Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 1, June 1964

 By A.M. Isdale B.A.

The story begins appropriately enough with Captain Cook, whose "River Thames" comprised both the Firth of Thames and the Thames Valley, or roughly the Hauraki Region of the Maoris. When Captain Cook visited Mercury Bay in 1769 he noted ironsand deposits on the shores and speculated as to the possible mineral resources of the interior. His journal entries were as follows:

1769 November, Monday 20….. "As the wood was    swampy, we could not range far; but we found many stout trees of other    kinds, all of them utterly unknown to us, specimens of which we brought    away.

The river at this height is as broad as the Thames at    Greenwich and the tide of flood as strong; it is not indeed quite so deep,    but has water enough for vessels of more than a middle size and a bottom of    mud, so soft that nothing could take damage by running ashore.

About three o’clock, we re-embarked, in order to return    with the first of the ebb, and named the river THAMES, it having some    resemblance to our own river of that name…"

1769 November, Wednesday 15…. "We found,    thrown upon the shore, in several parts of this bay (Mercury Bay) great    quantities of ironsand, which is brought down by every little rivulet of    fresh water that finds its way from the country, which is a demonstration    that there is ore of that metal not far inland, yet neither the inhabitants    of this place, or any other part of the coast that we have seen, know the    use of iron, or set the least value upon it, all of them preferring the most    worthless and useless trifle, not only to a nail, but to any tool of that    metal.

Before we left the bay, we cut upon one of the trees near    the watering-place the ship’s name and that of the Commander, with the    date of the year and month when we were there; and after displaying the    English colours, I took a formal possession of it in the name of his    Britannic Majesty King George the Third."

Said "interior", taking it in a wide sense, from Coromandel to Waihi, was to produce – between the years 1852 – 1952, approximately £40,000,000 worth of gold, or well over £100,000,000 worth might be considered a fitting realization of the golden visions that still filled the minds of the officers and scientific staff with Cook, before he completed the circumnavigation of New Zealand some months later, to show it was not the Great Southern Land he had been detailed to seek. One of the stories about it was of golden beaches. (It is not impossible that voyagers like the Tamils who left a ship’s bell in New Zealand saw the golden beaches of our West Coast in their pristine state as they appeared to our early prospectors, or even similar beaches in California.)

Incidentally, the ironsand discovery by Cook could also be claimed to be the first contact with gold in this region, since those particular ironsands do contain small quantities of gold. During his visit to Mercury Bay there occurred one of those seemingly unimportant incidents which was to have a very direct influence on the discovery and working of gold in that same "hinterland" since it was to determine the time and circumstances of the first official gold discovery in Coromandel in 1852 – the first officially for New Zealand.

Some Maoris of Opitonui, immediately over on the eastern side of the main peninsular range from Coromandel, were felling a tree under Castle Rock on the main divide overlooking both coasts of the peninsular, when the news came from above that a great canoe (Cook’s ship) had been sighted coming into Mercury Bay. In wild excitement they dashed off up Castle Rock to see this marvel, dropping on the way up, a valuable greenstone adze, "The Eye of Greenstone", as valuable to them as our gold. (It was recovered many years later during excavations by the white man.)

The proud Ngati-Whanaunga, of the Tainui canoe stock which had conquered the Hauraki region about a hundred years before, came over from Coromandel to see this wonder, sleeping in a defensive circle in case of attack from the inhabitants of Whitianga pa, who were Arawa-ised tangata whenua, some tracing back to Kupe’s visit to Mercury Bay. One of the great chiefs of Coromandel came over with his little boy, Horeta te Taniwha, whose meeting with Cook is well known and that fact also had far-reaching consequences.

