1841, June: Cutfield, principal agent of the Plymouth Company in Taranaki noted in his journal – "From certain indications, iron, I apprehend, will be ultimately found in large quantities in this neighbourhood".
1842: Frederick Alonzo Carrington, the New Zealand Company’s Surveyor for Taranaki, sent ironsands to England for testing in a furnace. The report of the test was said to show that the ironsand was superior to the famous Dannamerra ore of Sweden and would be the most valuable iron in the world.
1843: John Plimmer of Wellington attempted to smelt some ironsand which had been sent from Taranaki. He mixed the ironsand with clay to prevent it being blown out of the furnace. Although he was apparently successful in smelting the iron, he could not separate it from the slag.
1843: John Perry, a Cornishman settler in New Zealand, who had been the proprietor of an iron foundry, applied to and was granted by the Governor the rights to ironsands in the region.
1844: Carrington took a quantity of ironsand with him to England where he had it smelted by Messrs Dymond of Holborn. Carrington told a select committee of the House of Commons that there was excellent coal at Mokau near the ironsands and he thought that, using this, the ore could be smelted on the spot. He presented the analysis of the ironsand done by Dymond – titanium was not recorded.
Carrington, on being told by metal workers at the Royal Exchange that iron made from the sands was superior to the best Swedish steel, set out to form a company but was told on his return to New Zealand the rights to the sand had been taken up by others.
1847: Samples of ironsand sent to New Zealand Journal of Science and Technology.
1849: Further samples (more than six tons) sent to Sydney.
1849: John Perry having erected a small scale smelting works using firebricks provided by the N.Z. Company failed in an attempt to smelt the sand.
1850: Sample of sand sent to Messrs Stenson & Co iron masters at Northhampton.
1852: Ten tons of sand sent to Messrs Stenson & Co.
1853: Stensons advised that they had found difficulty working the ore but were confident that the iron would be equal to the best brands of Russian and Swedish iron for conversion into steel. However, they did not persevere with work because of Perry’s claim to have the rights to the ironsands.
1857: Reward of £1,000 for the first 100 tons of merchantable iron from the sand offered by the Provincial Government.
1858: Attempt made to float company by Captain Morshead who had been granted a lease of 14 miles of beach by the Provincial Council.
1858-1865: Smelting tests obtained by Morshead at the Royal Foundry and ten other German locations. Also tests in Sweden, Paris, Belgium and at York, Newcastle, Glasgow and Sterlingshire in Britain.
1860: Morshead sent sand to the distinguished metallurgist, R. Mushet, and was invited to visit his works at Coleford. Steel was made directly from the ore, and tested very well, but the steelmaking process was not scaled up. Moseleys of Sheffield made various articles at Morshead’s behest, including a pair of skates for the Prince Consort and, supposedly, a sword for the Duke of Wellington.
Martin and Soblechero Company (a Spanish firm) were persuaded by Morshead into floating the Taranaki Ironsand Company.
1861: Vessel purchased to sail with plant and men but did not sail.
1862: Company wound up in Britain under the Bankruptcy Act. Martin of Martin and Soblechero Company continued to import sand into England for treating in a small furnace and conversion of the steel by Moseley, the cutler, of Convent Garden into razors, saws, table cutlery, surgical instruments etc.- which were claimed to be of superior grade.
1864: Charles Watt, representing Melbourne interests, sought a lease for the ironsands from the Provincial Government but it was not granted.
1866: J. Perry took out a patent for smelting the sands, based on the use of locally derived petroleum products.
Slag fusibility problem recognised.
1866: Independent advice sought by the Provincial Government from Dr Abel, director of a chemical works at Woolwich Arsenal, who said the main obstacle in working the titanic ironsand was the difficult fusibility of the slag; special operational methods might with experience overcome the problem of dealing with fine sand. He considered Martin’s proposal as good as any other but it used a large quantity of fuel. A second opinion by the eminent metallurgist, Dr Percy, confirmed the improbability of profitable working of the sand.
Dec.1866 Trials carried out at Butlins Plant at Wellingborough with apparent success.
1867, April 20: Prospectus of N.Z. Iron & Steel Company Limited was published in Taranaki. Its eight directors were to be domiciled in England – but nothing further transpired.
