Flax Mills


Harakeke was the name given to this plant by Maori.The first European traders called it "flax" because its fibres were similar to that of true flax found in other parts of the world. . It is unique to New Zealand. No fibre plant was more important to Maori than flax. Each pa or marae typically had a pa harakeke or flax plantation. Different varieties were specially grown for their strength, softness, colour and fibre content. Traditionally when harakeke leaves were removed from the plant, only the older leaves on the outside were taken. It is believed the three inner layers of the plant represented a family. This outer layer represented the grandparents, whereas the inner layer of new shoots or the child remained to be protected by the next inner layer of leaves, the parents.The uses of the flax fibre were numerous and varied. Clothing, mats, plates to eat off, baskets, ropes, bird snares, lashings, fishing lines and nets were all made from flax. Babies were even given rattles made from flax.



North Island Flax Mills

The background to the creation of the page

I was working on a large property in the Waiarapa in the early 1970s
that had been had been a flax processing factory on the banks of the Ruamahanga river
The building had been pulled down only months prior to my starting work there..
I now know that this was the site of Tringham & McKenzie's Otaraia mill
Evidently the mill had been powered at first by a water wheel but the engine room
foundations showed signs of a steam boiler and later a diesel engine..
The factory workers hut sites were still very evident and the house that
I occupied was the old Mill Managers house that stood around a mile or so from the site..
The main block of the farm was of some 3,500 acres that was running store sheep
and cattle with another 1,000 acres that had been used for growing the flax.
All the flax plants had been (by the time I got there) windrowed by bulldozer and left to rot.
However all the tracks used to carry the flax to the mill were mazes of willow trees.
Evidently the carriers would get stuck and would cut a few willow branches to put under
the truck wheels for traction.
Some 30 years later what had been tracks had now become tangled lines of Willow that I had to
clear with BTD-6 and chainsaw



There were 19 Flax mills in the Makerua area
owned flax mills...........
by 1873 over 300 flax mills were operating throughout the country.

It is fitting that steam should be responsible for putting the one-time boom town of Tokomaru back on the map.
Back in the town’s heyday, during the first two decades of the 20th century, steam played a vital part
in making Tokomaru boom. Within a radius of a few miles, there were seven flax mills, the area’s major industry,
all driven by steam.
Awanui Flax Mill Joseph, Robert and Alexander Hopkirk built a flaxmill in the Wairarapa in the 1880s
The "Ashlea" Flax Mill (1904-1922)
This mill was situated on the right-hand (east) bank of the Tokomaru
stream and built in May 1904 by Joseph Liggins
and obtained its green flax from 896 acres of swamp purchased from the
Makerua Estate Company.
The horse-drawn tramway which carried flax from the swamp to the mill ran between the Tokomaru
stream and the present Ashlea Road and crossed the Main Drain on a small wooden bridge.
A Mr. Shirley had large numbers of men employed. At various times he owned saw mills and
flax mills at Tokanui Gorge, Waikawa, and Niagara.

In March 1892 a tender to 'cut flax' on the Feilding-Awahuri and Awahuri-Sanson roads was won by
J. Dalton for £1 prepaid with a stipulation that it must be completed within 3 months.
seven years later Joe Tos was granted the same right, but on only one section of road for £5 on the condition
he transport the flax by river to the mill ( to save wear on the roads )
A flax mill set up by R. W. Smith and F J Carter near Taupo about 1900
proved unprofitable and closed about 1905.

Wanstead, flax mill 1919 ?? William Frederick George, bankrupt 17th Feb, Wanstead, flax-miller
Fraser and Tinne also acquired a flax mill at Kaihu
Nationwide numbers:
1873  300 mills
1880  40 mills
1890  177 mills
1905  240 mills

Foxton was the first settlement of the Manawatu, and founded on its deep river port and flax industry.
At the height of the flax industry, 50 mills operated within a 16km radius of Foxton and in 1873
a wooden tramway was built to the infant settlement of Palmerston North.
Seiferts had a mill nearby and built the port of Te Maire
Flax cutters P & J Battolemew; Hanson & Son; W.W. Corpe; Gichard, Newman,

South Island Flax Mills

Flax mills were built on the north-west side of the Takaka Hill, producing fibre used for rope, sacks,
upholstery stuffing and linen. Many small wharves were built for the scows which collected the products of the mills.
Flax mill, Lower Parihaka Road, run by James, and later by George Rutherford,
father and brother of Ernest Rutherford
(1st Baron Rutherford of Nelson)
Rutherford's mill in 1897
In 1939 Britain requested New Zealand and Australia to begin producing and milling flax.
New Zealand responded in the first season with 200 acres in Woodend, near Rangiora and 10 acres in Blenheim.
Despite an exceptionally dry season reasonable returns were experienced and in the following years many
thousands of acres were grown and milled in both Marlborough and Canterbury.
Little Wanganui was once a busy port settlement with flax mills and is now the gateway
to the Wangapeka and Lesley/Karamea Tracks

Lees & Gifford-More 1860
Flax milling was an important New Zealand industry from the 1860s onwards, with a maximum of 177 mills throughout New Zealand
exporting about 21,000 tons of fibre per year in the 1890s. Southland had a large flax milling industry in the early part of this century,
and a mill still survives at Otaitai Bush.
Bentham Street sheds used as a flax mill. Cape Foulwind Railway

McDonalds of Maungatua Shaws of Berwick A Shand of Boundary Creek
T & H Williams in 1904 J Lothain