Notes on New Zealand (1892)/Chapter 4
Manufactures and Minor Industries.
The industries of New Zealand, the trades and manufactures, are as yet confined and undeveloped; they suffer from lack of capital and lack of labour. Where capital, however, is forthcoming and labour is to be found, there is still the absence of skilled management and technical knowledge to contend with. In some cases, where a trade is started for the first time in the country, it is started by persons who have really very little acquaintance with the work they are about to undertake. They are only emboldened to undertake it at all under these circumstances by the knowledge that there is practically no one else engaged in the same occupation within a wide radius, and, consequently, no competition to be feared. The industry is commenced, and, however defective its productions may be, however inferior in manufacture the goods which it turns out, it nevertheless generally pays its promoters—for it saves the necessity for importation, and the cost of transport to a remote country like New Zealand, added to duty and to the original cost of the article, makes the purchase of imported goods very expensive.
I will give a short description of some of the principal industries, such as they are, of New Zealand, at the present time, enough to show that very promising success has attended efforts which have been already made, and alluding more particularly to those branches which seem peculiarly suited to the country and likely to thrive there. In speaking of a new country so thinly populated as New Zealand, cut-and-dried statistics and figures are of very little use. Any calculation based upon them might very easily be upset to-morrow by a new discovery, the introduction of additional capital, or the landing of a few shiploads of emigrants. In fact, the whole position of affairs in New Zealand might be transformed in a very short time, and the situation very much improved, from a commercial point of view, by the landing of a small body of capitalists and a few thousand skilled workmen, together with a number of experts in various trades. I will confine myself, therefore, to general statements. The lines upon which improvement and extension might take place will be gathered from the following description.
Perhaps the most important of all New Zealand trades is that in wool. I have already spoken of wool-growing under the head of sheep farming. I refer to the subject here only to comment upon the fact that the manufacture of this most extensive home product into cloth and other fabrics is very insufficiently carried on in New Zealand. The raw material is exported to England and other countries, and is returned to New Zealand in the shape of manufactured goods, with a duty to pay upon re-importation. That this should be the case for any length of time in a healthy and civilized country, with a rapidly increasing population, composed principally of active and enterprising Englishmen, seems impossible, but so it is. There is every facility for cloth manufacture, and the material, when manufactured, would most certainly be well patronized, both on account of its cheapness and the prevailing desire to support a local industry. New Zealand should, in this respect, import only the very fine fabrics which are made in special places on the Continent, and these only for a time.
There most certainly appears to be an excellent investment awaiting the capitalist in New Zealand in the direction of creating more cloth factories to meet the requirements of the people of the country.
NEW ZEALAND FLAX.
There is an important industry peculiar to the country in connection with New Zealand flax. This flax (Phormium tenax) does not belong to the same botanical order as English flax (Linum utilissimum), and the plant itself grows in an altogether different manner. In appearance the leaves somewhat resemble those of the bulrush, only they are broader and more shiny; they are of a very fibrous nature, the fibres running longitudinally up the leaf. This flax grows on the banks of rivers, in swamps, and damp places, but comes to perfection on well-drained swamp land. It is to be found all over New Zealand, both on hills and on plains, and has never yet been cultivated, although, if a swamp containing it were well drained and preserved, it would thrive splendidly. The flax industry cannot be said to be at present in a very flourishing condition, although, some two years ago, the flax that is now sold in the London markets at about £22 a ton, when dressed was then fetching £35 to £37, and paid the exporters exceedingly well. It generally brings from 2s. 6d. to 5s. a ton as it grows on the land, and there are about ten tons to an acre. It has then to be cut at a cost of 5s. a ton; after that it is taken to the flax mills, where it goes through the scraping machine, which removes all the green coating; it is then "retted" or spread out for some ten days upon grass for the purpose of allowing the damp to separate the fibres by decomposition; after that it is "scutched" to remove rough fibres, etc., and then baled and is ready for the market.
The cause of the great fall in price before mentioned in the London market was owing a great deal to the folly of the exporters, who did not keep the quality of their stuff up to the samples originally sent; thus buyers lost faith and regarded the commodity with suspicion.
The flax is ready to be cut from the same root every three years, and thus it will go on growing for any length of time at the rate of about eighteen inches in the year. The flax when dressed produces a strong, coarse fibre, which is used for the manufacture of mats, carpets, ropes, etc.
There are flax mills all over the colony, but since the fall in prices a number have stopped working. Some millers combine this trade with flour milling.
The supply of flax is plentiful, although it is being gradually cleared from the land by the settlers, but it would undoubtedly pay to cultivate, dress, and manufacture it into the various articles before mentioned. On account of this flax New Zealand is independent of Manilla or Russian hemp, but it will not make fine fabrics, such as linen, which are produced from English flax.