Less well-known sidelights on that story are given by his descendant Tukumana. ‘Tourists’ came from as far as the Waikato to see the ship. The Maori who was shot here was a big Waikato. We read that Cook was displeased with Lieut. Gore’s action, fearing the effect of the shooting upon relations with the people. But the effect was good. The big Waikato had made off with something without giving something he had been offering in return, and jeered. When he was shot for his pains, the Coromandel Maoris thought it was tika (correct) because he had stolen. Especially, seeing he was a Waikato. They would no doubt have dealt summarily with the man themselves if he had tried to lay a hand on any of their possessions. Horeta was in the canoe with the Waikato man at the time and was very frightened when there was a thunderclap and he died. On landing, Horeta’s people examined the body with great interest to find out how he had been killed.

Horeta was regaled with salt pork, and ship’s biscuits, which latter he thought was like sweet pumice and his father was given potatoes. Horeta was ever afterwards the friend of the white man and became a very influential chief.

Tukumana said the Coromandel Maoris were the first to grow potatoes. He made it plain that they preserved Cook’s stock, though Cook thought none survived. There would be no evidence of them at Mercury Bay, as the Ngati-Whanaunga went back home to Coromandel. The Ngati-Hei of Mercury Bay appear to have been of pre-kumara culture, living principally by fishing and shell-fish gathering.


The potatoes at Coromandel increased and large plantings were organised to supply the timber ships when they began to come, starting with the FANCY in 1795. She put in at Coromandel harbour which was named Brampton Harbour after the master. The HUNTER in 1799 made arrangements for potatoes to be grown against her return. The first timber trade era there lasted from 1795 to 1801, when a ship was directed further south and picked up the perishable kahi-katea or white pine, instead of Kauri, thus spoiling the trade. Potato growings were "extensive" by 1803.

Two important threads appear to have been introduced during this period. It was through timber that gold was to be discovered at Coromandel in 1852, and the discoverer that same year picked up what could be an extremely interesting link with those original timber ships.

In addition to arranging for the growing of potatoes, the HUNTER in 1799 also dropped off two or three men, doubtlessly to work in with the local Maoris and so get trees cut and hauled to the water. One preferred to stay behind.

It was not until the coming of the COROMANDEL in 1820 that the Hauraki saw further timber activity. Horeta te Taniwha told the crew where to go. Owing to the massacres the previous season by musket-armed Ngapuhi, he and his people merely established a temporary camp while the ship was there with its protection and as soon as it was gone went southwards again, as part of a general withdrawal of the Hauraki people to the head of the Thames Valley. (The man left by the HUNTER would naturally go too).

1828 saw the last Ngapuhi raid beaten off Hauraki, the decisive work being done by the destiny-laden Horeta te Taniwha and in 1830 the Hauraki Maoris came back to re-occupy their old territories from Moehau to Te Aroha, the head and stern of their ‘canoe’ – the middle being a hill behind Thames.


Missionaries came in 1833. In fact that year Morgan and Preece set up a station at Puriri, which was abandoned by Thos. Chapman, Morgan and Preece in 1837, for less wet and low-lying Herewata station on the Kauaeranga, on an elevation overlooking present-day Thames.

The Maoris were encouraged to grow crops and during the 1840’s and 1850’s helped to supply Auckland with Wheat in particular, also potatoes and peaches in season. When the gold miners came to the Thames area in 1867 they found the present town flat, largely covered with peach groves which they cut down for firewood.

While "gold" was not specifically mentioned, when the Rev. J.A. Wilson visited Mr. & Mrs. Preece at Puriri at the end of December 1833, on 31st December, Mr. W. Williams arrived with "a specimen of mineral found within the vicinity of a mountain (I think) about 40 miles from the settlement". (The word ‘mineral’ indicates the likelihood of his having found some of the complex metallic ore on Mt. Te Aroha.) Thomas Samuel Grace mentions Lanfear at the Hauraki station in 1850, after being in England "a short time ago". Lanfear then continued for a good few years.


The first traceable report of gold by white men was at Te Aroha in 1838. Owing to the troubled circumstances of the ‘Rotorua War’ just then and other considerations, this was not followed up.

