Flax, Coffee, Tea and Chicory – the Trent Brothers’ Christchurch Empire

Trafalgar Street, Nelson, circa 1860. Looks along the centre of the street, showing businesses on either side, and the Christ Church Cathedral on the hill in the distance. Published in Ruth M Allan, Nelson: a history of early settlement (Wellington [N.Z.] : A.H. & A.W. Reed, 1965). Image: Alexander Turnbull Library Ref: PAColl-8964-01
Trafalgar Street, Nelson, circa 1860. Looks along the centre of the street, showing businesses on either side, and the Christ Church Cathedral on the hill in the distance. [12]
The Arrival in New Zealand of Edwin Trent junior

Edwin Trent junior began his new life as a settler in Nelson, at the age of just sixteen. He arrived on the ‘Sir Allan McNab’ in 1855, in the company other new immigrants, which included over a score of miners and labourers for the Dun Mountain Copper Mine.

A year later, he was in possession of Crown land, working in the bush around Aorere and Collingwood. He also ran a shop which sold Holloway’s Ointments. Collingwood settlers and gold miners could buy temporary relief from aches and pains by using a generous application of the cream. This product would make its inventor, Thomas Holloway, a multi-millionaire but it did not serve to add much to Edwin’s fortunes.

By 1860, he was an established businessman in Nelson, having taken over the grocery business of a Mr. Usher on Trafalgar Street, located opposite the office of the Nelson Examiner. From American rocking chairs to Barcelona nuts, all manner of imported food and household goods could be bought from his store, before dropping in to the adjoining Royal Hotel on Bridge street for an ale or two.[endnote Sources: Edwin Trent’s name does not appear to have been listed on any passenger lists as a passenger or assisted immigrant. The miners’ names do not seem to have been recorded either. [13]

Members of the Taranaki Military Settlers, where Frederick Trent served during the 1860s. Puke Ariki – Taranaki Museum & Library Reference: PHO2008-1859
Members of the Taranaki Military Settlers, where Frederick Trent served during the 1860s. [14]
The White Cliff Massacre

In 1859, Edwin’s seventeen year old younger brother, Frederick joined him in New Zealand. Frederick spent some time in Nelson immersed in the sport of cricket and becoming secretary of the Nelson Mechanics’ Cricket Club, which would hold its meetings at the Royal Hotel, across from his brother’s shop. Perhaps it was the promise of land that prompted Frederick to trade in his cricket bat for a musket – for during the early 1860s Frederick joined the Taranaki Volunteers as a private, and was garrisoned at White Cliffs, north of New Plymouth.

Frederick received his government land entitlement – 50 acres of rural and a town section in Pukearuhe (White Cliffs). After the garrison was disbanded on March 1st 1868, Frederick resided in an old whare near the former blockhouse. He was one of a small number of settlers which included Lieutenant Bamber Gascoigne, his wife Annie,  and their three small children; five year old Laura, Cecil aged three, and baby Annie, just three months old.

Other residents were Edward Richards, John Milne, John Skinner and Trent – still a single man who enjoyed a game of cricket with the local eleven.

After news had reached the settlement of the Poverty Bay massacre in early November 1868, Frederick Trent had urged Lieutenant Gascoigne to take his wife and children to the safety of New Plymouth. Despite the desperate pleas of Annie, his wife, Gascoigne was adamant that he could not abandon his livestock. His reasoning was that they had natural protection afforded by their location, and he had been assured by the military that ample notice would be given of any impending danger.

This photograph, taken shortly before the massacre at Pukearuhe Redoubt, White Cliffs, in 1869, shows Lieutenant Gascoigne standing in front of the house, and Mrs. Gascoigne in the doorway carrying one of the children. Source: The New Zealand Wars: A History of the Maori Campaigns and the Pioneering Period: Volume II: The Hauhau Wars, 1864–72. Image: http://nzetc.victoria.ac.nz
This photograph, taken shortly before the massacre at Pukearuhe Redoubt, White Cliffs, in 1869, shows Lieutenant Gascoigne standing in front of the house with children Laura and Cecil, and Mrs. Gascoigne in the doorway carrying baby Annie. [15]

Trent’s rope making father had died in 1864, and his mother just four years later in 1868. She had bequeathed her son a sum of money which was settled in early February 1869. Trent had not been to New Plymouth in 15 months but he was forced to go to receive his mother’s money. Unable to persuade Gascoigne to leave, he gave him his rifle and ‘accoutrements’ before departing on horseback for the 40 mile journey to New Plymouth.

Two days after his arrival in New Plymouth, he learned the shocking news that all the Pukearuhe settlers and a visiting preacher, Rev. John Whiteley, had been massacred by Mokau natives on February 13th, 1869.

