Waihi Borough Council Diamond Jubilee Booklet 1902-1962
WAIHI 68 YEARS AGO
It was not my intention to stay in Waihi, as I had made up my mind to go to Rhodesia, but having a sister in Waihi, I thought it only right to make the trip to wish her goodbye. My home was in Wellington then, and I arrived in Onehunga wet and seasick after a very rough trip. There were several families on board from the West Coast, going to join their relations who were working in Waihi.
The year was 1894 and the weather was wintry. We had another wet trip by boat to Paeroa and at the Junction Wharf was an old tram which ran on wooden rails, pulled by an old grey horse — fare one shilling. We ran off the rails about six times between the wharf and the township, and all hands got off the tram to lift it back.
Then we boarded the Waihi coach which left Crosby's Hotel — The Royal Mail. The roads were just mud, mud everywhere from Paeroa to Waihi — fare 12/6 and we had to get off and walk most of the way. It took the five horses all their time to pull the empty coach through some of the worst patches. But I must mention the driver. Many will remember him and what a gentleman he was, always obliging and cheerful. In after years he was a very great friend of mine — Maurice Crimmins.
Leaving Waikino we turned to the left and up over the hill, coming out by Heighman's Freehold near Kinsella's. We crossed the Waitekauri River up on the flat by Chappell's farm, and from there we went wherever we could get through the scrub and dodge the mud. It was a common sight to see loaded wagons stuck everywhere along that part of the road. At last we came out on the hill above Waitete Stream, just past old Mr Compson's farm from which Waihi got its milk supply. I wonder who remembers him with his yoke across his shoulder with a can of milk on each side, and one strapped on his back, shaped to fit. He was a grand old man — one of the real old-timers.
And then Waihi, with not a tree to be seen, only stunted scrub about 18 inches high, leaning on one side with the wind. The only bush was at Bulltown and that was being felled for mining props and for roasting the ore for dry crushing. (I had my share of that when I first gave up mining and took to battery work).
The main street from Tanner's Hotel to the present Anglican Church had an earth footpath about five feet above the road—which was either mud or dust covered. In dry weather the shops had to keep their doors closed because of the dust in the wind. There were a few shops on the other side of the road with a narrow footpath. Percy Vuglar had a butcher's shop and Archie Clark a general store, while you could buy anything from a second-hand camp oven to a brand new saddle at Harley's.
I had been in Waihi about a fortnight and was thinking of returning to Wellington when one of the men working for my brother-in-law took sick, so they asked me to take a few shifts for him. I had a good mate — Ted Taylor. He said the young 'un would do him (meaning me) and as I rather liked the work we stuck together for many years.
The shaft we were working for Consols, was known as the Waihi West, just the other side of the School by Mr Toomey's place. It was on the boundary of the Consols and West claims, the latter belonging to the Grand Junction which also owned the claim on the other side of the mine where they afterwards built their battery.
Now let me see if I can remember some of the names of the men working there. Mr Evans was manager of the Grand Junction, Mr Bunny of Consols; Steven Eltringham, George Budge and Harry Sarjeant were engine-drivers; Bill Cornthwaite, W. Morrison, Jack Hayes, M. Houlihan, Ted Taylor and Sam Thornley were my mates. Steve Eltringham was the most careful engine-driver I ever worked with. I remember on one occasion on the change of shifts Steve was winding men up when the manager spoke to him. Steve took no notice, but when he got the men up to the brace, he turned and pointing his finger at Mr Evans said, "Don't thee talk to me when I got men on." Old Tom Dick was our blacksmith — a great old chap.
I mentioned that our shaft was sunk by the two companies. Its depth was 270 feet and two drives were driven from the bottom. The Waihi West struck the reef about under the school, but it was only the cap of the lode, the assay value being about £15 per ton. Our drive, going towards Bulltown, was driven about 800 feet and we were blasting all the way — with no air coming in. It was hot and unhealthy and hard to keep our candles burning. We just wore our dugarees [dungarees – E] and boots and men were going off. sick. It had to be stopped. I think I was the last to go in to remove the rails, but after two days I had to pull out. I couldn't get my candle to burn, so Mr Bunny stopped all work. I think the West stopped driving also. This section belonged to the Grand Junction which was later taken over by the Waihi Coy., and probably they worked it from No. 2 shaft.
I well remember the trouble they had to get the boiler up to No. 2 shaft. It was taken up a clay road opposite the school. They tried to take it with about 60 of Mr Clarkin's draught horses but they couldn't get a footing and wouldn't pull together. Then about 30 working bullocks were collected and they had it up in about 3 hours.
Waihi South sank their shaft about where the children's playground is at present (Mr Carter, mine manager). There was nothing there and as with the Consols (between the Martha Hill and the Hospital) the water beat them. I have an idea that they both struck mud and sand. I never saw any solid rock being wound up.
Now a few other notables: Mr Gilmour, manager of the Waihi Mine was one you could alway approach, and every evening he could be found at the Miners' Union Hall ready to play draughts with anyone. Mr Barry, who was superintendent of the whole of the Waihi Company's Holdings was about 6ft. 5ins in height and had very big feet. On one occasion when he was standing on a ladder, a carpenter slipped his rule under his boot. Mr Barry looked down and said, "Well, what do you make it?". This was a shock to the carpenter, but he answered, "15 inches sir,". Mr Barry replied, "If you can't measure better than that you should never be a carpenter. You are half an inch short." He was a very fine man, always a gentleman, and took a keen interest in the welfare of the district. I feel sure it was he who advised the Waihi G.M. Coy. directors to lend money to the Seddon Government to complete the Waihi-Paeroa railway.
I made many friends in Waihi, especially the Paul family, and that was in rather a funny way. One day when Ted Taylor and I were walking up the street, we saw a notice in the window of Miss Kate Paul's shop — "Wanted, an apprentice for dressmaking." Ted turned to me and said, "I'll bet you five bob you're not game to go in and apply for the job." I said, "You're on," and in I went. Miss Kate asked what I wanted, and I said I'd come to apply for the job. She smiled and said, "I'll get my sister." Miss Aggie Paul was the dressmaker, and laughing, she invited me into the room where the girls were working. "Can you sew on a button?" she said. That was something I could do and made a good job of it. Well, I got to know the whole family, Mrs Paul, Sam and Matt (later an inspector of mines) and I got my 5/- too.
I found miners the finest and most generous of men — always ready to help when help was needed. If a man was injured or killed in the mine, his widow or dependants were never forgotten. Moreover, there were few robberies or cases of misconduct, and youngster's pranks seemed less harmful than they are today. I remember walking down the street with a Cornishman when a boy came along whistling, his hands in his pockets. As he passed us the Cornishman gave him a clip on the ear. I said, "What did you do that for?". And he answered, "When thee see a boy coming down the street whistling, with a grin on his face, and hands in his pockets, clip 'un. If he ain't coming out of mischief he be just going into it." Well — it is good to see smiling faces, but where are all our whistlers now?
Not many at 89 years of age would be capable of expressing themselves as Mr Gwilliam does. (And the actual "writing" is a picture). He is busy completing articles on other parts of the Goldfields for our Historical Records, having held many important mining positions since he ventured to Waihi so long ago. Mr and Mrs Gwilliam now live in Paeroa and celebrated their Diamond Wedding three years ago. They are a truly wonderful couple and we are greatly indebted to them.