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

Corner Market place and Victoria street, 1920s, showing Trent's original building in the middle.
Corner Market place and Victoria street, 1920s, showing Trent’s original building in the middle, immediately to the let of the tram.
Competition from Tea

Trent Bros. largest line was coffee, with their own well known brands Peerless Gold Medal and Phoenix. From the early 1890s, the popularity of coffee essence grew as did the newly introduced Indian and Ceylon teas. This affected Trent’s  business, as did the competition from co-operative stores which reduced the profit on many imported lines. By 1898, Frederick was under pressure from his largest creditor, the Bank of New Zealand. He had suffered losses of £2000 trying to introduce Brandt’s malt food,  made £739 in bad debts, and incurred £200 in expenses shifting the business from Victoria Street to Durham Street.

Frederick was forced to call a meeting of creditors, where h offered them a payout of 6s 8d in the pound. All the New Zealand creditors were willing to accept, however London merchants, G. J. McCaul and Co., were owed £650 and declined the offer, forcing Frederick to file for bankruptcy.

Amongst his creditors were family members, principally his brother James and widowed sister-in-law, Mary Trent. James was a large creditor, owed over £3000. Mary was owed £4000 and had agreed to Frederick’s initial payout offer. However, in a surprise move, she sent a letter to the Official Assignee via her solicitor, saying she would not accept less than 7s 6d in the pound.

Amongst the unsecured creditors were big and small names of Christchurch business, including Whitcoulls, Aulsebrooks, Bonningtons, Bing Harris, Rattray and Co, Farmers Coop, Edmonds, A. J White, Canterbury Frozen Meats, Lyttelton Times, and New Brighton Tram, to name a few. The official assignees file was huge, bulging with correspondence and copies of invoices from companies throughout New Zealand and overseas.

Trent's Genuine New Zealand Chicory posters supplied courtesy of John & Sue Shanks, Trent's Vineyard.
Trent’s Genuine New Zealand Chicory posters [22].

Despite bankruptcy, it was Frederick’s opinion that the business was still a profitable one, with well kept books. It was bringing in enough for a fair living for one family – ‘and that is about all’. He was determined to carry on the business without delay, and was prepared to make ‘considerable sacrifice of personal and domestic convenience’ in order to satisfy his creditors.

With the assistance of friends, Frederick was able to reach agreement with his creditors to pay 7s. 6d in the pound, considered by the official assignee, Mr Greenwood, as a decidedly favourable settlement for the creditors. Trent Bros. had grown into a respected business and Frederick’s misfortune was reported throughout New Zealand and Australia, with most expressing general sympathy for the firm’s misfortune.

Frederick retired some time after 1908 and the business then passed into the hands of others. [36]

James Trent and his second wife, Elizabeth, moved to the West Coast in search of precious metals, returning to Christchurch to retire. Edwin’s widow, Mary remarried to another Edwin, becoming Mrs White in 1904. She sold ‘Clifton Grange’ in 1907. Mary died in 1917, and was buried with her first husband in Barbadoes Street Cemetery. Frederick Trent died in July, 1922, his wife Mary, having died before him in 1916. Both are buried in Linwood Cemetery, along with James and his second wife.

This closes the chapter on the settler generation of Trents. A new colonial born generation will follow, ready to make their own mark on our local history. [37]


