Those partial to a drop of good old-fashioned beer may well know the name Henry Wagstaff – he was the founder of what became the iconic Tui Brewery in Mangatainoka.
You may have seen Henry’s story and image featured on Tui Brewery’s website, in their marketing materials and even on the labels of their “Henry Wagstaff Special Brew” – all making him somewhat of a minor beer celebrity.
But what you probably don’t know is that Henry lies forgotten in the cemetery across the road from the brewery in a grave with no headstone, from which (if he was able), he could keep a loving eye on the empire that he founded.
Henry was born in the small village of Aldwark in the Peak District in Derbyshire, England in 1836 to Francis Wagstaff, a farmer, and his wife Elizabeth (nee Taylor). He was the 11th child out of a staggering 17. By the age of 15 he was working as a barytes grinder (barytes is a mineral containing barium).
In 1860 he was working as a police sergeant in Bolsover, Chesterfield when he married Caroline Baggaley, six years his senior. They had two sons, Francis Henry in 1862 and Albert Edward in 1864, who died in 1868.
By 1861 Henry had left the police and started his long-lived relationship with beer, first running a pub in Duffield, Derbyshire and then The Telegraph Hotel in Morledge, Derby.
Then, sometime between 1881 and 1884, Henry left his wife and son in England and travelled to New Zealand. At some point Henry’s niece Mary Wagstaff, the illegitimate daughter of his oldest sister Matilda, joined him as his housekeeper (and possibly wife – although no marriage is recorded).
Henry appears to have tried a variety of different jobs - manager of the Woodville Bacon and Cheese factory but he lost that job after a year-and-a-half. He tried sawmilling but after spending a small (borrowed) fortune on equipment, went bankrupt without felling a single tree, and the refurbishment of two houses which had to be sold to pay debts.
By 1888, Henry was discharged from bankruptcy and announced he was starting a brewery in Mangatainoka. By March 1889 he had dug out a cellar nine metres long, seven metres wide and two metres deep, begun work on the three-storey building and purchased barrels ready to be filled with his ale.
On May 1, 1889, the first brew from Henry Wagstaff’s ‘North Island Brewery’ was ready. Henry told the local newspaper he could produce 15 hogsheads (3700 litres) of beer a week and, most importantly, he could draw pure water from an onsite spring. Henry’s business boomed and orders for his beer flooded in from all over the county. Over the next few years he added barrel building and bottling plants and expanded the brewery with a new brick building. Henry also did not forget those to whom he owed debts from his failed sawmilling venture, paying them back even though he was no longer legally obliged to.
Then in January, 1896 disaster struck. The brewery was seized by the Collector of Customs and Henry was charged with breaching the Beer Duty Act. Police alleged Henry had reused duty stamps and failed to record beer sales. He received a hefty fine. A few weeks later Henry announced he had sold the brewery to the firm of James Clarendon Ramsbottom Isherwood and Sons of Palmerston North. Isherwood handed control of the brewery over to his sons, who were apparently not able to manage the business, and within nine months he had lost the £1530 he had invested and filed for bankruptcy. The brewery was put up for auction, but failed to sell.
Meanwhile, Henry started construction on a new brewery in Paeroa, and he and Mary left Mangatainoka. On July 1, 1896 Henry’s ‘Victoria Brewery’ opened for business. The Victoria Brewery went from strength to strength and the plant was expanded over the next few years. In October 1899, ownership passed to the Goldfields Brewing Company and Henry and Mary returned to Mangatainoka, where he set about fixing up the North Island Brewery. By April the following year the brewery started operations again, with Henry advertising; “Wagstaff’s hygienic beer is recommended by the medical profession” (gosh haven’t times changed). In 1903, Henry sold the brewery to brewer Henry Cowan, who introduced the “Tui” brand four years later. Henry and Mary (described in the Woodville Examiner as “his good lady wife”) built a cottage in Pahiatua and spent their days gardening and travelling. Henry died in Pahiatua on October 19, 1911 and two months later Mary returned to England. In his will he left £300, his furniture and personal items to his “niece and housekeeper Mary Wagstaff”.
Henry’s beloved brewery was eventually sold to DB Breweries, which is now owned by Dutch brewing giant Heineken. We think that given Tui has co-opted Henry’s image and story into their marketing, it seems only fair that they honour their founding father with a headstone. Hopefully with some encouragement they might actually say “yeah! - OK”.