Although James Speight was first licensed as a brewer on today’s date, 6 June, in 1876, James Speight & Co. of the City Brewery in Rattray Street, Dunedin, had already produced their first ale some two months earlier on 6 April. The ‘Maltsters, Brewers and Bottlers’, Charles Greenslade, William Dawson and James Speight were former employees of one James Wilson at the Well Park Brewery, also known as the Dunedin Brewery, near the Water of Leith in North Dunedin.
But the Speight’s brew which originated in the Rattray Street premises, and was destined to become an ‘icon’ of southern New Zealand, was not the first brewed on this site. Between January 1867 and December 1871, James Wilson, the trio’s former employer and his business partner, Thomas Birch, had operated as Brewers and Maltsters from these same premises.
A little over two weeks after James Speight’s brewer’s licence was granted, the City Brewery advertised for the first time in The New Zealand Tablet, the weekly Catholic newspaper published in Dunedin from 1873 until 1996 when it closed.
The advertisement was prominently placed, high up in the middle column on the front page. However, ‘Maltseers’ should read Maltsters; perhaps the proofreader for this issue had imbibed a few too many samples of the advertisers’ product!
That such an advertisement should appear in a church newspaper is hardly surprising given Frank Tod’s description of the sites of the earliest Catholic Masses in Dunedin:
“The first Mass was celebrated … in the loft of the old bottle store of Burke the brewer. About 20 people were present and they had to ascend a rather rickety ladder and squeeze through a narrow trapdoor to get to the loft. The second Catholic Mass in Dunedin was celebrated in the skittle alley of the Queen’s Arms Hotel, Princes Street South.” (Frank Tod, Pubs Galore: History of Dunedin Hotels 1848 – 1984, p 67).