KARANGAHAKE the years of the gold 1875 -1935

Seven years after the opening of the Goldfield, Messrs J. Liddell, A. Shepherd, J. McCombie and McWilliams Brothers located new gold-bearing reefs. These men prospected higher on the mountain than did the earlier searchers, and in March 1882 located the great Maria Reef. A second rush took place and many claims were taken out. Some of the men who took part in these ventures were: W. Davies, A. Hogg, R. Noble, P. Hansen and M. Marrinan.

During 1882-83 many of the claims were given the names of other famous mines, both on other goldfields within New Zealand and far away. At this time there was in the miners' camp a set of Sir Walter Scott's novels which were read with interest by the men, who gave the names of the novels to their mining claims. Among these were the Ivanhoe, Woodstock, Kenilworth and Talisman. (The original set of novels is now in the possession of the Paeroa Historical Society.)

Between 1882 and 1885 there were at least 35 claims pegged. After this initial period most miners realised that more capital was needed to work the reefs. They either formed partnerships or their claims were otherwise absorbed into larger ones worked by small companies. The era of pegging and working "one man's ground" was over.

Gold and silver at Karangahake was generally difficult to extract because it was combined with other minerals. Even the gold—bearing rock (ore) was not easily mined, and there was little gold which could be panned, none of commercial value. The recovery rate from the early batteries such as the Hauraki and Ivanhoe was very low, often only 40-50%. The value of gold and silver washed down the river with the waste crushed rock (tailings) was as high as $6 worth per ton, and in the 1880s $6 was a lot of money to lose in each ton of rock mined.

After the Woodstock took up the ground previously held by the Maria Company, they soon realised that the ore was not suitable for ordinary treatment. About this time the New Zealand Herald printed an article about the difficulties being met in treating ore at Karangahake. This article was noted by Dr J.D. La Monte, who was at that time en route from San Francisco to New South Wales, where he had a contract to erect furnaces. Mr La Monte, accompanied by a Mr Davis and Mr Humphries, visited Karangahake on 24 May 1885 and made a careful examination of the reefs in the Woodstock and Crown areas. It was his opinion that his furnaces would satisfactorily treat the ore. A furnace capable of treating 150 tons per week would cost $5000 to build, and treatment was expected to cost $4 per ton. After holding meetings, the mining men formed a syndicate which met Mr La Monte again on 1 June 1885 and purchased the patent rights for the whole of New Zealand at a cost of $20,000. In order to obtain the necessary funds to build the furnace, the owners of the Woodstock Claim decided to form a company. This was done with Mr John McCombie as General Manager.

The erection of the furnace commenced in July 1885 on a site opposite the Karangahake township and just downstream from the present "Gold Camp". A 95% recovery rate was claimed for this process, but because of the high percentage of silica in the ore, the process was unsatisfactory. The ores that had been treated overseas in La Monte furnaces, contained a good deal of base metals, but because the Karangahake ore lacked this, a lot of flux had to be used to make the slag run freely. Only 38 tons of ore was treated, which returned 600 oz of bullion, but the cost of smeltering was about $26.50 per ton. The cost of flux was the downfall of the process, and the furnace was not used again.

Following this failure, Mr J. Railey, an engineer, built a battery of 10 stampers. It was erected in November 1886, one and a half miles up the Waitawheta River on a small flat just beyond the gorge. Briefly, his process consisted of crushing the ore with the stampers, then passing the ground ore into large pans which also contained 12 grinding shoes. The pans were covered, and a jet of steam passed through the cover to maintain a temperature of 210 F. More mercury was added during the grinding process, and after 45 minutes, the pulp was run into separators, so that the mercury could be collected and later retorted. Ore from many mines was treated, but the recovery rate was only about 45%, and expensive. Proving a failure, the plant was dismantled in 1888.

In the same year, a Mr Chambers had another smelting works built at Karangahake, the patent of this process belonging to the Parkes Gold and Silver Ores Smeltering Co., London. For a while many mining people had great hopes, as Mr Parke estimated that the fluxes would cost $1.65 per ton, but it was found that, in fact, the cost ran between $36 and $40 per ton. Mr Chambers bought 1 ton 12 cwt of ore from the Eclipse Mine, Waitekauri, in 1888 for $60, but he could not extract the bullion. So ended another hopeful idea. The only other battery operating during this time was the old one belonging to the Ivanhoe Company. It was very out—dated, and, using the usual battery process, was making poor recovery rates.

