Story: Reynolds, Henry Chidley

Page 1: Biography

Reynolds, Henry Chidley

1849–1925

Farm manager, butter manufacturer and exporter

This biography, written by E. R. Doolin, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, vol 2, 1993, and updated in June, 1996.

Henry Chidley Reynolds was born on 26 May 1849 at Beeny, St Juliot, Cornwall, England, the third son of Elizabeth (Betsy) Chidley and her husband, William Reynolds, a farmer. With members of his family he arrived in Auckland, New Zealand, on the Maori on 5 February 1868. For the next few years he gained valuable farming experience on his father's substantial property near Cambridge, Waikato.

By the early 1870s Waikato swamplands had begun to attract Auckland speculators. On the advice of former Waikato Militia officer Captain William Steele, Thomas Russell, the Auckland financier, formed a syndicate and, in the face of vehement opposition, purchased from the government 86,502 acres of the Piako swamp in 1873. Russell was a partner in Te Akau run, situated north of Raglan, and there is a suggestion that the young Henry Reynolds worked for a time at Te Akau. In November 1876 Reynolds was chosen to manage the vast Piako estate.

From his headquarters at Eureka, near Hamilton, Reynolds set about converting the swamp into pasture. He ably supervised the digging of a vast network of drains, the building of roads, the cutting of scrub, and the ploughing and sowing of drained land. By 1879 there were 500 miles of drains, 19 miles of road and 5,000 acres in cultivation, achieved at a cost of £100,000. These developments brought much-needed employment to the struggling Waikato settlements.

In 1877, after receiving his share of the family farm, Henry Reynolds purchased 5,000 acres of the estate he was managing. On 15 April 1879 he married Steele's daughter, Elizabeth, at the Presbyterian church in Hamilton East. The couple were to have six children, four of whom died young. Significantly, in the year of his marriage Reynolds became a financial partner in the Waikato Land Association set up by Russell to profit from sales of the former swamp.

The first sale included Reynolds's Eureka headquarters and so he and his wife moved to Woodlands, near present day Gordonton. Woodlands soon became a self-sufficient rural showpiece. A large three-storeyed building housed a sawmill, threshing machine, and mechanical chaff-cutter: swamp water fed water-wheels which powered the machinery. A blacksmith's shop, a bakery and a butchery stood nearby. The homestead was surrounded by an extensive orchard, three nurseries and kitchen and flower gardens. Governor W. F. D. Jervois and Premier Frederick Whitaker were guests in the early 1880s and Woodlands was the centre of local social activities: Elizabeth Reynolds organised annual sports days, concerts and dances. The estate flourished and in 1880 2,300 cattle grazed there. In 1882 Henry Reynolds won prizes for his stock at the Auckland Agricultural Show. He was prominent in local affairs, donating trees to Hamilton East School, financing the construction of a public hall at Hukanui and acting as chairman of the Tamahere Highway District Board.

With the advent of refrigerated shipping, Reynolds was quick to see the export potential of factory-made butter. In 1886 he resigned as manager of the Waikato Land Association, built a single-storeyed butter factory on his property at Pukekura, west of Cambridge, and engaged David Gemmell, an American, as butter-maker. On 3 November 1886 the first 100 pounds of butter were produced. In early days the butter was packed in enamel-lined boxes, later in large tins topped with brine, and eventually in kegs. After observing a tattoo on an ex-sailor's arm Reynolds chose the 'Anchor' trademark which later became known worldwide. Anchor butter was supplied first to the Auckland market, and was later exported to Australia, China and Hong Kong. Encouraged by the comments of a visiting London importer and an award in 1888 at the Centennial International Exhibition in Melbourne, Reynolds and Company began exporting to England.

With typical thoroughness Reynolds spent much of each year in England supervising arrangements. He insisted on strict standards for hygiene and cool storage. He had a special coolstore, the largest of its kind in England, built at Hay's wharf, London. To prevent English importers paying a low price for New Zealand butter and making a large profit by selling it as Danish butter, Reynolds set up his own distribution system and was soon obtaining top prices direct from the retailers. By 1894 Reynolds and Company owned a number of butter factories and creameries in Waikato, Bay of Plenty and Taranaki, producing a total of 300 tons of butter a year.

In 1896, because of financial difficulties, Reynolds sold all his interests to the New Zealand Dairy Association, who adopted the Anchor brand. In 1919 this became the trade mark of the New Zealand Co-operative Dairy Company, when various dairy companies were amalgamated. Reynolds then became involved in Coromandel mining before moving to Argentina where he continued farming and set up the River Plate Dairy Company. He retired to London, England, where he died on 19 September 1925, survived by his wife, a son and a daughter. Henry Reynolds made a vital contribution to the development of the Waikato dairy industry and helped to establish the high reputation of New Zealand's agricultural products in Britain.

How to cite this page:

E. R. Doolin. 'Reynolds, Henry Chidley', first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, vol. 2, 1993, and updated online in June, 1996. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/biographies/2r16/reynolds-henry-chidley (accessed 26 June 2017)