(By C. G. SLEEMAN and R. P. BELL)
One morning in February, 1878, two young prospectors standing on the Waitekauri Hills to the west of the present town of Waihi, looked eastward across the scrub-covered basin of the Waihi plains towards the sea. The early morning sun glinted from a white quartz cone on the top of a spur, Pukewa, north of the plains area, and McCombie and Lee set off through the scrub towards the discovery of a gold mine which was to prove in years to come one of the greatest gold producers in the world.
Almost three years before, on March 3rd., 1875, the Ohinemuri district had been officially declared a goldfield, and Karangahake, Owharoa, Mackaytown and Waitekauri were hives of industry. McCombie and Lee had moved eastward from the Waitekauri diggings.
They were not the first prospectors in the area. The first mentioned of Waihi appears in the geological report of 1870-71 by Sir James Hector. He makes reference to natures of the rock-formation and to the occurrence of quartz reefs in the vicinity of the north headland of Waihi Beach. Even at this early date (April, 1870) the marks of the prospector were in evidence, as mention is made of "places where the ground has been tried." The first prospectors to pitch camp at Waihi are said to have been Daniel Leahy and Scott O'Neill, the discoverers of payable gold at Waitekauri. They were followed by Corbett and Marriman. Both of these parties confined their attention to the Union-Silverton Hill, and failed to find anything which appeared profitable to work. At the turn of the present century, John McCombie, then manager of the Talisman Consolidated Mine at Karangahake, wrote of the discovery at Waihi:
"It is now more than 20 years ago since I, in company with an American named Robert Lee, started fossicking in the Ohinemuri district, and there is still a strong fascination for me in the remembrance of that time. The free life and self-dependence, together with the fact that one never knew what tomorrow would bring forth, had an attraction of its own that can only be understood by those who have had similar experiences. About the month of February, 1878, we decided on going eastward of the known belt of gold-bearing country then being worked in the Waitekauri district. This took us out in the direction of Waihi, where the landscape is wide-spread, comprising thickly wooded hills and open plain, the latter being covered over with a stunted growth of fern and manuka scrub indicating poverty of the soil. At the time of which I speak there were no Europeans in the locality and a few natives belonging to the Ngatikoe tribe who lived on the banks of the Ohinemuri River, about a mile and a half from the present Waihi township.
"Long before arriving at the scene of our subsequent adventures we could see the quartz comprising the outcrop of now famous lode glistening beneath the rays of the morning sun; and when we came to the Mangatoetoe Stream the first dish of rubble panned gave a good prospect of free gold. This convinced us that we were in an auriferous region, and we hastened on to an outcrop of the lode, looming sharply up on the cone of Pukewa spur, which rises abruptly out of the plain to a height of about 250 feet. We soon covered the intervening space and had our picks at work breaking out ore from its rugged walls.
"Having secured a dozen samples from as many different places along the line of the outcrop, we went back to the creek, where we commenced reducing and testing. This was done by crushing the ore on the flat stone with our hammer-headed prospecting picks, and in every instance we obtained fair dish prospects of the precious metals. Being highly pleased with these results we returned to the lode, of which we now made a thorough examination, and amongst other things we took particular note of the following: The lode appeared to be about 20 feet in thickness. It had a general north-and-south course, with an easterly underlie, and the enclosing country rock consisted chiefly of decomposed tufa, which invariably accompanies gold and silver bearing lodes on the Hauraki gold-fields. The ore-body was laminated, streaked with sulphides of iron and silver, and sprinkled with oxide of manganese.
"The outcrops of several other reefs were visible on adjacent hills, and, taken all round, the place afforded better chances of success than Waitekauri, where we had been gold-hunting for the previous six months with but scant results, and we determined to give Waihi a trial.
"During the afternoon we experienced a heavy gale from the north-east accompanied by a steady drizzle, and towards night, when making the return trip, we were overtaken by a regular downpour of rain which completely drenched us before reaching our camp at Waitekauri.
"Next morning, the weather having cleared, we bundled our traps together, stowed them on a packhorse, and started out with light hearts for the new El Dorado. Nothing of moment happened until we reached the Waitete Stream, where tufts of fern and flax hung from the bending shrubs, and masses of driftwood lodged high and dry on the banks, indicating the heights of the "fresh" consequent upon the heavy rain which fell overnight. Although the flood waters had receded considerably, the stream was still deep, but some-what narrow at the crossing, and I essayed to vault over with the assistance of a long pole, which, however, broke short off when I threw my weight on it, and landed me in the middle of the miniature mountain torrent. I was swept down some distance before I grasped the overhanging leaves of a flax bush growing on the opposite bank to the one which I had left, and then I struggled ashore. By knotting several blades of flax together I made a rope long enough to reach from bank to bank. One end of this with a stone attached was thrown across to Lee, who made it fast to the headstall of the horse's bridle.
"After some persuasion we managed to make the horse enter the stream, and when we did so the first plunge launched him out of his depth, swags and all, till there was nothing but his nose visible above water. Now I was obliged to pull my hardest upon the flax rope, so as to bring the animal loaded with all our worldly gear to the approach at my side, and in this I succeeded, more by good luck than otherwise. Fortunately, our swags were wrapped up in water-proof sheets, and therefore were not the worse for their immersion.
"Lee, who could not swim, was obliged to travel half a mile down stream before finding a place narrow enough to leap across, and joining me as quickly as possible, we resumed our journey. Later on that day we experienced considerable difficulty in fording two other small streams, and the sun was low on the horizon by the time we reached our destination — tired, wet and hungry.
"The following day we commenced cutting trenches across the lode at stated intervals, and we got fair prospects of gold and silver at every point of intersection. As the ore appeared to be richest at the northern of the outcrop, we resolved to test the lode there at a depth of 60 feet beneath the surface.
"To accomplish this it was necessary to drive a crosscut from the western side of the spur, a distance of over 200 feet and we at once set about the preliminaries towards carrying out our project. First of all we wanted a wheelbarrow, and the nearest place to get one was Waitekauri. The most arduous task was to get it the nine miles to the site.
"Before covering the first four miles I had exhausted all the known methods of harrow [barrow – E] trudling. I tried driving it before me, pulling it after me, turning it upside down, carrying it on my shoulders, and slinging it on my back after the fashion of a Maori pikau, which proved the easiest style of taking it along. It was not quite daylight when I left Waitekauri with the wheelbarrow, and yet I did not get to our camp until 8 p.m., when Lee, who had been ahead with a pack-load of tools was starting out in search of me. The first ten days of our sojourn at Waihi were occupied in building a whare, erecting a smithy, and burning some charcoal for tool-pointing purposes. From the outset our work progressed at the rate of five feet per day — the country penetrated being very favourable for driving.
"Early one fine summer morning, when our tunnel was in about 80 feet, we were visited by two hoary-headed Maoris, who told us that Pukewa was wahi tapu, and insisted on our suspending operations at once. This we quietly but firmly declined to do, and after a warm debate they left for their Kaianga, where they said there were a large number of natives who would clear us out pretty quickly.
"Sure enough, next morning the old man returned, in company with several young ones and quite a host of women, who were all armed with taiahas and other weapons of primitive warfare. As soon as I caught sight of the advancing army of Amazons I knew from experience that our troubles were about to begin.
"The spokeswoman, an aged crone, addressed herself to me in a tirade of abuse that would have done credit to a Billingsgate fish-woman — meanwhile several others took occasion, every now and then, to emphasise their leader's remarks by waving their weapons in dangerous proximity to my face.
"Throughout these interesting preliminaries my mate was working in the tunnel, and at last he came out with a barrowload of stuff broken from the face. This was tilted over the tip-head, and when about to re-enter the level three buxom damsels seized the barrow, and a general struggle ensued. For a time he held his own, but eventually he was overpowered, and drawn, barrow and all, back towards the tip-head, which was about 40 feet in depth, tapering gradually away in the direction of a fern covered terrace. Just when the women reached the extreme edge of the tiphead, which they had not noticed, Lee let the barrow go, and I shall never forget what followed. There was a momentary struggle on the part of the women to restore their equilibrium, but the effort came too late, and away they went down the soft tip, taking turn-about with the barrow in the matter of ground and lofty tumbling. It may have been a very ungallant thing to do, but nevertheless, Lee and I enjoyed the performances down the tip, laughing all the whole most heartily.
