Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 52, September 2008

(Through eyes of a Reporter for the Thames Advertiser, compiled by the late Alisdair Isdale, noted Historian, Thames, and published in The Hauraki Chronicle special collector's edition. Printed by the Thames Commercial Printers, Limited.)

Ohinemuri Open For Gold at Last:

Martial Array not a Humble Bee.

Thames, August 14, 1874

It will be remembered that at the end of 1868 there was a crowded encampment of diggers on Thorp's paddock by the junction of the Waihou and Ohinemuri Rivers, eagerly awaiting the opening of the Ohinemuri for gold mining.

But Te Hira was obdurate, and Mere Kuru and her Amazons were ready to run off the premises any Europeans but the old settlers of the 1840s, the Thorps and MacCaskills.

Since then Commissioner James Mackay has advanced considerable sums of money to the Natives for their feasts and tangi and so on, "in lieu of purchases of all kinds of stores", against the security of their lands.

The sum owing has become very considerable and James Mackay is now meeting a great gathering across the Firth of Thames at Whakatiwai. A party of steamer excursionists from Thames reports that the scene is animated, singular and beautiful. The Natives have many boats, of which they take great care, and a big canoe flaming in red and white, with many decorations.

The quadrangular encampment has several flags, with a big flagstaff in the centre.

Canons were fired in welcome, smartly handled, with well armed men having a fine martial appearance, evincing careful military training. We do not wonder that they more than once came on even terms with European troops.

They have with them an old European woman, rarely speaking anything but Maori.

There are now over 1000 people on the ground. James Mackay is as busy as a bee, but by no means a humble one, everywhere at once in his shirtsleeves, shouting himself hoarse. The arrangements have been left in his hands.

Pakeha visitors rushing at the food greatly amused the Maoris, after being looked at for the way they handled knives and forks at the Shortland eating houses.

Te Hira Says No Goldfield for Land Deeds

Thames, August 21, 1874

Old Te Hira does not hesitate to say that the Ohinemuri must not go as payment for the monies and raihana admitted to have been taken.

His fiat is that all those who have received any of the abovementioned payments must find land for them elsewhere. One chief said that if he had known what it meant, he would not have eaten the food.

Meeting Breaks Up Suddenly

Thames, August 24, 1874

There was a sudden break up of the Wakatiwai meeting, as the leading Ohinemuri chiefs do not want to talk any more in the presence of strangers and listeners.

There was a widespread taking of groceries and other stores "on the slate", as raihana or rations, against the security of their lands. It is suggested that if Te Hira and other chiefs wish to keep their lands, they will at once open the Ohinemuri to gold mining, adopting the policy of the Shortland Natives, who were now wealthy landowners, having "ceded" mining rights only.

Great Sensation Te Hira Withdraws Opposition

Thames, December 23, 1874

The withdrawal of opposition by Te Hira has caused a great sensation in Thames. At last the Ohinemuri is to be opened for gold mining. Already men whose peculiar talents are best adapted to the early days of gold rushes are becoming prominent, as diggers begin preparations for the New Year.

At a meeting in November several chiefs backed down when James Mackay informed them he would act on the documents in his possession. He called several by name, or a number who had signed orders for cash and goods, giving Ohinemuri lands as security. Would they agree to mining or lose their lands?

They preferred to agree to mining, whereupon Te Hira left the meeting in disgust—but with much to think upon.

The total debt had reached the huge sum of over £20,000 ($40,000).

Shortly afterwards, one chief was taken down the Crown Prince mine by John Beeche. The great depth had put the Maori all wrong, said the chief.

"Well, indeed, the thing has been lying unused. Our ancestors were ignorant, and so are we also."

Diggers on Way

Already Ohinemuri is Needed.

Thames, January 8, 1875

Some of the prospectors already on the ground, in anticipation of a signed agreement, have been collected and "sent in" to the steamer landing up river. This was because they were trespassing on reserves and lighting fires.

There have been many in Thames awaiting the opening of the Ohinemuri. When the first dull time came over this goldfield, a considerable number of men took to gum digging on the upper waters of the Kauaeranga River and its tributaries and the gum at that time was of material assistance to the whole population.

In 1873 things picked up somewhat with some recovery of the gold yield, and the commencement of the great water race, for which two contracts are at present in progress, but there are still many men out in the hills, seeking less easily found gum, who would be only too glad to return to their true intent, finding gold.

New Township at Paeroa

Ohinemuri, January 16, 1875

At Paeroa we found Mr Alfred Thorp and Mr Henry Johnson, with several Maori lads, laying out the township of Ohinemuri on 165 acres of the Paeroa block.

