Introduction to Bacon & the Art of Living
The story of bacon is set in the late 1800s and early 1900s when most of the crucial developments in bacon took place. The plotline occurs in the 2000s, with each character referring to a natural person and actual events. The theme is a kind of “steampunk” where modern mannerisms, speech, clothes, and practices are superimposed on a historical setting. Characters interact with one another with all the historical and cultural bias that goes with this. The period of technology it covers is breathtaking. Beginning in pre-history, it traces the development of curing technology until the present, where bacon curing is possible without adding nitrites.
It has been many years since Minette and I got married on the black beach of Manuka Bay. After all these years, it still counts as one of the wildest things we have done. The people we’ve met are the most significant impact of New Zealand on my life, second to our marriage. A Māori proverb says, “A grey hair held between the finger and thumb is an infinitesimally trivial thing, yet it conveys to the mind of man the lesson of an everlasting truth.” Wisdom comes from experience, and I discovered many men of wisdom on the Islands of New Zealand! By a mile, the most impressive man I’ve met in New Zealand is Aron Vecht. Meeting him may have been one of the most impactful moments of my life!
Oake Woods & Co Ltd in New Zealand? 1
I initially set off to New Zealand, hoping to reunite with old friends Brendon and Belinda Buckland, employed on a large pig farm. Their children turned out to be equally remarkable individuals. Rachel, the oldest, Hezekiah, Asher, and Anastasia.
The day we visited them was filled with sharing the most beautiful tales of adventures. Bredon told me that a foreign trader arrived in New Zealand who is creating a very definite expectation among farmers that the business of raising pigs is about to increase drastically. He was not at liberty to share the name of this trader. Still, he told me that one of the largest suppliers in the UK of mess pork to the navies of the world and the mercantile marine operations sent this agent to New Zealand to investigate the viability of setting up a branch in the colony.
The agent ran a trial to test the quality of our pigs for their purposes. The firm owns a patent on the process they employ to cure the meat. After curing the pork, he shipped it to his principals in England. He received a cablegram which stated that the meat and the curing were done to “perfection.” As a result, arrangements are being made for extensive trade throughout the colony. The English firm is prepared to erect factories for £20,000 each in areas where they reasonably expect to secure 2,000 pigs per week. (The NZ Official Yearbook, 1893)
I was fascinated and began speculating who it could be. It could be the famous firm from Gillingham, Dorset, Oake Woods & Co. Ltd! I did not have to wait long before the agent’s identity and the company were revealed, and it was not Oake-woods. Nick Harris introduced me to Aron Vecht, representing his London-based Intermarine Supply Co. Soon, I discovered that he was the secretive Agent Brendon told me about, and as I got to know him, I realised that he is one of the most charismatic and impressive men I ever encountered in the great annals of meat curing.
The Legendary Harris Family
The Harris family of New Zealand is themselves impressive. The Harris surname is synonymous with bacon around the world. In New Zealand, they are the largest employer in Cheviot, and Nick was instrumental in establishing the biggest bacon-curing operation in New Zealand, Hellers. Harris bacon dominated the bacon trade in England! The Harris family created a huge bacon plant in Castlemaine, Australia. It is fascinating that none of the Harris’s from England, New Zealand and Australia are not related, nor was the fact that they have the Harris surname a reason any of them got involved in the bacon trade.
It was Nick Harris who introduced me to Aron Vecht (4).
Aron Vecht struck me as a commanding figure from the first moment I met him. We had a great conversation as he was familiar with Cape Town and remarked that he would not mind moving there one day.
Aron Vecht is a refrigeration expert who set up a large pork operation in Islington, New Zealand, on the west side of Christchurch. He is the mechanics behind the production of mess pork for the firm H Trengrouse and Co, which was the trading agent for the American billionaire and meat packer Philip Armour. Phil famously incorporated refrigeration into train trucks for transporting his produce across America, a concept that Cape Town’s David De Villiers Graaff saw from Armour when he visited the World Fare in Chicago and brought the concept to South Africa (Chapter 12.09: David Graaff’s Armour – A Tale of Two Legends).
The link with Inter-Marine seems to be that the latter was created to fund the expansions of operations to supply H Trengrouse and Co. The Australian press said, “The Inter-Marine Supply Company was a huge international concern” (Anderson). I would guess that trading with the British navy was done through Trengrouse and not in the name of Inter-Marine. It is a model that works well even today. One party is responsible for trading the commodities and another for the manufacturing. Each one takes care of its own cash flow requirements; as was probably the case here, each raised capital uniquely.
