Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 21, June 1977


The main purpose of this book is to provide a general historical record of Waihi's unique gold mining operations under one cover and in an accessible form, containing the principal facts. It is hoped that the various phases and categories into which this history has been subdivided, will provide a natural framework for the addition, from time to time, of any further information which may become available, and thus enhance its usefulness. It does not purport to be a social history.

After introducing the reader to the town of Waihi, the geology of the mines is discussed and the layout of the reef systems is shown in plans, sectional diagrams and photographs. Annual production figures showing a total production of nearly $60 million in gold and silver from 12 million tons of quartz over a period of 60 years, make this one of the world's great and longest lived gold mines.

After the layout of the mines and reefs has been discussed in some detail, in order to give the reader an insight into the nature of the deposits of gold-bearing quartz of which few laymen have any but the vaguest idea, the history of the development of the actual ore mining and treatment operations is discussed in a natural chronological sequence. This sequence consists of five periods from 1878, when the first discovery of gold in the Martha Reef was made, until 1952 when mining ceased.

The first period embraces the discovery of the Martha Reef by John McCombie and Robert Lee, the subsequent taking of their claim by Billy Nicholl and party, the formation of the Martha Extended Company by an Auckland group including Wilson of the "Herald", Bycroft, Firth and others and the unprofitable working of their claim for 8 years until it was taken over by the Waihi Gold Mining Company Limited of London in 1890.

The second period was that critical time between 1890 and 1894 when a new system of ore treatment which would allow for the recovery of a reasonable percentage of the gold, had to be worked out and the presence of sufficient ore to give a return over an adequate period, demonstrated. This was in fact the proving time of the mine. In 1890 [1888, the Waihi Battery – E] a new battery was started building near Union Hill and all sorts of devices for the pulverising, grinding and amalgamating the bullion including the use of drying kilns, experimented with at considerable expense until the percentage of recovery was raised from about 25% to 65% of the gold content of the ore. There were 30 stamps operating in 1891, a further 30 were brought in 1892 and yet another 30 in 1893, when the first dividend was paid and the viability of the industry established. At the same time work in the mine showed increasing quantities of good ore as the mine increased in depth, and a new reef, the Welcome, was discovered in 1894. In addition, doubly reinforcing the Company's success with the ore treatment problem, the new Cyanide Process which enabled 90% of the values to be saved then came into use.

The Company now had considerable reserves of ore but had no more cheap water power to increase the number of stamps in the battery and began to look about for means to expand production thus ushering in the third period, that of maximum construction on the surface which occupied the period 1894 to 1902 when the Victoria Battery at Waikino of 200 stamps and 10 miles of water races came into full operation. This, with the Union Battery of 40 stamps by the Ohinemuri River near the Victoria Bridge which became available on the taking over of that Company, then had a grand total of 330 stamps which ushered in the fourth period, that of maximum production culminating in the record production in 1909 of nearly $2 million worth of bullion, a total profit of over $1,200,000 and paid $858,000 in dividends on a share capital of between $800,000 and $1,000,000. During this fourth period of maximum production there was also great technological development in the metallurgical process and tube mills for fine grinding of the ore, which was necessary to expose the very finely divided gold to the action of the cyanide solution, were installed. Also in the mine the electric three-throw pumps and underground rock drills were installed. A start was also made to acquire the rights to 10,000 horsepower of water-power on the Waikato River at Hora Hora.

The fifth period in the history of the Waihi mine was the long stretch of 40 years of steady production subsequent to 1910 during which little change occurred. The most notable event being the Waihi Strike of 1912 which split the town in two and the intervention of two World Wars. The rate of production had dropped suddenly, after 1911 to about half its peak level owing to a falling off in values necessitating the adoption of the most economical level of production and the elimination of the batteries at Waihi. In its long history not one year passed after 1892 in which the mine failed to pay a substantial dividend and at one stage the shares stood at a premium of £12.

The techniques which were developed and the various types of equipment which were used in mining operations including the methods of shaft-sinking, stoping, rising, driving and stope-filling and the winding, pumping, air- compression, ventilation, transport and power generation equipment are described in detail as are also the surface ancillary back-up services.

Likewise the metallurgical process including the huge variety of equipment such as crushers, stamps, conveyors, ore-feeders, elevators, hydraulic classifiers, samplers, tube mills, concentrators, hydraulic separators, and vats, thickeners, conical tanks, vacuum filtration plant, vacuum pumps and solution filters, precipitators and the chemical and physical aspects of the process and the methods of operation are also described. The ancillary services such as electrical and mechanical maintenance of plant, locomotives and machinery, are also dealt with.

The administrative organisation, the mining laws, health and welfare and industrial relations are all dealt with in relation to Waihi mining operations.

The structure of the Waihi Gold Mining Co. Ltd and its financial organisation is explained. A chart shows the structure of the mine organisation and the relationship of the various individuals to the organisation and their functions are described. These ranged from the Mine Superintendent through the Mine Manager, Battery Superintendent, Mechanical Engineer and Chief Clerk to the various foremen, shift bosses and operators, the winding engine drivers being directly responsible to the Mine Manager. On the clerical side tally clerks stationed at the main travelling shafts checked and weighed all the ore coming from the mine and credited it to the appropriate co-operative contract parties who received a four-weekly statement. The tally clerk also kept a record of all time worked. Samples of ore coming from the various stopes were assayed regularly so that the value of the ore and the cost of winning it was known at all times as well as the quantity available.

The co-operative contract system used for many years at the mine proved a highly economical method of operation and made for good industrial relations.

The operation of the Mining Act with regard to the grant of mining rights through the Warden's Court, Government inspection and provision of rules for safe working, (always an important aspect in mining) are explained. The provision of changehouses, a dressing station and rescue facilities are discussed and the nature and effects of the disease of Miner's Phthisis is described. Industrial relations are discussed with a brief reference to the cause and effects of the Waihi Strike of 1912.

A chapter on life in the mining days describing the living conditions and general atmosphere at the various phases of the mining history is provided.

A glossary of mining terms used at Waihi is provided and an appendix containing a list of persons having significant connections or influence on mining together with brief sketches and photographs of them is also provided.