1868, June 27: D. Atkinson, J. Perry and E.M. Smith were reported to have discovered a new process for smelting ironsand which involved forming it into balls with clay before firing.
1869: Smith and others established the Pioneer Steel Works and built a blast furnace but difficulty was experienced in getting the iron to flow from the furnace. Further experiments were little more successful.
1870, June: Pioneer Company resolved to go into voluntary liquidation.
1870, July: James Hector MD FRS gave evidence before the Central Government Joint Committee on Colonial Industries, telling it he did not consider the presence of titanium any disadvantage as had been represented. He referred to the use of black sand for the production of the finest quality steel in Japan and India.
1870, October: E.M. Smith sought Government assistance. Advising the Government, Hector did not favour subsidies but thought a bonus system preferable.
1871: Chilman, Collector of Customs at New Plymouth, who had been chairman of the Pioneer Company, aided by a grant of £125 from the Taranaki Provincial Government, went to England where he failed in his attempt to form a company with capital of £80,000 to £120,000.
1871: E.M. Smith, now armourer to the constabulary at Mount Cook Barracks in Wellington, carried out experiments on ironsands from Taranaki.
1872: Following a resolution of the House of Representatives, a bonus of £5,000 was offered for the production of 100 tons of marketable steel. The bonus had to be claimed before July 1874. (AJHR H 34 Appendix A to the report of the Industries Commission of 1872)
1873: In March, the prospectus for the New Zealand Titanic Steel Company was published. The company was promoted by E.M. Smith, who optimistically gave lectures on his process, saying the technical problems had been overcome. By October a contract for the blast furnace had been let and a site chosen near the Henui beach. A rift developed between the directors of the company and Smith, whose employment was terminated.
1876, July: The first trials of the Titanic Company’s furnace took place – successfully with Parapara ore from in the Nelson District and then unsuccessfully with ironsand. Smith, who had no part in the trials, called a public meeting to give his views on the failure. He then sought permission to use the plant at Te Henui for a trial he would conduct. Much excitement attended his initial apparent success. A celebration dinner was held, to which Smith was escorted by the Rifle Volunteers headed by the Volunteer band.
Gradually, however, it became appreciated that Smith had been forced to use excessive quantities of raw materials and energy, that the iron had not run freely and that the slag was very viscous.
1877: Smith attempted to form a new company to take over the furnace and plant. Metal from the earlier trials sent to England performed well under test.
1879: The Government published in London (Julius Vogel was Agent-General) a 60 page pamphlet headed "100 000 tons of steel rails required to be manufactured in New Zealand". The pamphlet called tenders for the supply of the steel rails, described coal and iron deposits and offered payment of half the costs of transport to New Zealand of workmen involved in any venture.
Smith continued to pursue the making of iron, casting railway wheels from pig iron made at Titanic. D. Anderson, who had been chairman of Titanic, responding to extravagant claims by Smith, pointed out that in his trial Smith had spent £447 to produce 58 hundredweight (just under 3 tons) of iron worth £13. Further publicity was gained when samples of iron were sent to the Industrial Exhibition in Sydney.
1880: Smith wrote to the Central Government’s Local Industries Commission who, after considering his letter and other evidence, and acknowledging that the colony had vast reserves of valuable iron ore, concluded "that the time has not come yet when the smelting of the iron ores into steel by the erection of costly plant, can be pursued in the colony with any probability of commercial success". The Commission noted that new works for iron and steel manufacture were of a large scale, "in order to derive the full advantages of the progress of science in the shape of economical proportion."
1881, July: Winding up of the Titanic Iron and Steel Company.
Direct Reduction at Onehunga
1882: John Chambers organised the construction of a furnace at Onehunga to produce three tons of iron a day using a direct reduction process first patented in the USA. The New Jersey inventor sent iron master W.H. Jones to New Zealand to demonstrate the working of the process. This involved the heating in a retort of a mixture of coal and ironsand under reducing conditions for 20 hours followed by puddling of the iron. Success was achieved and S.G. Thomas, the inventor of the basic open hearth steel process, was impressed when he visited the Onehunga installation.
