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Hero of the dairy industry - Chew Chong

The merchant of Taranaki @New Zealand Geographic

Born between 1827 – 1844

Chew Chong (Chau Tseung : modern Chinese surname  匠 pinyin: jiàng) was born in Canton (Guangzhou), China

The extraordinary Chinese businessman Chew Chong who exported the country’s first butter from Eltham to England in 1884 and built the first dairy factory in 1887 (a first for NZ) in an era of overt fanatical racism against Chinese. Check out Eltham: Things To See – Trip Ideas by Pacific Jane where Chong had his greatest success.

Highlights

  • Enterprising Chong journeyed to Australia and then New Zealand during the gold fever period however not as a miner. He traded in scrap metal and in the Taranaki bush found Jews ear fungus (Auricularia cornea) and recognised its value in the medicinal and gourmet market of China.
  • In 1868 Chong started paying settlers in cash for fungus. European farmers had a bartering system for butter which caused severe cash shortages. Barter meant waiting months for the eventual payment for butter with issues around spoilage creating a devalued arrangement for settlers. Trade in fungus rapidly equaled the value of butter shipped from Taranaki.
  • Established stores in Inglewood (1872) and Eltham (1882) where innovation was a key driver to success.
  • Established the Jubilee factory (Eltham) and was awarded ‘the palm among butter factories’ by the government dairy inspector in 1888. By 1889 Chew Chong had installed a Hall’s refrigerating machine, which was probably the first freezing machine in a New Zealand butter factory. At the New Zealand and South Seas Exhibition in Dunedin (1889–90), he won first prize for the best half-ton of butter suitable for export, and flew the Chinese flag over his exhibit. His business interests ensured Etham’s prosperity and growth.
  • Invented a rotary butter worker, air cooler and an impressed brand for butter boxes.
Chew Chong @Brown Chew Chong @Brown
The merchant of Taranaki @New Zealand Geographic The merchant of Taranaki @New Zealand Geographic

He closed the Jubilee factory in 1901 and retired in New Plymouth. His services to the community includes a donation of a flag-pole to the New Plymouth Recreation Grounds. He was a member of the Taranaki Chamber of Commerce and a strong supporter of the province’s cool storage industry, in particular the Taranaki Freezing Works Company. The Taranaki Herald was unusual in that the paper did not resort to vitriol and fanatical racist reports on the China threat. This is very likely because of the respect for Chew Chong.

Naturalised in 1873, married Elizabeth Whatton in 1875, the daughter of local settlers. Of their eleven children, four died in infancy or childhood. Died 7 October 1920 survived by wife and six children.

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