The signing took place at "Ohinemuri," (soon to be Paeroa, with a sale of sections as a European township,) on February 18, 1875.
This provided for the actual opening to take place on March 5 [3 - E], at a tented Mackaytown, which by the day had around a thousand; 800 odd diggers, the rest businessmen to set up shops and pubs, officials, and spectators.
Even Te Hira had signed, in default of any economically viable choice. Raihana had naturally ceased, with a final figure of £26,000 - the bills would have been heavy for the feasts at Miranda-Whakatiwai over to the west, with sunset on a piece of independent Maoriland, which had been largely supported by said raihana.
A likely source of revenue, judging by Thames, was to have thousands of diggers paying those Miner's Right fees of a pound a year, for "the native owners of the soil."
But the Karangahake ridge, across the river from Mackaytown, with a wild rush over said river on foot and horseback, and then on foot up the steep side of the ridge, soon was showing not "nuggets as big a potatoes," but difficult quartz with little gain, and with April 10 starting a rush to Neavesville nearer Thames, most soon streamed away. A few diehards hung on through the winter at more promising Waitekauri, but a year after the opening, on March 3, 1875, there still had to be any recordable production of gold.
Turning ceding into losing title altogether soon began to be a reality, with Mackay getting his 100,000 acres in the Ohimemuri, with his third considered settleable divided into 50 acre blocks, soon occupied by eager settlers, who soon found 50 rather hilly acres too small, so abandoned or amalgamated leaseholds. The river flatlands where cultivations and dwellings lined the river in particular, had been left as "native reserves."
The "closed" Ohinemuri had always been porous, to friends, and friends of friends, with some even joining in, like Nepia te Ngarara with the Thorp lads at least as early as 1862. Incidentally, said Thorp young men, and Maori friends, took up a Karangahake claim on March 3, when Maori parties as such were also welcome.
Once it became evident that the Ohinemuri was to be opened, the trickle became a flood.
They did not wait for the agreement being signed on February 18, even less the official opening on March 5 [3 - E], 1875. They were out at the beginning of January, and even lighting fires to "clear" ground for prospecting, in fern and manuka country.
January 16. There was mention of several fires "on the face of the range."
What with old-timers of former years, and the new prospectors swarming in and all around, by the time of the official opening on March 3, a good deal was already known about likely spots for gold mining. The night before, horses were hidden in the scrub near Mackaytown - where not "burnt off." (March 3 was a day of heat and fine black ash into everything, including faces that with sweat and black ash looked like the then popular "nigger minstrels.") While some used the horses to at least cross the river before tackling the steep side of the Karangahake ridge on foot, others rode off to already known spots at Rotokohu, Waitekauri and the great reef on the Waihi Plains, showing up white, where many had chipped before, and the riders came back in the evening of March 3 to pronounce the great reef "buck " or barren. Whether anyone had already noticed anything about Owharoa is not on record.
A likely person, in view of subsequent developments, is James Liddell. He appears on an 1875 directory list as living at Thames - he had already had quite a mining career on the West Coast of the South Island, and by the opening of the Ohinemuri seems to have already known his way around.
On March 3, he did not feel the need to go further afield than the Karangahake ridge where most went, to take up a claim with J. B. Hannah and Adam Porter, who would in time become quite a name in the Ohinemuri. While in succeeding days the crowd soon thinned, what was registered as Hannah's claim, the Mazeppa, set to work, and continued through the winter, like a few diehards in the then almost inaccessible Waitekauri in the season of mud. A few of the business people who had flocked to tented Mackaytown on March 3 also stayed on, most prominently the McCloughlens.
On March 16 there was news that James Mackay had talked with Native Minister Sir Donald McLean. A road was to be started at once to connect "Tauranga with the Thames," and Sir Donald made £700 immediately available to cut a cattle track between Kati Kati and Tauranga.
"Captain Turner and party of surveyors are to be over this week to lay off the toads, and the work is to be let in small contracts. This will keep a large number of men in the district who would otherwise leave for lack of money."
Dates refer to "Thames Advertiser."
March 22. Commissioner James Mackay and Captain Turner of the Armed Constabulary had arrived back from Kati Kati, having made a horseback reconnaissance re the most suitable place for a road, leaving the main track and examining. (The main track would be the long established back door from Kati Kati to the Ohinemuri, hitting the river in the Owharoa area.) They were then examining what was existing from the Puke main steamer landing at the junction of the Waihou and Ohinemuri, so the Karangahake Gorge. (Smaller steamers could go up the Ohinemuri as far as the Paeroa landing.)
The pack track to Waitekauri was to be cut immediately, on a shorter route from Paeroa.
