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

2. Fire Clay

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.