In 1842 copper mining began at Kawau Island and outlying exploratory work was done as early as 1844, when copper was taking a very important place in N.Z.’s infant economy. (£7,000 – or about a third of Auckland’s total export value for 1844-45; £22,000 was copper.) There are traces and reports of this exploration at various points, including the northern tip of the Coromandel Peninsula, at Preece’s point near Coromandel and near Rocky Point which marks the northern boundary of Thames.

They were brushing very close to Hauraki gold. The writer investigated the Rocky Point site – which is on his property – and found the chalcopyrite (copper-iron sulphide). Only 20 chains south of that spot, at Rocky Point, gold to the value of £1,500 was taken out of a short tunnel in fairly recent times.


In 1849 the California gold discovery of the previous year exploded in the world’s face. Out of New Zealand’s then white population of 27,000, one thousand of the most fit and vigorous left for California. Three-fifths of the white population then lived around Auckland, which was faced with an alarming labour shortage at the very time the Californian demands for food and timber were bringing a business boom.

So the Auckland merchants wanted food and timber for California and also more labour, which they thought might be attracted by gold.

Two places which supplied a great deal of potatoes according to newspaper shipping notes, were Coromandel and the upper Thames Valley whence – since soon after the founding of Auckland 1841 – there had come the trading of one Nicholas and his half-caste sons, living in the Matamata region under the protection of the great Ngatihaua chief Te Waharoa and his son Tarapipipi, better known to us as Wiremu Tamehana, the ‘King Maker’. Horeta te Taniwha and the other Hauraki Maoris had lived under the same protection during Hongi’s years of the musket during the 1820’s.

Under Horeta’s benign protection, an important industry had grown up in the Coromandel, starting again about 1835, 15 years after the isolated visit of the COROMANDEL. Big Webster the American established by Sydney interests found not only protection by Horeta te Taniwha, but also a wife, a niece of Horeta’s, adopted into his family as a daughter.

When the boom of the 1830’s vanished with the hungry 1840’s, his banker Ranulph Dancre was sold up and Webster’s little empire collapsed. But others like Callaway McGregor came in and hung on quietly and were there ready when the boom came.


With McGregor were the Ring brothers, whose names appear on the lists of several ships going to California, in company with much timber, including abundant roofing shingles and even a sectioned house. Charles Ring caught the gold fever and prospected on the Yuba, then when California slackened joined the new tide to Australia, which drained off 1500 from the tiny white settlement of New Zealand, then around 30,000, boom conditions being helpful for growth.

Shipwreck and rescue by a New Zealand-bound vessel brought into Auckland Charles Ring and a strong party of experienced diggers at the very moment when Auckland merchants were frantic for a local gold discovery to offset the drain to Australia at a time when more supplies from New Zealand were wanted there, meaning profitable business and need for men in a drained labour market.

Gold must be found before these diggers shipped off to their intended destination – Australia. Ring bargained hard and a reward which had been offered for a gold discovery by the merchants was ‘upped’ to £500. During the whole of the year 1862 there had been a series of wild rumour chases for gold all around the Hauraki Gulf. It was muttered that gold had been found all right, but that official people were being put off the scent.

Charles Ring took ship from Auckland, one day in mid-October, spent a day on the driving creek of the sawmill at Coromandel with his brother who was there, and the third day was back with gold. Local tradition is that one of the logs going down the driving creek picked up rich gold-bearing quartz with its nose. It is hardly likely that happened just the particular day (October 15) Charles Ring found the gold so rapidly.

The Californian diggers and others who went across to the Coromandel from 140 – 300 at the most – did not like the heavy rain and great boulders in their holes, and were glad to get back to Auckland for Christmas, using excuses like the New Year Races to stay there. But what we would call ‘week-end prospecting’ began to be taken up by visitors to Auckland as, for instance, young Spicer according to his diary of 1858. He went to Ring’s and was shown how to pan for gold.