March 24. Surveyors were to start that morning on the Waitekauri track, to start from a point between Paeroa and Mackaytown. (Thus well north of the Karangahake Gorge)
March 25. As regards laying out the main road between Paeroa and Tauranga, Mr. Turner had eliminated two river crossings approaching Mackaytown, going round a river bend by what became known as Turner's Hill.
The day before, McCarthy had also started to survey the pack track to Waitekauri, to enable Captain Turner to estimate the cost of making the track. (Which would involve a good deal of cutting and felling.)
March 26. Engineer McLaren had finished surveying 3 water races, one up the Waitawheta, one for the junction of the Waitawheta and Ohinemuri, and one on the Ohinemuri. It was understood the holders of the "Prospectors' claim," Karangahake, would at once "commence the erection of a crushing mill," or battery.
April 22, 1875. The pack track was now cut (trees felled and underbrush cleared) to the claims at Waitekauri, some 7 or 8 miles, by "Mr. R.B. McCartrie, surveyor, and party of natives." "It requires to be widened and graded at several points.
There was suggestion of another route. "It would be a useful work to have the track cut from the spur at Mackaytown to the claims at Waitekauri. The miners believe the run of gold is in that direction, and the cutting of a track would promote prospecting."
(This would also run closer to Owharoa.)
May 10. The Ohinemuri prospectors met and appointed A.J. Thorp, J. Corbett and J. Smith to go to Thames with power to negotiate the purchase of a battery on behalf of the "Prospectors' Claim." The Meeting was chaired by Adam Porter, who was with J.B. Hannah and James Liddell on the Mazeppa, which Porter said was costing £60 a week to run, and other mines in proportion. (A battery would mean returns from processing and sale of gold.)
May 15 found the Ohinemuri in flood, cutting off horse and cart traffic between Paeroa and Mackaytown, as the Turner’s Hill deviation round the big bend had not yet been finished.
On May 31 with a gale a number of "calico houses," of canvas over wooden fames came to grief. There was flooding, but by now the Turners’s hill deviation was already ready for packhorses. But J.B. Hannah, manager of the busy Mazeppa mine, had by now a stout slab hut with store and blacksmith's shop. Things were settling in at Karangahake.
June 11. The rush to Fern Flat was "on the other side of the Ohinemuri crossing on the Tauranga road," meaning Owharoa. The important "Prospectors’ Claim was pegged there by William Moore, Robert Brown, B.H. Price and F.W. Hatch. They sent a test crushing of 95 pounds to the Tramway battery at Grahamstown (north Thames), getting 5 grains over half an ounce. (That meant a rich 12 ounces to the ton.) The quartz "leader" was 23 feet thick, of blue quartz impregnated with mundic (iron sulphide), and no visible gold. Now that there was likely to be considerable traffic on that part of the road, it was imperative and the duty of the Government for a wire rope to be stretched across the river. There had already been four accidents at the crossing in a week. (So Owharoa as such began.)
OWHAROA AND GOLD - FIRST OHINEMURI BATTERY?
June 22. A party went over from Thames to Kati Kati to look at where Ulster settlers would soon arrive by Carisbrook Castle. Disembarked with riding horses at Puke landing, found Paeroa "quite a respectable township" by this time. Trusted to good horses to ford the Ohinemuri, and on the other side of the ranges, from Owharoa to Kati Kati (by the old back door with its long established trail) found "the road very good, the only obstacles a few creeks."
The Ohinemuri "Prospectors" at Karangahake had started to clear a track to a machine site for a battery. They intended to land the plant from Thames as far up the river as possible, then sledge it with bullocks to Noble's. Then it would be lowered down a steep incline with block and tackle, and the bullocks would then drag it a short distance along the bank of the river to the machine site.
July 9. Arrangements had been come to between the shareholders of the Waitekauri Coy. and Mr. Bleazard for the latter to erect a 40 stamp battery on the spot. The machinery, it was remarked, would do much for Waitekauri and claims on the Dan Leahy reef.
It was mentioned that on 3rd September the Ohinemuri goldfield had been opened 6 months, but with the exception of a few trial crushings, "Ohinemuri has not yet figured as a gold-producing district." Of 1200 to 1300 miner's rights issued, not 200 were now being used on the Ohinemuri field. "Of the 20 or 30 licences taken out for public houses, not a tithe are now being exercised, and the buildings in which such licences were permitted to operate are now closed, monuments of the too confident nature of the owners".
