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Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 11, May 1969

By W.S.C. Nicholl.

(The manuscript used for this article was written in pencil by the late Mr Wm. Nicholl many years ago. - (undated). He had joined the Te Aroha Gold Rush in 1880 so now refers to his later activities in Waihi.)

His son, the late Mr George Nicholl, gave it to the Editor at the time of the Waihi Borough Jubilee (1962). Since then it has been compared with the "Autobiography of Wm. Nicholl" typed by Mr A.M. Isdale from the Microfilm M.S. in the Turnbull Library, Wellington. The reason for using the present copy is that it is more detailed concerning the Waihi area, being an important link between the prospectors early life (see Mr Isdale's article in our last journal) and his later experiences elsewhere. Ed.

I first saw the Waihi Plains from the crest of Te Aroha Mountain, I could see an outcrop reef on an isolated hill on the north side of the plains. After spending a week in the Waitawheta and Mangakino Valleys and getting no payable results I decided to go back to Te Aroha and pack my swag through to Waihi. I started next day at eight in the morning with a 67 lb. pack, and at 5 p.m. arrived at Mrs Read's hotel at Owharoa. The Farmer Brothers were working the "Smile of Fortune" Mine on Tribute and keeping 15 head of stamps bumping. I started next morning to visit Waitekauri where the Hollis Brothers had the Waitekauri Mine on Tribute and were doing well. Jim Corbett kept a pub and store combined. After having a run up the Waitekauri stream with my pick and dish, and finding only a few ounces of gold in the moss on the high reef, I decided to make straight to Waihi and put in a bit of time there. I bought 25 lbs. of flour some tea and sugar and a lump of fat bacon, (I am eating it yet).

I pitched my tent on the east side of Compston's hill and was wakened next morning by loud yells of "Sool him up" and saw the two Compston girls rounding up their cows. (One of those girls became Mrs. W. Hollis and the other Mrs W. Nicholl. An older sister had already married Mathew Kinsella of Waitekauri. Ed.)

Horatio Walmsley was settled at Walmsley's Creek about three miles east of Compstons's. These were the only settlers at the time. A few Maoris camped on the banks of the river seemed to be hard up for grub so I gave them about 2 lbs. of flour and the balance of the bacon. They remained warm friends of mine.

I had two mates with me - a little poodle dog, and a five chamber muzzle loading revolver that had seen service at Waterloo. I used it to shoot a pidgeon when I got meat hungry and when old "Waterloo" meant business the five barrels would go off together! I started with my pick and dish to explore the country and fetched up on the Waihi hills where I found reef outcrops. They were rooted about here and there by the early diggers who abandoned them. The quartz had a hungry watery look and some of it was as white as a hound's tooth. I tested the rubble on these outcrops in various places and never failed to obtain a trace of gold but not sufficient to be of any value. I started combing the drift of the reefs to find out whether they were shedding gold from any rich shoot they might contain.

It was a considerable distance to carry my samples to water to test them so I decided to cut up a sack into nine sample bags and sew and number them so that I could get along quicker. I spent a fortnight combing the western flank of Pukewa still and found rich sheds of gold in two places - one on the north end of the spur (richest), about 200 feet from McCombie and Lee's drive, and the other about 400 feet south. I cut the reef where it was shedding the best and obtained prospects that I estimated to be worth 4 ozs to the ton, so I staked out a claim of 5 acres and proceeded to the Thames on foot to report my find and secure the ground. I went to the Newspaper Office and told them the reef was 40 ft. wide where I cut it. I applied for a lease of 5 acres as a mining claim on the northern end of Pukewa Hill and named it "Martha". [See Journal 9: Tale of Two Families for a discussion of Martha Dulcibel Nicks - E]

Next I struck out on foot to walk to Coromandel, a distance of 50 odd miles from Thames, to acquaint my mate of my discovery and to get him to come to Waihi to man his share in the ground I was taking up. I did the trip in 11 hours by running and walking. After consulting my mate - (Bob Majury) he decided to leave by boat next day, as he thought he might knock up [seize up or collapse? – E] on the road if he tramped it. I couldn't afford to rest as I had to return to the claim as soon as possible. So I tied up the poodle thinking it might be tired of prospecting. He was a pest to me on a journey as I had to carry him most of the way, but when I tried to go without him he soon let me know who was boss. He let out such unearthly yells that he brought all the neighbours crying, "Shame, take the poor thing with you." I was beaten badly as he had the public sympathy.

So Topsy and I started on the road but the muscles of my right leg were a bit strained, and if there was ever a man suffered hell with pain it was me! I arrived at the Claremont Hotel on the Karaka Creek at Thames, at 1 o'clock in the morning. My sister's husband kept the hotel. She got me something to eat and drink and hot water to bathe my legs, which she rubbed well with salad oil. When I turned in I slept till 9 o'clock the next morning, and finding my legs pretty good, decided to start at 11 a.m. to walk to Waihi. I arrived there at four the next morning, pulled my boots off and rolled up in my blankets.

