William Riddet (1896 – 1958), Dalry-born academic in the subjects of agriculture and dairying.

On the 16th of March, 1896, William Riddet, known as “the founder of dairy science in New Zealand”, was born in Cubeside Farm, Dalry.

His father Robert Lang Riddet was described as a quiet and kind man who took an active role in the towns church and community, farming his land as his father had before him. He married William’s mother, Lillias Tweed Miller in Stewarton in 1884, and they went on to have 8 children together.

Cubeside farmed both animals and crops, and William was expected to help with duties on the farm, whilst also attending to his studies. He attended Dalry Public School, and in 1910 he received the Blair Medal. He then went on to study at Irvine Royal Academy and after leaving school he stayed on at home, working and learning on the farm.

In April 1914, now aged 18, William became a student at the West of Scotland Agricultural College in Glasgow, studying dairying and agriculture. He studied for a year before volunteering for war duties. He was with the Royal Army Veterinary Corps for a couple of years and then with the Royal Scots Fusiliers. He saw action in both the Eastern and Western Fronts and when he was demobilised in 1919, he had achieved the rank of captain.

William returned to his studies in Glasgow where he gained honours in both his diplomas for agriculture (NDA) and dairying (NDD). He was also awarded many other medals and prizes during his college years and was described as a dedicated and brilliant student, and he graduated 1923 with a B.Sc. in Agriculture.

For the next couple of years William held various positions in Scotland, including Assistant Organiser for Renfrew and Dumbarton, Organiser for Ayr and as a recorder for the Arran Milk Record Society. He also lectured in dairying in the Dairy School for Scotland, which would be his last post in his homeland.

In May 1925, aged 29, William was appointed to a professorship at the Logan Campbell Chair of Agriculture at Auckland University College, New Zealand.

When the New Zealand Agricultural College Act 1926 came into being, William, along with Sir Geoffrey Peren, had the mammoth task of persuading the Victoria and Auckland University Colleges to relinquish their schools of agriculture in favour of a single school. This school would eventually be known as the Massey Agricultural College with William appointed to the chair of agriculture and as director of the newly established Dairy Research Institute.

William Riddet and Sir Geoffrey Peren (Image courtesy of Massey University, New Zealand)

William’s contribution to dairy science is immeasurable, his scientific knowledge was outstanding, and he was always full of new ideas. He received the gold medal of the British Society of Dairy Technology in 1953 and was decorated with the C.B.E in 1954 by Queen Elizabeth II when she was on a visit to New Zealand.

William married Mary Stuart McLean in 1928 and they had 2 children together, a boy and a girl. Unfortunately, Mary died in 1945 and he remarried 3 years later to Dorothy. They were together until his death from leukaemia in December 1958 aged 62.

At his memorial address, he was described as a “leader of progressive thought and action, a great dairyman, a great educator, a man of ideas.”

The Riddet Institute at Massey University is named in his honour.