Wilson Cement Works
Demand from Australia
Early in the war, Australia faced a shortage of cement due to the shutting out of German supplies. In October 1914 steamers were loading regularly at Mahurangi for Australian ports with cargoes of cement from the Wilson Portland Cement Company.
Time of growth
Leading up the war, the cement business in Warkworth was booming. Known from 1903 as John Wilson and Company Ltd, the company reported a substantial increase in trade from 1906-1907, acquiring more land and doubling the size of the plant to keep up with demand.
In 1907 the company's name was changed to Wilsons Portland Cement Company Ltd, and in 1908 it reported the most successful year to date. Profits continued to soar in the next two years, and the Grafton Bridge, which opened in 1910, was held up as an example of the high quality of their cement. Production peaked in 1910, with 120 tons of cement and 100 tons of lime being produced per week, with a workforce of 180 men.
Building work and additions to their fleet continued. By 1911 the land held by the company amounted to 827 acres, with "sufficient stone above river level to keep the works going at an increased output for generations."
From 1912 the company was threatened by strikes, which seriously affected the business by 1913. The business also faced a lack of coal from Hikurangi during the 1913 General Strike. The workforce was reduced somewhat. Competition in the cement business compounded the problem, and by mid-1914 the company suffered considerable loss of trade.
When the war began later in 1914, the local newspaper reported that Warkworth derived a direct benefit from the war due to the demand for cement. It was anticipated that additional men would be employed at the cement works to deal with the demand. In 1916, a 140ft ferro-concrete chimney was constructed on the site replacing two worn-out iron chimneys. An additional water service was also installed that year to provide security against fire.
By mid-1915, seven employees from Wilsons Portland Cement Company had gone to war. Two were killed in action, and the other five were all wounded.
Private Morris and Lieutenant Thomas Gerald Norman Screaton were killed in action. Screaton worked on the clerical staff at Wilson's Portland Cement Works in Warkworth from 1908 until July 1914, when he left to join his brother in business in Helensville. When war broke out he volunteered immediately and embarked with the main body of the Expeditionary Force in October 1914. He was killed in action in Gallipoli in May 1915.
Privates Witten, Tonkin, Smith, Clay and Warin were reported wounded. The reference to Private Warin is most likely Kenneth Cranley Warin. His father, Thomas Frederick Warin, worked at the Wilsons Portland Cement Company for about 40 years, and was in charge of the lime-burning department for many years. It is unknown in what capacity and for how long his son Kenneth worked at the cement works. Kenneth enlisted as soon as war was declared, and embarked with the main body of the Expeditionary Force in October 1914. He was wounded at Gallipoli in April 1915, suffering injuries to his left hand. In March 1916 he went to France, and was wounded again in February 1917, this time in the right elbow. He later returned to Auckland on the hospital ship Marama, and died of influenza in November 1918.
Conscription - an exemption
After the introduction of conscription in 1916, companies could make appeals for some of their employees to be exempt from military service if their role in the business was essential.
In mid-1917, Wilson's Portland Cement Co made such an appeal for their employee Ernest Leese, an expert analytical chemist who, they argued, could not be replaced. He was exempted from military service until December 1917. He eventually joined the New Zealand Medical Corps, embarking on the hospital ship Maheno in mid-1918.
After the war
Wilsons, Dominion, and New Zealand Portland Cement agreed to a merger in 1918, forming the new company, Wilsons (New Zealand) Portland Cement Company Ltd. Thomas Wilson, who had managed the Warkworth plant since 1910, moved to Whangarei in 1918 to become a manager at the Portland plant. His vacant house in Warkworth was used as a temporary hospital for influenza patients in November 1918.
J S Wilson was the manager when the Warkworth plant eventually closed in 1929.
The remnants of the cement works were used as one of the locations for the 1990s New Zealand TV series Marlin Bay.
Wilson's Portland Cement Works, Warkworth, date unknown. Warkworth & District Museum, Tudor Collins Collection No.1650.
Wilson's Portland Cement Trade Mark, c1900. Warkworth & District Museum Collection.
Minute book of John Wilson & Co Ltd and Wilsons Portland Cement Co Ltd, 1903-1919, The Fletcher Trust Archive, Item 1098/1/1.
Ronald Harry Locker, Jade River: a History of the Mahurangi (Warkworth: 2001).
H. Mabbett, The Rock and the Sky: The Story of Rodney County (Auckland: 1977).
The Rodney and Otamatea Times, Waitemata and Kaipara Gazette, and New Zealand Herald newspapers
Warkworth & District Museum