Early European settlers wanted to replicate the coal-fired gas works of the old country which made their appearance there in the early 18th century.
A prospectus was issued in January 1874 for 1500 shares of £10 each (2019: $1330).
Ten local businessmen formed the board of directors, with Frederick Sutton (1836‒1906) as chairman.
As part of the prospectus, an estimation of the gas to be produced in Napier was given as 3,000,000 cubic feet (84,950,539 litres) per annum to produce receipts of £3,000 ($400,000) and an annual profit of £1,389 ($185,000). A good dividend was anticipated from the enterprise.
The shares were taken up, land was bought in Ahuriri on the corner of Sale St and Wellesley Rd and the gas works plant ordered from Scotland.
An act of parliament was needed to supply gas and the Napier Gas Works Bill was passed on its third reading in September 1875.
All the gas mains were laid by January 1876, and gas was turned on to light households and businesses on 29 January 1876.
In order to promote the advantages of the cost of gas over kerosene lighting, a director of Napier Gas Co. wrote to the local newspaper in May 1876 and said his gas bill for 12 months was £5 3s 1d and kerosene, wicks and candles. A similar period the previous year cost him £21 17s 10d.
The Hawke's Bay Herald thought this nonsense and said that for three months their gas bill was £23 8s 9d and this was after using smaller gas burners after realising in the first week of supply that gas was going to be expensive. A comparison was made with their use of kerosene and candles, and stated gas was more costly and they were considering their ongoing use of gas.
The whole exercise backfired on the director and therein probably causing the first public relations disaster in Hawke's Bay ‒ so much so, that the Napier Gas Co. reduced the cost of gas to large users.
Matters improved when the Napier Gas Co secured a contract in 1878 from the Napier Borough Council to keep 36 streetlights (which Council supplied) lit every night, "except on moonlit nights".
Problems occurred however when in March 1879 the lights were not lit every night as agreed. A gas employee had to physically light each lamp in the evening and put them out at dawn.
The Hawke's Bay Herald said of the gas works in January 1879 that the gas light brightness in their composing room was so bad "we are put to great inconvenience".
A new gas tank 19,000 cubic feet of gas was erected in early 1879, and the gas pipeline extended along Brewster St, Shakespeare Terrace, and from Emerson St to the railway station.
Despite favourable projections of a financial return to shareholders a dividend was not paid until 1880.
In 1885, a substantial decrease in the cost of gas was made to consumers, at which the Hawke's Bay Herald stated gas should now be cheaper than kerosene.
Nearby Hastings had been formed in 1873, and in 1885 the Napier Gas Co was approached to supply gas to the town.
When the site of the gas works was revealed near the centre of town and close to a school, a petition was presented to parliament, fearing if the works blew up, there would be large casualties. The protests were made in connection with the Hastings Gas Bill in front of parliament.
There was also a fair amount of opposition in Hastings regarding a Napier company supplying the gas plant and therefore "all the profits would be spent in Napier, whereas if they had a company of their own, the profits would remain in the place". The reality was Hastings could not afford its own gas works.
A Havelock resident wrote "gas seems to be escaping pretty freely over the site in Hastings" and wanting to be supplied with gas said "The site should be certainly the Havelock side of Hastings".
Parliament held the Hastings gas works site would not be "injurious on children" and the site in Southampton Street East was held to be suitable and the works opened in mid-1887.
Hastings would also receive gas streetlamps in late 1887 – five of them. There were supposed to be six, but 200 feet (61 metres) of new piping was required to reach the lamp's position, and was put on hold.
The gas works faced a new threat of electricity in the 1910s, and street lighting was the first casualty.
The Hastings gas works were sold by the Napier Gas Co in 1954 to Hastings interests, including the Hastings Borough Council.
In 1983, East Coast Gas Supply took ownership over both the Hastings and Napier gas works.
That year, Minister of Energy, Bill Birch, was present in Hastings to turn on the valve piped from the Kapuni field in Taranaki.
The Napier Gas works were shut down on 21 March 1988 when the last part of Napier was switched over to natural gas from the Kapuni gas field. The process of conversion to natural gas had begun in 1985.
Household gas appliances had to be converted to be compatible with natural gas.
Before the tanks could be demolished, the gas left inside had to be flared off. They were considered an eyesore, and many could not wait for their demolition.
Signed copies of Michael Fowler's Historic Hawke's Bay book are available at $65 from the Hastings Community Art Centre, Russell Street South, Hastings and Wardini Books Havelock North and Napier.
Michael Fowler FCA (email@example.com) is a chartered accountant, contract researcher and writer of Hawke's Bay's history.