Inter-Marine’s offices can be found “in a semi-industrial suburb of South London, above the offices of one of the investors, B.B. Vos, a trader in hides and leather goods. Its major investors, the Stokvis brothers, were not quite ‘the Rothschilds of Holland’, but they did own one of the biggest trading firms in Western Europe with interests in the emergent refrigeration industry. (joodserfgoedrotterdam) Another investor, J. van den Bergh, was a relative of Mr. Vecht’s wife.” (Anderson)
Having a Van den Berg as an investor was a good strategy. Simon van den Berg (1819 – 1907) created a margarine factory in Holland 1872. He was one of the earliest entrepreneurs to exploit the invention of margarine in 1869 by the Frenchman Hippolyte Mège-Mouriès. His oldest son was Jacob van den Berg, and he could have been the relative of Vecht’s wife who invested in Inter-marine. Then again, there were so many cousins named Jacob that it could easily have been any of them.
The connection between Butter and Margarine may have been how he met his wife, Bernadine Coopman. Aron Vecht’s occupation in the Dutch archives is listed as ‘butter trader.’ (FamilySearch) This was a new direction in his career as he did his trade as a butcher, as we will see later. Her mom, Catharina Coopman (van den Bergh), was Simon’s sister, and she married Jacob Coopman. In other words, Simon van Den Berg was Aron Vecht’s wife’s uncle.
Here, we can see a characteristic about Aron that later observers would remark on the speed with which he grabbed opportunities. Within the previous few paragraphs, we learned about his close involvement with meat (as a trade-qualified butcher), a butter trader (probably later in his life) and his association with refrigeration (the Stockvis Brothers). Wherever he went in the world, one of these three elements was present in his dealings, if not all three.
One can only speculate that as a butter trader, he could have been involved in supplying Van den Berg Margarine to Trengrouse & Co, learned about opportunities in New Zealand related to pork and as a butcher, recognised the opportunity and decided to exploit it. It could have been to bring his vision of a new curing method and to supply Trengouse that Inner-Meridian was created.
The Vecht operation, which spanned the globe, was arguably the largest meat-curing operation ever regarding territories covered. However, Oake-Woods, a close rival in the number of countries it operated in, was restricted to curing bacon, hams and related products. In contrast, the Vecht operation produced mess pork for the global shipping trade, and Vecht later entered the local bacon Trade in New Zealand and Australia.
One newspaper report from New Zealand described him as “a man of large experience in the business and has already extensive works in Holland and at that paradise of the pork packer, Chicago.”(Evening Post, 1893) I am convinced that what is referred to here is that Phil Armour used the Vecht curing method, as it would become known. Phil’s operated in Chicago (David Graaff’s Armour – A Tale of Two Legends). The same newspaper reports give, in part, the motivation for Vecht travelling to New Zealand as a plan from the Admiralty who had intended to supply the Australian Squadron with New Zealand “mess”, or salted pork and that Mr. Vecht was seeking to establish curing works to fulfil this supply and to shipping in general.”
Vecht must have realised very early in his first New Zealand visit that it would be ideal for pork production since it had a flourishing dairy industry. In his interview at Hastings, he said they had contracts for butter in large quantities, and an agent in Taranaki told him that dairy factories were springing up almost like mushrooms. Therefore, he concluded that where there was plenty of skim milk, there ought to be plenty of pigs to use it. (Anderson)
Aron Vecht: His Life
We have seen his background as a butcher and butter trader and his early association with refrigeration. He was undoubtedly mechanically competent, knew a thing or two about chemistry, had the gift of a salesman and was a visionary to be associated with the largest industries and most influential businesspeople of the time on earth. He was a man of faith. I have long assisted faith with a vividly creative mind and a high emotional intelligence, both important in business.
Aron Vecht was born in Elburg, a small village in Holland, in 1854 and educated in trade and Jewish orthodoxy. Dr. James Anderson kept filling the knowledge gaps I had to understand this remarkable entrepreneur. (5) His family were orthodox Jews. They were ranchers and butchers. Vecht qualified as a shochet (a ritual kosher butcher). The Jewish Herald, Victoria, described him as “one of the earliest pioneers of Zionism.”
Physically, he had an impressive posture. He is described as a “commanding figure, long, black beard, and [his] lustrous eyes gave him a close resemblance in appearance to the great Zionist leader, Theodor Herzl.” (Jewish Herald) He is tall and well built with an excellent carriage, with a pair of blazing, big eyes tinged with melancholic brown. People described him as the most excellent travel companion. I imagine him to be very persuasive and charismatic. A born leader!
He soon moved from Holland to England. In April 1879, he married Bernadine Coopman, a daughter of the wealthy Van den Bergh family, who bore him nine children. (6) In an interview in 1894 in New Zealand, he recalled his childhood years in London. He is quoted as saying he “had been connected with the business [of curing] in his youth when the first attempts to introduce mild-cured hams and bacon into England were made. The conservative public was rather slow in showing its preference for the improved method, but after a struggle of about five years against the home-cured article, the “new cure,” as it was then called, virtually swept all other modes of curing from the field. There was scarcely any market for bacon cured on the old system.” (Interview with Aron Vecht 1894) For more on the Mild-Cured Curing method, which was primarily incorporated into the Vecht Curing method, see:
- Chapter 12.01.1: William Oakes Mild-Cured Bacon
- Chapter 12.01.2: Mild-Cured Bacon and the Curers of Wiltshire
- Chapter 14.04: Wiltshire Cured or Tank-Cured Bacon
- What was the Vecht Curing method?
