Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Kauri Gum - the industry and the gumdiggers from on the Coromandel Peninsula

Kauri Gum


Occasionally after a storm one is fortunate enough to find a piece of kauri gum on the beach along the eastern seaboard Coromandel coastline- not often but a treasure when found.

Kauri gum features in the stories passed down via family on the Coromandel Peninsula. Kauri Gum provided income for Maori and European alike. Families came to the gumfields of Parakiwai, Whangamata, Wharekawa and Tairua valleys to find that sought after product. They came for several weeks, sometimes from places like Katikati, or further afield, following the tracks of long before -  along what be came known as the gum diggers' trail.

An unknown correspondent writing an article to the Bay of Plenty Times in 1892 described Whangamata itself as:

“ unknown to the outer world except as a gumfield, and indeed a more dreary looking place one can scarcely fancy.” ( Bay of Plenty Times, 04/11/1892)

This gum field, thought by some to be dreary, was a popular destination for firstly Māori Gum Diggers and their families from various tribes. Later years saw gold miners and farmers turn also to gum digging in lean or slack times.
 There were no baches nor holiday homes  such as we see today - gum diggers camped out - at  times only a tent or if fortunate a hut ( often referred to as a whare ) in the bush. The whare was made from local material - flax, raupo, fern. The floors were of dirt.

                                                    An example of a bush hut
                                                       AT A BUSH CAMP IN THE WAIKATO, NORTH ISLAND
                              in N.Z. Otago Witness , Issue 2798, 30 October 1907, Page 46
                                           courtesy Papers  Past, National Library NZ

Meals on the open fire or perhaps even a camp oven. Camp   ovens were said to turn out excellent bread and scones ( according to those oral family stories passed down). A search of newspaper advertisements show camp ovens in the 1800's were a popular item listed in ships cargoes inward. Made of cast iron they had to come from Great Britain. A newspaper article from the Auckland Star in 1941 gives a  description of these camp ovens:-
                       OUTDOOR STOVES Auckland Star,  Volume LXXII, Issue 301, 20 December  1941, Page 12
                                                      courtesy Papers Past, National Library NZ
                                                           
Although most of the gum diggers were men, some women and children of the Maori gum diggers went also. The camp for them would have been hard work for as well as cooking, from the stories passed down, they also helped with gum sorting.

Kauri Gum 

 
Kauri Gum comes from the Kauri Tree. (Agathis australis) and is really a resin.


Giant Kauri of them all - Tane Mahuta in 2014 Photo CRB
 
With thick bark excessively resinous, and from the smallest of wounds would flow at first a colorless “turpentine”. This resin would harden on exposure to air.

Colour varied from dull white of fresh gum found on tree branches ( sap gum ) ,to the rich brown of “fossil gum”, dug at times from depths of 6 to 7 feet below the soil surface. Sometimes this, “fossil gum”, said to have been formed from old forests destroyed by fire, was translucent or transparent. It was this, that was particularly sought after by gum diggers of the 19th Century (1800s) for it was this grade of gum that paid the best prices. It was also said that gum from the East Coast was of highest quality and paid best prices – East Coast being that of the Coromandel Peninsula.

Early shipping records from 1858 show cargoes of gum returning from Whangamata and Tairua. The cutter Ringdove which carried cargoes of mill equipment to Tairua for the first sawmill in 1865 bought cargoes of kauri gum back to Auckland.

 
Some of the kauri gum cargoes from Whangamata between 1860 and 1872 were:-


From Whangamata Arriving Auckland some Gum Cargos 1860 - 1872 

Date
Vessel
Type
Master
Gum - Tons
Reference
Source
8 June 1865
George
schooner
Thorp
DSC 27/06/1865 p4
Sept 1865
George
schooner
Ngakirikiri
10
DSC 21/09/1865 p4
Sept 1865
Kate
cutter
Nicholls
8
DSC 25/09/1865 p4
Nov 1865
Margaret
cutter
Nicholls
14    Whangamata &  Thames
DSC 03/11/1865 p4
Feb 1866
Victoria
cutter
Major
DSC 19/02/1866 p4
Feb 1866
Margaret
cutter
Kennedy
DSC 19/02/1866 p4
Mar 1866
Boyd
schooner
Neill
DSC 12/03/1866p4
Mar 1866
Victoria
cutter
Major
8
DSC 12/03/1866 p4
Apr 1866
George
schooner
Ngakirikiri
6
DSC 14/04/1866 p4
May 1866
Kate
cutter
Kennedy
DSC 08/05/1866 p3
May 1866
Victoria
cutter
Major
8
DSC 12/05/1866 p4
Aug 1866
George
schooner
Ngakirikiri
6 bags
DSC  06/08/1866p4
Aug 1866
Boyd
schooner
White
14
DSC 18/08/1866 p4
Dec 1871
Hero
Cutter
14
DSC 18/12/1871 p2
Aug 1872
Leah
Agent
DSC 07/08/1872 p2
Chart Sources: Shipping Records & Reports in Newspapers –Daily Southern Cross – compiled by Anne Stewart Ball 2010

  The Daily Southern Cross, 1865 reported the following for Port of Auckland:-

CLEARED OUTWARDS. 8 — Elfin Queen, 12 tons, Nicholas, for Whangamata, with 2 packages and 1 parcel drapery, 10 bags rice, 6 bags sugar, 4 packages groceries, 1 bundle pannikins, 6 camp ovens, 1 box soap, 2 boxes candles, 1 case sardines Passengers— 2 (Daily Southern Cross 9 August 1865, Page 4)


In the 1860's there was no wharf at Whangamata as there is today in 2014, to either unload or load cargo such as kauri gum.


