Story: Pulp and paper, aluminium and steel industries

Page 1. Paper: the first attempts

All images & media in this story

Nineteenth-century settlers made many attempts to make paper, which was needed for newspapers and letters – both essential in the days before telephone, television and radio. Paper was also needed for wrapping and containing items.

The first commercial paper mill was opened by Edward McGlashan in 1876 in Dunedin. It narrowly preceded the Mataura Paper Mill Company, which produced its first paper at its mill in Mataura, Southland, two months later.

Rag robbery

 

Sam Stark, who worked at the Mataura mill from 1878, found useable blankets among the rags bought by his employer, and hid them. When someone else took the blankets from Stark’s hiding place, he complained to the boss. The mill manager gave the illiterate Stark a notice to put up. It told all who could read it, ‘Would the person who stole what Sam Stark stole please return same to avoid trouble.’1

 

Failure

In the early years the Mataura and Dunedin mills failed to produce paper of reasonable quality, or to make a profit.

Fibre is the essential raw material used to make paper. The two mills got their fibre from various combinations of rags, old shipping rope, used sacks, tussock grass, flax and waste paper. But the local population was too small to produce enough waste, and flax and tussock grass proved unsuitable.

Skilled paper-making staff were difficult to find, and the entrepreneurs who set up the mills had little experience in the business. McGlashan, who had struggled for years to establish the Dunedin mill, put it on the market a month after going into production. The Mataura mill did not flourish either, and was sold in 1884 for £5,000, a fifth of what it had cost.

Limited success

Under new owners, both the Mataura and Dunedin mills became profitable by the 1890s, because of skilled staff, new machinery, improved paper quality, and the government’s introduction of protective tariffs from 1888.

This profitability was threatened by competition from cheap imported paper and from the Auckland-based Riverhead Paper Mill Company, which opened in 1900. In 1905, the owners of the three mills agreed to merge, forming New Zealand Paper Mills Ltd (NZPM). NZPM, based at Mataura, was New Zealand’s only commercial paper mill until 1939.

Footnotes:
  1. John H. Angus, Papermaking pioneers: a history of New Zealand Paper Mills Limited and its predecessors. Mataura: New Zealand Paper Mills, 1976, p. 92. Back
How to cite this page:

Megan Cook, 'Pulp and paper, aluminium and steel industries - Paper: the first attempts', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/pulp-and-paper-aluminium-and-steel-industries/page-1 (accessed 21 May 2019)

Story by Megan Cook, published 11 Mar 2010