With the ‘golden decade’ of the 1860’s the wind set fair for the South Island and Auckland steadily declined in relative importance while the South shot ahead. So, more and more determined efforts were made to revive the Coromandel gold field. That depended partly on being able to make new arrangements with the Maoris, preferably for the whole Hauraki area. The original arrangement of 1852 had covered only 16 square miles around Coromandel itself. Even that would have been quite impossible without Horeta te Taniwha.

When Charles Ring came from Auckland, in October 1852, to discover the gold he was taken prisoner immediately on landing at Coromandel, though for years he had passed without trouble as a welcome sawmiller. (Possibly he was wearing a red shirt, the badge of the Californian miner.) However, he was taken to a hill where the now aged Horeta sat. He said, "I think this is a good man, we will let him go" – laughingly, as he knew Ring.

But when it came to official negotiations so that the Californian diggers would be let in, one after another the chiefs of the Hauraki Maoris spoke against it. One likelihood is missionary influence – they feared the diggers would corrupt their Maoris. Over 90 years old, drowsing in a dream, Horeta te Taniwha roused himself to say, "Let the white men have the gold." Next year he died, but a three-year arrangement was made for a 16 sq. mile area around Coromandel.

Returning to Auckland, Ring decided to explore the possibilities of the whole Hauraki area for the Government, as a result of the facilities offered by the old trader, Nicholas. Nicholas told him he had been living among the Maoris of the "River Thames" area for 50 years. Since this was in 1852, it agrees significantly with the dropping of a man by the HUNTER.

Thanks to Nicholas, Ring was able to go as far as Matamata and, provided with a horse, find a gold-bearing quartz leader as far south as the Kaimais. On the basis of this and other observations, he reported that the whole Cape Colville (Now Coromandel) range was auriferous from Cape Colville to Matamata. At one place he visited, not far south of Coromandel – beyond where Horeta’s writ ran, Ring was shown the prison hut and heavy chain ready for any gold-seekers. He took the hint and did some prospecting by stealth.

That Ring had reported the whole range as gold-bearing was not forgotten.


In 1857 Charles Heaphy made an official visit to Coromandel to see what the unofficial gold diggers were up to. The three-year agreement of 1852 had expired, but if you ‘knew the ropes’ it was possible to make a mutually profitable arrangement with someone, or merely make a visit from Auckland and ‘potter about’. On his return to Auckland he advised that the real wealth was not in the alluvial gold, to which Coromandel miners had been limited by law, but in the quartz reefs.

Negotiations with the Maoris were put in hand that year, using the offices of the retired missionary, James Preece, who proceeded cautiously and got blamed for holding things up. However, the position was delicate. The chief of an important area, one Paul, was not too happy about some of the haphazard diggers who were wandering around the land that looked unoccupied and sometimes trespassed where they were not wanted and had to be ordered off. The Maoris themselves were finding it profitable to wash for gold and take it to Auckland for sale and during 1858 Paul’s attitude hardened.

In 1859 Charles Heaphy took Dr. Hochstetter, the visiting geologist, to Coromandel and the latter made a report with extremely acute observations as to the best places to look for gold-bearing quartz reefs. Such material was published in the local newspapers at the time and Hochstetter’s prestige had a big effect. It had a curious effect on official recorders some years later when the English translation of Hochstetter’s bulky geological treatise on New Zealand misprinted 3,000 for "300" diggers, the misprint being faithfully copied by the publications of the Government and others dealing with New Zealand. A ‘rush’ of 1 in 10 out of the 1852 population of 30,000 indeed have been interesting.

In spite of Hochstetter, no progress was made with the Maoris during 1860. In 1861, the South Island skyrocketed and Auckland seethed. Paul died and in September a shipload or two of prospectors arrived on the dead Paul’s land, which became desirable. Auckland had its biggest-ever public meeting.

