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Mary Jane Innes - A Lady In The Brewing Business



16363.jpgNot too many women own breweries today. Even fewer did in 1890. But well-known Waikato Breweries was once owned and managed successfully by Mary Jane Innes - after she had tidied up her husband's mess.

The company she eventually established with her son - C. L. Innes and Co. - remained a profitable local business for over 60 years, which is why many objects relating to the Innes family are carefully tucked away at the Waikato Museum.

Mary Jane Innes (nee Lewis) was born in Wales in 1852, and immigrated to New Zealand with her brother and sister in 1870. After arriving in Auckland on the Asterope, the party settled in Ngaruawahia, where Mary Jane met Charles Innes, a Scotsman 20 years her senior, who had some years earlier established a struggling brewery in the town. The pair married and moved to Te Awamutu, where Mary Jane assisted Charles in financing a new brewery with money from the sale of her parent's farm. In 1875 the first of their 10 children was born and Mary Jane raised the family in a large home opposite the brewery.

But by 1888, Charles was bankrupt again. In a bold move, Mary Jane announced by public notice that she was the new manager of the Te Awamutu brewery, which brewed ale and produced aerated waters. By November of 1889, she announced she had also taken over the management of Waikato Brewery, after which the family moved to Hamilton to concentrate their efforts on the Waikato brewery.

In 1899 Charles Innes died, apparently while taking a bath in beer vat. Mary Jane's grandson, Colin V. Innes notes that it was at this time that Mary Jane most clearly displayed her strength of character and independence. She arranged a string of loans, paid off her late husband's debts and became the sole owner of Waikato Breweries with an impressive list of assets. In 1900, Mary Jane arranged a deed of partnership with her eldest son, Charles Lewis Innes, who was in an apprenticeship at the Great Northern Brewery in Auckland. A new company that many Hamiltonians are familiar with - C. L. Innes and Co. - was established with Charles as manager.

Mary Jane shifted to Auckland a few years later, leaving the sole management of the company to her son. By 1912 she had relinquished all shares in the company, which continued to expand and flourish for several decades. She died in 1941, and is buried at the Hamilton East cemetery next to her husband.

16364.jpgNews-clippings from her death, the death certificate of her husband, architectural plans and photographs of the family are all held at the Waikato Museum. Not surprisingly, beer bottles, soda siphons and drink flagons are also part of the collection, which is preserved to tell the story of this influential business family. The most recent donation was in 2005, when Colin Innes donated his Father's cycling trophy. The silver plated cup, made by Reed and Barton, was presented to Charles Lewis Innes in 1895.

The story of Mary Jane Innes is certainly a unique one. She turned around bankruptcy to become a successful businesswoman, long before gender equality was even thought of. And beer brewing was at the heart of it all.