Story: Price, Alfred

Page 1: Biography

Price, Alfred

1838–1907

Manufacturing engineer

This biography, written by Alistair M. Isdale, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1993.

Alfred Price was born at France Lynch near Chalford, Gloucestershire, England, on 25 September 1838, the son of Catharine Woolles and her husband, George Price, a brewer who was later a carpenter. He was apprenticed to the Dudbridge Engineering Works in Rodborough where he learned about patternmaking and the construction of textile machinery. In December 1863 he arrived at Auckland, New Zealand, on the Green Jacket. He was employed at the Clyde Ironworks, Onehunga, and later as engineer on the steamer Woodpecker.

Alfred Price went back to England and married Kate Alder at Stroud, Gloucestershire, on 25 April 1867. The couple were to have nine children. In 1867 Alfred returned to New Zealand with his wife and brother, George, arriving at Auckland on the Ballarat in August. Alfred and George were for some months first and second engineers of the Huntress, which transported machinery from the Onehunga foundries to the West Coast goldfields. Of the two brothers, Alfred was apparently the leader, and he took the dominant role in their later business activities. Early in 1868 Alfred and George set up an engineering firm at Onehunga called A. & G. Price. At first they made superior flax-milling machines – nearly 100 in the first year – receiving orders from all over New Zealand. They had their own foundry and constructed a steam engine, the first of many.

Meanwhile, south-east of Auckland, the Thames goldfield developed rapidly. Its population was estimated as 18,000 by August 1868; Auckland's population at that time was around 12,000. According to one account, by 1 July 1868 there were numerous stamper batteries for crushing gold-bearing quartz in the Thames area. There were also over 10 steamers and many small craft plying between Thames and Auckland. Foundries in Auckland profited from the demand for mining machinery. The forward-looking Alfred Price bought 1½ acres by the Onehunga wharf, and was building a bigger foundry there when the original one burned down in early 1870. The new premises were completed during 1870.

In 1871 the Thames gold boom was at its peak. Alfred Price set up a new engineering works at Thames in October 1871, but retained the Onehunga foundry, which produced flax machinery and, between 1872 and 1874, 22 rail carriages and wagons for the government. But in 1872 Thames gold production crashed. Fortunately C. J. Stone, a wealthy Auckland businessman, decided to build a huge sawmill and shipbuilding yard at Thames; A. & G. Price were to supply all machinery except the engine and boiler. This shipbuilding yard was one of several for which machinery was supplied. A. & G. Price also built a number of ships. In 1873 the Auckland–Onehunga railway was finished, and in 1874, when the rolling stock was completed, Alfred Price decided to close the Onehunga works and concentrate on the Thames foundry.

Alfred Price prospered at Thames because of his enterprising outlook. In the mid 1870s Prices' foundry constructed a 'Big Pump' to drain water from the underground mines. The pump, which was very heavy and strong, replaced an Australian one which was too light. A Belgian timber jack which had been purchased by the local sawmilling company, Schapp and Ansenne, was also too light. A. & G. Price made a sturdy replacement, and soon there was a market for improved Prices' jacks. In 1883 G. W. Bull's battery at Thames obtained an improved Pelton water-wheel. Alfred Price secured the New Zealand manufacturing rights in 1884 and produced many more. By 1889 the Price premises were illuminated by electric lights powered from a Pelton wheel.

The business expanded during the nineties. In 1890 demand for binder twine brought orders for more flax machinery and in 1892 the goldmines at Waihi, which were undergoing rapid development, placed orders for heavy machinery. In 1896 the premises of A. & G. Price were enlarged.

Development continued after the turn of the century. The Thames firebell, of English manufacture, was too faint. In 1902 Prices' cast one of good steel, which was not only loud enough but of excellent tone. In July 1903 the premises were enlarged again when a government contract for 10 locomotives was obtained. So good were the locomotives that many more orders followed. A railway link between Thames and Waihi, completed in 1905, ensured easy transport of machinery to the mines and created more demand for rolling stock.

The contribution of A. & G. Price to the development of the Thames and Ohinemuri areas was acknowledged at a banquet held in Thames in February 1900, which Alfred Price attended. In a speech given by William McCullough, proprietor of the Thames Star, the foundry was described as producing the highest class of work in New Zealand. It was claimed that Prices' could supply heavy machinery cheaper and as good, if not better, than the famous Krupps works in Germany. Alfred Price also appears to have been an enlightened employer. In 1901 a conciliation board hearing found the workmen at the foundry perfectly satisfied with their wages and hours of labour.

Alfred Price was prominent in community affairs. In 1877 he was elected to the Thames Harbour Board, and he served on the Thames Borough Council from 1877 to 1879. He was elected vice president of the Thames School of Mines in 1886 and again in 1887.

When Alfred Price died on 4 March 1907, flags flew at half-mast all over Thames. George outlived his brother, dying in 1917. Kate Price died in 1934. The firm of A. & G. Price survived until 1949, when it merged with William Cable and Company. It later became part of the Cable Price Downer group of companies.

How to cite this page:

Alistair M. Isdale. 'Price, Alfred', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 1993. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/2p29/price-alfred (accessed 23 November 2018)