Much official negotiation followed, but it took the forceful Sir George Grey to break the deadlock. When Paul’s widow Lydia temporised, he went off in this boat. War clouds were looming up, while pressure was increasing, Lydia grew frightened. She waded out into the water waist deep, crying: "Oh Governor! Do not go away with a dark heart, I too renounce the land." That was in June 1862 and Grey returned to a jubilant Auckland, his ship letting off a rocket.


It was time. The beginning of 1862 saw between 200 and 300 diggers on the field, but while waiting for the opening of Paul’s land they dwindled to 100. One who had stayed on, as he lived at Coromandel with his wife and family was Gustavus Ferdinand Von Tempsky.

Now the diggers took fresh heart. A chief from the area around present-day Thames came to protest he had not been consulted. Lydia handed him £600 of the money she had been given. There were no further objections.

Meanwhile, some of the diggers had been quietly getting underway New Zealand’s first quartz mining and even while the June negotiations were going on one Keven was in Auckland to set up the first joint stock company to operate a quartz crushing battery. (This was Keven’s Reef Co.) It was formed with enthusiasm and the papers were signed as soon as the Maoris signed theirs. The timing was interesting, as it was only in 1862 that the Company Limited as we know it came into being by an Act of the British Parliament. £4,000 worth of Coromandel gold went to Auckland by the end of 1862.

The goldfield remained in being throughout 1863 with its Waikato phase of the Maori War. It was not deserted as some have asserted, though the number of diggers fell for a time and their steamship, the TASMANIAN MAID, was taken and converted into a gunboat, the SANDFLY.

Such work encouraged the development in Auckland of foundry and engineering facilities, which continued and expanded with the needs of Coromandel and then the Thames Goldfields, for quartz mining machinery. Gold production for 1863 was worth £13,000.

(It is noteworthy that the firm of Chas. Judd Ltd. was founded at Thames in 1869 and the first cast iron in its molten state was run by them, this being the first iron made into castings on the goldfields. Among these were stone-crushers, berdans and liners and much mining machinery for the Ohinemuri field.

The largest single engineering shops in N.Z. were those of Messrs. A. & G. Price at Thames. In the early days of gold-mining there was great need of batteries for crushing quartz and this was the reason for the firm moving from Onehunga to Thames. Messrs. Price successfully constructed and erected such fine mills as the 100 stamp battery for the Waihi Company at Waikino, the Silverton at Waihi and the Crown and Woodstock at Karangahake. Ed)


The defeat of the principal Maori forces in 1864 brought up the question of also opening up the Thames area. When Horeta te Taniwha incluenced [influenced? - E] the opening of the Coromandel area in 1852, Thames remained closed, as Te Moananui and others barred any expansion southwards. So Thames, then merely the "Kauaeranga" or "Herewaka" mission station, drowsed peacefully as a mission centre for the whole 30 years from 1837 to 1867. Its main economic activity was that of sending cargoes of wheat or other produced to dawning and then growing, Auckland.

A third of the Thames Maoris helped the Waikato Maoris in their fatal struggle and on the fall of Rangiriri went back home. Some shell fire from a patrolling gunboat into one of their pas followed by Civil Commissioner James Mackay to receive their guns, induced an even more peaceful mood, but not immediate cession of any land for gold-seeking, though James Mackay arranged area after area northwards of Thames from 1864 onwards.

Since the 1852 gold discovery the already growing distinction between Coromandel and "The Thames" Southwards had become clearly marked.

Another gold export in 1865 intensified interest but in that year Auckland lost its position as the capital of New Zealand. South Island gold had shifted the balance of business activity and population too decisively to be ignored. As the business stimulation of the Maori War faded away, Auckland stagnated into the doldrums and by 1867 there were soup kitchens for the unemployed. A good goldfield was wanted badly. Coromandel was too small. The South Island was producing millions.

Pressure on the Thames Maoris intensified. Some chiefs like the Taiparis, father and son, were favourable and permission was given for Prospectors to come in. But other Maoris obstructed the Prospectors and there was no headway.