The Glasgow, in 1886, experiments led to the perfection of the MacArthur-Forrest process for dissolving the gold and silver content of pulverised ore in potassium cyanide. It was the introduction of this process to the Karangahake Goldfield, in 1889, that enabled the mines to prosper. In view of the very considerable importance of the cyanide process, a brief outline is given here.

Early methods of recovery had relied on gold's strong attraction to mercury. In this method, the very finely crushed rock was washed over tables of copper, covered in mercury. The gold was attracted to the mercury, which later could be retorted away, leaving the gold. Another method was to concentrate the gold mechanically, by panning on a larger scale by vibrating tables. These methods were still often used in conjunction with the cyanide process. Potassium cyanide is a solvent of gold and silver, and is able to dissolve the gold out of the finely crushed rock. The solution thus obtained was then run over zinc turnings, and the gold came out of the solution as a black mud. This precipitation of the gold was the result of chemical reaction between the cyanide and zinc. The gold was later refined whilst the cyanide was also recovered and used again. This description is only a simple outline of what took place. The plant required was extensive and a detailed description was not within the scope of this article.

The names Woodstock, Talisman and Crown are well known in the history of Ohinemuri's mining days. These mining companies grew, often from small beginnings, by the merging of various claims until they occupied most of the goldfield at Karangahake.


This claim was situated on both sides of the Waitawheta River, upstream of the Woodstock claim. The Waitawheta Gorge formed a natural "crosscut" through the reefs on the claim. The reefs, Welcome and Crown were mined on both north and south sides of the river but by far the greatest development took place on the south side under the Karangahake mountain.

The Crown Mine in Waitawheta Gorge.

The Crown Mine in Waitawheta Gorge.

Photo: Auckland Institute & Museum

KARANGAHAKE the years of the gold 1875 -1935
The Crown Mine in Waitawheta Gorge.

The original Crown Claim was taken up in 1883 by W. Davies, who worked it for a syndicate. It was then formed into a company with Adam Porter as Chairman of Directors and G.N. McGruer as Mine Manager, a position he held for 46 years. By 1887, four years work had brought no returns mainly because of difficulty in treating the ore.

The lowest level being mined in 1887 was some 500 ft above the river, and after the formation of the N.Z. Crown Mines Ltd, an inclined tramway was constructed to bring ore down to Railey's Battery. Early work had all been on the Crown Reef, but in 1891 work commenced on the Welcome Reef. A new level, just above the river, was driven and eventually in 1902 extended 2894 ft, providing the main access to the workings. During 1892-93 six levels were being worked with 112 men in employment.

A chamber was excavated in the river level drive in 1896 and the sinking of a shaft commenced, and by 1898 was down 60 ft. The number of men employed increased progressively, 195 in 1897, 210 in 1898, and 230 in 1900. Ore in the upper levels was becoming depleted, and sinking the shaft was carried out as quickly as possible. At a depth of 70 ft, level 1B was opened out, 2B at 140 ft, 3B at 210 ft. These levels were progressively extended south along the line of the reef, and stoping commenced. This system of opening levels each 70 ft differed from that of the Talisman which opened levels only each 200 ft, the reason being that large parts of the Talisman Reef, Maria, were unpayable. In payable sections they drove intermediate levels and made a great deal of use of winzes and rises.

The Crown paid its first dividend in 1896, the General Manager at this time being R.H. Daw. He held this position from about then until John McCombie became General Manager in 1909.

Water was a great source of trouble and flooded the lower levels in 1908. This also flooded the Talisman in 1909—10. In 1910 the Talisman installed a very large pump in their Woodstock shaft, capable of pumping 50,000 gallons an hour. The Talisman shaft was already capable of pumping 41,000 gallons an hour. This eased the strain on the Crown Mines pumps, and after installing a larger pump, they started to pump out their lower levels on 12 August 1910.

A further level 4B was opened out from the shaft in 1902 at a depth of 372 ft and another 5B at 506 ft. It was found impossible to work level 5B from the shaft because of the amount of water. A winze was sunk down from 4B level further away from the shaft, and 5B level worked from that, but work was slow as the ore had to be drawn up the winze to 4B level, then taken to the shaft and hence hauled to the surface.

In 1908 the shaft was down 526 ft. This was over 500 ft below the Waitawheta River and well below sea level. Mrs G. Bunting, a resident of Karangahake for many years, recalled being taken down the shaft when her husband was working there. She remembered the alarming sensation as the cage plunged into the dark depths and water cascaded over them.

