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A proud Scots history in New Zealand

A proud Scots history in New Zealand

Little is known about the contribution of New Zealand’s early Scottish pioneers – but a visiting academic is about to change that.

University of Dundee economist and business historian Dr Stephen Jones, currently based at AUT University, is writing a book on Ross & Glendining Ltd, one of New Zealand’s first major textile manufacturers.

The AUT Research Fellow says there is something symbiotic about travelling to the other side of the world to record the enterprising history of his Scottish ancestors.

He says New Zealand provided Scots not just an escape from grinding poverty but also huge opportunities for the middle classes.

“British settlements offered rich rewards for migrants with a little capital, a modicum of business talent and a willingness to work hard,” he says.

“The story of Ross & Glendining, a woollen and worsted manufacturer established in 1862 by two Scottish drapers, exemplifies many aspects of the transition from merchant to manufacturer in New Zealand’s economic history.”

Even by world standards, says Dr Jones, Auckland-based Ross & Glendining was a significant employer, with 2000 people in its mills, clothing factories and warehouses by the 1940s.

“The systems Ross & Glendining used to collect, process and manage information, its incentive structures and decision making processes set this innovative manufacturer apart from its rivals,” he says.

The book documents the company’s growth during the 1870s, its diversification to cope with the depression of the 1880s and retrench during the Great Depression of the 1930s, to its takeover in 1966 by the United Empire Box Company during the merger boom.

Dr Jones’ own connection to New Zealand began in his local parish church in Lydney, Gloucestershire. It had a stained glass window given by the first Viscount Bledisloe.

“It had a view of Mt Cook and an image of a Maori and a Pakeha clasping hands in friendship,” he says. “I thought, I’ve got to go there one day.”

Alongside documenting the Ross & Glendining story, Dr Jones is researching the long depression of 1879-1895 and collaborating on a book about the history of Dunedin. Dr Jones’ book on Ross & Glendining will be completed later this year.


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