Vecht: A Curing man
In London, he made a living buying and selling bacon. I am uncertain when this fits in the timeline, but we know that “in conjunction with his brother, he introduced the now great industry of pig raising for mess pork manufacture into Holland in 1879.” (The Bush Advocate, 1893) Remember that Simon van den Berg created his first margarine factory in Holland in 1872. Here, he first used the patented antiseptic that would become a hallmark of the Vecht process.
Vecht: An Orthodox Jew
Vecht’s Jewishness was as important to him as being a master curer! The curiosity of an orthodox Jew who consulted the Code of Jewish Law or the Shulchan Aruch frequently, being the bacon trade, was explained by him “that he never saw nor handled the produce.” (Jewish Herald) Vecht’s first venture is into journalism, and he launches the now-defunct Jewish Standard newspaper to combat the Jewish Chronicle. In London, he met a young and aspiring Jewish writer, Israel Zangwill, who makes his debut writing for this newspaper with a humorous weekly column, “Morour and Charouseth.”
Vecht: The Wondering Jew
After the failure of the newspaper, Vecht developed a desire to travel. This led to a lifetime of wondering, which earned him the nickname “The Wandering Jew.” The Jewish Herald reports that “this wandering Jew’s first trip sent him to Australia. He went not single-handed but with a large family. They travelled in a slow boat; their stock of Kosher provisions gave out, but that was a mere incident. To keep up his family spirits, Wanderer-in-chief got the ship’s printer to print a most remarkable imaginary menu for a Purim dinner, whilst bread and coffee were the only elements of the actual repast on the festival. In the same sportive mood, he won all the ‘sweepstakes’ on the daily runs, the whits prize, and a prize for the best fancy dress at a ball given during the voyage.” (Jewish Herald)
At some point, he moved his family to Argentina. He started a frozen kosher meat export business, approved by European rabbis. (Lebrecht, 2019) He eventually set up his head office in Buenos Aires. He frequently returns to England and moves across Europe.
Vecht arrived in New Zealand in early 1893 (his ship may have docked in Australia on the way). Vecht’s family joined him later in New Zealand — they are listed as passengers on the Ruahine that left London in July 1893. There is a story that he explored the islands from top to bottom on horseback. This account seems to be a fabrication, and Dr. Anderson pointed out that a free railway pass was issued to him by the New Zealand government.
Vecht, with his experience in refrigeration, sets up New Zealand’s first bacon-curing plant, charging one shilling for each carcass he treats. (Lebrecht, 2019) He went to Australia (October 1894) and South Africa (1900) from New Zealand. (Correspondence with Dr. James Anderson)
Vecht and the South Africans (De Beers, Rhodes, De Villiers-Graaff)
He participated in an exciting scheme in South Africa, De Beers Cold Storage. Some allege that he participated in the Anglo-Boer War, but after an extensive search at the Anglo-Boer War Museum in Bloemfontein, I could find no record of this. The contrary seems to be accurate, namely that his time was initially spent in and around Cape Town till he was sent on a business trip through the country by Cecil John Rhodes. His skill in refrigeration caught the attention of Cecil John Rhodes, who, at the time, was regarded as the wealthiest man in Britain. Rhodes asked him to assist in matters about refrigeration for his De Beers Cold Storage Co., which Rhodes set up in opposition to the refrigeration chambers of David De Villiers-Graaff.
The instruction from Rhodes to set up such a company came in 1889. From the records available, it seems that the request from Rhodes came to him towards the end of the war. The Jewish Herald reports that his contract with Rhodes included “a clause providing that he should do no work on Jewish Sabbaths or festivals. As an expert in refrigeration, he got the British Secretary of the Colonies and the Secretary for Foreign Affairs/ and the War Office to conspire together against the military regulations. They issued a pass to him to pass through the British lines during the Boer war — a thing permitted no other foreigner. Strangest of all, he cut all the strands of red tape of all these offices in one day, and that a short one, too, for it was a Friday in the winter of 1902. . .” (Jewish Herald) We have a report from New Zealand that he left for South Africa in November 1900, which set him in South Africa for the entire war. (Anderson, private correspondance)
– Back Story to Refrigeration in South Africa – Fruit and Meat Drivers (Rhodes vs. De-Villiers Graaff)
All this made me wonder what the environment was in SA related to refrigeration that set up the visit of Vecht. Refrigeration was not his only motivation to move to South Africa. Vecht used this to create distribution networks for the New Zealand and Australian meat industries. It is completely consistent with what we know about this versatile entrepreneur. One opportunity would open a door, but he would walk into the room with his full skills, connections and ways to produce income.
