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Journal of the Nelson and Marlborough Historical Societies, Volume 2, Issue 3, 1989

History of the Lime Industry in the Waimea County

History of the Lime Industry in the Waimea County

page 3

Major Deposits of Limestone

Waimea County is fortunate that it has two major deposits of limestone within its boundary, in addition to several smaller and discrete occurrences. The major ones are:—

1.The marble of the Pikikiruna range, or Takaka Hill, running in a N.E. – S. W. line, to the N.W. of the County.
2.The Maitai limestone, running in a parallel, direction to the S.E. of the County.

Workings on these two deposits account for the larger tonnages to have been extracted.

There have been three major uses of the limestones over the years:—

1.For the manufacture of burnt lime.
2.For the production of agricultural lime.
3.For the production of marble building stone and chips.

1. Burnt Lime

(a) The Stoke Quarry

Burning lime must have been one of the first industrial activities undertaken in the new settlement of Nelson. The Nelson Examiner of 2nd December 1843 promotes the use of lime on ploughed lands, and details the facilities for obtaining it. A stratum of shelly limestone, of variable quality, still runs roughly along the line of the Ridgeway at Stoke. The earliest road from Nelson to the Waimea Plains ran along this line, and passed through Section 42, which is quoted in the paper.

It goes on to say that "Limestone, as most of our colonists are aware, is already quarried and burnt in Section 42, Suburban South District. The tenants of that section (Palmer and Ladd) would, no doubt, contract to raise a large quantity of stone, say 100 tons, and deliver it at the waterside, either burnt or unburnt as might be required; from whence it might be carried in large boats, at a small expense, to any farms having a water frontage. If parties requiring lime prefer quarrying for themselves, the formation, it is believed, creeps out near the surface, in the adjoining sections, numbers 41 and 29. The development of the strata, and the introduction into general use of this valuable element of production in soil, would amply remunerate the proprietor of any section containing it for any quantity which would be removed in the first twelve months. If application were made to the Resident Agent of the Company, a shorter road would probably be made along the boundary of sections 43 and 24 to the most available arm of the sea. At present the stone could be carted along a road already laid out, and passable in summer, which intersects and terminates in section number 4, on the coast."

And a week later it says – "The present limeburners in Suburban South district (Messrs Palmer and Ladd) are now prepared to supply agriculturists with lime at the kiln at £1 a ton, on condition that all carts come laden with wood; or they will deliver the stone at the waterside at 15s. per ton. As it is believed by many of our agriculturists that lime will be highly beneficial to fern land, we hope they will not neglect the present opportunity of introducing it into general use."

Later, in August 1859, it is recorded that the noted Austrian geologist Dr Ferdinand von Hochstetter, amongst other activities, inspected the limestone quarry at Stoke. This quarry finally became the site of Hall's limeworks.

(b) Wooded Peak

Another early extraction of limestone in the district was from a small quarry on Wooded Peak, east of Nelson. Near its top end, between Third and Fourth Houses, the Dun Mountain Railway passed through the Maitai Limestone belt. In 1863 a kiln for burning limestone was built beside the track, and a quarry to supply stone was opened just above it. The resulting burnt lime was sold page 4for ls 9d per bushel (34 litres). Sales in early 1865 had reached 4 tons per week but, in the same year, Joseph Cock expressed the opinion that this kiln was poorly sited and that, if a new one were built, a saving of 5s per ton could be achieved. At this rate, the new kiln could pay for itself in a year. These figures imply a capital cost of £50 to build a new kiln. Times were uncertain, the trade declined and, by 1870, wagons could no longer negotiate the upper part of the incline to reach the quarry and kiln. A recent inspection of the quarry suggests that not more than 200 tons of stone was extracted from it.

Edwin H. Lukins. Tyree Collection NPM

Edwin H. Lukins. Tyree Collection NPM

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(C) Lukins' Lime-Kiln

The other early source of burnt lime was from Lukins' lime-kiln, established on the hillside at Port Nelson, opposite the present site of Reliance Engineering Limited. This kiln was used fairly consistently until 1957, using stone from a variety of sources. It was operated by a series of owners or lessees for a period of over 70 years, and was undoubtedly the most important source of burnt lime in the district, for most of that time.

