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The ROBINSON Cordial Factories

... and other business enterprises

The Robinson name was almost synonymous with cordial and aerated waters in the early part of this century, with four known factories, and reports of at least two more.

The first Robinson Cordial Factory was situated in Taylorville, and was the first Cordial Factory on the West Coast. The brothers Thomas and James opened this factory in partnership, and ran it together from 1890. I am not sure where the boys learned to make cordial, or soft drinks. Dorothy Syminton, a grand daughter of Thomas told me that Thomas was always trying to create new compounds, and she remembered him attempting to manufacture boot polish. Perhaps an experiment of Thomas' began the long involvement in cordial for the family.

The original Taylorville building was wooden, and 2 stories (the second with a mezzanine floor), eight rooms, a stable and two exterior compartments for bottles. The top story was a platform, with a large copper set in the floor, directly over a boiler which provided steam to the copper, where the sugar was boiled. This syrup-making was usually done at night, with minimum staff around.

The second storey housed all the essences and barrels for wine and beer making. The other room was a storeroom, used for the bales of chaff kept to feed the 6-8 horses. These bales were sent down to the horss via a shaft.

The ground floor was where it all happened. All of the machinery for bottling, washing and labelling was kept here. Off this room were the office, the boiler and the coal room. The yard was quite large, with often two or three carts being loaded at the same time. The largest carts had four horses to draw them. This was a great change from the earliest days, when the drinks were delivered to hotels and shops in a wheelbarrow.

In 1898 Thomas married Rose Peillon, a woman who had lost her husband in the Brunner Mine Disaster of 1896. Around that time the Robinson Bros partnership of Taylorville was dissolved, and the factory was taken over by Rose Peillon's two sons, Clem and Paul. Paul sold out to Clem in 1915, and Clem carried on until he died in a cart and horse accident in 1919.

James Robinson and his son started a factory in Reefton in 1901. This continued until at least 1918. A report from a newspaper of the time reads:

A representative of this journal visited Mr. J Robinson's cordial manufactory the other day and was surprised to see such an up-to-date establishment in the town. The machinery under the roof is of the best, and Mr. Robinson is working hard to make the place the very best on the West Coast.

The main machine there is a handsome Barnett and Foster's double saturator, which is a remarkably fine machine of late pattern - one of the very latest in fact, through this the aerated water is forced from an automatic agitator in which the gas itself is generated. The capacity of the saturatoris guaranteed at 160 doz bottles per hour, and is even capable of doing even more, Mr. Robinson has two of Brathby and Inchcliffe's filters, which he specially imported being of stouter make than is ordinary. A remarkably neat machine for filling and corking as well as inducting the syrup, was shown to the visitor. By this any quantity of syrup may be induced into the tank, which is filled and corked in a miraculously short space of time.

The power for all this machinery is provided by means of a five-horse power boiler and a four horse-power engine. There is a constant supply of fresh water obtained from a 27 foot well, which ensures the purity of a very important ingrediant in the manufacture of aerated waters. There is also a cunning contrivance for boiling sugar by a boiler stem jacketed whereby all risk of tainting the sugar is avoided. Altogether Mr. Robinson is making a good business in his premises on the Buller Road, and judging from the quality of the articles he keeps, should be sure to command the support of the district.

At the same time as James factory was so lauded by the press, Thomas Robinson and Sons was running a factory in Hokitika. This factory was managed by Thomas' sons Oliver and Bill, until the boys went their separate ways. Bill opened up a garage and Oliver continued with the cordial. Thomas in the meantime, had branched out into stationery. His wife Rose also opened a stationery shop, in opposition to Thomas. He later owned a shop that sold everything from pianos through to crockery.

The family tradition with shops and factories continued, with Oliver's wife Anne owning a florist shop, also in Hokitika. She ran this shop for 25 years. Her daughter Gwen also had a florist shop in Greymouth, then she moved to Sydney and ran two florists for 40 years.

Daniel Robinson, in the fine family tradition, also had a cordial factory - this one well away from his brothers' - and the fierce competition. His factory was in Kawhia, and ran from 1920 until 1939. According to family stories, Old Dan sold more than just soft drinks, and had a mirror especially set up so that he could keep an eye on his "second business" from his couch where he would lie, puffing on a pipe.

Daniel also had a small factory in Mokau. According to Tommy, Daniel's son, his father was run out of town due to a dead horse tainting the spring water from which the cordial was made.

The final Robinson Cordial Factory that I know of was based in Turangawaewae near Ngarawahia. This was established by Alfred Robinson, another of Thomas' sons. The family lived in a small stone cottage across the road from the factory. Frederick, Alf's son remembers delivering cordial to the hotels by horse and cart, when he was a small boy.

Click here to see some of the labels used by the Robinsons in their years of cordial making.

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