While most have knowledge about Whakatu and Tomoana freezing works, who closed in the 1980s and 1990s respectively, lesser known is the Paki Paki freezing works owned by Thomas Borthwick & Sons (Asia) Limited.
Thomas Borthwick (1835‒1912) began work as an apprentice butcher in his grandfather's business in Edinburgh.
He would open a butchery in Liverpool and Manchester and develop a large meat wholesaling distribution business.
During 1883, Thomas became agent for the New Zealand Loan and Mercantile Company importing meat to England and moved his wholesale meat business to Smithfield market in London. (Frozen transportation began in 1882)
Some butchers refused to deal with imported meat, so he sold it direct to housewives by going door-to-door.
In 1895, his sons joined the business, becoming Thomas Borthwick & Sons Ltd.
Thomas Borthwick realised owning their own meatworks would provide more certainty of supply, so in 1902 they purchased Waitara freezing works (near New Plymouth).
Two-hundred acres of the Longlands Estate was purchased in 1904 by Borthwick's and they announced they would set up in opposition to Nelson Bros Tomoana freezing works.
The land was situated on the west side of the Railway Rd heading towards Hasting (partly where Hawthorne House is today) not far from Paki Paki.
A visit took place to the site soon after from the Assistant Chief Health Officer, Chief Veterinarian, District Health Officer and architect J C Maddison from Christchurch to inspect the water supply, drainage and sanitary requirements. They were "thoroughly satisfied as to the suitableness of the site".
Architect J C Maddison, who had prior experience in designing freezing works, designed sheep and cattle slaughterhouses, cooling rooms, freezing chambers, cold stores, preserving and tallow houses, engine rooms, wool shed, and wool drying shed.
Bricks were predominantly used for the construction, and the tender to build was awarded to J & W Jamieson of Christchurch for £30,000 (2020: $5.1 million).
The freezing works construction would be overseen by John Borthwick, son of Thomas.
A railway spur (pictured) was run off into the works.
As the works would be a significant employer, a township at Paki Paki was planned by the subdivision of land owned by W Moroney in March 1906 with the sections ranging from a quarter (.1ha) to one acre (.4ha).
The Paki Paki freezing works opened on Monday, October 22, 1906.
Some industrial trouble occurred in 1909, when 17 men ceased work in the fellmongery after a five minute "smoke o'" break was refused by their manager after the men had worked more than five hours without a break. This was as the name suggests, a break to have a cigarette. The men, in protest, decided to work in batches of five to slow down production. Striking was, however, illegal.
Faced with a large amount of work to be done, the manager gave in to the requests the next day for the smoke o'.
The men also demanded an apology from the manager for calling them "curs" (mongrel dog).
The inspector of factories took action against the men and charged them with breaching the Industrial Conciliation and Arbitration Act 1908 by "striking". He sought £10 from each of the men as a fine.
Judgement against the men, however, was handed down as £1 plus costs for striking.
In a sequel, Borthwick's were fined in May 1909, £5, for allowing the fellmongers to work longer than five hours without a meal break. By taking the case, the inspector had uncovered the breach by Borthwick's. It was stated at court that if Borthwick's had allowed meal breaks there would have been no strike.
Another Christchurch architect, S Luttrell, was asked to prepare plans to extend the Paki Paki freezing works in 1914.
With the works mostly in brick and not reinforced, the Paki Paki freezing works were destroyed in the 1931 Hawke's Bay earthquake.
Manager of the works was Mr W L Wright, he had just been to the bank in Hastings to draw cash to pay for the men's wages. The cash had just been sorted into pay packets when the earthquake struck. Most of the workers were at smoke o' , so casualties could have been worse.
They all were told to assemble on a grassed area to be accounted for. Some needed first aid (including, I understand, my great-grandfather, John Church) and one was taken to Hastings, where he died of his injuries.
Without asking for their pay, the men then made for their homes.
A search of the rubble later found three more men dead.
Meat from the freezers was salvaged and taken to Wellington by rail.
A story is told of an office junior who had bought a bicycle to travel to the Paki Paki freezing works.
He had just joined the staff.
The bicycle, which he had purchased from Auckland Farmers on credit, was wrecked in the earthquake at the works. He wrote to them asking what he should do as he had lost his job and the bike was unusable.
Farmers replied saying take it to a good bike repair shop, have it restored as new and send us the repair bill – and then consider the bike paid off.
It was reported on February 10, 1931 that Borthwick's wished to rebuild the freezing works, and plans were drawn up.
However, by August 1931 this had changed. Borthwick's had purchased Feilding freezing works instead of rebuilding Paki Paki.
Borthwick's stock agents in Hawke's Bay continued to buy sheep and they were processed on contract by the Whakatu freezing works.
Some remnants of the works remain today. The loading dock for the railway spur, trees planted to the entrance, a pond used for cooling the ammonia condensers and the foundation of the chimney, seen in the photo.
Special thanks to Bill Wright of Napier.
Michael Fowler (email@example.com) is a contract researcher, commercial business writer of Hawke's Bay history.