The New Zealand Ice Cream Association
The New Zealand Ice Cream Association

The History of Ice Cream in New Zealand

By Chris Newey

1800 - 1910 Contents
1800 - 1910
1911 - 1930
1931 - 1950
1951 - 1970
1971 - 1990
1991 - 2010
2010 - now

The First Ice Cream?

The very early European settlers would have known of ice cream from "back home", and from books and newspapers of the day. Recipes and methods would have been easily accessible - all you needed was milk, sugar, and ice.

Fresh milk and cream first became available in New Zealand with the introduction of Durham (Shorthorn) dairy cows in 1814 by missionary Samuel Marsden, his herd growing to 50 animals by 1823. Settlers soon discovered that this new country had an ideal climate for growing grass, and for dairying - cows could be grazed outdoors all year round. Shorthorns were the favourite imported breed at first, hardy animals that could haul wagons as well as provide milk and meat.

By the 1860s and '70s, Jerseys, Friesians and Ayrshires were being brought in for their higher milk production.

Sugar, the second major ingredient, was readily available, imported from Australia.

By mixing ice or snow with salts, temperatures below freezing could be achieved, and most ice cream machines were similar in design to a butter churn, enclosed in an ice/salt mixture as refrigerant:

                                                                       Patent Ice Cream Freezer.
- The Curious Kitchen.

The pre-cooled cream/milk/sugar mix is placed in the central, vertical cylindrical metal container, which is enclosed within an outer cylinder packed with ice and salt, itself usually enclosed in wood for insulation. A set of scraper blades on a vertical shaft is lowered into the mix and a lid is placed over the top. The churn blades are rotated by hand crank, scraping frozen mix from the inside walls of the metal container, and whipping air into the mix at the same time.

Hand-cranked ice cream freezers such as these were available from the late 1840s.

But in New Zealand, the ice would have been by far the most difficult component to obtain.

Before the invention of mechanical refrigeration, preparation of any frozen confection required the collection, transport and storage of ice or snow from mountains, glaciers, or from frozen lakes.

Luckily for our pioneering ice cream-makers, the commercial harvesting of ice from frozen lakes in the New England area had turned into an international business in the 1840s, lake ice being shipped from America, all around the world.

Ice was packed aboard ship in large blocks, stacked together tightly, with wood shavings, sawdust, or rice chaff packed around it to insulate it against heat. By packing the blocks tightly, they behave as a single large block of ice, significant melting occuring only on the outside surfaces, and losses kept to a minimum.

Special insulated ice houses were built to store the ice on arrival. Ice boxes began to appear in some homes - wooden boxes lined with tin or zinc and insulated with various materials including cork, sawdust, and seaweed. A drip pan collected the melt water and had to be emptied daily.

The ice from Wenham Lake in Massachusetts, harvested and distributed by the Wenham Lake Ice Company, founded by Frederic Tudor, "The Ice King", became world-famous for its clarity and purity. (More about Wenham Lake ice here.)

And it is Wenham Ice that features in the earliest evidence we can find for the sale of ice cream in this country.

On the 27th of January 1866, an advertisement appeared in the Wellington Independent newspaper:

MR. JAMES OSGOOD has great pleasure in notifying his friends and the public at large, that he has imported, at considerable expense, an article never before introduced into Wellington, (to wit) LAKE WENHAM ICE. The same will be in constant use at the EMPIRE until further notice.
JAMES OSGOOD, Proprietor, Empire Hotel. Wellington, Jan 27, 1866.

                 Photo: Far left, Mr James Osgood outside The Empire Hotel, Willis St, Wellington, 1860

The Ice Age

Local ice may have also been used.

In his opening address to the 1987 NZ Ice Cream Manufacturers' Association annual conference, the Hon. Barry Dallas OBE, Mayor of Greymouth, referred to the very first manufacture of ice cream taking place on the West Coast of the South Island in 1867, in connection with the pioneering exploration of the glaciers of the Southern Alps.

More research is required into this claim, as to whether it constituted a business, or if it took place in anything resembling a factory.

So ice was certainly now available, but the arrival of mechanical refrigeration in New Zealand in the early 1870s, and the availability of cheaper, more convenient "manufactured" ice changed everything.

