The battery company, formed to operate the Firth and Clark Battery at Waiorongomai
Hart, P. (2016). The battery company, formed to operate the Firth and Clark Battery at Waiorongomai. (Te Aroha Mining District Working papers, No. 79). Hamilton, New Zealand: University of Waikato, Historical Research Unit.
Permanent Research Commons link: https://hdl.handle.net/10289/10397
The Battery Company was a private one, and although there were hints that other shareholders existed, only Josiah Clifton Firth and James McCosh Clark were known to be its owners. Firth was the more prominent of the two, willingly so, as he was never short of opinions and used his links with local and central government to assist his own interests in general and this company in particular. When constructing the battery at Waiorongomai, Firth posed as a philanthropist aiming to benefit the mining community rather than himself. As the venture was potentially risky, he was praised for his initiative, but his terms for raising capital from mining companies and the charges he imposed soon led to widespread criticism. As time passed and as mining faded, he gained increasing control over the mines, acquiring interests in many of them, some of which were developed with little success. After celebrations were held for the opening of his battery, the cold water treatment of the first crushing created distrust and suspicion. For years there were loud complaints about the high charges and how mining companies controlled by the company were being exploited simply to keep the battery operating. That so many mines were unprofitable was blamed on the company, and Firth’s policy of working mines as cheaply as possible was criticized. Because of his monopoly, miners wanted other batteries erected, and Firth was accused of discouraging this through his influence on the county council; an influence that was claimed to mean higher tramway charges through his appointing a pawn as tramway manager. Despite his constant praise of private enterprise and private initiative, Firth was very ready to seek financial assistance from government, with some success. Genuinely interested in new technology, his successful efforts to, first, improve the battery, and second, to sell his company’s interests to wealthy overseas capitalists were praised. He even planned to construct a low level tunnel traversing most of the field. But despite all their efforts, neither Firth nor Clark benefited financially from their company.
Historical Research Unit, University of Waikato
© 2016 Philip Hart