"Maoris have a very keen sense of the ridiculous, and our laughter raised their dander properly. Assisted by their friends, the amateur female acrobats succeeded in pulling themselves together, and after arranging their drapery made straight for us, their eyes rolling savagely in their heads and clutching their weapons in a most threatening manner. Believing discretion to be the better part of valour, under the circumstances, we sought refuge in the tunnel, where we remained for fully an hour listening to the tirade of choice epithets hurled at us by the excited viragoes outside.
"While this was going on we had prepared a couple of charge of blasting powder with pieces of fuse attached thereto ready for emergencies. It was a happy thought, because, finding that they could not lure us out, the natives combined their forces to pull down the mouth of the tunnel, and it looked as though we were going to be buried alive. Within what seemed to be a very brief period there was not more than 12 inches a space between the debris and the roof of the level, and we now considered it was high time to retaliate.
"Stealing quietly out under cover of darkness caused by the filling in of the entrance to the level, we lit the fuse attached to both powder charges, and watching our opportunity, threw them out of the small opening just in time to see them well covered by a heavy fall of earth from the sides of the open cutting. Then we returned to the face of the level, where we had scarcely ensconced ourselves when we heard a terrible explosion outside, followed by loud exclamation of surprise on the part of the natives. This was succeeded by a general hubbub, which gradually died away in the distance and then we thought it advisable to make our exit. A quarter of an hour's hard shovelling enabled us to force our way out, and we struck a "bee-line" to the top of the spur for the purpose of learning which route the natives had taken. Presently we caught sight of them going in the direction of the east coast, and we both heaved a sigh of relief upon seeing the full number on the track, tramping along Indian file as if nothing unusual had happened. That night we decided not to do any more work till could ascertain what shape our tormentors' ensuing movements were likely to take.
"Next morning we were not much surprised to observe the same crowd of natives put in an appearance at the mine, which was in full view of our whare, and not more than half a mile away. It took our visitors some time to realise that we had no intention of resuming work that day, and at length one of their number favoured us with his presence. Taking it for granted that we understood Maori, he delivered a long oration, charging us with desecrating an ancient buried place where his ancestors had been consigned to mother earth long before there were any pakeha thieves in the colony. Should we persist in our search for filthy lucre on sacred Pukewa our whare and other belongings would be burnt, and we ourselves would be slung on long poles like pigs and carried out of the district. Utu to the amount of £1000 would not assuage the grief of his people for disturbing the graves of their forefathers, and in his early days he had seen pakehas tomahawked for a lighter offence.
"To show this old chap that we were not entirely unprepared for anything that might eventuate, we exhibited our guns and a revolver, which I think had a soothing effect on him, but still when going away he threatened us with all sorts and conditions of vengeance. So far as the men were concerned, we knew there was nothing to fear; but having no desire to meet the women in a free fight, we meandered about the whare for fully 48 hours.
"Day after day, from early morning till dewy eve, the Maoris kept watch and ward over the mine, and, wearying of the enforced idleness, we determined to 'euchre' them by working at night. Superstitious to a degree, they never gave us any trouble after dark, and the level advanced just as rapidly as would have been the case had we worked in daylight. Now they began a succession of petty annoyances extending over several weeks and culminating in a complete clearance of everything portable in our whare.
"This well-matured plan was put into execution by a party of gum-diggers belonging to the Ngatipou tribe, when we were out on a pigeon shooting expedition, and the plunderers had a long start before we became aware of our loss. Nevertheless, we went off in pursuit, following the trail till darkness shut it off from our view, and then we were reluctantly obliged to retrace our footsteps. Since then I have often thought that it was as well we did not overtake them because we were in a very angry mood, and the results of an interview might have been disastrous to both parties. That night we dined on roasted pigeons and next morning tramped to Owharoa, where we purchased a fresh supply of food and clothing. For fully a fortnight we took turn and turn about in watching the whare and driving the tunnel, and thereafter we were allowed to continue our work in peace.
"Within four months of the time of our starting we had driven the crosscut up to and through the foot-wall branch of the lode, which proved to be 17 feet in thickness, and good prospects of gold and silver were obtained from any part of it. We took out a trial lot of two tons, upon which the Thames County Council paid the cost of transit to Owharoa, where it was treated in the Smile of Fortune battery for a return of 1 oz. 3dwt. of bullion, value £2/17/6 per ounce. This, in round number was £1/11/- per ton, which did not represent more than 35 per cent of the intrinsic value of the ore. Previous to treatment we had taken average samples for assay purposes, and these were assayed by Mr T. Heron, who was then in the Bank of New Zealand, Thames, with the following results: Bullion 4 ozs. 6dwt. containing gold 1oz. 2dwt, silver 3oz. 4dwt., value per ton, £4/14/-.
"Armed with the bank results, Lee and I did not anticipate much difficulty in obtaining the needful to exploit the mine; but unfortunately for us, we reckoned without our hosts — the mining experts. The whole concern was reported upon unfavourably by almost everyone who paid the place a visit, and who considered themselves authorities on anything appertaining to gold and silver mining.
"In short, we were laughed at by all knowing ones of the day whenever we made an attempt to talk about the Waihi reefs. One authority of the first water, to whom I showed the assay certificate, scoffed at the idea of ascertaining the value of ore by assay. He said assaying was a metallurgical 'fad' dangled before the eyes of the mining community by men who wanted to make money anyhow, but no practical man believed in it.
"While waiting for something to turn up, we heard that Hone Werahiko had struck gold at Te Aroha, and we hurried away to the scene of the new discovery. During our absence a visit was paid to our workings by a Coromandel prospector named W. Nicholl, who was so favourably impressed with the show that he induced his friends to apply for several licensed holdings on the line of lode. Before these could be legally granted it was necessary to lay a plaint against Lee and myself for non-working. This was done by A. Porter, acting on behalf of the applicants and rather than have any legal bother about it we abandoned the ground in the Warden's Court unconditionally, leaving also our level, whare, and other belongings."
Fate had it that McCombie and Lee left Waihi in the hope of finding their fortunes at Te Aroha while from Te Aroha another man beheld Waihi, his promised land.
William Nicholl had arrived in Coromandel when he was 16, some months after the Kapanga goldrush. By the time he set off for Te Aroha, and from there to Waihi, he was over 30, and he had had considerable experience of prospecting and mining about Coromandel. One of his claims at Coromandel had paid him £40 a week for two years, but he said, "when it was worked out I was £30 in debt. I did not spend the money but others spent it for me."
At Te Aroha he had found 200 men standing about O'Hallorum's Hotel. It seemed that the great discovery of Hone Werahiko was, after all, just a false alarm.
For two days Nicholl had prospected about the town but found gold only in the Waiorongomai Stream. He was about to follow up this stream to find the reef when he heard that it had already been discovered by another Maori, Johnny Waieke. He then decided to go to the top of Te Aroha to see if prospects looked any better on the other side of the range. From here he saw the glistening outcrops of Pukewa. Even before Nicholl, even before the Maoris, the moas had seen the quartz glistening from afar and as geologists discovered much later had come for miles around to exchange their gizzard stones. They left behind little piles of rounded stones ejected before taking a refill from the Martha lode.
It was this glistening quartz which was to draw Nicholl to Waihi.
He spent three days in the valley of the Waitawheta but could find neither gold nor quartz so he made his way to Owharoa where he spent a night at Read's Hotel. Next day, with a fortnight's supplies, he set out to prospect the Waihi district.
Williams Nicholl found gold at Waihi. He came upon a rich patch 200 ft. away from McCombie's tunnel and thus in fact did not take over the claim of McCombie and Lee. Fred Hollis and Charley Jemming a few days later found their friend Nicholl engrossed in his work and Hollis pegged out a claim on the northern end of Nicholl’s "Martha" claim. He called it "The Young Colonial". Shortly after this visit from Hollis and Jemming, Nicholl returned to Coromandel to fetch his mate, Bob Majurey, and on their return journey, as they passed through Thames, they persuaded some friends, J. Nicks, J. Patten, Potter and T. Gilmour to apply for claims on the line of the Martha lode. The lode had been called the Martha after Mrs Martha Duncible Nicks, sister of Nicholl. Nicholl must have thought that gold was present in sufficient quantity to warrant assistance from his friends.
