Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 19, June 1975


The "Deed of Cession" was made officially between His Excellency the Marquis of Normanby, Governor of New Zealand and the Chiefs and people of the Ngatitamatera, natives of the Colony of N Z. The document in true legal form provided that the native Chiefs and people "did demise, lease, grant and assure" unto the Governor for gold mining purposes, within the meaning of "The Gold Fields Act, 1866" all that piece of land containing an area of 132,175 acres or thereabouts known as the Ohinemuri Block, together with the coal and other metals and all rights of way and watercourses. (The block was defined in terms of land marks not easily followed today.)

The Deed provided that any person mining for gold should be the holder of a Miner's Right costing £1, and must pay a rent or royalty. (There were also dispensations concerning the cutting of trees). All rents and royalties other than registration fees were to become the property of the native owners of the land. But first, provision was made for repayment to Colonial Treasury, the sum of £15,000 which had already been advanced by James Mackay.

Holders of Miner's Rights who desired to acquire Goldmining Leases or Agricultural Leases could do so on terms and conditions prescribed by regulations. Residents of townships that were anticipated to rise were under obligation to pay annually or for business purposes £5, and for residence £1. Certain areas however were not subject to the terms of the Deed, being reserves for native occupation.

Prior to the opening of the Goldfield one of the areas reserved by the Government was a piece of land on the Karangahake Mountain measuring 500 x 300 feet. The intention was to award this reserve to the party who had first discovered gold in the district. Several men and parties made application for it and after hearing evidence, James Mackay awarded this "Prospectors Claim" to John Thorp and party - later Smyth and Coleman amalgamated with them.

In the last week of February after the signing of the "Deed", various regulations were drawn up and documents printed. Notices were placed in the Thames Newspapers stating that the "Ohinemuri Goldfield" would be opened on 3rd March 1875.

When James Mackay arrived at Te Kahakaha on 1st March he reported that although there were many campers no provision had been made for the official function, but he managed to get a large tent erected on the flat topped hill, (now known as Mackaytown). This tent was 50 ft. in length and 20 ft. wide, a long counter to serve as a desk was along the whole front with spaces between the upright poles to regulate numbers. Two feet in front of this was a strong fence to prevent pressure on the clerks who were to issue hundreds of "Miner's Rights" to impatient men, who were tired of waiting.

Mackay himself was very busy supervising roads and surveys but reported that some people had already given him money, and lists of applications before his arrival. The Warden's clerk McKenzie was given the duty of receiving further applications and preparing "rights" which had to be signed by the Warden.

On the evening of 2nd March, Mr. Allom, Receiver of Gold Revenue arrived with Captain Fraser Warden of the Thames Goldfield who had been appointed to take charge of the official function the next morning. They were all engaged in making out "miners' rights" till nearly 3 a.m. as these were to be issued at 10 a.m. after the Declaration of the Opening of the Goldfield. It was understood by all that there was to be no pegging out of Claims before this time. (The Historical Society holds a Copy of the "Ohinemuri Miners' Rights Inquiries Committee which proves that one of the Clerks did issue a bundle of Rights several hours before the appointed time, thus enabling several miners to "peg out" illegally. Ed.)

Just before 10 a.m. on 3/3/75, Mr. Mackay mounted the Counter and wished the assembled Miners well. He said he stood there as Agent for the Government to hand over to Captain Fraser the position of Warden and the Proclamation of the Goldfield and control of it. Captain Fraser then addressed the Miners read the Declaration and announced that "Reserve B" formerly Te Kahakaha, was now to be known as Mackaytown and was reserved for residence and business sites.

A lively record of the event appeared next day in the "Thames Advertiser", a leading Newspaper at that time. It was actually written on the field by Joshua Jackson, Official Correspondent who had been a Sharebroker and Mining Agent at Thames since 1869. His excellent descriptions of developments at Karangahake and Waitekauri (and later at Waihi) had the value of standard works. He made use of Carrier Pigeons to forward his despatches and travelled from camp to camp over rough bush tracks. The following are excerpts from his story:

2/3/75. Landing at the Puke, I struck out for the Paeroa. Everybody had a swag but me and I carried a box with two gentle doves. - - After a brief stay I marched on to Mackaytown whose tents were shining white against the dark green fern. - - Beyond Mitchell's place (near Cemetery) the Ohinemuri stream had to be crossed twice. - - At Mackaytown, on a ridge, the primitive tent is the principal dwelling place but the sound of the hammer is all around and shops and hotel are doing a good trade. Everyone is dirty as large spaces of fern have been burned off and men with horses intend to sleep in the open with their ropes under them.