The Taiparis arranged with Mackay to have two Maori Prospectors in, at least one Nelson-trained in prospecting. They made the first attested official discovery of gold at Thames in or before, June 1867, on the Southern bank of the Karaka Creek. At least one Taipari went with officials and specimens of gold to Auckland and negotiations got under way. Agreement was reached on 30th July and a proclamation was issued on 31st July, to take effect on 1st August as the official opening of the Thames Goldfield.

To the South the Ohinemuri area still remained closed, until 1875, to be penetrated only by occasional stealth or connivance.

Shiploads of diggers were busily shipped to Thames, thus relieving Auckland’s unemployment. They spread over the ground, trying for more alluvial rather than quartz gold. In the Moanataiari Valley they found the heaps of stones and other signs left by clandestine diggers who used to come at night by whale-boat from Coromandel.

In the Kuranui Valley, a miner named G. Clarkson was interested in gold found among the kumara on a patch by the sea strand. The valley was on the boundary and he was afraid to go up it because of the Maoris. He fell in with J.E. White, brother of the author of "The Ancient History of the Maori". White brought his partner W.A. Hunt, an experienced miner from the South Island, who was to give the name "Shotover" to the claim in the valley. S. Cobley was also in the party.


On 10th August 1867 they struck Thames’ first quartz bonanza. Within a few years this and an adjoining claim, in all four acres, yielded £250,000. Two more big bonanzas, the "Manakau" and "Golden Crown", followed in 1868, with many minor rich strikes.

Thames expanded explosively and by mid-1868 had a peak population estimated at 18,000. Hammering and sawing went on night and day, as ‘cloth houses’ on frames were replaced by wooden ones from the abundant nearby kauri. Coromandel sawmillers established themselves quickly and from the same area came gold-prospecting machinery.

There were vividly dressed diggers, ‘free and easy’ places with singers and dancers; many hotels, many fights; little real lawlessness; a good deal of quiet gold stealing and curious tricks and transactions. With several wharves, shipping increased and by 1870 there were boats of ‘showboat’ standard with lush decoration inside.

In 1869 there were rich discoveries on the main range over-looking Coromandel, which also boomed.

Thames discovered more Bonanzas, culminating in the "Calidonian" [Caledonian - E] which reached its peak in 1871 – the peak year for Thames, which rivalled the South Island by producing over £1,000,000 worth of gold. During the first years of boom upon boom there was talk of Auckland becoming just a fishing village, with Thames the new centre. Houses were rafted from Freeman’s Bay in Auckland to be set up in Thames. Their numbers, however, were few. Auckland in a few years rose from 12,000 to 30,000 – no longer stagnant.

A good half of the £1,000,000 of 1871 came from the "Caledonian". One 150 lb lump of gold and quartz blasted from the reef assayed at 11 troy ounces of gold the lb. avoirdupois. In one month the "Caledonian" produced over a ton of gold. Then the riches were cut out and shares dropped rapidly.

Thames still flourished, but was no longer on the upgrade. By 1872 its population had dropped to 8,000. In 1873 the Shortland end was devastated by fire. In 1874 the northern of Grahamstown end in particular was battered by a violent sea storm with resultant flooding. At that time there were two towns, the former dating from 1867, when, one morning James Mackay, finding the miners settling [setting - E] up huts and tents indiscriminately, went out with a surveyor and laid out a town. Grahamstown was laid out in 1868 as a very successful speculation by the forceful Robert Graham.

In its first ten years, the Thames goldfield produced £5 million of its total of £7 million for a total of 69 tons of gold.

The effects of the opening of the Ohinemuri area in 1875 were not immediately very apparent. By 1879 affairs at Thames were in a bad way. Appeals to the government by Alex Brodie, "the sturdy beggar from the Thames" saved the foundering companies from fore-closure and the industry was reorganized just in time to give Thames a golden lifeline to carry it through the storms of one of the world’s greatest depressions, that of the 1880’s. A traveller passing through in 1882 found the ground shaking with the thud of hundreds of stamps as the batteries pounded at the hard quartz and remarked upon the revival.

