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NEW ZEALAND FLAX.

The turning into profitable account of the thousands of acres of the native flax, or Phormium tenax, promises to be a prominent industry of New Zealand. For a series of years past experiments have been going on in various parts of the country, with the view of ascertaining the best and most ecoinomcal process by ■which the fibre could be cleansed of all gummy and vegetable matter, and so rendered available for rope-making or other purposes to which the material might be employed. )£From tests that have been "fii&de, the amazing strength of a single fibre of New Zealand flax has been established, but how to free it entirely from the gummy matter is one of the greatest difficulties that has been experienced in the work of flaxcleaning. Until only a recent period New Zealand flax was certainly not a subject of any general attention • whatever operations were being carried on were upon the most limited; scale, confined, merely, to. a few isolated individuals who were unwilling to incur any considerable risks on the result of an experiment, but now the public mind is directed to it in all parts of the colony, and in no province with greater apparent .vigour than in Canterbury. Instead of one or two, there are now dozens employed in the work of flax-cleaning here, companies are being gradually formed, machinery and appliances improved, rope-making extends, and the hitherto neglected plant bids fair to afford a very extensive field for the employment of labour and capital. It was in order to obtain correct data of what was being actually done that we sent our reporter through the country districts recently, and we now present the information he has gleaned in the hope that it will be interesting, and useful to the public. Being of primary importance, from the extent of its operations, our reporter visited the establishment belonging to the Hals well Flax Company (limited) first of all. . These works are situated about twelve miles from Christchurch, on the south bank of the Halswell, and. in the centre of hundreds of acres of flax. The machine room, built for the most part of stone, measures seventy-five feet in length and, js thirty feet wide; there is also a wing attached, about twenty feet by twelve, in which the stripping machines are at work.

There is a detached building, 50x20, in •^hich the cleaned fibre is stored prior to pressing; and there is another in which it is pressed and stored, awaiting its transit to Chrifltchurch. There are six stripping! machines at work in the wing of the machine and the engine and a pair of batteries occupy the main portion of the building. The stripping machines are on Ninnis' patent. The raw material is passed in leaf by leaf, crushed by a drum having fourteen beaters upon it, and then comes out underneath, almost entirely freed from the green or vegetable matter. The fibre is then put through the batteries in order to extract the gum from it, and is then washed and hung out to dry. When it has been subjected to the action of the atmosphere for a sufficient length of time, it is stored and finally pressed for shipment, into bales weighing three cwt. each. The six stripping machines and the batteries are driven by an engine of fourteen horsepower, the manufacture of Mr John Anderson, of the Canterbury Foundry. Each stripping machine affords employment to a couple of boys; one of them feeds and the other takes the fibre away, but the company intend having the process so much altered that the flax will be delivered by means of a revolving table. It is necessary that there should be a constant flow of water while the fibre is being put through the batteries with the view of extracting the gum, and we don't suppose that an improved system of water supply could be devised. The water is brought into the machine room from the river by means of a five-inch lifting pump, worked by the engine, and the pipe is so constructed that it emits a plentiful supply upon the fibre as it passes underneath the beaters. Each stripper will put through about one ton of green flax, producing about four hundred- weight of finished fibre per diem. Altogether, there are about 25 hands employed by the Halswell Company, viz., six boys at the stripping machines, one man to collect the fibre after stripping, four men at the batteries, two at the hydraulic press, three at cutting flax, the manager, engineer, and the remainder at the lines. These lines are of galvanized wire, and measure a total length of 800 yards. They are so arranged that the fibre will be exposed to all winds, and are just sufficiently low to enable an ordinary sized man to work at them without difficulty. There is abundance ©f flax in the immediate vicinity of the works, and the company cut principally from the land belonging to Mr E. J. Burke. No ropemaking is carried on ; by the company, but the " walk " is not idle. During the last three months, about sixty tons of finished fibre were forwarded" to Christchurch, and the company is so far satisfied with past results, that we believe it is their intention to extend the scope of operations, and so improve the machinery as to turnout a very superior article. Their present shipments to England have been as follows :— 3BB bales, weighing 41 tons, per the Light Brigade; over 6 tons by the Ulue Jacket, and about 7 tons by the Hydaspes. They are now delivering 25 tons to Messrs Dalgety and Co., for shipment home. They expect to obtain prices varying from £20 to £40 per ton, according to quality. There are two stripping machines, driven by a portable engine, at work in a paddock contiguous to Craythorne's hotel. They belong to Mr Charles Chinnery, and give employment to about seven or eight hands. There are excellent washing appliances? on the spot. On the Ferry Road, about a mile and a-half from Christchurch, there is a stripping machine (Ninnis' patent) at work, belonging to Thomas Johnson and Son. This is driven by a portable engine of six horse-power, and turns out from one ton to 30 cwt of cleaned fibre per week, if worked with regularity. After passing through the machine, the fibre is washed, hung out to dry, and then sold in town. The machine gives constant work to five men and a boy ; sometimes six men are employed. Further down the Ferry Road, close to the church, there are three machines at workone belonging to Messrs Stace and Webber, another to Messrs Lee and Whitby, and the third to Mr William Mulligan. The three are driven by one of Garret's double-cylin-der portable engines, hired from Mr William Neeve. They have been about two months at work, and their respective owners express satisfaction at the results that have been achieved. A rope-walk was started by Messrs Stace and Webber on last Saturday week. The three machines and the ropewalk give employment to fifteen men and eight boys. The raw flax is obtained from Hargood's swamp, which has been rented from the proprietor. Messrs Evans, Andrews and Priske have been working a stripping machine at Opawa for two months past. Here seven men are employed. The machine is driven by a 4 horse-power portable engine belonging to Mr Jenkins, of the Ferry Road f-^aw Mills. Messrs Evans, Andrews, and Priske have an advantage over the workers on the Ferry Road. Their machinery is covered in, and they can work constantly if they please, whereas Messrs Johnson and Son, Stace and Webber, &c, are ohliged to stop in wet weather. There is another machine at work in the vicinity of Wilson's bridge, affording employment to five hands. Mr Robert Thompson has five stripping machines at work in the open air in Bing's Swamp, St. Albans, where there is an abundant supply of raw material. Mr Thompson formerly carried on operations in Hargood's paddock, Ferry Road, and has been in Bing's Swamp about a month only. He gives employment to eleven men and seven boys. The modus operandi is exactly the same as that pursued at all the foregoing mills so far as the stripping, washing and drying is concerned. The Halswell company have the most perfect appliances of any. Deßpurbel's water-mill is on the Ohoka stream near Kaiapoi. The wheel drives the

