Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 7, May 1967


Interest in the approaching Centennial of the opening of the Thames Goldfield brought members of the Paeroa Historical Society to visit the scenes of the early discoveries and I have been asked to give an account of the ground covered.

Our first stop was made by the high hospital chimney, overlooking the Karaka Creek, up on the side whereof the first official discovery of gold at Thames was made by Hamiora Te Nana or Kewa, and Te Paratene Whakautu. The local Maoris thought this was a good idea, and when an official party came in June 1867 to negotiate about opening the area as a goldfield, they found a party of Maoris busily engaged down in the creek bed washing for gold with a Long Tom [a cradle for washing gold dust from river gravels – E]. The negotiations resulted in an agreement on July 27, and a Proclamation drawn up on July 30 threw the field open for goldmining on August 1.

The men at first looked for alluvial gold in the Karaka, digging huge holes. A man named Clarkson, according to descendants, heard of gold found in a kumara patch by Maoris at the mouth of the Kuranui Creek, which was the next place the party went.

He panned and got some wiry gold at the mouth of the creek, but was afraid to go up because of the Maoris, the creek being on the boundary of the area then open for goldmining. George Clarkson then fell in with J.E White, who knew the Maoris well and spoke Maori, his brother being the author of White's "Ancient History of the Maori". White brought with him his mate, an experienced miner from the Shot-over field in the South Island, W.A. Hunt. On Saturday 10th August the three pushed their way through the growth up the little creek (there was then no blackberry), to a little trickling waterfall face about 6 chains in. They scrambled up.

Hunt then suggested going further up, but Clarkson wantedto look where they were first. He thought he saw something at the top of the waterfall, and asked Hunt to pass him the pick. He scraped away moss and knocked off a piece. It was quartz, showing rich gold. On Hunt's suggestion, they called the claim the Shot-over when they registered it on Monday 12th August, l867. They took in a fourth man, W. Cobley, on Clarkson's suggestion, to get an extra "man's ground" of ⅓ of an acre. Later they were awarded two more "man's grounds", making 2 acres in all.

According to James Mackay, the Commissioner in charge of the goldfield, and its first Warden, it was on the 12th that miners' rights were issued. The discoverers had tried to keep their find secret till then. On the night of the 12th, there was a gathering to look at the gold of the new claim. Hunt, being an experienced miner, knew what to do when someone cast doubts as to the material being gold, on account of its pale colour. He went to his tent, and brought out a small bottle of mercury, and put it with the gold. But it failed to amalgamate.

A man named Barry and his mates had pegged next to the discoverers. If their gold was no good, his was no good either. He produced a shovel, and put the material on it. Then he thrust shovel and contents into a blazing camp fire, till the shovel was red hot. If the material had been pyrites, or iron sulphide it would have decomposed into iron rust, with a smell of burning sulphur. But this material was unaffected, and when it had cooled a little, it amalgamated with the mercury at once.

According to climatic records kept at the older goldfield of Coromandel, the night of 12th August was cold and frosty. That would inhibit amalgamation.

Having no money for explosives, the four men at the Shotover cut down trees and set up a gallows frame to swing an iron shod log and knock off bits of rich quartz. That was first crushed by hand, and later some was treated in Auckland with a revolving iron bowl with a dragging weight in it, called a berdan. The berdan was then brought to the mine, and finally a proper battery was set up, and the four partners crushed about £12,000 each before they were bought out for around £40,000 each.

Hunt, with a great fortune for those days of £61,000, is said to have had a gilded coach made for him in Auckland. He is also said to have bought in Australia the fine carriage and horses used by the Duke of Edinburgh on his visit in 1869. He was later recorded prospecting in Australia. A Clarkson descendant said they kept money in the family. White is said to have helped his brother publish his "Ancient History of the Maori" and to have founded the White Star transport line. Cobley was said to have come back to Thames a few years later, broke. When told there was only a blanket boy's job going, at the Halcyon, he said, "The job's all right, the pay's all right, I'll take it". However, he had not drunk his money, being a strict Methodist. He had helped relatives with businesses in Wales and Auckland, and built fine houses in both places. His brother drank a business in Auckland, and relatives did not drink an ink business in Great Britain, but it failed all the same.

Others who pegged near Hunt did well, like Newdick of the Long Drive, which at 160 feet was the longest drive in the field when registered. The Duke of Edinburgh took shares in the Long Drive in 1869. Near the Long Drive, there was later driven the Moanataiari Tunnel, the longest in the field a good 1¼ miles long. This was in Kuranui Hill, rising immediately south of the little Kuranui valley. The place where the Moanataiari tunnel went in was looked at in passing.

