Samuel Kirkpatrick and the Canning Factory


Samuel Kirkpatrick (1854-1925) grew up in Ireland, was educated in Liverpool and emigrated to California, where he worked in the wholesale tea business and fruit processing factories. In January 1878 he moved to New Zealand at the age of 26. In that year a committee formed the ‘Nelson Jam & Fruit Preserving Company". Samuel Kirkpatrick was resident in Dunedin at the time and wrote to the committee outlining his terms for the management of a Jam company.¹ He left for Britain and returned accompanied by his widowed mother and aunt, in 1881, to establish a food canning business in Bridge St, Nelson opposite the Queen's Gardens. With equipment he had purchased in Britain (a boiler, two steam jacketed jam pans and a steam vat for preserving fruit) operations began. Production was limited to 1000 cans a day, as all of the tins had to be made by hand.²

samuel-Kirkpatrick.jpgSamuel Kirkpatrick. Cyclopedia of NZ, 1906 NZETC
Click image to enlarge

On 15 February 1884 the Colonist newspaper reported that 'Kirkpatrick and Co. was as busy as it is possible for them to be. Over 10,000 tins of jam were made at the factory on 14 February and 35,000 tins filled over the past four days with various kinds of jam. They were preparing for the tomato season from this date with 5,000 dozens of bottles ready for the sauce so they were hoping for a large harvest.'³

By 1891 Kirkpatrick's (or Kirks) was one of the city's largest employers, exporting fruit products around the world. In 1894 Kirks opened a branch in Blenheim with two factories preserving meat, mainly for export. Samuel was elected to the City Council in 1898 but retired at the end of his first term. He had married Edith Collings in 1896,4 but she died in 1899 of tuberculosis.

In 1898 Kirkpatrick opened a new factory on a site bounded by Vanguard, Gloucester and Mount Streets. The architect was Mr Bethwaite, with contractors Messrs Webley Bros, and it was the largest factory ever built in Nelson at that time.5 It stood upon four acres of land. New equipment included an automated can-making machine that Samuel had seen at his friend Henry Jones's factory in Hobart, which was the first of its kind to be installed in New Zealand. This allowed for more diversification and a huge increase in production.

Steamers brought fruit from Motueka, Collingwood and Tākaka and rail carried fruit from the inland Waimea area. 15,000-20,000 tins of jam were produced daily and the ‘K' jams were famous. By 1900 the factory's operations had expanded to include vegetables and potted meats in addition to jam, jellies, marmalades, tomato sauces, soups, and plum puddings.6

kirkpatrick-factory.jpgKirkpatrick Jam Factory, 1900. Auckland Weekly. Auckland City Library.
Click image to enlarge

In 1899 he had taken over a Wellington coffee and spice merchant and purchased the Nelson Fish Company adding chilled, frozen and smoked fish to the factory's production line.7

The ‘K' brand became well known throughout Australia and New Zealand and gained dozens of awards at world fairs in Melbourne, London and the 1899 Exposition Universelle in Paris, for which the Eiffel Tower was built,8 as well as in New Zealand.9

Many workers at Kirkpatrick's were young women. They preferred factory work over domestic service, as it offered regular hours and high pay. Women and girls were paid from 30 to 35 shillings per week and worked 45 hours in 1919.10

Interior Kirkpatrick's Jam Factory Nelson. Auckland Weekly, 1906. Auckland City Library, heritage image

Samuel Kirkpatrick died on 21 May, 1925 near Helensville while on holiday. The flags flew at half mast around Nelson City on the day the paper announced his death (May 22, 1925). Kirkpatrick was praised as a worthy citizen who was not only a benefactor to the colony, but also for organizing an industry that gave employment to many people as well as treating his employees with respect. His support for the local orcharding industry and his success at winning international awards created confidence in New Zealand at home and abroad. He hoped to provide a place of employment for the people of Nelson by leaving shares in the Company to his workers, friends and fellow freemasons after his death.

Kirkpatrick had been a prominent Freemason becoming Deputy Grand Master. Under the terms of his will his large house in Mount Street was bequeathed to the daughters of deceased Freemasons to be used as a boarding establishment.11

His only surviving relatives in New Zealand at that time were cousins in Dunedin. He is buried in the Wakapuaka Cemetery.

The Kirkpatrick Cannery was bought by the Australian firm of Henry Jones Co-operative Ltd., which was the largest processing company in Australia at that time and controlled nearly all of the South African fruit canning industry as well.12

The Nelson Fruitgrowing and Development Company was a subsidiary of S. Kirkpatrick and Company and owned about 100 hectares at the end of Whakarewa Street, Motueka and on the nearby Peach Island across the river. The orchard grew mainly peaches, pears and small fruit up until the 1960s and supplied the factory. Fruit was first canned in 1930. At one stage Kirks produced 20 lines of jams in six different sizes.

The last harvest of fruit to be carried by train to Nelson was in 1954 as road haulage took over. The railway and Kirkpatrick's had had a working relationship, dating from the earliest days of the Nelson processing industry, which had been helped by a Government scheme encouraging seasonal workers to the region when there was a strong berry fruit industry in the Upper Motueka and Tadmor Valley area. The train station was sited very close to the factory in Vanguard Street.