– Refrigeration in South Africa – Fruit and Meat Drivers (Rhodes vs. De-Villiers Graaff)
The backstory of refrigeration becomes very interesting. Cecil John Rhodes, the prime minister of the Cape from 1890 to 1896, had made refrigeration a primary focus. There were two main areas of direct interest to him. The first was the export of fruit. The first consignment of fourteen cases of peaches was loaded onto Drummond Castle on Wednesday, 13 January 1892, for export to England. It arrived in London on 31 January. Rhodes appointed a select parliamentary committee on fruit culture and exports that year.
Merriman was the minister of Agriculture in Rhodes’ Government. He was in London on 31 January when the peaches arrived aboard the Drummond Castle. Percy Molteno shared his recollections of this event in the Cape Times: “I remember mentioning to Mr. Merriman that a shipment had arrived and invited him to accompany me to see the cases opened. This he readily did. With great delight, we saw case upon case opened up in splendid condition. The public sale of this fruit created a great sensation in the fruit world.” (De Beer, 2003)
After being forced to resign as Prime Minister in 1896 after the unsuccessful Jameson Raid, Rhodes set his sights squarely on the development of the fruit industry. He purchased twenty-nine farms in the Franschhoek, Tulbagh and Wellington districts. These were mainly wine farms, and he converted them to fruit farms. They collectively become known as the “Rhodes Fruit Farms”, with Harry Pickstone as managing director. They plant approximately two hundred thousand trees on these farms. (De Beer, 2003)
With Rhodes backing the industry to this extent, not only did cold storage facilities become a major drive, but steamship companies raced to increase their cold storage capacity. Shortly after the end of the Anglo-Boer War, “Table Bay became the first harbour in the world to boast a cold storage terminal specially designed for fruit.” (De Beer, 2003)
The second point of application of cold storage was about meat. The Anglo-Boer War was the first time frozen meat was used to provide an army with meat. David de Villiers Graaff’s company was ideally positioned to capitalise on this, and his huge investments in cold storage paid off handsomely when his company secured the contract to supply the English forces in South Africa with meat. This saga overshadows the creation of cold storage works related to the fruit export trade in terms of its financial scope and the personal investment of Rhodes in the projects. Vecht was involved in De Beers Cold Storag’s fruit project in Wellington, where the fruit was packed and canned, as we have seen from the marriage of his oldest daughter to a manager of De Beers Cold Storage in Wellington. Still, a major focus of his work related to the meat contracts.
De Villiers-Graaf installed the first refrigeration equipment in the new head office of his company, Combrinck & Co., on Strand Street in Cape Town in 1892. I have been inside these refrigerated rooms many times. His focus was initially only on meat, but soon, they expanded to include butter and cheese in the product offering.
In March 1896, his firm Combrinck & Co. ordered ice containers from a firm in New York. They ordered the first ammonia compressors from Glasgow. By 1897, his firm had eight ice and freezing facilities, with six in the Cape Colony, one in Aliwal-Noord and one in Kimberley. One was in Beaufort-Wes, one in Piketbergweg (Gouda) and two more in Cape Town. One is in Port Elizabeth, and one is in Johannesburg.
The name of the building below was later changed to the Imperial Cold Storage & Supply Company, but it was the first refrigerated chamber erected by the Graaff brothers.
His agent in Australia is identified as Willoughby C. Devlin van Dunn & Co. in Queen’s Place, Sydney. A suggestion that Graaff appoints a marine engineer now becomes of the greatest importance to our current discussion. In response to this suggestion, Graaff replies that he decided to appoint an adequately trained refrigeration engineer from abroad since such expertise was lacking at this time in the Cape Colony. It is possibly this exact same thought, not from De Villiers Graaff, but from Rhodes, which led to the seemingly abrupt move from Aron Vecht to the Cape of Good Hope in 1900. (Dommisse, 2011)
Rhodes instructed in 1889 that his Diamond company, De Beers, must construct cold storage facilities in Kimberley and Cape Town. This happens when he tries to persuade the Schreiner government in the Cape to construct additional freezing space, and they refuse. He saw the cooling chambers of De Villiers Graaff as a monopoly. He remarked, “This close monopoly must not be allowed to go on.” Initially, De Villiers-Graaff was willing to work with Rhodes, and Stephenson tried to convince Rhodes that such an arrangement would work well. (Dommisse, 2011)
In the end, Rhodes could not work with De Villiers-Graaff and gave instructions for the establishment of De Beers Cold Storage. Rhodes was known not to be shy to spend on the right equipment and saw that his cold rooms boasted the latest cooling equipment. Construction was completed in February 1900. I am fascinated to learn how Vecht contributed to this building project. It remains an ongoing project! The Cape premises are hugely successful, as was the Kimberly operation. Four months after the opening of the Cape facility, the management recommended the packing facilities be expanded from 160,000 cubic feet to 220,000. (Dommisse, 2011)
De Villiers-Graaff transformed his company, Combrinck & Co, into the South African Supply and Cold Storage Company listed in London. De Beers Cold Storage tried to compete with the Graaff brothers, but the South African Supply and Cold Storage Company was so entrenched in the supply and distribution of frozen products that De Beers Cold Storage stood no chance.