Some bonanza discoveries helped, like the "Prince Imperial" acquired as a dying company and set going again on a shoe string, thousands of pounds coming from an investment of £350.

Coromandel was producing some gold, with occasional small strikes, while there were further ‘strikes’ in various parts of the Ohinemuri area. At Karangahake and Waitekauri between Paeroa and Waihi, good mines were getting under way.

In 1880 Te Aroha was thrown open and there was great excitement among a crowd of diggers ready on their chosen ground to drive in their pegs on the signal of a cannon shot, on the rugged flanks of Mt. Te Aroha. While there were some results, they did not come up to expectations, but the rush was colourful.

While the depression deepened, gold-mining activity kept the district generally in good heart. Gold would always sell and also attract investment, which helped. Josiah C. Firth who had made money flour-milling in Auckland and who, unarmed, had defied Te Kooti – and received a promise of better behaviour towards women and children – lost in 1882 the baronial estate at Matamata he had built up since 1865.

He tried to recoup from Waiorongomai and figuratively lost his remaining shirt.

In 1885 there were big doings in the mining world. The Government had decided gold was a Very Good Thing during a depression and eccentric but forceful Wm. J.M. Larnoch was Minister of Mines. He found the right men in the equally eccentric and brilliant James. G. Black to stump the country beating the drum for the establishment of School of Mines, one was at Thames (1885-1954).

Gold production around Thames continued to fall quietly, with occasional spurts upward, but was still considerable, especially for money-hungry depression times. Meanwhile, there was a quiet increase in production from the Ohinemuri area. That included some rather unsuccessful production by unsuitable methods from huge reefs on a small hill at present-day Waihi.

John McCombie and the American, Robert Lee, made the discovery in 1878, but struck trouble with the local Maoris who tried to seal them in after chasing them into their tunnel. However, when the dirt was piled high enough to hide them from view, the prospectors dropped in a couple of fused charges of blasting powder, which were immediately covered with earth unnoticed and shortly scattered a great shower of dirt on the unhurt but astonished Maoris. However, gold recoveries from the treatment used were bad and they presently went off on the trail of Hone Werahiko’s Waiorongomai ‘strike’ near Te Aroha.

From the opposite direction, W. Nicholl climbed out the head of the Waiorongomai Valley and went to the deserted Waihi strike and with a number of others took it over.

During the 1880’s two small batteries managed to put through 18,000 tons of quartz which left very rich tailings in the Ohinemuri River but gave the miners little gold. In 1889 a decisive event happened. The cyanide process had its first trial in Glasgow, but its first field trial in the world was at the Crown Battery, Karangahake. In 1892 [1893/4 – E] cyaniding was adopted at Waihi and the Martha Mine become one of the greatest in the world, producing nearly £30 million worth of gold between 1892 and 1955, when the final clean-up and winding up were completed. Actual mine production ceased here in 1952. It is interesting to note that the workings went down 1,800 ft. and comprised over 100 miles of tunnels.

Coromandel gave, in all, over £1½ million of gold; Thames as noted £7 million and the Karangahake area another £4 or £5 million; the great "Talisman" which ex-President Hoover of the U.S.A. visited in his young days as a consultant, yielding around £3 million.

The introduction of the cyanide process in 1892 [1889 – E] was an event of real and solid importance. The latter half of the 1890’s – 1895 – 1900 – also saw a great share boom in gold. The Hauraki area got the full blast as in 1894 the tributers Ross and Colhurst opened up a rich bonanza in the Hauraki Mine at Coromandel. Investors flocked to put money into pegs on the map, anywhere in the Coromandel Peninsula, regardless of geology, probability, or accessibility. Much English money came to New Zealand and did not return.

