The Maitland beekeeping industry is a fascinating story of the combined endeavours of many nineteenth century Maitlanders.
These men aimed to produce fine honey and used science to understand the rigours of beekeeping. In time Maitland was to become the home of the largest manufacturer of bee keeping appliances in the Southern hemisphere and arguably in the world.
The first European bees to be introduced to the Maitland District came from hives in Tasmania and were reported to have been introduced by Mr Michael Scobie in 1840 who bought two hives, which increased to 34 within a year. Hives were expensive at £5 a hive (approximately $150 today), thus limiting beekeeping to the wealthy.
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By the mid-1840s bees were becoming more commonly kept both as a hobby and commercially. Transport was becoming more sophisticated, enabling the successful and more rapid distribution of bees around the Colony.
In 1845, Mr EP Capper, a Maitland hardware owner, investigated the logistics and viability of exporting honey and wax to England. Capper also was a keen beekeeper, having several hives on his property.
Several instances of the stealing of beehives and honey are documented in the Maitland Mercury and Hunter River Advertiser during the 1850s. One honey thief, James Reid was sentenced to work ...six months in irons on the roads ... by the Magistrate.
The beekeepers of Maitland were integral in laying the foundation of a scientifically based honey industry in NSW with the creation of The Hunter River Beekeepers' Association in 1887. Office bearers included notable locals such as Mr R Scobie (MLA), Mr M Scobie and Mr WS Pender.
The association was proactive in the promotion of beekeeping and dissemination of knowledge by the presentation of scientific papers. Mr JW Pender (the well-known architect) was particularly insistent that the science of beekeeping be understood.
Over the ensuing years the Association became increasingly involved in all matters pertaining to honey production, lobbying for laws governing the transport of hives to combat the spread of foul brood, as well as seeking to standardise the pricing of honey.
The Drumfin Apiary at Oakhampton owned by JW Pender and meticulously managed by his son WS Pender (William) was awarded first prize for the best apiary in the Colony in 1891. William trained as an architect and later became an eminent beekeeper, Queen Bee breeder, engineer, author and founding editor of The Australasian Beekeeper (which is still in print today).
William joined the Pender Timber & Hardware business in 1899, designing timber and metal beekeeping equipment and was pivotal to the growth and success of Pender Brothers' bee-keeping appliance business arm.
In 1907 the business diversified into a firm known as Pender Bros Pty Ltd, Timber & Hardware Merchants, Manufacturers of Apiarists Requirements, West Maitland.
WS Pender travelled extensively, sourcing, researching, lecturing and selling beekeeping equipment.
Pender Bros, under WS Pender's guidance, produced regular booklets cataloguing beekeeping appliances and advising apiarists, and shipped its custom bee keeping equipment nationally and internationally.