flour mill by night, and the flax machinery by flay. It is about 18 h.p, and drives three machines, two of Williams', make, and one of Barnes'. When in full work, the machines will employ 20 men and boys. It cannot yet be stated what the mill can turn out, as there have been so many stoppages owing to the experimental character of the work and machinery at present. The flax, after being passed through the machines, is washed in clear water, and put under the waterfall from the mill wheel, where it lies 24 hours ; it is then taken out, hung on lines and left there as long as possible, in order to bleach it and loosen the vegetable matter. Then, it is taken in and scutched. A new scutching machine is in course of erection. It is the drum of a steam combine, and strong hopes (are entertained that it will be efficacious in beating out the vegetable matter, &c, from the fibre. The mill was started in, November last, Mr Stonyer is about to cx 7 ' perimentalise on the cultivation of flax, and intends to plant with roots (not with seed) 1 ten or twelve acres. We were shewn some flax, which was transplanted in summer, thriving well in a damp situation. , Sims', at Kaiapci, was originally intended for a steam flour mill. The corn-milling apparatus is now idle, and Mr Sims is working only one flax machine at present, giving Employment to five or six men. He has iiot baled or weighed up any stuff yet, so it is impossible to say what quantity he can tiirn out per week. Mr Sims was rather Tinwilling to give any information. i Jenkins, Jones and Co., have very extensive premises at Kaiapoi, but we are sorry to say that they have been idle for the past twelve months. It is well known what capital material this firm turned out for ropeY making while operations were going on. We hope that Messrs Jenkins, Jones and Co., will soon see it to their advantage to make a fresh start. The Ohoka Company have erected a mill wheel on the Ohoka stream. One machine has only recently been started, and the company can scarcely be said to have got into regular work. Three men and a boy are tending the machine. We understand that another company is about to commence operations at the Mandeville Mills, Woodend. Another company has been established under the title of the Selwyn Flax Company, Limited. The locale of their operations is about two miles distant from the Selwyn railway terminus. The buildings are completed, and the machinery is in course of manufacture at the Canterbury Foundry. It will consist of six stripping machines (Ninnis' patent), and two batteries on the improved principle. There is an abundance of flax in the neighbourhood, and the company expect to commence operations by the beginning of April. They calculate upon being able to produce from five to six tons of finished fibre weekly; and employment will be afforded to from 25 to 30 hands. The number of hands (as correctly as we could ascertain) actively employed in the, preparation of flax in this province is 122, and this number will be increased to 150 assoon as operations have been commenced at; the Seiwyn. The prices now given in Christchurch; for prepared fibre range from £14 to £20 per ton, according to quality. ;At one time fibre for rope-making brought £28, and tow for stuffing purposes, £30 per ton in; Christchurch, but they can now be bought at a much lower figure. If the news from the English market should be favourable, as it is expected it will be, a great impetus will be given to the preparation of flax in Canterbury. . ' . Supposing — and there is hardly reason to doubt it — that the work of flax-cleaning will become a permanent industry of this province; the question naturally arises, how will the supply of raw material be kept up? Will the constant cutting of the leaves so weaken the roots as to prevent their furnishing a supply with sufficient rapidity to meetthe requirements of those engaged in this particular pursuit? On the one hand, we have heard it asserted that the plant becomes comparatively worthless after the first cutting, and, on the other, have been assured that the second crop is vastly superior to the first. These are two very contradictory statements, but we think that situation and the period of the year at which the cutting takes place, have everything to do with the matter. We have been shewn instances in which the plant, after the first cutting, has withered away, and on the contrary, if anyone takes the trouble to visit Hargood's paddock, on the Ferry Road, he will see a second crop growing up which, promises to be more valuable than the original. The Provincial Government, treating the subject with the importance it deserves, have written to the Hon. the Colonial Secretary, asking him to forward as many seeds and plants as he can obtain of the various kinds of flax indigenous to the North, but unfortunately not to the Middle Island, for as yet only one recognised species, although there are several varieties, has been found in this part of the colony. It is the intention of Mr Armstrong, the Government gardener, to trench an acre of ground in the Domain, and to sow the seeds, and put in young plants whenever the proper season arrives. Of this area, he purposes devoting a quarter to the cultivation of Canterbury flax, experimenting with seeds and young plants. We have heard of several private individuals making experiments on a small scale, with whom, we believe, Mr Armstrong would feel happy to co-operate.

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Bibliographic details

NEW ZEALAND FLAX., Star, Issue 243, 22 February 1869

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NEW ZEALAND FLAX. Star, Issue 243, 22 February 1869

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