Messrs Nelson Brothers' Works at Tomoana

Taken from the Napier (New Zealand) Daily Telegraph

As Printed in Nelson's Home Comforts

New Edition, Revised and enlarged by Mary Hooper (circa 1882)

Compiled for the benefit of Kiwis and others by Anthony James Leahy Jan, 2009



  The following taken from the Napier (New Zealand) Daily Telegraph, will doubtless be read with much interest by many of our local subscribers:

   Eight months ago the only "Tomoana" that was known to Hawke's Bay settlers and to the colony generally was the native chief who sat in the House of representatives as the member for the East Coast Maori District. In that short space of time, however, there has sprung up another Tomoana, which, ere long will have a much wider and more enduring fame, as the name of the establishment intimately connected with the great pastoral industry of Hawke's Bay, and of works that cannot fail to expand themselves into huge proportions as the industry progresses. At present the "Tomoana Works" at the platform station of Tomoana, on the Napier line of railway, are barely completed, but in their infancy they exhibit every indication of a vigorous growth, and the power to create several branches of industry in relation to pastoral pursuits. Eight months ago there was but a large green paddock where there is now a village; and the busy scene incidental to the development of new resources affords an agreeable break in the monotony of the landscape. For some time past it was known that the Messrs.

   Nelson were about to establish a boiling-down establishment on an improved model, and the partial mystery surrounding the nature of the intended improvements added to the public interest as the works progressed towards completion. It was further known that during his silence in England Mr. William Nelson had been for nearly three years elaborating his invention, and that, the process, whatever it was, was protected by patent. Naturally enough then a representative of the Daily Telegraph desired to obtain an insight into this business, and in due course was rewarded by an invitation from Mr. Nelson to inspect and report upon the works. On arrival at Tomoana it was first of all observed that a siding from the railway runs behind the principle buildings and through a large wool-shed at the rear. Passing cattle and sheep yards the visitor first enters the slaughter-house and can but notice the admirable arrangements for drainage. The floor, is of concrete, and, sloping, toward drains, is kept thoroughly clean by a constant flow of water from an artesian well. at right angles with this building is a hanging-room, are large airy apartment, at the end of which is a patent chopping machine worked by steam. This is the first evidence of something new in the boiling-down process, and claims attention. The machine is on the principle of a guillotine, and is so massive in construction that it is capable of cutting through any bone that passes under the knife. Perhaps it would be more interesting to our readers if we were now to describe Mr. Nelson's process of boiling-down.

   The sheep, after being killed, and as carefully dressed as though for a butcher's shop, is after hanging a certain time, passed through the "guillotine," and chopped up into small thin pieces as though intended for an Irish stew. The hind-legs are not excluded as at other boiling-down places. The meat falls on a table as it comes from the knife and is then placed in iron-rimmed circular open wire-bottomed trays, having the appearance of sieves. the trays are four inches deep, and eight placed on top of each other, threaded together through a strong spindle passing up from the bottom one, form a "set." A "set" contains about eight hundredweight of meat. The "set," which has been made up on a truck, is then wheeled into the kitchen, situated in another building. This apartment contains five iron boilers ranged in a semi circle in the centre of the room, and a small but powerful crane is so placed as to communicate with each one. The top of the boiler, after being unscrewed, is lifted off by means of the crane and placed upon a platform, and the crane is again used to lift the "set" and place it in the boiler, which is once more fitted with its top. The "set," when in the boiler, rests on a projection about eighteen inches from the bottom, and thus a receptacle is formed for the gravy and tallow. The meat is then subjected to a high pressure steaming process, for half-an-hour, by which time the whole of the gravy and most of the tallow have been extracted, the bone becomes brittle, and the meat dry and shreddy, having lost two thirds of its weight and bulk.

   The contents of three "sets" can then be placed in one, and the meat undergoes a second steaming for half-an-hour, at the end of which nothing further can be extracted from it. The gravy and the tallow as the liquid comes from the meat percolates through the open wire bottoms of the trays, and falls to the bottom of the boiler, from whence it is blown by steam up a pipe that leads to a loft above the "kitchen." From this pipe there is a tap, and when this is opened the gravy which comes up first flows into the receiver, and from thence into condensers on the ground-flour. Separating the gravy from the tallow as it flows from the pipe, is a whitish creamy fluid (adipocere) and as soon as this makes its appearance the tap is shut, and the nozzle of the pipe directed to another receptacle, into which this creamy liquid is run off. The tallow, in like manner, is then run into refiners, of which there are five. From the refiners the tallow is run into shallow coolers, from a tap placed a few inches above the bottom, so that any foreign particle that may be in the tallow, and which of course sinks to the bottom, cannot pass into the cooling-floor.

