KARANGAHAKE the years of the gold 1875 -1935
"Pioneer explorer and friend of the Maori people. Became Magistrate of Collingwood Goldfield 1858, Civil Commissioner at Thames 1864, and Warden and Resident Magistrate on the Hauraki Goldfield in 1868. Throughout troubled times in the Thames Valley and the Waikato he was energetic, just, and A Maker of Peace."
Tribute is paid to the rank and file men who did the arduous heavy work on day, afternoon or night shifts in dangerous or unpleasant circumstances.
Some of the early Managers came to Karangahake with overseas experience, or from other New Zealand Goldfields, having qualified by supplementing practical skills with certificates gained from study at a School of Mines. The following men were resident in the district during the Golden Years.
FRANK RICH, B.SC., M.A.I.M.E., the first Manager of the Woodstock, was born in Otago but had travelled widely to extend his engineering knowledge. He occupied the big house at Mackaytown (before the McCombie family lived there, for the first 10 years of the century).
JOHN McCOMBIE was born in Auckland in 1850 and 17 years later was prospecting at Thames. After some years on the "West Coast Diggings", he returned to Ohinemuri, and spent the major portion of his life between Coromandel and Waihi, being one of the original prospectors of the Martha Reef in 1878. He was the Manager of the Talisman Mine until 1909, when he became Overseer of the Crown, but he left Karangahake about 1915, and died in 1926. He was recognised as an authority on mining and contributed many articles to current journals.
JOHN RICKARD was born in Cornwall in 1862, came to New Zealand with his sister and brother-in-law (William Elling) when he was only 15 and was mining at Thames when he was 18. He studied at night at the School of Mines and gained his Managers' Certificate, after which he managed mines at Thames until, in 1910, he took charge of the Talisman.
He was a man of commanding presence and ability, yet wore his authority with ease and friendliness. Old miners testify that it was a pleasure to work under him, for they always felt he was "working with them". Summer and winter he left his Mackaytown home at 6.30 a.m. and rode his well-known horse, Darkie, to the Talisman in time to read the night's reports before the change of shift.
Mr Rickard's chief relaxation was music. He had a fine organ in his home and played it with a depth of feeling. In 1919 he resigned his position owing to ill health, and moved to Paeroa where gardening became a great hobby. He played for some years in both, the Methodist and Presbyterian Churches. He died in 1941 at the age of 78, but dear Mrs Rickard lived to carry on her good works, (especially for Leper Missions) till she was 89. Essie, whose care of her parents was nothing short of marvellous, married The Rev. Enticott.
FREDERICK DAW, M.I.M.M., was General Manager of the Crown Mine. He was born in England of a Cornwall Mining family, and educated in Norway. He was a Mining Engineer and lived in the big house on Crown Hill.
G.N. McGRUER was born in Scotland and came to New Zealand when he was 16 years old. Later he became interested in the quest for gold and actively participated in many "rushes". It is stated that he was a pioneer miner on at least 19 fields, including the Welcome Reef at Karangahake. He was appointed Manager of the Crown Mine and held that position under both Mr Daw and Mr McCombie for 46 years, retiring when the mine closed down. Mr McGruer was one of the founders of the Paeroa Masonic Lodge He had three sons and six daughters. He wrote a beautiful copperplate hand, right up to the time of his death at 91 years of age.
JOSHUA JACKSON, J. P., Sharebroker and Mining Agent, was the official Newspaper Correspondent who reported on early mining fields. (Established at Thames 1869, Auckland 1880.) His excellent descriptions of Waitekauri and Karangahake (1875) have had the value of standard works.
He made use of carrier pigeons to forward his despatches and travelled from camp to camp for 12 months over rough bush tracks.
He had large holdings which he had to relinquish owing to the time it took to work mines to a profitable stage, but he was particularly interested in the original Woodstock and floated the Crown, Karangahake. Later he was a large shareholder in the original Waihi Company. After moving to Auckland, he was on the staff of the Herald — mostly mining reports.
