Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 32, September 1988

Alistair M Isdale B A

Tracing the beginning of the Karangahake School of Mines is easy enough because it goes back to that of the Thames School of Mines, with Professor J Black and his assistants, A Montgomery and W Goodlet coming to the Hauraki District in November, 1885, at the behest of the Hon J W M Larnach, Minister of Mines, to start School of Mines in the area. The ebullient Professor Black, who also had a good knowledge, created much enthusiasm.

While Montgomery was lecturing in Thames on 24 November, 1885, Professor Black was reported as giving the first of a series of lectures, with experimental work, at Karangahake, in the furnace house of the La Monte smelting plant, to 120 miners who took the keenest interest.

On 26 November it was reported that Montgomery had taken Black's place at Karangahake, after crowded sessions by Black, with 150, and next day 190, enthusiastically "stopping only for meals, while in the evening, those who could not find anywhere else to listen, climbed up and sat on the rafters, miners coming from Waihi, Owharoa, Waitekauri and Te Aroha, as well as Karangahake. Not only were there demonstrations of matters like assaying, but also instruction of pupils carrying out experiments, and soon some were able to do their own assays."

By 25 December 1885, the Thames School of Mines Association had 400 members, from Thames, Ohinemuri (including Karangahake), Te Aroha, Coromandel and Auckland, three hundred and thirty pounds ($660) in hand so far, and further applications and money on the way.

By 13 January 1886 the money had swelled to over five hundred pounds ($l,000), five hundred and nineteen pounds ($1,038) to be exact, and there were 507 members, 38 being from Karangahake and 15 from Waihi.

Thames School of Mines classes started with temporary premises at the beginning of 1886, taking up permanent quarters in the nucleus of the present School of Mines buildings on 16 August 1886. The Time Table was as follows:-

"Thames: Five months - 1 January to 15 March; 1 July to 15 September.

Karangahake and Waihi: Three months - 16 March to 30 April; 16 September to 31 October.

Waiorongomai and Te Aroha: Two months - 1 to 31 May; 1 to 30 November.

Coromandel: Two months - 1 to 30 June; 1 to 31 December."

Professor Black left A Montgomery to carry on these classes, with the position of Director of the Thames School of Mines.

Around 18 March 1886, it was reported that Karangahake was having School of Mines classes conducted by Mr Montgomery, There was a portable assay plant in a suitable hotel room, hotels being the most substantial buildings in Karangahake after the batteries and furnace buildings. An average attendance of 18 pupils learnt wet and dry assaying.

The first annual meeting of the Thames School of nines Association, at the beginning of February 1887, noted in its first Annual Report that Thames classes were held in the Gresham Hall from 25 January to 6 March, 1886, then Montgomery made a four month tour of lectures and classes at Karangahake, Waihi, Te Aroha, Waiorongomai and Coromandel.

On 8 October, 1887, a severely retrenching Atkinson Government came in until 1891. It immediately abolished the position of a separate Minister of Mines, adding the portfolio to those of the Minister of Lands.

Plans for increasing the number of Schools of Mines were vetoed, and budgets cut for Dunedin, Reefton and Thames Schools, then existing.

On 25 April, 1888, there was news of a move to remove Montgomery from Thames for a month, and local feeling was that to remove the Director of the Thames School of Mines for a month would "do irretrievable injury". He merely went to Coromandel for a month. This would seem to indicate that the system of domiciliary visits to outlying districts was already breaking down, with concentration on Thames, in leaner times.

On 14 July, 1889, there was a farewell function for Montgomery, who was succeeded by the learned and formidable James Park, who was Director of the Thames School of Mines 1889 - 1896. He tried to pick up dropped threads, and on 30 November, 1889, he went to Coromandel, "for the purpose of again commencing the School of Mines in that district".

At Karangahake, before the end of 1889, there was carried out the first field test in the world of the important cyanide extraction process, enthusiastically taken up by Park and his students at the Thames School of Mines, with further developments used all over the world. But there was nothing about any revival of a School of Mines at Karangahake.

On 20 January, 1890, it was noted that at the Thames School of Mines there were eight or nine candidates being examined for mine managers' certificates, originating from Thames, Coromandel, and the "'up-country districts", comprising the Ohinemuri and Te Aroha.

In November, 1890, the Coromandel School of Mines had its annual meeting.

In June, 1891, the Thames School of Mines had 100 students, well up from 37 in May, 1890.

In September, 1892, Thames had its most successful year, with an average of 111 students, and Kuaotunu was asking if it could have a branch like Coromandel. Thames continued to progress during 1893, and put in an experimental cyanide plant, which developed an improved process in 1894, while Government grants increased.

In 1895 a big boom in mining investment, if not production, at Thames, but greatly increased gold production at Coromandel, and steadily increasing production at Waihi, put up Thames attendance still further.

