Nelson Historical Society Journal, Volume 3, Issue 5, October 1979
Some Industries of Golden Bay
Some Industries of Golden Bay
(In this comprehensive article J. N. W. Newport has collected as much information as is available at present on the various attempts to establish industries using the mineral resources of Golden Bay. It is regrettable that none had a lasting sucess and that there is now little or no sign of what were at one time extensive works. We are grateful to the Nelson Provincial Museum, Enga Washbourne and N. P. Livingston for the use of photographs which give some idea of the work that was done.)
1. Haematite Paint
In the Parapara Subdivision 1907, J. McIntosh Bell states: "It is remarkable that the great deposit of iron-ore at Parapara, so well known for so many years, should have remained practically untouched up to the present time. In the early days before the advent of white people the iron-ore was used by the Maori people for making paint. In the early seventies Messrs T. B. Louisson and Daniel Johnston began the manufacture of paint in Nelson fron iron-ore brought from Parapara. In 1879 these gentlemen sold their interests to the New Zealand Paint Company, which conducted work in a very desultory fashion for two years, when the affairs of the Company were wound up and the works sold to H. P. and A. J. Washbourn who have conducted the paint manufacture ever since."
Information about the actual processing of iron-ore for making the hematite has been well recorded in Enga Washbourn's well-known book, Courage and Camp Ovens. A Tyree photograph of the Paintworks gives a good illustration of the locality and the substantial buildings housing the plant. The large overshot waterwheel beside the works drove all the machinery, the water for powering it being brought in a race round the hills from the Glengyle stream several miles further back.
Enga Wasbourn gives the following summary of the undertaking:
"William Washbourn was one of the earliest settlers in the Collingwood area. Attracted first by gold in 1857 he became a storekeeper on the goldfields took up land, and in 1873 moved to Richmond Hill, some miles up the Parapara River. Here with his two sons he worked a gold and later a silver mine. These ventures did not prove profitable, and by 1878 the three men moved to Onekaka and became interested in the Paint works.
"They overhauled and altered the plant which was not turning out a satisfactory quality of paint. The machinery consisted of a battery of six heavy stampers and four berdans, driven by a 30ft overshot water wheel. Improvements were made and instead of taking 48 hours of constant firing to dry a ton of paint, it was now possible to do it in eight hours. Formerly four tons of ironstone calcine produced only three tons of bad paint. By making the gratings smaller to keep the ore longer in the stamper boxes, they got 12 tons of good paint out of 24 tons and raised the percentage of iron.
"In the process of manufacture the iron-ore was first calcined (reduced to a powder or a friable state by the action of heat) before going into a battery of six stampers each weighing about 750 lbs (341 kg). After being crushed it flowed through berdans and then passed over nearly still water tanks in order to catch the sediment. The paint was then dried in a kiln and afterwards pulverised through rollers and bagged for market.
"Water to drive the wheel was brought from the Parapara River in a ditch – roughly four feet (1.2m) deep and about the same width across – from the Glengyle several miles further up the Parapara Gorge. Finally it reached the site of the Paintworks, the water flowing in a ditch across the terrace above the wheel and buildings. From here the water poured over the bank in a fluming on to the wheel below. A small wooden lever controlled the starting and stopping of the wheel.
"In June 1885 William Washbourn received a legacy from England which enabled him to buy the whole property and plant. They then enlarged the house moved into it and ran the paint making successfully for 20 years.
"In 1888 William died suddenly in his late sixties and his sons carried on till 1906 when they sold out to Messrs Cadman and Berry."
It is of interest to realise that other attempts were being made to manufacture paint elsewhere in Golden Bay. The Golden Bay Argus on December 1, 1883 carried a leading article and advertisements with testimonials, for Keoghan's dark brown and yellow ochre paints being manufactured by Owen Keoghan at Anahau. The Official Record of the New Zealand Industrial Exhibition, Wellington, 1885, carries the following report: "Owen Keoghan, Takaka, Nelson, supplies a sample of his patent terra-cotta paint, manufactured from metallic ore at the Anahau works. The exhibitor claims that 'this paint has a good finish, is unaffected by change of climate, is impervious to water, is easy to use, and does not require skilled labour to lay it on; and for quality, durability, and cheapness it has no equal'."
