Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 10, October 1968


Itinerant Prospectors had preceded them but the Compston family were the first real settlers in the Waihi district. Crossing the Waitekauri River they took up 200 acres of land in the Huaia Block and for two years Mrs. Compston had no white female neighbours. Their three daughters later married in the Waitekauri area; Rachael, (Mrs Mathew Kinsella), whose Grandson is the Hon. A.S. Kinsella; Martha (Mrs. Wm. Nicholl; and Sarah (Mrs. Wm. Hollis). So farming was begun in 1878.

A very early settler two years later was Wm. Hollis (Sen.) who bought a block of land in Waihi West - well known for years as "Hollis's Bush" and famous as a picnic area. There, one of the first permanent houses in Waihi was built, remaining until recently. Mr. Hollis had been trained at Thames as an Engineer but his chief interest lay in mining and he worked successfully on many fields, making discoveries and sometimes "striking it rich". He was one of the first Tributers at Waitekauri and at various times managed mines. He died in 1914, but some of his family are among Waihi's most respected residents, (both Bill Hollis and his sister Mrs. Langford now live at the Beach). Some of the Hollis land was taken by the Government for building purposes in 1900, and for the Public Hospital in 1902. Some was later leased as a Golf Course, being finally purchased by the Education Department as the outstanding site for the present College.

H.C. Savage was also on the scene very early and bought a block of bush beyond Hollis's, a lot of timber being yielded. I recall that the first "Archway" built in Waihi came from this bush. It was used in Tauranga to welcome the Governor General, The Earl of Glasgow, in 1892 and as a schoolboy I took part in the celebrations.

After Prospector's discovery of the famous Martha Lode, other adventurous settlers made their way to Waihi, the two Walmsley Brothers "getting in on the ground floor" by taking up a block of bush land lying to the North and North East. They received one of the biggest contracts ever let in the district for many thousands of tons of firewood for roasting quartz at the new Battery kilns. This destroyed the sulphur content and when cool the quartz was crushed to powder. The tramline for the horse-drawn trucks was over two miles long from the Battery to the head of the gully - now the watershed for the Borough supply. But the early bushland was well cleared by 1896 and grassland was developing below the water race. (No blackberries, gorse, broom or ragwort in those days!) Cattle were soon running on good pasture and houses were built on the cleared land as far as the present dam. Mr. Walmsley was a cattle fancier and kept two very fine bulls called "Tomato" and "Marquis". The Brothers ran their own quarry which was later taken over by the Borough Council. About 1901 they also had a Timber Mill and started a sideline to Willows Road, and Carden's bush the new Contractors being Cambie and W.Cornes. Walmsleys sold out to Captain Bill Radford who had a milk run, later moving to the rifle range. The old tram-line route became a scenic walk for people, on a Sunday afternoon, the regenerating bush and patches of kauri making it very attractive.

Then there was Hogan's bush east of the Freehold, which lay at the back of the Martha Hill. It headed into the big gully a mile from No. 1 and No. 2 shafts by tramline, lined with stacks of firewood. It was started in a similar manner to Walmsleys and contained a huge acreage. It can still be seen from the main street, along with traces of the old tramline. The timber was used mostly for firewood and "cribbing" (mine props, etc.). Three inclines were built to get the bush from almost the highest part of the range. In the winter it was so cold that frosts never thawed all day. Probably tawa, cedar, hinau were the principal trees used for the mine and of course rata was regarded as more valuable for household use as it generated heat equivalent to coal - which came much later. But rata was more difficult to cut, vines growing up with the main tree. (How often we used them for swings or sucked the sap from a cut end!)

Harleys bush was located just above the Freehold (between Hollis's and Hogan's). It was not large and was soon cut out. Transport of the timber was done by means of three wheeled trolleys with block wheels with no brakes on. An iron rod was used to stop one wheel and so stop the trolley. Consequently the hills were just like ploughed paddocks. As soon as the bush was cleared a family named Muir and two named Bull built their homes there. Then the place was known as Lower Bulltown and Upper Bulltown which reached right up to Slevin's Holding. Mr. Joseph Slevin who came to New Zealand in 1878 with the first batch of Vesey Stewart Settlers farmed in KatiKati till 1891 and later made his home at Bulltown. He also had a valuable property at the corner of Main and Kenny Street where he completed and opened the Waihi Public Baths in 1900. There were six bathrooms with hot and cold water and showers. The heating apparatus consisted of a high pressure water jacket with a 200 gallon tank for cold water. The baths were a great boon to residents, and particularly miners, in the days when domestic amenities were still a luxury. Mr. Slevin was a Borough Councillor from 1902 till 1910 and served Waihi well. His son Mr. Frank Slevin began his teaching career in 1910 at the Waihi East School and in 1932 was appointed Head Master of our District High School with its new Intermediate Department. He held very important positions after leaving Waihi and retired from the Headmastership of the Auckland Normal Intermediate connected with the Teachers' Training College.

There was also the Waitete bush which made history, not only for its firewood but for having a wide variety of timbers including some of the finest kauris ever taken from the district. It also yielded a quantity of kauri gum. Men prominent in these parts were: Toomey, Newbold, Tolmar, Dally, McMillan Bros., and Lever.

Finally, return to Slevins Bush, the site of our first home when we arrived in Waihi from Tauranga in 1896. It was situated on the bank of a stream, was built of slabs and shingles and had no lining, bathroom or wash-house. But the tuis and kaka, bell birds and pigeon used to waken us in the mornings and the beauty of it all lives with me still. Then came demolition, the sound of the axe, trees falling - even the stately nikau, whose leaves we tore off in order to eat the tender potential flower. Often the great leaves were used for decoration or for thatching. The other trees were used mostly for posts or for firewood - beautiful rata at 5/- per ton. My brother and I worked in the bush for a time helping to clear sections later sold yet we deeply appreciated its native nobility, then so close and, seemingly prolific, but now so far off.

"The Rata Vine of Maoriland so seldom do we see,

To be entwined within its arm, what bliss 'twood be to me.

So to this spot of Beauty rare, in dream I steal to see

The Rata Vine of Maoriland that once so lured me.

And from the scene of by-gone days, I pray I'll never part,

For the Rata Vines of Maoriland are turning round my heart."