Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 12, October 1969
By ROSS DREADON, M.B.
(The story continues from the arrival of Crewe at "Golden Falls" (Maratoto ?? ) and his decision to try to reach the east coast across the hills.) Ed. [see Journal 11: Narrative of Edward Crewe - E]
An hour's climb brought us to the top of the dividing range of the Peninsula; following this for a short distance in a northerly direction, we then turned off along and down a spur leading easterly. After another hour's fast walking we emerged from the bush on to open fern ranges, and still being on high ground we got a fine view for many miles on either hand, whilst the ocean lay before us. The shore was perhaps five miles distant, where there was a spacious harbour; on our left hand we observed a fair sized creek having, as it became tidal lower down, a fringe of mangroves on either bank. "We shall readily find a snug hiding place for the boat in amongst these mangroves, for round by sea we must come, and you, Seth will have to take up your lonely abode at the "Golden Falls".
The following day we sailed for Auckland in the whale boat and the next day arrived in town after a good run across the Firth. We left in the evening at the top of high water and the next day after rounding Cape Colville, about sundown came to an anchor between the mainland and an islet. The following morning there was very little wind until at high water, at 11.30, a breeze sprang up from the west and we could mostly lay our course. Towards night, concluded we were near to our destination, so pulled ashore into a bay where we beached the boat and had a good supper, slept in a tent rigged up with the boat sail. The next day it was about mid-day when we ran into the harbour we had observed from the edge of the forest. Steering up the harbour we lost the wind, then taking to the oars, we pulled up into a creek about three miles, where we camped for the night. Next day, at high water we forced a sinuous way through the mangroves and finally landed about two miles from where we camped the previous evening. We landed our cargo which we made up into four convenient pikau, two of which we carried inland to the Golden Falls that same afternoon. The following day we returned to the creek and then set back again to the Golden Falls with the balance of goods required for Seth to start house-keeping. We pitched upon a spot near the fall on which to build a house and by night had nearly completed a "whare" six foot by ten.
Next day we finished the house and knocked off some pieces of quartz rich with gold, parts of the reef that stood out from the softer rock and were easy to get at; these were reduced by hammering off such portions as seemed to contain the least gold, until by this rough and ready process we had twenty pounds of specimen, one fifth of which was good gold. In the morning, when we came by daylight to examine the pieces we had broken off, we found so much waste that we concluded to rig up some kind of crusher by which we hoped to save the greater portion of the precious metal. We set off for the coast where we had left the boat taking with us the gold we had prepared over night. We found the boat as we had left her, and I bade a rather anxious goodbye to Seth and set sail. During the early part of the night I made slow progress but when morning broke I looked round to see my position and said "there are the Mercury Islands". On arrival in Auckland I ordered certain iron work at Mr. Bourne's foundry to enable me to set up a small machine to crush quartz, of which the following is a list:-
A casting, cheese shaped, six inches, in diameter by two inches thick.
A piece of wrought iron work like a monster pump tack, the head thereof five inches in diameter by two inches thick, the shank or nail part one and a half inches square by nine inches long.
One ring four inches in diameter, two larger rings ten inches in diameter, two pieces of bar iron, twelve inches long by three inches square turned up for three and a half inches at one end.
