For many years through the early to mid 20th century, passengers travelling home on the Lyttelton express train from the city would emerge from the dark train tunnel to the view of the ships in port and the then famous “Lane’s Emulsion” sign halfway up the eastern slopes below the Timeball Station. A good view of the sign c. 1935 can be seen in the top right corner of our photograph from the Museum’s collection, overlooking the young men from the Lyttelton Main School diving off the Diamond Harbour ferry jetty.
Lane’s Emulsion was the 1898 invention of one Mr. Edward (Ted) C. Lane, chemist, of Oamaru. His old factory from 1908, in Oamaru’s historic precinct, still bears the Lane’s Emulsion trademark and motto “It’s Famous because It’s Good”, and next time you’re in Oamaru be sure to check it out at the Harbour St Bakery and Deja Moo Icecream Parlour.
The main ingredients were cod liver oil and beechwood creosote, as well as salts of lime and soda, brandy (as a solvent!), and various ‘secret ingredients’ including cinnamon and saccharin, with egg yolks as an emulsifier to bind the concoction together. The resulting opaque yellow, creamy emulsion with its distinctive smoky–fishy–spice flavour profile was marketed as a general tonic as well as “blood purifier” and a cure-all for consumption (tuberculosis), croup, bronchitis, asthma, catarrh, and other ailments of the throat and lung.
Despite its rather unique taste and texture – Ted’s own daughter Molly admitted “I didn’t like it!” – Lane’s Emulsion was a healthy mainstay for generations of New Zealand and even Australian children. Ted opened a branch factory in Melbourne sometime in the 1920s, with international sales in Britain and around the Pacific. While the health benefits may have been perhaps questionable, and a spoon of cod liver oil much cheaper if perhaps less palatable, Ted Lane also excelled at marketing, with signage and graphics appearing on buildings and banners around the country as well as old Melbourne city, and of course in our own port of Lyttelton. The old Lane’s Emulsion sign below the Timeball Station remained into the 1960s, until it apparently burnt down, some say in an act of arson!
While Ted passed on in 1947, the business continued along with its famous brand until the last bottle of Lane’s Emulsion shuttled off the production line in 1984, no doubt a victim of the so-called ‘modern vitamin industry’. Crombie and Price of Oamaru bought the business in 1971 and still hold the rights to the recipe, with an approved Lane’s Emulsion flavoured ice cream being released by Deja Moo in 2014 … minus the cod liver oil and creosote but apparently still quite medicinal – "Take None But Lane's!"
See also https://culturewaitaki.org.nz/...