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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 2

Report by Mr. Thomas Mackay

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Report by Mr. Thomas Mackay.

Public Works Office Wellington

Report on the feasibility of the Profitable Utilization of the Iron Ores of New Zealand in the Manufacture of Iron for the Public Works of the Colony.

In pursuance of your instructions on the 16th September, I now submit for your consideration the following information:—

In the extracts from Dr. Hector's reports (see Parliamentary Papers I.—4, 1873, Colonial Industries; and E.—10, 1873, Coal Fields of New Zealand, marked A and B, and the other papers which are appended), it will be seen, that so far as has been discovered, the district of Collingwood, Golden Bay, Nelson, is the principal locality which combines the conditions of having a large extent of, and in close proximity to each other, the requisite constituents for the manufacture of iron; namely, iron ore, coal, limestone, and timber. It possesses not only a very large field of hematite ore, of good percentage, at Para Para Inlet, but about four miles from thence, in the Collingwood Coal mine, there have been found in the strata gone through in opening up that mine three distinct veins of black band iron ore, from 1 foot to 1 foot 4 inches thick. And as regards coal, in addition to the Collingwood Coal mine, there are, about two and a half miles to the south of it, in the Otamatara stream, and of no difficult access, other seams of first-class coal not yet opened up, two of 3 feet and one of 4 feet page 12 6 inches thick, besides smaller ones, which I have myself seen and examined. Limestone is in great abundance, and close to the coal; fire-clay is also found in conjunction with the coal, and timber suitable for all mining and metallurgical purposes is also plentiful, and convenient to the mines.

The relative position, therefore, of these different materials, as well as the relative proportions of each which are necessary for producing manufactured iron, and the arrangements for converting the coal into coke for that purpose, all point to a convenient place on the Aorere Inlet, close to Collingwood, as shown on the plan, Appendix C, as the most suitable as well as central position for iron-works on a large scale, and which could also be connected by a tramway of about two miles long, with a wharf run out into deep water, where large vessels could safely load, protected from all winds except a S.E. gale.

An attempt was made about four years ago to work these iron deposits by "The Para Para Iron and Coal Company, Limited," but they started with too small a capital, and were soon after obliged to go into liquidation. Their properties have therefore been sold (see Appendix D), and the lease of the Collingwood Coal mine has been bought by a company in Collingwood (see prospectus of "The Wallsend Coal Company," Appendix E), while the land at Para Para, containing the hematite ore, has been taken up, along with other ground of a similar character contiguous, by Judge Ward, of Timaru, and Mr. George Turnbull, of Dunedin, who are now promoting a company for utilizing the iron ore as a paint, but reserving to themselves the right of manufacturing iron and steel (see prospectus of "The New Zealand Hematite Paint Company," Appendix F).

Since Dr. Hector's report in 1873, already alluded to, there have been further discoveries of iron ores of various kinds, in both the North and South Islands, some of which give encouragement to expect that page 13 substantial deposits or veins may be developed by further explorations.

From some experience in the construction of railways and other public works at home, which comprised not a little of the manufacture of rails, fastenings, iron bridges, and rolling stock, I have seen that the best iron and steel have been most economically made from not one single class of ore, but a mixture of several, the proportion of each being first determined in the laboratory of the works by assay, according to the nature of the metal which had to be manufactured; such experiments, and the after-mixing of the several ores and their fluxes for manufacture, in the case of special brands, particularly being carried out under confidential persons, to avoid the risk of the speciality of the process becoming known to others in the trade. I have thus known the hematite ores of Cumberland and other places being taken to the Bristol Channel to be smelted with the iron ores of South Wales, and the black-band ores of the north-east coast of Ireland to the Clyde to be mixed with Scotch ores. Such knowledge, therefore, leads me to suggest that—assuming there is a sufficiency of materials in the colony suitably circumstanced for the manufacture of iron on a large scale—practical experiments in one or more suitable furnaces of sufficient size should be made in a like manner of the iron ores and iron sands of New Zealand for the Government, in the first instance, to prove both the feasibility of their manufacture and their commercial value. For such a purpose a sum of £1,500 might fairly be put on the Estimates, and if it should be a practical success, there would be little difficulty as to the further development of such an important industry.

Wellington possesses the greatest facilities for carrying out the suggested experiments. It has the following advantages:—
1.There is a cupola furnace at Mr. Mills' foundry suitable for the purpose.page 14
2.From the centrality of the position, the transportation of the various ores and their fluxes required for the experiments from the different localities in which they occur can be more easily and less expensively effected than to any other place in the colony.
3.The precision, economy, and convenience with which the experiments could be conducted under competent supervision available on the spot.

It may be said that specimens of good iron have already been experimentally manufactured from New Zealand ores; but the experiments and estimates which have been made for the purposes of speculative companies may or may not be reliable. Such experiments and estimates can only be taken for what they are worth, but not accepted as impartial evidence of the practicability of a profitable utilization of the ores in question. On the other hand, a metallurgical process such as I have indicated, conducted in a practical manner, and on a sufficient scale to test the commercial result, would settle the question whether or not it was worth pursuing the matter any further.

Thomas Mackay,

Agent for the Crown.
P.S.—There are further attached—
Appendix G.—First Annual Report by Professor J. G. Black, on the University Laboratory, Otago, in which will be found particulars of the analysis of eight different specimens of New Zealand iron ores.
Appendix H.—Chart, New Zealand Middle Island, sheet VII., showing nautical positions of Collingwood, Golden Bay, and also the local positions of the coalmines and iron-ore deposits in that district.

Thomas Mackay.