1836—William Francis Alexander
Alexander & Co Ltd has heritage built on more than 150 years of family enterprise and business in New Zealand. Steve Alexander’s great, great grandfather, William Francis Alexander was born in England around 1836. He emigrated to NZ in 1858 on the sailing ship "Robert Small" and established a cordial manufacturing business in Kaiapoi in 1861.
William Francis Alexander‘s obituary in “The Press”, 27 October 1904 read as follows:
"Yesterday Mr William Alexander, known in North Canterbury and on the West Coast, died at Kaiapoi at the age of 68. He was a native of England, and served eight-years in the Royal Navy, and was with the fleet at the Crimean War. He arrived in Lyttelton by the Robert Small in 1858, and was for some time employed on tho Lyttelton Tunnel works, and also at the Kaiapoi ferry punt, which plied across the Waimakariri at the site of the present traffic bridge up to the year and in the succeeding year, and there was a rush of miners to Westland by the Teremakau Saddle route, in 1865 Mr Alexander started a store at the Waitohi (Waitua Gorge), on the way to the head of the Hurunui.
The miners, after passing Mr J, D. Lance's Horsley Downs Station, got their last supplies at before crossing the Saddle and reaching the Greenstone Creek, which was a good week's tramp. When this route became practically closed by the opening of the Otira road by Arthur’s Pass, Mr Alexander moved to Jackson's, and was storekeeping there for some time and also had a ferry at Jackson's. Some years later he returned to Kaiapoi, and did some storekeeping and farming, till recently. He leaves a widow and four sons and three daughters."
Alexander Lane in Kaiapoi is named after William. William Alexander, storekeeper and cordial manufacturer. He established his business in High Street (now Williams St.) in 1861. The business remained in the Alexander family until recently.
1860—William Francis Alexander Jnr
His son, born 1860 in Christchurch, was also called William Francis Alexander. He was a storekeeper and later established a coach service from the railhead at Little River to Akaroa, which ended with an accident in which he suffered severe head injuries, after a horse kicked him in the head.
William Francis Alexander Junior son was named Thomas Oates Alexander. Thomas was born on 07 May 1884 at Little River, Banks Peninsula, Christchurch. Thomas earned distinction from the Canterbury School of Art in Carpentry, Joinery and Architecture and then established a building and contracting business called “T. O. Alexander” at 14 Okever Street, Woolston.
1923—Ralph Goddard Alexander
Thomas Alexander’s son and Steve Alexander’s father was Ralph Goddard Alexander. Ralph was born on 21st April 1919 in Riccarton, Christchurch. From then until 1921 he lived at Burnham, Christchurch after which and until 1923 he lived at New Brighton. The family then moved to Napier.
Early childhood years Ralph enjoyed building huts in the back yard or "messing around" in boats in the old river bed opposite the family house at Georges Drive. Here started Ralph’s long association with building, boats and water.
With the outbreak of WW II in 1940 Ralph volunteered and joined the Army. In 1942 while serving with the New Zealand forces in the Middle East, he was taken prisoner at Bardia on 25 July 1942. He escaped and rejoined the New Zealand forces only to be recaptured at Al Alamein where he was a prisoner of the Italians for 18 months.
After escaping from POW camp in 1943 and for the second time he spent six months living with peasants in the mountains of Northern Italy and progressively walking south through the mountains to rejoin British and New Zealand forces in Southern Italy.
In 1947 Ralph started business operating out of his garage. He did not have much money so had to use his ingenuity and imagination to make the most of his own machinery. After cutting his teeth on small jobbing work he got his first house to build.
Shortly afterwards he built his first house at Westshore, Napier which included such innovative features as a double sided fire place, endless clothes line and integral wood box. Having to clear large blocks of concrete and debris left over from the old freezing works.
In 1954 Ralph was joined in business by his younger brother Cedric and so was born R G & C Alexander Limited. The company started its life rather frugally, with just the one custom made cut-down car and trailer to transport the building materials to site and Ralph running the carpentry and joinery shop from the family home.
By 1957 Ralph and Cedric’s business had grown to an extent that they built a new factory in the newly formed industrial area in Onekawa. The premises on the corner of Austin and Dunlop Streets was one of the first in the area. Again because of the shortage of capital both Ralph and Cedric had to make a good deal of their plant and machinery. One interesting article was the sawdust burner that was built from pumice extracted from the Mohaka river and trucked back to Napier. Their work in these years was generally in the housing and joinery fields and they were renowned and respected for the quality of their work. From these early years Ralph took an active part in Builders Associations affairs.
Education and commercial construction began to feature prominently in the company's portfolio as well as several high profile industrial buildings - the most noteworthy of these being the Weldwell Electrode Factory. Rapid expansion within the city of Napier meant new housing developments were needed and by 1963 demand driven by the housing shortage and a lucrative contract for the Government Group Housing Scheme saw RG & C Alexander further expand its operations. The company also became involved with the building of sewerage and stormwater pumping stations for the Napier City Council.
The company’s diverse commercial work included the Muddy Creek Diversion (a landmark project undertaken to prevent flooding in the Ngaruroro River area) and the raising of the roof on the Hawke’s Bay Motor Company. Unique challenges were posed by the construction of the 1,200m2 three level structure (now the front of the Civic Court Mall) with both lower floors remaining occupied while work went on above.
Ralph always played an active part in the local master builders association serving on the executive for many years and as President in 1956 and 1961. Those were the days when the association ran numerous courses and functions for their members because the professionally run courses that we have now did not exist. The company always believed in staff training and probably trained as many apprentices as any other company in Napier over the years. His sons Dennis and Chris were among the first to partake in the cadetship scheme and both graduated with NZ Certificate in Building. Ralph’s commitment to the industry took him to President of the New Zealand Master Builders Federation in 1965.
Ralph attended builders conferences up and down the country and in 1961 Ralph and his older brother Tom enjoyed the unique distinction of both being their respective association presidents in Hawkes Bay and Canterbury.
In 1967 he was exposed to the international side of contracting through the IFAWPCA conference in Wellington. This he followed up in 1970 with a trip to the IFAWPCA conference in Bangkok. Ralph continued to represent federations as their representative on the Standards Association of NZ from 1966 to 1982.
Even during the growth years of the 60’s business was not easy in the building industry, with too many builders and excessively competitive prices. Despite this and thanks to many hours of hard work R G & C Alexander Ltd managed to survive and progress. The expansion took them away from the traditional housing fields into commercial, industrial and even civil engineering projects. One of their keys to survival was the ability to undertake unusual or difficult contracts, an example of which was raising the roof of the H B Motor Co building and several sewage pumping stations. Fire destroyed the company’s joinery factory and offices in November 1965. Undeterred by this disaster Ralph and Cedric built a bigger and better factory in Dunlop Road.
With his sons now back from studies in Auckland, Ralph was able to get some assistance in the administration of the company. Things were still tough in the industry and one particular contract had its share of disasters. The indoor heated pool at Onekawa Park was flooded while in the excavation stages, a mobile crane fell over on the site and a staff member was almost fatally electrocuted, the same person recovered only to skewer his foot on a nail. To cap it all off, when the building was almost finished an accidental leak of chlorine gas caused damage to the building but luckily no personal injuries resulted.
Ralph’s service to the industry was rewarded in l979 when he was made a life member of the H B Master Builders Association. A fitting tribute to his years of dedication.
In 1999, Steve Alexander, Ralph’s son, established Alexander & Co. Ltd in Auckland.