From the same source we learn that "Arthur J. Washbourn, Parapara, Nelson, exhibits dry haematite paint from the old-fashioned works late the property of the New Zealand Hermatite Paint Company. The very richness of this paint – over 80 per cent oxide of iron – has attracted attention from the Government, and is largely used in their railway works, bridges, etc. It is also becoming largely used in the shipbuilding yards, foundries, etc; and in addition to being a wonderful preservative for wood and iron, it is also a fire-resisting paint."page 7
This haematite paint which was produced by the Washbourn Brothers was a dry, dusty material and presented some problems in handling and storing. The late A. T. Johnson went to work for Franzens at Port Nelson in 1884 when he was only 16 years of age. In his unpublished reminiscences he stated, "Franzens stored all their hematite paint that was made at Parapara, and it was packed mostly in sack bags. Being a fine ground powder, it used to fill the place with coloured dust, and make everyone who worked at it spit red paint. It worked through all clothes into the skin, and I had to handle boatloads of the stuff, and cart it to the wharf for shipment – 10 tons in a day sometimes – and do all my other chores after it was finished."
There were two shades of the reddish brown paint which was produced. The New Zealand Railways Department was the best customer as nearly every goods shed and railway wagon was painted with haematite paint. This colour was standard while hundreds of woolsheds and other buildings were painted with the brighter colour. The Washbourns experimented with other colours but this writer has no knowledge that these were sold commercially. After operating the plant for about 20 years the Washbourns sold their mining privileges to the Cadman and Berry Syndicate who were intending to develop an iron and steel industry in the area. Henry Washbourn still continued to be optimistic that a paint works would be established at Parapara and this viewpoint was reinforced in 1919 when enquiries came from a Dunedin firm page 8of manufacturers who were looking for a source of supply of red, ochre, or haematite. (A 1922 report stated that the paint works were still in a usuable condition but were not in operation.)
Henry Washbourn continued to take a personal interest in the industrial potential of the district and in 1930 he wrote optimistically about the fact that two industries had been established, the production of fireclay and the manufacture of paint. (The Nelson Paint Company was using base paint material from Parapara.) For several years he had been attempting to get the coastal river limits extended from Tasman Bay to include Golden Bay so that small coastal vessels could work the inlets and river mouths as had been done in earlier years.
2. Fire Clay.
Henry Washbourn was not only an advocate of the great mineral resources of the area but he was also very active in developing possible industries. By 1923 he was developing a trade in the various clays which were readily available in quantity at Parapara. Fire clay appeared to offer great possibilities and the local County Council agreed to clay being removed from the roadside on some of the sharp corners. The heavy cartage over the road to the small wharf in the channel at Onekaka Inlet caused some damage to the road and as the County Council regarded this as "extraordinary traffic" a charge of fourpence (3 cents) per ton was imposed on the clay carted over Council roads. This was accepted by Washbourn and in a letter at the end of 1924 he wrote making payment at this rate on 384 tons carted over the roads between September 15 and November 29 of that year. Hundreds of tons were shipped on small coastal vessels from Skilton's wharf at Onekaka. Some was sent as deck cargo on the Kohi and when she shipped a heavy sea the cargo was awash.
With the advent of motor trucks Charlie Brough transported the clay to the wharf, this work later being taken over by the McNabbs of Collingwood. A large grinding plant was set up at the wharf to refine the clay before it was shipped and the concrete block used as a foundation to hold the engine can still be seen near the wharf site. The Railways Department was a substantial customer for the fireclay in the days of steam locomotives. Brick works, foundries, and other industries used fireclay produced by the Washbourn Onekaka Fire and Pottery Clay Company with the result that there appeared to be bright prospects for developing a good trade. Although operations continued over a period of years the company was beaten by the trade depression of the early 1930's.
When the Onekaka ironworks was established the Washbourn Company supplied the fireclay but later the works simply obtained their own supplies from the roadside formations.
