Martha Battery Water Race

Bayldon completed his survey on 26 August, the race to be two miles long with a fall of 70 feet. Later in this same document Isdale says 2.5 miles to the Walmsley’s Creek. So where was this water race? According to Nicholl the battery was near Gilmour’s house. Let’s assume this is somewhere near No. 1 Shaft on Martha. The Waihi Gold Mining Company (established Dec. 1887) put in their Walmsley water race (1891), and this has been mapped by GIS from old maps. This race passes close to where the Martha Battery would have been, and was just over 5.5km to the battery, or nearly 3.5 miles long. Despite the length discrepancy, I suggest this is more or less the same water race.

The race for the Martha battery may be seen winding round the spurs from near the building to Mr Walmsley's house, and is formed much farther along the hills than even there.

In October 1881, the Martha Company accepted the tender of H.H. Adams to construct a battery and water race for £1,238. Already in September his tender of £2,740 to erect a battery and water race had been accepted by the Waihi Gold Mining Company.

H.H. Adams

Henry Hopper Adams had built the battery for the Te Aroha Quartz Crushing Company earlier that year (it was built in what was to become Boundary Street in Te Aroha, and opened in April 1881). He "was still in charge of this battery in June, if not later" . Adams was then a leading figure in Te Aroha mining, and "in September 1882, was working day and night to complete his water race contract for the Waiorongomai battery. By the following February, he was both engineer and manager for the Battery Company (Waiorongomai), having won the contract to erect its battery. In February 1883, when both water races were completed, his skilful construction was universally praised." Adams went on to construct the Waiorongomai tramway.

So Adams was a busy and well thought of contractor, juggling multiple commitments.

Timber for the Waihi batteries would be cut locally. Already in July sawyers were eyeing the kauri trees of the Waitete. A report in the Thames Advertiser, July 1881:

Mr. Alexander Unthank is busily engaged with the erection of a baker's oven and general store. This gentleman has started two pairs of sawyers, who will soon make their mark on the magnificent kauri forest which clothes the banks and valley of the Waitete stream.

Adams brought in his own portable steam engine to mill the kauri for the batteries, quite an undertaking.

About five o'clock yesterday afternoon interest was manifested in the transit of a 16-h.p. steam engine through Albert and Pollen-streets, on route for Waihi. The new engine was supplied to the order of Mr H. H. Adams by Messrs Price Bros, of the Thames, and is intended to drive a sawmill at Waihi. It was shipped on board the Patiki, and after reaching the landing-place--so intricate will be the way—it is believed nothing less than a team of sixteen horses will be able to take it to its destination.

It appears that the Adams sawmill would become known as the Waihi sawmill. It was extensively advertised for sale from March 1883 and finally auctioned in October 1883, where the final bid of £250 was insufficient to secure.

There was also a Webb’s sawmill, where William Savage died after a fall in July 1882. This may have been the same sawmill, as Adams mentioned "his man Webb" during a court case.

Mr H.H. Adams, the contractor for the Waihi battery, is cutting a road through the bush to a sawmill site and has machinery in progress for cutting and preparing timbers for the company's battery. The sawyers are also at work felling the timber in readiness, and also for the bridge across the township creek."

The road through the bush may well be the present Waitete Road, and the township creek meaning the first Waihi bridge over the Ohinemuri (completed December 1882).

The timber for the bridges is being cut at the Waihi saw-mill, and the order is all but completed, and during this week a start will be made to draw down the timber from the mill to the Ohinemuri river, a distance of about two miles. The timber is to be all of the best description, and the long stringers that will be used are already all cut to the desired dimensions, and to a length of seventy-two feet. These great lengths have been turned out in the most satisfactory manner, and are a credit to the mill and its enterprising proprietor.

Again in the Thames Advertiser, February 1882: "Mr Adams's sawmill, which has been built in the bush at the back of Savage's agricultural lease."

"The man, William Savage, was a worker at what had been Adams and was now Burton's [Thames] sawmill." Savage Rd, named after the Savage family, follows the Mangatoetoe Stream, but the "Savages Freehold" is to the west of Waitete Road (and the Waihi College).


As an aside, in June 1884 William Nicholl, late miner and now sawmill owner, filed for bankruptcy. In August, during his public examination, he "stated he was a timber miller at Waihi, and had been a miner. Had been a contractor for the supply of sleepers." His jumbled remarks included having paid £240 for the sawmill. Had Nicholl purchased the Waihi sawmill that had been passed in at the auction?

Of further interest may be the fact that Nicholl leased farming land at the Ohinemuri River, near its confluence with the Waitete Stream. In 1885 he asked the county council for ‘assistance in constructing a suspension bridge over the Ohinemuri River at Waihi’ . This bridge may have been located at his farm, in which case it still existed in 1942 (visible on aerial photograph). This is beside the new cycleway (see GIS).

