Story: Turner, Harvey

Page 1 - Turner, Harvey

Turner, Harvey

1889–1983

Auctioneer, horticultural wholesaler and distributor, businessman

This biography was written by Margaret McClure and was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand BiographyVolume 4, 1998

Harvey Turner was born on 11 September 1889 above his father's fruit shop in Karangahape Road, Auckland, the son of Maude Mary Constable and Edward Turner (born Tredgett). He was the third of their nine sons; a daughter had died before he was born. In 1891 Edward settled with his family on 200 acres of bushland at Huia, near the mouth of the Manukau Harbour, hoping to earn his living as an orchardist. He was not successful and in 1895 established a wholesale fruit company in the city.

The family remained at Huia for several years; Harvey was educated at Huia Public School, and later claimed that his career was shaped by his rugged childhood in the Huia bush. He left school at 12 to help his father and two older brothers in the business. He looked after the accounts and became the firm's first typist, and a few years later, despite his quiet voice, began auctioneering. At 21 he began travelling to Sydney and the Pacific islands to negotiate with fruit growers.

In 1912 Harvey and three brothers bought out their father's business, retaining the name E. Turner and Sons. When the Auckland Provincial Fruitgrowers' Co-operative Society was liquidated in 1919, the brothers saw an opportunity to pre-empt grower co-operatives setting up as rivals to merchants. In 1920 they enlisted growers in a new co-operative company, Turners and Growers, which combined grower shareholders and the Turner auctioneers.

Although all nine Turner brothers were to work in the business, Harvey quickly became the dominant figure and driving force, initiating many of the changes that helped the business expand to become New Zealand's largest fruit and vegetable wholesalers by mid century. He was managing director of the company from 1920 to 1962, and chairman of directors from 1934 to 1969. An astute businessman, Turner was quick to seize on new opportunities as Auckland's population burgeoned in the inter-war years. When the Auckland City Council built new markets beside the wharves, Turners and Growers soon bought out several auctioneer firms in the building, and extended the company's interests to include eggs, butter, grain, flowers, tea and used cars. From 1936 they formed associate companies and built their own markets in other North Island towns.

Harvey Turner became a leader in organising fruit wholesale companies and defending their role. Together with E. O. Reilly of Dunedin, he was architect of the New Zealand Fruit and Produce Merchants' and Auctioneers' Federation, which set in place national ethical standards for marketing fresh goods and initiated the publication of a monthly trade journal, Fruit and Produce. He was also a strong advocate of private enterprise in wholesale fruit marketing, especially after the first Labour government's Internal Marketing Division took over the distribution of imported fruit in 1938. The formation of the IMD (in Turner's terms the 'Infernal Marketing Division') was a terrific blow to old-established fruit importers. With the election of a National government in 1949, and the diminution of the government's role in marketing, Harvey was one of the founders of Fruit Distributors Limited, a national organisation of wholesale merchants which became the major importer of fruit into New Zealand for 40 years; he remained its chairman from 1951 to 1979.

Turner was innovative in applying new technology to the horticultural industry, and travelled overseas regularly looking for new ideas on the design of markets, and on the efficient handling of fruit and vegetables. He foresaw the potential of air freight for opening up markets for New Zealand's perishable fruit and vegetables in the northern hemisphere. In 1940 he was on the inaugural commercial flight between New Zealand and Australia, and later argued for the construction of the Mangere airport to assist air-freighted exports. Under his direction, Turners and Growers pioneered the export of strawberries to Australia, Britain and the United States, sending the first test batch to Europe for Prime Minister Peter Fraser to distribute in a London hospital in 1946.

In 1959 Turner and his sons changed the name of Chinese gooseberries to kiwifruit to market them in the United States, and in 1962 the company sent New Zealand's first shipment of onions to Japan; both initiatives brought an enormous growth in New Zealand's horticultural export earnings, and kiwifruit growing became a world-wide industry. In another advance, in 1959 Turners and Growers used the refrigerated unit from a lorry to send plums on the fore-deck of the Monterey to Honolulu; this was one of the first refrigerated shipments of New Zealand fruit to be sent overseas.

Harvey Turner was also active in the community. In 1913 he was a founding member of the Mount Albert Baptist Church and he served as a life trustee and a Sunday school superintendent. He was on the executive of the Auckland Chamber of Commerce for 20 years: during the depression he led a deputation to the minister of public works, Robert Semple, suggesting the completion of the Scenic Drive in the Waitakere Ranges to provide work for the unemployed without the need for work camps. For 18 years he was a member of the Auckland Harbour Board and an early advocate of a harbour bridge for Auckland. He became Imperial Airways' representative on the board of Tasman Empire Airways Limited (the forerunner of Air New Zealand) when it was founded in 1939. At the outbreak of the Second World War, he offered his business experience to the army and, at General Bernard Freyberg's invitation, set up the New Zealand Forces Club in Cairo, working there in 1941–42 with the rank of major.

Turner had married Margaret Ethel Penman in Auckland on 21 October 1914; they had three sons and two daughters. Two sons joined the family business; both daughters became missionaries.

Harvey Turner was short, stocky, and handsome. As a young man he enjoyed wrestling and gymnastics, and he remained a keen sportsman into old age, fishing, playing tennis and swimming. He attended the markets daily in his suit until he was 92. Throughout his life he was a keen conservationist, a fluent speaker, a vigorous, strong-minded and autocratic man. He was made a CBE in 1953 and was knighted in 1967. He died, aged 94, in Auckland on 31 December 1983, survived by his children. His wife had died in 1978.