Rapid Growth at Paeroa

Ohinemuri, February 17, 1875

A township is rapidly springing up at Paeroa.

Signed at Last: Opening the Ohinemuri Goldfield Proclaimed Soon

Ohinemuri, February 30, 1875

On Thursday, February the 18th the long awaited agreement opening the Ohinemuri for gold mining was "signed, sealed and delivered".

The 80 to 100 Europeans present heartily acceded to James Mackay's call for three cheers. The Europeans behaved very well, standing when Mr Mackay asked them to stand, while the 97 Natives signed.

The cracked and broken table and the steel pen with which the Natives slowly spelled out their names, should be historical.

At least I hope the Ohinemuri will be a goldfield of such importance as to make them worthy of being looked back upon.

The goldfield will be formally proclaimed by Warren [Warden - E] Fraser on March the 3rd. The traffic upriver from here, by six steamers and other smaller craft increases daily.

Ohinemiuri Goldfield Proclaimed: Fires and Rush: Wild Scenes.

Mackaytown, Ohinemuri, March 4, 1875

The opening of the Ohinemuri Goldfield was marked with wild scenes unprecedented in these parts, as eager diggers grabbed handfuls of papers and dashed madly across a river, on horse and on foot.

For some days the steamers and other river craft have been crowded as hundreds made their way to what they finally hope will prove the new Eldorado.

A tented encampment has sprung up near the entrance to the Karangahake Gorge, called Mackaytown. Other encampments have sprung up as swiftly further in, and there confusing talk of Gorge Town, Fraserville and of Lipseytown, alias Tipystown.

Bush and scrub and fern fires have been burning everywhere, with drifting smoke and ash and fine cinder dust blackening everything.

On the evening of March the 2nd, ready for the Proclamation next morning at 10, in front of the big official marquee at Mackaytown, the numbers already at Mackaytown were swelled by many hundreds.

Far Into the Night

Meanwhile Warden Fraser's clerks were working into the night to have the necessary miner's rights ready for distribution from a 50ft counter running the full length of the front of the marquee with a stout protection fence two feet away to avoid a crush.

That evening many diggers left "without a beat of drum" to take up favoured positions in the field, waiting for their mates to bring them the papers the next day.

Before applications closed for the evening there were over 800, keeping the clerks working on the rights and Warden Fraser signing them, till 3 in the morning, when the exhausted scriveners retired to rest.

Diggers Early Astir

Mackaytown, March 8

Diggers were astir from 6 in the morning of March 3rd and the time hung heavily and anxiously till 10.

Well before it was time for Warden Fraser to read the proclamation, large crowds had been gathering around the marquee, and holding their position along the substantial fence, which gave a distance at which a clerk could conveniently reach an outstretched hand, receive the man's ticket and hand back the miner's rights.

Mounting Impatience

As the hour approached the excitement intensified; impatience was visible on every face. Some were already mounted on horses, ready to rush towards the site of the prospector's claim, to secure ground close to it.

There was an astonishing collection of horses, some hidden in the fern and tea tree, and many a man went to rest thinking his was securely tethered found he was minus his steed when he awoke.

Black Dust and Perspiration

The heat was strong with scarcely a puff of air, except enough to carry the fine black dust from recent fires. It was so dense it was difficult to see for even a few yards. It got into the ears, eyes, nostrils, into every pore already opened by perspiration—an intolerable nuisance.

The men were arrayed in a curious variety of dresses—or undresses—seconds counted.

At Last!

At length a bustle was observed and Mr Mackay, mounted on the counter, address the assembled diggers. There were short but ardent cheers.

Warden Fraser then mounted the rostrum to proclaim the Ohinemuri goldfield, with reserves for Mackaytown and Karangahake.

The cheers were scarcely completed when there was a stampede. The strong barricade was sufficient to stand the test. Each was intent that little notice was taken of the crushing and scrambling over one another's shoulders, at imminent risk to the limbs of many. There were several policemen present, and some who had tried to go around the back, were quickly hustled away to wait their turn. During the half an hour in which the 800 rights were issued by eight clerks, there was indescribable hurry and confusion.

On Horse and Foot

With horses hidden in every conceivable place to prevent accidents, the race to collect them and get mounted was in some cases very fatiguing. Others rushed off on foot.

In some cases prepared relays awaited the approach of horse or man, and the pace was swift between.

Helter Skelter

The helter skelter across the Ohinemuri River, which was unavoidable, was perhaps the most amusing, and was watched with great interest by numbers who stationed themselves on the hill for that purpose.

In some cases men could be seen swimming across, miner's right in hand, to gain the opposite bank in advance of others.

Others would attempt to run over the slippery boulders, and through the strong stream, whilst others again would run and swim alternately. Many were the duckings stumbling over a slippery boulder.

