Sunday, May 15, 2011


The Chinese Benefactor.


The most remarkable personality in the establishment of dairying in Taranaki, as indeed of the Dominion, was.a little Chinese genfleman, Chew Chong. It was he who built the first dairy factory^and provided the struggling settler with his first means of making a cash transaction in having created a market for the fungus found in the bush and facetiously known as Taranaki "wool," Chew Chong was no ordinary Chinaman. Though not a mandarin, nor of the educated class, he well merited the high esteem in which he was held by all classes because of his high principles and generous instincts. To the first-settlers who faced the wilderness with determination and hope as their only capital the little Chinese pedlar (a buyer of old iron in the first place) came as a general benefactor. In his wanderings he recognised the fungus growing on the tawa, pukutea and mahoe trees as something similar to an. edible fungus greatly prized in his country as a vegetable. With that keen foresight which always distinguished him, he decided to establish a trade in it with his native land. A trial shipment was made, and the venture at once proved a success. It is difficult at this distance to realise what the work of Chew Chong meant to the pioneer dairymen of Taranaki. When he commenced to purchase fungus the settlers lived by a system of barter. Fourpenee a pound" was a high price for the butter they produced. The storekeeper accepted the butter in exchange for stores, milled it and shipped it Home in a salted condition in kegs as ordinary cargo. It was a matter of great difficulty to obtain sufficient cash to meet the annual rates levied by the local bodies, amounting generally to 5s or 7s 6d. It was not till they were paid spot cash for their fungus that the settlers knew the delightful sound of the clinking of coin of the realm. The trade in Taranaki "wool" rapidly developed until one year, about 1885, the export of fungus amounted to. £72,000, more than the total value of butter shipped from the province. This important means of revenue was a Godsend to many a settler, for the price of butter had fallen to about threepence a potmd at that time, and but for the fungus many a family would have had ruin staring them in the face. It was in the year 1868 that Chew Chong commenced buying fungus. For four years the Customs authorities of China kept no account of the amount imported, but when Chew Chong was in China later he was informed that from 1872 to 1904 the imports were valued at £375,000.

«as were the services rendered to the Taranaki pioneer by the establishment of a trade in fungus, which was all

profit, costing nothing to produce and being chiefly collected by the children, it was the part played by the Chinese storekeeper in establishing the'factory system of butter manufacture for which he is principally remembered. In 1870 Chew Chong settled in New Plymouth and established a store, other stores being subsequently opened at Eltham and Inglewood. His main, sphere of activity

I was at Eltham, for it was there that he became-the pioneer of the dairy factory movement in the Taranaki province. In erecting a • dairy factory Chew Chong took a risky step, for it was a matter of great difficulty to procure a competent butter-maker,in those days. The refrigerator was unknown, control of temperature, an essential feature in the modern factory being thus impossible; separators were crude affairs, transport was difficult and costly, and the butter had to be shipped abroad as ordinary cargo. However, he was a ' man of exceptional enterprise, and having been approached by the settlers with whom he was doing business he entered into the work in a bold manner. Perhaps the best indication of the up-to-date nature of his enterprise may be gained from the following description of the factory given by the first Government dairy instructor in 1888:—'' Chew Chong's factory: This is one of the best factories I have visited. The machinery is good and in first-class condition, and'everything about it is thoroughly clean. The machinery is driven by a water-wheel. There are two Danish cream separators, each capable of putting through 150 gallons of milk per hour; one box churn capable of churning half a ton of butter at once, and a lever butter-worker. The water-wheel is inside the lower* part of the building. The butter when churned is taken to a space between the wheel and the outside wall to be made up. When the wheel is in motion it causes a current of cool air in the place, throwing at the same time a spray of water in the air, which assists to cool it in hot weather, a method invaluable for buttermaking. The building of a tunnel to bring the water to the wheel and plant cost over £700." .

It is told by old settlers, as an instance of Chew Chong_ versatility, that the contractors for the tunnel were on the point of throwing up the work, as they could make no progress, when Chew Chong went into the tunnel and showed them how to go about it. It was in 1887 that the factory established a notable period for the industry. Being the year of Queen Victoria's Jubilee, Chew Chong named his factory "The Jubilee" and registered the word "Jubilee" as the brand of his butter. It was a success from its initiation, notwithstanding the difficulties which had to be faced.

The first year suppliers could only be paid 2d a gallon for the milk, but the following year 3d a gallon was paid. The first shipment of factory butter realised 24s a cwt. more than did the milled butter shipped by Chew Chong at the same time. The cost of marketing was expensive in those days. Roads were bad, and railage freights were high. To rail butter to Wellington cost £3 4s per ton. The butter Chew Chong turned out was of high quality for the period, and he gained the leading awards at the South Seas Exhibition at Dunedin in 1889, including a silver cup

presented by Messrs. A. and T. Burt. The history of Chew Chong was that of many another proprietary pioneer in the industry. When the wave of co-operative dairying carried all before it he struggled gamely for a time, but finally had to close the doors of his factory and three creameries, having failed to persuade the co-operators to take them over, with the result that his buildings and plant, which cost £3700, did not realise £400. Chew Chong calculated that he lost £7000 in the dairying business, for during the last five years his factory was in existence he had to pay very high prices to retain suppliers. Though his" services have not attracted the attention of the outside world, there is not a man of long experience in Taranaki who does not hold him in high regard and honour him for the great part he played in the development of the province

Hawera & Normanby Star, Volume XLII, 5 July 1923, Page 15

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