Prospectors poured in to Nicholl’s reef but he had buried the richer part of his find and dug a trench into the barren rock to put them off while he returned to Coromandel for his mate.
Later in the year Nicholl’s workings were visited by T. H. Gordon who later became a dogmatic exponent of Nicholl's claim, as opposed to McCombie's as having being the discoverer of the Martha Reef. But the hearty old prospector, Nicholl, in his simple cottage at Waitekauri was still alive when Gordon made his claim. Nicholl made it clear that he did not go as far as Gordon had gone on his behalf. Nicholl said:
"I, however, do not claim to have been the first to discover the reef, neither do I claim to have been the first to find gold in it. I suppose there were many before on the reef; all I claim is to have been the first man to find gold in the reef of sufficient value to start the working of the field, and to induce me to take up and work a piece of ground."
Nicholl may be fairly credited for doing just that.
Nicholl and his friends went back to Waihi to work their claims but soon word got around as to the nature of their mission and the men were visited at their Waihi workings. The visitors were three Thames mining promoters, Adam Porter, James Darragh and Evan Bailey Fraser, who came to get an option over the mine. They offered to build a battery for a third share in the mine provided the miners put in a tunnel and cut the reef to a depth of fifty feet below the surface, giving Nicholl and his mates an enticement of £50 to be paid immediately if the men agreed. The prospectors assented but later the field was visited by the mining expert "Long Drive" Walker to test the reef on behalf of the Thames magnates. When Walker declared the quartz rock to be worthless the magnates withdrew their offer. New Zealand mining capitalists had looked at the field and had decided it was unworthy of investment.
By the end of 1875 the wild optimism which was general at the opening of the Ohinemuri fields seems to have disappeared, though some retained their enthusiasm. The Mines Statement of 1875 had contended that the character of mining was very different from what it had been in the early times for: . . . now a man without capital can hardly do else than work for wages; . . . " Some prospectors who had been on the Ohinemuri field evidently believed this because there was an exodus of miners from the Auckland Province to Queensland. The possibility of finding alluvial gold at the Ohinemuri had to be abandoned by many prospectors who could see no future for themselves in this district.
Though there were at least ten gold mining claims in Waihi by 1880 the problems of successfully working them remained. The claims included the Martha, Union, Silverton, Rosemont, Amaranth, Winner, Dulcibell, Brittania, Old Waihi, Young Colonial, Nelson and Nut and were held by small syndicates. The presence of gold at Waihi had been reported in the Parliamentary Papers in 1880 but its exploration depended on capital.
Finally F. A. White was successful in persuading some Auckland capitalists to invest in the Martha Company. The directors of the company included C. J. Stone, Wilson (of the "Herald"), Adam Porter, Bycroft and Firth, all of Auckland, in addition to Majurey and Nicholl. H. Adams contracted to build a battery for the company. James Gribble was appointed first mine manager, but he was soon succeeded by Nicholl. Progress seemed assured.
Actually two batteries were erected simultaneously in Waihi during 1882. "Manukau" Jones had been at work on a battery at the time the Martha battery was being built. This was fortunate because the Martha battery proved to be useless as it was placed so that there was an insufficient supply of water available to run it. Up to 1883 little that was worthwhile seemed to have come out of the Waihi goldfield. It was only by the amalgamation of several claims including the Martha, Young Colonial and Waihi claim (which was run by Manukau Jones) into the Martha Extended Company, and the shifting of the Martha battery to the site chosen by Manukau Jones that success seemed possible.
The following shows the unproductive nature of all the mines on the Waihi fields: For the year 1879 McCombie and Lee crushed 2 tons for yield of £3. The Martha Extended Company between 1883 and 1889 crushed 28,496 tons for a yield of £17,370. The Rosemont Company between 1885 and 1887 crushed 123 tons for a yield of £923. It was soon discovered that the Martha Extended Company of Auckland which had commence operations on March 31st, 1883, was making no profit and the mine was let on tribute to Hollis Bros., who managed to make ends meet until 1890. By 1887 the Rosemont claim on the Union Hill had been abandoned but was later worked by R. Worth and W. Dance, who sold the claim to "Long Drive" Walker. In fact in 1887 the position regarding the future of Waihi was far from satisfactory.
The Ohinemuri goldfields were no El Dorado. They did not measure up to the rich Shotover and Caledonian claims at Thames. But there could be no doubt that gold existed in the Ohinemuri district, especially at Karangahake and Waihi. The tantalising fact was that men knew that there was gold in the quartz reefs of the Ohinemuri fields but they could find no completely satisfactory way of extracting the gold from the quartz. The fact that the early mining companies of the area had little paid up capital reflected a lack of confidence in this type of country. The problem of the extraction of gold from quartz required a scientific solution and there seemed to be no doubt that once a satisfactory technique was discovered the necessary capital would follow.
Indeed there had been no shortage of people willing to experiment and some of them claimed that they had found the solution. Many were disappointed. La Monte's water jacket smelting process was tried unsuccessfully by the Woodstock Company at Karangahake in a plant costing £1200. Later a Mr Railey erected a battery at Karangahake where the Washoe process was used but this method proved to be too costly. So important was the issue involved that, in spite of the failure of the La Monte experiment, through a Mr Chambers of Auckland, another process was installed by arrangement with Parke's Gold and Silver Smelting Company, London. But the costs involved in this process were also too high. The La Monte furnace and the Washoe process were unsuccessfully tried in Waihi although Karangahake was the main centre for trials in connection with a new gold extraction process. Experiments of this nature could not go on indefinitely and the stage was being reached in the late eighties' that without the development of some new process certain claims would be abandoned. Dreams of an alluvial field had proved illusory; quartz mining could only be lifted out of its malaise by some worthwhile discovery. The future of a goldfield was at stake.
Eventually a technical solution was found for the more efficient extraction of gold from Ohinemuri quartz. This was the cyanide process. Apparently it had been known early in the 19th century that gold was soluble in potassium cyanide and this knowledge was used as a basis for a set of experiments in the eighties. In 1885 a research syndicate consisting of McArthur, R. W. Forrest, W. Forrest and M. C. Morton was carrying out research work for the Cassel Gold Extraction Company in Glasgow. As a result of these experiments the McArthur gold extraction process was patented. It was the process which was to be the salvation of the Ohinemuri goldfield.
The cyanide process was tried for the first time in New Zealand on the premises of the Crown Company at Karangahake. These tests were made in July 1889 under the supervision of John McConnell of Glasgow. It was the success of this plant which marked the dawning of a new era in the Ohinemuri district.
Two other factors, however, assisted the development of the field although admittedly the cyanide process was crucial. These factors were the influx of more capital to the field and assistance from the Liberal Government. The Government assisted the goldmining industry by survey work, roading, mining education and the Cyanide Process Gold Extraction Act, 1897, which made it possible that each concern could share in the use of the cyanide process if it so desired. The strengthening of the mining companies of the district was to a large extent a reflection of restored confidence. The revival of existing mining companies went hand in hand with the formation of new companies. An interesting aspect of both these processes was the role of English capital. It was characteristic of Ohinemuri that the most successful companies on the field such as the Waihi, Crown, Talisman, Grand Junction, Waitekauri, Union, Woodstock and Golden Cross had their headquarters in London. The Silverton Company was directed from Glasgow. It has been said that one of the reasons for the success of the overseas firms was that they showed more confidence in the field than local capitalists who apparently expected a quick return of dividends and were unwilling to plough their money back into the various concerns for development work. English firms had ventured into the Ohinemuri district in the late eighties and even at that stage they showed more confidence in the field than many local firms. For example this can be illustrated by the persistent experiments of the Woodstock Company. Nevertheless it is true to say that with the advent of the cyanide process much more English capital flowed into the field. The leading company involved had been the Crown Company, and it had given the green light to other concerns when in 1893 it increased its capital from £65,000 to £100,000 of which £75,7750 [£75,775? - E] had been paid up.