Uses of Kauri Gum


Before European Settlers came to New Zealand, Māori found kauri gum to have a number of uses:-  

  • As kindlers or good fuel for fires.

  • Lit as a torch -great for attracting fish

  • The soot from burnt gum used in tattooing.

  • Sap gum used as “chewing gum”.

During the 19th Century (1800’s), kauri gum was exported to world markets where it found a ready market.

Kauri Gum was used: -
  • in manufacture of paints, lacquers and varnishes,
  • a substitute for amber in manufacture of mouth pieces for pipes and small ornaments.
  • in linoleum manufacture
  • Jewellery -where it was thought by some to be equal to amber.
 Kauri Gum brooch - Flower
                                                                         
Kirk wrote in 1889 that :-
 
" After being dug up it is carefully scraped to free it from dirt, and when sorted according to quality it is packed in cases for the English and American markets. The scrapings and dusts are usually sold for the manufacture of "fire - kindlers."
(Kirk, 1889,p 154)

Little wastage of the actual kauri gum once it reached the merchants. However Kirk was to write in his report to Government as Forest Conservator that there was much wastage of resin when felling kauri for timber.

As early as 1843  ( not long after the influx of European settlement from Great Britain ) kauri gum was being hailed as a future export resource ( Daily Southern Cross, 12/08/ 1843 ) Just over a year later in December 1844,  the firm of Brown & Campbell organised one  of the  first commercial shipment from Auckland to England  of 3 tons of kauri gum aboard the Bolina . (Daily Southern Cross, 14/12/1844)

It was in the 1840's that the early  merchants advertised in the newspapers, seeking kauri gum for purchase – J.S. Polack, D Nathan, Gilfillan, Graham, S. Brown.

During those early years of European settlement, a number of experiments went on locally, looking for other uses of kauri gum. With the advent of steam there were attempts to mix kauri gum with coal to drive the steamers.

An enterprising  Mr. Robert  Bleazard, owner of the Auckland Steam Bucket, Tub and Chair factory, devised a varnish from kauri gum to finish the buckets made. ( Daily Southern Cross,17/06/1862)  Bleazard's first factory caught fire. However in 1862 Bleazard won a prize at the Great Exhibition for the varnished buckets. So too did Coombes & Daldy for specimens of kauri gum. By August 1865 Bleazard had set up a first sawmill at Tairua with Seccombe.

 

Gum Digging on the Eastern Seaboard

 Kirk wrote that maximum price gained for East Coast gum in 1888 was £51 whereas for ordinary gum maximum price was £42 per ton. - the figures having been supplied to Kirk by Messrs Brown & Campbell.  (  Kirk, 1989, p. 155)
Kirk wrote further that based on 1886 figures of gum (resin) exported, each gum digger averaged 4 tons and for that would have received from £80 to £100 at least.

 

The Gum Digger


There was little needed to set up as a gum digger. All the equipment that was needed was a gum spear to test the ground. A spade to dig, a sack ( also known as a Pikau ) and a knife.


The sacks were stamped with the initials of the respective gum merchants. Sometimes there were complaints of these being crossed out or removed.
There were two ways of obtaining the gum : -
  • As Bennett describes in the book, Tairua - gum-bleeding of the tree itself. 
    ( Bennett, 1986 )
  •  the other more widely used method , gum digging in the swamps, ferns and manuka covered lowlands  to a depth of up to six feet to recover that fossilized resin of higher quality.

                                                             Gum Digging
                                       Untitled Auckland Star, Volume XXIX, Issue 284, 1  December 1898, Page 24
                                                            Papers Past, National Library New Zealand

 When gum digging was finished there was still the cleaning, scraping and sorting to do.


       Kauri Gum Digger - In The New Zealand Insurance Company Limited, Bold Century, Auckland:The New Zealand Insurance Company Limited, 1959.

The Gum Stores

There were several stores on the Eastern Seaboard over the years from the 1860s. These stores supplied the gum diggers with tea, flour, sugar and other requisites. The store owners bought the gum which usually was on behalf of the gum merchant.
The first store in the Tairua valley was said to have been that owned by the sawmill when it opened in 1865.
The first store opened about 1872 in the Whangamata Valley was that owned by Mr. Finlay McMillan. McMillan and was followed by another owner - Jack Sainsbury in the 1880's History records the store at  Whangamata being taken over in the 1890’s by Robert Henry Watt and came to be known as Watt’s Store, over the years following.Robert Henry Watt's father had been a friend of Dr. John Logan Campbell.
As well, history records Say’s Store in Wentworth Valley  Both McMillan's and Say's Stores  also traded in supplies to gold miners, timber felling crew along with the  gum diggers.

It is said that during the 1880’s Te Kooti established a trading store at the small village of Parakiwai to provide supplies to Maori Gum Diggers in the area and to bring in an income for himself.

Down near the harbour mouth of the Wharekawa Harbour , on the flat below Maungaruawahine was a store, bakery and Post Office. ( near where the Youth Hostel is today in 2014.) This helped service the gumdiggers, the timber workers  who worked for or contracted to Leyland & O'Brien, and gold prospectors in the area.

References:
  • Binney, Judith, Redemption Songs, Auckland University Press with Bridget Willams Books Limited, 1995 
  • Kirk, T. F.L. S. The Forest Flora of New Zealand. Wellington: Government Printers, 1889. pp 154-156.Whangamata Writers Group. 
  • Waves - New Writing from Whangamata. Wellington: Steele Roberts Ltd, 2005. pp 107– 111 
  • Williamson, Beverley M. Whangamata - 100 Years of Change. Paeroa, New Zealand: Goldfields Print Ltd, 1988. p 17, p23. 
  • Bennett, Francis. Tairua. Morrinsville: Arrow Press Ltd, 1986.  
  •  Papers Past, National Library of New Zealand.