1883: A company with a nominal capital of £200,000 was formed and ten further furnaces built at Onehunga. A rolling plant was ordered from Sheffield. W.H. Jones was imprisoned for ten years after shooting a bricklayer in the main street of Onehunga following a card game.
Even if Jones had not been removed from his job by the law, he may not have been long available to the Company. Few puddlers lived past forty. This was shortly after the company started and, unfortunately, none of the succeeding iron masters could produce iron of the same quality.
1886: The capital was exhausted. The assets were taken over by the mortgagee and the plant shipped to China for use in an ironworks there. J. Chambers succeeded in interesting Sir Henry Bessemer in the ironsands. Bessemer carried out some experiments but reported unfavourably saying much research was needed.
1889: The Titanic Company’s plant was acquired by the Bank of New Zealand and transferred to Onehunga.
1892: E.M. Smith conducted trials at Onehunga with the former Titanic plant, now owned by the Bank of New Zealand, making 45 tons of iron.
1896: E.M. Smith visited England with samples made by his process and consulted with the vice-president of the Iron and Steel Institute.
1896-1900: E.M. Smith attempted to again raise capital for a company.
1898: At request of the Esteve Steel Company, 20 tons of Taranaki ironsand was shipped to London, from where the Agent General reported that high class tool steel had been made in the crucible.
1901: E.M. Smith, with A.J. Cadman, visited England and was again unsuccessful in raising capital for an iron works. (Sir Alfred Cadman was an ex-Minister of Mines and Railways.)
1900-1908: Experimental work which anticipated the process finally adopted by N.Z. Steel carried out on ironsands in Christchurch by J.E.L. Cull.
1905: Leo Fanning and Sidney Jenkinson surveyed the West Coast beaches to establish the extent of the iron sand deposits.
1907: Geologist J.A.M. Bell reported that an estimated 22.5 million tons of limonite iron ore of high quality existed in company with limestone at Onekaka near Takaka.
1912-1913: The "Ethelbunga" Syndicate made proposals to the Government to establish a works at Parapara (near Takaka). The Government was not prepared to accede to the terms sought: a guarantee on £650,000 of interest at 5% per year for forty years.
1914: Following the recommendations of a Commission, a bill, which was almost a copy of a New South Wales Act, was introduced to encourage iron and steel manufacture. With the passage of the Iron and Steel Industries Act 1914, bounties were authorised for the manufacture of pig iron, puddled bar iron, and steel.
1914-1919: Experiments were carried out at New Plymouth by the N.Z. Iron-Ore Smelting and Manufacturing Company Limited. Ironsand was briquetted with finely pulverised coal and fed into a blast furnace. Five tons per day of high silicon pig iron were produced but "titaniferous accretions built up in the hearth and gradually prevented tapping". These experiments, which appear to have been carried out systematically, were the last made with the ironsands in a blast furnace. (Reported by J.A. Hesketh (1920)).
Electric Smelting trial at Darlington
1921: Twenty tons of ironsands were shipped to the Darlington Steel works in England, where smelting trials were made in an electric furnace. It was ascertained that the small quantities of titanium which passed into the pig iron and steel made did not have an injurious effect on the quality of the product but, for an economical industry, power would have to very cheap. In the trials, 22 cwts (about 1 tonne) of pig iron were produced with a power consumption of 5000 kWh/tonne. The metallurgist, F.W. Harbond, provided a report to the Government.
1920: On October 5, the Onekaka Iron and Steel Company Limited was incorporated. The company purchased the blast furnace from New Plymouth and re-erected it at Onekaka. An aerial tramway about 8000 feet long was erected to bring the ore and limestone down from the quarries and a 1000-ft long wharf was constructed to handle incoming coal and to ship out products.
1922: On April 26 the first tapping of the furnace at Onekaka took place but at Christmas-time a serious fire occurred and, before production recommenced, most of 1923 was spent reconditioning the plant.
1931: Even after collection, over the years, of £42,000 from the Government in bounty payments for production, receiving other assistance and diversifying production into the manufacture of cast iron pipes the Onekaka company was unable to compete against imports from India and then Australia. After production of some 42,000 tonnes over its life the company went into liquidation.