   Below the cooling-floor the casks are ranged ready to receive the tallow, which then, quite cool and nearly coagulated, passes through a three-inch pipe from the cooler. The casks are then headed up, are are made ready to be placed on the railway truck. The advantage of this system, the process we have endeavoured to describe, are that it insures the absolute purity of the tallow, and the saving of the gravy, besides being infinitely speedier than the old process. We must now return to the gravy, which we left in the condensers. Briefly, then, the gravy is condensed to a certain consistency and packed in tins, which are afterwards, hermetically sealed, and shipped to England, for manufacture into soup, etc., by the well-known firm of gelatine makers, Messrs. Nelson and Co., of Warwick. the next building we entered contained the engine-room and workshop. in the former there are four boilers and two engines in constant use; while in the latter there is everything needed for the manufacture and repairing of all the fittings of the establishment. at present however, the tins for the condensed gravy are made in Napier. Adjoining the engine-house is a large building fitted up for wool-scouring and fell-mongering. The scouring-machine is one of Petrie's lasted improvements. at the rear of the building is the wool-shed, through which the railway passes. Beyond these buildings are the cottages for the workmen and their families, comfortable, roomy residencies, each one standing within its own inclosure.

   Messrs. Nelson Brothers' Works exhibited in their infancy every indication of a vigorous growth, and the power to create several branches of industry in relation to pastoral pursuits. This remark applies to the establishment of the tannery, and to the facilities at the works for the formation when the proper time arrives, of a department for freezing meat for export. It must be remembered that not the least-if not the most--important objective of the Tomoana Works is the production of the base of the material used in the manufacture of gelatine and of other articles by the Messrs. Nelson, of Warwick, England.

   The Tomoana Works may, therefore, may be regarded as a branch of those in Warwickshire, and as such are capable of utilising enormous quantities of those portions of cattle and sheep which are not consumed in their natural state as human food, and to which a very large extent are now wasted. It is consequently of little or no concern to the Messrs. Nelson as to what ultimate use may be made of the carcases of the animals they slaughter. They are prepared to boil them down for tallow, to sell them as butchers' meat, or, when the time arrives, to freeze them for export. the only thing to which they will not lend themselves is waste. Nothing is lost. Every portion of a slaughtered animal is utilised, and it is to this grand feature of their works is due to the fact that there is nothing to be found there offensive to the organs of sight or smell. We have omitted to state that Tomoana is situated on the railway line twelve and a half miles from Napier, and one mile and a half from the rising township of Hastings; and that immediately attached to the works is an estate of one hundred acres of the best land to be found on the far-famed Karamu plains.

   Necessarily several acres of the ground are occupied by the sheep and cattle yards, the several buildings and shops connected with the works, the offices and workmen cottages, each of which latter, as we mentioned in our previous notice, has its enclosed piece of land for a garden. the remainder of the land is divided into paddocks, two of which, comprising fifteen acres, are reserved for pigs, of which there are a great number of excellent breed. There is also a large plantation of young and thriving trees. Running between the two principle paddocks is a drain which carries off all of the washings and waste water from the works. the liquid, as may be imagined, is a rich manure, with which the grasslands are irrigated at pleasure. With this at command, Messrs. Nelson's paddocks are in striking contrast to the pastures outside their boundaries. With the refuse from the works some interesting experiments have been made by Mr. William Nelson. One paddock has been treated with drainage irrigation; a portion of another paddock received a heavy dressing of the meat and bone from steam cooking chests after the extraction of all the tallow and gravy; another portion with the meat, which, we should say, after the steaming, is almost dry and quite fibrous; and another patch of land has been dressed with the bone alone.

