Diamond Jubilee of the Ohinemuri County 1885 - 1945

Gold-mining in Ohinemuri District


No story of the Ohinemuri County would be complete without an account of the goldmining activities therein. The discovery of gold marked a definite period in the history of the district. From an almost "terra incognita," it quickly changed to a populous and thriving district, the centre of the greatest of all gambles - a gold rush.

Townships sprang up overnight and the miner's pick delved into a thousand hitherto unexplored parts. Well over £33,000,000 worth of bullion was won.

The story of the quest for gold is the same the world over. Frantic efforts, greed and sacrifice; a few fortunes and a myriad of disappointments. Towns of to-day return to wilderness to-morrow. Ohinemuri goldfields do not differ much from other fields. For a few short years prosperity hovered over the district and then came almost inevitable working out of claims. To-day bracken and fern cover many high hopes and some great enterprise. One great mine remains - one of the world's greatest, to remind us of the days of yesterday. Fortunately for Ohinemuri she possesses rich lands suitable for pastoral purposes, and so to a great measure has escaped the fate of most deserted mining districts. The gold boom in the district has ended, but there remains a solid community earning a more stable form of living than the hectic fight for easy wealth, which is the lure and the often-times mirage of the Ohinemuri miner.

The Karangahake Field

The Ohinemuri district was virtually closed to Europeans during the Maori Wars, and despite the desires of many some years passed before a move was made to open up the land for gold prospecting. However, the pressure became insistent, and the failure of many hundreds of men to strike payable gold at the Thames turned their heads southwards, where rumour said alluvial gold was to be found by all. In 1868 the Commissioner for Hauraki, James Mackay, was shown samples of gold taken from the Prospector's Reef at Karangahake by Thorp and Baird, who had him shown the reef by natives.

By 1875 the district became the Mecca of prospectors marking time impatiently until the Government should declare the country open for mining. A few facts drawn from current numbers of the "New Zealand Herald" serve to show the prevailing excitement and mushroom growth.

January 26, 1875: "Paeroa is being laid off by the owners, Messrs. Russell and Jackson. When I first landed a week ago, there were but 12 tents; now the number has increased to 22. There is room for a smart shop-keeper in Paeroa."

February 9, 1875 (from Thames): "The Pearl left for Ohinemuri to-day with 50 diggers and as many more men are waiting."

February 13, 1875 (from Paeroa): "We are now a community of 300."

February 22, 1875: "Cassrels and Bennett Lowe commenced the erection of a hotel at Paeroa."

February 26, 1875, (from Paeroa): "Between 800 and 900 men are assembled here, but there is a movement to Mackaytown."

February 27, 1875: "First publication of the 'Ohinemuri Observer.'"

There remained to obtain only the consent of the Maoris to start the "rush." The Native Minister, Sir Donald McLean, arrived early in February, and negotiations opened with the tribes. Mr. Mackay, the District Commissioner, played a leading part in these, and much was due to him, not merely for the successful conclusion of the negotiations, but also for the general conduct of the arrangements made for the working of the field. The signing of the agreement and the preliminary discussions took place at the Maori Meeting House on the Te Aroha Road, about one mile from Paeroa Post Office. The whites were represented by Sir Donald McLean, Dr. Pollen and Mr. Mackay. The chieftains, Te Moananui, Te Hira and Te Piripi, were the principals on behalf of the owners. The lease ratified by the Maori signatures, the work of opening the Goldfield proceeded rapidly. Surveying and road-making were feverishly carried on, and March 3, 1875, announced as the day the field would be opened. Four hundred miners left Thames on March 2. Miners' rights were issued at 10 a.m., and there followed a scene worthy of an American land partition. The race was to the swift, and soon the hillsides were dotted with men on horseback and on foot eager to locate in the most favourably considered localities. Messages were sent every hour by pigeons to Auckland, giving progress reports of the day's happenings. Thus with high hopes the Karangahake diggings were opened. Disillusion followed fast. The discoveries of payable gold were very small, and it was soon apparent that this was no poor man's field, and that only by the introduction of machinery could a success be made in Karangahake.

