Page 1: Biography
Vogtherr, Ernest George Frederick
Bacon curer, businessman, art collector
This biography, written by Gordon Vogtherr, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1998.
Ernest George Frederick Vogtherr was born in Sunderland, England, on 18 February 1898, the eldest of four children of Sophia Vogt and her husband, Carl Wilhelm Frederick Vogtherr, a master pork butcher. Ernest was sent to live with his uncle and grandmother in Kendal, where he attended the Quaker Stramongate School. He then attended High Barnes school in Sunderland and, after his family shifted to South Shields, Westoe secondary school, but an economic slump forced him to leave at the age of 14 to assist in the family business.
When Carl Vogtherr was offered a partnership in the Kiwi Bacon Company at Palmerston North by his uncle, Frederick Martin, the family emigrated to New Zealand, arriving in mid 1913. When the company was sold the following year they moved to Hastings and opened a bacon factory and delicatessen on the day war was declared in Europe. During the war the Vogtherrs were persecuted because of their German origin, but friends, notably W. Richmond, assisted them to continue in business. In 1917 they bought the Stortford Lodge Bacon Company and renamed it the Elite Bacon Factory. In addition, they operated a fruit cool store, an ice factory, and later a petrol station on the same site.
Ernest Vogtherr attempted to enlist during the war and was accepted for the 10th Reinforcements in 1915, only to be discharged before they departed overseas – because of his ancestry. In 1914 he had joined the Territorial Force, and belonged to the 9th (Wellington East Coast) Mounted Rifles for 12 years, eventually becoming squadron sergeant major. During the 1931 Hawke's Bay earthquake he was to serve in the special police force, which consisted largely of ex-army and territorial men, and in the Second World War he was regimental sergeant major of the Hastings battalion of the Home Guard.
On 7 November 1923 Ernest married Doris Ridgway Corbin, a clerk, at St Matthew's Anglican Church, Hastings; they were to have one son. During their married life Ernest was to rely on his wife for her level-headed approach to problems and meticulous accounting skills.
In October 1930 Ernest Vogtherr fell out with his father, and early the following year moved to Richmond, Nelson, to manage the Blackbyre Bacon Company for James Wyllie. In September 1934 he shifted to Marton to start his own bacon and ham curing business, the Rangitikei Bacon Company. In late 1937 he moved back to Hastings and set up the Hastings Bacon Company in 1938. The business flourished under his astute management, and continues to thrive, specialising in the production of high-quality bacon and ham cured by a dry-stacking method used by the Vogtherr family since 1914.
As one who had experienced economic hardship and struggle, Ernest Vogtherr was always a champion of the underdog. An avid reader and follower of politics, he never hesitated to vent his feelings on a wide range of subjects in letters to newspapers and leading politicians. He contended that New Zealand was the best country in the world but that its people were afflicted by apathy and conformity. He also deplored the prevalence of social climbing. He sympathised with the ideals of the first Labour government but was not impressed with its record during the Second World War. Similarly, he was an adherent of the social credit philosophy but became dissatisfied with social credit organisations' emphasis on theory rather than action.
Vogtherr was involved in several sports. For many years he and his father kept racing pigeons, and when his son Gordon became a harrier, Ernest was instrumental in reforming the Hastings Amateur Athletic and Cycling Club, of which he became chairman. He was later patron of the Napier Harrier Club. Both he and Gordon also had a keen interest in sports cars and took part in events such as the sprint at Gracefield, Lower Hutt, and the Paekakariki hill climb soon after the Second World War. In 1947 Ernest formed the Hawke's Bay Sports Car Club, becoming patron and life member. Throughout his life he owned fine sports cars including marques such as MG, Alvis, Aston Martin and Rover. Even as a semi-invalid in later life he owned a succession of six early Porsches and finally a three-litre BMW coupé.
In 1960 he retired after a serious illness but remained managing director of the Hastings Bacon Company. About this time he developed an interest in art collecting. He was an enthusiastic photographer and had always had an eye for beautiful things. Now he built up a small, select collection of rare New Zealand books, early English watercolours, figurines and porcelain; later he added etchings, drawings and lithographs, most of which were purchased in England. At one stage he had six original C. F. Goldie paintings in his collection. He encouraged local artists, whom he engaged to produce limited editions of Christmas cards for the Hastings Bacon Company for years. He and Doris were generous benefactors; their donations included the two rose-windows in the Cathedral Church of St John the Evangelist, Napier, and the large stained-glass window in the south transept of St Matthew's Anglican Church, Hastings.
Ernest wrote two books: his autobiography, No regrets (1965), and an account of his art collecting, Your bid, Sir!! (1969). Privately printed, only 50 copies of each were produced. Essentially a self-made man with a great zest for life, Ernest Vogtherr pursued his diverse interests with vigour and enthusiasm. He died at his Havelock North home on 28 October 1973, and was survived by his wife and son.