3. Nelson Iron Oxide Paint
In 1925 the Nelson Paint Company was established for the purpose of manufacturing paint from the raw iron oxide materials which were available at Parapara. The late F. G. Gibbs and others in Nelson City promoted the undertaking and took up shares in the enterprise. Harry and Arthur Washbourn were each allocated 125 pounds ($250) worth of shares, apparently in recognition of the exploratory and development work which they had carried out. The paint works was set up in an old brewery building in Bridge Street, Nelson. The manager was W. D. Penny who, with two page 9assistants, developed the factory. The raw material was dirty looking yellow oxide clay when it was brought in and further processing was necessary before it was usable. Motor lorries were in use by the time the works started and the raw material was transported to either Onekaka or Collingwood for shipment. Berdans were also shipped across for use in the factory but it was found that a gritty material was produced and so a hammer mill was also required. Different sites for procuring the raw material were tried and the company minute book records supplies coming from the "White cutting" or from the "Yellow cutting" or other places. (One can get some idea of these locations by looking at the road cuttings on the east side of the Parapara Inlet.)
The company perservered with the paint manufacture but in the course of time it was found that a much more satisfactory product could be obtained by using oxide imported from Great Britain, the first paint made from this being made experimentally in 1927. Some material from Parapapa was still being used and it was hoped that a better sample could be obtained from there. In February 1930 the company directors made a trip to Parapara and left instructions for the supply of another 100 tons with "further supply problematical." They also went to Pakawau to interview Mr Braddock who had a small experimental paint plant. "Nelson Oxide Paints" were soon being wholly made from imported materials.
4. Attempts to Start an Iron Industry.
Various forms of iron and oxides are found in the Collingwood area and from earliest days of European settlement there were suggestions that an iron industry could be an important development in the area. The first mention of any such step being taken is found in the Report on the Golden Bay District presented to the Nelson Provincial Council in 1874 when Warden Frank Guiness stated: "The Parapara Mining Company which is in the process of being formed, has good prospects before it.That iron-ore of a superior quality exists in this place is undoubted, and that it can be profitably worked appears very probable. That coal, of a superior kind, is largely deposited in the district, is proved, and with an ample supply of it the iron mines must prove a source of great wealth, which if once brought into operation will cause a great increase in our population and revenue."
The Handbook of New Zealand Mines, 1887, gives later details: "A company known as the Parapara Iron and Coal Company Ltd was organised in Melbourne in order to smelt iron-ore. The smelting was to take place at Ferntown where there were coal outcrops, and whither the iron-ore was to be taken in barges. Numerous works were undertaken at Ferntown, barges built, and so on, but as the capital of the company was inadequate for the work in hand, nothing materialised, and the company went into liquidation."
The Parapara company mentioned took over the Ferntown coalmine, and commenced the big development work at Ferntown with the buildings, tramline, and the wharf at the Ferntown township itself right beside the mudflat. The undertakings there are described in an obituary concerning the late M. M. Webster published in the Colonist of January 13, 1916. It states page 10that he worked for W. M. Stanton as a storekeeper on the Collingwood goldfields and later participated in a number of mining speculations, starting with an interest in the Collingwood Coal Mining Company, of which he was secretary. Associated with a Melbourne party in the late seventies, he took part in an endeavour to utilise the immense iron ore deposits at Parapara. A company was floated and absorbed the Collingwood Coal Company and upwards of 17,000 pounds ($34,000) was spent on preliminary works, including an iron tramway, foundation for blast furnace, etc. Owing to the lowest estimates from Scotch manufacturers for a blast furnace being over double the estimate of the engineer, those concerned in the venture became of opinion that the capital was not sufficient, and the company was voluntarily wound up."
Late in 1875 Charles Lewis surveyed the Ferntown township, and the coal tramline through the middle of the village as well as the foreshore near the wharf was shown as belonging to the Parapara Iron Company. It was believed that all the required minerals for the industry were readily available there. The company was wound up in 1877.
J. MacIntosh Bell in Parapara Subdivision states that the next attempt to smelt the Parapara iron-ore was made by Howard Keep and John Chambers, of Auckland, who took up a 640 acre (259 ha) lease, and held it for 10 years when it became the property of the Bank of New Zealand. The Bank, in order to hold the ground, constructed a road and stacked a little ore.
