Historical Records of New Zealand
S, Curtis to the Lord High Admiral
S, Curtis to the Lord High Admiral.
In a conversation with the Revd. Mr. Page, the brother of Admiral Page, on the subject of the New Zealand flax, at his suggestion I promised to lay before Your Royal Highness a few remarks on it, with a view of bringing it into extensive culture for the navy of this Kingdom.
The plant is the Phormium tenax, or New Zealand flax, not uncommon in our collections of exotic plants, although not hardy enough to bear our severest winters. It would not be worth the expense of cultivating a half hardy plant on so extensive a scale (as it must be to be useful) in the most temperate parts of Great Britain, where land and labour would be too valuable, but it might nevertheless be advantageous to cultivate it on a scale sufficient for trying experiments as to the best mode of cleaning the fibre suitable for cordage and canvass.
In hemp and flax, the plants now in use, the stem only is used, in this plant the leaf; consequently there is ligneous and page 685 much extraneous matter to separate from the former, whilst nothing but the coating and the parenchyma or flesh-part of the leaf is to be separated from the latter; and whether this would be best effected by water entering, drying and brackleing, I need not give an opinion.
The plant thrives luxuriantly in the moist grounds of New Holland, making foliage about four feet long, which, being produced in the form of a fan, a few leaves on each side may be torn off annually without material injury to it.
The women of New Zealand, ignorant of any better mode, fix the end of the leaf betwixt their toes, and scrape the outside and fleshy part away with mupel shells near a stream, washing the fibre, which is dried and tied in hanks, like the sample sent, and made into mats and clothing.
I beg to suggest for Your Royal Highness’s consideration whether a plant of such easy culture in a climate where land and labour is cheap would not be of national importance, and whether the convicts of New Holland could not be most advantageously employed in producing an article very much superior to any European hemp.
I beg Your Royal Highness will believe I only take the liberty of troubling you on the presumption of its being a public good, and that Your Royal Highness, in your zeal for promoting the best interests of the country, would cause enquiry to be made into an affair of so much importance.
I am, &c.,
Samuel Curtis.To His Royal Highness the Lord High Admiral.