Ice cream began to appear around the country:

                                                             J. Boot's Confectioner (Christchurch) advertisement
                                                             for ice cream, The Press, 27 October 1870

By 1871, Mr George Gledhill was making ice in his "Ice, Aerated Water, and Gingerbeer Factory" at the corner of Albert and Wellesley Streets in Auckland. He used a Siebe Brothers machine, based on the 1855 patent of James Harrison, the Australian inventor of the mechanical refrigeration process - it used ether as the refrigerant.

                                               Harrison's ice-making machine, built by Siebe Brothers, London.
                                               The first commercial refrigeration machine based on vapour
- Grace's Guide.

18 November 1875 - The earliest description of an "ice cream manufacturer" we can find is this advertisement in Wellington's Evening Post:

                                               W. Marshall advertisement, Evening Post, 18 November 1875

Manufactured ice and ice cream came to Christchurch in 1878:

                                                       A. Lindeman & Co. advertisement, Star, 4 December 1878

Perhaps it was a bad summer, or perhaps the cost of setting up the new venture was just too much - four months later, Mr Adolph Lindeman's business was bankrupted. The clearance sale listed some of his equipment:

" Ice safe, ice tubs, Ice cream machine, tubs and tins, 2 ice cream trucks, 3 bags salt, Almond nuts, walnuts, Barcelona nuts, Snow confectionery glasses, cordials, &c."

In 1881 the first commercial meat freezing operation was established, the New Zealand Refrigerating Company in Burnside, Dunedin, and cheap, plentiful factory ice became available.

Pioneering shipments of frozen meat and butter to England were made in the early '80s, and these new export markets helped fuel the dairy industry, which became an important factor in the availability of dairy ingredients, and development of dairy and refrigeration technology, all to the benefit of the fledgling ice cream industry.

Ice supplies, ice boxes and ice safes also opened up the possibility of home-made ice cream.

1882 - "Ice Cream Machines" and "Family Ice Machines" were advertised for sale in the Otago Witness on 4 March by B. Tonks & Co., Auckland.

1887 - E. Porter & Co., Furnishing Ironmongers, advertised four sizes of hand-cranked Green Mountain brand "Ice Cream Freezers" in the Auckland Star, 16 November:

5 September 1896 - Mr Max Kreissig of Wellington patented his ‘improved ice safe’, and began selling this latest appliance for the home storage of ice and chilled foods. His ice chest, awarded medals at the 1897 Auckland and Wellington Exhibitions, reduced ‘ice consumption by one third’ and gave ‘several degrees lower temperature’.

                                               Max Kreissig’s 1896 improved ice safe, Patent 8825.
                                               c is the compartment where ice was introduced and water drawn
                                               off with the tap (c2).
- Archives NZ ABPJ Series 7396 Acc W3835 Box 74, via BUILD.

                                               Max Kreissig's Ice Chests advertisement, Evening Post, 10 January 1900

The Ice Cream Hawker

- On February 18th 1896 a "Persian lolly and ice cream vendor" named Louis Hoftinally was plying his trade in Wellesley Street, Auckland. We know this through newspaper reports of a court case involving a driver who had accidentally backed his heavily laden, horse-drawn hay cart into the ice cream cart and demolished it!

1903 - In this year Sali Mahomet, Christchurch's iconic "Ice Cream Charlie", began making ice cream and selling it from his red, white and gold ice cream cart in Christchurch's Cathedral Square.

Newspapers of the day record applications for licenses to sell ice cream from several individuals, debates over the virtues (or otherwise) of the various applicants, prosecutions and discussions of their nuisance value in impeding roads and footpaths around the cenral City. Others included Abdul Boreham, Shap, Soloman Shah and fellow ‘Assyrian’ Charles Abraham.

Sali Mahomet became a Christchurch city institution (see side panel) and continued to sell ice cream in the Square until 1942.

It seems Christchurch had a long tradition of ice cream vendors, including a Mrs McKeown of Sydenham and Oxford Terrace, and Archie, who for many years had an elaborate barrow complete with awning near the old Clock Tower in Litchfield St. Archie's Deluxe Special sold for threepence - vanilla ice, raspberry jelly and fresh cream, served on a glass dish.

