Trends of Development
Five main trends in the development of various parts of the provincial district can be recognised in the later decades of the nineteenth century:
(1) The kauri-timber industry in the northern peninsulas reached its peak and supplied the quality timber for most building construction in New Zealand, as well as enjoying a substantial export trade to Australia. In 1888 Melbourne business interests secured the merger of 28 sawmills and a fleet of steamers into the Kauri Timber Co., which for many years was New Zealand's largest single industrial enterprise. By 1905 the provincial district's 50 sawmills employed more than 2,000 men and produced 45 per cent of the New Zealand timber output, three quarters of it being kauri.
(2) The kauri-gum trade expanded steadily after 1870 to a peak yield of 10,800 tons in 1905. In 1885 some 2,000 diggers were at work on the swamps and hillsides of Northland. They were augmented to 6,000 in 1890 by an influx of Dalmatian immigrants and the unemployed of Auckland. The gumdiggers were a floating population living in primitive camps, but some settled as farmers and Dalmatians were the first to specialise in the cultivation of the grape vine.
(3) The languishing quartz-mining industry was revived in the 1890s through the use of the cyanide process and improved managerial and technical efficiency. Substantial investment of British capital made it possible to work the large, lowgrade, gold-silver ores in the Ohinemuri district and there was a considerable influx of Australian skilled labour. The Martha Mine at Waihi was soon numbered among the great gold mines of the world and was the premier mine of Australasia. In its peak year, 1909, it employed 1,500 men, and by the time work ended in 1955 it had returned 35½ million ounces of gold and silver, valued at £28½ million.
(4) In the Waikato the coalfields, discovered during the Maori Wars, were developed to supply Auckland with fuel, but rural settlement made slow progress. On small farms near Hamilton and on large freehold estates in the Thames Valley the farm economy was a mixed one of beef cattle and sheep rearing on temporary pastures, root and forage cropping, and grain growing. Although the climate seemed ideal for grass growth, soils appeared to be frustratingly infertile. But one of the keys to the success of the later-day dairy industry was revealed in the remarkable stimulus to grass growth that followed the top-dressing of pastures with artificial phosphate fertilisers.
(5)The winning of new farmland progressed more rapidly on forested hill country than on the fern-covered lowlands. The Raglan and Kawhia hills were settled in the 1880s and 1890s and, after the opening of the King Country in 1885, sawmillers and farmers advanced with the construction gangs who were building the Main Trunk Railway. Progress with bushfelling was particularly rapid between 1880 and 1900 in the Poverty Bay and East Coast districts where, in contrast to the general course of land settlement in New Zealand, the Maori retained ownership of the land and merely granted long-term leases to the European farmer. The area in sown pasture in the Auckland Provincial District increased from 0·5 million to 1 million acres between 1881 and 1891 and to 1·8 million acres by 1901.