Thames enlarged an old shaft called the "Queen of Beauty" and extended it down to 1,000 ft. with a big pump to drain the whole field around the town and made possible a long deep level exploratory tunnel. Unfortunately, someone’s economic interests caused a change of route to dangerous ground and by 1913 two successive piercings of a clay seal in a fault had brought water spurting in under pressure as high as 600 lbs. to the sq. inch, thus ‘drowning’ gold-mining on a fully organized basis in Thames.

That had already happened in Coromandel in 1902, with the dwindling of the "Hauraki" and the dying of the investment boom.

But the "Crown" and "Talisman" at Karangahake were well-known names for some years and during the first decade of the 1900’s the "Martha" at Waihi was only beginning to realise its full potentialities. The year 1910 saw set-backs, including the flooding of the huge battery at Waikino, but it recovered to go on year after year. The 1912 Waihi Strike bulked large in public attention, but it did not affect the essential soundness of the mine’s position. Apart from that, the end of World War I found gold mining dwindling.

The main reason why Thames was able to continue with her big 1,000 ft. scheme right up to 1913 was that in 1904 a mine which had been worked for 30 years suddenly opened up a really big bonanza. From a cubic space equal to an ordinary hall there came over £½million worth of gold by 1907. As one geologist put it, in a patchy field like the Thames no one can ever say with certainty that it is finally exhausted.

"The lure of riches in days gone by

Called us o’er the seas

We wished for gold, we craved for wealth

For the gold mines held the keys".

(Opening lines of a once popular song among the gold miners of Thames).


All held in the Auckland Public Library.


CRUISE, Richard A.

N.Z. One Hundred Years Ago (1921)

FRASER, Colin and ADAMS, J.H.

N.Z. Geological Survey Bulletin 4 (Coromandel) (1907)

HAGLUND, Jno. Rogers

A History of the Coromandel Goldfield, 1853-1868, the Second Phase (1949)

SPICER, Archibald H.

Diary Trip and Stay Coromandel, 1858


Auckland, the Capital of N.Z. and the Country Adjacent (1853)



N.Z. Geological Survey Bulletin 10 (Thames) (1910)


Thames Reminiscences (1926)


Report to Auckland Provincial Council (1869)

McKAY, Alexander

Deep Level Mining and other works 1887-1905

NICHOL, Wm. (Prospector)

The Thames To-day and as it opened 60 years ago. (1927) Microfilm


Thames Miner’s Guide (1868)


Jubilee of Thames Goldfield (1917)

Thames Jubilee Booklet, 1867 – 1927



History of the Hauraki Goldfields (1933 Thesis)



BELL, James M.

N.Z. Geological Survey Bulletin 15 (1912)

MORGAN, Percy G.

N.Z. Geological Survey Bulletin 26 (1924)



N.Z. Geological Survey Bulletin 16 (1913)


Piako County Diamond Jubilee 1877-1937





Nation Making. A Story of New Zealand (1890)

(N.B. All the foregoing are in the Auckland Public Library)







Voyage Round the World. Vol. II (1773)




The Narrative of Edward Crew, or Life in N.Z. (1874)


Poenamo; Sketches of the Early Days in N.Z. (1881) (Reprint 1953)


Geologie von Neu-Seeland (1864)




Gold Mines of the Hauraki District (1935)


Tainui (1949)


The First Gold Discoveries in N.Z. (1906)

MORRELL, W.P. (ed.)

Sir Joseph Banks in N.Z. (1958)

McNAB, Robt. (ed.)

Historical Records of New Zealand, 2 Volumes (1908 and 1914). From Tasman to Marsden (1914)

REED, A.H. & A.W. (eds)

Captain Cook in New Zealand (1951)


Mining and Shipping Records; Manuscripts; Newspapers, etc – These comprise a large list, including a great mass of MSS written by, and typescripts taken down from Mr. W. Hammond, Thornton’s Bay, Thames Coast.

This article was first published by the Whakatane Historical Society in 1961 and we express our gratitude to the Society and to Mr. Isdale for permission to use it now.