Sept. 28. Adam Porter, with prominent Thames contractors like Gibbons, Darrow and Souter, plus teamster "the immortal Harry Rawden," went to revive things, going from Thames by steamboat and by land from Paeroa to Karangahake hill to examine reefs "re erecting machinery." (The earlier attempt had been bogged down for the winter, with the mining enterprise it was for apparently abandoned.)
But the most important part of their mission had to do with Waitekauri, where the erection of the battery "was going on apace," so far as could be done on the spot from the forest. The great bed plates for the stampers, of 3 great baulks of timber, each 44 feet long by 2 feet square, were ready to be placed in position. But the heavy iron machinery had to be brought in from outside, and an alternative to the existing road or whatever, with its steeps and "very bad" stretches of deep mud was a barrier.
With the advancing spring, they found 50 prospectors at work on interesting prospects in the creeks between Mackaytown and Waitekauri. Also useful local knowledge. "An almost level track has been found between Macakytown and Waitekauri mill site, length about 7 miles." It was to be immediately cleared for foot passengers, "and more than half of it will form the best and shortest route to Tauranga, avoiding the mountainous country about the gorge."
Meanwhile some agricultural settlers had already arrived at Rotokohu and were planting potatoes.
October 6, 1875. "Arrangements will shortly be perfected for the erection of a battery at Karangahake."
A meeting of the Waitekauri Gold Mining Company at Thames elected directors including Robt. Bleazard, and resolved that the only possible road to Waitekauri "to be available for the transit of machinery and heavy traffic is the road leading eastward to the Tarariki Creek and along the Puketea or coal track, about 5 1/2 miles." Arrangements were made to blaze the route and get ₤300 promised by the Provincial Government to make such access. Committee set up.
Oct. 14. Committee sent out exploring party with a Maori, Watene, and found a route for a dray road which teamster contractor Harry Rawden went over and said if the bush was cleared he would be prepared to take a two horse dray with a ton along that route. A detailed description of the way from Mackaytown included:- "In the open country somewhere in the vicinity of the Owharoa Block will probably be found the best point for the divergence of an easy road over the Waihi Plains towards Kati Kati, the Stewart settlement (Ulstermen), and Tauranga." (Owharoa was in a key position.)
(It sounded very much like the route the 50 prospectors had worked out.) It was, "generally very level, broken only here and there by small gully or watercourse."
(So far work on the "main road" had been confined to between Paeroa and Mackaytown, especially the Turner’s hill deviation, and perhaps Puke-Paeroa, with the prospect of going through the Karangahake Gorge dauntingly expensive.
October 18. Telegram from Sir George Grey, Superintendent of Auckland Province, saying authority would be given at once for the necessary expenditure to make the track to Waitekauri and enable Messrs. Brown and Bleazard to get up their machinery to the Waitekauri battery site. Sir George had got in first before deputations reached him.
October 28 reported Waitekauri claims being pegged daily, "but "Karangahake languishing for want of machinery," By November 2 Waitekauri reported a population of over 100. Waitekauri was wanting its road from Paeroa along the existing 8 mile pack track, rather than the more level route from Mackaytown it said meant 14 miles. District Engineer McLaren was going by the Mackaytown route blazed to Waitekauri, returning by the pack track to Paeroa, to compare.
November 5. Negotiations for a battery for the Karangahake Gold Mining Company had been completed, with tenders for the conveyance and erection of machinery the following week, and levels to be taken meanwhile for a water race. Waitekauri miners were divided over road route.
(The Ohinemuri Company which had made an abortive attempt to get a battery through to Karangahake had run out of money and disappeared.)
November 15, 1875 At Waitekauri, sawyers on timber contracts for the big Brown and Bleazard battery now had 120,000 feet cut ready for use, all kauri. There was movement with all the new claimholders around.
November 20. Karangahake Gold Mining Company was having surveys made for carting and erecting battery machinery.
A reinforcement of Armed Constabulary was now expected to work on the construction of the main road from Mackaytown on to Tauranga.
December 18. There was news of a recent gold find. 3 miles up the Ohinemuri from Mackaytown, the Prospectors’ Claim being called the Smile of fortune. (A name that would long endure at Owharoa). Others pegged around, it. "The Prospectors have taken up a machine site and intend to erect a battery, taking water from the Te Ari Creek, which enters the Ohinemuri at the back of the spur, on its southern bank." There were "visits by Thames notabilities," including Hunt and contractor Darrow, re erecting a battery on certain conditions.
"The greater part of the machinery for the Karangahake Gold Mining Company battery has been landed, and is awaiting conveyance to the site."
(The floods would make that difficult for the time being. A settler already established at the Waitawheta, Charles Franklyn, lost employee Nathan Partington by drowning in the flooded Ohinemuri.)