Page 1: Biography
Alderton, George Edwin
Newspaper proprietor and editor, orchardist, land agent
This biography, written by Nancy Pickmere, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, vol 2, 1993, and updated in June, 2017.
George Edwin Alderton was born on 25 August 1854 at New Malden, Surrey, England, the son of Sarah Crockwell and her husband, Charles William Alderton, a secretary to a loan company. His family emigrated to New Zealand aboard the Lancashire Witch in 1865, and settled in Whangarei. In 1875 Alderton established the district's first newspaper, the Whangarei Comet and Northern Advertiser, acting as reporter, compositor, publisher, printer and business manager. Because of the small population of Whangarei it was thought that the paper 'would go up like a comet, and come down like a stick', but within two years it had expanded to 12 pages and was being published weekly as the Northern Advocate and General Advertiser.
A man of energy, drive and vision, Alderton used his paper to advance the Whangarei district's claims for development. He wrote of the advantages of steam over sail as a means of maritime communication and transport, and in 1876 persuaded local businessmen to subscribe about a third of the cost of purchasing the Argyle. It provided a much-needed reliable link with Auckland. Alderton also publicised the need for a railway to transport coal from the mines at Kamo to the Whangarei wharf, and took a petition on the subject to Wellington in 1878. In March 1879 the premier, Sir George Grey, came to Whangarei to turn the railway's first sod.
When, in 1897, Alderton retired from the editorship of the Northern Advocate, it was a well established provincial newspaper with modern premises, new plant and electric light. He then began a new venture, The resources of New Zealand, whose aim, expressed in the introduction of the first issue in December 1897, was 'to describe the varied resources of the different portions of the colony'. Later renamed The Tourist and Resources of New Zealand, it was published until about 1911.
Alderton's contribution to the development of Northland extended beyond journalism. When he purchased his property, Kensington, he planted extensive citrus orchards and a vineyard. In 1884 he was sent by the government to New South Wales to study citriculture. On his return he wrote a government-backed handbook on orange culture. In 1886 he was sent to report on viticulture and on fruit growing in general in the United States.
By 1907 Alderton had moved to Auckland. He became an estate agent for T. Mandeno Jackson and soon gained a reputation as a leading land agent. He was, however, still vitally interested in the development of the north. Alderton had been greatly impressed by a fruit-growing scheme he had seen in California. It was designed for growers who were not necessarily experienced in horticulture, but who would have the opportunity of buying an established plantation and receiving the advice of qualified people.
About 1925 Alderton wrote a booklet, Income homes that grow in the trees, expounding his ideas. With characteristic enthusiasm he gained the backing of businessmen in Auckland and Wellington. At that time George Riddell was considering selling his sheep and cattle station at Kerikeri; Alderton, who had sold the land to Riddell in 1914, recommended it as an ideal area for his scheme. The North Auckland Land Development Corporation was formed, with Alderton as managing director. In 1927 the company purchased Riddell's station of 6,817 acres for £52,182, mostly on mortgage. The company had a capital of £35,000. In the case of absentee owners, the company undertook the work of planting and maintenance.
Alderton's plan provided for part of the land to be planted in trees, part to be used for urban development and the remainder to be subdivided into lots of around 20 to 30 acres suitable for horticulture. Since the area was windswept and treeless, one of the first concerns of the company was the provision of shelter: plantations of eucalpyt, wattle and redwood transformed the landscape and eventually created Kerikeri's microclimate. In 1928 Alderton visited Australia, returning with 10,000 citrus trees. These were planted with passion-fruit vines between the rows, to provide a cash crop while the citruses were maturing.
The new development, widely advertised in New Zealand and overseas, was particularly attractive to retiring army and navy personnel and to expatriate Britons in Asia, at whom the advertising was directed. The greatest proportion of early purchasers came from China where civil war was threatening their prospects.
The new settlers found themselves living in primitive conditions with little help available. For the women in particular, accustomed to an abundance of domestic staff, it was very disenchanting. To ease their plight, priority was given to the installation of electricity for cooking, lighting and heating. The settlers formed the Alderton Utility Company, which in 1930 opened a small hydroelectric power scheme, the first one north of Whangarei.
Soon after its inception, the North Auckland Land Development Corporation found itself in serious difficulties. Undercapitalised, with insufficient expertise and market research and caught up in an economic depression, it was in receivership by 1931. Thereafter the business was administered by trustees. However, through the persistence and hard work of the settlers, the horticultural industry in Kerikeri survived and flourished.
George Alderton was much involved with his local community. He was a foundation member of the Whangarei High School board and took a keen interest in local sports. He promoted the acquisition of land for a showground and racecourse and donated a chain-wide strip of his property, Kensington, for an accessway. Today this area is a sports stadium, the Kensington Sports Complex, commemorating his gift.
George Alderton had married Ida Sissons at Whangarei, Northland, on 13 April 1880. He died at Auckland on 7 March 1942, survived by four daughters and two sons. Ida had died in 1921. The inauguration and subsequent operations of the North Auckland Land Development Corporation, inspired by Alderton, completely altered the landscape and character of Kerikeri. Few people have influenced the development of the north to such an extent; he can be regarded as the founder of modern Kerikeri.