Thursday, September 17, 2009
Sir Jack Harris Bt died on August 29, 2009 aged 103. Sir Jack made a huge impact as a pioneering manufacturer and civic leader in New Zealand, and was chief executive of importing/exporting company Bing Harris and Co.
In 2007 he wrote Memoirs of a century, in which he remembered events and people across his life. There is no pretence that this is a scholarly work and Sir Jack is the source of all that is included. It is indexed and this does help the reader to refind references to companies and places.
Bing Harris and Co. was established in Dunedin in the mid-1850s and Wolf Harris, Sir Jack’s grandfather began by importing goods from Melbourne. The discovery of gold in Central Otago meant that Dunedin developed quickly and that there was a market that needed the goods, largely clothing, that Bing Harris offered.
Before WW II it became clear to Sir Jack that the company should become a manufacturer of clothing and this proved to be a profitable move in the wartime period. After the war New Zealand economic policy focused on self-sufficiency – everything should be produced in NZ. To do this raw materials had to be imported. Of course the United Kingdom continued to be an important source, but it is suggested that Bing Harris were one of the first postwar importers from Japan, with contacts also being made in North America, India and Hong Kong.
Bing Harris had factories in Wanganui, New Plymouth, Christchurch, Auckland, Levin and Palmerston North. It also diversified into motor accessories .
Shortly after the war Sir Jack went to Japan to establish business contacts and his deputy George Milne followed. Arising out of that visit the trade in forest logs was opened up and Bing Harris obtained the agency for the logs from the Nissho company.
There is much anecdotal writing included which is to be expected in a volume of memoirs: comments on political figures both here and in the UK, the Harris’s house Te Rama at Waikanae and a piece written by Sir Jack’s wife, Patricia.
For the trade historian, Memoirs is a taster, and a full biography of Sir Jack, or a company history of Bing Harris will I am sure fill in many gaps.
Sir Jack Harris Bt: memoirs of a century. Steele Roberts, 2007. ISBN 978-1-877448-04-1