After 1905 the number of men in employment decreased. Pumping was always a great expense, and there were a few other problems. In 1908, a spring giving off sulphuretted—hydrogen was struck when a winze was being sunk from 5B level. Over the years, the area held had increased from 60 to 404 acres. The claims taken over by the Crown Company included Monastery, Earl of Glasgow (Maria Reef), Mammoth and Ravenswood.

Work continued with declining returns during the period 1910-15. By 1916 most men had been put off and 21 tributers worked the mine. Up to 1919 the water races and levels were kept in good repair, but in 1920 the machinery was dismantled. Surface prospecting continued, and in 1923 the Rose cross cut was commenced. This continued until 1926, but after driving 824 ft, work ceased. In July 1928, the mining warden forfeited the Company's holdings.

The Company's Head Office was in London and most of the Directors resided overseas. The list of Directors included such names as Jacques Kulp, le Vicomte Charles due Peloux, Marquis d'Hautpaul and others. Of more interest are the remembered names of the local men on the field.

In 1900 the General Manager was Mr R.H. Daw, and his staff were:

Mine Manager - George N. McGruer

Accountant - David C. Waddell

Metallurgist - James Napier

Battery Manager - William Hutchinson

Foreman, Cyanide Plant - James J. Barrett

Assistant Foreman, Cyanide Plant - Peter Conway

Assayer - William D. Littlejohn


At first the Crown Mine ore was treated at Railey's Battery. When this was dismantled in 1888, the Crown Company erected a crushing plant on the same site. This consisted of two Lamberton Mills. The crushed ore was then treated by the Cassell Company who held the patent rights to use the MacArthur-Forrest potassium cyanide process. It was in 1889 that the process was first used in the world, and that was to treat the Crown Mine ore.

The original crushing plant was unsatisfactory, as was the rather inaccessible site, one and a half miles up the Waitawheta River. Crushing had stopped for awhile during 1890 but resumed in June 1891, only to stop again in August when a flood washed away a dam which supplied water power to drive the mills. This was repaired but finally, after crushing a total of 614 tons of ore, the dilapidated machinery broke down beyond repair in August 1892. So different were the trials and troubles of these early years from the success which was to come soon.

By 1892 there were six cyanide plants on the Ohinemuri field, plus others at Thames and Coromandel. The process was a great success as recovery of gold and silver was 85—93% instead of the previous 40—50% by earlier methods. The Crown Company purchased the local rights to the cyanide process in 1892. They paid $l333.50 for the plant, and over $30,000 for the right to use it. Later the Government purchased the patent rights as small concerns were unable to pay the fee demanded by the Cassell Company.

In 1891 work commenced to erect a new Crown Battery near the site of the present road bridge. This was the well—known Crown Battery, the massive concrete foundation of which can still be seen. The ore was brought from the mine by horse-drawn tramway trucks. Initially, the Battery consisted of a Lamberton Rock Breaker and 20 stampers, plus cyanide plant. Thirty tons a day could be treated, but progressively the Battery was extended until, by 1911, 100 tons per day was being treated. By 1898 there were 60 stampers in operation, all driven by water power (Pelton wheels). In 1902 an auxiliary steam engine was installed to keep the Battery going in dry seasons. Further boilers were erected in 1909 to drive a 550 HP steam engine and generator to produce 550 kw of electricity. This Power House was erected near the Government Railway Line and commenced operations on 10 July 1909. The tunnel through which the ashes from the boilers were discharged can still be seen near the river level. The Crown Battery ceased operations in 1916.


The area was originally held by the Maria Company who gave it up as worthless. At first the new owners, Messrs Liddell and Shepherd, worked it on their own account, without attempting to raise capital or form a company. Up to 1887, 300 tons of ore had been mined and treated at the Ivanhoe Battery, but returns were poor. Only the ore near the surface contained free gold. Deeper, silver values increased with a reduction in the gold content. Between 1887 and 1889, the mine was worked almost wholly by tributers, who crushed 413 tons for a recovery of 91 oz of bullion.

A new company, The Woodstock United Goldmining Co., was formed by merging with the Kenilworth claim. This company, with a capital of $55,000 was registered on 14 January 1890. In the next five years work continued, but without great results. Then in 1895, the company reformed as the Woodstock Goldmining Co. Ltd. The nominal capital was $300,000, with $80,000 paid up at the time of registration on 30 July 1895. By this time the Ivanhoe and Truro claims had been taken over (1894), giving a total of 72 acres. The erection of a battery commenced, and also an aerial tramway to bring firewood from the bush to the battery.

