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The Cyclopedia of New Zealand [Taranaki, Hawke's Bay & Wellington Provincial Districts]

Industrial Experiments and Developments

Industrial Experiments and Developments.

But the colony as a whole, and the New Plymouth district in particular, suffered severely from the commercial depression which was the inevitable consequence of the war. The attempt which was made to populate the district with military settlers was not a success. At the time when Governor Bowen visited New Plymouth, towards the end of 1869, the total population of the district was about 4,350, including the whole area from the Patea to the Mokau. But the settlers made up for their small numbers by an amount of energy and enthusiasm unsurpassed in the records of New Zealand colonisation. One of the enterprises to which the settlers first directed their attention was the attempt to utilise the mineral wealth of their adopted country. “Along the shores of Taranaki exists a very considerable quantity of magnetic ironsand, which has been washed by the rivers out of the tufa which surrounds the base of Mount Egmont, and carried to the sea beach. It appears to be a sublimate of iron and titanium, produced by volcanic agency, and converted into a black magnetic oxide while in a heated state, by contact with heated steam. It produces a smelting of fifty to sixty-one per cent, of iron of the finest quality, the tensile strength of which has been discovered by experiment, to be greater by thirty-three tons five hundredweight to the square inch, than that of the best English iron. The iron, when converted into steel, has been put to the most severe tests by many eminent steel and tool makers in Great Britain, and has been admitted by them to be unsurpassed by any in the world; its closeness of grain, brilliancy of polish, keenness of edge, elasticity and strength, exciting general admiration, and leading to a unanimous page 36 statement that it must some day supersede all other brands of steel for the finer and more expensive branches of the cutlery and edge tool trade.

“In 1848, Mr. John Perry, carpenter, and an old settler of the province, made an attempt to smelt this sand by erecting a small furnace, on the banks of a small stream, which flows into the Huatoki river on the Carrington Road. Mr. Perry was encouraged in this work by Governor Grey, who promised him a lease of the sand, if his experiments were successful. Mr. Perry found a great difficulty in the fineness of the sand, which made its way to the bottom of the furnace before the fire could operate upon it with sufficient power to smelt it. Some small quantities of iron were, however, produced by him, and forged into small articles by Mr. Wood, the blacksmith. After this, Mr. C. Sutton made some experiments in the same direction on the town cliff, near to Mount McCormick, but was unsuccessful.

“In 1858, the Provincial Government of Taranaki granted a lease of the ironsand to Captain Morsehead, a retired officer of the East India Company's service, who went to England for the purpose of endeavouring to raise a company to work the ore. But Captain Morsehead returned unsuccessful from his mission, and in 1869 a firm from Wellington, trading under the name of Henochsburg and Co., erected a furnace on the South Road, just outside the boundaries of New Plymouth, and attempted to work the sand. Partial success attending these operations, the firm was expanded into a company bearing the title of the Pioneer Steel Company. Failing to make the steel flow freely from the surface, the company suspended operations, and deputed Mr. Chilman to the ironmasters of England, to represent to them the value of the ore, to obtain information as to the best method of reducing it, and to sell the works if possible, and raise a new company. Mr. Chilman returned, having effected the sale of the lease and interest of the company to Mr. Walduck, and with some valuable information.

“Mr. Walduck, failing to make use of the works, or to avail himself of the interest of the Pioneer Company, another company was formed chiefly by the exertions of Mr. E. M. Smith, who had discovered a method of preventing the choking of furnaces by the ironsand, by forming it with clay into compound bricks before subjecting it to the fire. This company bore the name of the New Zealand Titanic Steel and Iron Company (Limited). Its proposed capital was £50,000 in 5,000 shares of £10 each, with power to increase to £100,000. Of this capital, £20,000 was called up, and expended in works at the Henui, including a blast charcoal furnace on the best American plan, and a powerful engine and apparatus for producing a hot blast. Alter the works had been completed, and everything was in readiness for commencing operations, the company shut up the place, and refused to charge the furnace. At the earnest solicitation of the shareholders residing in Taranaki, and on their guaranteeing to protect the company from loss or damage, permission was given for experimental operations to be conducted. The first of these was an experimental reduction of ore, which was chiefly hematite, from the Parapara mine at Nelson. The next experiment was conducted under the supervision of Messrs E. M. Smith and D. Atkinson, by which ironsand alone was reduced. On Saturday, the 23rd of September, 1876, the furnace was tapped, and three tons fifteen hundredweight of metal in pigs was produced, which has since been tested in England, and reported to be iron of the best possible quality. After these experiments the furnace was blown out, and the works have since remained in a quiescent state.”

Milmoe's Falls, Tawhiti, Normanby.

Milmoe's Falls, Tawhiti, Normanby.

To this sketch of the history of this embryo industry—extracted from Wells' History of Taranaki—it may be added that owing chiefly to the energy of Mr. E. M. Smith, and the enthusiasm of the late Sir Alfred Cadman, Taranaki ironsand promises soon to play an important part among the mineral resources of the colony.

Of another industry from which the pioneer settlers hoped great things — petroleum-boring — it can now (May, 1906) be said that oil has been found in quantities and under conditions which justify the expectation of brilliant and farreaching commercial results.