In December, 1895 however, Coromandel was informed by the Mines Department, that its funds would not extend to an instructor for the School of Mines at Coromandel and Kuaotunu, "also stating that as there is an inefficient School of Mines at Thames, the establishment of other Schools in the district would tend to lower the system of technical training". However, "the idea is to have an instructor, with the idea of finishing at the Thames." It was decided to keep on at Coromandel and Kuaotunu.

At the Thames Annual Meeting on 11 February, 1896, it appeared that Professor Black, lecturing in Thames, had been in favour of establishing offshoots, but Mr Gordon, Inspecting Engineer for the Mines Department, did not agree. He said that one good school was better than 20 bad ones.

In September, 1896, there was talk of a School of Mines at Paeroa. It came to nothing.

In 1897 a School of Mines was established at Waihi, and on 27 October it was noted that at Coromandel, Kuaotunu and Waihi there were from 60 to 80 students.

On 14 December, 1897, it was noted that some efforts were being made to establish a School of Mines at Karangahake. However, the 1895-7 investment boom was breaking, and it then appeared that Waihi had got its School of Mines established just in time. By 1898 there was a depression in the mining investment world. But the mines at Waihi and Karangahake kept steadily increasing production, the cyanide process making big low grade deposits profitable. A large number of non-producing or unprofitable mines were abandoned.

During 1899 the producers continued producing, Karangahake grew. The gold sharemarket was recovering, if not to the hectic boom conditions of 1895-7.

On 6 November, 1899, it was reported that there was quite a movement for a School of Mines at Karangahake, 51 intending students handing in their names. On 2 March, 1900, when the first sod of the Paeroa-Karangahake railway was turned at Karangahake, the population of the town was estimated at 2,000. On 23 June, 1900, it was reported that, at a meeting of the Thames School of Mines Council, there was tabled a subscription list, "in aid of a School of Mines at Karangahake." By 13 August, 1900, the required one hundred and fifty pounds ($300) had been subscribed for a Karangahake School of Mines, thus qualifying for a promised Government subsidy. There were 62 students applying, "so that there is every prospect of the institution being a great success".

On 29 August, 1900, the news was, "The Council of the Karangahake School of Mines has decided to proceed at once with the erection of a School building." On 14 December it was reported that the Thames School of Mines, having a surplus of geological specimens, had decided to offer "the unrequired surplus to the Karangahake and Waihi" Schools of Mines.

On 28 December, 1900, it was announced in Thames that W H Baker, assistant instructor at the Thames School of Mines, had been elected to be Director of the Karangahake School of Mines which was then opened on Monday 4 February, 1901 by the Hon James McGowan, Minister of Mines. "The School of Mines at Karangahake was opened on Monday with a satisfactory attendance of people. There are 50 students on the register. Mr McGowan promised to subsidise the money collected in connection with the School, or what might be collected in future for that purpose. The classes are not yet established, as the students are making arrangements to follow up various subjects.

On February 27, 1901, it was reported that W H Baker, only recently made Director of the new Karangahake School of Mines, was now appointed Director of the Launceston School of Mines, Tasmania, a "highly remunerative" position which would fully employ his high capabilities. He was to come back to the district to be Director of the Thames School of Mines 1906-23.

On 27 March, 1901, it was announced that R B McDuff, acting assistant at the Thames School of Mines, had been appointed Director of the Karangahake School of Mines. On 20 July, 1901 it was reported that the Karangahake School of Mines had 15 pupils attending 77 classes in various subjects, under Director McDuff. The School was financially "in a thoroughly substantial position".

At the beginning of March 1905, Karangahake School of Mines asked Premier Richard Seddon for surveying instruments and an electrical plant. Seddon was willing re the first, but needed Parliamentary authorisation to put the second on the estimates.

In June 1905, at a conference of Directors of northern Schools of Mines, R B McDuff was present for Karangahake.

On 6 June 1905, it was announced, "A subsiduary School of Mines is to be opened at Waikino under the auspices of the Karangahake Council. Mr R McDuff, the popular director, has, with commendable forethought, evolved a scheme which should benefit students and school alike, while the Council has shown considerable enterprise in endeavouring to fill what must have been a long felt want."

On 12 July, 1905, Karangahake reported, "The attendance at the School of Mines is increasing steadily and is greater now than it ever was. The students at the Waikino branch, which is also under Mr McDuff's tuition, are making satisfactory progress." Mr P Hogg of the staff had been appointed to a responsible position in the Vivian Mine, West Australia.

November 17, 1905, saw the Karangahake School of Mines fail to get a Government subsidy for erecting and equipping a branch office at Waikino, as it was too close. However, by mid May, 1906, funds raised locally, with a pound for pound Government subsidy, allowed tenders to be called for a proper School of Mines building at Waikino, to remain under the control of the Karangahake School, whose Mr McDuff mould continue to act as Director. During the past twelve months he had been giving "one lecture a week on metallurgy and one on mathematics at Waikino." There would be a two year course, with electricity taught by Mr J G Lancaster from Thames, "Already 40 students have paid their membership fees, so success is assured." The Karangahake School of Mines was adding an electric lighting plant, with steam engine and dynamo. Karangahake Riding had 2,782 in the 1906 census. Waikino had the huge Victoria battery of 1897, with 200 stamps.

