Wellington, New Zealand, Dec 23 1871
We saw an extensive breach on one of these Rivers on which the Provincial Govt. had spend from £12,000 to £14,000 to control the waters, but in vain; and suggested plans for protection of banks and reclamation of the Plain for repaying the cost
We crossed this Swamp in about 5 miles to Blenheim being ferried over the river in a large boat which carried Coach and all. Blenheim is a very small place, and the marvel is why a Railway should be constructed at all for the present traffic.page 34a
The large plain around this part are covered with the “Phormium Tenax” a plant having a long pointed leaf, from which the New Zealand Flax is manufactured. It grows in a bush-like form, and abounds in all the swamps of New Zealand, and in many situations on the hills. I visited one of the flax mills, and watched the simple process of preparation. The leaf when about 5ft or 6 feet long is cut usually by the Maoris and brought to the Mill green . A boy cuts the bundles and conveys
it to the two men who are feeding the dresser. This machine consists of 2 Rollers 2 ½ in diameter, the upper one fluted and the lower one with a plain surface fixed in a frame of wood, which also contains a larger cylinder of wood, about 14 inches diameter with iron bands or beaters about ¼ in wide placed along the total width of drum, only some 6 inches in width. This drum revolves at the rate of 3000 per minute while the other 2 rollers travel about 200 to 250. – and the operation is for pressing the gum out of the green leaf, the beater bashing away both the gum and the green surface leaving the fibrous matter only. A boy is stationed under each machine to collect the fibre of each leaf as it comes out and to place together the produce of 6 or 7 leaves, which are handed by another boy to 2 [gap — reason: unclear] men who wash it in a stream of water. No time should be lost in getting the produce washed, as the color mainly depends upon this operation. After washing, the fibre is conveyed on a hand cart and spread on a field to dry and bleach. In 2 days if the weather is favorable, it is collected and for scutching, which is accomplished by means of a large drum 6 feet in diameter with wooden arms on which are fastened
ribs of iron, about 200 per minute, and the whole is enclosed in a box. The men then take a bundle of fibre and holding it at end, insert it in the machine where the beaters dash from it the [gap — reason: unclear] dried gum and dust, and reversing the fibre subject the whole length to the same process. The flax thus prepared is packed in a press and sent to market. It struck me that a very material saving could be effected in their operation, and also in the machinery employed.
The leaf of the “Phormium Tenax” appears to consist of a woody cell ½ in long, which can be separated by operations conducted in Water. The fibrous material is simply a bundle of
fibre held together by the peculiar gum which grows on or with the leaf. The Maoris take only the inside leaf fibre from about half-way up the leaf to the top. The fibre can always be detected by dipping it in a solution of Hydrochloric Acid, and exposing it to fumes of Ammonia, which give it a bright-red color. When the flax is properly prepared, it is bright in color like silk – indeed it is now used for the making the foundation of silk velvets. Altho’ the “Phormium Tenax” Plant is remarkable for its strength, the fibre will not bear the same strain as our flax plant. It is said to be much improved by a certain portion of oil among the fibre before it is twisted into rope.
See Page 34 for conclusionpage 34
We spent a day examining the rivers for Bridge Work, had lunch amongst Manuka Bush, a plant or tree like lavender in leaf, and has a pretty white flower with a nice scent. Before we could get at our meal it became a question if it would not fly away altogether. Blue-bottle flies almost blackened the air as we sat, and buzzed about all the while until we retired to smoke our pipes. After this we found ourselves at Picton on our way to Wellington but an inducement of some pig shooting made Llewellyn stay at Picton. I went after a day’s detention at Picton. Meanwhile I took advantage of the day to fish and go out to an island, where we found wild goats. We shot at some, but failed to get them [see 34A]
I have since this been daily engaged with the Government over our Negociations. You will see our arrangement explained in the Paper I send. I leave for Auckland on Tuesday to look over another Railway, and from thence to Napier, Christchurch, Dunedin and Invercargill.
Dunny’s holidays begin. It does not seem like Christmas, altho’ the Butchers set out the meat just as at home –
but it is hot.