The sun was going down when I awakened so I boiled the billy, ate a lump of damper and went to sleep again. I was wakened up by my mate opening the tent door. He had got bushed and slept in the fern all night about 200 yards from my tent. The overgrown Maori track was easy to miss by a tenderfoot in the dark. When my mate was rested we went to the hill to see what had happened since I left. We found it well beaten with footprints and samples had been taken from my workings. I went round my pegs and found that one claim had been staked on the north boundary of the Martha by the Hollis Brothers of Waitekauri.

My mate and I agreed to open up the find a bit, and break out a crushing of 5 tons and get it dragged or packed to the Smile of Fortune Battery at Owharoa. Next day Mr T. Gilmour, John Patton, Bert Potter and Jack Nicks (my brother in law) appeared on the field. They were the first I told of my find and they staked a claim on my north boundary and called it the "Dulcie", and then left for Thames.

After the news got round Thames, Mining Magnates appeared on the scene. These gentry were Adam Porter, Jimmy Darrah, and Ewen Baily Fraser. They told me that their business was to try to get an option over the mine and build a battery of 15 stamps and two berdans, for third shares in the mine, providing we put a tunnel in through the reef at a depth of 50 feet below the surface. For this they were willing to advance £50. They selected the site for the tunnel and where the reef was to be cut, I was to go through the reef 80 feet south of the point where I struck the gold on the surface. We agreed to this and walked in to Owharoa and drew up the agreement and signed it at Mrs Reed's pub. Majury and I set off back to work next day. We were a good distance along the track before either of us spoke. Majury at last broke the ice by asking me what I thought of the whole business. "Well," I said, "they have licked us".

We started the tunnel next morning in earnest. It was good-going ground and we completed the 200 feet inside of a month. The reef at this place was 56 ft. 9 in. with a little gold on hanging and foot wall, the balance being flint. We sent word to the Thames that we had finished the drive, and Long Drive Walker came up to get samples and took them with him. A few days later he sent up word that he had chucked in the sponge. Now as this happy relief came I could see there was nothing for it but to get our 5 tons of quartz dragged or packed to Owharoa. I saw the Farmer boys and they agreed to crush it for me, and I also went to see Mr Marsh, a farmer at Turner's Hill and he agreed to drag it if it was possible. On my way back I bought 80 sacks from Hosey at Owharoa, made a pack of them and started for Waihi next day. We filled and tied them and Marsh came next day with two horses, a sledge and a trolly. He broke a trail through the fern with dragging his sledge along the old Maori track and finished getting the 30 sacks of quartz in to Owharoa in five days. Mr William Farmer attended to the treatment of the quartz and the result of the crushing was 5 ounces to the ton. We had 25 ounces of gold valued at £3.16.6 per ounce, this being the richest value bullion found in any reef in the northern goldfields. People doubted the truth of it and sent a yarn round Thames that I salted my crushing with sovereigns. I heard a group of men talking on Scrip Corner when I was on my way to the Bank with my gold, but did not know they were alluding to me.

I had walked through from Owharoa that day. The only road was from Puriri to Thames but from Paeroa there was only a bridle track along the foothills. After settling with the Bank I made my way to the Claremont Hotel, dog-tired. I drank a long beer and before my sister had finished cooking me a meal I was in good enough spirits to take on the return journey. I started off next morning as fresh as a lark for Waihi. When I fetched up at Owharoa that night my mate was there so I stayed in Mrs Reed's pub and had a real jolly time.

Next morning we started off for Waihi to get ready to break out a 50 ton crushing. We were cutting out a paddock to stow the quartz when we saw a man with an overcoat on and wearing long whiskers coming up the track towards our workings. He introduced himself as Carey Nicholl and told us he was there to try to get an option over the claim and asked if we would be willing to allow him two months to find the money to build a Battery and float a Company of £15,000 in £1 shares for a third interest in the mine. He went to Auckland but his agreement expired. He had done nothing and I hadn't heard of him since he left, so I decided to go to Auckland and hunt him up. When I found him he wanted an extension of time, but I objected and told him the business was off. I went to F.A. White to talk matters over with him and C.J. Stone. They agreed to erect a Battery of 15 stamps on similar terms to the others after White had visited the claim. If he approved of the prospect I could consider the bargain closed.

