Flour – that essential ingredient in baking bread – was initially brought into Hawke's Bay via Port Ahuriri from Auckland and occasionally Adelaide and California.

In the mid-1850s flour was priced at £21-£24 per ton (2017: $2400-$2800 per 907kg).

In 1858 the Napier steam flour mill opened on Battery Rd (near the intersection of Shakespeare Rd) by Thomas H Fitzgerald – who became first superintendent of Hawke's Bay province from 1859 to 1861.

Wheat was at that stage shipped into Hawke's Bay to be ground into flour, with by-products of bran.


This mill was sold by Thomas Fitzgerald in 1861 to John Buchanan.

The mill went into liquidation in 1867, and from the mortgagee sale we learn that the mill was 30 feet by 20 feet (9m by 6m) and had four floors over its 30-ft height.

The boiler room, which contained the coal-powered 14-horsepower engine to create the steam was 30ft high by 11ft wide (9m x 3.3m).

There was an office 16ft high and 11ft wide and all the building was on section frontage of 74ft (22.5m) on Battery Rd.

The Napier steam flour mill also owned the adjoining section with a frontage of 79ft on Battery Rd and 132ft on Shakespeare Rd.

The mill was bought by Charles Weber who added a third stone for grinding, and made other improvements.

Charles was provincial surveyor and engineer in the Bay, and was the harbour board's (now Port of Napier) first engineer.

Tragically, Charles went missing in October 1886 when he entered the Mangatamoko Bush in Pahiatua.

He owned considerable land in the area, and was inspecting Mangatamoko for purchase. However, he was warned not to go in by friends because the river was in flood.

Despite searches, his remains were not found until two years later – which consisted of his skeleton and items of clothing.

The district of Weber in Central Hawke's Bay is named for him.

Mills were being established all over New Zealand in the 1850s and 1860s, and in particular by Maori, some who used their land sales money to invest in the industry.

Hawke's Bay had at least two mills owned by Maori – one at Omahu and the other just North of Havelock North in the Wahaparata Creek (which I understand is now the Mangateretere Stream).

The Wahaparata Mill was a water mill which was established by the Europeans for local Maori in 1861, which then had a good flow of water from the nearby Ngaruroro River (now Te Karamu Stream), which it fed into.

The millwright was 35-year-old William Stewart, who tragically drowned after he went swimming in the neighbouring Ngaruroro River in 1862.

He apparently could not swim, and went in the most dangerous part of the river.

The Omahu Mill was also established in 1863 by George Donnelly, who had married Airini Karauria, and this mill appears to have been sub-leased to a European in the 1870s.

Wheat, of course, was needed to supply the mills and in 1867 the editor of the Hawke's Bay Herald stated it could be grown in the Bay to supply the mills.

Maori did begin to grow wheat on their land to supply the various mills. Frequent flooding, however, made it difficult to grow the crop, especially around Clive which was under water frequently

At least two other flour mills were formed in the Bay – a water one at Clive around the late 1860s or early 1870s, and a steam one in Hastings in 1881.

Roller flour mills began appearing in the 1880s, and this technology replaced the mill stones.

Some mills converted to rollers to crush the wheat, while others went out of business.

• Michael Fowler (mfhistory@gmail.com) is an EIT accounting lecturer, and in his spare time a recorder of Hawke's Bay's history.