Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 21, June 1977
By Owen Morgan
The history of the Waihi School of Mines is inseparable from the life story of my father A.H.V. (Viv) Morgan.
Viv Morgan was born at Green Island, Dunedin in 1879, the 7th child of a family of nine. He began his schooling at Taieri Ferry, and qualified 5th in N.Z. for a University Scholarship from the Otago Boys High School. In 1900 he graduated from the Otago University with an M.A. (Hons in Physics), and immediately travelled north to join his brother Percy (P.G. Morgan M.A.) as an assistant lecturer at the Waihi School of Mines. Percy had been the Director since the school was established in 1897, and when he left to lead the Geological Survey team in Wellington in 1905, Vivian, who was now lecturing at the Thames School of Mines, was recalled to become the director, a position he held for the rest of his life. There was always a strong brotherly bond between Percy and my father. In their large family it was Percy, the first to earn money who supported and made my father's university education possible.
Vivian was a top class athlete and played rugby and cricket for the Otago University and for Thames and Waihi, being one time captain of the Goldfield's Rugby team. His final triumph in rugby came in 1905 when he was chosen for the North Island country team. The late Dick Landy who often played with him told me that as well as being one of the nippiest five eights on the field, he used his head rather than his muscle and seemed to be able to anticipate where the next run of play would be. He also represented Waihi in rowing, tennis and hockey. He later played golf as a senior, and was captain of the club for some years.
In 1915, although now over 30 years old, he volunteered for service in the army, and spent 4 years as a radiologist on the hospital ship "Maheno". No doubt his knowledge of X rays and electronics obtained during pioneering experiments at the Thames and Waihi Schools of Mines put him in line for this work. He had already installed the X ray plant at the Waihi Hospital, and during the same year had surveyed and laid out the tennis court at the nurses' quarters so wide was his knowledge and interests. Another interest in his younger days, which was not so productive, was his urge to bet on the horses and he spent much time travelling to race meetings all over the country. Being a mathematician, he told me that he worked out a system which would make him rich. In those days dividends were paid only on the first two horses past the post, and by studying and tabulating results for 12 months over the whole country, he had found that the best bet was to back the 4th favourite in every race. Something went wrong with the system however, as he didn't make a fortune, and I received a lecture on the folly of following the horses.
On Christmas Day 1911 my father married Margaret (Maggie) the second daughter of Thomas Gilmour who was president of the School of Mines Council and the first manager of the Waihi Gold Mining Co, and one time Mayor of the town. His brother Percy had married Minnie, Maggie's older sister some years before.
It always seemed to me that my father's salary as director of the School of Mines was quite unrelated to his qualifications (he was receiving only £10 per week in 1945) but he was quite content to stay in Waihi where his friends and interests were at hand. However to supplement his income he travelled the length and breadth of N.Z. and once to Fiji to prepare independent reports for those large investors whom company promoters were endeavouring to convince that fortunes could be made from "wild-cat" ventures, be they gold and silver mines or any other mineral wealth. Geology was perhaps his favourite subject, and his opinion and advice were eagerly sought by both individuals and Government departments alike. His reports - there were dozens of them - were prepared with painstaking thoroughness and care. Sometimes my brother Tom and I were taken along to carry the samples from these "prospects" to be assayed and evaluated later in the School of Mines Laboratory. Another source of income was his spare time job of manufacturing dental casting gold alloys for sale to dentists all over N.Z. This business was established in 1921 in partnership with Fred Seelye and Charlie Sims, assistant lecturer and Secretary at the School of Mines, and was the foundation of the business which I have been privileged to carry on and expand into a full time occupation.
To teach the many involved technical subjects available to students at the School of Mines required infinite patience. Many of my father's pupils, having had to leave school at an early age because of the depression, had but a sketchy knowledge of mathematics and chemistry. But the brilliant student too was able to benefit from his knowledge, and teacher and student would often sit in the school library during a long afternoon until a particular problem in differential calculus or whatever was solved. The Waihi School of Mines became known throughout N.Z. and indeed throughout the mining world for the calibre of its graduates. His versatility gave Waihi the opportunity for tertiary education almost unique in a country town. Many school teachers and others, were able to take advantage of this personal tuition and continue or finish their university degrees while at Waihi. As the years passed, teaching to my father became an enjoyable hobby, and financial recompense was of secondary importance, if important at all.
As a contribution to the war effort he organised special classes in mathematics and navigation for prospective aircrew. Those who come to mind who attended these classes were Evan Mackie, "Honk" Miller and Jim Cullen, all of whom became famous airmen.
A modest man, never seeking the lime-light, my father lived a simple life, never desiring or possessing material wealth. Nevertheless he had a stubborn streak, and never suffered fools gladly, but this didn't detract from his ability to treat all men as equals and his apparent unlimited time for any who wished to seek his company.
My sister Margaret tells of the time when on her way to a cookery class at the Technical School (now the museum) she saw her father talking to a man outside the post office. Two hours later at mid-day when the class was over she passed again and there he was still talking to the same man. It must have been a day when there were no morning lectures. Because of shift workers at the mine, all lectures had to be repeated at night classes. The lecture rooms at the School of Mines were not warm and often during the winter terms my father would arrive home at 10 p.m. numb with cold. All the time I knew him he wore only one style of suit of light grey worsted material. When one wore out, he bought another exactly the same as the last.
During the war years his health gradually deteriorated, partly brought on perhaps by the worry of having his two sons away. He did however have five grandchildren by this time, and spent all his spare time with them. In 1945 he became ill with tuberculosis, a complaint which had dogged him since being invalided out of the medical corps in 1918. He survived for two more years however, being nursed at home by my mother who out-lived him by 17 years.