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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 76

Woolsacks, Cornsacks, and Gunny-bags

Woolsacks, Cornsacks, and Gunny-bags.

I had several pleasant interviews with Mr. N. Lockhart, of Edinburgh, who referred at some length to the experiments made about twenty-eight years ago in the successful manufacture at Dundee of woolpacks, grain-bags, coal-bags, canvas, hammocking, damask, sheeting, towelling, gaskin, sail-twine and yarn, all of which were made from New Zealand hemp. In response to my request, Mr. Lockhart wrote me the following letter, which I feel sure will be read with great interest:—

Ettrick Tower, Spylaw Road, Edinburgh,

Dear Sir,—

Re New Zealand Phormium Tenax.

Referring to our conversation of to-day, I beg to state that about twenty-eight years ago the New Zealand Government appointed a Commission to proceed to the different centres of flax industries. They visited several of the most important ones, and also consulted the Chamber of Commerce of Dundee, who reported to them that Phormium tenax was unfit for textile fabrics, and only suitable for rope and twine, and there the matter dropped.

Notwithstanding this unfavourable report, I was convinced in my own mind that Phormium tenax could be utilised for textile fabrics, and wrote to the late Dr. Featherston, Agent-General of New Zealand, who sent me 15 bales of Native-dressed fibre. The same were distributed amongst the following spinners and manufacturers—namely, Messrs. Edwards and Co.; Small and Boase, of Dundee; Findlayson and Bousfield, of Johnston; Forbes, of Arbroath; and N. and N. Lockhart, of Kirkcaldy, who successfully manufactured the following articles: Woolpacks, grain-bags, coal-bags, canvas, hammocking, damask, sheeting, towelling, gaskin, sale-twine and yarn, from 2¼lb. to 301b. per spindle; also stuff for two dresses for Lady Ferguson, wife of Sir James Ferguson, Governor of New Zealand. The warp was silk and cotton, the weft Phormium tenax. The above articles were exhibited at the Dundee Albert Institute, and afterwards transferred to the Colonial Institute, London, where they are still to be seen.

I may mention that Sir John Leng, William Martin (chairman of the Dundee Chamber of Commerce), and other gentlemen interested in the flax industry, expressed their surprise and satisfaction that such progress had been made in the utilising of Phormium tenax.

The yield of New Zealand flax is 80 per cent, of line and 15 per cent. tow. The tow is more valuable than line for spinning purposes. The yield of one leaf of New Zealand flax is from 1 oz. to 5 oz.

I believe I am correct in stating that your importations of Dundee and Calcutta goods amount to £200,000 annually, and that of Australia double, and that you export annually about 3,000 tons of flax. Why not manufacture these articles yourselves, which will benefit your country generally?

Should you require any more information in connection with this matter I shall be only too pleased to assist you.

I am, &c.,

John Holmes

, Esq., Edinburgh.

Ninian Lockhart.

At Glasgow I called upon the leading rope-makers, whose large mills are situated some distance from the city. I regret to say that there seems to be a strong prejudice against the use of New Zealand hemp, owing to some previous unsatisfactory experience in the purchase of our fibre, which upon examination proved to be very inferior, and below the standard purchased. Notwithstanding my assurance that the general preparation of hemp had much improved during the last few years, I could not induce the manufacturers to promise any orders, although they admitted that for many purposes New Zealand hemp of good quality was just as useful as manila, and had the advantage of being cheaper.