Monday, 20 February 2017

Drummond - The Story of Two Country General Stores


Ezekiel Roberts with his family and customers outside
their General Store, North Drummond, circa 1910
[Photo Credit : Drummond Historical Society]

As a companion piece to my recent blog on the evolution of a country blacksmithing business I thought I would next try to portray something of the evolution of the two small rural general stores and Post Office agency at Drummond in Central Southland New Zealand. I have, I believe, managed to come up with a fairly interesting and quite unique collection of old invoices, postcards and photographs which, along with known published information, clearly illustrate how these two competing businesses comprehensively served their local rural community. Again, this demonstrates the great worth of the combination of original records, published records and old photographs for historical research purposes.

According to the Drummond Historical Committee (whom, I shall henceforth refer to as the "DHC") history of 1977, Ezekiel Roberts established the first general store at the northern end of Drummond around 1880, being a branch of his Riverton business. Nearer the south end of the township (two sections north of where the former Presbyterian Church stood) was Shearer's General Store. I will first detail the history of this latter business.

John Shearer, General Store, Established 1885 (South End of Town)

The Otago and Southland volume of the Cyclopedia of New Zealand, being published in 1905, usefully tells us that Mr John Cooper Shearer, an immigrant from Glasgow, Scotland, opened the first General Store and Post Office in Drummond on the 1st April 1885, having opened a similar store at Thornbury the previous year. Shearer was thus Drummond's first Postmaster, a position he held for the next 25 years. Shearer's business also included Telegraph facilities with a 'Telephone Bureau' being added on the 1st March 1892 after a line was put through to Invercargill. Money Orders and Postal Notes were sold from 1909.

Invoice of John Shearer, Drummond, 1st Sept 1898
[From my own collection]

The above invoice dated September 1898 demonstrates the great scope of Mr Shearer's business. If the work of a general store, Post Office and hardware merchant were not enough we also note that Shearer purchased sheepskins, hides, horsehair, "all kinds of produce", and acted as agent for the New Zealand Insurance Company. While the invoice states "Monthly Statements" with 10% interest on overdue accounts, the invoice is a quarterly one. Was this because his opposition up the road offered quarterly payment or local farmers always paid their accounts seasonally as a matter of course based on their own irregular incomes and Shearer just had to follow suit? A long time to wait for payment. 

This invoice notes a charge of 10 pence for a telegram besides payment for a rim lock, candles, tacks, nails, hinges, butter and oatmeal. 

Invoice of John Shearer, Drummond, 10th Oct 1904
[From my own collection]

Our next invoice from John Shearer is dated the 10th October 1904 and features a style of printed invoice from a tear off pad which I have seen used by other businesses. The advertisement on the invoice and style is generic with only the name of the business and address printed to order. The change from the earlier invoice style most likely allowed a duplicate copy to be simultaneously made using carbon paper with the top copy for the customer then being ripped out of the pad leaving the copy. The writing certainly appears to be made by a hard ink pencil while the 1898 invoice is by a dip ink or fountain pen.

This invoice features the sale of oatmeal and tobacco. My family did not frequent this business much in these earlier years, preferring to obtain their groceries and supplies from merchants in Invercargill and Winton as they were often there on other business so it was just simply more convenient.


A postcard bearing the "Drummond" Postmark
being sent by Miss J. McIlwrick.
Dated the 11th February 1909
[From my own collection]

Being a postal agency all mail, both incoming and outgoing, would be postmarked with a "Drummond" postmark with the date. This postcard was sent by a local resident, Miss J. McIlwrick, to a friend travelling to "the old country" but evidently with supreme confidence that it would reach the recipient in Ceylon before her boat, the "Ortona", left for Suez. Obviously the postcard made it.

Postcard "Greetings From Drummond",
sent by Miss J. McIlwrick, 1913
[From my own collection]

This pretty little "Greetings from Drummond" generic postcard would most likely have been purchased by Miss J. McIlwrick in Shearer's old General Store and Post Office [Craigie's from 1911]. Miss McIlwrick, a well known local Drummond identity, was a pianoforte teacher and "excelled" as a Church organist. She "travelled far and wide by pony and gig... [and] Being a crippled person, her gig was built to suit her disability". 


Change of Ownership of Shearer's General Store and
Post Office to Mr Joseph Craigie, 14th Apr 1911 

We next note in April 1911 that "T.A. Shearer" (presumably John Shearer's son) of Drummond sold his business to "Joseph [Joe] Craigie", this change of ownership being confirmed by the DHC. Craigie then also became the Drummond Postmaster. But by February 1918 we note the names of the business owners as being Mr E. Roberts (at the north end of town) and a "Mr R. Lambeth". This would indicate that Craigie sold out after only a few years to Mr Lambeth. The DHC history only makes a vague reference to storekeepers being "Shearers, Lamperts [sic?], Joe Craigie, and then to Shearer again." and in fact in another section states that Shearer took over again in 1918. They do however stress the lack of available written records as well as many older residents with a memory of these earlier years having passed on. And even if Lampert [sic Lambeth?] is correct the order of names given by the DHC is definitely incorrect as Craigie immediately followed Shearer.