Prior to 1896 the lowest level worked was No. 3, about 200 ft above the Waitawheta River. Progressively the workings went deeper. After opening No. 5 level, just above the river, it was necessary to sink a shaft. This was done from a chamber excavated on No. 5 level. Upon reaching a depth of 252 ft. another level was opened up, but by the end of 1901, the company was in financial difficulties. There was a further reconstruction of the company, and in 1902 work resumed with 92 men in employment. Work continued into 1903, but the ore between No. 5 and No. 6 levels was too poor to meet pumping and mining expenses. In 1904, the claim passed into the hands of the Talisman Consolidated Company. Managers and Mine Managers of the Woodstock, included Mr Frank Rich, Mr John McCombie and Mr Noble (Battery man).


Woodstock Battery.

The Woodstock Battery.

Photo: Auckland Institute & Museum

KARANGAHAKE the years of the gold 1875 -1935
Woodstock Battery.
This Battery consisted of 10 stampers, purchased by Mr H. Adams from Waiorangamai [Waiorongomai E] and was erected at the base of Taukani Hill in 1894. Originally the Battery crushed the ore dry, but, after being enlarged to 40 stampers in February 1897, changed to wet crushing. Many batteries in the early 1890s crushed the ore dry, after roasting it in large kilns, but they all changed to crushing wet. This saved the expense of roasting the ore, reduced the dust, and enabled improved cyanide treatment methods to be used.

Further improvements to the Battery were carried out in 1901 when a new pipe line to drive the Pelton wheel was installed. In 1903, an auxiliary steam plant was installed which drove a 250 HP Corliss engine.

After the Talisman Consolidated Company took over the Woodstock in 1904, the Battery building was used to house further compressors. In late March 1910, the battery was damaged by flood waters, and then on 10 September of the same year, the buildings were destroyed by fire.


In 1893 there were four men at work on the Talisman claim which was owned by A. Shepherd and others. They found that capital was needed to develop the mine, and an attempt was made to raise it on the London market. This failed and a small local company was formed and registered on 5 November 1894.

The Talisman Mine Levels.

The Talisman Mine. Diagram showing the shafts and drives and levels.

KARANGAHAKE the years of the gold 1875 -1935
The Talisman Mine Levels.

Five and a half tons of ore were sent to Germany for treatment in 1893, and in 1894, 280 tons were treated at the Crown Mines Battery. This gave a good return, but the Crown Mine Company wanted the Talisman to pay all treatment costs plus 20% of the bullion, nor would they allow the Talisman to have the tailings. These terms were unacceptable so the Talisman decided to erect their own battery. The first of 10 stampers was in operation by 1895 but was unsatisfactory. Little ore was crushed until 1897 by which time the battery had been remodelled.

At first the mining, all on the Maria Reef, had been confined to the upper levels of the Karangahake Mountain by means of adits. After commencing the No. 8 level in 1900, a shaft, eventually 1000 ft deep, was sunk from a chamber. Lower levels were driven from the shaft and also from the Woodstock stopes. The Woodstock was taken over in 1904, and after enlarging the Woodstock shaft, access to the very deep levels could also be reached by walking up the tramline alongside the Waitawheta River, entering the Woodstock No. 5 level (river level), and descending by cage in the Woodstock shaft to Talisman No. 14 level. There were only two more levels below No. 14, and these were reached by ladder. The Talisman shaft from No. 8 level (half way up the mountain), did not have a cage to lower men, only an ore skip and ladder ways.

By 1905 the Talisman had increased from the original 30 acres to 506 acres by taking over the Bonanza Claim (1896), the Talisman Extended, Royal Mail, Victor-Waihou, and finally Woodstock in 1904. These companies had, in many cases, already merged or taken over still other claims; Diamond, Rose, Maria, Ivanhoe, Sir Walter Scott, Truro, Kenilworth, Hidden Treasure, just to list a few. So it was that the Talisman continued to grow. The first dividend, $60,000, was paid out in 1906.

Mr George Campbell [Chappell? - E], Chief Assayer for the Talisman, recorded:

"In places the quartz in the Talisman Mine was exceedingly rich, and on one occasion the General Manager called me up at 2 a.m. saying he had just had a phone call from the Shift Boss, reporting that they had broken into a huge vugg in the reef and that it looked like a jeweller's shop. He suggested me going up to the mine with him to see it. Needless to say I was out of bed, dressed in no time, and together we proceeded to the mine and into the workings to view the great hole in the reef. Words could not express the beauty of what we saw. There were large festoons of pure, metallic silver as fine and glistening as spun silk. We were lost in awe and admiration as we moved the candles from one position to another."

