'Fair trade' is a well-established global movement aimed at improving trading conditions for developing countries, but there is evidence that it was being practised in the Far North of New Zealand almost 200 years ago.

Stock ledgers from the Stone Store's earliest days in Kerikeri presented something of a mystery, Kerikeri Mission Station manager Liz Bigwood said, although a little research might have solved it.

Of all the commodities recorded in the ledgers in the Stone Store's books in the 1830s, brushes and brooms stood out by virtue of the sheer numbers ordered.

"At the time the items were ordered there were certainly a number of houses on the various mission stations, and they were no doubt put to good use," Liz said.

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"What I couldn't work out for a long time though was why missionary James Kemp, who was responsible for ordering stock at the time, brought in so many brushes and brooms, more than would ever have been used."

A little historical sleuthing may have provided an explanation.

"James Kemp came from Wymondham, in Norfolk, a low-lying county full of marshes and fens. This vast area was the natural habitat of marsh grasses and reeds, traditionally used for thatching and making brushes of all kinds," she said.

"Wymondham was the centre of the English brush-making trade — and that's where the plot thickens.

"Brush-making was the poorest-paid of the English trades. Whole families would sit around a vat of boiling tar, dipping bunches of dried reeds into it and then ramming them into turned blocks of wood. The brush-makers of Wymondham were very poor, food was often scarce, and many spent time in the workhouse."

As the Church Missionary Society storekeeper, James Kemp was responsible for ordering in trade goods, most of which were staples, like tea and flour, or essential tools, like chisels and axes, or desirable and useful items such as fish hooks and scissors.

"Not to mention brushes and brooms. Hundreds of them," Liz said.

"By ordering these in such impractically high volumes you have to wonder whether James Kemp was actually helping the impoverished working poor of Wymondham in his own unique way."