Although a number of mines commenced work at Karangahake, matters drifted on in a very unsatisfactory way. The reason for this lay in the fact that a remunerative return could not be obtained until some new process could be discovered capable of saving a greater percentage of gold.

The year 1889 saw the introduction of the cyanide process at the Crown Mine. Conservatism and certain local difficulties prevented the quick adoption of this process, which has revolutionised goldmining throughout the world. By 1897 three large plants were at work at Karangahake, i.e., the Crown, Talisman and Woodstock batteries. The story from then on is that of most company-owned goldfields. The Talisman proved the longest lived. In 1907 it paid £75 000 in dividends and continued working with varied success until 1920, when the company went into liquidation. Over £3,000,000 worth of bullion was won in Karangahake, of which the Talisman, when it closed down in 1918, contributed £2,832,540 and paid £1,133,722 in dividends. Quartz assayed as high as £2000 a ton (short), or £1 a pound of stone.

The Great Waihi Mines

The story of the great goldfield of Waihi amply exemplifies the vicissitudes which await those who dabble in the great goldmining gamble. It is a story of discovery and abandonment, of working men attempting to commence operations with an insufficiency of both capital and knowledge, of public flotation by several companies, and at long last, success beyond the dreams of avarice.

The evidence is conflicting as to who actually first explored the Waihi hills for gold. The first work of any importance was carried out by Messrs. John McCombie and Robert Lee in February, 1878. In four months they had driven a tunnel and had some metal treated at Owharoa. However, they were discouraged by their failure to interest men with money and departed for Te Aroha. The next on the scene was W. S. C. Nicholl, who tested for gold, and finding the results so satisfactory pegged a claim, gathered a few mates and started work. The famous Martha mine was then named after Mrs. Martha Ducible [Dulcibel - E] Nicks, the wife of one of Nicholl's mates.

Mining men were interested, but experts reported against the mine. A crushing showing a return of £3/6/6 per ton failed to convince, and it was rumoured that the crushing was salted with sovereigns. A company was at last formed and a battery erected. More difficulties were met, however, principally in the lack of sufficient water. An amalgamation with the adjoining claim, Young Colonial, was made, and a new company floated in 1883. By 1885, £11,401 had been obtained, and the mine was then tributed to Hollis Brothers. In 1890, Mr. John Russell [Thomas Henry Russell - E] purchased the mine for the sum of £3000. Mr. Russell was an Englishman [no, that was his father, Thomas Russell - E] and made careful assays of the mine. His reward came when he received in 1890 £20,000 in paid-up shames for his holding. Within a few short years the cyanide process was adopted and the Waihi mine was earning phenomenal dividends for its lucky shareholders. This mine, abandoned by some, scoffed at by others, credited by others with being "salted," and sold for £3000, had, up to the end of 1944, produced bullion worth £24,098,383, paid £7,029,355 in dividends, and £1,979,329 in income and corporation profits taxes. Peak year was in 1909, when bullion valued at £959,594 was produced and £446,316 paid in dividends. Returns fell to £926,100 in 1910 and £679,116 in 1911, but for the next 19 or 20 years they fluctuated between £300,998 (1922) and £419,846 (1927), until the premium on gold made the values soar.

For some years the Waihi Grand Junction Mine has been worked in conjunction with the Martha Company. The production from the Grand Junction area to date exceeds £2,500,000, the production when the mine closed as a separate entity in 1924 having been valued at £2,195,330. The dividends paid up to that time totalled £249,844. To the £24,098,383 produced by the Martha mine up to the end of last year must be added £293,191 so far produced this year, so that the yield from the two mines approaches £27,000,000.

For the years 1935 to 1944 inclusive the tonnage mined and treated amounted to 1,922,399, the value of the bullion produced was £5,391,548, and dividends paid totalled £790,347. Income tax and National Security tax was £772,719. Since the imposition in August, 1939, of the war tax on gold produced, the company has paid to the N.Z. Government by way of such tax approximately £234,841. All the above amounts are expressed in N.Z. currency.

At present the company employs 500 men, and the daily output is approximately 600 tons.

