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Nelson Historical Society Journal, Volume 3, Issue 5, October 1979

1. Haematite Paint

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.

The Paintworks and Water-wheel built by A. J. & H. P. Washbourn from timber felled from the bush.– (Nelson Provincial Museum)

The Paintworks and Water-wheel built by A. J. & H. P. Washbourn from timber felled from the bush.
– (Nelson Provincial Museum)

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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."

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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.