Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 26, November 1982
by CYRIL GWILLIAM
Ben arrived in New Zealand 1887, settled in Lower Hutt and began work in Wellington apprenticed to a firm of cabinet makers who had the contract of making the Venetian blinds for the Government Buildings (N.Z. largest wooden building). Wages 2/6 per week - just covered rail fares Hutt to Wellington. At end of apprenticeship he began work as butcher boy for Devereaux's in Lower Hutt first with deliveries per horse and basket. He worked his way through complete butchery business and moved on to Wairarapa and went through all the stages of cattle and sheep work on Brancepeth Station (Riddifords). In 1898 came marriage, and Ben and Mary moved up to Whangamata which at that time could only be reached by sea from Auckland. Their first home was a few miles up the Valley from Whangamata at the site of a new mine being opened, the "Luck at Last", Ben's first job? Building a water race for the Battery, followed by pick and shovel work and hammer and hand drilling of the mine tunnel. [see Journal 1: Luck at Last - Whangamata – E]
Their first home comprised four poles in the ground, the walls of hessian or scrim, earth floor, nikau leaf roof, cooking gear - camp oven and enamel plates and mugs. Next move was to Karangahake and to a real house - 2 rooms and a tiny kitchen. This was in 1899. Ben and a mate secured a sub-contract connected with the new Talisman Battery - the excavation of the battery site. Their boss cleared off to Australia and the two never were paid, and were deeply in debt. Paeroa-Waihi railway was beginning and the two mates put in for a job on that. They secured a contract to put a cutting through to what was listed as a rocky spur. This is at the Paeroa end of Cummings Flat at a bend in the river, and they used to cross the river on a single plank bridge. (One of the three original "piles" still shows just above water in the centre of the stream. The other two were demolished by bulldozer following the 1981 flood). This "cutting" turned out to be solid rock on each side but the great bulk was clay, and they were finished quickly and paid as for rock. That rock put them both out of debt and at tea time on the pay-day Mother found a golden sovereign under every plate and dish on the table.
The mate, old Ted Taylor moved to Auckland and got a job with the city's first water-works (Niotupu Dam). Father went to work in the new Talisman Battery and worked his way through all facets of ore treatment, at the same time studying at the School of Mines and doing a correspondence course with International Correspondence School as well on Mine and Battery Management passing very highly and gaining a presentation gift of twelve large volumes of "Nelson's" Encyclopaedia (which I still have).
Always active in Church Work, Ben was instrumental in the building of St. Aiden's Church of England at Karangahake. The Foundation Stone was laid and building began in late 1904, the first Service being held in March 1905. Funds had been raised by concerts and freewill giving. Organ (Vocallion) was purchased in February 1905 together with one for St. Paul's Paeroa from Eady and Sons, Auckland. Cost £105 each.
Excellent instruments superior in tone to modern electronics.
This was a strong one of some 23 members and well balanced, and trained by a fine master. This Choir travelled with recitals in several towns. In later years (1940's) regular Service ceased at St. Aidan's though Church Groups held Service there once a month for some time. St. Paul's organ had deteriorated from want of attention (low funds) and the Karangahake organ took over duty for some years. (At the same time of purchase of these two instruments (1905) the writer's father purchased from the same firm a smaller organ which still retains its original volume and is still in use).
A new opportunity arose and in 1906 Ben was appointed Mine and Battery Manager of the New Waitekauri Mining Company. The old Company had ceased work about 1900. The Mine had to be re-timbered and the Battery, water-races and machinery put into working order. His first pet idea was to "nose around" and gather up what gold and silver the previous Company had spilt or lost. He had an uncanny bent in this direction but it paid off, and the result was that the cost of restoration work was more than recouped. Waitekauri was worked for five years and then a second "Golden Cross" Battery was built in 1912. 1914 saw the closing of this venture through war, manpower shortage and cost of cyanide etc.
Ben moved to Paeroa and took up Land Agency and Auctioneering until purchasing 50 acres unimproved land on old Netherton Road in 1920. Three floods and receding butter fat prices plus oncoming world wide depression caused the sale of farm and stock in 1929 and the purchase of a home in Wood Street, Paeroa. Ben worked with T.V.E.P.B. on reticulation of Hauraki Plains until semi-retirement, but was always active to the end in 1961
He was J.P. Conciliation Officer in many marriage and family upsets, active in growth of A & P Shows, member of Paeroa Borough Council, St John's Ambulance together with their cadets unit, and spent much time at his old hobby assaying and treating small parcels of gold bearing ore brought in from all over New Zealand. He had a great knowledge of the Chemistry of ores and had the uncanny gift of being able to refute a claim that a certain parcel of ore came from the district named by the supplier. Two occasions well remembered are: (1) One half sugar bag of "picked ore" said to be from West Coast, South Island he proved to have come from a certain mine in Thames, (2) another said to be from the Coromandel Range he said was identical with a reef in Fiji and the owner admitted that to be so.
In later life he had a hankering to get at the soot and like cakings inside the big brick chimney that stood at the back of the old Bank of New Zealand building. This room had been used as a Refinery in the early days, and on cleaning out the accumulated dust and sweeping from wall shelfs and ledges a neat little bar of bullion was the result of the melt down. However the destruction of the building by fire robbed him of his dream. So much for a man greatly esteemed by all who knew him.
His activities included:
St. John Ambulance - many years Cadet Superintendent.
Choir Master in several Churches in different districts.
Lay reader for over 20 years.
J.P. for 50 years.
Marriage Conciliator over 20 years.
Borough Councillor 6 years.
At 15 years of age played in first Brass Band Contest ever held in Wellington.