The entry of an English concern with large capital resources on to the Waihi field was of considerable significance. It is unlikely that New Zealand capital, even with the cyanide process, would have developed the area to its full capacity. The Waihi Gold and Silver Mining Company was formed in London in 1887 with the object of acquiring property in Waihi, New Zealand. Apparently his property originally covered the Union Hill area with its Rosemont, Amaranth and Winner claims. Eventually the new firm acquired additional ground at Waihi. An Englishman, T. H. Russell [son of Thomas Russell, born in New Zealand. Thomas Russell established the Waihi Gold Mining Company in late 1887. He was Chairman of Directors until his death in 1904. – E], appeared in Waihi in 1889 and made some assays of the Martha Extended Company's claim. He decided that the tributers, Hollis and party were working on some rich ore and with this in mind he bought the mine and plant for £30000 [£3,000 - E]. It was only in 1890 that the Waihi Company purchased the Martha claim from Russell who received about £20,000 in paid up shares in the new company in return for a mine which he had bought from Nicholl for £3000. Later the Britannia and Young Colonial claims were added to the already considerable area of land controlled by the Waihi Company whose original capital was increased in November 1890, the new shares being issued to pay off debentures and items not specified. The advent of an English company upon the field had, in this case, meant the amalgamation of a few claims though some still remained independent.
In 1892 the Waihi Company realised the possibilities of the cyanide process which had been experimented with at Karangahake and the management adopted a modification of it which had been patented by W. D. Bohm. This gentleman came to Waihi to oversee the erection of a battery. High expectations arose at the possibility of the new process. R. J. Seddon, Minister of Mines, said in 1891, presumably with reference to the new dry crushing process and the Bohm battery: "At Waihi one of the finest plants in the colony has been erected, and a large additional plant is now in the course of construction."
The Bohm process proved a failure and it was not until 1893 that a cyanide plant on the McArthur-Forrest plan was erected in Waihi.
The value of the cyanide process had been demonstrated to the Waihi Company before their own plant was in action. The goldfields inspecting engineer in 1894 stated that during 1893 the Cassel Company had purchased tailings belonging to the Waihi Company for £5000, and that up August 30th., 1894, bullion to the value of £11,369 had been obtained from this cast off residue of the Waihi Company's mine. Between 1893 and 1896 the Cassel Company crushed [processed, no crushing required – E] 29,722 tons of tailings from Waihi and these were valued at £19,285. The Cassel process was credited with being capable of extracting 90 per cent of the assay value of the gold and 50 per cent of the silver in the ore, whereas previous to this only 66 per cent of the gold and 40 per cent of the silver had been obtained.
There is no doubt that the advent of the cyanide process was one of the crucial factors in the history of Waihi and was in this respect more important than the formation of the Waihi Company. Referring to the Waihi Company in 1889, T. W. Rhodes claimed: "To a poor Company this property would never be worth a red cent. The old Martha Company tried to make it pay but failed, owing to the small percentage of bullion extracted by the ordinary battery process."
In this dogmatic statement Rhodes did not fully acknowledge the importance of the cyanide process to the success of the firm. Successful quartz mining at Waihi, like mining in the rest of the Ohinemuri, had shown itself to be of such a nature as to demand capital for machinery and skilled men to operate the cyanide process. Both the cyanide process and the establishment of a wealthy British firm in Waihi meant the development of a "rich-man's field", that is, one that needed capital for initial expenditure on machinery, technical experience and labour if it was to survive. It enabled the Waihi Company to be firmly established in the mid-nineties as the principal concern at Waihi, the mine which was to produce more gold than any other mine in New Zealand.
After the introduction of the cyanide process to its battery the Waihi Company did not look back. Production increased every year until 1909 when the peak production of bullion was valued at £959,594. Though returns decreased after this the Waihi Company remained a firm of considerable magnitude whose relative importance was increased when the other claims in the district were abandoned. Waihi depended to a large extent upon the fortunes of one company with its headquarters in London.
The predominance of the Waihi Company was nothing new, however. As early as 1895 Gordon, the inspecting engineer, remarked that 230 men were employed at the Waihi mine and reduction works. He stated that Waihi was the most important locality in New Zealand as far as results were concerned. By 1897 it was found that the crushing plant of 69 [90 – E] heads of stamps which had been adapted to the cyanide process since 1894 was insufficient for the company's purpose. As a result of this a battery was erected at Waikino, five miles from Waihi, and a township grew up around this battery.
When Waikino battery was being built during 1897, an extraordinary general meeting of the Waihi Company had been called in London to raise additional capital for the erection of the Victoria battery, Waikino. The capital of the company was raised from £160,000 to £320,000. Prior to this meeting the company had already spent £60,000 on the new mill and works connected with it though another £20,000 was needed to complete it according to the company's chairman. The battery he had in mind was to have 200 to 300 head of stamps. There seemed to be no doubt about the prospects of the company with its rising returns and frequent dividends. In September, 1898, when most of the installations at Waikino were completed, the Waihi Company found itself in a position to declare its twenty-second dividend. The company had come to produce more than one dividend per year.
The principal reason for choosing Waikino as the site for the battery was the availability of relatively cheap water power there. The Ohinemuri River has its source in hills to the east of Waihi and it flows through Waihi and the Karangahake Gorge to Paeroa where it joins the Waihou River. 1897 the company was building a dam of solid masonry to the south of Waihi and this dam built up the water of the Ohinemuri diverting part of the river into a race which ran to Waikino in such a manner as to arrange a considerable fall in height for the water turbines (360 h.p.) connected directly to the stamps.
The erecting of the crushing plant at Waikino meant that quartz could be crushed for the Waihi Company in a shorter time than before. Three plants, the Union Battery, the company's old battery [Waihi Battery, at base of Union Hill – E], and the Victoria Battery crushed ore on behalf of the Waihi Company. A private railway line was erected which carried quartz to Waikino and the partially processed product back to Waihi to be refined. The Waihi Company had taken over the plant belonging to its subsiduary company, the Union Company [Union-Waihi Company, who had acquired the Silverton Battery – E], because of pressure upon available batteries. Waikino's Victoria mill as first possessed only 100 stamps and for a few years there was excessive pressure upon the company's three batteries. The problem was solved by the addition of extra stamps at the Victoria mill until by 1903 the Victoria battery was the largest in New Zealand, the crushing power of the three mills reaching the size of 330 stamps. The Waikino mill had 200 heads compared with 40 at the Union and 90 at the old Waihi plant. A settlement grew up at Waikino consisting largely of battery hands. By April, 1911, there was a total of 718 persons living in the Waikino Riding of the Ohinemuri County Council.
These developments did not occur without the property of the Waihi Company winning some renown for gold production. It made Waihi attractive on the labour market. The number of employees of the Waihi Company rose from 230 in 1894 to 1500 in 1907. In 1900 the Waihi mine was mentioned in the Mines Report as being the most extensive mining property in the North Island. The editor of the "Telegraph" was able to quote the production figures and dividends of the Waihi Company and from these say with some justification: "Year by year mining is becoming more firmly established in Waihi. The industry has prospered in a remarkable manner, thanks to the wealthy reefs and the systematic development of the Waihi mine." Three years later the same gentleman proudly pointed out to the newspaper-reading public of Waihi an article by T. A. Rickard, editor of the "Mining Magazine" in which he stated Waihi was eleventh on the list of world gold mines in the amount of bullion won. To cap this off Rickard claimed that the Waihi mine was second in world in "greatness" and stability. In 1907 reports in the Parliamentary Papers the Waihi Company's mine was regarded as the most productive in Australasia. The story of the Waihi Company up to 1909 is a tale of successful enterprise.
The Grand Junction Company which came to be regarded as the second most important gold mining concern on the field, was a much later development which reached its zenith after 1911, the date which marked in terms of census returns, the population peak for Waihi. The original Junction Company can be dated back to 1895, when the Thames mining expert, "Long Drive" Walker went to London to float a company. As a result of this visit the Grand Junction Company was registered in October 1895. No bullion was credited to this first Junction Company.
