richmond Collection. Photo/Supplied
Whangārei Museum's Lady Richmond Collection. Photo/Supplied

As with commercial stationery from prominent businesses of the late 19th to early 20th centuries, this pre-printed memo heading is ornate, simply coloured, and features a lithograph of a three mast sailing ship-clearly defining the J. J. Craig brand.

The beautiful fonts spout J. J. Craig Ltd. as "Ship Owners, Carriers, Coal and General Merchants" providing services of "Machinery, Bonedust, Wool and Flax Merchants, Brick and Lime Manufacturer".

A key aim for Whangārei Museum is to identify a Whangārei connection for our taonga, whether by manufacture, story or person (unless the item is otherwise of national or regional interest).

Our Joseph James Craig items are part of a collection donated by Lady Richmond of Whangarei. After a quick search, it was uncovered that Lady Richmond was indeed Jessie Messervy Richmond (nee Craig), one of Joseph and Jessie Craig's nine children.

Jessie was born on the family's property at Omana, Epsom, Auckland, and, in May 1929, married Vice-Admiral (then Lieutenant) Maxwell Richmond in St Marys Cathedral, Parnell, Auckland.

Sometime during Sir Maxwell's naval service on the HMS Laburnum, the HMS Sea Eagle and throughout the Mediterranean, the pair moved to Whangārei, where they lived until they both passed away in the late 1980s.

Lady Richmond left an interesting and varied collection to the Whangārei Museum, including children's gowns, Pacific and Māori baskets, antique household items and a leather trunk presumably belonging to herself labelled "J Craig" in golden-embossing.

Also included were two gold edged photo albums from the late 1800s featuring photos from the European travels of Emily Richmond.

Her exact connection to Jessie and Maxwell Richmond has yet to be established and further information would be greatly appreciated.

An oil portrait of Joseph James Craig is on display in Whangārei Museum's 'Art from the Archives' exhibition and can be viewed at Kiwi North, 10am to 4pm daily.

These items are reminiscent of a time when sailing ships conquered the Tasman Sea and New Zealand's land industries were booming.

The Northland region has benefitted widely from the strong entrepreneurial drive and philanthropy of the Craig family and their descendants.

■ Georgia Kerby is exhibitions curator , Whangārei Museum at Kiwi North.