Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 10, October 1968
BEFORE HIS WAIHI STRIKE
By A. M. ISDALE, B.A.
William Nicholl, born in Ireland circa 1852, came to New Zealand with his parents at the age of 10. His step father took him to the Thames gold-field in 1868 six months after it opened, when he was 16 years old, and was introduced to mining by being hired to "man" a claim. (Claims then had to have 3 men per acre, and a boy of over 14 would do.) That did not last long, and he could not get the other usual boy's job of washing the gold-catching "blankets" in a battery, so he went fossicking, and found a rich specimen by a mine, in the Kuranui Creek. His step-father gave him a shilling, for gold-quartz worth several pounds, and told him to get more. He fossicked around mine dumps till the Tokatea rush at Coromandel in l869 caused a demand for men - or boys - to "man" claims.
Two pick sharpeners, Quinton and Nasmyth, got him to help them carry picks and taught him pick sharpening. When the claim he was on closed down, he took it on tribute, showing he had already learned a good deal about mining. He also went further afield prospecting, with the two pick men.
Then he heard of a new strike on the Tokatea, and went off to get a job, but found gold for himself where he set up his camp, when dipping his billy into the stream. So he pegged, bringing in his pick mates and others in the French Republic claim, recorded on 31-1-1871. After some good results, they amalgamated with the neighbouring Bismark (1870-71 was the time of the Franco-Prussian War) and formed a company, which got £70,000 worth of gold in 5 or 6 years. He recorded, "I stayed in Coromandel for 10 years and found many good patches of gold amounting to thousands, but had not learned to say no .... One of my claims paid me £40 a week for two years" (a fabulous amount then) "and when it was worked out I was £30 in debt. I did not spend the money, but others spent it for me." In 1875, for instance, with the opening of the Ohinemuri on March 3, he grub staked for £25 the last-named of three prospectors, Mick Marriman, Tom Corbett and James Atkinson. They looked at the Waitekauri, and went on and "found the Waihi reef system, spent a few days finding gold but not in payable quantities, so reported the reef as buck." This agrees with contemporary newspaper reports, such as one of March 5, l875, of reefs being examined on the Waihi Plains, but dismissed as unpayable.
At the end of 1880, Nicholl, no longer on good gold at Coromandel, but a seasoned and skilled prospector and miner, pricked up his ears and picked up his swag when he heard of the opening of the Te Aroha field. He found there more climbing then gold, and finally reached a high point on the flank of Mt. Te Aroha from which he could look across the Waihi Plains and see the distant reef which his pick was finally to set on the way to becoming one of the great gold mines of the world.
"The Thames to-day and as it opened 60 years ago." autobiography of William Nicholl, MS in Turnbull Library, Wellington, microfilm available. Own copy typed by self, with spelling normalised to give his true intention as if spoken. (Obituary article on William Nicholl, from same microfilm).
We called on the valuable services of Mr. Isdale, Sec. of the Thames His. Soc. to contribute this introductory article on Wm. Nicholls, whose autobiography dealing with his Waihi activities will be published in our next Journal. He also re-outlined early events re: the Ohinemuri Goldfields.