(i) James Lukins

James Lukins came to Nelson in about 1858. He was engaged in gold-mining at the Glengyle claim at Parapara, before purchasing a ketch, Rapid, and a schooner. Dove, which he sailed between Nelson and New Plymouth. On 26th July 1880 he purchased about a quarter of an original town acre, numbered section 37, in Haven Road. This was just across the road from the jetty which carried his name, and was presumably the base for his shipping business. The house and property were later transferred to his daughter, Mrs Amelia Ann Charles, who lived there for the rest of her long life, together with her son, Lewis J. Charles, who spent his whole life as a limeburner.

On 19th March 1883, Lukins bought the rest of section 37, apart from a small portion, which had been purchased by Bishop Suter, and on which a small church survived. Lukins was then aged 57, but continued the operation of a lime-kiln on the property, which he apparently first leased from a Mr Carter on 1st December 1860, and maintained a business in burnt lime. Lew Charles used to talk about limestone being quarried on the Tata Islands in Golden Bay, brought to Nelson on a scow, unloaded at Lukins wharf and carried by wheelbarrow across the road to the kiln.

For all the years of operation of the works, limestone and fuel, latterly coke, were hauled up the hill on a steeply inclined tramline and tipped at the top. Lukins apparently built the wooden winch equipment himself, including a large spoked driving wheel.

(ii) Edwin H. Lukins

During the later years of James Lukins, the lime business was handled mainly by his son, Edwin. He inherited the enterprise on the death of his father on 16th July 1897 at the age of 71, having been a well respected older settler.

(iii) H. R. Duncan

On the 19th May 1910, Edwin Lukins sold the limeworks to the well-known Nelson brewer, Henry Richard Duncan, and it remained in the Duncan family for the remaining period of its operation,

(iv) F. W. Greenslade

For some period between 1910 and the mid 1920's, the works was leased and operated by Frank. W. Greenslade, who also owned ships. He apparently used marble from the Kairuru quarry on the Takaka Hill, which he shipped from the Sandy Bay wharf to Nelson.

A Waimea West farmer, W. D. Dron, records paying Greenslade £5.10.0 with a cheque dated 9th October 1919 for two tons of lime, but there was some dissatisfaction, because the lime would not run through the drill. Included in the amount paid was £1 for the sacks.

(v) W. L. Lawry

Sometime in the mid 1920 's the kiln was closed up. W. Leslie Lawry at that time needed burnt lime for the manufacture of lime-sulphur, so he took over the lease, and ran the kiln until it was closed down in 1957. Initially, stone was carted by W. V. (Bill) Snow from a fan in the Teal Valley, formed by stone washed out of the Maitai limestone belt, higher up the valley.

Later it was found that marble from the Takaka Hill produced a higher quality of burnt lime, and stone was quarried from several points close to the road on the hill. One small but well – developed quarry can still be seen, just above the road which goes to Canaan.

From about 1936, stone from a newly opened quarry in the Maitai belt, in the Lee Valley, was used for the production of slaked lime, used mainly in agriculture.

When the works was closed in 1957, the property was sold to Guard's Sea Services. The old kiln and buildings were dismantled.

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(d) W. L. Lawry Limited

In 1956, the company W. L. Lawry Limited built an electrically heated burnt lime kiln at Brightwater. It used about 1 ton of stone each 24 hours and produced a very high quality burnt lime. The general opinion was that electricity was too expensive to use in a kiln but, because it was fully automated, it worked very satisfactorily to produce quick lime for the manufacture of lime-sulphur, until 1968. At about that time, the use of lime-sulphur in Nelson had almost ceased, so the business was sold to McDonald's Lime Co. Ltd. from the North Island and production of quick lime ended.