All these I nailed in two boxes, one marked "Flat Fig Tobacco" and the other "Best Sydney Soap". I did not want prying folk at the mill to see and wonder for what on earth this iron work was intended. I also bought at Gundry's, the chemists shop, all the quicksilver he had to spare, namely three pounds, at 7/6d per pound. I wrote to a commission agent, in Sydney, to send me a more considerable quantity. Having got all my traps and some provisions on board, we set sail just while the 58th regiment were beating a tattoo. On the Monday we arrived at the mill and thereafter as often as possible I paid Seth Fearnley a visit at his hut at the Golden Falls, taking him each time small parcels of such things as he required, and bringing back on my return very much gold in the form of rich specimens. Four weeks from the time of my return from town our primitive crushing machine was completed. For the prime mover of our machine, we made a "flutter wheel". About ten feet from the Falls we fixed two heavy spars on which we built the bearings of the flutter wheel. The wheel itself we made out of a piece of timber ten feet long by one foot in diameter. First, driving on a ring and a gudgeon into each end - and nicely hewing the shaft round and true, into which we then mortised holes, and drove in spokes or arms standing out 8 inches, to which we fixed boards - there were 6 of them - the floats or buckets of the water wheel. These boards were only 5 feet long, the other end of the shaft of the wheel being devoted to two "cams". The water was led in a flume and guided onto the near side of the wheel, on which it fell ten feet, causing the wheel to make fifty revolutions in a minute. At the end of the wheel shaft where the cams were, and directly below them, was fixed on end a log 5 feet long by 3 feet in diameter, one foot of its length being let into the rock, so making it stand steady and secure. In the upper end of this log was chiselled out a perpendicular hole 6 inches in diameter, and 2 feet 9 inches deep, and near the bottom of this was cut a window 6 inches square. The cheeze shaped casting was put in the bottom and the window closed in with finely perforated sheet-iron. The stamper was ten feet long, and kept in its proper and perpendicular position by wooden slides; a strong tooth of hard wood stood out from the stamper and the hole was so arranged that on the flutter wheel being set in motion the cams on the wheels shaft acting against this tooth lifted the stamper sixteen inches and let it drop twice upon every revolution of the water wheel. The piece of wrought iron, like a very big tack, formed the stamp head.
Leading from below the opening or window of the stamper box, we made a shoot with ripples and a copper plate. The former intended to catch such stray particles as gold, amalgam, or quicksilver, as might escape from the stamper box, and preparing the latter for a like purpose, by cleaning off with nitric acid and immediately silvering, by pouring on a small quantity of quicksilver. Spreading some quicksilver and a handful or two of specimens, the size of road metal, into the stamper box, and turning in also a fine stream of water, we started the machine - crash, stamp, crunch, bang - dirty water squirts through the holes in the perforated sheet iron, runs down the shoot, over the ripples, over the newly silvered copper plate, over a piece of blanket and away. We lost much fine gold, no doubt, but saved enough to satisfy ourselves. After one day's work with the machine, or when all the quicksilver possessed had become thickened by amalgamation, we would "clean up", collecting the quicksilver, more or less in the form of amalgam. This is poured onto a chamois leather, placed over a basin or dish, then dexterously gathering in together the corners and edges of the chamois and tightly squeezing and wringing the leather until every particle of "liquid silver" is forced through the pores and falls into the dish below, the amalgam remains semi-solid behind. When retorted, about one-fifth of the amalgam will be gold which desideratum is attained by placing the amalgam in a cast iron retort, luted with clay around which a roaring fire is made, whilst a pipe leading from out the retort, and having a convenient length and bend, has its outlet immersed in a bucket of water, where the mercurial fumes condense and the gold remains, not very pure but marketable.
In this form, from time to time, I received much gold from Seth, when I would further improve its appearance in quality by melting in a crucible at my forge mill. Having always iron work connected with the machinery on hand for repair, I was able to remain at work myself ever so late at night without causing surprise to any of my men. Seth never worked the machine when the wind would have carried the thump of the stamper in the direction of the mill, or of the native settlements, or even on a still day when the noise might have been heard by some wandering native gum digger. Instead he always chose boisterous weather, or when the wind was strong from the west, to set the stamper going.
We had worked our reef, and had collected much gold, but had not hit upon any plan to turn it into cash. Perhaps, many of my readers may think it is a very simple thing to sell 14,349 ounces 8 dwt 18 grs of gold, which was the total weight won by us from the leader at Golden Falls. At this time it was arranged between Seth and myself that I should take a voyage to Sydney, and then sell a small portion of our gold; this I managed without much trouble, and after four weeks absence returned with £768 and a tour with all my expenses. After Seth bad been located five months in his little house near the Fall, he began to find difficulties of mining continually on the increase. The rock about the leader had always been hard to work and the quantity of quartz to be got out in the course of a day only small, but that was of minor consequence when the return was fifty ounces to the ton of stone. But as we proceeded the stuff became less and less rich, indeed, it often now happened that for days together, we never saw the "colour". At the same time, the leader began to dip in its course, necessitating an amount of labour to follow it quite beyond our powers. At length disgusted with the poor return our crushings at this time yielded, we determined to abandon the mine.
