Waihi Borough Council Diamond Jubilee Booklet 1902-1962


For geological reasons the story of Waihi is inevitably linked with that of Coromandel and Thames, the common background being the great gold-bearing Colville Range. It is true that gold had been found in Ohinemuri before 1875, but it was not until that year that James Mackey [Mackay – E], the Warden and Resident Magistrate on the Hauraki Goldfield, was able to conclude negotiations with the Maoris and declare the field open for both miners and settlers. Most of these came from Thames to Paeroa by steamer, via the Waihou River and thence by horse-back or on foot to a practically unknown location and destiny.

The Karangahake "rush" took place first, followed by a drift to Waitekauri, reached at that time by a bridle-track from Treanor's Road, near the Paeroa Cemetery [Old Reservoir Rd? - E]. There was then no Karangahake Gorge Road, but Owharoa and Waitawheta (across the river) could be reached via the Rahu track from Mackaytown. The next stage was to the vicinity of Waikino where a trail was found over Earl's Hill to Waitekauri. A year or two later a few enterprising fossickers pushed on to Waihi, a locality so far unknown, as it had been bypassed by the old track from Tauranga to Owharoa. The story is largely one of adventurous men, sturdy horses and crude camps, with little equipment and less comfort. Yet 1878 heralded a golden era for Waihi — the place of "rising water", even though the fruits of labour were to be long delayed.

This area was then part of the Thames County, and was represented in Parliament by Sir George Grey from 1876-1881. Surveyors may rightly be reckoned among the real pioneers of any new country and Government parties were very active at this time. The primary Trig Stations were established in the 70's and more accessible ones in the 80's. It was from these that all road, railway and land surveys were directly or indirectly connected. It is noteworthy that Mr Nepean Kenny, Paeroa, father of Courtenay Kenny, the well known surveyor who died this year, did many of the early surveys, and that the Triangulation Survey of the Coromandel Peninsula was completed by Mr Norman Haszard. Most of the old Ohinemuri maps, compiled about 1900, are signed H. D. M. Haszard.

Mr George Compson. Waihi settlement could be said to commence in 1878, when Mr George Compson and his wife, the only white lady in the district for two years, crossed the Waitekauri River and took up 200 acres of land in the Huaia Block. They were followed by Walmsley Bros., W. Hollis and H. C. Savage, all of whom did great pioneer work.

The Compsons had three daughters. Rachael married Mathew Kinsella, and they farmed between Waikino and Waitekauri, providing meat for the rapidly increasing population. Their son, James, still lives at Waikino and their grandson is the Hon. A. E. Kinsella.

Martha married William Nicholl, the noted prospector, who later named the Martha Mine. They had two sons. Mr Nicholl died in Waitekauri after a long and adventurous life.

Sarah married William Hollis and they had five sons and dec.), William, Vincent, Gladys (dec.), Lilian, Arthur, Moana three daughters: George (deceased), Mabel (Mrs Hayward, (Mrs Langford) and Edgar.

[The above paragraph appears jumbled. Should it read: Sarah married William Hollis and they had five sons and three (four) daughters: George (deceased), Mabel (Mrs Hayward, dec.), William, Vincent, Gladys (dec.), Lilian, Arthur, Moana (Mrs Langford) and Edgar? – E]


Few of the first arrivals to the Ohinemuri Gold Fields now remain alive but Mr W. C. Kennedy of Te Aroha can justly claim to be among the last of the earliest pioneers. He was born at Thames in 1874, has just celebrated his 88th birthday and is still fit and well, and taking an interest in public affairs. Mr Kennedy was appointed a Justice of the Peace in 1922. Until quite recently he was Chairman of the Thames Hospital Board, a position he held from 1950-1959, but he was a member of the Board for 42 years, as well as serving on many other boards and councils. He received a Coronation Medal for services rendered.

The following are some of his recollections:—

"In 1875 when Ohinemuri was declared a Goldfield, the then Government encouraged people to go on the land, and opened up thousands of acres between Karangahake and Waihi. The area was cut up into 50-acre blocks, to be taken up under leasehold tenure, the rent being £2/10/- per year, and no person could take up more than one section, although of course dummying did take place. Fifteen years later, the settlers were given the option of acquiring the freehold at 5 /-an acre. But it was wild country, most of it covered with bush and the balance in scrubby fern and tea-tree. It was to one of these sections, one mile from the village of Owharoa, that my parents took me in 1875 and had it not been that there were plenty of wild pigeons and kaka in the bush and many Captain Cook pigs, I am sure we could never have survived.

"Most of the houses that I remember in the 70's were built with palings, split timber, not sawn, and covered with shingles, or in some cases with nikau leaves. In selecting a site to build the home, the first essential was to be near water and secondly to be near bush for firewood, shelter and feed for the few cows that each owned. Dense undergrowth was then abundant, and so were mosquitoes which we tried to combat with smoke. Although times were hard, my recollections of those early settlers and miners are that they were just as happy as we are today. I remember with pride, the indomitable spirit of the early prospectors and settlers. I remember too the gumdiggers, Maori and Pakeha, who lived in nikau whares and speared for gum.