Invoice of T.A. Shearer, Drummond, June 1930
[From my own collection]

This invoice dated 1930 confirms that "T.A. Shearer" was indeed again a "General Merchant" in Drummond [back in his old premises], also holding the agency for the Post Office and Telephone Bureau, the latter being connected to the Otautau Telephone Exchange.

The DHC note that Shearer's store was divided into departments, being grocery, general and farm supplies with toys for children "on high shelves".

"On display, bolts of cloth, silks, gabardine, prints, calico - what milady wanted, Shearer's had it or would get it with cotton to match. For men, in similar vein, there were suits trousers, hats, boots, leggings, while small fry needed steel proof pants and iron clad footwear.
In the general department was an amazing mass of the latest gadgets and all the well established lines like oil lanterns, blade [sheep] shears, axes, wedges, pitchforks, beeswax, knife [polishing] powder, sheep dip, shotguns and buggy whips."

Shearer also stocked a wide range of pharmaceutical treatments and remedies, the DHC questioning how the Health Department would view so many patent medicines being sold by a general store today and not by a qualified chemist.

Although Drummond is part of a large and prosperous rural community it is still somewhat surprising that there was sufficient business for both Shearer and Roberts to both operate profitably. The additional services they both offered were probably crucial to this.

There are apparently no known clear photographs of Shearer's premises and they would appear to have been removed many years ago. As to when the business eventually closed is not recorded but Post Office records showed that the Drummond Post Office officially closed on the 13th September 1943. The 'Telephone Bureau' continued under various telephonists until the automatic exchange came into use in November 1957.

I do note the death of a Thomas Alexander Shearer in June 1947 aged 64 years so this may indicate when the store finally ceased trading. His father(?), the earlier John Cooper Shearer, who founded the business, died in December 1932 aged 86 years. If anyone can provide further information I would be delighted to hear from you.


Ezekiel Roberts, General Store, Established circa 1880 (North End of Town)


Believed to be Ezekiel Roberts' Original Drummond
General Store. Image taken by William Dykes, Sep 1960.
I have digitally removed an obtrusive power pole.
[From my own collection]

According to the writer of the DHC in 1977, Ezekiel Roberts established his General Store at the northern end of Drummond around 1880. The Cyclopedia of New Zealand makes no mention of this fact, presumably because, unlike Shearer, Roberts did not specifically pay for a personal entry in this now very historic work.

I was however advised by my Father (a resident of Heddon Bush from 1902) that the small building pictured above had been "the old store" prior to moving to the new two storied building next door. The old premises were probably kept on for storage. I would however stress that the above attribution is not confirmed from any other source and the DHC make no mention of this small building. This scenario does however sound very likely.

The DHC history notes that the remains of a baker's oven used to be evident in an old orchard to the south of the present store and to the west of the present garage which indicates that in earlier years bread was once baked here. At this time it is quite possible that the bread was sold in Roberts' store.

For many years grocery stocks were carted in wagons from Winton or Fairfax Railway Stations with bread being obtained from a bakery at Otautau. While Roberts' store lacked the advantage of a Post Office they appear to have concentrated on their large delivery business with elder brother Billy undertaking this work with his horse and cart. Roberts provided a weekly grocery delivery service to outlying farmers with motorized transport coming in 1919 when a motor van was purchased, grocery stocks then being brought directly from Invercargill.

Roberts' old General Store Premises, Sept 1960.
The premises included the grocer's living quarters.
Photograph taken by William Dykes, Sept 1960.
[From my own collection]

The above image, being taken in 1960, shows Roberts larger and more modern premises at the north end of Drummond. This building would appear to date from the 1910 period. Substantial living quarters were added above and behind the shop. The high pediment gives it a very imposing street presence. The old premises are almost out of shot to the right.

Invoice of E. Roberts, Drummond, 1st May 1922
[From my own collection]

This invoice was issued by "E. Roberts, General Storekeeper" of Drummond in May 1922. His business also includes the sale of ironmongery, boots, shoes, and acting as agent for the sale of binder twine, grain sacks, sheep dip, and the purchase of diary products, sheepskins and hides. In competition with Shearer, Roberts also holds the agency for the South British Insurance Company and the Loan and Mercantile Agency Company Limited.

"Final" Invoice of E. Roberts, Drummond, Sept 1929
[From my own collection]

We now move forward to September 1929 with another "E. Roberts" grocery invoice but this time my Uncle has marked it as "Final". Interestingly, my Grandmother received a £2.17.3 credit for eggs. I was aware that the family supplied farm eggs to the local grocer and remember the trays of now empty wire clip in egg holders stored in a back room of their house. The above invoice includes the sale of one gallon of Mobil oil as well as kerosene.

The supply of eggs to Mr Roberts must have occurred from at least 1922 as my family now took the opportunity to obtain their groceries here rather than in Winton or Invercargill. It would have made perfect sense to stock up on necessities while delivering their eggs, also making use of their "egg credits" so both parties benefited from this arrangement. I would not imagine this "egg income" was ever declared for tax although from 1933, and by an Act of Parliament, poultry runs used for the production of eggs for sale had to be registered with payment of an appropriate fee at the Post Office. This was to provide "Moneys for the Organization and Development of the Poultry Industry, and to make Provision for Matters incidental thereto".

