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Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 34, September 1990

By Alistair M Isdale B.A.

It is to be hoped that the article under the above title on page 18 of the September 1989 Journal [see Journal 33: Ohinemuri Gold Rush - E] was read with due regard to the warning implied in the account of its origin by W Delisle Hay, in 1882, seven years after the event. That is too soon for historical research, but just the appropriate interval for pub lore to ripen.

The 1875 newspapers - and newspapers are not supposed to be noted for minimising things -give a more sober account.

The 1882 story starts: The chief Te Hira has been overruled by his counsellors, and has reluctantly consented to the sale of a portion of his territory".

The "Thames Advertiser" of February 20, 1875, says, "There was apparently some reluctance to sign the treaty, but after Te Hira and Te Moananui had come forward and received from the lips of the Native Minister an explanation as to the points in the treaty, there was quite a rush".

As for "sale", the agreement or treaty was not to sell, but to "cede" the use of land for gold mining. This was to save the Ohinemuri lands from being taken for debt, the wily James Mackay having made advances over a period of years - against the security of the land. Te Hira did not want to lose the lands for debt, and Mackay presented the alternative of cession and opening the Ohinemuri.

"Steadfastly for years Te Hira resisted the opening of the Ohinemuri; but since he gave his word that it should be opened his conduct has been without a fault....The whole affair would have been upset but for Te Hira". (Ibid, Feb. 22)

A few days after the signing on February 18, as noted in the Advertiser of February 26, there was a meeting, at which cheers were called for Te Hira. "The old gentleman, who appeared highly gratified at the compliment, waved his hat and whip in response". So much for the 1882 story, "Already he is disgusted with the advent of the pakeha, and talks of retiring with his principal adherents to some wilder solitude".

He had been dealing with the Europeans for a long time, and the real issue had been to get a proper price for the land, as mentioned in the "Thames Advertiser" of September 3, 1870, which noted that the people of "the Upper Thames are sticking together to get their own price for the land" and were "pretty wide awake here". On September 30, 1870, there was mention of Te Hira's sister, Mere Kuru "and her Amazons", who kept out surveyors.

The 1882 story has her more reconciled than her brother Te Hira in 1875, and "qualifying herself to become a leader of modern Maori fashionable society". The 1875 newspapers show her less reconciled than Te Hira. The Advertiser of January 16 mentioned surveyors "laying out the township of Ohinemuri on the 165 acres of the Paeroa. Three or four years ago, when the Ohinemuri was thought to be on the point of being opened, an attempt was made to lay out a township on the Paeroa estate - with the assistance of three or four viragos like herself, Mere Kuru fairly chased the surveyors off the ground, with all their pegs and other materials. Now she was shaking her head dubiously".

The second paragraph has "we" disembarking at the Paeroa landing and going at once to the Warden's camp, "not far off", just before the opening day of March 3, 1875, with several pages on a wild six mile ride from there to the diggings.

Early in 1875 there was a very temporary diggers' encampment near the Paeroa landing, but well before March 3 there had been a general shift to the entrance to the Karangahake Gorge, with an encampment at first called Gorge Town and then Mackaytown, complete with the Warden's big marquee with a 50 foot frontage (15 metres).

This was replaced some months later by a wooden building, and when Mackaytown became a "deserted village," this was shifted to Paeroa and left abandoned in a field.

From such a place one could have something like the description of "looking out towards the wooded plain as it swims in the morning sunshine, towards the towering hills in the distance". Not the heat and black dust of many fires at the actual Mackaytown on a partly burnt off fern ridge close to said hills. A fine romantic eye can dispense with the trammels of time and place.

As for a "scene of glorious confusion" at the encampment, the Thames Advertiser of February 27 noted that "the survey of Mackaytown was finished... The streets are all laid off down to the banks of the river. The front street is on the main track to Tauranga, and this is all reserved for occupation under business licences, each allotment having a frontage of 66 feet. Many of these are already occupied. The Police Camp and Warden's offices are pitched in a street running at right angles to this main street". Pitched means tenting at this stage, including the great marquee.

As for the way from Paeroa to Mackaytown, road works had been going on for some time, in hot and dusty conditions, from early in 1875.

