Cider Musings

Perry Pears in New Zealand

Known varieties of Perry Pears are rare if not unknown. There are some wildings ( which of course how the named varieties came about in the first place in England and Normandy, such as Arlingham Squash which was found at Arlingham in Gloucestershire. There is just one original tree, once lost now found again. These trees are long lived.

Unlike cider which is usually made from many varieties of cider apples perry is often made from one variety alone as each variety ripen at different times and rapidly rot. Mixing juice can also be problematical with the development of both pectin and tannin hazes. Luckily the trees grow large so each tree can make a large amount of fruit and juice.

It is quite likely that perry pears ( which are defined as having the right tannins, sugar and acidity) were brought to NZ as were cider apples. It would be unlikely they weren't . However these appear to have been lost as the original large homesteads were broken up, perry being a more difficult drink to make and with a more limited audience. About 30 cider apples are known here. However unless these pear trees have been cut down they are likely to be still there and fruiting. Perry pear trees on pear rootstock being still alive 300 years on in England.

This is the story of one possible true perry pear. Growing in the orchard of the homestead Waitahuna at Governor Bay Banks Peninsula South Island.

We have 3 sources to the story. All differ in some detail.

Firstly as described by Sharron Ballantyne who currently lives at Waitahuna in a stuff newspaper article, see footnote . This homestead was  by John Dyer an immigrant from England. Born in 1828 at Stoke-by-Nayland near Essex, Dyer grew up in a farming family. Upon his arrival in Lyttelton aboard the ‘Canterbury’, the Canterbury Association’s 16th ship he settled at Governor Bay in 1851 with his sister Mary Ann and a friend they made on the boat Charles Parsons who became Mary Ann's husband in 1855. He enters the New Zealand history books as the man who helped build the road over the pass to Christchurch which now bears his name. He married in 1853 . Sadly, John Dyer died by an accident on 6th January 1876, leaving a widow and five children. He was only 47 years old and is buried at St Cuthbert’s Anglican Church in Governor’s Bay. However for his wedding there is a tale of wedding presents of a tree from Kew, and an orchard possibly from the same person.

John Dyer and his sister emigrated not to escape poverty but to advance themselves the opportunity in rural England at that time being difficult with most land being tied up in a few landed gentry. He was moderately well off his father Thomas and Sarah of Hoath Lane owning 130 arces and employing 5 labourers. Helping his decision was the enthusiastic vicar Rev Charles Torlesse, who was an early member of the Canterbury association encouraging emigration and brother in law to Edward Gibbon Wakefield who had earlier started the New Zealand Company. The new venture was to be similar but with a stronger religious ( Church of England )  flavour.  Over 50 people left from this small village of 1400 people at he time alone. Attesting to his relative affluence John and his sister travelled second cabin on the ship Canterbury. It is recorded whilst they were on the ship they "assisted" William Sowman an agricultural labourer  who was travelling in "3rd class"  or 'steerage free and assisted', the bulk of the 143 emigrants. The Canterbury left East India Docks on 128th July 1981. (Another person from Stoke by Nayland was William Songer who was the personal assistant to Wakefield and he named Stoke near Nelson. There is a Nayland street there.) 

The tree is a Wellingtonia or giant Redwood which still graces the grounds, and here we get to close but not quite close enough details to fix its provenance. The Wellingtonia was discovered in 1852 in California by Augustus T. Dowd of the Calaveras Grove group in 1852, and again by William Lobb a seasoned plant hunter for the Veitch Nurseries in 1853. He sailed to UK in the autumn that year with seeds and in only 2 years there were many seedlings growing in Victorian country estates inc Kew Gardens. Too close in timing. (However see version 3 the wedding in 1953 was of his sister Mary Ann Dyer to Charles Parsons but in 1855. Both John and Charles lived together at Waitahuna on land Dyer had bought back in England from the Canterbury Association). This is confirmed by the Journal of Henry Sewell who visited John Dyer twice in 1853 and again in 1855 whilst winding up the Canterbury Association before going on to be NZ's 1st Premier in 1856. He mentions John, his sister Mary Ann and Charles but not a Mrs Elizabeth. 

One oral history by the current occupants of Waitahuna is that the head gardener at Kew was said to have sent the Wellingtonia in a Wardian box.

The Head gardener at the time was was Sir William Hooker who published extensively on plants from around the world including NZ but there is no record of him visiting NZ himself.

However his 2nd son Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker who succeeded him at Kew did.

Twice in fact. The second time as assistant surgeon and naturalist in 1847 on the HMS Acheron  expedition, again close but just before the date of John Dyers wedding. However the timing is just not right for a specimen grown from seed in England to be transported to NZ in 1853.