  1. Image: Ferrier, William (Christchurch) fl 1881-1900.
  2. Sources: Normal School, Star, Issue 3028, 15 December 1877, Page 3; Press, Volume XXVIII, Issue 3872, 19 December 1877, Page 2.
  3. Source: “Educational” Press, Volume XXVII, Issue 3692, 22 May 1877, Page 1. Image: PapersPast.
  4. Sources: ‘Arrival of the Ship Waitangi’, Press, Volume XXVI, Issue 3443, 18 September 1876, Page 2. Port of Lyttelton. Press, Volume XXVI, Issue 3443, 18 September 1876, Page 2; Press, Volume XXVII, Issue 3685, 2 May 1877, Page 1; ‘Tender Notice’, Press, Volume XXVII, Issue 3688, 5 May 1877, Page 1.
  5. Image: Curtis’ Botanical Magazine, Plate 3199, Volume 59 (Volume 6 of the New Series), published London 1832.
  6. Wellington Independent, Volume IV, Issue 306, 16 September 1848, Page 3.
  7. Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures, and Commerce Journal, Volume 1. 1864.
  8. Photograph taken by Samuel Heath Head, Christchurch. Source: Alexander Turnbull Library, Reference Number : 1/1-007315-G.
  9. Photograph taken by Samuel Heath Head. Image: Ref: 1/1-007297-G. Alexander Turnbull Library.
  10. PHORMIUM TENAX. (TO THE EDITOR OF THE CANTERBURY PRESS.) Daily Southern Cross, Volume XXV, Issue 8729, 1 July 1869, Page 6.
  11. Sources: Journal of the Society of Arts, September 23rd 1853, page 533; ENGLISH EXTRACTS. From Jamison’s New Zealand. New Zealand Gazette and Wellington Spectator, Volume IV, Issue 243, 6 May 1843, Page 3; New Zealand Spectator, and Cook’s Strait Guardian. Saturday, August 4, 1849; New Zealand Spectator and Cook’s Strait Guardian, Volume V, Issue 418, 4 August 1849, Page 2; Auckland. New Zealand Gazette and Wellington Spectator, Volume IV, Issue 263, 15 July 1843, Page; ‘New Zealand Flax.’ Nelson Examiner and New Zealand Chronicle, Volume XIV, 9 June 1855, Page 3.; In the New Zealand Journal of the 14th February 1852, New Zealand Spectator and Cook’s Strait Guardian, Volume VIII, Issue 757, 3 November 1852, Page 3; ‘Notice of intention to apply to for a patent’, Page 3 Advertisements Column 2, Southland Times, Issue 993, 27 July 1868, Page 3; Patent was granted in 1869, Source: Evening Post, Volume V, Issue 117, 28 June 1869, Page 2; and “New Zealand Flax.-5″. (Written for the ” Daily Southern Cross.”) History of Phormium Tenax. Daily Southern Cross, Volume XXVI, Issue 3940, 8 April 1870, Page4; Bruce Herald , 26 August 1868, Page 6; “The flax works, Halswell, near Christchurch. (from the Canterbury Press.”) and Commercial.” Press, Volume XII, Issue 1595, 17 December 1867, Page 2.
  12. 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.
  13. Source: http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~nzbound/sir_allan_mcnab.htm also: http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~ourstuff/SirAllanMcNab1855.htm ; E. W. Trent of Aorere applied to the Nelson Province Superintendent for a renewal license in Jun 1857. In November of the same year ‘Smith & Trent’ of Collingwood applied for a bush license. Trent of Collingwood was advertised as a sub-agent for Holloway’s Pills and Ointments: Nelson Examiner and New Zealand Chronicle, Volume XVI, 12 August 1857, Page 2; ‘Obituary’ Star, Issue 4648, 22 March 1883, Page 3; Page 2 Advertisements Column 1. Nelson Examiner and New Zealand Chronicle, Volume XV, Issue 9,20 April 1856, Page 2. Colonist, Volume III, Issue 300, 4 September 1860; Colonist, Volume III, Issue 298, 28 August 1860, Page 1.
  14. Puke Ariki – Taranaki Museum & Library, Reference: PHO2008-1859.
  15. 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
  16. Watercolour by John Kinder. Image: Auckland Art Gallery – Toi o Tāmaki.
  17. Sources: Taranaki Herald,Volume X, Issue 512, 24 May 1862, Page 1 and Taranaki Herald, Volume XI, Issue 562, 9 May 1863, Page 2. and ‘Shipping’ The Alfred the Great, from London, arrived at Wellington on the 17th instant. Steerage – Frederick Trent. Colonist, Volume II, Issue 158, 26 April 1859, Page 2; Personal Items. Hawera & Normanby Star, Volume XLII, 27 July 1922, Page 4; “White Cliffs Massacre” Taranaki Herald, Volume LIV, Issue 13567, 22 November 1907, Page 3; “The Massacre at the White Cliffs” Wellington Independent,Volume XXIV, Issue 2808, 11 March 1869, Page 2; “The Maori Rebellion” Taranaki Herald, Volume XVII, Issue 866, 27 February 1869, Page 3.
  18. Press, Volume LI, Issue 15331, 15 July 1915, Page 8. The Cyclopedia of New Zealand [Canterbury Provincial District]
  19. Whateley road, alternatively spelt Whately, then became Papanui road and later became Victoria street. Sources: Colonist, Volume V, Issue 448, 7 February 1862, Page 2; Notice. Colonist, Volume IV, Issue 421, 5 November 1861, Page 1; ‘Dissolution of Partnership’ Press, Volume VII, Issue 801,24 May 1865, Page 1; Press, Volume III, Issue 156, 4 May 1863, Page 3.