BEN GWILLIAM, Sen. 1872-1962. Mr Ben Gwilliam arrived in Waihi in 1894, and returned to Lower Hutt in 1898 to marry, before accepting a position at the "Luck at Last" mine at Whangamata, where living conditions were extremely primitive. Moving to Karangahake in 1899, he and his wife were happy to occupy a real house - two rooms and a tiny kitchen. While employed at the Talisman Battery, Ben became adept at all phases of ore treatment. He studied at the School of Mines as well as taking a Correspondence Course, and he and his wife played a prominent part in local affairs - particularly the building of the Anglican Church in 1905. Then came a managerial position at Waitekauri until mining ceased, when the Gwilliams moved to Paeroa. Ben retained his interest in methods of gold recovery, passing on his knowledge to his sons, Cyril and Ben, and once more this outstanding family filled key positions in the community.
JOHN BENJAMIN MORRIS came to Karangahake in 1898, after earlier working in many parts of New Zealand and on the Australian Goldfields. His family joined him when he had built a house (now Muirheads), on Rahu Road. They had three children: Bennett, Alma and Harry. Another son, Charlie, was born at Rahu Road, but when he was 10 days old, his mother died. Their great friends, Mr and Mrs Meagher, brought up the child as their own, and King Meagher continued to care for the Morris family till the end.
In 1903 Mr Morris married Maude Wyatt, the daughter of the first Master at the Auckland Grammar School, and his bent for individual projects, led him to bush work again, with a team of 20 bullocks and the establishment of a saw mill. Then he discovered Cinnabar on his property and tried to develop the mining of it, but the project was not successful.
Having an Engineering Certificate, J.B. began working six days a week in the Crown Battery, continuing until it closed in 1920, when he had the contract for dismantling it. Later he and his son Harry (assisted by Fred Dare and Albert Nelson) opened up the adjacent Crown Battery, supplying metal throughout the district. This continued for several years until the heavy railway freight forced closing. After Harry's tragic death in 1924, Ben assisted his father in the final years. Charlie Meagher had died in 1920, after a long illness, and Alma had married Lawrie Turnbull. They lived at the White Rocks farm for many years before moving to Auckland, where Alma died in 1946 leaving four children.
Men who have once "Mined" find it difficult to resist the lure of gold, and Mr Morris was the man, who, with others in the l920s, opened up the old Dubbo Mine on the south side of the Karangahake Mountain peak. He built a small battery there, and the results attracted the attention of some well known Auckland businessmen who purchased the Claim in which Mr Morris retained some shares. He then took over another part of the old Crown workings where he employed several men and achieved such promising results that he built a treatment plant on the site of the present picnic area -once part of the town. A good friend, the late Mr Ben Gwilliam, assisted with refining and assaying, but there were tremendous difficulties and setbacks. In an effort to solve these, two employees, John Cotter and Jim O'Brien, became working partners with their gallant old friend, thus sharing losses as well as profits, the firm being known as "J.B. Morris & Coy.". Among local men who worked there were: Jack Milroy, Kel Goldsworthy, Jack Clarkin, Jack O'Brien and others. Finally the venture closed.
The years had taken toll (J.B. was then in his 80s) and when, in 1940, Mrs Morris' health made it impossible to continue to live on Rahu Road, they bought a neat little home in Pipe Lane in Waihi, where they maintained their well-known hospitality and their interest in Karangahake. Mr Morris had served its Anglican Church, was Chairman of the School Committee there, and had represented it on the Ohinemuri County Council. He was a J.P., a Life Member of the Masonic Lodge, and Past Master of the Oddfellows. His old Maori Bible and Dictionary were his dearest treasures during his later years, enabling him to act as interpreter when needed. On the eve of his death he dedicated a farewell letter to friends of his youth. And so passed a remarkable and revered old man. His widow died in 1950 in her 90th year.
THIS SPACE is dedicated to the Memory of Men who lost their Lives in the Karangahake Mines
Among nurses who gave wonderful service, in cases of Birth, Death or Accident, were: Mesdames Odgers, Nolan, Morton and Nealie.