Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 10, October 1968
By A. M. ISDALE, B.A.
The effective re-opening of the Coromandel Goldfield in 1862 directed the attention of the Thorps of Ohinemuri, who had been living among the Maoris for over 20 years, to the possibilities of their own district. John W. Thorp said in giving evidence in 1875 that in April 1862 he prospected with a Maori, finding gold at Rotokohu, and "subsequently he had natives prospecting all about the district." Thomas Baird said at the same Warden's Court hearing in 1875 that in 1868 Mr. Joe Thorp showed him where he had "got gold in the Ohinemuri River above the Gorge, on the left hand side of the river." Even before the formal opening of the Ohinemuri goldfield, on March 3, 1875, parties [prospecting – E] were visiting such already known places. Thus on February 24 there were reports of "a belt of payable reef country" between the head of the Karangahake Gorge and the Waitekauri, and of parties which came and went "almost daily," and brought back some coarse gold.
After the opening, parties which could not get good places in such popular areas as Karangahake, Rotokohu and Waitekauri continued to look around generally. It was noticed one Stewart was going somewhere secretly - he said afterwards he did not want to peg right away in case he was not properly on the lead he was looking for. Early in June 1875 there was a rush "of the spare population of Mackaytown" to what was thought to be "the secret place of Stewart and party, for which numerous parties were searching". Stewart ceased operations and went to Australia, after disposing of 120 ounces of gold.
However, other prospectors initially got poor results, showing that either they were not on quite the right spot, or that he had more likely carefully cleaned out a good pocket. Some said he had got his gold out of some pipe clay, others that the gold/silver composition of his gold was suspiciously like that of a Coromandel mine where he had been working. After a poorushing [poor rushing ? – E] in mid August little was heard of the area for a time, but fossicking continued.
By mid October 1875 settlers were beginning to occupy 50 acre allotments made in the hill lands ceded for goldfield in the Ohinemuri. These included the area between Owharoa and Waitekauri. Apart from such old established families as the Thorps, McCaskills and H. Alley, the last being a comparative newcomer of a few years before, these were the vanguard of settlers south of Thames. At this time Thames did not have "six settlers cultivating land within 50 miles," and there was "no road a mile in length beyond the boundary of the Borough."
Changes now came rapidly, in spite of the initial disadvantages of first settlement being confined "entirely to the hills and mountains," (all flat land being still reserved to the Maoris), and lack of roads. By the anniversary of the opening of the Ohinemuri, on March 3, 1876, it was noted there had been by nor [now - E] "70 to 80 applications for agricultural leases representing over 3,300 acres." By the beginning of April 1876 the new settlers had done more improvement work in 4 or 5 months than they were required to do in a year. It was also noted that cartloads of furniture were passing daily through Mackaytown on the way to Waitekauri, and mobs of cattle for the same area. Sheep came later. On May 3 it was noted "there are no sheep in the Thames district," meaning from Thames up-river.
ESTABLISHMENT OF MINING AT OWHAROA
By mid December 1875 the fossickers had made a real strike, the original prospectors' claim (Farmer Brothers) being called Smile of Fortune, while others pegged around it. (It is noteworthy that the Smile of Fortune Battery later crushed the quartz of the early Waihi Prospectors. Ed)
In mid-Jan. '76 a visitor to "the new find at Owharoa" noticed Armed Constabulary working at road-making at 90° in the shade, in stifling serge uniforms. They were under Captain Newall, and Cap. Crapp, Captain Turner's deputy. The visitor also saw, within 70 yards of the Ohinemuri River, "the almost naked rock that holds the roofs [reefs – E] and leaders...A small cascade tumbles down the water-worn face of rock". Nearby several roofs [reefs – E] had been laid bare.
With the March 3, 1876 anniversary celebrations it was noted that "the new ground lately opened up at Owharoa bids fair to take the lead". There were many applications for mining privileges. By mid April the best of 7 active claims were the Smile of Fortune, Annie and Radical. Then the Morning Light claim came into prominence with the richest quartz so far seen anywhere in the Ohinemuri. Which meant quite a rush at the end of April for one small piece of ground nearby left unpegged. The Smile of Fortune kept its end up with some rich stone, while the Annie went one better with 6 pounds of quartz which gave an ounce to the pound - really rich.
By the beginning of May, 1876, Thomas Arnold, of the Smile of Fortune shareholders had "built a small punt capable of carrying 6 persons, to be used as a ferry boat, which will be of great convenience to shareholders on the south side of the river." Other names of claims were: Star of Ohinemuri, Excelsior, Hercules, Golden Hill, Joker, Bella, Little Dorrit, Golden Stream and Mint. At the beginning of June it was noted that rich gold was being got from several claims, the most recent being the Morning Light, while two crushing mills were going up.
On June 3, 1876, an "engineers start" was made on a little 2 stamp battery for the Morning Light, and "the shrill steam whistle awoke the echoes among the hills and valleys of the Ohinemuri for the first time, just exactly 15 months after the opening of the district for gold mining". The official start was made on June 5, before 70 or 80 persons, "including several ladies from Mackaytown and the agricultural settlements". Mrs. McCloughlen, "the first European lady" on the Ohinemuri goldfield, broke "a bottle of No. 2 on the fly-wheel and christened it the Pioneer". A drive wheel also broke, and the engineer a little later explained that he was in too bad a temper to give his speech. However a Maori, Tenerehu, had everybody laughing by giving a short speech in Maori, which turned out when translated to be a request for grog so he could drink everybody's health. He got it, amid more laughter. After a month's run the battery was found too small and abandoned, but the second battery, Perry's, a much bigger one, ran well, and Owharoa became a gold producer.
MINING SETTLEMENT AND FARMS
By mid-August 1876 it was noted that various buildings were going up, while "Mr. Delaney of Grahamstown" (Thames) was "erecting an iron store", supplies up till then being packhorsed from Mackaytown. The reporter went on from Owharoa towards Waitekauri by a short cut over the hills. "On this route you cross the farms of Messrs. Thorp, Bein, Kinsella and others". There was a change from 5 years before. "You see farms dotted here and there, on which are houses, now sufficient", which he hoped would be "forerunners of more substantial dwellings".
REFERENCES: Contemporary files of "The Evening Star" (Thames) and "Thames Advertiser".