In December, 1897, a new company, with the same name, was registered and it took over the old Junction Company's property in Waihi. Although this company had its headquarters in London, and thus was an English company, two-thirds of the shares were held in New Zealand. Walker, the person who had been prominent in the formation of the original Junction Company had an interest in the new company and even acted as Waihi manager of the Junction during 1899.
A great deal of money was expended on the Junction's property before any gold was mined. In 1902 it was mentioned in the Mines Record, that the Waihi Grand Junction Company had persisted with development work at considerable cost, about £100,000 having been spent on the property at that stage without any returns having been made. Two years later exploration work was continuing and, although the mining plant was not in operation, it was reported that boring for quartz by means of a diamond drill in the Junction's mines was meeting with success. At the London meeting of the company in July 1904, it was disclosed that there had been a total expenditure of £11,314 on the company's behalf for that year and at that stage it was found necessary to increase the capital of the company by the issue of 100,000 shares. A battery of 40 stamps, which had been purchased from the Kauri Freehold Gold Estates Company of Opitonui, was erected at Waihi. This plant was practically new. But the first crushing at the company's battery did not take place until October, 1906, when it was hailed by the Telegraph as marking an epoch in the history of the Waihi district. By that date the Junction Company had expended approximately £218,000 on machinery, plant and mine development. The company was far from being a dividend producing concern in 1906 but the fact that £13,793 of bullion was raised from the mine and 205 wages men and 33 contractors were employed augured well for the future. The property did not pay a dividend until 1910 and then it was only 5% compared with the Waihi Company's dividend of 80% for the same year. Although there were 462 men employed by the Junction Company in 1910, D. A. McArthur, for the management of the company, declared in June, 1912, that his company had expended about £1 million on its property and that all the shareholders had received in return were dividends totalling £40,000. The Junction Company had much leeway to make up before it could become a concern on the same scale of the Waihi Company.
The Waihi area between the years 1894 and 1909 was beset by a number of goldmining companies whose main concern was prospecting with the ever present hope that one day they would strike it rich and their properties would be as valuable as that owned by the Waihi Company. Such minor companies on the field included the Waihi-Paeroa Gold Extraction Company, The Silverton, the Gladstone, the Romulus, the United, the Favona, the Waihi South Company, the Waihi Beach United, the Consuls, the Consolidated and the Extended. Some of these concerns had a considerable amount of money spent upon them before their futures were settled.
The Extended was an example of such a property. As early as 1896, it was mentioned in Parliamentary papers that the Waihi Extended Company was operating in the Waihi district. Five years later the Extended was still one of the many companies which were struggling to turn their properties into gold mines. Nevertheless, in 1904, the Extended was regarded in Waihi as being worthy of special attention. According to the Telegraph, the inter-section of a large section of a reef by the Extended Company was one of the most important developments that had taken place for six years. Not much work was done at the Extended during 1905 and in 1907 it had to be admitted that the Waihi Extended Mine was still a prospecting venture with a good chance of penetrating the extension of the Waihi reef system. During 1909 there was a renewed effort to work the Extended Company's property, a new battery being acquired from the Maratoto Company [I don’t believe this ever happened – E] for which a call of 3d. per share was made. The effort was unsuccessful, though exploratory work continued. The strike of 1912 affected 24 men working in the Extended's mine. In 1919 the Extended Company sold its Waihi property for £7,500 to the Junction Company. Thus one New Zealand company was liquidated and the claim it had explored in vain became the property of a larger English-controlled firm which could afford to hold the land in addition to its own.
The fate of the Union Company and the Silverton was similar to that of the Extended. A "Silverton Company" was operating in Waihi as early as 1886 but this company became extinct in 1894 and was refloated as a company in 1895 with its headquarters in Glasgow. By 1896, 61 men were employed by the Waihi-Silverton and by 1897 this number was increased to 70. Between 1886 and 1899 the Silverton and the Waihi Silverton Companies between them crushed 33,126 tons of quartz, the total yield in value being £48,345.
The Union-Waihi Gold Mining Company, on the other hand, had been formed in 1895 and had purchased from the Waihi Company 254 acres of mining area. The company established itself by issuing shares to companies already established on the field. The Waihi Company was given 100,000 fully paid up shares in exchange for the mine and plant, the Cassel Company received 1,250 shares for the right to use cyanide process, whereas the Waihi-Silverton shareholders were given 7,831 shares. This meant that the Waihi Company with its total of 100,848 shares out of 200,000 had a controlling interest in the Union-Waihi Gold-mining Company. The Union-Waihi Goldmining Company, between 1899 and 1902, crushed 36,865 tons of quartz for a yield of £51,559, which was slightly more than that from the Silverton's workings. In 1901 the two companies amalgamated, the Union [-Waihi – E] Company having purchased the property belonging to the Silverton Company. The Union [-Waihi – E] Goldmining Company had to a large extent been a paper company. Even as early as 1900 the management of the Waihi Company had taken care of the Union Company's property. The Silverton and the Union mines are examples of small mines which did yield quartz in quantities, but nevertheless were controlled, eventually, in the case of the Silverton, and almost immediately in the case of the Union Company [the Union-Waihi Company was set up by the Waihi Goldmining Company – E], by the predominant company on the field, the Waihi Company.
The position in 1909 was that the invention of the Mc-Arthur-Forrest process had made possible a period of active mining on the Ohinemuri field. The type of country requiring money, machinery and skill, led to a different type of mining from the alluvial sort, which had been envisaged by those who had pressed for the opening up of the Ohinemuri district. The "get rich quick" diggers who had participated in the rush to the district in 1875 had been supplanted by mining companies for whom men worked on a contract or a wage basis. Some concerns were ephemeral while others had employed scientific management and had worked over their claims systematically, thus avoiding the exploitation of all their best lodes first. This was particularly the case of the Waihi Company, which for many years continued exploratory work along with ordinary mining operations. In 1909 there was every confidence in the Waihi Company and there seemed to be no reason why the upward trend in returns should not continue. Although some mining concerns had been failures, particularly in Waitekauri, the future of the Waihi Company, the principal concern in the Ohinemuri district, seemed to be assured.
[yes, two 8s - E]
At first settlement in the Ohinemuri was of a temporary nature. Prospectors' huts and tents were the makeshift homes of many who believed in the alluvial possibilities of the district. Mackaytown, which many thought would be the centre of the field, was typical. It was a canvas town which grew up virtually overnight in 1875 and then disappeared almost as quickly. For some years only a wayside hotel was left to mark the site of this first settlement of the Ohinemuri goldfield. Waitekauri and Waihi began in the same way, although on a smaller scale. Their more sober beginnings reflected the growing doubts over the gold prospects; their future was dependent on the success of quartz mining.
In the eighties several shanty towns appeared — at Waitekauri, Waihi, Karangahake and Golden Cross. The initial prospecting stage had passed but the cyanide process had not yet been developed. The shanty-type of building, typical of early settlement, emphasised the doubts existing over the future of the whole area. Rotting canvas was replaced with corrugated iron and occasional planks of wood. Few miners were willing to risk more substantial buildings until the gold returns picked up in the later 'nineties. The permanence of settlement in the Ohinemuri was entirely dependent upon the returns of the mining companies.
Waihi in appearance in the 'eighties and early 'nineties was little different from other shanty towns. Dan Campbell’s general store-post office and Tanner's Hotel did a thriving trade. But the dwelling places which housed the customers showed little sign of prosperity. Iron huts and even 10ft by 12ft tents were prominent until the late 'nineties when they began to be replaced by the wooden lean-to. This in turn became the most popular architectural style for many years.
The earliest dwellings had sprung up near the mines but in time the settlement spread over a considerable area. It was a simple matter to obtain a section by procuring a miner's residential lease. Perham, a water engineer, taking stock of the situation at Waihi in 1898, claimed that on paper Waihi covered an area of two square miles. Another writer estimated that in 1900 miners' huts and cottages were spread out over an area which could be measured three miles each way from the centre of the township. According to Perham, houses in much of the township were so widely distributed over the area that the cost of supplying each house with water would be prohibitive.
Adding to the discomforts of the inhabitants was the lack of essential roading in the township and the difficulties of transport from outside. "Overtown Jack," one of the local "characters," found this no handicap and was known to race the coach to Thames. For more serious business, however, transport was an ever present problem until the railway reached Waihi in 1905.