The central stumbling point was that De Beers completely underestimated the importance of owning refrigerated carriages to transport the meat. It was this exact point that I speculate De Villiers-Graaff learned from Phil Armour (Chapter 12.09: David Graaff’s Armour – A Tale of Two Legends.), and it would not surprise me if Vecht had any direct dealings with the Armour Company that they would have educated him on the importance of this exact point. This relationship allowed him access to refrigeration technology from the USA. De Villiers-Graaff returned from his only recorded visit to Chicago and copied Armour by constructing his own refrigerated railway carts to transport frozen products. He also ensured a close relationship with the railways.
De Beers Cold Storage had none of these, and the meat reported arrived at its destination in a rotten state. The desperation of the situation mimics the report from the Jewish Herald about the unprecedented travel authorisation given to Vecht in 1902 to travel through the country when it reported that Vecht “got the British Secretary of the Colonies, and the Secretary for Foreign Affairs/ and the War Office, to conspire together against the military regulations and issue a pass to him to pass through the British lines during the Boer war — a thing permitted no other foreigner. Strangest of all, he cut all these offices’ strands of red tape in one day.”
Prospectus of the South African Supply and Cold Storage Company, Ltd.
During late 1901 and early 1902, Rhodes was frantic in winning the British army contract to supply meat and proving that his company could deliver. Remember that the one-day Vecht managed to “cut through the red tape” was reported as one “Friday in the winter of 1902.”
Rhodes never saw De Beers Cold Storage receive the lucrative meat contracts from the British army. He passed away in a small cottage in Kalk Bay on 26 March 1902, two months before the armistice. The cottage where he passed away is also a location I often visited over the years, and I stood beside the bed where he passed away. The meat contracts he wanted to win so desperately and for which Vecht was presumably dispatched throughout the country in 1902 were awarded to De Beers Cold Storage and came into effect on 1 April 1902. The peace treaty of Vereeniging was signed on 31 Mei, ending the devastating war. (Dommisse, 2011)
The loss of the British meat contracts forces the Graaff brothers to reevaluate their strategy. 1898 to 1901 became the last years when the South African Supply and Cold Storage Company had the British meat contracts. Trading in imported frozen meat escalated from 1 965 000 pounds to just below 43 000 000 pounds from Australia. The Graaf’s created a new company, the South African & Australasian Supply and Cold Storage, on 27 February 1902, only eight days after Rhodes registered the Imperial Cold Storage & Supply Company Limited in Pretoria to take over all cold storage works and the trading of meat from De Beers Consolidated Mines.
Following the war, even the South African & Australian Supply and Cold Storage ceased trading, and the Graaffs took a large shareholding in the Imperial Cold Storage & Supply Company. These events create a beautiful backdrop for the context of the work of Vecht in South Africa from the time he arrives in South Africa till his departure.
When did Vecht arrive in South Africa, and when did he leave? Dr. Anderson told me that Vecht moved around a lot during 1900/1901 before coming to South Africa. This would probably mitigate against the picture of him “rushing” to South Africa, but once here, events in South Africa clearly show that he had his work cut out for him.
We have evidence that he was in South Africa in 1904. This sets the scene with his continued involvement in ventures that De Villiers-Graaff was involved in, namely the Rand Cold Storage and Supply Company. It also sets up a possible reason for Vecht’s involvement with De Villiers Graaff beyond his knowledge of refrigeration. I consider the trading of meat from New Zealand and Australia through the New Zealand Loan and Mercantile Agency.
New Zealand Loan and Mercantile Agency (NZLMA) and The Rand Cold Storage and Supply Company
This is an exciting connection which I want to develop. Who were these entities, and how did they fit together? Let’s begin our consideration in New Zealand. I lack all the required references, but I give my suspicions for future validation. I don’t want the points to disappear and be forgotten.
– New Zealand Loan and Mercantile Agency
The New Zealand Loan and Mercantile Agency (NZLMA) was a significant business entity in New Zealand’s history, operating during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The company was involved in various aspects of the country’s agricultural, pastoral, and export industries.
Founded in 1861, the NZLMA was initially established to provide financial services, particularly loans, to farmers and pastoralists. However, it quickly expanded its operations to become involved in various activities related to the country’s primary industries, including wool, meat, and dairy products.
The NZLMA played a crucial role in developing New Zealand’s meat export industry. It established meat-packing facilities and developed refrigeration technology to preserve and transport meat products to international markets. This innovation enabled New Zealand to export meat to distant markets, particularly the United Kingdom.
The company’s meat-packing and export activities were closely tied to the refrigeration technology known as “refrigerated shipping” or “reefer ships.” Due to distance and lack of preservation methods, this technology allowed New Zealand to send perishable goods, like meat, to previously inaccessible markets.
– Vecht and NZLMA
Aron Vecht was associated with the New Zealand Loan and Mercantile Agency (NZLMA). He played a notable role in the company’s operations and its involvement in the meat industry.