  20. Source: Trent Bros stationery, 1898. Image: Archives NZ, Christchurch.
  21. Sources: ‘CHICORY MANUFACTORY.’ Bruce Herald, Volume VI, Issue 358, 8 March 1871, Page 7; Press, Volume XIX, Issue 2786, 6 April 1872, Page 1; ‘Dissolution of Co-partnership.’ Press, Volume XX, Issue 2954, 21 October 1872, Page 4.
  22. Image supplied courtesy of John & Sue Shanks, Trent’s Vineyard.
  23. Cultivation of Chicory’ Timaru Herald, Volume VI, Issue 208, 29 May 1867, Page 3.
  24. Sources: ‘Fire at Templeton’. Star , Issue 1658, 19 June 1873, Page 2. ‘MR TRENT’S CHICORY FARM’. North Otago Times, Volume XVI, Issue 603, 28 February 1871, Page 4. ‘Chicory Farm in Canterbury’ Bruce Herald, Volume VI, Issue 357, 1 March 1871, Page 7.
  25. Source: The Press, 1 Feb. 1969, p. 5. Image: Christchurch City Libraries File Reference CCL PhotoCD 10, IMG0036.
  26. Sources: ‘Correspondence’ Press, Volume XXI, Issue 2457,20 June 1873, Page 3. ‘Advertisements’. Press, Volume XXI, Issue 2522,4 September 1873, Page 3. Star, Issue 1935, 18 May 1874, Page 3. Press, Volume XXX, Issue 4071, 14 August 1878, Page.
  27. Image source: Kaiapoi Museum.
  28. Sources: Press, Volume XXI, Issue 2395, 8 April 1873, Page 2; Press, Volume XXIV, Issue 3141, 24 September 1875, Page 3; Press, Volume XXIII, Issue 3035, 14 May 1875, Page 4; Evening Post, Volume XV, Issue 167, 20 July 1877, Page 2.
  29. Children of Mary Cutt: Henry (1827), Harriet (1830), Mary (1833), Samuel (1839) and George (1844).
  30. James Trent and his twin, Florence were born on March 10, 1851, but Florence did not live beyond her first three months.  Frederick and Mary Trent’s children were Edwin Ward Trent, born September 21st, 1878 at Gloucester Street; Frederick Frank James, born 9 November, 1879; Gladys Mary Trent, born 11 Sept., 1881; Maude Ellen and Mildred Annie Trent, born 8th July 1883; Willie Sinclair born 12 Dec 1884, buried 19 Oct 1885; Doris Adine Trent, born July 25, 1886; Mary Sowersby Trent born, 22 Jan 1888.
  31. Press, Volume XL,Issue 6007, 13 December 1884, Page 2.
  32. Source: Archives NZ, Christchurch
  33. Alfred Trent was born 25th September, 1849 in Old Ford. An ‘Alfred Trent’ arrived on board the Rob Roy, Second Cabin, from Glasgow on 19th July 1866, 116 days. New Zealand Herald, Volume III, Issue 847, 1 August 1866, Page 8. In 1890 Alfred Hodding Trent was a ‘Gentleman’ living in Wharf Rd, Newton, Auckland. Source: Electoral Roll for Auckland.
  34. Letitia Trent was born some time in 1846, baptised 15 July of that year at St Jude in Bethnal Green. She continued to live in Homerton but until before her death in 1890. She died leaving an estate of £1,255 6s 5d.
  35. Sources: Auctions Press, Volume XXXV, Issue 4854, 24 February 1881, Page 4; “Arrived November 5” Press, Volume XXXVIII, Issue 5338, 7 November 1882, Page 2. ‘Auctions’ Press, Volume XXXV, Issue 4854, 24 February 1881, Page 4; Auctions: Press, Volume XL, Issue 5845, 7 June 1884, Page 4; Grey River Argus, Volume XXXII, Issue 5445, 15 March 1886, Page 4; Press, Volume XLV,Issue 6984, 10 February 1888, Page 1; ‘Owen Silver Discovery’ Star, Issue 6238, 15 May 1888, Page 3. “Waiwhero Sluicing Company” Star , Issue 5977,16 September 1897, Page 2. ‘Monet Christo Gold Mining Company’ Star, Issue 5414, 15 November 1895, Page 3; ‘Patents’ Star , 22 April 1891, Page 4; ‘PERSONAL ITEMS.’ Press, Volume LI, Issue 15331, 15 July 1915, Page 8; Auctions Press, Volume XLVIII, Issue 7903, 1 July 1891, Page 3.
  36. George Graham Cripps, had been a traveller for a firm of Melbourne tea merchants and during his many visits to NZ decided to settle here, making his home in Dunedin. He came to Christchurch in about 1909 and bought out Messrs Trent Bros., forming it into a limited liability company. He carried on the business for about eight years. Ill health caused him to sever ties with the business in 1918. Otago Daily Times , Issue 17523, 15 January 1919, Page 6.
  37. MEETING OF CREDITORS. Press, Volume LV, Issue 10123, 24 August 1898, Page 2. Bankruptcy Documents, Archives NZ, Christchurch; Bankruptcy Documents, Archives NZ, Christchurch Office; Cemetery Records: Barbadoes Street and Linwood cemeteries.

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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

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    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

      Like

  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.

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  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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