About 1931, a company called Pacific Steel was formed by New Zealanders in London, with a capital of £100, and obtained an option to purchase the assets at Onekaka. Pacific Steel hired consulting engineers H.A. Brassert and Co to look at the iron and steel industry in New Zealand. Brasserts reported that the country’s requirements justified a small modern plant as a nucleus for a major New Zealand iron and steel industry, but Government backing was refused to the Pacific Company.
Pacific Steel, together with Onekaka Iron and Steel, in 1940 sought compensation in the Nelson Wardens Court for the loss of mining privileges. In 1948, the case was finally settled with compensation of £123,477 and costs being awarded.
1937 Power was given in the Iron and Steel Industry Act for the establishment of a State industry for the production of iron, steel, and steel products. This task was to be carried out by up to three full time commissioners. The industry was to be based on the Onekaka ore deposits.
1939: On August 2 the Minister of Industries and Commerce made a statement outlining progress towards establishment of the industry.
H.A. Brassert and Company had been engaged to design, construct and initially operate a plant producing a total of 104,000 tonnes per year of billets and slabs, rails, sections, flats and round bars, wire, and sheets, together with a few thousand tons of pig iron. Production was scheduled to commence during 1942. The blast furnace capacity was to be 3,400 tons per week and, for steelmaking, Bessemer converters and open-hearth furnaces would be used. Basic slag produced in the Bessemer furnaces could be utilised as a high quality fertiliser, and chemical by-products would be available from the coke ovens which would use New Zealand coals.
An unfortunate development had been that work on the ore fields had shown that the previous quantity estimates were extremely optimistic and overstated; however, reserves were sufficient for fifty years.
1942: A definitive survey showed the limonite reserves were insufficient as the basis for an industry. (Only 9 million tonnes compared to an earlier estimate of 100 million).
A NEW LOOK AT IRONSANDS
1944: After the limited extent of the limonite deposits had been established, the Iron and Steel Commission asked their consultants (now John Miles and Partners Limited) to consider the possibilities of basing an industry solely on ironsands.
1945: The consultants gave their opinion that, as a result of advances made by the Scandinavians, an industry based on electrically smelted ironsands would be practicable.
1947: The consultants submitted their proposals for producing 90,000 tons/year of finished steel wholly from indigenous resources, (ironsand, electricity, high-sulphur Westport coal, and Huntly sub-bituminous coal). The Commission asked for a practical low cost test of the smelting process.
Electric Smelting trial at Onekaka
1949: Between 20 September and 6 October, electric smelting trials on ironsands were carried out at Onekaka under the supervision of a Norwegian expert, F. C. Collin, from Elektrokemisk. Though the trials were satisfactory, the establishment of an industry was not pursued because at the prevailing power costs it would not be economic. The tests were described by Marshall and Nicholson (1955).
1954: The National Government, considering the establishment of an iron and steel industry to be a matter for private enterprise, repealed the 1937 Act.
1955: W.R.B. Martin, who had been doing research on the utilisation of the ironsands, published an appraisal of the potential for steel production from ironsands at Taharoa (Martin, 1955.)
1956: Two New Zealand groups displayed an active interest in establishing an industry — one, the TIFE syndicate, was mainly interested in titanium with iron as a by-product — Fletchers, the other group, commissioned the U.S. consultants, Henry J. Kaiser, to do a feasibility study. They concluded that an electrosmelting process on a big enough scale (250,000+ tons/year) could be economic. However, Fletchers did not proceed because of the cost of development in relation to the small market.
1958: The reorganised TIFE syndicate, now called the New Zealand Development Corporation, produced proposals for an iron and steel industry with an output of 250,000 tonnes costing 30 million dollars.
The possibility of ironsands export to Japan became a subject of interest.
In May of the same year, Fletcher Holdings Limited approached the Government with proposals to recycle scrap metal in a bar rolling mill to be sited near Auckland. This led to the establishment by the Labour Government of an interdepartmental committee to report on the scrap metal plant and its implications for an industry based on exploitation of ironsands, and on whether titanium production should have priority over an iron and steel industry using the sands. Dr T.P. Colclough, who had written a report for the Government in 1939, advised Fletchers, proving the availability of sufficient scrap.
