Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 5, May 1966
By A. A. JENKINSON
The recent State Highway improvement scheme necessitated a large red-clay cutting for a section of the Waihi Rd. about a mile from Paeroa. This exposed some old prison-like brick buildings that were previously almost hidden from view. Although no gaol, they housed something dangerous, for this was the Powder Magazine in which explosives were stored - gelignite in the 1st and largest building; blasting powder in the 2nd and detonators in the 3rd.
Reports concerning its siting appear in the Thames Advertiser of 1885, but it was not till 1902 that it was built by the Ohinemuri County Council, the annual licence fee for storage being £2. At that time the various mine-fields were using large quantities of dynamite, sent from Auckland to Paeroa by a special boat, and carted from the wharf by horse wagon fitted with what looked like a shed.
Government Inspectors of Explosives enforced strict rules concerning the Magazine, regulations requiring persons while there to wear rubber shoes and leave all matches at the gate in a box provided for that purpose. Until about 1934 the buildings were surrounded by a high corrugated iron fence with a gate which was kept locked. Many attempts were made by unauthorised persons to break in, and one was successful, but fortunately all explosives had been removed a few days before. However the culprit was apprehended and the Supreme Court at Auckland imposed a term of imprisonment. I was County Clerk at the time and had to appear as a witness.
From May 1902 to Aug. 1903 Mr. F. Beattie was Caretaker along with his positions of Abattoir Manager, Pound-keeper and Cemetery Caretaker. Mr. C.B. Gentil held those positions from 1903 to 1933. A Govt. Inspector of course paid periodic visits.
Just after the outbreak of World War 2 when an Air Raid was feared, investigations were made by Imperial Chemical Industries (N.Z.) Ltd., agents at that time for Nobels explosives, as to the quantity that could be accommodated in the three buildings. This was for the purpose of spreading the explosives over the various magazines in the district rather than storing a large quantity near Auckland.
Within a few days of Japan's entry into the War a very large quantity of explosives was received into the Paeroa Magazine and on 19-12-1941 the total stored was 3495 cases of gelignite (50 lbs in each case), 80 cases of blasting powder (25 lbs in each case) and 23½ cases of detonators (10,000 in each case). In money this huge quantity represented approximately £28,000 and necessitated frequent visits which the County Clerk made personally for inspection and checking. In order to camouflage the buildings from the air in the event of attack the army painted the roofs of the three buildings with suitable paint.
For some years after the major closing of the mines the Magazine was still served a purpose in connection with Quarry work but now that it has been rendered useless it is likely that the old stronghold will be removed.
MR. A.A. JENKINSON. After 44 years of unbroken service with the Ohinemuri County Council, resigned at the end of 1963, having earned a period of complete rest from clerical work. We appreciate his help, for he has so much valuable information "at his finger tips". In 1945 on the occasion of the 60th Jubilee of the County he edited an Historical Booklet of great merit.