"I remember with pleasure, the hospitality and kindness extended to me as a lad of twelve delivering meat every Tuesday and Friday to every family between Karangahake and Waihi. I worked for Mr Matt Kinsella for five years, my starting wage being 6/- per week. The residents of Waihi were, Compson, Savage, Harvey, Harley, Harper, Hatton, Walmsley, Worth, Porter, Nichol, Unthank, Paton, Campbell, Dance, Hancock, Hollis and Chappell, in 1884.

"About 1894, I started contracting for the Ohinemuri County Council, the Waihi Gold Mining Company, the Kauri Timber Company and other local authorities, mostly bridge building and road construction work.

"Between 1900 and 1910, I took up 400 acres of standing bush at Waitawheta and this is now owned by myself and my son."


In 1885 Waihi became part of the newly constituted Ohinemuri County and Poppet Heads of Mines were now a feature of the somewhat grim and treeless horizon. There was beautiful "bush" on the hills and axemen were already at work there, but the plains were plagued with dust storms that unrelentingly carried off the poor, light surface soil. Yet hopes continued to rise as men delved deeper and horses toiled over the terrible roads to bring supplies and machinery. Gradually huts and shanties gave way to cottages and a few shops appeared. In 1888 John Vuglar (father of the later well known T. Percy Vuglar), established the first butcher's shop, when there were only two other business places in Waihi. It seems that, prior to this, meat was delivered from Waitekauri and Waihi's few children went there to be taught until Miss Gibb opened the first School in Waihi in 1890.

The Waihi Gold Mining Company, formed in 1887, was proving a power in the land, and with its assistance the Paeroa-Waihi Railway was planned. Already the Company had a private line to its Battery at Waikino. Mr H. P. Barry, Superintendent of the Waihi Company's mine, was Chairman of the Ohinemuri County Council, 1893-1901, and at the end of his term of office the Gorge Road was opened. Almost immediately there was a great rise in population. This necessitated an increase in shopping facilities and it is interesting to note the names of the earliest firms.

Messrs J. Phillips and Son: Storekeepers (1882).

Mr Dan Campbell, J.P.: Manager, was one of the earliest settlers. He took over the business, including the Post Office, in conjunction with coaching.

Vuglar, Thomas Percival: Butcher (1892).

Clark, Archibald: Storekeeper and Fruiterer (1892).

McLeay, Ernest Alexander: Boot and Shoe Manufacturer and dealer. Established 1893. One of the first in the district. Mr McLeay had the misfortune to be burnt out twice, the first time near Seath and Dillimore's, the second near Barron's. On this occasion Dick Landy found the bricks of his former bach beneath the ruins. But the business continues today as "Pat McLeay Ltd." and there is a branch at Katikati of "The Shoe Shops," which no longer specialise in "Miners' Boots." They are owned by the Founder's son, Mr Pat McLeay.

Barron, George: Chemist. Established 1900. This business is now carried on by the founder's son, Mr John Barron, whose sister (Sister Mary Gabriel) is a dispensing chemist at the Mater Hospital. Another sister is Mrs Shaw.

Clark, E. A. (Ernie): Chemist. Established 1903, and now conducted by Mr A. F. Clark, Miss B. F. Clark and Mr A. H. Clark. Mrs Clark (Sen) still lives in Waihi, and her husband was a son of one of the first storekeepers.

Aspinall, John: Builder, Contractor & Estate Agent, 1896.

Edwards and Towers: Painters and Decorators (1894), J. D. Wells, Manager. This firm was bought out by William Jordon (later Sir William, High Commissioner for New Zealand in England.

Roberts, William: Baker and Confectioner (1897). Mr Roberts (now aged 88) married Zilla Pennell of Karangahake.

Morgan, Evan: Tailor (1898). Family still in Waihi.

Tanner's Hotel and the Sterling Hotel: Early in 90's.

Laurie, William: Engineer.

Rob Roy Hotel (1896): John Flett, Proprietor. 60 rooms, seating 100 in the dining room and stabling for 12 horses.

Harley, Charles: (early 90's): "Old Curiosity Shop." Also engaged in bush timber cartage.

Ryburn, R.: Grain Merchant.

Cullen and Co.: Drapers and Importers (1893). (Shotbolt).

Menzies and Co.: Cordial Manufacturers.

Phillips, Walter and Co.: T. Sheen, Manager, 1898. Wholesaler and General Ironmongers and Hardware Merchants.

Hague Smith & Co. (1899): Hardware and Miners' Requisites. (A large shed 60ft by 16ft behind the shop for the storage of goods). Miss Jill Hague Smith is still here.

Colebrook, George: Butcher (1900).

Robbins, William: Chemist (1896).

Haslett, H. M.: Barrister and Solicitor (1899).

Gooch, R.: Stock and Sharebrokers.

Ross, A. Y.: Auctioneer and Commission Agent.

Foy, George: Photographer (1900).

McWatters, W. (Brother of Dave McWatters, Paeroa). General Produce Merchant (R. H. Holmes, Manager), 1895.