                 Photo: Ice cream vendor, corner of Customhouse Quay and Grey St., Wellington, ca. 1910
- longwhitekid.

References can be found to ice cream vendors in Lyttelton (1909), and at East End Beach, New Plymouth in 1910.

                 Photo: Horse-drawn ice cream cart, Wellington, ca. 1910
- Frostee Digest.

Newspapers also record an ice cream vendor who pushed his barrow around Auckland in the early 1900's, timing his rounds to arrive at the front gate of the Boys Grammar School in Symonds Street at lunch-time, and seen selling door-to-door around College Hill.

The Problem With Sunday

It is ironic, given the general acceptance that the word "sundae" arose from ice cream dishes originally designed to be eaten on a Sunday*, that ice cream sellers and manufacturers found this the most difficult day of the week to do business.

Sundays were seen as days of rest, not commerce, and many held the opinion that such frivolous activities as eating ice cream were a distraction from more proper Sunday responsibilities.

At the turn of the century, the sale of ice cream was officially seen as a non-essential activity, and to sell ice cream on a Sunday was in contravention of the Trading laws.

* Various American claims have been made for the "invention" of the ice cream sundae in the 1890s - most refer to a desire to get around religious objections to the consumption of ice cream sodas on Sundays.

1908 - A Press Agency report appeared in several newspapers on 1 March:

At the Auckland Police Court, Louie Rosina, Michael McLaughlin, and George Rowe, all proprietors of soft drink and ice cream establishments in Hobson-street, were required to explain their contravention of the Shops and Offices Act on Sunday, 16th inst., by having their premises open for business.

Sergeant Eales was passing down the street about the time people came out of church, when his attention was attracted by the issuing from Rosina's shop door of children, all absorbed in the demolition of ice cream wafers. Rosina's shop was visited by the sergeant, and the owner warned, but a few minutes later the ice cream exodus was going on again merrily.

Each of the three shop owners was fined £1 and court costs.

By 1910, the laws appear to have been changed to allow the sale of ice cream on Sundays, but only "for consumption on the premises". In a letter to the Editor of the Manawatu Times, on 29 November, a Mr W. J. Culver initiated a heated debate when he argued that:

... most of the children who spend their pennies on ice creams are given these pennies to take to Sunday School and for use in the Services of God, therefore if those pennies are devoted to any other use than the purpose for which they are intended, they are as deliberately stolen as if they were taken out of the till or from another person's pocket.

... But the receiver is as bad, and in some cases worse than the thief, and I have no hesitation whatever in saying that the Sunday vendors of ice cream and lollies are the worst sinners of the two. Not only are they receivers of stolen money but they encourage the ohildren to commit the theft and are responsible, I believe in many instances for a child beginning its downward career towards the saddest of all ends - the gaol.

New Zealand's restrictive Sunday trading laws continued to be a problem for ice cream manufacturers well into the 1930s - it was illegal for them to deliver ice cream on Sundays, and it was illegal for retailers to sell ice cream on Sundays unless it was "consumed on the premises".

The Sunday Trading laws were not changed to permit the sale of ice cream for consumption off the premises until 1955.

Early Manufacturing

Larger scale commercial production of ice cream involved freezers that were essentially bigger versions of the original hand-cranked churns, but with the mechanical effort required provided by either steam, or increasingly, electricity.

                                         Photo: Sali Mahomet making ice cream in his 'dairy' behind his house at
                                         69 Caledonian Road, St Albans, ca. 1910
- Christchurch City Libraries File Reference CCL PhotoCD 18, IMG0041.

Christchurch ice cream manufacturer Sali Mahomet operated an electrically powered dairy (shown above) manufacturing ice cream from 1907.

Milk and cream was supplied by the Tai Tapu Dairy Company, and flavour syrups by wholesale druggist H F Stevens.

A horse and cart would deliver one hundred weight (42kg) blocks of ice from the Canterbury Frozen Meat Company each morning.