In 1964 Hawke's Bay-based J. Wattie Canneries bought Kirkpatrick's Jam factory. The factory had become run down and the City Council required an upgrade to the facilities to meet Food and Hygiene regulations. Rather than spend a large amount on this task, Watties decided to put the ‘large capital expenditure' into a new processing factory in Christchurch. The last tin of jam to be produced in Nelson was on February 1971. Sixty full-time staff and 100 seasonal workers lost their jobs.

The factory site was sold to Foodstuffs in 2005 and now houses a New World Supermarket. The only remaining building of the large Kirkpatrick Jam Factory is the VTNZ building at 75 Vanguard St, which formed part of a later extension to the factory after Samuel Kirkpatrick's death.

The operations at S. Kirkpatrick and Co. span almost a century. It was at one time the largest canning and jam factory in Australia and New Zealand. The ‘K' brand was one of the most up-to-date canning factories of its kind in New Zealand. Kirkpatrick's played a significant role in Nelson's development through the ‘encouragement of fruit growing and horticulture and through the employment of seasonal and permanent labour in the region.'13

Kirkpatrick House
Kirkpatrick House in the 1920's. 

Samuel Kirkpatrick's home in Mount St, built around 1903, was left to the Freemasons after he died in 1925. Under the terms of the will the house was to be used as a home for the daughters of deceased Freemasons. Kirkpatrick asked that no furniture, pictures or chattels were to be removed from the house and he also provided for future repairs, alterations and improvements. The home was officially opened for the girls on 4 April, 1926 under the name ‘The Kirkpatrick Masonic Institute'14 and six girls went into residence. Girls between 5 and 13 were accepted and could remain until the end of their secondary education. The girls were provided with clothing, school uniforms and educational equipment.

Over six decades 252 girls lived in the Edwardian home with its ornate greenhouse and acre of hillside garden. Permission was granted for daughters who had lost their mothers also and, later, any girl sponsored by the Freemasons could live there. The home was self-supporting financially until 1943 and donations from the Freemasons kept it going until 1991, when the home lost its annual grant from the Social Welfare Department.15 After that date the girls were given scholarships to board elsewhere and Kirkpatrick House became a Backpackers' Hostel known as 'Club Nelson'.16

The house is now in private ownership. Positioned on the northern ridge of Mount St, the home has views over the City. In the early years, the Samuel Kirkpatrick factory would have been visible below in Vanguard St.

2013 (updated 2022)

Sources used in this story

  1. Letter to H. Budder from Samuel Kirkpatrick, 24 March 1880. Typescript held at Nelson Provincial Museum in Samuel Kirkpatrick file.
  2. Nelson Provincial Museum (1997) Impact of the canning industry on Nelson. New Zealand Memories, 2 (10), pp.642-3
  3. The Jam Factory (1884, February 15) Colonist, p.3
  4. Marriage (1896, December 24) Nelson Evening Mail, p.2
  5. New factory (1898, September 30) Colonist, p.2
  6. Nelson Provincial Museum
  7. Smith, D. (2010, September) Kirkpatrick, Samuel - Biography. Retrieved July 5, 2012 from the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Te Ara - the  Encyclopedia of New Zealand
  8. Smythe, M. (2011) New Zealand by design : a history of New Zealand product design. Auckland, NZ : Godwit, pp.83-84
  9. Exhibition Awards (1885, September 1) The Nelson Evening Mail, pp.2,4
  10. The fruit canning industry ( 1919, March 19) Colonist, p.2
  11. The Kirkpatrick Masonic Trust Empowering Act 1998
  12. McAloon, J.(1997) Nelson : a regional history. Whatamango Bay, NZ. : Cape Catley Ltd, p.164
  13. Smith, D. 
  14. Kirkpatrick Masonic Trust Empowering Act 1998. Retrieved from New Zealand Legislation:
  15. Nelson Evening Mail (1986 April 6),
  16. Nelson Backpackers. Retrieved July 27, 2012 

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  • I, Jock Berge attended Nelson College 1958 - 1960 would like to contact Valwyn Hedgman at Kirkpatrick Masonic Institute 1958 - 1961? Would a phone number or email address be available for her?

    Posted by Jock Berge, ()

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Further sources - Samuel Kirkpatrick and the Canning Factory



  • Committed Mason (1996, December 28) Nelson Mail, p.14
  • Full house for estate auction (1999, September 13) Nelson Evening Mail, p.3
  • A household name in NZ (1996, December 14) Nelson Mail, p.16
  • Kidson, S. (2010, January 12 ). Jam jars bring back memories. Nelson Mail, p.4
  • Memories of Mr Kirk (1996, November 23) Nelson Mail.
  • Nelson Photo News (1970,  May 30 ), 52
  • Nelson Provincial Museum (1997) Impact of the canning industry on Nelson. New Zealand Memories, 2 (10),642-3
  • Obituary (1925, May 22 ). Nelson Evening Mail, p.4
  • Our industries.(1907, February 16 ). NZ Times Supplement, p. 218
  • Peters, C. (2005, April 16 ). Nelson first with ‘special K'. Nelson Mail, p.15
  • Phillips, V. (2017, October 30) Grand Nelson house set to recapture former glory. Nelson Mail on Stuff:
  • Savage, J.F.H.(1978, September). Potted biographies. Journal of the Nelson Historical Society Incorporated, 3 (4), 43

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