From time to time over the next few years the prospects of the iron industry received a good deal of publicity and in 1886 a most optimistic report stated that a man named Russell was interested in the project. Kerr and Adams preceeded to take up leases over 3000 acres (1212 ha) of land with the idea of being able to transfer this to an English company which was to be formed to work both iron and coal deposits in the area. Part of the scheme was to build a deep water port. By the end of 1888 the iron and coal lease held by them was still untouched and John Kerr, in his bluff style, said that he would finance the works himself if no one else would. No immediate response was forthcoming.
A new development took place in 1891 when the Onehunga Iron Smelting Company of Onehunga took 300 tons of iron ore from the Washbourn Brothers lease at the Parapara as a trial shipment. Squires & Co. contracted to get out and cart 50 tons of ore per week until the requisite amount was obtained. As well coke and coal from Ferntown was procured so as to prove all the local materials which would be involved in a local smelting industry. Small craft were chartered to carry cargoes to Nelson where these were transferred to the vessel bound for Onehunga, although it appears that some of the small shipments from Ferntown were taken directly to Onehunga. One can only conclude that the prospects were bright for the establishment of an iron industry as in the following year the company was applying for prospecting rights for limestone over an area of 600 acres (242 ha) and was negotiating with J. Squire for the purchase of part of his property. In June 1893 the men working at the Onehunga Iron Works lease were all discharged.page 11
As a further attempt to raise interest in the iron deposits a ton of iron ore, limestone, and haematite were shipped to Wellington, enroute to London. Later that year a Notice of Application for Mineral Lease for 141 acres (57 ha) at Onekaka, Parapara, was in the name of the New Zealand Iron Mining and Smelting Co. Ltd. This was part of the lease previously held by Adams and Kerr, now reduced in area. The company applied for a further area of 598 acres (242 ha) at Parapara. The scheme involved the floatingof a company with 250,000 pounds ($500,000) capital, which would eventually employ 500 men. Shortly afterwards an Application for Mineral Licence was applied for by the Auckland Founders Syndicate of the Golden Bay and Great Pacific Forge, Steel, Iron Works, and Collieries Co. Ltd. for 200 acres (81 ha) at Onekaka. The advertised capital of 500,000 pounds ($1,000,000) had been increased to one million pounds (two million dollars) when application was made for a further 141 acres (57 ha) in April, 1897.
There were many advocates for the development of the iron industry and one finds that C. E. Buxton, C.E., was giving public lectures on the subject in 1895. A few years later Joseph Taylor was advocating the development of local resources and lectured both locally and in Wellington on "Our Coming Iron Industry." However, the most notable figure was H. P. Wasbourn who, with his great enthusiasm for the utilization of the local mineral resources, was a prolific writer who readily entered into correspondence with either friend or foe in his crusade. Politicians, local bodies, and all interested parties were kept well informed. Some of his newspaper correspondence indicates his untiring efforts to promote local industry.
Again quoting from J. MacIntosh Bell we find that Alfred J. Cadman obtained a lease of 1000 acres (404 ha) of iron-bearing country, and in 1903 a claim of 920 acres (372 ha) was staked, this including the 640 acres (259 ha) of the original Parapara Iron and Coal Company. On the death of Sir A. J. Cadman in 1904, D. Berry of New Plymouth took charge of the iron property, and an effort was made by J. H. Whiteford, in London, to obtain capital, but without success – apparently because of the paucity of necessary data relative to the iron deposit. In the early part of 1907 the Parapara iron and Coal Syndicate was formed and acquired the properties in the Cadman lease, also purchasing the ground held by the Washbourns to the south of that property.
The New Zealand Mining Handbook, 1906, states: "A lease of 920 acres (372 ha) at the Parapara has been secured by the Public Trustee, as trustee and executor of the estate of Sir Alfred Cadman, and the formation of a company in England with a view to working the iron deposits is stated to be practically assured. This lease does not by any means exhaust the iron-deposits of the Parapara, and in the event of the Cadman company being successful no doubt other leases will be taken up and worked …"
Visit of the Governor, Lord Ranfurly and Party 1904
"Early in 1904 the Governor, Lord Ranfurly, and his party, including the Prime Minister, R. J. Seddon, arrived at Collingwood in the Government Steamer, Hinemoa. The official party was ferried ashore in the lifeboat – the harbour being unsuitable for a boat of that size and a Recption Committee was waiting on the wharf. Everybody then climbed into a 'Cavalcade of Conveyances' and the procession set off along the beach to Parapara." After lunch an inspection was made of the paintworks and of the iron deposits. The photo taken by F. Tyree shows A. J. Washbourn at the extreme left, H. P. Washbourn third from the left with a lump of iron ore, R. J. Seddon, Lord Ranfurly and party.