Ice and salt was used to freeze the ice cream, made in four belt-driven Westinghouse brand churns, two of which can be seen in the photo above.

Ice and salt was also used for packing around the ice cream to transport it into Cathedral Square, and keep it frozen during the day.

More about Sali Mahomet, Christchurch's original Ice Cream Charlie ...

1911 - 1930

Sources, references and related sites:

Auckland Libraries

Christchurch City Libraries

Ferrymead Heritage Park

From ice to refrigerators, by Nigel Isaacs. BUILD magazine.

Longwhitekid - history of Peter Pan, Tip Top, Meadow Gold, Wall's, Hokey Pokey, and much more:

Lost Christchurch:

National Library

NZ Ice Cream Manufacturers Assn. archives, and "Frostee Digest" journals, 1943-1972.

Papers Past (National Library of New Zealand digitised newspapers database):

Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand

Till the Cows Came Home, Clive Lind, Steele Roberts.

BackBack to The History of Ice Cream in New Zealand
                Ice Cream Legends

A list of over 100 ice cream brands that have disappeared over the years, magical names from our childhood, representing pioneering ice cream makers and iconic companies now gone forever ...
Ice Cream Brands from the Past

And in more detail, the people, the products and the stories behind some of our best-loved ice cream brands from days gone by:

Frosty Jack
Ice Cream Charlie
Phantazzi, Newjoy & Manda
Queen Anne
Rush Munro's
The first Trumpet
Trans-Tasman brands

        The Ice Cream Parlour

With the availability of ice in the 1860s and 70s, cold fruit drinks, milk shakes, sodas and ice cream became increasingly popular and highly fashionable, the beginnings of the American Ice Cream Parlour tradition.

American Ice Cream and Soda Water

Imported by the Proprietor of the
Opposite the Bank of New Zealand,
At an Immense Cost,

- Auckland Star, 4 November, 1871

1876 - Mr R. Arthur, Auctioneer, advertised for sale in the Daily Southern Cross on 16 November:

"2 Marble Cordial Fountains, six silver plated taps, 2 Ice Cream Freezers in baskets, 2 Ice Cream Freezers worked by cog wheels in tubs, 2 Ice Cream Freezers in buckets" and various pieces of soda equipment.

Rush to the beautiful white marble fountain
Its drink is as pure as the snow on the mountain.
They don't make you drunk, of that there's no fear
They are wholesome, delicious, and sparklingly clear.
If no stronger drink no one would take,
Their health and their honour would not at stake.
I said once before, they are wholesome and pure,
And for various fevers they are a good cure
At six Exhibitions first prize they have taken
And the publicans' nerves have sadly been shaken.
All over Europe, and America too,
These are the drinks that are all the go.
They are made of the juice from the choice of fruit
How can they, then, fail each mind to recruit?
Also, the Ice Cream what else could you wish?
But where will you get this fine cooling dish?
It is the preserver of life and health,
And when you have them you can say you have wealth.
Those beautiful things you have here never seen,
But now you can get them at Ross's. Call in.

- Advertisement for W. F. Ross Fruiterer, Lambton Quay, Wellington, 1885.

- New Zealand Herald, 1890

W.S. Dustin advertisement for soda fountain and ice cream, Wanganui Chronicle, 16 November 1903

                Ice Cream Charlie

1903 - In this year Sali Mahomet began making ice cream and selling it from his red, white and gold ice cream cart in Christchurch's Cathedral Square.

Photo: Sali Mahomet and ice cream cart, ca. 1903.
- Ferrymead Heritage Park.

By 1907 he was manufacturing it in his own electric-powered "dairy" (a stand-alone building behind his house) at 69 Caledonia Rd., St. Albans.

A horse and cart would deliver one hundred weight (42kg) blocks of ice from the Canterbury Frozen Meat Company each morning. Together with salt, the ice was used to freeze the ice cream, and for packing around the ice cream to transport it into the Square and keep it frozen during the day.

Christchurch's ‘Ice Cream Charlie’ became a city institution and continued to sell ice cream in the Square until 1942.

Photo: Sali Mahomet's original ice cream cart.
- Chris Newey; Ferrymead Heritage Park.

More ...

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