Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 8, October 1967



The old pumphouse in Seddon Street has been getting more than its usual attention over the past few months. Removal of spoil from the mine tip heap has made it easier to see from the road with the result that it is coming into its own as a major landmark of Waihi.

The concrete is obviously old with tenacious lichens growing on the walls and rotting timbers in the window frames adding to the air of desolation.

It has been with us for a long time, in fact since 1901 when it was erected to house steam engines to drive water pumps far down the number five shaft of the Martha Mine. The roof has fallen in, and the engines have been removed but the walls remain as a tribute to the men who put them up.

The full title of the machinery as taken from the scale model in the Waihi Museum is "Hathorn - Davey Compound Differential Pumping Engine", a lengthy name for a very large piece of machinery. The pumping cylinders were underground and had to be connected to the engine with a long length of Kauri beam.

600 FEET DOWN : With the original cylinders it seems that the pumping chamber was some 600 feet down, but this may have been slowly increased for when a larger pump was installed in late 1902 it was at a depth of 1550 feet.

The connecting beam running down the shaft at this time was of 22 inches squared kauri for the first 700 feet, and then for the remaining 850 feet the size was reduced to 16 inches a side. Extremely strong steel bands encircled the joints as the entire length of this beam was raised and lowered twelve feet in each pumping cycle.

In the pumphouse a huge horizontal see-saw was mounted with one end over the shaft mouth connected to the driving beam, and on the other a bob weight weighing thirty tons to counteract the downward pull of the beam.

ROOF ROCKED : Two steam cylinders mounted in the roof rocked the entire colossus, the larger of the two cylinders having a bore of 110 inches and a stroke of 144 inches. The steam came from a boiler housed close by which has since disappeared.

From local knowledge I gather that the machinery was rather unreliable and also inefficient. The pumping capacity was 1500 gallons per minute which is not a great deal considering the size of the machinery involved. It does not seem to have been unduly noisy, sounding something like the gurgle of a huge bath being drained and the hiss of a steam train. A very mild sound after the ear battering tumult of the Waikino Battery.

END IN SIGHT : The completion of the Hora Hora power station on the Waikato River brought the end in sight for the old pump. Every pylon set up to bring the electricity up the Wairongomai and into the Waitawheta Valley shortened the time it would be used to clear water from the mine.

New and shining, the large electric motors would have arrived at the mine, to be admired by the men who knew their capabilities, and perhaps treated with suspicion by miners coming off their shift after a hard day at the working face. Later they would be taken to the shaft mouth to be taken down to the lower levels of the mine to be bolted onto the mountings set in the floor.

After some period of testing with the new motors and pumps the time would have come for the old pump to be stopped. The furnace door would be shut on the last shovel of coal, and the fire left to die and grow cold.

What did this man think as he laid his shovel aside? Did his mind hold a feeling of regret at the replacing of a machine which had been in use for twelve years or were his thoughts turned to the new job he would start on when next he walked up the hill with his lunch under his arm.

QUITE WARM : The water coming to the surface was quite warm and for a season was used in the swimming baths until probably justified complaints of unclean water put a stop to this practice. The many hoses used in the mine may have been the main reason for the baths to be refilled with the cold river water.

Most of the water from the mine was run away in a drain which followed a path across what is now the Recreation Grounds, and then on into the river. Some was diverted into Seddon Street to run down both sides for cleaning purposes. This seems to have been very successful, and gave the small boys of the town the perfect place to play with their boats. A board across the drain at the top of the town controlled the amount flowing at any time.

NEVER REMOVED: with the closing the mine and removal of the electric pumping gear the miles of tunnels and shafts would have slowly filled with conquering water, hiding the original pumps which were never removed. The treasure house of Martha Hill was empty, and so could be left to the cloaking forces of nature.

The years slipped by as the ever exploring blackberry vines moved out across the bare, flat building sites finally to hide all under a spring time layer of green.

Dave Glasgow [Lithgow? - E] went up the hill some twelve years ago to remove the travelling crane from the pumphouse. This ran on rails for the full length of the walls and was very nearly at the top as it was used to service the giant steam cylinders, and give access to other parts of the engine. Much iron was used in the crane and it was for this metal that it was removed — for a purpose it was constructed and after the purpose had gone there was nothing but the scrap heap left as a home. This was the fate of most of the mining machinery although there is still some in odd corners of Waihi.

NEARBY SHAFT: The next spark of interest was when the nearby shaft collapsed one night leaving a crater two hundred feet across. A smaller hole appeared beside the pumphouse and various people speculated asto whether it would grow sufficiently to swallow the greying structure.

The Waihi Borough Council is well aware of the tourist attraction of this site and has plans for levelling the roadside area for a "Stopping and eating lunch spot".

So a fresh era has come to the pumphouse. When it was first built it was merely functional, after the electricity came through it may have been no more than storage space, then when the mines closed very few people would have made the effort of walking up the road to have a look at it.

But now it is in full view once more, and people come to gaze and marvel at the riches found beneath this hill, and this monument to the miners of Waihi.