The Thames Advertiser of March 4 tells of a reporter with pigeons who, from a river steamer landing, on March 2 "marched off to Mackaytown. 'The first man I saw toiling along the dusty road, with a swag, was the Mayor of Thames'". Paeroa was lively.

On the way to Mackaytown, "beyond Mr C F Mitchell's place the Ohinemuri stream had to be crossed twice. At the first a flat-bottomed dinghy rowed by a man of colour cost threepence. At the second a young fellow pikaus people over for 6d".

At last he arrived at Mackaytown, "whose tents were before me, shining white against the dark green fern". Things looked less clean when he actually arrived on the "busy scene". "Everybody is dirty. Large spaces of fern have been burned off, so the ground is covered with a fine black dust which begrimes everybody within a few minutes of arrival.... Mackaytown is situated on a fem ridge. On the left it drops down into a deep gully, while on the other it sweeps down to the Ohinemuri".

The partly burned off fern ridge does not exactly fit with "stumbling over stumps and roots and boulders, splashing into deep mud and mire". It was a time of heat and drought, with only the established swamps still miry.

"Mackaytown stores include those of Cashel, McCloughen, Jack Leydon, etc., I found James Rae superintending the erection of a building in what is at present the main street. There is the sound of the hammer all around." (Much of this wooden building was in the shape of "calico houses", with canvas stretched over wooden frameworks.) "Beyond the gully on the left is a rise which has been set aside as a 'digger's camp'." W Delisle Hay completely misses the commercial side of Mackaytown, several miles from his imaginary camp near Paeroa.

"On the flat on the other side of the Ohinemuri is the embryo township which has sprung up under the wing of Mr Lipsey - Lipseyville."

For the rush next day, on the 3rd March, 1875, the 1882 account has "two or three thousand" gathered near the "Warden's tent", apparently a small one.

Actually the reporter quoted on March4,speaking of March 3, wrote, "1200 men are here now." That was everywhere. Only some were at Mackaytown on the morning of March 3. For on the evening of March 2, "As night fell, squads of men, evidently those who had left mates behind to secure their miner's rights, left the town (Mackaytown) without beat of drum... clerks and officials all day (2nd) and till 3 in the morning were filling up miner's rights for which application had been received", with "upwards of 800 applications," during the 2nd.

The reporter heard 100 rights had been applied for by local Maori people - "I am glad to see they are going into things with the spirit." This is far from the 1882 story with "queer old tattooed worthies... younger men... evidently anxious to get excited too, if they could only understand what all the fuss is about. Yet there is a contemptuous air about them, a kind of pity for the curious insanity that is rife". Quite a different spirit, and very patronising - by W D Hay.

Pub lore did not miss having to hide and watch horses overnight 2nd - 3rd. The Advertiser of March 4 mentioned horses, "some hidden in fern and teatree", and also "many" thought "securely tethered" having disappeared overnight, while some "slept alongside their horses". Pub lore also added bullocks.

The Advertiser of March 4 does describe how as the time drew near to pick up miner's rights for the diggers waiting with their pegs to put in on the high ridge on the other side of the river, the "horsemen were mounted ready for the rush... the scene was like Derby Day on a small scale".

It also described how Mackaytown was astir from 6 00am , and while waiting for 10 00am, not only the "anxiety but the black dust" and heat intensified. The black charcol dust from the fires was "so dense it was difficult to see through for even a few yards. It was an intolerable nuisance, getting into ears, eyes and nostrils, and into every pore already opened by perspiration.... the heat is strong, there is scarcely a puff of air".

There were similar conditions on the ridge across the river, described as "the burnt spur, where in addition to those who had arrived the night before, more kept arriving during the morning to join those who had held vigil. There were men up there "marching about with pegs excitedly and whispering in groups... There is a splendid view from this spot", including "the multitudinous tents of Mackaytown," a short distance away across the river. "The ground is covered with men and pegs", (not yet driven in). At 9 50 Sergeant Elliott and 4 constables arrived. Pegging would start when men arrived with miner's rights after the reading of the proclamation by Warden Fraser who did not speak from a stump, but "mounted the rostrum", prepared in advance. As for "no one can hear a word", the report featured on March 4 next day, wrote on the spot up above, "We can see the crowd listening to the proclamation being read". Perhaps some of the diggers up on the ridge where the reporter was, told W D Hay they could not hear - from there.