   By Messrs. Nelson's system of chopping the carcases into small pieces before steaming for the extraction of the fat, the refuse of the meat and bone is in an excellent condition to be used as manure. While all the surrounding country has the yellowish dried up appearance natural to the season of the year, and to the absence last autumn of the usual quantity of rain, the paddock that has been irrigated with the drainage water is green, and the grass affords a good bite. The portion of the other paddock that has been top-dressed is, however, much superior, and the animals grazing there never leave it. The small piece dressed with bone only shows as yet little or no improvement upon the surrounding country, although doubtless its treatment will in time be of a more valuable and lasting character. The other piece of ground that was dressed with only meat exhibited improvements in a day or two, and with the first shower of rain there was an astonishingly rapid growth of grass. The result of this last experiment goes to show that no more valuable manure could be applied than this refuse-meat to all crops where rapid promotion is demanded. as in the case of turnips, which not raised quickly, are often ruined by the fly.

   We think we have now touched upon all of the principle features of Messrs. Nelson's works, so far at least as can be done after a short afternoon's visit to Tomoana. It must also be borne in mind that the most interesting of those features are in relation to patented machinery and appliances, which, did we know anything, it would be manifestly improper to make public. But we cannot close this notice without alluding to the care that the Messrs. Nelson have taken to secure the comfort of the large number of workmen they employ, and to induce in them habits of thrift by allowing a liberal rate of interest on balances of wages due. The majority of the men employed are married and have families, and there will be few who are engaged there, we imagine, who will care to leave a service in which industry and steadiness are sure to meet with their reward.




The following is listed in the Cyclopedia of New Zealand

(Taranaki, Hawke's Bay and Wellington Provincial Districts)


  North British and Hawke's Bay Freezing Company, Limited (Mr. W. Kinross White, general manager). Head Office, Glasgow, Scotland; London Office, 22 Basinghall Street; Colonial Office, Napier; Works, Western Spit, Hawke's Bay. The London managers are Messrs Brice, Junor, and White, and the Colonial Board, with head-quarters at Napier, consists of Messrs E. W. Knowles (chairman), Sydney. Johnston, II. H. Bridge, Arthur Harding, J. B. A'Deane, and T. H. Lowry. Mr. W. Kinross White is, ex officio, a member of the Colonial Board. The Home Board consists of Messrs John Galloway, chairman (director of Shaw, Savill and Albion Company); Edward Nelson (James Nelson and Sons), T. R. Johnston, and R. B. Bryce. This company was established in March, 1888, and succeeded so well that in three years it was found nesessary to extend the buildings and double the plant. The average output has increased from 500 to 1,200 sheep per day, and the works can also deal with fifty bullocks per day. The works include a boiling-down establishment, a cooperage, and a fellmongery, and in all five acres of ground are covered by the plant. The machinery includes a Hall's carbonic anhydride refrigerator, and a Haslam cold-air machine, with a capacity of 110,000 cubic feet. The company's capital is £80,000, and the plant and buildings have cost £68,000. Over one hundred persons are employed at the works, and the greatest care and ingenuity are called into requisition in every department. Twenty butchers can work at a time in the slaughter-house; electric light is installed at the works, which are kept clean and fresh throughout by means of excellent sanitary arrangements and efficient drainage. There are four freezing-rooms, with a capacity for 28,000 carcases, and two large rooms for the cold-air machines. Steam is supplied by two boilers, manufactured by W. Cable and Company, Wellington, and by an auxiliary small tubular boiler by Messrs Niven and Company, of Napier. The large boilers are of the Lancashire type, and are each of fifty horse-power. The company ships to London and other ports. In connection with the work of shipping carcases a contrivance known as a “revolving traveller” is used, and the company also has an insulated steam tender and refrigerator for use in transhipping from the works to outgoing steamers.


   Mr. W. Kinross White, General Manager for the Company, has resided for many years in Hawke's Bay. In 1886 he was instrumental in forming the North British and New Zealand Investment Company, Limited, of which he has from the first been manager. In 1888 he formed the North British and Hawke's Bay Freezing Company, which he has managed since its establishment, and he occupies other important commercial positions. Mr. White is referred to elsewhere as a member of the Napier Harbour Board.

