First cement works on Wilson Road
The town of Warkworth is seeped in early pioneer history. Down by the Mahurangi River next to the swimming hole at the end of Wilson Rd is the remains of the first cement works in New Zealand. Nathaniel Wilson, who married Florence Snell whose parents had settled at Snells Beach, began making hydraulic lime on the site by the Mahurangi River in 1866. By 1883 he was experimenting with making cement and in 1884 had produced satisfactory test batches. He installed machinery to make the cement and it went on the market as Wilsons Portland Cement in 1885. It was the first commercially produced quantities in the southern Hemisphere. By 1894 the works were producing 100 tonnes per week and a similar quantity of lime and employing 180 men. Transport was by ship and the river was very busy by the turn of the century. The lime quarry, which is now a deep swimming hole, was worked to a depth of about 15.24 metres or 50 feet and had to be pumped to keep it dry. In 1918 Wilsons amalgamated with two other companies and the cement manufacture was shifted to a new up-to-date works at Portland, Whangarei, The manufacture of hydraulic lime, however continued at Wilson Rd until 1929 when the plant was finally closed down and the machinery either shifted to Portland or broken up for scrap. Sadly many of the historic kilns and most of the buildings were destroyed or damaged by practice demolitions by the home guard and the United States forces during World War Two. The big two-storey concrete house on the corner of Wilson Rd and Hepburn Creek Rd was built by Nathaniel in 1903 and was known as Riverina. He lived there until his death in 1919. Information from Mahurangi River, Its Story, edited by H J Keys and published by the Friends of the Mahurangi.
PHOTO: Alexander Turnbull Library, courtesy of Jade River, A History of the Mahurangi, by R H Locker.