Story: Le Cren, Frederic and Le Cren, Henry John

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Le Cren, Frederic

1835–1902

Merchant

Le Cren, Henry John

1828?–1895

Merchant

This biography, written by Robert Pinney, was first published in 1990.

Frederic Le Cren and his brother, Henry John Le Cren, were born in London, England. Henry was baptised on 3 September 1828; Frederic was born on 7 November 1835. They were the sons of Henry Le Cren and his wife, Emma Ann Davies. Their father was an exile from France, as also was their mother's grandfather.

From their Greenwich home the brothers were sent to school at Christ's Hospital. Henry then learned business in the City of London from the merchant banking house of Frühling and Göschen. He was engaged as an agent by the management committee of the Canterbury Association and came out to New Zealand in the Barbara Gordon with his cousin, Joseph Longden, reaching Lyttelton late in 1850, just before the First Four Ships. In Lyttelton he and Joseph established an efficient store and accommodation agency. Margaret Fisher Hunt, a Scotswoman, came out from London to marry Henry at Lyttelton on 21 March 1853; they had seven children.

Frederic went to Australia and then joined his brother in New Zealand in 1855. By 1857 he had taken over the Heathcote ferry, near Christchurch. He married Cecilia Elizabeth Mills in a religious ceremony on 19 November 1857 at Heathcote and a civil ceremony on 24 November 1857 at Christchurch. There were nine children of the marriage.

During the 1850s settlement extended to South Canterbury. The total volume of trade increased, and coastal shipping was preferred to wagoning over the roadless plains and difficult, unbridged rivers. Robert Heaton Rhodes, who had taken part in the southward migration, asked Henry to establish a store at Timaru, and to improve its supply by sea.

In 1857 Henry sent Captain Henry Cain to fulfil the Rhodes's request, and to improve the arrangements for landing cargo at Timaru, where there was then a difficult approach through rocks to a beach cramped by cliffs. Already the Rhodes's station, the Levels, and the rudimentary Timaru were placing considerable demands on the system of supply.

By 1858, when Timaru had grown but little, Henry had a homestead, Beverley, built on bare, rising ground overlooking the ships. When he and Captain Cain had got the landing service working effectively, Margaret Le Cren came down with their first three children, who had been baptised at Lyttelton. St Mary's Church (Anglican) at Timaru was built by 1861, in time for the fourth child and subsequent offspring, and for many years the Le Crens were members and benefactors of that church.

Helped by the efforts put into the landing service, Timaru grew so rapidly in the early 1860s that, by 1864, wool was shipped directly from Timaru to London. The firm of H. J. Le Cren and Company was engaged in that trade. It also acted as an agency, borrowing from financiers and lending to farmers.

In 1866, the year of the Overend and Gurney failure in England, Henry sold the goodwill of his business to Miles and Company. In the same year the government took over the landing service. Miles and Company continued the shipping and wool trade, retaining Henry as manager for a while. The firm of George Gray Russell and Company, established in Dunedin since late 1864, also set up a Timaru branch. Before Henry had sold his business, George Gray Russell and Company had been advertising for wool to ship home to Potter Wilson and Company and was offering advances to growers. At some time after 1866 Henry joined Russell to form Russell Le Cren and Company.

During the late 1860s Henry's astute business judgement made him a useful member of the Timaru and Gladstone Board of Works and the Timaru Municipal Council. He also pursued land interests as a partner in Simon's Pass, Peel Forest and Otaio stations. It was not until 1873 or 1874 that he sold Beverley homestead, moved his completed family to London, and there joined Russell in business, at 37 Lombard Street, to dispose of consignments from New Zealand.

Russell had found another trustworthy man to take charge of dispatching consignments from New Zealand. He was John Macfarlane Ritchie, whom Russell had originally recruited from his correspondent firm, Potter Wilson and Company, in 1864. Ritchie had made good with George Gray Russell and Company, Dunedin, and in 1873 had been taken into partnership. George Gray Russell and Company then became Russell Ritchie and Company, and sent consignments from New Zealand to the London firm of Russell Le Cren and Company. (Russell had wisely severed his connection with Potter Wilson and Company before that firm became associated with the City of Glasgow Bank smash.)

In 1878 the recently formed National Mortgage and Agency Company of New Zealand Limited took over Russell Ritchie and Company and Russell Le Cren and Company. Thus Henry Le Cren contributed indirectly to the growth of another New Zealand stock and station firm.

In the same year, 1878, Henry's wife died; his daughter, Margaret Douglas, married Philip, brother of George Gray Russell; and the City of Glasgow Bank smash heralded a slump. Henry withdrew from business and returned to Timaru about 1880, where he had bought another house that he renamed Craighead. He died on 20 May 1895. He was described in an obituary as 'a shrewd but upright and able businessman…in his grasp of financial questions he had few if any equals'. Well educated himself, he paid great attention to the education of his children, one of whom emulated his father by laying the foundations of another Canterbury stock firm.

Frederic Le Cren, sometimes underestimated, as younger brothers can be, engaged efficiently in several business opportunities that he found for himself, firstly at Lyttelton, then at Timaru. Some of these business interests he shared with his brother; in particular, his partnership in Simon's Pass station. Like Henry, he played his part in civic life: as a justice of the peace, and as a member or director of various public boards and councils at Timaru.

When the Timaru branch of the New Zealand Loan and Mercantile Agency Company was established, Frederic was selected as its manager, and held the post from 1875 almost until his death. Starting at a time of inflation and over-optimistic borrowing, he had to apply the screw of retrenchment in the harsh 1880s, and after disastrous snows that afflicted the flocks of borrowers.

Frederic died at Timaru on 10 April 1902. During his life he was bitterly and perhaps unfairly criticised in the letters of John Macfarlane Ritchie and the diaries of Francis Hayter. It would be more just to remember, with the writer of Frederic's unsigned obituary, that he was a pleasant, genial character, 'good to get on with'.

How to cite this page:

Robert Pinney. 'Le Cren, Frederic and Le Cren, Henry John', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 1990. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/1l5/le-cren-frederic (accessed 1 April 2020)