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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 69



New Zealand flax was one of the earliest exports from New Zealand, and for a number of years in the first part of the century was an object of diligent native manufacture. No New Zealand trade was so full of hazardous adventures as that of the resident flax-trader, as there was the constant danger of his losing his life if he offended the natives among whom he lived. The Customs returns of New South Wales of 1828 give sixty tons valued at £2600 as the quantity exported from Sydney to London in that year. In 1830 eight hundred and forty-one tons were exported, while 28 vessels engaged in the flax trade made in the aggregate 56 voyages to New Zealand. The export in 1831 was one thousand and sixty-two tons, when the trade began to decline from the inferiority of the manufactured article, but from 1828 to 1832 the exports from Sydney were valued at £50,000. At Grimsby, in Lincolnshire, a manufactory was established in the latter year for the production of articles of Net Zealand fibre.

Sir James Hector in his "Handbook of New Zealand" writes: "From 1853 to 1860 the average annual value of the fibre exported was nearly £2500, reaching as high as £5000 in 1855; but up to that time the only fibre exported was that prepared by native labour, no machinery of any kind being employed in page 15 producing the article. In 1860, therefore, when the native disturbance affected the Waikato and other interior districts in the North Island, the preparation was confined to the native tribes north of Auckland, so that the average export value was only £150 per annum. Attention was then directed towards the contrivance of machinery with the aid of which the fibre could be profitably employed by European labour. In 1861 the increasing demand for white rope, and the limited quantity of manilla (which fibre depends for its production on native manual labour in the Philippine Islands) led to a rise in its value from £21 to £56 per ton, and even to £76 per ton in America, during the late civil war. These high prices stimulated the endeavour to introduce phormium fibre to compete with manilla, and several machines were invented for rapidly producing the fibre from the green leaf. With these machines the export trade again increased so that from 1866 to 1871 the yearly average was valued at £56,000.

It was stated some time since on good authority that New Zealand flax was being extensively cultivated in the Azores Islands, and that a company had been established there holding a concession from the Government of a monopoly for the manufacture of this article throughout all the Portuguese possessions. Within the last year or two the price of flax has considerably hardened, and the commodity has been in much greater demand. This improvement has arisen from two or more causes, and the increased price promises to become permanent. Various reasons have been given for this "hardening," but the supply of manilla hemp falling short would almost account for it alone. The natives of the Philippine Islands have been affleted with an epidemic, and a great mortality has overtaken them, while the fibre that competes with manilla has also decreased in its yield. But, beyond these circumstances, which may be only of an ephemeral character, a new and increasing use has been found for the fibre of the flax. This is the manufacture of twine for use in the harvesting machine—the flax fibre answering all the conditions for twine-making remarkably well. While a new use has been found for the phormium, machinery has been brought to a more efficient character for cleansing it from the mucilage that at one time it seemed almost hopeless to expect.

The quantity exported since the commencement of 1853, and its declared values, areas follow:—
Tons. Value in £'s.
1853 to 1860 506 12,894
1860 to 1870 8,422 195,012
1871 to 1880 21,275 454,515
1881 to 1888 14,681 261,077

In order to show how the export of flax fibre has increased of late, we give the following figures:—In 1885, there were exported, 1063 tons; in 1886, 1112 tons; in 1887, 1578 tons; in 1888, 4042 tons, of the value of £75,269. For the quarter ended 31st March, 1889, there were exported, 2103 tons, value £46,258; for the quarter ended 30th June, 3922 tons, value £86,563; for the quarter ended 30th September, 4662 tons, value