KAURI TIMBER SAWMILLING AND SHIPBUILDING
The first mill built in the Northern Wairoa was on the banks of the Aratapu creek around 1865/66, the second at Mititai in 1866, this one was not a financial success and closed down soon after. The third was built at Te Kopuru, by Charles and Henry Walton and Mr. WS Graham, these three men had considerable Kauri on properties up the river.
The machinery for the mill was purchased from the firm of Robinson & Son of Rochdale, England around 1866; it was shipped on the ‘Conspire’ however by the time the vessel had reached the Bay of Biscay she was found to be leaking and went back to port. When the vessel eventually arrived at Te Kopuru the machinery was found to be damaged and the purchaser's declined to take delivery. Long litigation ensued and ultimately the machinery was put up for auction. The auctioneer Mr. Cochran of Cochran & Sons said that according to his instructions the purchase money was to be paid in sovereigns. He was however prepared to take the responsibility of accepting Bank of New Zealand notes. The purchaser was Mr. Alley on behalf of the original purchasers, further delays ensued and it wasn't until 1870 when Mr. JA Walker an engineer was sent out from England to build the mill, it began cutting in the following year.
The opening ceremony was attended by nearly all the Maori chiefs in residence in the Kaipara and practically all the settlers of the district. Mr. Walker remained in charge of the mill and the business until 1879 when he resigned as manager and a year later the mill and property was sold to Messrs. Brown and Campbell.
Two destructive fires occurred at this mill in its early days the planing mill, together with a large quantity of sawn timber, was destroyed in a 1883 and some years later the large mill was totally destroyed by fire.
Te Kopuru mill fire, some aspect of the size of the mill buildings can be gained from the workmen standing to the centre
left of the picture by the two pulley wheels
The above report of the 1883 fire appeared in many of the regional papers throughout New Zealand
As a result of the proximity of the timber mills a number of shipbuilding businesses sprung up. Possibly the most famous of these was James Barbour, his reputation as a shipbuilder was such that he was requested to construct a vessel at Dargaville. The site chosen for the yard was close to the mouth of the Kaihu creek. Some of the buildings can still be seen on the original site of the mill, the site is currently used by Kaipara Water who uses it as a base for their sand dredging business. The last vessels that Mr. Barber constructed were pearling boats for Thursday islands and other fisheries. In the 'White Wings' one of these little cutters, he left for Australia and neither he nor the boat was heard of again.
With the departure of Mr. Barbour, the shipbuilding industry of the district again declined and it was not until the Schooner Scow, “Alert”, was built to the order of a Mr. Tankard of Auckland 1901 that a new start was made. In that year Mr. W Brown came to open up the work again the site chosen for a new shipbuilding yards were at Te Kopuru. The name of Brown was well known in the shipbuilding industry in the country at that time.
In the year 1840 Mr. WP Brown started a yard in the Bay of Islands district, it was there that Mr. W Brown his son, learned the trade. Mr. W Brown subsequently came to the Northern Wairoa in 1901 to establish the firm of Brown and Sons; the yard was located in the Te Kopuru, by a small creek and with the addition of a few houses soon became known as “Brown Town”’, most of these homes were later re-located and two are currently on River Road in Dargaville.
A feature of this mill was the tall brick smoke stack almost two hundred feet tall, the mill closed down in 1916 and the chimney was toppled over and the bricks sold and recycled locally, the only other evidence of the mill are the remains of the reservoir overlooking the settling ponds for the Te Kopuru sewerage system.
The Scow “Alert” was the first of many vessels and other projects undertaken by Brown & Sons. His seven sons, six of whom were employed in the business, were all tradesmen in their own right. Two being shipwrights, two engineers, one a blacksmith, one a painter, the seventh son Edgar did not join the firm but established his own towing business. House building, general engineering and blacksmithing were amongst the jobs that they did, they also built many wharves and met the needs of the farming community installing water pumps and later milking machines. They also had one large contract for the Railway Department known as the “70 Mile Bridges Contract” and involved building bridges and stations at Te Hana, Topuni and Kaiwaka.
Te Kopuru Mill 1895 ©The Kauri Museum, Matakohe
Perhaps the most unusual and interesting job was the salvaging of the vessel “Wai-iti” which overturned at Mangawhare. Like many masters, in order to save money he attempted to move from the wharf without the aid of a tug, this was always a risky business. She was caught by wind and tide and was soon aground. Advised to secure her by the mast to trees and to swing the yard arms inshore to restore some stability the master refused and as the tide receded she rolled over. Brown and Sons were awarded the contract for £900 and after numerous unsuccessful attempts she was eventually righted, sold and towed to Littleton in July 1907 by the passenger steamer Wainui.
Wai Iti under Sail ©The Kauri Museum, Matakohe
Little is left to remind the passerby of the sawmilling industry in the village, the industry by its very nature in those times was somewhat dangerous, exposed driving belts, chains and saw blades caused many slight, serious and fatal injuries. Until the advent of electricity they were driven by steam and partial or complete destruction of mills was not uncommon. Mills that were burnt down were not always rebuilt and as the timber supply declined there was less inclination for their replacement, the last of the mills within recent memory was at Aratapu and operated until recently by Glamuzina and Sons and at its height employed some 25 workers, it ceased operation in the 80’s
The Wellington harbour boom constructed by Rope Brothers ©Museum of Wellington City and Sea Collection
Another of the successful Shipbuilding Industries was the Rope Brothers. Basil, Jack, Ted and Bob started business as boat builders, carpenters and general contractors in 1910. They took over the joiners shop of Harry Sharp which was under the management of Ted Rope, this building can still be seen on Norton Street opposite the Te Kopuru School. One of the best remembered jobs was the Coronation Hall built in 1911. Ted Ropes home, which he built himself, can also still be seen on the right hand side of the Norton Street just past the hospital buildings. Many of the Northern Wairoa wharves and bridges were built by the Ropes who had purchased the pile driving business of Anderson &Sons.
This business grew into the biggest of its type in New Zealand, the Rakaia road and rail bridges both 1km long, the Wellington submarine booms 1 ¼ mile long driving 3,000 piles and the Portland Cement Works wharf 400 feet long were among some of the successful projects they undertook. Descendents of the Rope family still live in the Te Kopuru district.