Before doing so, however, we burnt all the woodwork of our machine, put a couple of shots each containing a pound of powder into the face of the fall, which was to some extent obliterated and finding a suitable rata tree of great size, we hid away up aloft in its branches our iron work and tools. The last work of destruction, the burning down of his house, was left for Seth to complete the following day whilst I, returning to the mill, had the whale boat got ready, and setting sail by myself down the river, I landed at a spot eight miles from the mill. Here I was joined by Seth, with a heavy swag of gold on his back, being the remaining portion we had not previously conveyed to Auckland. On our voyage up to town we made a fair and equal division of the property. Arriving in town, I quietly stored my share at a friend's house, packing the little yellow bars in several large tin cash boxes and then stowing these away in two great wooden chests and a portmanteau that I had brought from England with me. I gradually wound up my affairs, disposing of the mill and my schooner. Determining to see Sydney before leaving the Antipodes, I took my passage there in the brig Moa, having with me, besides my ordinary luggage and a case of curiosities, my 2 big chests with gold. I also had a bill of exchange on a bank in London for £1,000 and 50 pounds in ready money. Whilst in Sydney I sold to one of the banks a small portion of my gold for the sum of £500, which I received in sovereigns and carried away in two small bags. Hardly daring to venture upon the sale of a greater quantity, I determined upon taking the remainder to England. I felt quite confident that no great finds of gold would take place within a radius of 10 miles of the Golden Falls, though I am still very sure that under that particular spot of rock lies a fabulous amount of precious metal. The bearings of the place and full directions I have fairly written out. The manuscript, enclosed in a sealed packet, is bequeathed, in my Will, to my next of kin. Gold will be rediscovered there - at Golden Falls and perhaps in other places - in masses that will utterly upset the value of the coined money".
Is this story fact or fiction. Did William Baines, in fact, in the year 1854 at a time when the Coromandel field had languished and 13 years before the Thames Gold Field opened, discover a rich pocket of gold which with the most primitive equipment yielded over 14,000 ounces of gold. In the first chapter of the book he states: "I wish to impress upon my reader the perfect veracity of this my narration." In the preface to the book he states that he was at the Antipodes 18 years from the year 1850 and it is of interest that a William M. Baines who may well have been the same person, was present on the Thames Goldfield soon after it was opened and started the first battery there. This battery, known as the Great Expectations, was situated on Kuranui creek. It consisted of four wooden stampers shod with iron driven by a donkey engine and worked for a short time before being superseded by more powerful machinery. On November 21, 1867 William Baines wrote to the New Zealand Herald as follows:- "Perhaps it may be interesting to the Auckland public to hear how the first quartz turned out. The stone, one and a half tons, was from a poor leader in Mr. Campbell and party's claim, called "the poverty" - no gold to be seen in it although some of the adjoining leaders in the same claim are very rich. The result was 6½ ounces of retorted gold. I may add that we are using Bay of Islands coal for the engine and find it answers admirably". It is of further interest that the first discovery of payable gold on the Thames Goldfield by Hunt was made in a reef crossing the Kuranui creek in much the same way as Baines describes in his own claim.
The Auckland Institute and Museum copy of the Narrative of Edward Crewe has an unsigned comment attached which states that it appears that William Mortimer Baines and Drummond Hay ran a sawmill in the vicinity of Hikutaia in the early 50's and that Baines stayed there for a year or two. This letter further states that it would appear that his Golden Falls was at the head waters of one of the nearby streams flowing into the Waihou, or the Onetai; less likely the Omahu. Such a course, it is stated, would carry him to the right vicinity to look down into Whangamata Harbour not far distant, with the largish stream of the Wharekawa on his left as indicated. At this point I will leave my readers to sift the evidence, to decide whether the story is fact or fiction, to locate for themselves Baines' reef and in their search for fabulous treasure I wish them luck.