Friday, 19 June 2015

The Great Tauranga Cockroach Cure

Auckland Star, 4 March 1908, Courtesy of Papers Past
Tauranga has wakened to find itself famous. It has produced a preparation which, according to Dr Purdy [Auckland District Medical Officer], is a sure killer of cockroaches. In future, Tauranga will be known to the whole world as the place where the cockroach-killers come from.
The Observer, 7 December 1907, page 16.
Mr Thomas Albert, or Albert Thomas, Pruden (1872-1957) ran “The Art Studio” on The Strand, next to Mr Wayte’s Fancy Goods Department. He advertised himself as a painter, signwriter, paperhanger, glazier, and artistic director, and he sold wallpaper and artists’ materials. To supplement his income he also gave painting lessons to those wishing to develop their artistic talents. But this art lover had a very practical side: he invented and patented an “insect destroyer”, and this is what became known as the Tauranga Cockroach Cure, even though in 1901 when he took out the patent he had been living in Taranaki.

What its formula was we don’t know. The Waihi Daily Telegraph believed it was a substance found in a natural state at Tauranga – in which case the vigour of the present-day cockroach population in this town is hard to explain – but most other papers describe it as a “concoction”. One suggestion is that it was a mixture of sugar and arsenic, which would have killed just about anything, let alone cockroaches. Spread in the holds of ships and in the premises of a particularly badly-infested Auckland bakery, it was, apparently, very effective. Mr Pruden advertised it in the newspapers for a couple of years, but in about 1909 it vanishes from the headlines and the advertisement columns and does not reappear.

George Sound, by George E. Pruden
Mr Pruden came from an artistic family. This painting is by his brother, George Edmund Pruden, who is noted in Una Platts’ Nineteenth Century New Zealand Artists as exhibiting with the Canterbury Society of Arts, 1905-1912.

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