Trent was sent back to White Cliffs with a relief party of 120-130 men. On their way back, they passed what was called the Waterhole where they found Reverend Whiteley’s dead horse – on its back, legs in the air. A short distance further on, they discovered the body of the Reverend. He had been shot five or six times, and stripped of his coat and waistcoat.

The relief party then advanced in military formation until Trent was permitted to break ranks and head off along a path to the beach. Behind the burnt out remains of the bullet proof blockhouse, he came across the body of Edward Richards, who had been tomahawked several times whilst trying to escape.

A little lower down the path lay John Milne, also the victim of a tomahawk attack.

1879 watercolour of Pukearuhe and the White Cliffs shows the armed constabulary redoubt and the township of Clifton. Watercolour by John Kinder. Image: Auckland Art Gallery – Toi o Tāmaki.
1879 watercolour of Pukearuhe and the White Cliffs shows the armed constabulary redoubt and the township of Clifton. [16]

It turned out that the natives had approached the settlers, claiming to have pigs for sale on the beach. When the men obliged by accompanying them, they were attacked.

In the meantime, the rest of the relief party had discovered the grisly remains of the Gascoigne family, covered by raupo near a hut. On seeing the natives approach, the family left their work in their corn and potato fields, and went back to their whare. Gascoigne had greeted the natives but was struck down from behind as he reached to open his front door. His family suffered the same fate. Not even the baby, nor the local cat and dog, were spared the blows from a tomahawk.

The assailants appeared to have made their escape from the beach, where footprints were traced.

Trent accompanied the settlers’ bodies back in a surf boat which was towed by a steamer to New Plymouth. An inquest followed. Trent revealed that Mrs Gascoigne had predicted their deaths in December the previous year. She had observed a group of natives on the beach reconnoitring their position. She had told Trent that if he left, he should hear of her and the children being tomahawked and murdered.

It was only Trent’s good fortune that enabled him to escape the same fate.[17]

James Trent. Source: The Cyclopedia of New Zealand, Canterbury Provincial District. Image: http://nzetc.victoria.ac.nz
James Trent. [18]
The Arrival of the Youngest Trent

The same year as this terrible event, the youngest Trent son, eighteen year old James arrived in Lyttelton. He seems to have had a fairly low profile, only coming to public notice a couple of times before going into partnership with brother Edwin, in April 1872. Shortly after his arrival, James was caught salmon fishing in the Avon, below the Colombo Street bridge. This had been recently prohibited by the Salmon and Trout Act. Later, as a shop owner and member of the Early Closing Association, he was reported in the local paper as having agreed to close his business on Thursdays at 1 pm for a weekly ‘Half Holiday’, a measure designed in the interests of the health and wellbeing of shop assistants.

Three more years would go by before Frederick left Taranaki – probably at the behest of his brothers – to join them in business in Christchurch. By February 1872, he was calling in his accounts in preparation for winding up business and leaving the district.

>> READ PART 4: Canterbury Steam Coffee Mills and NZ Chicory Works


4 Comments Add yours

  1. Kathrine Holyoak says:

    AMAZING!!! I am a direct descendent of Edwin Ward Trent Sr. I come from his daughter, Mary Ann Trent (who died in England). He also had other daughters who never immigrated to New Zealand (and thus were not noted in your local history). You have done an OUTSTANDING job of researching and documenting this family. Are you part of the blood line too? I learned facts I hadn’t yet found from this article. I can share some details that I have uncovered if you would be interested. My contact info is noted above. I live in Rexburg, Idaho, USA but have fallen in love with the Trent family and am currently researching them. Their New Zealand branch is a productive and fascinating part of the line. I look forward to hearing from you- Kathrine Holyoak


    1. Geoffrey says:

      I’ve got a old photo of the Trent’s coffee and Chicory Works at Templeton it back dates to the 1870


  2. Darian Zam says:

    Trent’s “Good Cook” brand seems to have lived on into the 1960s-1970s. At some point they also acquired the “Musto” brand from S. Kirkpatrick and Co which had been around since the 1920s. Trent’s Tins from the 1950s and 1960s come up regularly at auction but I’ve never seen older than that. I only this week found two references to Trent’s white pepper in the 1930s, making me realise they had a much older back story than I thought from items and adverts I’ve seen over time. That didn’t bring me to this story though – just a coincidence.


  3. dean cameron says:

    A very interesting read on the Trent family I can add some more details. James Trent lived at 119 Salisbury street 1886 – 1891 . Frederick Trent lived at 151 Salisbury street 1887 – 1899 . in about 1912 they changed the street numbering in Salisbury street 151 Salisbury street became 90 Salisbury Street which is my house. James house which was on the Salisbury & Colombo corner has been a car park for a few decades if anyone has any photos of 90 Salisbury street I would be grateful.


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