   Tomoana Station and Freezing Works (Nelson Brothers, Limited, proprietors) are situated on the line of railway about ten miles from Napier, and include the dwellings of the managers and employees. The situation is a suitable one, with level and fertile land for the ten receiving paddocks, which are plentifully supplied with water from a dozen or more artesian wells, the deepest of which is about 180 feet, and gives over 130,000,000 gallons per annum. The slaughter-house is a long, narrow building, with constantly-flushed concrete floors, and the butchers in the course of a day kill and dress as many as fifty head of cattle and 2,500 sheep, the carcases of which are despatched by overhead rails to the dressing, cooling, weighing, ticketing and grading rooms. The greatest care is exercised in grading, no old ewes and no sheep weighing over seventy pounds being passed for shipment. The examining expert is charged with the duty of rejecting all carcases showing blemished, bad colour, poor condition, or excessive fattiness. There are six freezing-rooms, situated in the upper storey of the building, capable of holding 12,000 carcases, the cooled carcases being elevated for freezing on the endless chain principle. When frozen, each carcase is put into a separate bag, and passed through shoots in the floors, into the store-rooms below, where the capacity is equal to the safe storage of 100,000 carcases.


Electirc light is fitted throughout the entire establishment, and every precaution is taken against fire; water mains extend to every part, a night watchman on duty; and men are trained for any emergency. Steam is supplied by six Babcock and Wilcox boilers, producing 800 horse-power. The engine-room contains two of Haslam's largest cold-air refrigerators, each capable of delivering 170,000 feet of cold air per hour, at a temperature of seventy degrees below zero. There is also a 120,000 cubic feet Haslam refrigerator, which has been converted by Messrs J. J. Niven and Company to the Linde British Ammonia system, and now easily accomplishes all the refrigerating for the establishment, at a greatly-reduced cost of working and consumption of fuel. Firewood is largely used for fuel, and this is split in the slack season by the company's men. Besides beef and mutton freezing and exporting, Messrs Nelson Brothers do a large trade in tinned meats, and also in freezing and storing fish, poultry, game, etc., for local consumption. The boxes and tins required are made on the premises. The “Tomoana” brand of root and crop manure is favourably known, and is in demand all over New Zealand. The Tomoana Freezing Works reflect the greatest credit on all concerned in their management, as well as on the colony at large. Mr. William Nelson, of Tomoana, is the general manager for New Zealand, and Mr. H. G. Warren is secretary.


   Mr. William Nelson, General Manager for New Zealand of Nelson Brothers, Limited, was born in Warwick, England, in the year 1843, and is a son of the late Mr. George Nelson, formerly well known as the founder of the firm of Nelson, Dale, and Company, gelatine manufacturers. He was educated at Warwick College, and, at twenty years of age, came to New Zealand, and landed in Auckland in 1863, by the ship “Devonshire,” Mr. Nelson then joined the militia, but before the end of the year he began sheep-farming with his elder brother, Mr. Frederick Nelson, at Kereru. Later, the brothers took up a station at Waipukurau, and subsequently one on the Heretaunga Plains, which is still in full swing, and contributes, during the season, an average of 6,000 sheep to the Tomoana Freezing Works, which were started by Messrs Nelson Brothers privately, and afterwards sold to the Company. Mr. Nelson resides on the Tomoana estate, about half-a-mile from the works. He married a daughter of the late Mr. Henry Bicknell, of Bangor, North Wales, in the year 1865, and has five daughters and six sons.


   Mr. Henry George Warren, the New Zealand Secretary of Messrs Nelson Brothers, Limited, was born at Hampstead. Middlesex, England, in the year 1862. He is a son of the late Mr. H. E. Warren, and was educated at the Palace School, Enfield, and at King's College. In 1879 he joined the staff of the Royal Bank of Scotland, and a year later came to New Zealand with Mr. Nelson, as a cadet for the New Zealand counting house, by the Orient liner “Sorata,” on her fateful voyage when she ran ashore near Adelaide, South Australia. Mr. Warren has seen the growth of the Tomoana Freezing Works from its embryo stage, and has been intimately connected with it ever since. He is interested in cricket and golf, and is the honorary secretary and treasurer of the Heretaunga Clay Pigeon Shooting Club. In 1887 Mr. Warren married a daughter of the late Mr. Leslie Thomson, of Canterbury. This lady died in 1892, leaving one daughter.





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