Flotation of a Company

White came to Waihi three days later, prospected the workings himself, and was well satisfied so we clinched the bargain. They went to work and formed a Company and appointed seven directors who were C.J. Stone, Wilson (of the Herald), Adam Porter, Bycroft, Firth, Majury and myself. We made a call of 1/- a share to start the mine. Balding was appointed to decide the Battery site and water race. He laid out the Battery site where the Mine Manager's house later stood. The gum tree growing in Mr Gilmour's garden was planted at the back-door of the old battery. By this time a bit of a rush had set in and about a dozen claims pegged out, five on the Martha Hill (taking its name from its prospecting claim). Mr Manukau Jones staked a claim on the southern end of the hill and bought the claim between him and the Dulcie. Mr John Leydon (auctioneer) staked on the north side of Messrs Hollis Bros., Mr John McCombie and Mr Andy Wilson staked on the Silverton Hills and Mr Alec Macky staked a claim on the south end of Amaranth Hill. [Union Hill ? – E]

Three days later after floating the Company a policeman appeared on the scene and handed me a summons. This was from my namesake - Carey Nicholl - to appear on a claim of £5,000 damages for breach of contract. The case was later heard in the Thames Courthouse and Carey Nicholl lost, his agreement to float a Company having expired. When it was settled Mr Adams started his contract and pushed it through as fast as possible. In a month's time a contract was let to drive a tunnel 400 feet to open up the lode in the Martha, and to rise 90 feet to the surface, cutting the reef below where I found the gold. It was intended to work the reef with an open cut from wall to wall, feed the battery with the best of it, and dump the rubbish over the tip.

The Thames County Council had let a contract to cut a road from the Waitekauri Road in to Waihi. A start had been made to build a Battery (by Mr T. Corbett) and Mr Phillips of Paeroa was erecting a store. Manukau Jones (famed Manager of the Manukau Bonanza at Thames 1868), had taken up a claim on the Southern end of the spur, started to work with six men and let a contract to erect a Battery with 20 head of stamps. About 20 claims had been staked out by this time and some of them had started work. Fred Hollis and Jim Smith had started a tunnel to cut the reef and were soon paddocking pay dirt, while Messrs Nicks, Patton and Potter were working the Dulcie claim.

Mr H. Adams, contractor for the Martha Battery rushed the work through and had the plant ready to start in six months. Everything in Waihi was now commencing to look like business, with high trestled water races, hoppers, tramways, battery, hotel and store. The Martha Battery was completed first and a spread was given at the opening. Two huge turkeys with about three inches of fat on their ribs, specially fed by Mr Adams' Negro cook were ready for the banquet. A lot of settlers from Katikati rolled up, among them Mr George Vesey Stewart and Captain Stewart. All the people in the district seemed to be there. The water was turned on by Mr Adams and the 15 stamps started to dance. After 5 minutes run I was satisfied the contract had been completed satisfactorily and took it over. After all the speeches they started devouring the turkeys and good things and everyone was happy.

Mr James Gribble was appointed the first mine and battery manager of the Martha. I handed him the keys and a start was made to crush. He ran the battery for five weeks and cleaned up with 111 ozs. of gold, but considered the battery was almost useless as it had no power to drive the stamps at a speed to crush the ore properly. So he resigned and I was made manager and kept the battery going at its slow pace for three weeks till I had to hang it up for want of water to drive it. I cleaned up for 150 ozs. of retorted gold which when sold to the Bank fetched £3.6.9 per oz. I acknowledge I picked the dirt; it wasn't the general average of what the whole reef was worth. I took a sample of the tailings that had been through the Battery and burnt them and rubbed them in a mortar with a pestle. When panned there was as good a prospect as before, I ran the ore through. Added to that water was getting less and the battery would only beat 39 blows a minute.

Closing Scenes

The drought continued for six months and no persons appeared to pray for rain. It was getting on my nerves. A scheme was suggested to amalgamate all the claims and remove the Battery to the Silverton site where there would be sufficient water to drive it. I thought it was a mad business as the other claims were worthless to us, but in the end I chucked in the sponge, seeing the amount of money that had been spent by the Shareholders and no return coming in. The Dulcie Shareholders held out, thinking the number of shares offered to them ridiculous so three claims joined and built a tram from the Martha Battery to connect with Manakau's tramway in order to convey our Battery to their site even though their claim was useless.

Mr J.H. Moore was appointed Manager of the new Company. Work was started on the Smith level and kept the Battery going on a rib of the reef on the footwall, in the Martha ground. Having worked the reef to the surface the mine was let on tribute to the Hollis Brothers.

Mr T.H. Russell then bought the Company out, put men onto cut through the reef on the Smith level and three shots unearthed rich ore which carried through to the hanging wall.

Nicks, Patton and Potter stuck to their claim till they were dead beat. They crushed 200 tons of quartz and it barely paid for the crushing. I felt sorry for those three men - the bravest I have ever met on the goldfields. The game is never worth a candle to the Prospector - Such is the history of my connection with old Waihi.

Note. (The Waihi Gold and Silver Mining Company was formed in London 1887, with the object of acquiring property in Waihi. Apparently this property originally covered the Union Hill area with its Rosemont, Amaranth and Winner claims. Eventually the new firm acquired additional ground. An Englishman, T.H. Russell arrived in 1889 and made some assays of the Martha Extended Company's claim. He decided that the tributers, Hollis and party were working on some rich ore and with this in mind he bought the mine and plant for £3,000. It was only in 1890 that the Waihi Company purchased the Martha Claim from Russell who received about £20,000 in paid up shares in the new company. The advent of the English company upon the field had meant the amalgamation of several claims though a few remained independent.)