At the beginning of August, 1906, it was reported that the electrical classes at the Waihi and Karangahake Schools of Mines had been "so well attended that the Councils of these Schools are considering the advisableness of appointing an extra instructor for these classes."

On 26 March, 1907, it was noted, "The futility of establishing a mining school in Auckland, while there are Schools of Mines at Thames, Waihi and Karangahake is indisputably shown by the lack of students offering themselves at the Auckland institution."

It was noted that for the year ended 31 March 1907, Karangahake School of Mines got two hundred and twenty seven pounds ten shillings ($455) in Government subsidy, more than Thames with one hundred and fifty pounds ($300), but the same as Coromandel. Waihi, with its huge gold production and staff, got five hundred and eightynine dollars six shillings and sixpence ($1,178.65).

At the beginning of the second week in October, Mr McDuff, Director of the Karangahake School of Mines, gave a public address on Silting of the River.

In October, 1907, there were questions in the House, whether the Government would consider arranging for an electrical instructor from Waihi or Thames to give instruction at the Karangahake School of Mines. On 19 November, 1907, it was reported that the Mines Department had authorised calling for applications for Electrical Instructor for both Waihi and Thames School of Mines, and the Thames School intimated to Karangahake that their Instructor would visit Karangahake if they paid his expenses.

Towards the end of November, 1907, slump conditions were spreading in the world, but the sharemarket for Ohinemuri gold mines was still active, with the Talisman mine having a record production of gold for November, Crown returns also up again, and the Karangahake Coy shares going up.

Early in December, 1907, for Schools of mines examinations, William Baker of Thames went to Karangahake, Director R B McDuff of Karangahake to Waihi, whose Morgan went to Thames.

On 21 January, 1908, it was noted that A T Ellis had been approved as electrical instructor for the Waihi School of Mines, and Mr A Dodson for Thames. It was the latter who would give lectures at the Karangahake School of Mines.

On 4 February, 1908, results came out of the School of Mines examinations at Karangahake. A Customs Certificate in bullion assaying was obtained by W Young, A G Bush and Neville G Aickin. A pass in Dry Assaying (Senior) was obtained by H Williams, G A Bush, Neville G Aickin and C Harsant. The Junior in Dry Assaying was obtained by Arnold Hill, A S Hill and C A McCombie. Charles Harsant got a pass in Senior Practical Chemistry, and in Junior there were A S Hill and C A McCombie.

Around 18 February, 1908, the Thames School of Mines Honours List included:- R B McDuff, Director, Karangahake School of nines; Richard Ross, Mine Manager for Karangahake Gold Mining Company; K M Barrance, Surveyor, Talisman Consolidated.

On 9 July, 1908, there was a report of the resignation of R B McDuff, Director of the Karangahake School of Mines. Appointed in his place was H W Reid HSASM, who had just been Director of the Zeehan School of Mines, Tasmania.

The beginning of August, 1908, saw July returns for the Crown Mine badly down, just as a deputation in Wellington was trying to get quicker action from the Government on having Karangahake made a Borough. That was not to happen.

On September 4, 1908, it was reported in Thames that the Crown Mine had closed down, putting a large number of diggers out of work, and then out of town.

On 17 August, 1909, there was a mention of the Karangahake School of Mines, which was continuing. But agitation for a Borough had died down. There was a smaller population, and building, which had been active, stopped after August, 1908. The Talisman kept going, but the Karangahake Coy was faltering. The Crown got going again in June-July 1910, but things were not the same as before.

In January, 1911, it was noted that there was a dearth of students sitting for purely mining subjects in Schools of Mines examinations. Thames, Waihi, Reefton (South Island) and Coromandel had only two each. "At Karangahake and Waikino there were none. Particular reasons, amongst others, for the poor attendance arose from the fact that the Mines Department officials got it into their heads that the schools were meant for training mining engineers only, and that the class of men which the schools were in the first instance meant to attract and assist, viz., the practical miner capable of passing about a fifth or sixth standard degree of education, was being shoved out."

In 1912 there was the big strike, after which things were never quite the same again at Waihi. After 1913, the Crown faded out for all practical purposes, but in 1914 the Talisman reach-its peak production.

The Thames School of Mines recorded on 4 April 1914, the resignation of W A Given as Assistant Lecturer, to go as Director to the Karangahake School.

Talisman was down a little in 1915, and slipping rapidly in 1916 and 1917, and was doing only cleaning up in 1918.

In August, 1918, there was mention of a School of Mines at Waihi, but not at Karangahake.

In 1919 there was a big exodus from Karangahake, which by Christmas/New Year 1920 was "very quiet and like the Deserted Village."