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New Zealand's Burning — The Settlers' World in the Mid 1880s

The roadless north and the kauri timber trade

The roadless north and the kauri timber trade

Appendix 1 explains our estimate that about 40,000 tons of mainly kauri timber must have been exported to colonial markets outside of Auckland province in 1885. A little of this (say 2,000 tons) will have gone to New Plymouth and Napier but most will have gone to the main ports from Wellington south. To get a quick overview of the ton-mileage involved in these more southern exports, we will presume that all cargoes went by the shortest possible major kauri route, from Kaipara Harbour by the west coast to Cook Strait. We will take all cargoes for the Cook Strait area to Nelson (382 miles), all Canterbury cargoes to Lyttelton (577.6 miles) and all Otago cargoes to Port Chalmers (765.8 miles). Besides simplifying calculations, this will considerably reduce the total ton-mileage. We will give the Cook Strait market 15,000 tons, the Canterbury market 12,000 tons, and the Otago market 11,000 tons. This gives a ton-mileage to supply these three markets of just over 21,000,000. On these calculations Auckland's coastal timber cargoes alone exceeded the year's total ton-mileage goods traffic on the North Island railways. And we have taken no account whatever of shipments to New Plymouth and Napier or cargoes moving between Auckland Province's own ports.

It might be suggested that these large ton-mileage figures are obtained at the expense of a great deal of voyaging in ballast on the return voyages. There are good reasons why this should not have been so. The Northland page 211 economy,10 which included the hard-working bushmen and draught animals of the timber industry, would have needed ample supplies of food and fodder, but the statistics show that the region was falling far short of meeting its own needs. Some illustrative production figures, per 1,000 population, with New Zealand figures in brackets for comparison, are wheat 134 bushels (7,333), oats 343 bushels (14,873), barley practically nil, cheese 41 cwt (77), potatoes 122 tons (197), pigs 396 head (480). In the absence of road and rail routes most of the shortfall had to be made good by sea. We have already given examples of the return cargoes taken on at Lyttelton. Almost all overseas imports, from sugar to crosscut saws, had also to be delivered by sea.

Many of North Auckland's coastal shipping movements were not included in the official statistics. Much of the roadless north was settled and serviced by sea, with countless voyages to beaches and jetties which do not appear in the official record. In his Pride in their Ports11 John O'C. Ross records that there were ten harbours between North Cape and Bream Tail near Waipu, ‘most of them deep and well sheltered’. Only three of Northland's east coast ports are listed in the official statistics, although these figures may also include shipping at some of the other harbours. But there must have been a good deal of movement between harbours and landing places unlisted in the statistics. On the Northland west coast the statistics cover only the Hokianga and Kaipara ports. A major omission from the statistics here will have been the lack of any account of movements within these large harbours. Yet in 1885 their largely roadless shores were being serviced mainly by sea, and voyages on the Kaipara could be of over 60 miles, on the Hokianga up to 20 miles.

Many sailings on the coasts of the rest of Auckland Province will have escaped the net of official statistics. Manukau Harbour also had its own internal voyages, and there were numerous unlisted landing places along the shores of the Hauraki Gulf and the Bay of Plenty. From its very nature the Auckland coastal shipping industry would have been difficult to monitor. In 1885, 316 of the 403 vessels produced by the colony's shipbuilding industry were constructed in the Auckland Province. With under 23 per cent of the population Auckland produced 65 per cent by value of 1885′s New Zealand built ships. Many of them were specially designed for the needs of the Auckland coast. Such were the flat bottom scows, developed for trading to open beaches, up shallow rivers, and across the west coast bars.12 ‘Touchstone's’ picture of Auckland Harbour as a place of ‘scores of small schooners and cutters' was well based in fact. Sailing ships comprised 60 per cent of the vessels cleared from Auckland Harbour in 1885, but only 27.5 per cent of the colony's total sailings. For the Auckland Province sailing ships represented 15.5 per cent of the tonnage cleared in 1885, for the rest of New Zealand the figure was only 6.5 per cent. Taking both steam and sail into page 212 account, the average size of vessel cleared from Auckland ports was 144.1 tons, for the rest of New Zealand 254.6 tons. This Auckland mosquito fleet undoubtedly did a great deal of work of which no official account was taken.