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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 50

Indigenous Exports

Indigenous Exports.

Kauri Timber.—Until the advent of the New Zealand Company, and indeed for many years afterwards, the trade of the Colony was exceedingly small. The principal imports were tomahawks, red blankets, and other articles used in barter with the Natives, and Jamaica rum, the favourite beverage of the whalers. It is not, however, clear that the "popular spirit" was exclusively used as a corrective to blubber. Tradition hints that it occasionally became the lubricant, if not the actual circulating medium, in land transactions with the unsuspecting savage.

One of the first exports was timber—kauri spars taken to England for the use of the navy. The trade, which is still in existence, was initiated by special expeditions sent out from the Admiralty long before the settlers had got a proper foothold in the country.

The trade in spars was the precursor of the general timber trade of the Colony. Notwithstanding the immense quantities of this material imported from all parts of the world, and the large home consumption, the exports are of considerable magnitude. During the eight years from 1873 to 1880 they ranged generally from £35,000 to £50,000, and in 1881 and 1882 they went up to £71,328 and £114,700. Curiously enough the second highest export of timber was in 1853, the first year of the statistics, when it reached £92,984.

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This was caused by the Australian gold rush, which gave all New Zealand products a considerable impetus; but the trade was not permanent, for in 1855 the exports fell to £9,392. Nearly half the trade in 1853 was with Wellington and Nelson, and here also was the greatest collapse—for in 1855 the exports from these ports only amounted to £1,431; unlike Auckland, it was never regained. Wellington has, however, made a fresh start within the last two years—in 1882 she exported £5,817 worth of sawn timber. The imports of timber in 1882 were £62,746, and of woodware and other timber manufactures, such as wheelwright work, £32,239.

Phormium.—The next indigenous export is phormium tenax—the native flax, or as it is now more appropriately called "hemp." Some of you will remember the flax mania which occurred some twelve years ago, when so many expected to make their fortunes and so few made them. The export of phormium has been in existence since the first traders touched the shores of New Zealand. The first tomahawk or pannikin of rum was probably given in exchange for a few bales of the fibre, with a square mile or two of good country thrown in.

The industry was up till 1866 almost entirely in the hands of the Maoris. In consequence of Native disturbances the export trade had almost died out between 1860 and 1866 machinery was then applied to the preparation of the fibre, and the market being propitious the exports went up rapidly. In 1870 they amounted to £132,578. For the next two years the figures were £90,611 and £99,405, and in 1873 the maximum of £143,799 was reached. Since then the exports have ranged from £7,874 in 1879 to £41,955 in 1882.

There are 40 hemp mills and 18 rope and twine works in the Colony, employing upwards of 400 hands. Of course the latter are not exclusively engaged in working page 8 up the native hemp, there being a considerable import of Russian hemp and Manilla. There has for some years been a small export of phormium cordage; in 1873 it was £4,001, but it has not since 1876 reached £1,000 in any year.

Whale Oil.—Although the feeble commerce of the Colony in the early days was considerably augmented by the whale fishing, the industry was not in reality a New Zealand one; nearly all the ships hailed from England or America—none of them belonged to the Colony. The only benefit therefore that we derived from the industry was the small trade it created. The business is now, however, in the hands of Auckland and Otago ship owners, so it is in every respect a Colonial industry. Since 1853 the returns from the fisheries have fluctuated from £22,275 to £958. The highest export within the last ten years has been £11,341, and the lowest £4,857.

Kauri Gum.—Another indigenous export that figures largely in the earlier returns is kauri gum. Although it has acquired large proportions and is generally on the increase, the trade is somewhat irregular and fluctuating. In 1854 the exports were £28,864; in 1855, £4,514; in 1857, £35,250; in 1860, £9,851; in 1864, £60,590; in 1865, £46,060; in 1870, £175,074; in 1873, £85,816; in 1878, £132,975; and in 1882, £260,369. These fluctuations are probably due in a great measure to the fact that gum digging, like rabbitting, is what may be termed a "vagabond industry," to be taken up when everything else fails, or when times are hard and other work scarce. At any rate we find that in 1873 and 1874, the flood-tide of public works, the export of gum was only about one-half of what it had been in 1871 and 1872.

Fungus.—Another forest product of unique character which has appeared of late years in the exports is a page 9 peculiar kind of fungus that grows on the trees in the North Island, and which is exported exclusively to China. The uses to which it is applied do not seem to be well known. In 1873 the British authorities at Hong Kong said it was "much prized by the Chinese community as a medicine administered in the shape of a decoction to purify the blood, and was also used on fast days with a mixture of vermicilli and bean-curd instead of animal food." Subsequent information showed that it was used in soups as ordinary food; but Mr. Sew Hoy informs me that it is chiefly used as a dye. The exports during the past ten years have grown from £1,927 to £18,939, but the increase has not been uniform. The gathering of fungus is probably one of the vagabond industries; if so, the irregularity is easily accounted for.