Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 6, October 1966
(From "The Resources of New Zealand" December 1897. Published in Parts - Edited by G. E. Elderton.)
The Kahikatea or white pine is a noble tree often forming dense forests in swampy districts, although by no means infrequent in dry or hilly situations below 1500 feet. It was originally discovered by Captain Cook in the great forest between the Waihou and Piako rivers, Thames district. A tree measured by him was found to be 19 ft. 8 in. in circumference, at 6 feet from the ground and 89 feet to the first branch. Captain Cook said, "It was straight as an arrow and tapered but little in proportion to its height: so I judged there were 356 cubic feet of timber in it, exclusive of the branches. As we advanced we saw many others that looked still larger".
This tree was found in what was probably the largest kahikatea forest in New Zealand. Known as the Turua Forest, it consisted chiefly of Kahikatea with occasional trees of Rimu, Matai, Rata, and Puriri. Many of the trees were large, and the timber of the best quality. In 1865 "The Hauraki Sawmill Company Ltd" acquired an interest in a portion of this large forest and erected a saw mill at a point on the western bank of the Waihou and Piako Rivers about five miles from its mouth, now known as Turua. The delta between the Waihou and Piako Rivers was very level and rather low lying. Although covered with Kahikatea forest it bore evidence of once being a habitat of Kauri, considerable quantities of kauri gum being obtained from the land where Kahikatea trees were growing.
The situation of the Turua Mill was all that could be desired as a site, having deep water close to the bank, and the forest sufficiently near to allow the logs to be brought by tramway from the bush to the mill.
In 1877 The Hauraki Saw Mill Company leased its mill and bush to Messrs. Bagnall Bros. and Company, later the owners of the Turua property. In 1864 the late Hon. George Bagnall and his sons had been in the sawmilling and shipbuilding business in Canada, and they started in New Zealand building ships at Matakana. When the Thames goldfields were opened they removed to Thames in 1868, and after several years experience of the ups and downs of goldfields life they settled down in 1877 to the sawmilling and timber business successfully carried on by them at Turua. Mr. George Bagnall was a man of great industry and perseverance which, coupled with his Canadian experience, enabled him to convert into a profitable business, what up to that time had been a losing concern for the shareholders. Before the expiration of their lease Messrs Bagnall Bros. had acquired by purchase the whole of the shares of the company. In 1889 Mr. Bagnall, Senr., died, and the business was carried on by his sons, L.J., W.H., A.E., R.W., and H.N. Bagnall. In 1896 the Hauraki Saw Mill Company was wound up and the business of Messrs Bagnall Bros. and Company was for more convenient working, formed into a limited coy. Mr. L.J., who from the first had been business manager became managing director and his brother R.W., Secretary.
At first the company's operations were confined to Turua where the large mill and box-making plant was situated. The mill plant was very complete, consisting of large breaking-down and circular saws, two gang frames, 3 planing machines, re-sawing machines, cut-off saws, a complete plant for the manufacture of beehives, sections, boxes, etc. Most of the mills output, about 5,000,000 feet per annum went to Australian markets, where it was chiefly used for making butter boxes, rabbit crates, and packing cases generally.
On account of Kahikatea being devoid of either taste or smell, as well as being of a nice white colour, it proved to be the best timber for packing butter for export.
Early in 1896 Bagnall Bros. purchased the mill in Mechanics Bay, Auckland, belonging to the Union Company Ltd., and in March of 1897 the large premises and extensive plant of Messrs J.A. Pond and Company at Freeman's Bay, were purchased. To Pond & Co.'s a plant were added all the latest improvements and machinery for box making, and the Auckland factory was now second to none in the colony.
The company's Auckland operations were under the management of Mr. Harold C. Bagnall. The company undertook to supply cases of all kinds including butter boxes, tea cases, fruit and gum cases, also butter kegs, tallow cases, staves of all kinds, headings, broom handles, etc. The company held the sole right to manufacture the famous "Glacier" butter box in New Zealand and for New South Wales.
