The iconic Kauri Timber Company building on Fanshawe Street, situated across from Auckland’s vibrant Viaduct Harbour, is a reminder of the native timber industry’s glory days in the late 19th century.
Originally built of stone in the 1880’s it is one of only three heritage buildings remaining on the Freeman’s Bay shoreline and was recently restored to its former glory.
Today, it houses a boutique clothing store, bar and offices, but back in the day it was the headquarters of a thriving wood business, which later morphed into one of our major forestry conglomerates, Fletcher Challenge.
When Captain Cook recognised the excellent qualities of Kauri for use as spars for the British navy ships, it kicked off the first industrial boom in New Zealand, which grew to encompass whaling and gold mining. The Kauri timber industry really got started in 1820, when the first load of timber left on the HMS Dromedary.
From there it really took off, with a number of mills being established in the 1830s and 1840s, succeeding the early pit-sawing.
Up to around 1884, the Kauri timber industry was doing really well, mainly due to the building boom experienced as part of the rapid expansion of building, fuelled by the gold rush of the late 1870’s and the increase in population as settlers flooded into the country – they desperately needed housing, along with the services from retail and commerce.
However, there were the ominous signs of a coming depression on the horizon, as the timber supply exceeded market demand and prices dropped. Many sawmillers were caught out by the change in circumstances and some refused to accept the situation until the stocks of sawn timber started to build up in the mill yards and timber merchants’ premises.
By 1878, the profitable local market no longer existed and sailing ships were giving way to steam, so the lucrative export of spars also fell, with many fearing that a total collapse of the industry was nigh...
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