(e) Other Lime Kilns

Burning lime seems to have been a fairly common operation about or prior to the time of World War I. The kilns I have been able to find out about are: -

(i)One in Pig Valley owned and operated by Albert Tuck. Remains of this one can still be seen, close to the Maitai limestone outcrop in the Valley.
(ii)One in the Lee Valley, below the present quarry, at which George F. Williams worked. I do not know who owned it, or when it operated.
(iii)One in the Wairoa Gorge, just below the junction of the Lee and Wairoa Rivers, built at his home by George Williams.
(iv)Subsequent to the establishment of the crushing plant at Kaka, a kiln was built about a kilometre away by Hugh Gully and Jack Andrews of Brightwater. Attempts to burn lime with wood were apparently not successful, and the project was abandoned, with very little burnt lime having been produced.
(v)Another kiln was operated on the site which was later the location of the crushed lime works of the Motueka Lime Co. Ltd., probably at the time of World War I, or earlier.
(vi)About 1930, as one of his first excursions into the mineral industry, T. J. McKee operated a kiln for a short time on the Takaka Hill.

2. Crushed Agricultural Lime

(a) Farmers Union Lime Co. Ltd.

It appears that, in 1920, the first production of crushed agricultural lime was undertaken at Kaka, by the Farmers Union Lime Co. Ltd. At Kaka there is a deposit of high grade tertiary limestone, with a calcium carbonate content averaging 96%. The quarry and works were about a kilometre from the Kaka railway station, over the Tadmor River, up a side gully containing Cave Creek.

John W. Christian, who lived between Kaka and Tui, was awarded a contract to build a tramline from the works to the railway station. George Hall was responsible for construction of the high wooden bridge, spanning the river. The tramline was under construction when Armistice was declared in 1918.

Official figures from this period do not distinguish production tonnages from individual works but, in 1929, 1654 tons of lime were produced in Nelson-Westland.

A railway waybill, dated 25th November 1921, shows the consignment of 1 truck of lime from Kaka to W. D. Dron at Spring Grove, for which the railage was 8 shillings and demurrage for 2 days was £1. The lime was sown on a paddock at Waimea West, but the supply ran out before the paddock was finished. The difference in the growth of grass subsequently, between the two areas, totally convinced Mr Dron of the benefits of the crushed lime.

This was just as well, because earlier in 1921 he had purchased 5 more shares in the Company, in addition to 50 shares bought in 1919 for £2.10.0.

Sometime immediately after World War I, the plant was sold to Norman E. Wilkinson and leased to Jack R. Oldham, who ran it for some time. Then it was leased for a while by Otto Bauer, and finally run by Wilkinson himself, until closed permanently in 1959. Output for 1958 was 242 tons and, in 1959, 22 tons.

Until soon after World War II, in about 1949, agricultural lime was carried on the railway free of charge, and this enabled farmers all over the Waimeas to purchase a relatively cheap product.

page 7

(b) Tapawera Lime Co. Ltd.

At about the same time as the Kaka works commenced in 1920, Alex Drummond Snr. of the Wangapeka Plains seem to have recognised the importance of lime to agriculture. He arranged for Tom Hewetson to visit the Wangapeka with a portable crushing plant, driven by a Samson tractor. The tractor is now in the Wakefield Steam Museum. His sons, Alex and Basil, produced lime and used it on their farms prior to World War II. After the war they formed the Tapawera Lime Co. Ltd. with Vic Tomlinson, and established a permanent plant on the western hillside, overlooking the Wangapeka Plain. Peak production was 1962 tons in 1959, but the works was finally closed in 1966. In the last few years it was run by Kirbys Carriers Limited, but inadequate maintenance and a very difficult quarry seem to have led to its closure.

(c) Hall's Limeworks

As noted earlier, the first limestone to be quarried in the area was from a site which is now at the end of View Mount, in Stoke. Sometime prior to World War II, George Hall established a plant at the quarry, to produce crushed agricultural lime. Tracy Brown of Stoke worked at the site and Claud Best of Stoke remembers caning bagged lime, in loads of 1 1/2 tons at a time, to the Stoke Railway Station. The quality of the lime varied from 65 to 90% of calcium carbonate, and its composition is largely shells and barnacle plates.

The crushing plant was purchased by W. L. Lawry in 1936 and shifted to the Lee Valley. The floor of the quarry is now used as a tennis court, on the property currently owned by Mrs W. Bullivant.

