Abstract: Strength in Numbers: The Case for Networks in Colonial Innovation, 1880-1900

Ian Hunter


This paper will examine the way in which innovation assisted New Zealand's search for economic viability in the late nineteenth century. Pastoralism was central to the development of New Zealand's colonial economy. By the early 1880s, however, the pressures of falling international commodity prices, coupled with a rapidly increasing population, demanded a broader and more diverse economic base. Innovation provided part of this solution. This was particularly manifest in the export trade, where networks of entrepreneurially minded individuals pursued both product and process innovations. Technological advances in frozen-meat production and dairy processing opened up new markets. Complementary goods and services were also stimulated in areas such as engineering and shipping. Using a case analysis of these industries, I will argue that the force behind such innovation was primarily the entrepreneur, who characteristically acted in tandem with networks of like-minded individuals, rather than the large-scale established firm or government. These entrepreneurial networks provided capital, talent, and trade contacts that aided the expansion of these new initiatives. As a result, this type of organizational structure and operation played a significant role in colonial business development.