Another New Zealand speciality is the Kauri gum trade. This is confined to Auckland province, as it is only to be found where the Kauri pine grows or has grown. It is the product of this tree, being the gum which it exudes. It is generally found below the surface of the ground from about six inches to three feet down, and is discovered by means of prodding the earth with steel-headed spears about four feet long. It is found in blocks of all sizes up to 150lbs. each.
At one time gum digging was greatly looked down upon, and called a "new chum's game;" but now that the trade has been opened up with America, it is a very remunerative business.The gum is used in the manufacture of varnish by New York and London firms, which have branches in Auckland. It is also used for ornaments and pipe mouthpieces, which are often sold to the innocent as amber. It fetches from £35 to £50 per ton.
Leather is, of course, manufactured, the bark of a New Zealand tree, the wattle, being substituted for the oak bark in the tanning process. The leather is made into Colonial boots and shoes, machinery belting, and other articles. But English boots seem to have the preference extended to them among fashionable circles of New Zealand society, apparently on account of their more elegant shapes.
The leather trade is hardly in a very prosperous condition, though why it should not be prosperous I am unable to say, since leather should be made and sold in New Zealand at a cheaper rate than it could be imported, but I imagine that in many cases the manufacturers do not understand their business, and have only made a speculation of it, a practice very common in the colonies.
A very extensive trade which New Zealand carries on is that in timber. I mentioned in the first chapter the chief trees which compose the forests of New Zealand; the most important of all for timber is Kauri. This timber is exported to a great extent both to America and Australia, and, sad to relate, the supply is gradually diminishing, as the trees take centuries to grow.
The New Zealanders have no need to import timber from other lands, for, although they do not possess many of the same trees as are found elsewhere, they have substitutes, and in some cases the substitute is the superior.
The saw mills are generally situated in the bush, where the timber is being felled, and there the logs are cut up and sent to the various markets.
Beautiful woods for cabinets and ornamental purposes are plentiful throughout New Zealand, and wonderful effects can be produced with them.
Furniture, of course, is made and sold, and is generally of good, solid, wearable quality, although fancy articles are also to be had, and no doubt, in time, when the skilled inlayer of woods and cabinetmaker finds he can get better remuneration for his work in New Zealand than elsewhere, he will emigrate, and fancy upholstering will become as common in New Zealand as in England. Some of the most expensive articles in furniture are at present imported.
Milling is carried on all over the country; indeed, it would be remarkable if it were not so, considering the large extent of New Zealand devoted to grain growing. Mills are both roller and stone. Some of the largest are at Oamaru and Ashburton.
BREAD AND BAKERIES.
In spite of the fact, however, that mills are so numerous, bread is by no means cheap; in fact, it is one of the most expensive articles of ordinary diet, especially when compared with the cheapness of animal food. The quartern loaf costs sixpence.
Bakeries exist in all the towns and cities, and in the more populated districts, but on the back stations the bread is home-made, and when camping out "damper"—a kind of cake made of plain flour and water—is usually eaten. Yeast is procurable from the brewers, but in the "back country" is made from potatoes, etc.
Bread is dear, not because of the price of grain and flour, but because of the high rate of wages paid to the men employed in the mills and the bakeries. In fact, this high rate of wages accounts in a great measure for the dearness of all New Zealand manufactured goods.
In regard to breweries New Zealand cannot be reproached with being behind hand.
This trade does not suffer from lack of enterprise or want of support. Nevertheless, I believe many English people in the Colonies drink only bottled Bass and Burton ales, which are largely imported. This, I suppose, is due to prejudice alone, for at the Melbourne Exhibition, 1888, Manning and Co.'s (Christchurch) beer took first prize against all-comers. New Zealand beer is of various qualities, and is made all over the country—at Dunedin, Christchurch, Auckland, Hastings, Napier, and elsewhere; indeed, comparatively speaking, it appears to be quite as extensive and paying a trade in New Zealand as in the old country. New Zealand beer is regarded as being superior to that manufactured in any other part of the Australasian Colonies.
BRICKS AND POTTERIES.
From the latest indications fruit growing promises to become one of the most profitable occupations of the New Zealand Colonists. Tropical fruits are, of course, chiefly grown in Auckland, where they thrive well.
Olives, peaches, grapes, pears, apples are amongst the principal fruit productions of the country. During the last few months cargoes of apples have arrived in England from New Zealand, and the extraordinarily large prices they have brought at Covent Garden show what their quality must have been, and will, doubtless, serve to give a considerable impetus to fruit cultivation. Dunedin is one of the principal apple growing districts at present.
The great railway industry in New Zealand is entirely in the hands of the Government, with the exception of one line. Here we have an example of the reckless expenditure of the Legislature. As yet the traffic of the country is by no means capable of engaging the extensive system of railway communication which has been laid down and paid for with borrowed money. The manner in which the lines are managed is, moreover, very defective in some parts, and furnishes much ground for complaint, the service being irregular, and the rate of travelling distinctly slow. The faults of the railways of New Zealand, however, are such as time and increased population will undoubtedly remove.