Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Zealandia Cycle Works - Oates & Lowry Co, Christchurch - Cycling Craze #20

Zealandia Cycle, Hawke's Bay Hearld ad, 2 January 1895.

Oates, Lowry and Co's Zealandia Cycle Works, 82 Manchester Street, Christchurch, circa 1900.
Cyclopedia of New Zealand - Canterbury, 1903, p. 315.

Nicholas Oates, senior partner of the firm of Oate, Lowry, and Co., established the business in 1880 with the firm's Zealandia Cycle Works becoming one of the first cycle manufacturers in New Zealand. Alexander Lowry joined the partnership in 1897.

Cyclopedia of New Zealand - Canterbury

The Cyclopedia of New Zealand reported in 1903 that the business located at 82 Manchester Street in Christchurch was housed in a large two storey building. The retail store, the Cyclopedia stated, consists of a "large double-fronted shop, with handsome plate-glass windows, displaying a varied stock of bicycles. Behind are the offices, and at the back is the factory, which is thoroughly equipped with all necessary plant and machinery, and is claimed to be the largest in the Colony."

The firm produced its own Zealandia and Atalanta brand bicycles. "[E]verything connected with cycles, except chains, hubs, saddles, pedals, and rims, is made on the premises; the tubing, rough castings, and wrought iron-work are imported, and turned, finished, and plated on the premises."

Between 30 and 40 workers were employed in cycle manufacturing in Christchurch, while repair facilities were operated out of premises in Timaru, Ashburton and Napier. In 1901, a retail store run by Oates, Lowry was operating in Cuba Street, Wellington and other sales outlets were run on an agency basis throughout the country. For example, F W Ansley's Zealandia Cycle Deport sold Zealandia and Atalanta cycles from his premises in Ridgway Street in Wanganui in 1900.

Oates, Lowry and Co was also the first to import a petrol-driven motor car into the Australasian colonies. No date is given for this event.

Ellesmere Guardian ad, 15 December 1897.


Anonymous said...

Hi, Did they also make the Kapai Camera? I have seen the camera and the Zealandia lens that goes on teh camera and last week found a tripod marked Kapai.

kuaka said...

I've not heard of either the camera or Zealandia lens. I doubt that a cycle maker would make photographic equipment as the skill set, business expertise etc required for each are quite different. I've seen no reference in the background research materials to any other line of business other than cycles.

deus ex machina said...

The "Kapai" camera was made by Thomas Girvan in Dunedin around the turn of the century. Girvan was apparently a cabinetmaker.

The Zealandia lens, which was purported to accompany the camera, was made in France.

Kapai tripods normally have "Kapai" stamped into the brass of each tripod leg.

Michael Toohey said...

Nice work.

"Nicky" Oates was quite the lad. His motor vehicle importation has been well researched by veteran car enthusiasts.
A 1900 report on Oates' car can be found in the
Timaru Herald

Oates enjoyed many other firsts. In 1891 he imported the first pneumatic tyred bicycles and tricycles into Christchurch and promptly supplied the the best "cracks" (Langdown in Christchurch, Steadman in Dunedin) in the colony with "pneumatics". Nicky knew the advertising power of racing success.

In 1897, Oates & Lowry also organised the first electric light bicycle race carnival in New Zealand for the Pioneer Bicycle Club. Here's the race report from the Christchurch Star

Oates was a long-term committeeman and sometime captain of the Christchurch Bicycle Club, whilst Lowry held similar positions with the PBC (founded in 1879, & New Zealand's oldest bicycle club) and on the New Zealand Cyclists' Alliance, the governing body of amateur cycling in NZ, and one of the colony's oldest sports governing bodies. Alex Lowry had been a retail manager with Hallenstein Bros (still in existence as a menswear chain) before joining Oates at Zealandia.

Oates and Lowry were obviously very entrepreneurial individuals. They'd leave no stone unturned when promoting cycling in general and their business in particular. When the Wellington Cycle Club first kicked off in 1893 (the capital has always enjoyed a hot and cold relationship with the bicycle)none other than Nicky Oates was thanked for the gift of a silver cyclists' bugle.

Those in Christchurch can still see the Zealandia works (if it hasn't been torn down in the last few months). Its the old, yellow, Para Rubber building on the east side of Manchester St, South of Lichfield St if my memory serves correct.

kuaka said...

Thanks for the additional material on Oates & Lowry. It's clear from even a cursory digging around in the newspapers etc that there was a very entrepreneurial group of individuals involved in cycling as both a sport & business in Christchurch around 1900. Manchester St was quite a hub (excuse the pun).

Aside from being of interest to today's cycling enthusiast, it would make a very interesting business history case study.

I'll probably have a few more posts on early Chch cycling businesses once I can get back to the research. Same old story - not enough time, too many new leads divert one's attention.

Michael Toohey said...

I agree whole heartedly. Even more interesting, cycle manufacturing in Christchurch in the 1880s-90s possibly surpassed that in Melbourne, despite the size differential between the cities. This came up in informal discussion at the '07 Australasian Cycle History Conference, Geelong.

I've been researching the commercial interests in bicycle racing in NZ during this era for my PhD thesis (just off completion), but not the industry itself. There is a lot of material available though, and some has already been used by other historians.

Though he doesn't write about the cycle industry directly, Ian Hunter's Age of enterprise: rediscovering the New Zealand entrepreneur, 1880-1910 is insightful on the conditions for successful business at the time.

Around 1898 to the first years of the 1900s, local builders such as Oates & Lowry faced stiff competition from North American manufactures such as Sterling (USA) and CCM - makers of Massey Harris & Redbird - (Canada) looking for new markets after the disastrous bicycle boom over-investment of 1896 came home to roost with slashed prices and profit margins on their home markets.

I spent a year copying material from the ANZ room in the Chch Library, so if you would like any more leads or perhaps answers, I might be able to help. Feel free to e-mail me with queries.

kuaka said...

Thanks, Michael.

I hope you see this response since I can't find your email address. Can you please contact me - there's an email link in my profile, couldn't find yours. Would like to follow up on research leads.

I've ordered a copy of Hunter's book per your suggestion.