Some swam horses at another place to a steep bank, where they dismounted and went straight up. How they managed to grasp scrub and fern, and so reach the summit, was perhaps a marvel to themselves after it was all over.

Brushed Off Madly

As each received his rights, he struggled through the crowd and rushed off madly, apparently desirous to outstrip all others to the prospectors' claim.

Horsemen got away with a rush, but many in their hurry came to grief at the first crossing. Other horses stumbled and fell in the narrow swamp at Lipsey's camp. The horses of others gave out before the face of the now famous burnt spur was reached.

And more than one horse after the race fell down, refused to eat or rise, from the exhaustion of the rush to be first on certain ground.

Scampering Over The Spurs

Amid all the crowd of horses were men on foot, scampering as if their lives depended on their speed. Men and horses were all fagged out long before they reached their destinations, but those who brought miner's rights had other miners in waiting, taking hold of the rights, scampering wildly over the spurs, pausing to drive a peg and have a world of dispute with others, and then rushing off at breakneck pace to get in their corner peg.

Some Armed

A number were armed in anticipation of resistance to their progress. One foolishly and ostentatiously carried a six shooter in his hand, as if to challenge all comers.

Whether it was the weapon, or the frantic appearance of the man, he was said to be the first on this ground and the first to return to the Warden's office.

On The Spot With Pigeons

An on the spot description follows from the reporter who sent pigeon-grams yesterday, his first message reaching Thames not more than half an hour after the events described. These messages are repeated here.

March 2: Everybody on the way to the diggings had a swag, but me, and I carried a box with two gentle doves, soothed by their cooing, and whom I meant to carry the latest intelligence from the summit of Karangahake next day. The first man I saw toiling along the new dusty road from Paeroa, with a swag was the Mayor of Thames, the quiet unobtrusive Captain Davis. I was told 100 miner's rights had been applied for by Maoris—I am glad to see they are going into it with spirit.

March 3: 9.50 a.m.: Sergeant Elliot and four constables have just come. About 200 men are now waiting on this hill. Last night various parties who intend pegging out in the Waitekauri and other places went out, but the chief concentration was here.

10.05 a.m.: We can see the crowd listening to the proclamation being read.

10.07 a.m.: Clouds of dust horsemen. Horses flying over the ranges, men running to meet them. A cloud of dust all the way to the camp. Behind the horses are men on foot in relays. A Maori has won the race and is first on the ground with rights.

10.20 a.m.: Pegging, a row among the Maoris. A Maori arrived naked. All quiet among the Europeans.

Later: Little to correct: I believe a Maori led for part of the distance, but Adam Porter was first man up here. All down the route are horses standing, utterly done in.

When I went down I found Mackaytown in a state of great excitement. 830 miner's rights have been issued. Further applications can now be made, after being closed before the rush this morning.

Later: There have now been 850 miner's rights issued and for residence sites more than a thousand pounds must have been received.

March 4, 1875

5.10 p.m.: 922 miner's rights have been issued.

Later: Tonight a few men returned from the Waihi Plains, but they did not think much of that country and some of them left.

Dan Leahy is reticent about Waitekauri on his return, several left for there this morning, but there is no news.

There seems to be nothing here at the Karangahake Gorge to encourage a great rush, but building is going on rapidly at both Mackaytown and Lipsey's Camp over the river. Paeroa was almost deserted yesterday, but in the evening crowds returned, being unable to shakedown at Mackaytown. Austin's and the other Paeroa hotels were crammed.

Solicitors Macdonald and Brassey have been retained at Mackaytown –-to settle legal disputes.

Late evening: Some rich specimens shown are reported to be from the Waitekauri; several parties have gone to peg. All the steamers arriving today were full of passengers.

Off To Their Claims

Mackaytown, March 6, 1875

The dust is fearful. Building goes on, but many tents have disappeared, most of the miners having moved nearer their claims.

A Rush Nearer Thames

Thames, April 10. 1875

A new goldfield has been proclaimed and there is a rush to the scene of the discovery made by Mr Neaves on the crest of the range behind Puriri, overlooking the Tairua Valley. Mr Neaves has spent a good six years looking for the elusive precious metal, while ostensibly gum digging for Long Jackson of the upper or Jackson's Landing in the Tairua Valley.

It is hoped something will come of this field, so much closer to Thames than the Ohinemuri where it must be confessed that results so far have been rather disappointing. The big quartz reefs on the Waihi Plains has been tried and found wanting, while no great results have come from much work around Mackaytown, and many diggers have left. The best prospects for Ohinemuri so far appear to be up the Waitekauri, but with the coming of the autumn rains access is already a problem.