Monday, October 08, 2007

Nails - a brief New Zealand history (with links to Britain and the UK)

Above: Ladies nail hammering competion, Tututawa picnic.1910. Mc Allister, James, 1869-1952:negatives of Stratford and Taranaki district (photographic ATL archive)

When Captain James Cook arrived in the Pacific, he found the islands societies lacked iron. Iron nails were not required, as buildings were woven, lashed or pegged together. Throughout the Pacific, Cook traded iron nails for food and mama (status), while his men found other opportunities. Yet on 19 June 1770, when his ship Endeavour needed repair at Endeavour River, Queensland, the nails required were made as in Roman times - by a blacksmith forging each one.

Nails were of considerable value - not only in terms of money but also in utility to early European settlers. The New Zealand Company ship "Glenbervie" included in its 1840 voyage at least 20 kegs of nails (1 keg = 100lbs). Reportedly in 1843 the first house built on the Canterbury plains was constructed without iron nails, as these had been left in Wellington by mistake. 'Ranzau' - a house at hope near Nelson was built around 1844 with handmade nails that had travelled from Europe (probably Gemany), and ranged from 6 cm to 30 cm in length.

Mr Philip Valle travelled with his wife and six children on the 600 ton ship "Mary Anne" from England to Nelson, arriving on 8 February 1842 after a voyage of 137 days. The only loss of the voyage reported in the original passenger list was "1 case of nails value £1 14s 6d" belonging to Mr Valle. On 18 July 1844, two years and five months after his arrival and his nails still lost, Mr Valle wrote to the New Zealand company complaining that he had yet to be refunded the cost of the nails.

The New Zealand imports of nails were so important in the 1800's that they were listed separately in the statistics. In the year 1873, imports of nails were just over 6 kg per head at a cost of 9d and representing 0.5% of total imports. Nails had a critical importance to a country undertaking major building developments.

This extract was taken from Construction History Society Newsletter.

[CHS Newsletter No 78 August 2007]

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