Vecht was instrumental in developing and expanding the operations of the NZLMA, particularly to the export of meat products.
Vecht’s expertise and efforts contributed to the growth of the NZLMA’s meat-packing and export activities. He recognized the potential of New Zealand’s agricultural resources and played a significant role in establishing the company’s reputation as a major player in the global meat trade.
– NZLMA and Rand Cold Storage and Supply Company
There was a link between the Rand Cold Storage and Supply Company and the New Zealand Loan and Mercantile Agency (NZLMA) in the context of their involvement in the meat industry. The NZLMA, also known as “the Loan,” was a significant player in the meat trade and agricultural sector in New Zealand during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
The connection between these two entities lies in their collaboration to facilitate the exporting of meat products from New Zealand to various international markets, including South Africa. The NZLMA had established meat-packing and export facilities and worked closely with companies like the Rand Cold Storage and Supply Company to ensure the efficient transportation and distribution of meat.
The partnership between the NZLMA and the Rand Cold Storage and Supply Company was part of the broader global trade in meat products. New Zealand was known for its meat and wool exports, and companies like the NZLMA played a key role in facilitating these exports to meet the demand in various parts of the world.
– NZLMA, Rand Cold Storage and Supply Company and Aron Vecht
A fascinating link existed between Aron Vecht, the New Zealand Loan and Mercantile Agency (NZLMA), Aron Vecht and the Rand Cold Storage and Supply Company. This shows that Vecht’s interest in South Africa did not cease with the demise of De Beers Cold Storage.
We know that Vecht was himself at a meeting in 1904 in Johannesburg of the Rand Cold Storage and Supply Company. I received the photo from Dr. Romeo Vecht, the grandson of Vecht. I took a few photos of this one photo, which I show below. In the second photo (part of the photo), the man with the hat, full bears, and flower, 1st from the left, is likely David de Villiers Graaff. I have thought they would have known each other for a very long time, and this photo may be the evidence I need! More about the possible extent of their relationship in the rest of this letter and the next one. Vecht can be seen dressed in a light suit in the centre of the first photo with a prominent beard.
– Vecht & Stikvis and Pork Supply to De Beers
I have earlier said that Aron Vecht never thought in absolute categories when he evaluated the opportunities in any world region. More often than not, he combined meat curing, pork farming, refrigeration and distribution channels. I discovered an article in the Queenslander (Brisbane) of 20 April 1901 that reported the following: “An opening in South Africa for frozen pork is likely to occur very shortly, for Messrs. Vecht and Stockvie, who are establishing a factory in Southunder contract with the De Beers Company, expect to purchase part of the raw product in the colonies. It ‘is proposed at draft to take 200 pigs per week, and the demand is expected to Increase to 1000 pigs per week. The pigs will be slaughtered and partly cured, then frozen and despatched in that state to South Africa for mild curing.”
This means that apart from his assistance to De Beers in refrigeration matters, Vecht continued to work actively on behalf of his factories in New Zealand and Australia, as in this case, where he negotiated a supply contract with De Beers. The Rand Cold Storage and Supply Company would have been one of the options he had to supply De Beers. Back in 1901, when the newspaper report was written, the idea could very well have been to supply De Beers Cold Storage and not the mines directly.
Whether he appeared at the meeting with Rand Cold Storage and Supply Company on behalf of NZLMA, his curing operations in Australia, or both does not matter. He was in South Africa for refrigeration and pork distribution through De Beers Cold Storage or probably any other suitable network, including those owned and managed by David De Villiers-Graaff.
– Footprints of Vecht in Cape Town
On a visit to Cape Town, I located a death notice of Vecht and his wife Bernadine that was filed at the Cape to set the winding up of their respective estates in motion. Bernadine passed away on 21 July 1926, close to Antwerp, at age 69. At least two of their children remained in South Africa for a time. Florance was appointed executor of her mother’s estate in the Cape on 5 January 1927. Vecht’s oldest daughter, Rosa Vecht, married Jacob Politi in Wynberg in Cape Town on 3 February 1903. Jacob’s occupation was listed as a manager for De Beers Cold Storage, and he resided in Wellington, where I assume he also worked. Rosa was listed as living in the upmarket suburb of Claremont, Cape Town, close to Wynberg, presumably with the rest of the Vecht family.
Vecht as a General in the Anglo Boer War
I want to pick up on a point I mentioned earlier: a story developed that Aron Vecht participated in the Anglo-Boer War on the side of the Boers. Discussing this with Dr. Romeo Vecht, he pointed out that the origin of this story may have to do with the surname Vecht. In reality, his surname refers to the river Vecht in Holland, but it can be translated as “fight.”