– (Nelson Provincial Museum)
Meanwhile a Christchurch syndicate was manning the Cadman and Washbourn leases. A temporary wharf was erected at Tukurua Point 300 feet (91 m) long with 15 feet (4.5 m) of water at full tide. Railway formation was being constructed from the beach to the iron face at Washbourn's. Twenty-five men were being employed on the development work. (The wharf was destroyed by a storm after having had little use.)
In 1908, Dr Bell, in a lecture at Rockville after a trip overseas, stated that the iron ore deposits at Parapara were the largest in the world. However, even this expert knowledge was insufficient to get an industry started. Men were still employed on the leases and further attempts were being made to float a company. In November, 1908, Professor Park made an exhaustive inspection of the mining properties held by the Parapara Iron Ore Company as it was still envisaged that a substantial industry would be started. A further development was the investigation into the possibilities of harnessing Boulder Lake to secure electric power to run the plant. Interest continued to be maintained in the project but little headway was made.
During the period of great optimism about the iron industry prospects F. G. Gibbs of Nelson bought large areas of pakihi land in the vicinity. A letter from him to one of his associates, although not dated, gives a good indication of conditions at the time. He states: "After leaving Gaukrodger's Hotel at Waitapu (Globe J.N.) you cross the Takaka river by a bridge and go over a low hill. The road is fairly level then till you have crossed the Parawhakaoho near the school (Puramahoi. J.N.). Our land begins about another quarter of a mile past the river which was not bridged when I was last there. There is a very shaky footbridge in the paddock to the right (Parawhakaoho bridge built 1909. J.N.). You can recognise Macartney's small section No. 81 because an old house stands on it close to the road. Our land bounds his section on two sides. The road now ascends steeply (Macartney's Hill. J.N.) through our section No. 1, and then runs through our sections 11 and 12 for about half a mile (0.8 km). The road goes down a siding, with Skilton's and then passes Arthur Washbourn's section 94. His little cottage stands back among the trees on a rise about 300 yards (274 m) from the road. The Onekaka crossing is rather a nasty one (not bridged till 1913. J.N.) but your passengers can cross by the plank bridge on the left. The road undulates past Will Squires sections. Our sections all along here, can be seen from the road at no great distance. After passing young Scadden's house on the left you will find the road branching just in front of old Scadden's house. The road on the right leads down to the beach. You must take the left road which is now completed nearly to Para Para. When near the top of the hill look out for a bridle track leading away to the left. You may have to leave your car here and follow the bridle track over to Para Para. Better ask at Scaddens."
5. Onekaka Iron Works.
Notwithstanding the strenuous efforts which were made a smelting industry had not been established prior to the outbreak of war in 1914 with the result that little further was done until a new company, under the name of Onakaka Iron and Steel Company Limited, was incorporated in 1920 to acquire the leases of the earlier companies and set up works at Onekaka (please note difference in spelling of name. J.N.). A blast furnace was brought down from the North Island and re-erected. This had been in use at New Plymouth to smelt ironsands but the process had not been successful as the sand settled down too tight and air could not get through it and there was too much slag. (The only possibility would have been to make the sand into bricks before loading. Modern plants pellet the sand before loading the blast furnace.) Although the smelter was old it was able to be used at Onekaka after very little modification and was very efficient.
