Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 10, October 1968
By CYRIL GWILLIAM
X (Editor's Note)
X (It is on record that Waitekauri Prospectors had already thoroughly explored their ground before the official opening of the Ohinemuri Goldfields in 1875, and were confident of the measure of success which was achieved within a few years. The story of those early days was recorded in the first issue of our Journal in 1964. It is now several years since our Historical Societies visited the area under the expert guidance of Messrs Charles Mann, James Kinsella, and Cyril Gwilliam. Many new members have joined since that time, and in this issue we are pleased to publish Mr. Gwilliam's article on the famous old Waitekauri Battery shown in our illustration!)
My father gave to me his idea of the physical geology of the Waitekauri Hill; that it split apart and fell in certain directions; the lie of reefs and their angles of inclination; their proportions of gold and silver which pointed to the fact that a particular reef originally belonged to such and such a lode or mother reef.
Some of the active mines in Waitekauri which had their own Batteries or treatment plants, "Old Waitekauri" treated its own ore and that of [gap here – word missing?] from the main "hill"; ore from the early finds at Golden Cross, which ore was trucked by horse tram for some miles. "Dunbar" and "Alpha" also had small amalgamation plants.
"Maoriland" had a treatment plant of its own but its reef system was not a "true" reef - mostly lying almost horizontal and much broken. It was rich in patches and was classed as "refractory" and difficult to treat. "Scotia" was similarly patchy and "broken" but easier of treatment.
"Jubilee" - beyond the School Hill, was driven on for hundreds of feet at creek level but as the ore was heavily impregnated with copper it was considered as not being feasible to work. Moreover, ventilation was difficult on account of the length of "drive" (1,000 ft.). Had a shaft been sunk the story of "pay ore" could have been different.
"New Waitekauri" was a new company formed in late 1906 and did much exploration work in the Queen, Smithy and Horn levels, built an aerial tramway and a new horse tramway to reduce long road haulage. The water-race and battery were repaired and much ore was treated for some years with 20 head of stamps running three shifts.
"Grace Darling" was a mine some two miles up the valley. This had its own treatment plant, and its main drive connected through the range to the Komata workings. This plant ceased working about 1909. Golden Cross was a township about four miles up the valley from Waitekauri. Here there was, prior to 1908 quite a sizeable Battery which received its ore mainly from 2 shafts sunk on either side of the stream. These were the only shafts of importance sunk within the basin. "St. Hippo" sank a shaft also but this was really on the Maratoto fall of the valley. "Golden Cross" had several good "lodes" the best being the 'Fiery Cross' reef.
The large battery shown in many old photographs was erected during 1876 following very rich finds close to the summit of Waitekauri Hill and several veins in close proximity within an easily workable distance.
The first treatment plant of note was an amalgamation one, by which the finely crushed ore was water flowed over copper "plates" or lightly sloping tables coated with mercury. The mercury caught and held the free gold together with other metals such as silver lead etc., whilst the sands ran off either into a water course or were "paddocked" in nearby depressions either to build up and reclaim a further area for subsequent buildings, or for possible re-treatment. It was early realized that the percentage of gold extraction depended upon two main points - the amount carried away within the grains of sand, and the greater loss of free gold slipping from the "plates" through carelessness of the operator, or by reason of the mercury becoming "sick" and unable to retain the gold through contamination by base metals.
Subsequent assays of sands from these pre-cyanide treatment plants have in cases given values of up to ten pounds per ton of sand, "When it was realized that the amount of ore available was beyond the capacity of this first treatment plant, the large battery was erected containing 40 head of stampers. It was proposed that the ore from the Waitekauri basin would be treated here, and a tramway was excavated to bring down the stone from Golden Cross where rich reefs were found. This track is still in evidence high on the left of the present road up the valley.
This battery was for some years operated as a dry-crushing one, that is, the ore broken out from the reefs was dried out in great kilns excavated in the hillside above and then passed through the breakers and to the stampers in a completely dry condition. Then followed amalgamation on a large scale with the sands paddocked in a deep gully with the idea of re-treatment by the cyanide process if this (at that time a new treatment being tried out) fulfilled the percentage of gold extraction claimed (90% as against at best 60% under the old method).
Golden Cross, no doubt finding it uneconomical to transport its large amount of ore so far by horse tram to Waitekauri, built its own battery on its own mining site. Dunbar Maoriland and Alpha companies did likewise, and this left the large battery with only its own mine and small parcels of ore from private prospectors and tributers to feed its mill.
The failure of the Old Company to explore its reefs at depth by sinking, and its loss of revenue from its neighbours led to the uneconomic working of its own large mill and closing down at the turn of the century.
Waitekauri was not worked out - it was starved out by the shortsightedness of its overseas promoters.
The Battery was driven by the most economical power known to man - water power, and this was to be had in plenty and close at hand. The great water-wheel, conspicuous in old photographs, was designed and built on the site. Its timbers were cut and fashioned from the great kauris abounding nearby, and every piece of it was weighed and balanced before assembly.
It was twenty-eight feet in diameter, had an eight foot width, with twin vane sections, and when first set in place upon its nine inch shaft and bearings, could be revolved by one man.
It was driven by overshot method by water brought down by race from a small dam half a mile up-stream, and the flow of water into the vanes was regulated by doors in the race operated by a geared hand-wheel, so that the speed could be altered as desired.
On the inner rim of the circumference was fixed a ring-gear similar to that on the fly wheel of a motor car except that in this case the teeth looked inwards and drove a pinion which in turn powered the rest of the machinery in the mill. This water wheel worked for some years and was superseded by a twin Pelton wheel which worked on pressure of water rather than weight.
To gain the pressure needed a small creek more than half way up the Golden Cross road was dammed and a water race excavated right down to the spur above Corbett's house (later Cowan's).
From this point via a penstock and three foot pipeline down the spur across the river and into the Pelton wheel chamber where a variable nozzle controlled the speed.
Some little time after operations ceased with the old company, a new company called the New Waitekauri Gold Mining Company was formed (1906).
Following upon five or six years of disuse much repair work had to be done in the battery, along the water-race, and the mine cleaned out and re-timbered.
The new company's manager, the late Ben Gwilliam was in charge of operations and began by treating the old company's tailings and recovering the gold lost in and around the old smelting rooms. From these there was obtained sufficient to cover the cost of the first six month's expenses in regard to getting the mine and the Battery into working order. An earlier article describes how this was accomplished. [Journal 3, Gold: Where it is, There it is - E]
The New Company died out in 1911, once again through the hesitancy to explore at depth. The gold is there but the energy to get it went out with the passing of the pioneers.
After thought - Has N.Z. drifted into a race of wage-drawers rather than wage-earners which our forebears were?