The Waihi mine is indeed one of the greatest in the world. By 1903 not less than three batteries — one, the Victoria at Waikino, being the largest in New Zealand and the second largest in the world at the time — were crushing the quartz on behalf of the Waihi (now Martha) Goldmining Company. The mine has known its periods of industrial strife, and the year 1912 saw one of the most serious strikes in the history of the mining industry. It brought suffering to the miners and their families and decreased returns to the company.

The increased prices ruling to-day for gold has proved a benefit to the mime, and quartz previously assayed as being of too low a value is now being crushed and gives a profitable return. So the Waihi Mine, the homely-named Martha, goes on. To the writer there is an attraction in the name given to this bonanza find — It suggests not the extravagant uses to which the mistress of the mine has been brought, but rather the thousand homes to which it has meant comfort and security and peace — the proper and legitimate use of gold — homes such as might well be presided over by one named Martha. The writer has in mind a silver haired old lady met in the town of Oxford living out the embers of her days in comely Martha-like orderliness, her peace secured by a lucky investment years before in a new mine in far-off New Zealand called the Martha mine.

Work on the Smaller Fields


The mad rush previously described at Karangahake led several across the hills into the Waitekauri Valley. By 1876 a large crushing plant costing £18,000 had been erected and a thriving little township sprung up. By 1880 the plant had been let to tributers, some of whom for a few years made handsome profits. In 1892 gold was discovered at Golden Cross, and a new Martha was proclaimed, only to be short-lived, and although the returns were high from 1895 to 1900, by 1902 the mine had almost petered out. To-day little remains of the town of Waitekauri, and a few prospectors serve but to remind one of its former glories.


In 1887 there was a rush to this field, where a reef two miles long was found. The gold, however, was not found susceptible to amalgamation, and despite the efforts of numerous companies from that date until to-day the field can be described as a failure.


This find came in 1891 and was soon purchased on behalf of the owners of the Waitekauri mine. Considerable profits were realised. In 1894 another mine, the Komata Reefs, opened with a 20-stamp battery, and in 1901 absorbed the Waitekauri Company's interests in Komata. By 1910, gold to the value of £369,017 had been won, but since that date little has been done except by prospectors.


Work began at Owharoa in 1875 at such picturesque claims as the Smile of Fortune and the Morning Light. Tributers made fair return, but the success of the field was not as expected. The latest company to start crushing at Owharoa was the Golden Dawn Gold Mining Company, Limited, on the site formerly the Rising Sun Gold Mining Company, Limited.

In 1934 that company employed about 100 men, Although good returns were received and Government assistance was obtained, its capital became exhausted a few years after that date. Just when the capital was running low a big reef was struck, but it was too costly to explore, and lack of capital prevented further operations. The company ceased operations in 1938; the plant and buildings were then dismantled and sold.

{Note: — For many of the facts contained in the above article we are indebted to Mr. E. G. Preston, M.A., for permission to make use of a thesis on the history of the Hauraki Goldfields presented by him for the degree of Master of Arts. We acknowledge also our debt to the numerous authorities quoted by Mr. Preston in his thesis. We also acknowledge with many thanks the assistance given by the Local Director and Attorney for the Martha Gold Mining Co. (Waihi), Ltd., Mr. J. H. G. Banks. — Ed.}

Waihi-Paeroa Extraction Company

Other concerns in the Ohinemuri County to produce gold were the Ohinemuri River Syndicate and the Waihi-Paeroa Extraction Company, the latter apparently a development of the former. The Ohinemuri River Syndicate started its operations on the Ohinemuri River in 1903, between Waihi and Waikino, and to 1910 turned over 35,034 tons of tailings for a return of 36,770oz. bullion, valued at £14,615. The Waihi-Paeroa Extraction Company operated lower down the river near Paeroa. A very large dredging, grinding and cyaniding plant was installed, and up till 1918, when the company went out of operation, 907,428 tons of tailings were dredged and treated for a return of 654,964oz. bullion, valued at £276,211. The company paid dividends to the amount of £18,750. The cause of the company ceasing operations is said to have been that a heavy flood deposited many thousands of feet of barren material on the tailings that were being worked, preventing any chance of profitable operation.