When the company was formed in 1920 with a capital of 80,000 pounds ($160,000) the price of pig iron was 14 pounds ($28) per ton but after having erected the blast furnace and plant the price dropped to 9 pounds ($18) per ton and the directors were faced with a loss in producing the first 100 tons of pig iron. In 1922 the company capital was raised to 150,000 pounds ($300,000) and the plant was extended. Meanwhile the price had declined to 7 pounds 10 shillings ($15) per ton, and later to 6 pound 2 shillings and 6 pence ($12.25) per ton. A mysterious fire occurred at the plant which caused serious damage and held up production with the result that it was 1924 before the plant was fully operational. The furnace capacity was 10,000 tons per year but as the local demand was only 4,000 tons of pig iron the company had to export to make the plant a business proposition. (Spasmodic production was maintained until 1935.) By October 1925 2670 tons had been produced but as the market was saturated the company could not sell its page 16iron. Six hundred tons of pig iron was shipped to Australia and orders from there were coming in when the Australian Customs Duty was increased from! pound to 3 pounds ($2 to $6) per ton. With this setback and the fact that Indian iron was being dumped on the New Zealand market the future was a little gloomy. The Australian situation was unfortunate as the small furnace at Onekaka could turn out a variety of irons which could be used for various purposes whereas the Australian plants with their bigger furnaces could not vary their product. The Onekaka product was a soft iron which was very suitable for making stoves. Two of the satisfied users were Metters (N.Z.) Ltd and the Sunshine Harvester Company of Australia.
Good pig iron was produced during the early trials in 1922 and future prospects appeared bright. Before the company built its own wharf Skilton's wharf on the Onekaka channel was used to land much of the machinery and requirements for the works including one or two loads of coke from Wellington, by the Kohi, for trial workings prior to the building of coke ovens. When a weight of 40 tons was stacked on the wharf it was too heavy for the structure and a stringer broke. The Anchor Foundry at Port Nelson made castings from the first iron produced and in the Marsden Church House (now a Funeral Chapel) in Nile Street, can be seen a steel support carrying the wording "First Casting from Onakaka Iron, A.S. & F. Co., 1922."
Early in 1923 the Onakaka Iron and Steel Company Ltd applied for permission to erect a wharf at Onekaka beach. This was to be on the western side of the Onekaka Inlet running out into the open sea whereas the existing wharf was in the narrow channel leading to the inlet. Meanwhile the company was requesting the Collingwood County Council to make improvements to the road from the beach as they planned to convey at least 450 tons from the inlet to their works. This required that the road be properly formed and gravelled. Developments moved on apace and early in 1924 the company was applying for permission to cross the main road with the tramline. The accompanying map showing the tramline and wharf was signed by John A. Heskett, A.M.I.M.E., M.I.S.I., who was manager of the works until the final closure in 1935.page 17 page 18
The raw materials, both iron-ore and limestone, were obtained from a quarry 1500 feet (457 m) above sea-level and transported down to the works on an aerial tramway one and a half miles (2.4 km) long. The angle was about 26 degrees and the buckets, each carrying one hundredweight (51 kg) spaced 365 feet (111 m) apart travelled at a speed of 337 feet (102 m) per minute. This was controlled by a 25 horsepower motor. When the iron ore was sent down the buckets were filled with the material as it was quarried. It went straight into a rotating washing and crushing plant and the waste material was washed away.
The plant which was installed for making the cast iron pipes made use of the upright process with a greasy core and mould as this was the usual process until that time. Mr N. P. Livingston, now living in retirement, was appointed chief engineer at the works in 1929, and he had charge of the building of the pipe foundry. Five casters were employed and everything was moulded on the site. To make pipes by the vertical process the mould was set on a kellett plate at the bottom while central core was covered with loam, a mixture of fireclay. The moulds were 12 feet (3.68 m) long and a 24 inch pipe (.61 m) pipe weighed one ton. Three men were brought from England as pipe making experts but on arrival it was found that they knew their particular jobs but did not have the technical knowledge which the company required. The plant was ready to proceed but to overcome the teething problems it was necessary to get a good man over from Australia. At first all iron for casting was melted in the foundry by cupola but afterwards it was found satisfactory to transport molten metal direct from the blast furnace in a cupola on a truck line. To make good pipes everything had to be just right, the mixture, heat, and everything else. Twenty vertical gas retorts were used as the moulds had to be warmed by a hot box which was fired all night in readiness for daytime page 20production. The finishedpipes were loaded on to rails with a slight incline so that they moved down by gravitation, and the ends were trimmed at top to remove the riser where the metal had been poured in.
