George Edwin Alderton can well be honoured as the founder of modern Kerikeri. He was well on in years when he came but his enthusiasm and acclaim for the potential of the North was unabated.
As a young man of twenty-one, he had arrived in the then tiny town of Whangarei and in 1875, established a one-manned newspaper serving as reporter, compositor, publisher, printer and business manager. A man of energy, drive and vision, he had been a powerful advocate for development in the North and had succeeded in getting many amenities such as rail and regular sea transport for the area. In 1897 he retired from the editorship of that same newspaper, the well established Northern Advocate.
In 1907 he moved to Auckland and became an estate agent for T. Mandeno Jackson and was known locally as a 'prince of land agents'.
Alderton was also vitally interested in horticulture, especially viticulture and citrus growing. On a visit to California in 1886 he had seen a scheme in operation there that had caught his imagination, and in 1925 he wrote a booklet expounding his ideas entitled Income Homes That Grow In The Trees. He gained the backing of some businessmen in Auckland and Wellington. With a capital of thirty-five thousand pounds sterling, the North Auckland Land Development Corporation was established and, with a large mortgage, purchased the Riddell Estate, 6817 acres at Kerikeri, which at that time was a sheep and cattle station run by George Riddell and his family.
Alderton's Group Settlement Plan provided for part of the land to be planted in trees, part for urban development and the remainder to be subdivided into lots of between twenty and thirty acres for horticulture. In the case of absentee owners, the Corporation undertook the work of planting and maintenance.
As the area was windswept and treeless, one of the first concerns of the Corporation was the provision of shelter. Plantations of the quick-growing eucalypt, wattle, redwood and hakea soon transformed the landscape and created the micro-climate which Kerikeri enjoys today. In 1928 Alderton went to Australia and brought back ten thousand citrus trees. Passionfruit, which were to be a cash crop, were planted in between the citrus.
The scheme was widely advertised, designed to appeal in particular to retiring Army and Navy personnel and ex-patriot Britons in Asia. Most of the early purchasers came from China where civil war was creating very unsettled conditions.
George Alderton was Managing Director and lived at the Homestead, which became a guest-house for intending purchasers. Three other directors of the company purchased land and came to reside in Kerikeri—Captain B.H.H. Edkins, retired pastoralist from Wellington, Captain A.E. Emanuel, retired sea-captain from China and E.S. Little, who had business interests in China. It was through the enthusiastic advocacy of Mr Little that many ex-patriots from China settled here.
For the women arriving from countries where domestic labour was readily available, conditions in Kerikeri which entailed kerosene lamps and wood stoves for cooking and little or no domestic help, were lamentable. To ease their burden, a scheme to provide electricity for cooking, lighting and heating was implemented - the first north of Whangarei.
The Income Homes Scheme had been an imaginative concept. Unfortunately, with insufficient funding, little investigation into suitable varieties of fruit and no prior market research, the Company was soon in difficulties. It was in receivership by 1931.
At this stage the new settlers, having committed themselves to Kerikeri and its lifestyle, realised that only by self-help and a united effort could they survive and weather the severe depression that enveloped the world at that time. They formed a Settlers' Association and through the efforts of some devoted members, they gradually improved their environment and made some progress in producing marketable fruit, but it was some years before horticulture in Kerikeri became viable.
Alderton lived only a few years in Kerikeri, returning to Auckland where he died in 1942. Few people have influenced the development of the North to such an extent. The Kerikeri that we know today is the heritage of his schemes and his dreams.