Hart elaborates:

Nicholl followed the example of many miners by having a small farm. He had first applied for an agricultural lease of 50 acres in 1883, but this was not granted. In 1891 he applied for a larger area, using, like others, family members as ‘dummies’. The first application was made in January, when his wife, describing herself as married to a farmer, applied for 50 acres bordered on the south by the road to Tauranga and on the north and west by the Ohinemuri River. It was granted. Nicholl applied in late February for 50 acres of ‘pastoral & agricultural land’ bordered on the north by the river; the sketch map he enclosed showed this land as being on both sides of it, with the western boundary being Waitete Creek. It was two miles ‘below’ Waihi. On 26 March, William Nicholl, junior, miner, of Waihi, son of William Nicholl, miner, applied for another 50 acres, also on the edge of the Ohinemuri river and adjoining Mary Jane Nicholl’s occupation license. This applicant can only have been Nicholl’s youngest son, aged three. This license was not granted, but his father’s was, in August.

This area includes the dredging site, the modern Council sewage ponds, and the peninsula of land bordered by the Ohinemuri River across which the Waihi Goldmining Company’s water race traversed in 1897 (part of the McKinney farm, now Orchard). The suspension bridge would have allowed foot access from the Waihi Paeroa road. A ford still exists on the Ohinemuri River just downstream of the bridge, date unknown. Remains of at least an early cowshed can be seen. This could be the area that Nicholl called "Nicholl’s Flat". It is indeed an area of flat land.

In 1900, Nicholl’s residence was given in the electoral roll as ‘Nicholl’s Flat, Waihi’, and his occupation as settler.1024 Presumably he was living on his small farm. On 22 January 1901, he obtained a new lease of the same land, now surveyed precisely as 49 acres three roods and 28 perches, the map showing it being bisected by the Waihi Company’s water race.


The Martha Battery was completed first, and on May 24, 1882, was officially opened with a gala event.

The battery was situated 200 yards from the mouth of the low level tunnel at the base of the eastern slope of the hill. Although there had been grumbling over the long time Adams had taken to build both battery and water race, there was also much praise for the machinery he had invented.

The battery is situated in the centre of the Juno claim, on the eastern side of the Young Colonial and Little Tommy claims. The water for the turbine is brought in from Walmsley’s Creek, a distance of two and a half miles, on a substantially-constructed race, giving a fall of 70 feet, and is connected with the turbine by nine-inch iron pipes. The turbine is on a different principle to the ordinary ones, being an idea of Mr H. Adams, the contractor, and appears to work in a very satisfactory manner, the pressure being about 35lb to the inch. The battery building itself is of heart of kauri, and is exceedingly well fitted up. Only 15 head of stampers have been erected at present, but the bed-log is laid for 15 more head, which will be fitted up as soon as required. Upwards of 100 persons were present at the opening, and after the battery had worked for a few minutes, the guests sat down to a sumptuous luncheon.

There was a "recherche luncheon" according to the newspaper reporter, and a "spread ... with turkey and other good things" according to Bill Nicholl, who was there with his mate Majurey, and both were toasted. Mr J.H. [Kerry] Nicholls, F.G.S., Mr George Vesey Stewart (chairman and vice-chairman respectively) and the ubiquitous Adam Porter made speeches. Mr Adams, being toasted, said he had used 136,000 feet of timber on battery and water races. Mr Gribble was toasted as mine manager.

Hart quotes Nicholl that "the battery was christened by Miss Mary Jane Compston, of Waihi". Nicholl was to marry her three years later (on 7 January 1885, when she was 22 years old) .

The battery did not perform well, the stampers operating too slowly. Adams designed the turbine and A.&G. Price were the makers . It was ineffective and/or inefficient. Dry weather made the situation worse; "the water dried up in the creek and came down the race half way only."

The same turbines were installed at the Martha and Waihi batteries, and both proved inadequate. It appears that they required a large volume of water to be effective, and performed well at other installations (eg Owharoa ). It appears that the Martha water race lost water, ie it was leaky. A water race required careful puddling to make it watertight. Time and costs pressure may have compromised this work, dry weather compounding the problem.

A water race was generally given a gradient, or fall, of 1:2000 (ie 1m for every 2km). Less, and the water would not run, more, and the channel could scour (and of course water head would be needlessly lost). However, water races built by Adams at Waiorongomai were reported as built with a fall of 1in 400. If this is not an error in reporting, it is very steep. For the interesting description of this water race, see the Appendices (page 92).

The Waihi Company’s battery was doing better than the Martha Battery, but their water race also had issues (to be discussed below).

Nicholl was appointed Martha mine and battery manager.

The Waihi Gold Mining Company

Hugh Roberts Jones, nicknamed ‘Manukau’ because he had been mine manager of this profitable Thames mine , had taken up a claim on the southern end of the spur (Martha).

The Waihi Gold Mining Company was formed in early August 1881, amalgamating Manukau Jones's claim with the Little Lizzie and the Waitete. "‘Manukau’ Jones had brought in a good deal of Auckland capital, which he was using to vigorously develop his section of the Martha reef system". And money to spend on the new battery.