The party went on to Golden Crown Hill, where further bonanzas were found after the Kuranui. In June 1868 there was the Manukau, followed by the Golden Crown. The rich lead continued towards the boundary of a claim called the Caledonian, a little way up the Moanataiari Valley between Kuranui and Golden Crown hills. The Caledonian people tunnelled towards the rich lead, and when they found it, it got richer and richer. By 1870 they were in good ore, by 1871 in Thames's biggest bonanza. In a month it gave over 1½ tons of gold. (Total Thames production of gold was around 69 tons). 1871 was the peak year for Thames gold production, with over a million pounds worth, when fine gold was worth £4 per ounce, against the present official price of £12-10-0.

At the southern end of the Golden Crown hill, where the Waiotahi valley came down by a little battery still worked by local prospectors, was the Waiotahi bonanza. It was second only to the Caledonian in value, both giving over three-quarter of a million pound's worth at the old price. The Waiotahi was the last big bonanza, of 1904-7.

Standing by a concrete flume, made to bring water through a little tunnel from the Moanataiari stream, it was possible for the party to look directly at the heart of the Thames goldfield. From a core area of around 20 acres, 2½ million pounds worth of gold came out, out of the Thames total of something over 7 million worth. Nearby, now covered, was the site of the first Big Pump used to drain the lower levels, which went down over 600 feet below the level of the nearby sea.

The party then went towards the site of the second Big Pump. On the way, a brick wall marked the site of an old shaft, the Saxon, now used as a pumping station to keep the water from the waterlogged mine workings below from flooding the town, as they did before the pumping station got going. Some of the Saxon workings were very shallow, and men working in the uppermost level could hear drays rumbling overhead. One party wanted to finish their tally of work early on a Saturday morning, and then go up for a drink at the nearby Queen's hotel. So they put in a double charge of explosive, to do extra work. When they arrived at the hotel they were most unwelcome, their double charge having smashed half the bottles on the shelves.

A big building still standing, with corrugated iron sidings and brick lower works, marks the site of the Second Big Pump, whose massive quadrants stood above the great shaft opening. This went down 1,000 feet. The Thames goldfield as an organised enterprise there found a watery grave.

From the bottom of the shaft a long tunnel was driven. Itwas supposed to go under the best reefs in the field. The Waiotahi people, who were important on account of their big bonanza at this time, in the early 1900s, wanted it to come more their way. In 1911 the tunnel pierced the water seal of the Moanataiari fault, flooding the workings. A second try was still too near the fault, with a final flooding in 1913.

The party then went to the Museum which was built in 1899 as an adjunct to the already established School of Mines. Here they saw some of the golden quartz so common in the great days, and also the quartz with less or no gold so many found. Two or three large cases are devoted to the special rock formations in which the good gold bearing quartz was found, (or not as the case might be).

There are also other metals besides gold, and various non-metallic minerals of the Hauraki goldfield, with its great variety of minerals. Out of approximately 3,000 exhibits, around 2,000 were local, with the rest gifts and exchanges from other parts of New Zealand and the world. The minerals were found in a great variety of compounds, particularly sulphides.

The sulphides include the abundant iron pyrites and copper-iron pyrites, or chalco-pyrite, forming the well-known "fool's gold". Zinc sulphide is known as zinc blende or sphalerite, and lead sulphide as galena. Galena, sphalerite and chalcopyrite are at present being worked on Mount Te Aroha. The old timers looked for gold. They also got a good deal of silver with it, all the Hauraki gold containing a proportion of silver. At Coromandel and Thames the gold-silver alloy, or electrum, contained as a rule more gold than silver. In the Ohinemuri the silver-gold electrum contained sometimes several times as much silver as gold.

Besides the minerals of special interest to the miner, with thefull seriesbulked out by specimens from other parts of the world, there are samples of general geological interest, covering all the various rock formations of Hauraki, with additions from other parts of New Zealand and the world, making a very comprehensive rock reference library. This includes fossils, useful as identifying tags for the age of rock formations.

There are also miniature working and static models of mine machinery and installations, such as a battery and appurtenances, poppet head with patent safety cage, underground dams, special types of shafts going down, and timbering of tunnels going along.

A growing section at present, scattered in different places according to classifications, is that of semi-precious stones, mainly of the quartz family. The resources of these in Hauraki had been attracting increasing numbers of "rock hounds", so that good material is becoming very difficult to find anywhere near the beaten track, except after severe floods.

The kauri gum industry, essentially a shallow mining one, is represented by such exhibits as the Tower Bridge of London painstakingly carved in this medium.

In addition to the mineral and mining exhibits, there are a few "curiosities" which have been put in at different times, some by Thames people who have been abroad and have brought back something for the Museum. However, the Museum is essentially a specialist one, the reference book for the Hauraki goldfield and mineral region.