Page 1: Biography
This biography, written by Dawn M. Smith, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1993.
Samuel Kirkpatrick was born at Newry, County Down, Ireland, probably in 1853 or 1854, the son of Rebecca Montgomery Marshall and her husband, William Kirkpatrick, a draper. He went to school in Newry and then studied at Walton College, Liverpool. After five years with a wholesale food merchant Kirkpatrick emigrated to North America, working for tea wholesalers in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. He travelled to California in 1876 and worked in two large fruit canneries in San Francisco.
Kirkpatrick arrived in New Zealand in January 1878 and worked as a traveller for Renshaw, Denniston and Company of Dunedin. In October of that year he contacted a Nelson group investigating the establishment of a fruit processing business. Kirkpatrick agreed to manage the enterprise and leased a former textile mill in Bridge Street as premises. He returned to Britain in 1880 to arrange the shipment of a canning plant. His widowed mother and an aunt came back to live with him.
S. Kirkpatrick and Company began production in 1881 with a 10-horsepower boiler, two steam-jacketed jam pans and a steam vat for preserving fruit. Early output reached 1,000 cans a day, each can being handmade on the premises. The company's range of products soon included vegetables and potted meats. Its distribution agencies covered New Zealand and extensive advertising resulted in the 'K' label becoming recognised throughout Australasia.
Production had doubled by 1896 when Kirkpatrick purchased land at the corner of Gloucester and Vanguard streets for a new factory, which he furnished with the most up-to-date machinery and best quality fittings available. Engineers from Hobart installed automated machinery to produce cans in such a way as to prevent the contents becoming contaminated through contact with solder or metal edges. The factory continued to grow as a result of Kirkpatrick's energy and enterprise. In 1899 he took over a Wellington coffee and spice merchant, and his 1904 purchase of the Nelson Fish Company added chilled, frozen and smoked fish to his production.
Kirkpatrick played a major role in Nelson's development, through his encouragement of fruit growing and horticulture and his employment of seasonal and permanent labour. He was concerned to provide good working conditions for staff, who in turn regarded him with great respect. Kirkpatrick played cricket, hockey and later bowls, and became president of the Nelson Hockey Association. In 1924 he presented the silver 'K' Cup as the trophy for the interprovincial women's hockey competition. He was a Freemason and held the rank of deputy grand master of the District Grand Lodge of Westland and Nelson. He also served a term as a city councillor from 1898.
Samuel Kirkpatrick was a dapper man with a neatly trimmed beard and a retiring disposition. His marriage, at Nelson on 24 December 1896 to Edith Collings, was sadly cut short when she died of tuberculosis on 6 October 1899. He died on 21 May 1925 while on holiday at Parakai near Helensville. As part of his will he provided money to convert his large house in Mount Street into a home for the daughters of deceased Freemasons.