Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 43, September 1999
By P R Moore
In the previous article on gold mining at Waihi Beach (Sinking on the Treasure Island Reef) [see: Sinking on the Treasure Island Reef in this Journal - E] it was stated that the presence of gold-bearing quartz reefs in the area was known "as early as 1870". This statement was based on a report by Sir James Hector, published in 1871. However, since that article was written, copies of a series of letters have been obtained which provide evidence of the discovery of gold at Waihi Beach in October 1868. These letters were written by Jonathan Brown of Welcome Bay, Tauranga and Thomas Gillies, the then Superintendent of Auckland, between 1870 and 1873.
On 21 April 1870 Jonathan Brown wrote (to Superintendent Gillies):
We have the honour to request that you will be good enough in the event of the Ohinemuri & Waihi being opened up for gold mining, to recognise our right to the prospectors claim a tracing of which we herewith enclose [see accompanying map]. We beg to state that at the time we found gold at Waihi [Waihi Beach] which was on the 2nd October 1868, we were informed by a resident native that we were the first to find gold at that place, and also that no other prospecting party had been there or allowed to travel that way as the Houhou Aukatis [HauHau warriors] were in force. Subsequent to our discovery a native informed some Europeans of it and they were brought there by stealth and shown the reef [presumably the Treasure Island reef], and since then we have heard that they have registered a claim a few days before ours. However the natives can prove that we were the first Europeans to inform them that gold was in that locality.
We trust that you will recognise our right to the prospectors claim.
We are etc. Jonathan Brown, John Macpherson, William J. Gundry, Arthur A. Crapp, John S. Talbot."
Superintendent Gillies acknowledged the receipt of this letter, and Brown & party's application for a prospectors claim, on 25 April 1870. He wrote:
".....so soon as the country in question is opened for mining, a renewed application for prospectors claim may be forwarded, when your claim thereto will be duly considered."
There does not appear to have been any further correspondence over the next two years. But on 19 April 1872 Brown again wrote to Superintendent Gillies, with considerable concern:
"Now I have heard that that application [for a prospectors claim] has been burnt and that some parties are trying to get a claim registered for the prospectors claim for the same place. Now will you please inform me if it has been burnt and if so what steps I am to take to secure our right to it. Our discovery was made on 2nd Oct., 1868."
A note scrawled on the side of the letter, and dated 5 May 1873, confirms that the documents were burnt. This fact was presumably conveyed to Jonathan Brown at that time.
Because of the destruction (presumably accidental) of the original application, Jonathan Brown submitted a second one on 18 June 1873. He wrote (to Superintendent Gillies):
"A copy of our application for prospectors claim (gold) sent into your office in April 1870 - I enclose within the sealed envelope. Please to let it lie in your office until Ohinemuri & Waihi are to be opened for gold mining."
A note also scrawled on this letter, possibly by Gillies and dated 28/6/73, states:
"....the sealed envelope may remain as requested."
Apart from establishing that Jonathan Brown and his associates were the first to discover gold at Waihi Beach, these letters provide a valuable insight into the "goings on" at the time. For example, they confirm that prospectors were exploring the Ohinemuri district well prior to it being officially opened up for gold mining (in March 1875). The Waitekauri Valley had already been prospected before 1870. The letters also show that the Provincial Government was prepared to turn a blind eye to these "unofficial" activities, and that applications for prospecting claims were being accepted and held until they could be legally granted. The timing of Brown's original letter is interesting in that it was apparently written only a few days after another claim had been lodged. It also coincided with Sir James Hector's visit to Waihi Beach (about 20-25 April 1870). Obviously Brown and his partners were well-informed about illicit prospecting activities in the district, and what applications for claims were being made, which suggests they had some useful contacts both locally and in the Provincial Government. They probably also had prior knowledge of Hector's visit, and would be aware that if he reported the existence of a quartz reef at Waihi Beach (which he did), then others might prospect the area and stake their claim. This was an added incentive to write to Superintendent Gillies to ensure their discovery was recognised. Why they waited 18 months to lodge their application, however, we may never know.
There is no evidence that Jonathan Brown and his associates were awarded their claim at Waihi Beach and, in fact, no claims over this area had been registered at the Te Aroha Warden's Court by 1878. It appears that little authorised prospecting was done until about 1894-6, when James Shaw and others pegged their claim over the gold-bearing quartz reef first discovered by Brown's party.
Biographical notes: Jonathan Brown was a prominent citizen of Tauranga. He was born in Northumberland in 1832, and migrated to Tasmania at the age of 18. In the early-mid 1860s he managed a sheep station in Otago, then moved to Tauranga in 1867 and purchased several thousand acres at Welcome Bay. Brown was a Mason, served as Chairman of the County Council, and had a brief involvement in flax milling. He died in 1895 as the result of an accident.
Captain Arthur Crapp was a soldier, and distinguished himself in the Maori wars. He settled in the Tauranga district in the 1870s. William Gundry was also a captain in the colonial forces.
Acknowledgement: Thanks to National Archives, Wellington, for permission to reproduce extracts from these letters, and publish the accompanying map (Reference: Auckland Provincial Government, Superintendents General, Inwards Letters, series 2).