(d) Murchison

Another operation started in the early 1920's, at Murchison, on the initiative of the local Farmers Union. The quarry and plant were initially situated on the hill, close to the present main road bridge over the Matakitaki river. Unfortunately, the quality of the limestone was not good, so the works was shifted to Newton Flat in 1929. High transport costs made this uneconomic and the works soon closed.

Later it was bought by Alex Thomson, subsequently a Nelson butcher, and well-known Nelson accountant Bert Hodgson. They shifted the works to their property, Forest Home, on the Four Fiver Plain near Murchison, and the lime they produced was used solely on their own farm.

Bert C. Spiers, who was working in the firm of B. S. Spiers and Sons, found himself without a job when this firm of carriers was taken over by Transport (Nelson) Limited in 1939. He purchased the lime crushing plant from Thomson and Hodgson, paying for it with lime supplied to them in the following two years. In that first year he produced about 500 tons of agricultural lime.

He spread lime for farmers, with a truck and a Munro spreader attached to the back. In 1942 he shifted the plant back to Newton Flat, where it is still operating. The works was sold to Lime & Marble Limited in 1976. This firm was interested in using the very high quality stone for industrial purposes, as well as the agricultural production. From 1958 to the present, this has averaged 4671 tons a year, with a peak of 7835 tons in 1980. In general, a similar quantity has been produced for industrial use over the years by both Bert Spiers and Lime & Marble Ltd.

The quarrying of the stone is a very difficult operation, as the seam is only about 15 metres thick, and disappears into the hillside, like meat in a sandwich of granite on either side. This makes extraction tedious and expensive.

(e) Motueka Lime Co. Ltd

The Motueka Lime Co. Ltd. was another works which started soon after World War I, using a deposit of limestone at the foot of the hills in Riwaka. As noted earlier, it was set up on the site of an old burnt lime kiln, on a property owned for many years by John Francois, and his father before him. In the 1970's economic difficulties were encountered, and the works was sold and operated in turn by Keith Fry, Fred Moss, Andy Whiting and Lime & Marble Limited. It was finally closed in 1979. In the period from 1958 to 1979, the average annual production was 1625 tons, with a peak of 2695 tons in 1958.

page 8

(f) Pokororo Lime Co.

Also sometime before World War II, probably about 1934, a crushing operation was established in the valley of the Big Pokororo River by Percy Parkes. He had a quarry up the hillside and sent stone on a tramway system to the plant, which was set up on a small river flat. Parkes was also a local contractor. Unfortunately, in 1938, his son Ormond Parkes was killed by a rock-fall in the quarry.

The works apparently passed to Harry Pooley and Laurie Walker, but at the end of the war they were in financial difficulty. Laurie's brother, Keith Walker, who had a home appliance shop in Nelson, sought expert advice and decided to shift the plant to a new site, in the valley of the Little Pokororo. This venture also proved to be uneconomic and was closed down with Keith Walker ultimately losing about £2,000.

(g) W. L. Lawry Limited

This company's production of crushed agricultural lime has been the largest in the County to date. My father, W. L. Lawry, first manufactured lime-sulphur, a spray material, on a commercial basis in 1923 and, as noted earlier, became involved in the burning of lime a few years later. Quarrying for limestone for the kiln first commenced in the Lee Valley, in the deposit of Maitai limestone, in 1936. In fact, the first road to open a quarry passed over the site of George Williams' old kiln and filled it in. The quarry was at the bottom of the hill, and heavy overburden soon diverted attention to some large outcrops higher up the hill. A road to these outcrops was built in the same year, and quarrying commenced to supply stone for the Port Lukins kiln.

It was not long before substantial quantities of small stone accumulated. The decision was made to purchase George Hall's Stoke plant and convert this waste into crushed lime. The plant, which included a small jaw crusher originally used in the Roding Copper Mine, a pulveriser and air compressor, was all relocated up the hillside, near the site of the present works, in 1937. Foremen in the early years of operation were Bertram A. Ching of Stoke and Clarence L. Andrews of Brightwater.

In 1945 I joined my father in the business and, in 1946, we decided to split the operation, retaining a primary crushing plant at the quarry site and building a new pulverising plant in the railway yard at Brightwater, with its own private siding. At this time there was no reticulation of electricity in the Lee Valley, so it was advantageous, for this and other reasons, to shift the power-consuming pulverising operation to Brightwater. All the lime used in the Rai Valley at that time was loaded directly from bagging machines, straight into railway trucks, for despatch to Nelson.