3/3/75. To see the best of the fun I started this morning for the "Prospectors' Claim", carrying my precious pigeon. Along the route I saw familiar faces - - groups of men sitting all over the hills with pegs in their hands waiting for their mates to arrive with the official "rights" I sat down and began my pigeon-gram.

9.20 a.m. - From this spur the Warden's Marquee can be seen and the crowd around. (Before us is the Ohinemuri stream joined by the narrow gorge of the Waitawheta.

9.50 a.m. - Serg. Elliott and four constables have arrived.

10.07 a.m. - We can see clouds of dust - horsemen riding here - flying over the ranges - men are running to meet them - more men on foot.

10.20 a.m. - Men pegging - a few quarrels. Shall now send off my pigeon. On the one side the rough huddle of the hills; on the other the multitudinous tents of Mackaytown. Last night men who intend pegging at Waitekauri went out after dark.

John McCombie - who became a Mine Manager - later wrote a stirring account of the day. -- "Imagine 600 men starting out together from one place at a given signal, the track leading down a steep hillside, across a mountain torrent and thence up an abrupt incline, the goal being the vicinity of the Prospectors' Claim, round which a forest of pegs soon reared their heads".

But the "Rush" was to end in anti-climax. The whole of the claims marked out on that particular day were located along the foothills of the mountain and developments soon proved that the rock was disturbed to such an extent as to make mining both difficult and hazardous. At this stage the goldfield proved a disappointment and by 8/3/75 over 300 miners had left the district. Two hundred men's ground was registered by 12/3/76 but only a few parties were at work notably Dan Leahy and McLiver who were situated just below the Prospectors' Claims which was the only one to work continuously for some time.

On 24/3/75 it was reported that 80 lbs of ore was sent to Thames for treatment and by 16th June the main adit was in 150 feet.

The Banyan Claim at Mackaytown came to naught - but the surveyed sections remained the residential area even though the "main street" was almost deserted. Many hastily constructed permanent buildings were empty, though Hotels still catered for wayfarers en route to Waitekauri or Tairua. The present road to Karangahake was non-existant but opposite Mackaytown was a Ford across the river and the surveyed Township of "Raratu", or Lipseyville as it was commonly called because of Mr. Lipsey's store. A track from there led to the mines.

On 25/7/1875 a meeting of delegates from "All Nations", "Prospectors" and "Mazeppa" Companies was held at Thames to discuss amalgamation and the erection of a Battery. Hence the Karangahake Goldmining and Quartz Crushing Company was formed; Managers being: Cornes and Coutts. Difficulties were tremendous and a year passed before machinery was installed, only to find that the process was not able to deal with the type of ore being obtained although its assay value was high. It was reported that 5 tons of ore was carried out to the Karangahake Battery on men's backs because the country was too rough for horses, and subsequently that amalgam from the "plates" had to be conveyed to the Queen of Beauty Battery at Thames where it was retorted and then refined at the National Bank's premises. The meagre reward for the miners concerned was so disheartening that most of those who had not already moved to the new Tairua field or to Waitekauri, drifted south to Kumara. This was the end of the first Karangahake Gold Rush -- but it was not the end of the story. A ray of hope lay in the fact that in 1876 Mackaytown had the distinction of opening the first School on the actual Goldfield. Admittedly it was just in a shed lent by Adam Porter but 26 children were taught there "part time" by Mr. John Ritchie who had opened a private school in Paeroa in 1875. Also there was "Road work" for unemployed miners and 50 acre blocks of leasehold land for agricultural purposes had been made available in the Ohinemuri district. For the few dedicated prospectors there was always "hope" - and this eventually materialised.

...To be continued. [See Journal 20: Karangahake Goldfield (continued) - E]