History - Founding of Morrison’s orchard

By: Lyn Wade

Edward Morrison was born in Auckland in 1850, eight years after his parents, Janet and John Morrison, had arrived on the Jane Gifford from Scotland. His father bought land on the western banks of the Mahurangi River when land was opened up for sale in 1853. As a young man, Edward spent some time timber milling and a short time on the Coromandel gold fields. At the age of 23, he bought 350 acres adjoining his parents’ land. By 1877, he had four acres of orchard planted. His career as an orchardist and nurseryman was on its way.

A visitor in 1888 described the orchard – known as Red Bluff. It had 200 different sorts of apples, plus plums, peaches, nectarines and pears – with tea, red currants, grapes and passionfruit in among them. They also mentioned an orange grove and a lemon grove, with some peanuts and bananas under trial.

The Red Bluff tramway helped avoid the muddy conditions created by horse-drawn vehicles.
The Red Bluff tramway helped avoid the muddy conditions created by horse-drawn vehicles.

In 1890, Edward took a collection of citrus fruit to the Citrus Exhibition in Brisbane. He gained two gold medals; one for the best collection of citrus and one for best citrus novelty, which was his poor man’s orange – Morrison seedless grapefruit.

By 1900,  two of his sons Robert (Bob) and John (Jack) had joined him in the business, and Selwyn joined later. By 1909, the company had 90 acres of fruit trees and by 1914, 120 acres. In its heyday, the nursery carried stock of over 200,000 fruit trees, plus some hedge and ornamental trees, and was one of the biggest in New Zealand. There were 16 to 20 permanent staff and student assistants learning various phases of the work, plus an extra 30 or so at harvest time. The workers were accommodated in a building called The Cottage, which had its own cook and caretaker. They had their own band and hockey team, plus a tennis court. They practised their own form of daylight saving, known as “Bluff Time”, with clocks put forward half-an-hour so there was time to play after the day’s work was done. Many of these young men would go on to open their own nurseries and/or orchards.

Every effort was made to reduce the amount of manual labour and handling of fruit. There were special cultivators to prepare the soil before planting, mechanical graders for the fruit, a tramway about a mile long to take fruit to the packing sheds and then on to the wharf. This tramway helped to avoid the muddy conditions, which horse-drawn vehicles would have created. The wharf was built in 1894 and fruit and nursery orders were picked up directly from there and shipped throughout New Zealand. Edward was also involved in establishing the Coastal Steamship Co. Two of the vessels – Kapanui and Kotiti – had specially ventilated holds for fruit.

A catalogue for the orchard and nursery from 1908 gives almost 100 varieties of pears, 140 varieties of apples, plus 24 new apple varieties under test. The experiment station, managed by Bob, was a very important part of the operation, testing new varieties and rootstocks.

By 1919 changes were afoot. Bob had died in the Great War and fire blight appeared in the north, meaning pear trees, in particular, had to be removed. The company had already bought land on the eastern banks of the Mahurangi River beside Duck Creek, which Jack took over in 1920, moving his house and family across the river. The Red Bluff Orchard area was converted to grass and Selwyn farmed there. The company was wound up and Edward and wife Annie retired to Kasper Street in Warkworth.          

Lyn Wade, Warkworth & District Museum


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