Slumptime conditions soon brought problems. The Australian works commenced making lighter pipes by a horizontal spun process and undercut the price for cast pipes as well as for pig-iron. The Onakaka Company went into receivership in 1931 but the manager, J. A. Heskett, took up the contract to manufacture pipes and pig-iron for the receivers. The situation was difficult. It was necessary to compete with the Australians and there was little or no demand for pipes as the local bodies had no funds available during depression years. The plant finally closed in 1935 and further schemes to reopen work at Onekaka did not come to fruition. (Discussion on this subject can only lead to political arguments!) During the Second World War a page 21smelting plant was again established in case it was required for emergency Allied production but fortunately no such crisis arose.
The total production for the operations between 1922 and 1935 was 81,499 long tons of iron, with the production of pig-iron for the period being 41,195 tons, valued at 209,950 pounds ($419,900). This shows about 51 per cent of pure iron.
When the plant was extended for pipe-making a hydro-electric plant was installed to provide power at the works and, although the secondhand pipes which were used in the lead from the dam to the powerhouse sometimes developed leaks, and caused loss of power, the plant was eventually a very reliable generating station. In 1937 the Golden Bay Electric Power Board was operating the plant and continued to do so until Cobb River power became available in 1944.
Coal was the biggest factor in the matter of cost of running the works. Wages were not high according to modern standards and the plant could be run with the employment of 30 men although a greater number were there in earlier years. This reduction was possible as the result of the introduction of electric power and other improvements. To give some idea of the undertaking a few details are called for. There were large storage bins for the iron-ore, limestone and coke. Thirty beehive ovens produced the coke and this was red hot when taken out. It was elevated into the storage bin after cooling. The blast furnace was 60 feet (18.3 m) high and had six tuyeres, or pipes through which air is forced into the furnace. The burden to load the furnace was one ton of coke (1.016 tonnes), two and a quarter tons of iron ore, 14 hundredweight of lime (711 kg). This amount was measured into a truck which was then hauled to the furnace top. The furnace was tapped twice daily to produce 40 tons of iron per day. Slag was first run off and allowed to go down a gully. Waste gas from the furnace was heated and used to heat the boilers. There was no firing in the boilers but by no means of a hot air stove, using 24 U-pipes the air was heated to 900 degrees Fahrenheit (342dC) and page 22this prevented pollution by carbon monoxide gas in the works. In the engine room there was a special engine with a 16 foot (4.8 m) flywheel which drove a blower with a 65 feet (19.8 m) displacement per revolution which produced the volume of air that passed through the furnace. There were three watch engineers each working eight hours per day for seven days per week.
Another essential part of the works was the laboratory as a good product could only be produced by application to detail to see that the highest standards were maintained. The manager, J. A. Heskett, was an enthusiast who explored the possibilities of making other products. One of his patents was a process to make basic slag while another was the manufacture of slag wool to be used for packing stoves and hot water cylinders. This was made by blowing air through a line of hot slag. One byproduct from the iron works was oxide of iron (crushed iron ore) which was shipped to Port Nelson for purifying the coal gas which was produced there. (Crushed dolomite from the area was shipped to Huntly by way of the Onekaka wharf for use in lining the furnaces which were used to manufacture basic slag there.)
Prior to the closing of the works in 1935 a great deal of clearing up was done and much of the machinery and equipment which was no longer of use was simply smelted in the furnace. The receivers for the company still maintained control and some machinery continued to be used as required for subsidiary purposes after the closure. Iron ore from Parapara was trucked by McNabbs to Onekaka where it was crushed for oxide of iron to be used for purifying coal gas. This was shipped to most of the gas works in New Zealand except Auckland which was supplied from Kaeo in Northland. The same plant was used for crushing dolomite in the early development of that industry in Golden Bay. The stone was brought down from Mt Burnett by the coalmine ropeway and then trucked to Onekaka.page 23
The remains of the company wharf are now one of the very few evident signs that this ambitious undertaking ever existed in the area.
The company was beaten by the economic conditions of the time. The League of Nations Disarmament Agreement to curtail production of war materials brought chaotic conditions to industry which had built up during World War I. Large financial combines collapsed, world markets came to an end, and the world was plunged into the Great Depression of the late 1920's and early 1930's. Some countries were anxious to secure markets – even those that gave little return. Had the Onekaka undertaking not had to contend with the extreme conditions which existed at the time it should have made good.