The DHC notes the common practice of supplying (and more often than not over supplying) the store with home made butter and farm eggs in lieu of direct payment for goods. But if it also brought business to the store that they would probably not otherwise have had, as in the case of my own family, then it still made good business sense. The local Drummond Co-Operative Dairy Factory would presumably have supplied the cheese rather than the home made variety.


Invoice of E. Roberts, Drummond, Feb 1930
[From my own collection]

Now digressing for a moment, we discover the reason for the "final" invoice. It appears that Mr Roberts decided to turn his obviously very capable hands to motor work, now setting himself up as the local garage. According to the DHC Roberts had built the garage in 1925, also operating a weekly then bi-weekly passenger service to Invercargill. I recall Roberts' garage in the early 1960's, being located just south of the general store and run by Mr E.W. Roberts until about 1960 and thereafter by his son Keith. You can see the double door motor garage and yellow (Europa?) petrol pumps and in the colour image below. This business is now known as "Drummond Motors" but no longer sells fuel.


Invoice of James Smith, 31st May 1930
[From my own collection] 

From 1930 the new owner of Robert's General Store would be Mr James Smith, "General Storekeeper, "Agent for South British Insurance Co., Groceries, Ironmongery, Boots, Shoes etc." Smith offered exactly the same services as Mr Roberts and with a great similarity to the style of invoice.

From this period until the 1950's, a period of around 25 years, I cannot track the record of ownership nor does the DHC history cover this period. Again, if anyone can assist here I would be very pleased to hear from you.


"Sutherland & Cormack", The Drummond Grocer,
photo taken 27th October 1959 by William Dykes
[From my own collection]

From the late 1950's and through till the mid 1960's I can well recall the grocer, by then "Sutherland & Cormack" and based in Roberts' / Smith's former store, delivering groceries to our home at Heddon Bush. On a set day of the week my mother would telephone through her weekly order which would be delivered the following day. I well remember the grocer pictured above (Mr Sutherland?) with his white apron and ever present pencil balanced on his ear. I can also recall looking in the back of his van and watching him pull out loaves of bread (with absolutely no wrappers I might add) from shelves using a long sort of flat paddle. But phoning through an order also led to the occasional mistake. I recall once when my Mother discovered there was a big difference between "a packet of matches" and "a box of matches". At this time there seemed to be no emphasis on "specials", Customers simply purchased what they needed and it was all delivered to your door (or gate in the above case) at no extra cost. I can vaguely recall being in the store itself with a long counter.

There was quite a bit of home delivery then. The Rural Delivery Mailman (a rural delivery fee being payable for this service) also delivered, for a small additional fee, the meat which my mother ordered by phone from the Winton Butcher, being wrapped up in brown paper and securely tied with sturdy twine. Milk would then only be delivered to your gate in glass bottles (and exchanged for the empty bottles) by a registered milkman as by law milk and cream could not then be sold in shops.

The Drummond Garage, General Store and Old Store,
taken by William Dykes, Sept 1960
[From my own collection]

Note the large "Tiger Tea" advertisement painted on the side of the building above. Such an advertisement for this iconic but now no longer made Dunedin tea brand was once very commonly seen on buildings. While we left the district in 1967, I believe the grocery store lasted through till at least the 1980's if not 1990's but would have eventually succumbed to competition and increasing costs. I have not been able to ascertain the exact date it finally closed. From just prior to 1977 the store had ceased home deliveries and had become a "discount" store under the ownership of the Familton family with cash sales rather than selling groceries "on account" as in previous days.

Today, while the Drummond Garage survives, the frontage of the former grocery store has been considerably altered with the pediment completely removed which has reduced the building's previously imposing street presence. The ground floor windows and veranda are the same although the front door has been altered to a modern (sliding?) door and a large breeze block shed with a sloping roof and roller door now adjoins the south side of the building (most likely added before the business closed). The small older building was removed many years ago, 

The pretty green space and mature trees in front of the store happily survive, a benefit of the town originally being laid out for a railway line from Wright's Bush. The railway never eventuated, almost certainly due to the intensely loyal - but also very stubborn - residents of Drummond, Oreti and Heddon Bush each disagreeing on the preferred route of a line to service their districts. In fact discussions on the preferred route became decidedly acrimonious, including a member of Parliament having rotten eggs thrown at him, but that's a story for another day! 


Copyright : Unless otherwise stated, all images are from my own personal collection and may be freely copied for non-commercial and academic use provided this site is acknowledged.

Sources :

- Family papers (held by the writer)
- William Dykes photographic collection (held by the writer)
- "History of Drummond and Gladfield - One Hundred Years More of Less", by the Drummond Historical Committee (compiled by Mr A.G. Blanch), 1977
"The Cyclopedia of New Zealand" (Otago and Southland Provincial Districts) [from my own collection]
- Papers Past [National Library of New Zealand / Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa]
- Dunedin Public Library / Ka Kete Wānaka o Otepoti


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