The New Zealand Grain & Seed Trade’s First company Car

Vincent Luisetti at the wheel of a 1907 Spyker believed to be the New Zealand Grain & Seed Trade’s first company car.

Vincent Luisetti at the wheel of a 1907 Spyker believed to be the New Zealand Grain & Seed Trade’s first company car.

This car was owned by Mr George Gatonby Stead, who was born in London in 1841 and immigrated to New Zealand in 1866 at the age of 25. After a brief stint as a banker, Mr Stead formed a Grain & Seed company, Royce Stead & Co., and commenced a trade exporting wheat ‘home’ to England.

The firm was very successful, recording a profit of £12,000 (the equivalent of $13 million today) before selling out to the English-owned ‘New Zealand Agency Company’. This company then sold shares to the New Zealand public which were taken up ”with a rush such has never been seen before”.

The new public company made a terrific profit in the first year ($20 million) but then came two bad harvests in New Zealand (no Luisetti cultivars then!) and at the same time the price of wheat fell in Britain.

The New Zealand Agency Company suffered such heavy losses that the company faced bankruptcy and they were unable to pay their farmer suppliers for the wheat that had been shipped.

Black and White photo circa 1870

Mr George Gatonby Stead of GG Stead and Co Grain & Seed Merchants

Mr Stead, although under no obligation to the company he had sold, formed a new company, ‘GG Stead & Co’, in 1870 and honoured all of the debts of the New Zealand Grain Agency Company. All farmers were paid what they were owed.

GG Stead continued in the Grain & Seed trade until his retirement from the company in 1906, though he remained on the boards of various well-known Canterbury Companies, such as;

  • The Christchurch Gas Company
  • The Blackball Coal Company
  • The Christchurch Press
  • Warners Hotel
  • New Zealand Shipping Company
  • Theatre Royal
  • Mason Struthers & Co.

During the water siders strike in 1890, he was prominent in arranging alternative labour to load and unload ships at Lyttleton, gathering businessmen and farmers to man the port. After the strike, he was generous in anonymously donating to charities for the welfare of the striker’s families.

Mr Stead was also prominent in raising subscriptions to send New Zealand’s third contingent of “Rough Riders” to the Boar War in 1900.

Mr Stead’s grandson, Roland Stead, who has retired from farming in North Canterbury, has been a long-time client and friend of the Luisetti family.

Mr Stead’s car (pictured) is the second of two Spyker cars he owned. These cars were imported from Holland and had a great reputation for being fast and reliable after coming second in the inaugural Peking to Paris rally.

Spyker cars had a similar reputation to Rolls Royce at this time.

Queen Willemina’s Golden Coach built by the Spyker Brothers in 1898

Queen Willemina’s Golden Coach built by the Spyker Brothers in 1898

The 1907 Spyker is owned and was restored by Rob Spyker, a descendant of the Spyker Brothers. The Spyker Brothers founded the Spyker Car Company and were famous for constructing Queen Willemina’s golden coach, a very expensive build funded by the citizens of Amsterdam.

It took Rob Spyker 10 years to assemble the components for the car prior to restoration. The car ended up at the Akaroa garage for repairs but was not collected. The engine was then used in a fishing boat and subsequently to drive a saw mill at Le Bons Bay.

The chassis had a Shepherd’s Hut built on top of it and was used for many years at The Grampians station before ending up in Lake Alexandria. Rob assembled as many of the original components as he could find, then manufactured the remaining parts required to complete the car.