The Committee reported in October, having looked at cost data, the availability of scrap, the markets, etc., and recommended that the merchant bar mill (Pacific steel) be approved in principle. It considered further work was necessary on setting up an industry based on ironsands and, after working at what would be required, recommended that an investigation company with a majority Government interest should do the work and that legislation should reserve the ironsands deposits.
1959: The Government accepted the recommendations and passed the Iron and Steel Industry Act 1959, which, as well as reserving the major iron deposits, empowered the Minister of Industries and Commerce to finance a company to study the feasibility of an industry based on the ironsands.
In the meantime a number of processing industries were encouraged by prohibiting the export of scrap steel in order to ensure a cheap supply of scrap for local use. Along with the merchant bar mill, a steel wire works, and a wood screw manufacturing plant were established. (GKN Limited)
1960: Considerable private sector interest existed in the steel investigating company but the Government decided to make it entirely state owned. It said that considerable conflict of interest existed between the private sector parties and that genuine co-operation would not be possible.
Mr Woolf Fisher was appointed Chairman of the Investigating Company. Two other private sector representatives joined three public servants. Technical support was provided by I. D. Dick as the full time technical officer, by geologist, Dr D. Kear , metallurgist, T. Marshall, and mining engineer, D.S.Nicholson all from DSIR.
Resource Proving and Plant Site
1960: Earlier DSIR work by D.S. Nicholson had suggested five ironsand deposits should be considered as the supply source for an industry, Lake Taharoa, Kawhia, Raglan North Head, Waikato North Head and Muriwai. The investigating company set out to prove a resource using magnetometer surveys followed by drilling. The most accessible deposits were investigated first. After disappointing results at Raglan, drilling was carried out at Waikato North Head. This had been thought to be of low grade but, from the first, drilling results were encouraging. By June 1961 it was clear that within the region, 150 million tons of concentrate were available containing nearly 60 percent iron, three times the target quantity and enough to meet the requirements of an industry producing 500,000 tons per year for 150 years.
A coal requirement of 25 million tons was set. It had to be of low sulphur content, (not greater than 1 percent) but it was established early that, for most of the possible processing routes, sub-bituminous coals would be eminently suitable. The Waikato coals and those at Ohai met the criteria and the choice between these depended on where the smelting plant was to be located. Later (about 1964) consideration was given to acquiring a dedicated, company-owned, Waikato coal deposit to feed a steel plant. However this idea was dropped when government assurances were given on the supply of coal from the State Coal Division of the Mines Department.
Shortly before the investigating company had been set up, the Government had finally decided to provide a national power grid by linking the North and South Islands with the Cook Strait power cable, removing electricity availability from the constraints on location of a possible plant. The main steel market would be in the Auckland region, and so everything pointed to the establishment of the plant at a South Auckland site near the ironsand source and Waikato coal.
For any location in the South Island, ironsand would have to be shipped South because of the lack of any suitable deposits there. A cost study showed that finished steel products would cost £3 to £4 a ton more if produced in a South Island plant. (Aramoana and Bluff were each considered as possible South Island sites).
(Subsequently ilmenite/magnetite deposits were discovered at Mt George in Fiordland (Alexander, 1972).)
1961: The Battelle Memorial Institute from Columbus Ohio, a non-profit making research foundation, was appointed in March as technical consultant to the investigating company to advise on process selection. Battelle had previously carried out a major survey of direct-reduction processes.
Trials were carried out at various places around the world on candidate direct reduction processes. The Elektrokemisk trial at Norway was highly successful. The technology was that foreseen by Cull, developed by Elektrokemisk for use at the Highveld plant in South Africa, and was similar to that adopted in the most recent NZ Steel expansion.
1962: Pacific Steel achieved its first production, melting scrap and producing 25,000 tonnes of ingots and finished steel products in the 1962/63 year.
In December the Investigating Company published its report.
1963: Provisional Board of NZ Steel established. A joint venture of W. S. Atkins and Partners and McLellan and Partners was appointed engineering consultants.
1964: Further test by Lurgi in Frankfurt – 200 tons of ironsands, 135 tons of coal and 4 tons of limestone sent from New Zealand.
November, W. S. Atkins report recommends Stelco-Lurgi process. Provisional Board report (December) and formation of NZ Steel Ltd.