These Hookers are not related to William Hooker who wrote Pomona Londinensis the most famous collection of fruit painting in the world which includes pip fruit such as apples and pear!

The second story ( see footnote 2) as noted in the book "Evelyn Page Severn Decades" was written by Neil Roberts art historian. He wrote "The Dyers has friends in London, one of them was the head Gardner at Crystal Palace. He came out to Governor Bay and , as a wedding present (for Mary Ann Dyer and Charles Parsons), had designed the gardens and orchard as a wedding present. It was he who planted the mulberry tree...". (We know this was Mary and Charles' marriage as visits in 1953 and 1855 by Henry Sewell mentions the three of them but no Mrs Dyer). Henry Sewell was working to wind up the affairs of the Canterbury association before becoming effectively NZ's first premier in 1856. The Wellingtonia tree is well shown in a painting by Evelyn Page in 1946 which shows the family sitting in its shade in front of the house.

The Head Gardener at the time was Joseph Paxton. 

He was the Head Gardener at Chatsworth House The Duke of Devonshire's property in Derbyshire, England. There, the Duke had, like most of the aristocracy, a passion for exotic plants brought into England by plant hunters. Paxton started experimenting with heated greenhouses for bananas and pineapple. However the plant that set Joseph's career off was the Victoria regia, the large flowering lily newly discovered in the Guyanian Amazon.

Seeds were brought back to Kew but although they grew they didn't flower. Paxton obtained a seeding and grew it successfully at Chatsworth. Its success required larger and larger enclosures and Paxton thought of a solution based on the rib framing of the giant leafs of the plant itself transforming greenhouses into palaces for exotic plants, the Great Conservatory being the largest glass house at that time.

So strong that as a demonstration his 7 year old daughter was placed on a lily pad! This design became the winning design for the even larger Crystal Pace in London.

Sadly for our story however Paxton never travelled to NZ either. Another contender could be Edward Milner who was a gardener serving under Paxton at Chatsworth and Paxton made Milner superintendent of various works including the re-erection of the Crystal Palace at Penge Park, Sydenham. 1852-4 ( Crystal Palace was in initially built at Hyde Park for the Great Exhibition of 1851. There were other gardeners at Crystal Palace. However their names are lost. Edward in later life formed the Crystal Palace school of Gardening in 1881.

So  he could not have travelled to NZ in this time period.

Here the story remains unfinished. Who did bring  the perry pear to NZ?

Another fascinating side story as already alluded to was that Evelyn Page rented Waitahuna for several years and painted the orchard! 

 Photographed by Ryan McCauley, from the collection of Anna Wilson


The 3rd source which is an extensive book. The Head of the Harbour by Jane Robertson confirms and clarifies some details. Such as that the Head gardener of Crystal Palace did visit, as well as design the gardens as he was a personal friend of John Dyers. So presumably the orchard and the tree arrived then. In 1860 when John was about to marry Elizabeth Frances Gray, he moved out of Stoke farm ( as it was called in presumably as a reference to Stoke-on -Nayland from where he emigrated from in England. He purchased a new place called Fair Light Glen and at some point later Stoke farm became Waitahuna.

However the story has another twist. Given there are over 200 cultivars of perry pears in the UK and DNA analysis is really just starting to touch the surface of classification there are a lot of unnamed perry pears in existence. Some only a single tree as with Arlington Squash. I sent some budwood from the scion wood I grew from Waitauna to my good friend Mike Johnson of Ross on Wye Cider who passed it on to John Teiser another perry and cider maker who has grafted it on, it was DNA'd but so far a match to a known variety could not be made.

                                     John on the left, Mike on the right

And also a wilding. Known in NZ as on the hunt for perry pears I received an email several years ago from a man who was a tree buff who thought he had a perry pear growing close to his property. We started corresponding, I imagining I would be flying to Whangarei  or Bluff, but no, the tree was literally only 5km away. The tree was large and had been there for many decades and presumably dates back to when the farm in the area was established before being broken up into lifestyle blocks. and a large macrocarpa was growing through it.

The fruits were small and tannic and even the sheep weren't interested in it.

 I have grafted on scion wood and this year there was a  harvest of a few from the first tree to fruit. The fruits are indeed tannic and a SG 1070. Hopefully this will result in a great taste. Time will tell.



If any of my friends or readers know of other possible perry pears please let me know. It's a fascinating subject in NZ.



2. Evelyn Page Severn Decades book by Janet Paul & Neil Roberts Robert McDougall Art Gallery 1986 page 32

3. Head of the Harbour book by Jane Robinson pages 98-102 2016