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Early chemists of South Wairarapa to feature in new book

October 14, 2019 October 2019 No Comments

A medicine bottle from Valentine’s Martinborough Pharmacy. Photo courtesy Adam Simpson

By Mark Pacey of the Wairarapa Archive

An idea to catalogue all the old glass bottles with the names of Wairarapa chemists on them soon developed into something more.

It was going to be a basic booklet of photos and drawings, but what about the history of the businesses themselves? It was well worth the effort to find out about these shops and those that ran them. 

But not all shops had bottles with their names on them so it was also decided to find out who the first chemists were in each of the Wairarapa towns and write about them too. What began as a simple catalogue was now becoming a fully-fledged history book.

Daniel Keir was the first chemist in the South Wairarapa region, setting up his shop in Featherston in 1880. He was in business just six years before selling to William Fife. 35 years and six owners later the business was now in the hands of Thomas Ernest Lang and continues to this day under the name of Lang’s Pharmacy.

Martinborough got its first chemist in the early 1890s when Thomas Frank Valentine set up in town. He in turn sold to Charles Randall Poulter in 1908 and it operated under this name for fifty years. Following the sale of Poulter’s Pharmacy there was a period of eight years where it changed hands no fewer than four times. In 1966 the name was changed to the Martinborough Pharmacy to which it is still known.

Between them, Featherston and Martinborough had 17 different pharmacies over a 140 year period. Three of these will have a detailed history written about them and all will have a brief description of the years of operation and proprietors. The book will also feature a photograph, label or bottle relating to each of the Wairarapa chemist shops.

This is where readers of the Martinborough Star can help. A book is only as good as the material that’s in it. If anyone has anything relating to any of the chemists that were in South Wairarapa or any part of Wairarapa from early photographs and embossed bottles to modern bottles and labels I would be very appreciative if you could contact me.

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