1965: Incorporation of New Zealand Steel Limited. Industry Agreements with the Government continue to govern steel industry development. When a public float was subsequently made, the Government as underwriter was required to meet a shortfall in subscriptions.
1966: Contract let for a galvanising line.
1967: Equipment contracts let for Stelco-Lurgi kiln, electric arc furnaces, continuous casting machine.
1968: Close drilling of mining area for mining plan. Graduate team sent to receive training in the U.K., Sweden, Germany and Canada. Among the New Zealand graduates sent overseas for training were Nigel Evans, Rick Cooper, Peter Bates, and Chris Pendleton.
1969: Galvanising line commissioned; feed stock cold rolled coil from Japan.
1969: Decision to let contract for a pipe mill. In July the concentration plant was started and, in September, the electric furnace using scrap; but modifications were necessary to the continuous casting plant.
On November 23, there was the first firing of the kiln and production of sponge iron. Gradual realisation of the seriousness of the ironmaking problems. Trial shipment of ironsand from Taharoa to Japan.
1970: Much discussion with the consultants about ironmaking problems. Galvanised production to the level of market demand.
1971: Char/coal ratio increased in kiln in attempt to improve kiln performance; some increase in sponge iron yield. Accumulated book losses of New Zealand Steel grew to $13.7 million.
1972: Sales, including those from the pipe plant and the initial proceeds from ironsand exports from Taharoa, totalled $42.2 million.
April: Trial changeover to RPC (reduced primary concentrate) production. Primary concentrate was no longer ground, and manufacture of bentonite bonded pellets eliminated. Cost savings through simplification of the process thus resulted from elimination of the technical problems.
1973: Sales of $62.1 million – a net profit for the first time – iron plant achieved 64 percent capacity – stable and predictable production. NZ Steel became sufficiently confident to consider possibility of selling the technology.
1974: A maiden dividend. Research taking place into expansion.
1975: Scheme for in-line coal charring and ironsand preheating put forward by Evans and Cooper. Pilot work on a rotary hearth in Pretoria and a multihearth in California. Project commenced to increase ironsand export capacity at Taharoa.
1976: Multi-hearth furnace (MHF) installation commenced; 120 000 tonnes of steel produced; hot transfer under study.
1978 MHF commissioned. Pilot plant at New Zealand Steel proposed, to test hot transfer from kilns to continuous melters.
1979 Pilot plant testing started, followed by trials of pig iron production at A & G Price’s Thames plant. Talks with Elkem. Davy McKee confirmed process route involving melters and oxygen steelmaking.
July: Increased Government involvement required because project funding requirements could not be met by New Zealand Steel alone.
Go-ahead for Integrated Plant
1981 October: Integrated steelworks proposal ticked by Government one month before a Parliamentary election but only after officials had pointed to the market risks and other major projects had temporarily fallen by the wayside. Newly negotiated industry agreements provide for ongoing Government and financial support.
1981-84 Strikes/industrial unrest delayed construction; costs escalated.
1984 Labour Government came to power and began reforms to introduce a more market based economy.
1984 November: Treasury "Review of the Major Projects" submitted to the Minister of Finance. Steel expansion project had a negative return. Factors were construction delays, increased economic prices for coal, lower steel prices, and continuing Government support.
1985 December: Heads of Agreement for plan of reconstruction
Government injection of capital.
Removal of all previously established government support, including change to the protection regime for steel products.
1987 Further reconstruction proposal put to shareholders in February 1987; additional Government capital contribution.
19 October: Sale to Equiticorp for $343 million. Consideration was Equiticorp shares which dropped in price markedly following the share market crash. The Government was nevertheless paid the original full amount in cash in March 1988.
1988 Equiticorp shares in New Zealand Steel Limited transferred to Equiticorp subsiduary Feltex (Later Feltrax).
Feltrax sold to Australian firm BTR Nylex, but Equiticorp retained New Zealand Steel.
1989 January: Equiticorp placed under statutory management
1989, 2 June: Prospective sale of New Zealand Steel Limited to Minmetals fell through. (Tiananmen Square)
FletcherChallenge continued to negotiate, but failed to buy. Sale to BHP controlled Helenus Corporation .
1994 Full take-over by BHP