Between 1906 and 1914, extensive mining was carried out between No. 8 and No. 13 levels. These were good years for the company which in 1912 employed 360 men. Production had climbed steadily from 4194 tons in 1898 to 13,396 tons in 1902, then jumped to 47,267 tons in 1903. The peak was reached in 1914 with 52,210 tons of ore mined. There were a few setbacks, mainly by way of flooding in the lower levels, especially in 1909 when the Crown stopped pumping for a time, but on the whole, good progress was made and returns satisfactory.

Within a few years the end was to come. Development work in 1913 proved disappointing. A crosscut from No. 13 to the Welcome Reef failed to find payable ore, as did crosscuts put out from No. 13 level in 1914. It was hoped to locate other reefs parallel to the main reef, but none were found. This was the beginning of the end for Karangahake town, as the only other large mine, the Crown, was also in difficulties having reached its peak in 1909. In 1916 a winze (shaft) sunk from No. 15 level, was opened out to reveal nice large galena crystals. These would be a joy to today's mineral collectors, but were no joy to the Talisman Company. The battery suspended operations in 1918.

During 1919 bores were sunk from the lower levels, Government drills being used. These bores were sunk on various angles in an endeavour to locate payable ore. Zinc, iron, sulphides and black flint were found, but all attempts to find payable ore by prospecting, mining and drilling had failed, and by the end of December 1919 operations ceased. An attempt to salvage rails and airpipes was made, but the pumps failed and water rose in the lower levels. In 1920 the Company went into liquidation. During its lifetime the Company produced most of the 3,510,691 ozs of bullion, which came from the claim. The bullion was valued at $5,916,026 and the Talisman Consolidated Company paid $2,301,944 in dividends. It is interesting to note that in 1912 each ton of ore cost about $4.30 to mine and treat. Actual mining was $1 per ton, milling was $1.30 per ton, and development costs (finding the ore), $1 per ton. The balance was office expenses 20c and construction 57c.

The Company's personnel included:

General Managers - Mr Mitchell and Mr H. Stanfield.

Mine Managers - Goldsworthy, McCombie, Rickard, Dutton.

Battery Managers - Taylor, Phillip, Dean.

Smelting Foremen - Gwilliam, Dette, Carpenter.

Assayers - George Chappell, Metcalf

Office - Mr Kitching.

Metallurgist - D. Dean.


The first Battery, consisting of 10 stampers and a cyanide plant, was put into commission in 1895, but was most unsatisfactory and little used until 1897 after it had been remodelled. This Battery was built on the side of the Taukani Hill near the Waitawheta River. At first water power was used to drive all the machinery and the ore was crushed dry.

A completely new Battery was built and was opened on 31 July 1901, although regular crushing did not commence until mid-September. This Battery used wet crushing a significant change from the old dry method.

The new Battery was designed by Mr Alfred Curtis, of Bewick, Moreing and Company. Ore was received from the mine via an aerial tramway into an ore bin of 220 tons capacity. The ore first passed through two Blake Crushers, then, passing through a screen, was delivered to the stampers, of which there were 50. The cyanide plant was very extensive, and in addition there were amalgamating plates which recovered 40% of the gold content before the ore was passed to the cyanide tanks. The complete cyanide process took about six days. Bullion recovered was cast into 1000 oz bars.

The late Mr Ben Gwilliam Sen. worked at the "Luck at Last" Battery at Whangamata from its beginning until about 2 months before it closed in 1900. The "Luck at Last" was run by an English Company and the Talisman at Karangahake was under the same management - Bewick, Moreing and Company, so it was easy for him to change. He got the contract for the excavation for the new Talisman Battery site, and when the Battery was opened, took charge of the Cyanide Department. Then he was Shift Boss and appointed Assistant Foreman. He recalled that while there he met Herbert Hoover, who later became President of United States of America. He was an official of the Company which was then the largest British Goldmining Company in Australasia.

During 1909-1910 the Battery was improved and three tube mills installed. They were brought into use on 12 September 1910. A new assay office and an up-to-date smelting room was also built. In 1911 two grinding pans for grinding the concentrates were installed to deal with the concentrate which had previously been sent overseas for final processing. The Talisman Battery ceased operations in 1918.

For a few years after the batteries closed the machinery was kept in repair, as it was hoped that new sources of payable ore would be found, but during the early 1920s, they were dismantled. In later years, the remaining scrap iron was progressively removed until now, all that remains, are the massive concrete foundations.

Gary Staples