In the town itself conditions were often no better. Winter rains and heavy traffic converted main thoroughfares like Broadway into quagmires. Dry summer brought little relief because dust then became a menace. The removal of light vegetation from the surrounding hillsides meant that dust storms could be much more effective.
Waihi, during its formative years, was merely a conglomeration of ramshackle shanties connected by primitive roads. Evidence of mining was all pervading. Poppet heads, those metal and sometimes wooden towers situated over the mouths of shafts, were essential for mining operations and dominated the landscape. "Streets" were intercepted at many points by tramlines linking various mines and batteries and this remained the case well into the twentieth century. The visitor to the town in those early days could hardly fail to realise that he was in a mining township.
Waihi's growth was dependent on the continued success of the mining companies and, in particular, the Waihi Company. They provided employment for the bulk of the community who, in turn, succoured the shopkeepers, publicans and small tradesmen. Revenue from the goldfields provided most of the finance for local body works. Yet the mining companies did not attempt to extend their influence to private business or the public administration of the town. The Waihi Company, apart from providing houses for its officials, took no interest in the workers' housing. There was no company store. Some mine managers, although prominent in the community because of their position, took little interest in local body affairs or administration. The mining companies were primarily concerned with administering and developing their properties. The Waihi Company was essentially a British concern whose shareholders' main thought in connection with Waihi was related to their dividends and not the condition of the settlement from which the company happened to draw its labour.
But over the years the Waihi Company was to develop so that it was to function to a large extent as an independent unit. At Thames, Price's and Judd's foundries developed ancillary to the goldmining industry. On the other hand, the Waihi Company established a foundry of its own at Waikino, though sometimes outside firms such as Price's did work for the company. The Waihi Company also ran its own railway, known locally as the "rake," between Waihi and Waikino, a distance of five miles from the mines to the battery. It reached the position in which it was capable of dealing with gold at all stages of processing and seldom depended upon outside firms even for the upkeep of its machinery. Waihi, which was dependent upon mining, differed from Thames in that no secondary industry was established.
Waihi's population increased to such an extent after 1900 that by 1905 it was the leading town in South Auckland. Hamilton had a population of 2,150, Cambridge 1,244, Thames, which was declining, 3,750, Te Aroha 1,109, Tauranga 1,047 and Waihi 5,594. As early as 1899 a correspondent of a Waihi newspaper had referred to his pleasant holiday in Hamilton away from the hustle and bustle of "city" life in Waihi. Although the Waihi Company had reached its production peak in 1909 the population of the town was registered at its highest in 1911 when it contained 6,436 people. Waihi not only possessed the most productive gold mine in New Zealand, but it was the largest goldmining town in the country and maintained a lead over Waikato towns such as Hamilton, which were to expand considerably with the advent of dairying.
Quartz mining was not a healthy occupation. Two great hazards to the men's lives were accidents of various sorts and the deadly miners' phthisis, a lung disease caused by quartz dust. During the early years of the field, accidents, particularly fatal accidents, were far more prevalent than they were later on, partly because of the diminishing numbers employed in the mines after 1909. On the other hand, it took some time after the opening of the town for the effects of miners' phthisis to be revealed.
Improved working techniques helped to reduce the incidence of miners' phthisis, which in earlier years at Waihi, was not as prevalent as it had been on the Thames field. The dry crushing process was abandoned at an early stage in favour of wet crushing. This reduced the amount of dust in suspension as did the use of water jets in drilling operations. Further, the Waihi and Karangahake mines were said to be better ventilated than those at Thames. Despite these improvements the disease still continued to seriously affect miners' health.
In 1907 an anonymous essayist was emphasising its effects. Fifteen years was mentioned as the average length of an underground miner's career. A man who had worked constantly for twenty years underground would be an exception. "Every man of forty or so that one sees in a mining district halting and fighting for breath on a gentle rise, or staggering under a burden which a strong fourteen-year-old boy would make light, is an indictment against the quartz-mining industry as at present constructed." Even today, when there are no more active mines in the district, there are still men in the town suffering from this disease.
The Royal Commission on Mines of 1911 devoted some attention to miners' phthisis and its possible causes. It recommended that where rock drills were in use there should be an approved waterblast or a suitable appliance for the laying of dust, smoke and gases after a blast and that no man should return to an end, winz, or other place underground until the air had been cleared after blasting.
The other main contributary cause of miners' phthisis, according to two officials of the Waihi Miners' Union, was the night shift. In the Waihi mines for some time gold was mined for twenty-four hours of the day, the miners working three eight-hour shifts to make this possible. The night shift was not popular with the miners and was known as the "dog watch." The Union officials stated that the men became very nervy on this night shift owing to broken rest and the "unnatural" times at which they were compelled to take their meals.
It was not until 1915 that a regular pension was established in New Zealand for sufferers of miners' phthisis. Provision was made for a pension of £1 per week to be paid to a married man or widower with young children, who was totally incapacitated for work because of miners' phthisis. The widow of any pensioner under the act who died from the disease was entitled to a pension of 12/-6 per week for two years and funeral expenses, to the extent of £20, were provided for. The single man who became totally incapacitated for work could claim 15/- per week.
Such pensions were totally inadequate. Wages at the mine in the same period were from 8/6 to 9/- for an eight-hour day, about £2/10/- a week, which was no more than a bare living wage. Ironically, the sufferers were not likely to be beneficiaries for long; their widows were left in miserable straits, and after two years of pittance were to be left to their own resources. The Government had shouldered some of the responsibility for the dreaded disease but even so nothing had been done to help men recover from the effects of the disease.
Accidents, varying from severe bruising to fatalities, were looked upon as something necessarily co-incident with the hazardous occupation of mining. In the three years between 1902 and 1905, eight fatal accidents took place. The local newspaper through the years, particularly when it had to publish the obituary notices, was alarmed at the appalling rate of accidents. The frequency of accidents in the gold-fields was one of the strong arguments used for the establishment of a hospital in the Ohinemuri district.
The story of Waihi between 1894 and 1909 is a tale of establishment and expansion. New projects were embarked upon without hesitations connected with finance. While returns from the mines were increasing, so also was gold duty paid to the borough council. Waihi's appearance undoubtedly owned much to its goldmining origins but by 1909 it had ceased to be a mining camp and was assuming a more settled character. The inhabitants may have appeared in some ways to have led prosaic lives but it should be remembered that most men had to take serious risks in the mines for six days of every week.
The Waihi Strike of 1912 has a particular historical significance, both for the attitude to it of the then young Federation of Labour, and for the part played in it by men who were leaders in the first Labour Government.
On Monday, May 13, 1911 [1912 – E], the workers employed in the Waihi and Waihi Grand Junction Mines downed tools. Up to 1911 the Waihi Miners' Union was registered under the Industrial Conciliation and Arbitration Act, but in that year it cancelled its registration and joined the New Zealand Federation of Labour. Its policy was that of one union covering all the workers in the Waihi Mines. When engine-drivers and winders withdrew from the Union to form and register an Arbitration Union, the miners refused to be lowered to their work.
The strike lasted for nearly eight months. It was well conducted, there was no violence, the Liberal Government, then in a precarious situation, refraining from any intervention to the detriment of the strikers.
In July, however, the political situation changed. Defeated on a no-confidence motion, the short-lived Mackenzie Ministry was succeeded by the Conservatives, who had assumed the title of the Reform Party. Mr W. F. Massey became Prime Minister and he also took the portfolio of Labour. He expressed a desire to do everything- possible to reach a solution to the Waihi trouble. Under the new dispensation, strike-breakers were recruited to the Waihi mines and police were drafted in to protect them. The mine-owners gladly gave them an agreement. This was more than the strikers could endure, and the interlopers were waylaid. In the upshot, more than sixty of the strikers, including the Union president, were arrested and, upon their refusal to give sureties of good behaviour, because this would bring them under police supervision, were sent to prison. The strike ended lamentably. On Tuesday, November 12, in a police-cum-strike-breakers' raid on the Miners' Hall, a policeman was shot, though not fatally, and one of the strikers' highly respected comrades, Frederick George Evans, was battered and killed. Many of the gold-miners were simply driven from the town.
