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

Trent Brother's Victoria street office. Image supplied courtesy of John and Sue Shanks, Trent's Vienyard.
Trent Brother’s Victoria street office. [22]
Newly Weds in a New Land

Frederick Trent and his new wife, Mary lost no time in starting their new family. It wasn’t long before the newlyweds were again before Reverend Watson for the baptism of their first son. Born on the 21 September, 1878 little Edwin Ward Trent was named after his late paternal grandfather. He was the first child of a new generation of Cantabrian Trents. Sadly, a little less than four months later the family would be calling on the services of the church again, this time for little Edwin’s burial.

Mr and Mrs Frederick Trent had by this time established a home in a substantial nine roomed house on a quarter acre section fronting Gloucester street, near Latimer Square. Their house adjoined the home of Alexander Rose, the Collector of Customs. It was finished in first class style – plastered and papered throughout, the windows fitted with venetian blinds. It had all the mod cons of the day; asphalt paths, gas laid on, its own concrete tank, and a continuous flow of artesian water.

A second son, Frederick Frank James was born at home on 7th November 1879. Then, three daughters, two of whom were twins – just as their Uncle James had been.

Sadness would again fill the family with the loss of another son; 10 month old Willie Sinclair, in October 1885. [30]

James and Annie also were quick to start a family. James Dudley Trent arrived a month after his cousin Edwin, on 19th October, 1878 at their home in Gloucester street east. Two more children would follow – a sister and brother for James junior – before their mother, Annie died on April 4th 1884 at ‘Clifton Grange’, aged just 33. [31]

A Return to the Mother Country
Trent Bros. Invoice Stationery, 1898. Source: Archives NZ, Christchurch
Trent Bros. Invoice Stationery, 1898. [32]

In early 1881, Edwin and Mary decided to leave Canterbury for England. They were caught short for time when their ship ‘Otaki,’ was ready to depart earlier than was expected and they had to sell all their furniture on location at their home at No. 2 Fairfield Terrace, Worcester street end. Every item in every room in the house, the wash house, yard and garden, went up for sale… including their pet black and tan English terrier and tame Australian king parrot. The house had recently been fitted with an invalid chair, so perhaps it was ill health that prompted the journey home. The couple stayed away almost two years, before returning in November 1882, and moved back into their Worcester Street house.

Whatley road (Victoria Street) 1879, showing Trent Bros highlighted in brown.
Whatley road (Victoria Street) 1879, showing Trent Bros highlighted in brown.

Over the next three years the shadow of death hung over all three Trent households. Edwin passed away on March 20, 1883. He was buried alongside his baby nephew in the Church of England cemetery at Barbadoes street.

Edwin had achieved a lot in his 44 years, – more than half of it spent in New Zealand – creating a large production, manufacturing and export business that would last for decades.

As his sole survivor, his widow Mary was well provided for. Edwin also left annuities for Alfred Hodding Trent, another of his brothers who had come out to New Zealand around 1866. An unmarried sister, Letita, who had remained in England, was also provided for. When Letitia died in 1890, some of her fortune passed into the hands of her orphaned cousin, Henry. Henry Trent had also come out to New Zealand, in the 1860s, as a young cadet in the survey office with the Nelson Provincial Government. He had a successful career, becoming the Commissioner of Crown lands for Nelson, Malborough and Hawkes Bay. [33] [34]

Trent Brothers' premises in Durham street. Image courtesy of John and Sue Shanks, Trent's Vineyard.
Trent Brothers’ premises in Durham street. [22]

The lease on the Templeton property expired in 1884 and all the stock was put up for auction without reserve. Under the hammer went eight draught horses, 400 sheep, two dairy cows, a long list of farm implements, harness, kilns, and two root raising ploughs, invented by Edwin, for which Trent Bros. would retain the right to use. Having also just lost his wife, James took the opportunity to auction a lady’s four-wheeled dog cart and matching pair on ponies. The ponies were so calm and quiet, they could pass tram lines and road rollers without turning a hair. Added to this was a large quantity of his household furniture.

Despite Edwin’s death, the farm in Templeton continued to supply Trent Brothers with chicory. The business continued to trade on the various First Prize medals they had won for the coffees, pepper and spices at Exhibitions at home and overseas, gained whilst Edwin was still alive. As well as the farm and works in Templeton, Trent Bros. had shops in Victoria, Durham, Chester and Manchester Streets in the city.

James stepped back from the business on 31 December, 1887, leaving Frederick in charge of a now thriving business of coffee, chicory and spice merchants, manufacturers and general importers. James went in search of gold and silver, becoming a mining agent for Deep Creek Mining Company and a director of Waiwhero Sluicing Company. However it would be his involvement in Trent Bros. for which James would be most remembered at his death, from peritonitis, in July 1915.

Trent Brother's three storey premises in Victoria street. Image supplied courtesy of John and Sue Shanks, Trent's Vineyard.
Trent Brother’s three storey premises in Victoria street. [22]

To close off the remainder of Edwin’s estate, the three storey Victoria street building, which housed Trent Bros. coffee and spice mills, went on the market in 1891. The lease with Trent Bros. had another two years still to run, and at £300 per annum it represented a valuable commercial city property. Bidding started at £1250 and rose steadily in fifties until it was sold to Mr. Dan O’Brien of Riccarton (well known racehorse owner and proprietor of the Racecourse Hotel) for £1500. Also sold were the eight large two storey houses, ‘Fairfield Terrace’ in Worcester street east, which Edwin had built in about 1884. These were fully tenanted at an annual return of £400 and were bought by Mary Trent, Edwin’s widow.

Despite now running Trent Bros. single handedly, Frederick Trent became involved in public affairs. He was made a Justice of the Peace, and served as a magistrate on cases of drunkenness and, as a member of the Christchurch Licensing Committee, heard applications for liquor licenses. He had a busy and well respected professional life. [35]

>> READ PART 7: Competition from Tea


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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