There were indeed cheers when the Warden finished, and then a stampede, but that had been prepared for, with an estimate of half an hour to deal out the numbered bundlesofrights.

It was certainly not a case of "everyone rushes at the clerk's table.... dumps down his one pound note for the 'miner's right', which is his licence and authority". The payments had already been made, by men who had received "a numbered card as only receipt", to pick up rights "for himself and as many mates as he thought proper". Those payments beforehand would be as likely in sovereigns.

"A rude table is rigged up in front of the Warden's tent, at which clerks take their places", is far from the 50 feet long stout counter along the front of the great marquee, with "the spaces between the upright posts convenient sites for the regulation of the numbers", with a stout railing two feet outinfront of the long counter, behind which waited 8 clerks, Warden Fraser, Registrar Allom and several police.

As intended, the stout railing in front held against the first rush, and amidst "indescribable hurry and confusion", in half an hour all the 800 off miner's rights were issued, exactly as estimated.

The 1882 description of a 6 mile wild ride from the giving out of rights to the diggings is a fine feat of imagination. Actually, as already noted, the diggings on the "burnt spur", not picturesque mountain scenery, were so close that those up there across the river could see, if not hear, the Warden giving his proclamation speech.

The reporter, quoted on March 4, on March 3 was busy with notes on thin paper for his pigeons, which brought on the spot news to Thames in around half an hour. He noted that movement began at Mackaytown at 10 07, with "clouds of dust, horsemen". In a very short time, at 10 20, he noted, "Horsemen flying over the ranges, men running to meet them... Behind the first horses men on foot in relays. Cloud of dust all the way to the camp. A Maori has won the race, and is first on the ground with rights." (An interesting point missed in 1882.)

The main obstacle for the short course was the small Ohinemuri River, and the Advertiser of March 4 described some trying slippery boulders, and then preferring to swim on the deeper water nearby, and some doing both in turn. "Many the duckings stumbling over a slippery boulder. Some swam horses across at another spot, until they approached a perpendicular hill, when they dismounted and walked... By far the greater number trusted to their own legs... It was amusing to see them in single file crossing the creek at full speed and ascending the steep hills opposite. In some cases relays of miners lessened the labour and increased the speed."

The two main hazards were the river crossing, and a swamp on a little flat on the other side if one went that way, while all had to contend with the steep ascent of the burnt spur - in some places more steep then others, if shorter.

"Horsemen started off with a rush, but many in their hurry came to grief at the first crossing; others stumbled and fell in a narrow swamp beyond Lipsey's camp. Others gave out before the face of the famous burnt spur was reached, and amidst all the crowd of horses were men on foot scampering as if their lives depended on their speed."

"Men and horses were all fagged long before they reached their destination, but the men who brought miner's rights had other miners in waiting, who, taking hold of the rights, scampered wildly over the spurs, pausing to drive a peg and have a word of dispute with others, and then rushing off at breakneck pace to get to their next comer and so on."

That kind of race "continued for about an hour, the goal apparently the large projecting rock on the burnt spur, known as Fryingpan Rock, on the face of the burnt spur where the prospectors' reserve had been pegged off. From this point, where a large number of spectators assembled, the rush divergedinvarious directions, but without, so far as I could learn, any violence or rows."

A group of police reinforcements came running up to the spur after the rest "but there was no need for their services".

Not nearly so interesting as, "Words give place to blows... Fierce fights are waged over many an inch and yard of ground... I fear that even revolvers and knives are shown, if not used."

Now there was a grain of truth in the last bit, even if no actual fighting. The Advertiser of March 4 had, "a number were armed in anticipation of resistance to their progress, one foolishly and ostentatiously with a six shooter in his hand, as if to challenge all comers". Who preferred to give way. He was the first back at the Warden's office to register a claim after pegging.