At a meeting of the newly-formed Union on November 12th, one official said that the "Red Feds" and their supporters had been given 48 hours to quit the town. He claimed that it was the intention of the "workers" to see that 50 men in particular did not remain in Waihi. Parties went around to the houses of the workers, serving notices upon them. On the 15th November, it was reported that some 90 to 100 federationists had left Waihi since the 48 hours' notice had been given. It was reported in an Auckland newspaper that a federationist had sold his house and furniture for £14, and another where house and contents were offered for £40. By the 18th November it was estimated that about 300 people left Waihi by rail since the 12th November, and that most of these were women and children. The defeat of the strikers during "Black Week" led to an exodus from the town and it is understandable that the methods used to break the strike were the cause of a bitterness apparent even to this day. The Federation of Labour declared the strike off on November 29, 1912.
The year 1909 was the peak year of production on the Ohinemuri goldfield. The 1912 strike, although it meant that mines were idle for several months, was not in itself a main factor in the overall decline of gold production. After 1909 gold production slowly declined because payable lodes of quartz were gradually running out. Gradually the minor companies in the field were eliminated so that Waihi was left dependent more than ever on one mine, that of the Waihi Company. Even so, the mine lingered on for many years — its life lasted 66 years.
The Waihi-Paeroa Gold Extraction Company and the Waihi Beach United Company are examples of concerns which went out of existence soon after 1909. Exploration of the property, at Waihi Beach, was still going on in 1906 and 1907. Heavy machinery had been moved to the site. In 1911, however, it was discovered that the water that had been struck was not the anticipated inrush of water usual prior to the transecting of a quartz reef, but was the sea coming in to the mine. Even the optimism of mining speculators was dampened by King Neptune, and exploration ceased. It was not until the depression years of the 'thirties that men again seriously contemplated the possibilities of mining at Waihi Beach. However, no new mines were opened.
The Waihi-Paeroa Gold Extraction Company worked on a different basis. The company was essentially parasitic. It depended on the cast-off material from the mining companies. The firm did not find its gold by mining the earth for it, but dredged the Ohinemuri River for outcast material from the various batteries. In the days before the cyanide process a considerable amount of battery-treated material had been run into the river as rejects, when in fact, given a different form of treatment, it still could have been made to yield gold. None of this gold was alluvial and it was to be expected that once the tailings from the early mines were properly treated the company's operations would end. Other Waihi companies which went out of existence between 1909 and 1920 were the Silverton, Extended, Pride of Waihi, Waihi Reefs Consolidated, Romulus and Queen of Waihi. By 1920 only the Junction and the Waihi Companies were producing gold at Waihi.
The early 'twenties was a period of pessimism as far as the Junction and the Waihi Company were concerned. This was a time in which the attitude prevailing was quite different from that prior to 1909 when the ambition of many connected with the Waihi Company was to return a 100% dividend. In the 'twenties some people thought that an unproductive zone had been reached and that even with deep level boring it would be impossible to get out of it. During these years the Junction Company ceased mining its own property and went into liaison with the Waihi Company. The Waihi Company started casting around overseas for other fields in which to invest to stave off the contingency of having all its eggs in one basket when the end of mining came in Waihi.
One of the developments which encouraged the pessimistic mood of the early 'twenties was the withdrawal of the Grand Junction Goldmining Company from active mining operations. The Junction Company reached its peak in 1914 in terms of the value of bullion treated. Dividends continued to be paid until 1918, when the concern paid out £38,347/10/-, but after that the company was beset by the same kind of pessimism which was shared by the directors of the Waihi Company.
Whereas this wave of pessimism was a temporary affair with the Waihi Company, it was sufficient to cause the Junction Company to founder so much that it ceased to be able to control its property in Waihi. Both the Junction and the Waihi Company in the 'twenties were searching for a hidden reef. The Junction Company had spent much on machinery. In 1920 an arrangement between the Waihi Company and the Junction Company with respect to pumping expenses was discussed, the Junction Company agreeing to pay a greater proportion of the expenses. In February, 1922, the Junction battery closed down for some months. Townspeople pinned their hopes for the Junction on Mr P. G. Morgan's theory of the lateral development of the Waihi reef system, but to no avail. P. G. Morgan, head of the Dominion Geological Survey Department, and an ex-director of the Waihi School of Mines, in the course of investigations believed that runs of payable ore were so deposited that as greater depth was attained, further chutes of ore would be found. This was not to be. The majority of the 381 workers who had been employed by the Junction Company in 1923 were dismissed in 1924 and by 1925 there were only seven men working for the company in Waihi.
After 1924 the prospects of the Junction Company seemed rather dismal. Exploration work continued for some time. In 1926 an agreement was reached between the Waihi and Junction companies regarding the working of the Junction Company's property. This agreement was to constitute the basis upon which the Junction's property was to be worked for the next decade. By this agreement the Waihi Company took over the Junction's claim with the option of controlling and exploring the property. At least one Junction shareholder claimed that the terms of the agreement were too favourable to the Waihi Company. It seems possible, however, that without some understanding of this nature, the Junction's property would have lain idle until it was finally abandoned. The Waihi Company even then had only become interested in the Junction's property to the extent of one-twentieth of its holdings. The larger concern could afford to work the Junction's property by slightly expanding its staff and extending operations to the adjoining property. The Waihi Company had plant and labour of its own and most of the Junction's plant went unused.
The new arrangement provided a temporary solution for the Junction Company, which continued to exist as a commercial concern for some time. The company went on paying dividends and as late as 1935 it was paying an annual return of 4d per share or the equivalent of sixteen and two-thirds per cent. The Junction Company in 1935 even purchased shares in the Pucket [Phuket? – E] Tin Dredging Company Ltd. of Siam to the extent of £2,200, but two years later the reserves of the Junction Company were being depleted and the end of mining operations in the Junction area was in sight.
It was announced in February, 1937, that the director of the Junction Company considered that the time had arrived when it was desirable to liquidate the company and distribute the assets to shareholders. At the 1938 meeting of the Junction Company the chairman of directors put the alternatives before the shareholders. He suggested that either the company go into liquidation or that it should continue in the form of an investment concern. The meeting decided on the former course of action. The winding of ore at the Junction shaft had ceased in 1937, though it was to be resumed in later years by the Martha Company. The Junction Company, the second most important goldmining company in the Waihi area, ceased to mine its own Waihi property in 1924, it came into association with the Waihi Company in 1927, and it went completely out of existence in 1939.
During the 'twenties and early 'thirties, prospecting again became an important feature in the Waihi field. When the Grand Junction was declining as a separate property, urgency was given to the need to rejuvinate goldmining. The impetus given to prospecting in the Waihi district in the 'twenties and 'thirties was to a large extent the result of unemployment.
More prospecting became noticeable between 1924 and 1925. In October, 1925, Mr M. W. Wallnutt, on behalf of a syndicate, was granted a prospecting licence for 12 months over 100 acres in the east end adjoining the Waihi Company's Silverton and Union areas. This property had previously been called the Gladstone and the Eldorado. The syndicate, according to Mr Wallnutt, was also to carry out prospecting in the almost abandoned Waitekauri area. Nothing came of this venture.
In August, 1927, a mining conference was convened by the Mayor of Waihi and those present included representatives of the borough council, the Waihi Retailers' Association, the Miners' Union and the Waihi Chamber of Commerce. The conference was concerned with the problem of "locked up," unworked mining properties. Mr Wallnutt, the Mayor, thought there should be increased aid for prospecting, and that representation should be made to the Waihi Company to see if the management would assist by discarding certain areas for tributing purposes. He suggested that a co-operative syndicate or company be formed to undertake prospecting. The seriousness of the situation was shown by the fact that representatives of the most influential organisations of the town attended the mining conference. These men must have known that farming in and around Waihi was developing rapidly but they did not doubt for a moment that the future of Waihi rested with the mining industry.
As a result of the conference, a Mining and Prospecting Committee was established. Two things resulted. Firstly, it was decided that the Director of Geological Survey, Dr Henderson, should be lent by the Government for a month to explore the area. Secondly, it was decided that "The Waihi District Prospecting and Mining Company, Ltd." be established under the Companies Act, 1908.