The soil of Turua though low lying and wet, was of good quality. A considerable area was drained, fenced and otherwise improved, the farm operations yielding beef, milk, butter, horse feed, etc., for local consumptions. This portion of the business was steadily pushed on and in time brought the whole area from which the forest had been cleared into cultivation.
OTHER BRANCHES OF THE TIMBER TRADE (1897)
Before 1900 the timber trade was one of Auckland's main industries, yet it was threatened with ruin caused by keen competition and over production. A powerful syndicate in Melbourne conceived the idea of buying up all the existing saw mills and timber bushes, and thus secure a monopoly of the trade, regulate the output and fix the price of timber. The idea appeared at first sight perfectly feasible, and the Kauri Timber Co. came into existence to carry out the Scheme. But unfortunately for the shareholders the company was not a financial success and had to write off capital. The non-success was attributed to two causes, namely, paying too much in the first place for some of the mills and when reducing staffs, dispensing with many of the most expert and practical men. These had to find employment and, presently small mills started up in all directions. (Parker Lamb and Company was one).
THE KAURI GUM INDUSTRY (1897)
This great industry, which in value yields rather more annually to the Auckland province than gold mining, has been free and unaffected by any law up to the present tine, (l897) but on the first day of the new year the Kauri Gum Industry Act comes into force. Its effect will be to curtail the output of gum and thus decrease the earnings of the gum-digger. For thirty or forty years this industry has gradually grown in value and volume unaided by Government and unregulated by law. As an industry it is unique in every way; unique in so far that the gum is confined exclusively to the Auckland province; unique in that it escaped the legislative tinkering of the Government; and unique in that the varnish manufactures of the world cannot do without it. There are other gums which compete with Kauri gum, but they are not equal to it - they contain acids which the chemists have not yet been able to manipulate. Some day they may succeed, and then Kauri gum will fall in value. (Within a few years it did so, Ed.)
NOTE by MR. W. T. HAMMOND.
When discussing the above article with our "Chief Historian", Mr. W T. Hammond he immediately supplied further details which he had copied from the "Thames Advertiser" dated 15:12:1877, (twenty years earlier than our article).
"The exact site of the sawmill was that of a Maori Pa reported to have been the scene of many sanguinary tribal contests commanded by the ancestors of the late respected chief Rapana Maunganoa of Shortland. The remainder of a palisading on the bank of the river and some earthwork entrenchments are now the only visible indications of Maori occupation.
The situation of the village of Turua is an admirable one, being adjacent to the mill and the bush, and having deep water in front of it where two substantial wharves have been erected for vessels drawing fifteen feet of water.
The portion of bush adjacent to the village is connected with the mill by serviceable tramway and the timber is first hauled by bullock teams and thence along the tramway by horses. From another part of the bush further up the river, logs are rolled into the river where they are formed into rafts and floated down with the tide to a small dock near the mill.
The machinery is worked by steam generated from a tubular boiler carrying 40 lbs of steam. The smallness of the boiler furnace makes it difficult, with green timber, to keep up steam pressure, so it is proposed to erect another boiler with a large combustion chamber. The engine is a horizontal one with an l8" cylinder. A powerful winch drags logs from the dock up an incline to a vertical frame saw with a travelling table which is worked with a ratchet motion to convey the reduced logs to the circular bench where they are converted into boards. There are several other saws of smaller dimensions. An efficient machine costing £350 capable of planing timber 18 x 6 inches has been added to the plant. Close to the engine room are the engineer's and blacksmith's shops fitted with all the lathes, forges and other apparatus necessary for repairs. The first "Jacks" used were made by Price Bros, at Thames.
The commodious stores of the lessees supply nearly everything with the exception of spiritous liquors. Those who wish stimulants may purchase them at Puriri or Shortland. Besides the young men who board together there are eight families residing in the village, the male portion of which have erected a School for the children. A Public Hall was built with the finest floor in New Zealand. Much of the timber is exported to Canterbury, and the Schooner "Helena" has just cleared for Lyttelton with 112,000 feet of Kahikatea".