One of the more unusual consignments at this time was to rail a scow-load of 60 tons of bagged lime to the Port for shipment to various private farm jetties in the Marlborough Sounds.

Bulk lime and a bulk sowing service, using a wheel tractor and trailer, were first introduced in 1950, with a consequent great saving in hard labour. It was not long before farmers recognised that, while machinery was covering a farm, it was just as easy to spread fertilizer at the same time as the lime. As a consequence, the Brightwater works soon became a very sophisticated lime and fertilizer despatch plant. With the continuing development of thousands of acres of Moutere hill country in the 1950's, the sowing service proved popular. Thousands of tons of lime were spread from trailers drawn by a crawler tractor. Finally, truck spreaders were introduced to cover flat farms.

Meantime there were developments in the quarry. A new primary crushing plant, including a much larger jaw crusher, was built on the present works site in the Lee Valley. Early quarrying was about 400 feet above the valley floor, but it was not long before the quarry face became dangerously high. In the 1950's a progressive programme of benching was introduced, so that quarrying proceeded from the top of the deposit downwards. A total quarry height of 400 feet was operated with a series of eight floors. Access by road to all floors ultimately required quite a network of roads on the hillside.

It was quite a delight that, in the 1957 Mines Statement to Parliament, it was noted that "the page 9development of a very high hillside by W. L. Lawry Limited into benches … could very well be copied to advantage by a number of other quarries in similar ground."

In 1978, the company was sold to Irvine's Freightlines Limited. Total production of crushed agricultural lime, from when the works at Brightwater commenced operating on 19th September 1946, to the end of 1982, was 350,790 tons, at an average of nearly 10,000 tons per year.

Lime from the Brightwater plant was always a little more costly than that of competitors, partly because transportation costs, for the five mile haulage from the Lee Valley, was included. On 1 January 1948 the price was raised to 27/6 per ton and, on 1 February 1961, it had progressed to 35/-.

(h) S. R. Irvine Limited

There is so much limestone in the County that there has always been competition to supply crushed lime. In the decade of the 1970's, three companies entered the market briefly. In 1971, S. R. Irvine Limited purchased the equipment of the defunct Tapawera Lime Co. Ltd. and set it up at the mouth of the Pearse River. In the three years to 1973, a total of 3151 tons were produced from stone won from slides in the Graham Valley, but the operation proved to be uneconomic and was abandoned.

(i) Sherry River Lime Co. Ltd.

In 1975, A. Jack Shirtcliff opened a limestone quarry in the Sherry River Valley, and carted stone to a limeworks near his home, on the Slippery Road. It operated until 1981 and then closed, after having produced 24,361 tons of crushed lime. The quarry has also supplied large quantities of stone, for river protection purposes, and is still operating. It is one of the best sited quarries in the district, being on top of a limestone ridge and north-facing. A second bench has recently been opened, about 40 feet below the original.

(j) Highways Construction Limited

In 1979, Highways Construction Limited, a subsidiary of Transport (Nelson) Limited, which operated a plant in the Collins Valley, producing crushed serpentine, decided to process travertine, a recrystallised limestone from the Teal Valley, through the same plant. Travertine is very porous and can contain up to 50% of water so, for agricultural lime, it has to be dried. The company produced 5215 tons of lime in the years 1979–80, most of which was used in the Rai Valley. The operation was again uneconomic and now the whole plant has been dismantled.

(k) Lime & Marble Limited

From the 1930 's to the present time, white marble has been quarried from Ngarua on the Takaka Hill and, although most has been crushed and used for industrial purposes, substantial tonnages have been used for agriculture. For the years 1958 to 1986, sales for agriculture have been highly variable, but have averaged 4869 tons per year. This has always been a finely ground, high-grade product.

3 Industrial and Building

Since World War II most of the operating quarries have supplied large quantities of stone, for industrial chips, river protection and marble for building stone. Most of the latter has come from the Kairuru quarry, on the Takaka Hill.