The grimy "burnt spur" must be considered rather a comedown beside the romantic Victorian imagery of, "The wild and beautiful solitude of primeval nature... within the gorge... splendid mountain scene.... steep hill side, beneath and among the trees that cast their shadows all over the golden ground.... the grim defile."

If not six miles, the very short course was severe enough on horses. "All down the route are horses standing, utterly done up. Some had been over in the swamps, it was a wonder two or three men had not been killed. There was not a bad horseman in this race." (Indicating no actual injuries. Pub lore would take care of that. "The unlucky rider screams with pain, for his legs and ribs are broken", wrote W D Hay.)

As for the next day, March 4, there was no need on the burnt spur for "trees to fall beneath the axe", nor "Parties are told off to cut and construct a road." Meaning for the six miles from the dream encampmentto the dream diggings.

Actually, it was just on this day that roadmaking, which had so far made at least practical access from Paeroa to Mackaytown, stopped. "James Mackay resigned" very annoyed. However, the Auckland Provincial Government refused to accept his resignation, and was stung by protests to resume operations, mainly with Armed Constabulary. First the river pay crossings were improved, by block cuttings to give grades up the banks. (I found the marks still there.) Then Captain Turner bypassed the two crossings altogether, by a way over what became Turner's Hill.

The 1882 story goes on, "Miners began to build up huts and habitations and to bring up from the river their swags, provisions and tools". They did bring up from the river tools to work claims on the burnt spur, but other matters could remain where they slept at Mackaytown, or even nearer Lipseytown. But it is interesting that instead of 6 miles we have them merely bringing things up from the river, with some semblance of reality breaking into the dream, no doubt from the lips of one of Hay's informants.

The description of three months later is definitely dreamworld. "A rough young town now hangs upon the mountain's shoulder.... Down below, a couple of crushing mills are already set up, and are hard at work, belching forth volumes of smoke".

Actually, the "Thames Advertiser" of June 3, 1875, told of a Mackaytown which had gone backward rather than forward, especially after the Neavesville goldfield near Thames of April 10 drew many men away, while "Waitekauri Every Time" drew off many more. There had been some construction of huts to replace tents, and actual wooden buildings by the Auckland Provincial Government for Warden's office and police, and a very few wooden buildings of some size for commercial interests. But a great deal of the construction that replaced tents, especially for the business licences, was in the shape of those "calico houses".

June 3 told of a recent storm. "The gale on the night of May 31 reduced the National Hotel to a heap of ruins, and the famous 'tent' of miner's rights is a thing of the past. Sundry calico houses came to grief."

Instead of two batteries, there were none. The winter rains went on, if not the battery,and more diggers left.

The "Thames Advertiser" of March 6, 1876, summed up the first year. "On March 3 there was a mild celebration of the opening of the Ohinemuri", at Paeroa. "After the famous rush to peg on the 3rd of March at Karangahake, many were greatly disappointed that the gold was not so plentiful as they had been led to expect, and miners and storekeepers cleared out in large numbers. A faithful few remained, with the result that Waitekauri has been brought into prominence, and new ground lately opened at Owharoa bids fair to take the lead". Indeed, it would be the first to get a battery going (small), followed by the great battery at Waitekauri and a moderate sized one at Karangahake. The Advertiser of September 22, 1876, with its long list of mine productions, large and small, gave around 300 tons put through for only 24 ounces - and Karangahake "gold" was largely silver. (As land was "ceded" for "gold", the silver was "deemed" to be part of the gold.)

The Thames newspapers covered Ohinemuri mining in great detail, and any share movements, at both Thames and Auckland Stock Exchanges. But there was nothing even corresponding to "O'Gaygun's Claim", or any share movements resulting from a lucrative discovery.

A very few diehards clung on, going into Karangahake mountain itself rather than the burnt spur, and by 1883 there was some movement. The very silvery gold, however, posed processing problems, and late 1885 into 1886 saw trials of a La Monte furnace, followed by a Railey plant of more modest pretensions. In 1889, the first field test in the world of the Cassell cyanide process was made at the Crown battery, Karangahake, leading, to big and profitable production at both Waihi and Karangahake. W Delisle Hay did write an entertaining story.