On the Boers’ side was a rank referred to as a Vecht-Generaal or a Fight-General. I am uncertain of the distinction between Generaal (General) and Veg-Generaal (Vecht-Generaal or Fight-General). Still, there was a distinction, and it was a specific rank. Aron Vecht may have been incorrectly interpreted as Vecht-Generaal Aron. To make matters worse, the Boers at that time wrote Dutch. The Afrikaans word for Vecht is Veg. There is no evidence that this was the case that he ever participated in the war.
Instead of a Boer supporter who partook in the Anglo-Boer War, the emerging picture is of a well-off family residing in Claremont, Cape Town. If Vecht arrived in Cape Town in 1900, it did not give him much time to get involved in the Wellington operations of De Beers Cold Storage to get to know Jacob Politi, who was introduced to Vecht’s daughter, Rosa.
The image of Vecht is a sophisticated businessman, in the style of Rhodes and Dawid De Villiers Graaff, who would later buy De Beers Cold Storage from Rhodes. Between Rhodes, Vecht and De Villiers Graaff, it would seem that Rhodes was the one who got the deepest involved in direct conflict during the siege of Kimberley and not Vecht, as has been reported. Rhodes remained in Kimberley almost for the full duration of the siege, and his De Beers was active in manufacturing articles for the war.
We will later see that the British commodity trader Trengrouse and Co., who is an exciting link between Vecht’s business and Phil Armour from Chicago’s packing plant, was also located in the Boland town of Wellington with a South African Canning Company, Langeberg Foods. Langeberg Foods supplied canned fruits to Trengrouse and Co.
The relationship between De Beers Cold Storage and Langeberg Foods is something for further investigation since Langeberg had a requirement for cold storage facilities right when refrigeration was introduced into South Africa. Interestingly, in this one location, we find Vecht, Rhodes, Langeberg, De Beers Cold Storage and Trengrouse and Co. Could it have been Trengrouse who introduced Vecht to Rhodes? Could they have told Vecht about the opportunities emerging with creating De Beers Cold Storage? At the moment, these are no more than tantalising possibilities, but it warrants further investigation.
The reported support that Vecht had for the Boer course was, in reality, probably no more than sympathy, in the same way as Dawid de Villiers Graaff had sympathy for the Boer course but never actively supported them in any way. After all, De Villiers Graaf’s company won the contract to supply the British army with meat during the war.
If Vecht actively supported the Boers in any way, having lived in Constantia, it would have landed him in jail and most certainly ended his collaboration with Rhodes. Rhodes later sold De Beers Cold Storage to De Villiers Graaff, proving that supporting the English was financially a good decision, as was the case with many wealthy Afrikaner businesspeople at this time. I think comparing Vecht’s emotional sympathy with the Boer course with that of De Villiers Graaff’s is fair. In any event, I seriously doubt if, in Vecht’s case, it was anything more than that.
Returning to Europe
Dr. Anderson writes, “Although residing in South Africa, in 1903, he represented Australia at the 6th Zionist Congress in Basle, Switzerland. Shortly after, he moved with his family to Holland and Argentina for fifteen months (dates unclear) before settling in Belgium. (Infuriatingly, the Belgian immigration archives record the arrival of the Vecht family, but without a date – probably 1907 or early 1908). (Correspondence with Dr. James Anderson)
Vecht’s children were not all born on one continent. “His eldest daughter was born in Holland (in Vecht’s hometown of Elburg); the following six children were all born in London, UK; his two youngest sons were born in Melbourne and Sydney, respectively. (Dr James Anderson) His children were Rosa (Roosje), Moses (Mozes), Florance, Jacob Emile, Constance, Nora, Deena, Victor and Phillip. Eventually, part of the family returned to Antwerp. Here, he underwent gallbladder surgery. He died from complications following the surgery on 8 November 1908 at fifty-four. (Cape Archives) (Lebrecht, 2019)
Dr. Anderson told me, “In London, he founded the Orthodox Jewish Standard and became an active member of the Finsbury Park synagogue. (Sokolow, 1919) He was an ardent supporter of the early Zionist movement Hovevei Zion. Later, he was listed among the first contributors to Herzl’s Jewish National Fund from New Zealand, established to purchase land in Palestine. (LeBrecht, 2019) In August 1903, he was a delegate at the Sixth Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland (Crown, 1977), lived in Holland and then took his family to Argentina for fifteen months, where he established “a frozen kosher meat business.” (LeBrecht, 2019) He settled in Antwerp but decided to emigrate with his family to Palestine, a wish thwarted by his demise. His remains were later interred just outside Tel Aviv” (Anderson) in the Trumpeldor Cemetery.
I met Aron Vecht in New Zealand through Nick Harris and Dr. Anderson. Not only was he a master curer, but he was leading the international effort to refrigerate (freeze) meat, cured or not, and trade it internationally. His technical knowledge meant that he could shape the infrastructure required to facilitate its distribution. Vecht is a force of nature, and it is fitting that men such as Nick Harris, Brendon Buckland and Dr. Anderson introduced me to him!
