Wesley Spragg
February 13th 1848 - August 15th 1930
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The name "Anchor" and the quality of the butter bearing this brand name are known throughout the world. Since the latter part of last century it has been and remained for many years one of New Zealand's staple exports to the Home Country and Europe. "Anchor" in the United Kingdom and throughout much of the world means New Zealand and amply indicates the quality of agricultural products produced there. Few know, however, the name and history of the man behind this brand whose drive, ingenuity, talent and perseverance made it such a phenomenal success. His name was Wesley Spragg, pioneer, philanthropist, visionary and gentleman, described in his obituary as "...distinctly and emphatically the father of the dairying industry in Auckland".

So who is Wesley Spragg and what claim to fame does this quiet and reserved man have? Wesley Spragg was born at Medeley in Shropshire on February 13th 1848. He was the second son of a family of five boys and two girls born to Charles Spragg and Mary Hill. In 1863 the family emmigrated to New Zealand on the ship Ulcoats, landing at Auckland. Wesley was 15 years old at the time.

Wesley had leraned the trade of carpentry but he did not follow this for very long after his arrival. During the Thames gold rush in the 1860's he was attracted, as many were at the time, by the lure of instant riches. Throughout his life, Wesley had a huge social interest and concern for the well-being of his fellow man. This was exhibited on the Thames goldfields. Wesley noticed that the only establishment at which miners could relax for the evening was the local pub. Concerned with the ultimate degradation of body, soul and intellect that this would induce, Wesley, along with several others, obtained a large tent which they fitted out as a reading and meeting room. Here men could find relaxation and recreation without the constant presence and temptation of alcohol. Later religious services were held and the tent became the centre of gentle, genuine and philanthropic work, especially amongst the young men.

Like many others on the goldfields, Wesley did not succeed in making his fortune at Thames and returned to Auckland. A natural flair for commerce led him to enter the grocery trade and he owned a business at Onehunga and, later, had a partnership in a business in Queen Street, Auckland. This connection with the food, produce and primary goods industry gave him a valuable insight into the business. He could see how much scope there was to improve the quality of New Zealand butter and to market this to the world. Quality raw materials were certainly available if one could only improve the process and technique by which butter was made.

In the meantime, however, Wesley was paying some attention to his private life. On January 29th 1878, Wesley married Henrietta Neal. Wesley and Henrietta had six children; Mary (1879), Muriel (1880), Silas Dearnley (1881 died 1882), Hetty (1882), Mildred Wesley (1885) and Alice Dorothy (1888). Sadly, eleven years later, Wesley was to lose his beloved Henrietta when she died on May 22nd 1889. Two years later, on July 30th 1891, Wesley married his late wifes sister Annie Dearnley Neal. Together Wesley and Annie were to have two more children, both boys, but both of whom were not to survive long enough to carry on the Spragg name from their father. The first born Charles Robert Dearnley died a year after his birth and Wesley Neal (1894) was the victim of an air tragedy late in World War One. Wesley was and remained a devoted and loving father and family man throughout his life, his daughters being the apple of his eye. Annie was to survive him by four years.

On November 3rd 1886, Cornish immigrant Henry Reynolds successfully churned 100lbs of butter in a shed at Pukekura. This was to become the very first "Anchor" butter although at this time it had not been identified by a brand name. For ten years he laboured to build an industry from this first churning and, despite the depression of the early 1890's, his organisation grew from one small shed to two factories and eight creameries. At this time he transferred his interests to Wesley and retired to farm in Argentina.

Wesley had himself laboured to make improvements in the butter produced by farmers and managed in the exportation of some to Australia and elsewhere starting what ultimately became the "New Zealand Dairy Association" (now the "New Zealand Dairy Group") and is today the largest manufacturing dairy company in New Zealand. Wrote the Company in it's jubilee publication of 1936 "Wesley Spragg gave of his best for over a quarter of a century and carried the Company upward to a thriving substantial organisation embodying several thousands of suppliers and marketing up to 5000 tons of butter."

In these early days Wesley, too, had his problems. Supply was small, appliances crude and conditions were rough. Also the transport of the day (horse and cart or early automobiles) was slow and science had yet to develop the methods in use today. With talent, industry and sound business judgement Wesley met all these problems head on and succeeded in building the foundations and framework of an industry which survives and survives well today. He applied his natural talent for sympathy and tact to his dealings with suppliers by recognising and understanding their problems and limitations, tolerantly meeting their quibbles and always striving to give the best service he could.

Wesley was a strong advocate of total abstinence from alcohol, a firm and devout churchman (Congregationalist) and a lover of the New Zealand bush. Very early on he realised the value of the area at Aucklands back door known as the Waitakere Ranges and the superb bush (particularly the Kauri trees) found there. He left to the city and its people two parks of native bush in his beloved Watakerie's. One was of 51 acres and the other, Kaiterakihi Park on the shores of the Manukau of 716 acres.

Remember indeed the strong, ceaseless and selfless contribution of Wesley Spragg. The closing quote in the "New Zealand Dairy Board's" 1936 jubilee publication: "So, gentlemen, a toast, too, an' it please you, for Wesley Spragg, a New Zealand pioneer who carried your banner forward with credit and distinction". Wesley died on August 5th 1930 at the age of 82 years.

Should you wish to contact descendents of Wesley Spragg please e-mail Christine Roberts on [email protected]

Copyright: Denise & Peter 1999

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