With the centennial of the establishment of the Imlay Freezing Works at Gonville, a look back in history is timely. How did Imlay's name come to be associated with this new enterprise built by the New Zealand Refrigerating Company of Christchurch? The land upon which the plant was built had been owned and farmed by the late Peter Imlay since 1857 and was purchased from his estate. Initially Imlay's holdings covered a huge area stretching nearly as far as Kai Iwi and in recognition the Company adopted the site title of Imlay Freezing Works.

Peter Imlay was a Scotsman who arrived in Whanganui with his family in 1857 and took up residence on land he had bought from Dr Peter Wilson, the original settler who was then living in New Plymouth.

He and Wilson met after he moved from Australia in 1851 and had bought land in New Plymouth.

Over the next few years he decided that the purchase of Wilson's property in Whanganui would be a better proposition for his farming interests.

Dr Wilson landed in Whanganui on 27 February, 1841 with the first settlers and purchased several parcels of land from the New Zealand Company, one being 200 acres on the right bank of the Whanganui River opposite Landguard Bluff.


Here he built a small cottage, in the shelter of a sand hill near where Balgownie Ave and Wordsworth St meet, giving it the name 'Bellhaven'.

He also had a cottage in town at the foot of Patu-potou, the hill on which the bell tower stands in Cooks Gardens.

In 1847, following the Gilfillan murders and the subsequent siege of Whanganui by Topine te Mamaku's warriors, both of Wilson's houses were burnt down, while he and his family sheltered in the Lower Stockade in Taupo Quay, on the block now occupied by Trafalgar Square.

After the battle of St John's Wood the invaders returned to their homes and the siege was lifted. But soon after this Dr Wilson decided to move to the then safe environment of New Plymouth.

Peter Imlay was born in Aberdeen in 1791, the second of five sons of Alexander and Agnes (Brough).

One of his younger brothers, Alexander, a surgeon, had been appointed to the Army Medical Staff at Sydney in 1829, and was soon joined by Peter, a surgeon in the navy, arriving in February the following year and starting a business in Tasmania exporting wheat, kangaroo skins and mimosa (cattle bark) to Sydney.

Trade expanded to include livestock shipments to and from New South Wales and South Australia. Peter was joined by his brothers Alexander, who had resigned from the Army and George, also a surgeon, who arrived from Scotland in 1832.

The business enterprise of the Imlay Brothers became well known in Australia, not only for their cattle and sheep breeding but also the long distances they drove stock to developing areas.


They became large land holders leasing up to 72,000 acres at their homestead 'Tarragenda' at Bega in the southeast of New South Wales.

At one time their total land holdings were 1500 square miles (388,498.2 hectares) and they employed 100 workers.

In addition they started a whaling operation at Snug Cove in Twofold Bay.

Stations were also opened on Gabo Island and at Bitangabes, 12 miles south of Snug Bay.

They sold the whaling business in 1845-7.

The influence of the Imlay Brothers in southern New South Wales is recognised by the naming of Mount Imlay, southwest of Twofold Bay and the main street of Eden in the Shire of Imlay.

Since the early 1840s horses and cattle had been imported to New Zealand from the Imlay farms in New South Wales.

In 1841 a shipment of heifers to Wellington sold for eight pounds ten shillings per head and in early 1842 the vessel Brilliant arrived in Nelson with horses and cattle from Twofold Bay.

Alexander Imlay accompanied this consignment and took the opportunity to explore the possibilities of regular imports of stock to New Zealand. The Brilliant then sailed on to Wellington and landed some more cattle.

Stock prices started to decline in 1843-4 and recovery plans had to be negotiated.
Then late in 1846 George died, followed three months later by Alexander.

The effect of this on Imlay possibly prompted the move to New Zealand.

He also had other business interests to explore. About 1848 Imlay started trading in the Islands, mainly in fruit and timber but also searching for pearl shell and oil.

Several years after Dr Wilson migrated to New Plymouth from Whanganui, establishing the first hospital there, Peter Imlay and family arrived from Australia.

With the view of permanent settlement Imlay purchased land and soon became a well-respected member of the community. Wilson's memoirs record a party he attended in the Imlay residence in 1855.

But becoming aware of Wilson's property in Whanganui, Imlay made the decision to purchase it and he and family moved there about 1857.

On the same site as Wilson's first home he built a handsome two-storied house which he called 'Balgownie' after an area in Aberdeen.

Within a year of his arrival in New Zealand Imlay started selling off his Australian properties and imported some of the stock, particularly thoroughbred racers to New Plymouth and Whanganui.

He also introduced much of the best bloodstock sheep and cattle and became one of the best stock breeders in the country.

In addition to the land purchased from Wilson, Imlay took a crown grant of 5000 acres.

Peter Imlay died on March 8, 1881 aged 90, leaving his wife Jane (Maguire) and three daughters, one, Ellen, having pre-deceased him by three years.

Jane died in 1898, his eldest daughter Jeanie died at her home at 'Mount Desert' in Bedford Ave in 1917.

Jessie who married George Saunders in 1879 died in 1923 and Mary, who married first RA Daniell, then Joseph Abbott died in France in 1926.

Peter, Jane, Ellen and Jeanie are buried in the family plot at Balgownie, now covered by concrete in Wordsworth St.

George Saunders, once headmaster of Collegiate School, but who later pursued a surgery career, was the instigator in sub-dividing the Imlay Estate for settlement in 1898, establishing the suburb of Gonville.

The first four streets were Gonville, Caius and Kings avenues - all colleges at Cambridge where he did his training, and Cambridge St.

George Saunders died in 1904.