Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 26, November 1982
by C. W. Malcolm B.A.
With acknowledgments to "Men of Metal" the centennial history of A. & G. Price Ltd., by C. W. Vennell
(by courtesy of A. & G. Price Ltd.)
The founders of the firm, Alfred and George Price, were pioneers of the finest type. Alfred, who came to New Zealand as a young man of 25, was born at Stroud in Gloucestershire in 1838. George, born in 1843, arrived in Auckland in 1867. With their English engineering backgrounds the brothers worked in the colony as engineers on coastal ships until, in 1868, they established the firm of A.& G. Price at Onehunga.
One of their first engineering successes was the manufacture of flax dressing machines for separating the fibre from the leaf. As this was an important and valuable industry in those days, and as Prices' machines were decidedly the most efficient available, it is not surprising that in their first year they made and supplied almost 100 of them to all parts of the country.
A great variety of products came from their expanding foundry including components for first and second class carriages and goods wagons for the N.Z. Railways, this by 1874. However, prior to this date, seizing the opportunities of the gold rush, A. & G. Price had established themselves at Thames.
Before dealing with the requirements of the gold fields, let us consider the traffic on the Waihou River which was the only highway into the Ohinemuri district. Some of the best known steamers on the river were either built by A & G Price at Thames or were driven by the splendid marine engines manufactured in their foundry.
The LALLA ROOKH, strange name unless one is familiar with the oriental tales of Thomas Moore, is mentioned in the second of our Journals. Originally a paddle steamer, it was in 1878 converted to screw and equipped with a new engine built by Prices. Another steamer familiar at Paeroa, the VIVID, was built at Shortland, Thames, its engines being made by Prices.
In 1881 came Prices' first venture in shipbuilding, though for some reason without one of their own engines. This was the well known and popular paddle-steamer PATIKI displacing 22 tons, its steel-framed wooden hull 72 feet long, its beam 16 feet, its deck often crowded for moonlight picnics with dancing to the music of Paeroa's brass band.
Prices' second vessel, the DESPATCH, with space for 20 tons of cargo, was built primarily for the river passenger trade, "elegantly and commodiously fitted up" with a saloon 24 feet by 10 feet "well lighted with portholes and skylights." Captained by George Price's brother-in-law, Samuel Roe, for many months it "made some remarkably swift passages up and down the Waihou, carrying passengers and the firm's products to the Ohinemuri and Te Aroha goldfields and to the up-river sawmills".
When in October 1891, the elegant PAEROA created excitement and admiration on arrival in its name town, equipped with Prices' engines. So also were the most notable of the river steamers, the largest to ply the Waihou between Auckland and Paeroa, the well-known passenger - and cargo - carrying WAIMARIE and her sister the TANIWHA.
When we look at those old historic photographs of the great horse teams transporting the machinery from the river steamers to the mines and batteries at Waihi, Karangahake, Waikino, and elsewhere, have our Journals so far recorded whence came this vital engineering equipment so necessary to the early prosperity and growth of the district?
It was in 1883 that A. & G. Price erected and fitted out, at a price of £15,000 the Waiorongomai battery beyond Te Aroha, its three water turbines driving its 41 stamps, the water being channelled for 225 feet from the Waiorongomai Stream through 20-inch pipes.
With the purchase of the Martha Mine in 1891, the Waihi Gold Mining Company which had previously been supplied with machinery by Prices, ordered from them a 100 h.p. steam engine to drive the battery when water was scarce, a double hydraulic lift and patent cages, together with other numerous items of equipment.
And Karangahake comes into the story. In the same year Prices erected a 20-head battery, later increased to 40-head, for the N.Z. Crown Mines Coy., the plant being powered by three of Prices' Pelton wheels, each 10 feet in diameter and producing 140 horse-power.
In 1895 Prices erected a 20-stamp battery and supplied a large boiler for the Waihi Silverton Mine on the site of the old Martha Battery. At the same time they were the successful tenderers, against much local and overseas competition, for the building and equipping of a 100-head battery at Waikino which was to become one of the world's largest gold processing plants.
Again at Karangahake the firm was handling, as well as other big contracts elsewhere, a contract for a 20-stamp battery for the Talisman Company whose mine was to prove the leading gold producer on the Karangahake field. Shortly after came a contract for a 40-head battery for the Woodstock Mine.
STEAM LOCOMOTIVES PASS THROUGH PAEROA
Though this article merely touches the fringe of the contribution made to industry by the firm of A. & G. Price, it must include what, especially to us boys of the district, was perhaps its most spectacular achievement, the building of some of the finest steam locomotives ever to run on the N.Z. Railways. Sometimes at the rate of one a month we watched them pass through Paeroa. Their day is long past, but the building of diesels and railway wagons and the repair of rolling stock together with the transport of the firm's other engineering products may well be one of the reasons why the line still runs to Thames so that Paeroa continues to hold its rail link, escaping the fate that has befallen Waihi.
Prices' first locomotive contract for the railways was signed in 1903 for 10 "Wf" tank locomotives, fine looking engines weighing 43½ tons, at a total cost of £28,000.
Described as "every inch a thoroughbred... considered the most handsome locomotives ever to run on N.Z. rails" was the "A" class weighing, with tender, 78 tons. Between 1907 and 1914 Prices built 50, some at first classified "Ad". In 1915-1916 thirty "Bb" class followed. Then came New Zealand's famous "b" locomotives [in Journal 27: Errata, CW Malcolm says: "b" locomotive should be "Ab" - E], 86 tons, with their distinctive cylindrical tenders. Twenty were built in the years 1922-1926, at a cost of £11,400 each. Fortnightly visits to Thames as a very young teacher escorting my 80 pupils to the manual school permitted me to take the liberty of visiting Prices' foundry to watch, spellbound and fascinated, the progressive stages of the building of these magnificent locomotives. The full achievements of the firm of A. & G. Price, now a member of the large Cable Price Downer Group, today undertaking a very wide range of engineering contracts, would require a book. My object has been merely to touch upon some of its notable contributions to the advancement and progress of our own local district.