Other Friends from New Zealand
The fact of Aron Vecht meant that I also celebrated other men who inspired me from the islands of New Zealand. After Cheviot, we spent time with Stu and Simon, senior managers at Hellers. Stu runs production, and Simon manages the operation. They, too, are inspirational men who shape my thinking. It was Easter Friday when I showed up at the Heller factory for the first time, and both Stu and Simon gave me an amazing welcome. Since then, they have become good friends and confidants. People with whom I have the freedom to discuss our Cape Town plans and who always give clear and unbiased advice.
My dear children, surround yourself with many Vechts,
Dad and Minette.
(c) eben van tonder
Stay in touch
(1) The source does not state that the firm from England that set up the New Zealand operation was Oake Woods & Co. Ltd.. Considered at face value, they are a very good contender. A patent was lodged on 3 September 1896 number 8750 by E. R. Down from Gillingham, Dorset, Eng. for a cylinder or vessel for curing bacon and hams. (Appendix to the Journals of the House of Representatives of New Zealand) It seems likely that similar applications were filed around the world. The trials were done in 1893. It fits the timeframe very well. I discuss this in detail in my chapter on “William and William Harwood Oake“.
(2) Publication date, August 19-23, 2002
(3) Publication date, 14 July 1939.
(4) Nick did not introduce me to Aron Vecht. This part of my story is factional but neither Nick nor Aron Vecht is fictional, and all other descriptions of these men are accurate. It was in fact Dr James Anderson who introduced me to Aron Vecht when he contacted me to clarify the exact nature of the Vecht Curing method. Up till then I did not know about Aron Vecht, or his curing method and an intense time of discovery followed which culminated in my visit in early 2023 with Vecht’s grandson, the famed cardiologist, Dr. Romeo Vecht at his London home.
 Personal correspondence between Dr Anderson and myself as well as an article he did on the life of Aron Vecht in New Zealand.
 Despite the claim the children ‘were born on four different continents’, in fact, one was born in Holland, six in England and two in Australia. LeBrecht. N., Genius & Anxiety: How Jews Changed the World, 1847–1947, London, Oneworld Publications, 2019, p. 155. https://www.geni.com/people/Rosa-Vecht; Victor-Abraham-Vecht; Philip-Vecht; https://www.freebmd.org.uk/cgi/search.pl.
The Age (Melbourn, Victoria, Australia) of 14 July 1939, p 5.
APPENDIX TO THE JOURNALS OF THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES OF NEW ZEALAND . SESSION II . , 1897 . VOL . III .
Biology online. Retrieved 15 February 2013.
The Courrier (Waterloo, Iowa), 7 April 1886
Crown, Alan D., ‘The Initiatives and Influences in the Development of Australian Zionism, 1850-1948’, Jewish Social Studies , Autumn, 1977, Vol. 39, No. 4, p. 306.
Evening Post, 8 February 1893; Wanganui Herald, 13 February 1893; Taranaki Herald, 22 February 1893; Temuka Leader, 2 March 1893
https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:QL5V-GWHB: Nederland, Indexen van de Archieven, Primaire Archiefstukken (BS en DTB), 1600-2000.
Gongora, J., Garkavenko, O., Moran, C.. 2002. From the 7th World Congress on Genetics Applied to Livestock Production, August 19-23, 2002, Montpellier, France, Paper entitled
Origins of the Kune Kune and Auckland Island Pigs in New Zealand.
Green, G. L.. 1968. Full Many a Glorious Morning. Howard Timmins.
Harris, J. (Ed.). c 1870. Harris on the pig. Breeding, rearing, management, and improvement. New York, Orange Judd, and company.
Sinclair, J. (Ed). 1897.Pigs Breeds and Management. Vinton and Co, London
The Journal of Agriculture and Industry, Volume 3, 1899, By South Australia. Department of Agriculture, C. E. Bristow, Government Printers
King, C. M.., Gaukroger, D. J., Ritchie, N. A. (Editors), 2015. The Drama of Conservation, Springer.
LeBrecht. N., Genius & Anxiety: How Jews Changed the World, 1847–1947, London, Oneworld Publications, 2019
New York Times Article, 1907-04-10, “MARGARINE KING DEAD.; Simon Vandenbergh Started in Business as a Small Shopkeeper”.
Sokolow, N., History of Zionism 1600-1918, vol.2 Longmans, Green, and Co. in London, 1919, p.350. The Press, 18 September 1893 & Otago Witness, 21 September 1893 incorrectly reported that Vecht was ‘sometime editor of the Jewish Standard.
White, S.. 2011. From Globalized Pig Breeds to Capitalist Pigs: A Study in Animal Cultures and Evolutionary History, Vol. 16, No. 1 (JANUARY 2011), pp. 94-120, Published by: Oxford University Press on behalf of Forest History Society and American Society for Environmental History, https://www.jstor.org/stable/23050648
The phylogenetic status of typical Chinese native pigs: analyzed by Asian and European pig mitochondrial genome sequences. Journal of Animal Science and Biotechnology volume 4, Article number: 9 (2013).