By 1930, the Waihi Prospecting and Mining Company had been successful in its attempts to persuade the director of geological survey to investigate the possibilities of the field. Soon after this decision had been made by the Mines Department, the association pegged out 500 acres in the Owharoa-Waitekauri area. Dr Henderson set to work in the district and a minor stir was caused in September, 1930, when he reported the presence of alluvial gold at Owharoa. Later, however, it was found that the alluvial gold was present in insignificant quantities.
Increased unemployment provided a stimulus to prospecting. In the mid-twenties the unemployment problem was one of the reasons for the pressure for State aid to prospectors. By 1932 the Waihi Mining and Prospecting Company had extended its interests from the Owharoa area to Waitekauri. Over 480 subsidised prospectors were employed in the Thames, Coromandel and Ohinemuri fields by the end of 1933. The goldmining industry had actually been rousing from its slumbers prior to the recession of the early 'thirties but adversity in some quarters did lead to a heightened interest in mining. It was all to no avail. No new reefs of any importance were located as a result of this subsidised prospecting.
Over the years the Waihi Company had been acquiring mining interests abroad. For the purposes of segregating the company's various interests, the Waihi property was transferred to a new company, the Martha Company, in 1935, together with investments sufficient to make the net assets of that company £247,953/10/-. Though the interests of the former Waihi Company had been segregated, control remained in the same hands.
The increased price of gold overseas had allowed the Martha, alias Waihi, mine to continue profitably throughout the 'thirties. But in the 'forties the mine faced other crises indicating that the end was near. The first, in 1944, was a labour shortage, due to the demands of war and essential New Zealand industries. The next crisis, five years later, was much more serious. In May, 1949, a cable was received in New Zealand from the directors of the Martha Company in London to the effect that operations at the mine were to cease. The crisis proved to be a false alarm. Whatever the objectives of the directors, the company in October, 1949, cabled their New Zealand attorney to continue operations so long as it was economic to do so. As a result of this cable normal operations were resumed. The false alarm left the company suffering from a lack of labour and though it continued to operate, nobody could be certain as to the length of its life.
The 1951-52 crisis was no false alarm. This time the mine closed down for good. Various reasons have been given for the closing of the mine. Basically there was the consideration that if the property were left to work much longer it would not pay. For some time the Martha Company had suffered from a shortage of skilled labour. Apparently the concern was only saved from closing in 1949 because of the devaluation of sterling and the consequent increased price of gold. This respite admittedly led to the opening of old workings but not to developmental work. The company started mining some valuable ore that had been left in pillars and arches. This meant that the company was virtually signing its own death warrant. Once the arches and pillars were gone it was extremely unlikely that the areas involved would be worked again. A concern which had good reserves of ore would not have resorted to this method. Under such circumstances it seems that the exhaustion of reserves was undoubtedly one of the factors which contributed to the end of the Waihi mine. Another factor accentuating the difficulties encountered was the rising costs of wages and materials. There is no doubt that insufficient returns was the reason for the closing of the most productive and last of the great New Zealand quartz mines.
This time few had illusions about the fate of the mine. Many employees were paid off at the end of 1951 and production was maintained during that year at the level of 1950. Later in 1951 it was decided to mine a small quantity of profitable ore and a skeleton staff was kept on in 1952 before the final closure. Though cleaning up operations continued for some while and thirty men were employed in 1954, employment had to be found for most of the 372 men working for the Martha Company in 1952. The Martha Company, alias the Waihi Company, had produced £28 million worth of bullion. The shareholders had received a rich return for their original investment, but the mine had also played major part in maintaining the town of Waihi for more than 50 years.
Prior to 1894 development in the mine was by adit levels, that is, horizontal drives driven into the lode from the hill-side. The Smithy adit was the lowest, but it was at no great depth below the outcrop, and the ore above it was soon worked out. Shaft-sinking had then to be resorted to and during the years that followed seven large working-shafts were sunk and, lode by lode, the great system which was to make the mine one of the great producers of the world, was opened up.
Number 1 shaft, with collar 419.6 feet above sea level, was sunk towards the eastern end of the company's area. This shaft was subsequently sunk to 707½ feet, and a lot of ore was raised from it in the early days, but owing to subsidence of the surface, due to the extraction of large bodies of ore in the neighbourhood, it was soon abandoned.
Number 2 shaft, with collar 498 feet above sea level was started in 1895 and sunk to 1818 feet. Number 3 shaft started in 1896, was sunk to 348 feet near the western end of the claim. Not much use was made of this shaft. Numbers 4, 5 and 6 shafts, were then started in rapid succession, and were subsequently sunk to 1,910 feet, 1,309 feet and 1,008 feet respectively. Number 7 shaft sunk in the late 'thirties went to the 8th level at 855 feet. Levels were opened in number 4 shaft as follows: Number 1 at 128 feet. Number at 197 feet, Number 3 at 270 feet, Number 4 at 343 feet, Number 5 at 433 feet. Number 6 at 545 feet, Number 7 at 705 feet, Number 8 at 855 feet, Number 9 at 1,004 feet, Number 10 at 1,152 feet, Number 11 at 1,301 feet, Number 12 at 1,447 feet, Number 13 at 1,578 feet, Number 14 at 1,753 feet and Number 15 at 1,880 feet. Number 2 shaft was sunk to just below Number 14 level of Number 4 shaft. The levels in all the shafts corresponded, and, save in the case of Number 3 shaft, were interconnected.
Some idea of the extent of the workings in the mine may be formed when it is realised that development work alone, that is, horizontal drives, were estimated to cover a total length of upwards of 100 miles. One mathematically-minded official stated that an approximate idea might be given of the cubic content of rock removed from the mine in imagining Queen Street, Auckland, filled with rock to the height of a three-storied building and then being continued for seven miles.
In the various levels many large lodes were located, of which the Martha was the most important and was the only one that outcropped on the surface. This was the main lode, and there were a number of loop lodes that converged towards it in depth. The two principal ones of these loop lodes were the Empire and the Royal. These were at some distance from the Martha, the Empire at 850 feet and the Royal, 1400 feet, but as development work proceeded each was found to be rapidly approaching the Martha, the Empire lode junctioning with it in depth at about the horizon of Number 12 level. The actual junction of the Royal lode with the Martha was not reached, but it may have occurred a little below Number 15 level.
The Martha lode was of great size, in places up to 100 feet and more in width. On Number 7 level it had an average width of 75 feet for about 1,430 feet in width. Down to Number 15 level it was still a large reef. On Number 11 level it was said to have been about 54 feet wide and perhaps a little wider on Numbers 12 and 13 levels. The values in it, unfortunately, were not maintained with depth. Down to Number 7 level it carried pay-values throughout almost its full length and width, but below this level the values became erratic. On Number 9 level, the position was worse, only 16 feet of the 57 feet of width being worth mining. Below this level the payable ore practically gave out altogether as was discovered on Number 10 level, isolated patches only being-worth removal. All the principal lodes carried good values in the upper parts for almost their full length and width, but these values fell away rapidly after Number 7 level was passed, and pay-ore only occurred in more or less isolated patches, although the lodes themselves lived down strongly. Number 7 was the most productive in the mine. The total ore mined from it to the end of 1950 amounted to 1,386,102 tons.
The process of ore winning in the Waihi mine was known as "Shrinkage Stoping." Development work was carried out by horizontal drives and crosscuts. When a drive was being-made along a reef, samples of quartz were taken and values ascertained by means of assays. When it was decided to stope a block of ore, a rise was put towards the level above, and a "winze" sunk from the upper level to meet it. After connecting these, the drive was widened to eight feet and heightened to eleven feet. Timber "setts" consisting of a cap supported by two legs were then erected, slabs being placed at the outside to keep the drive open. "Shutes" or "passes" were placed between the sets of timber to enable the broken quartz to be trucked off. Working from the top, the miners commenced by removing six feet of quartz from the ceiling and by working from the top of the broken quartz, repeated the process until the level above was reached. A ladderway at the end of each stope provided access to the workings, and a rise to the level above enabled stale air and gelignite fumes to escape after blasting. As the stope neared the upper level, access was gained to the workings by a ladder-way from the upper level. When all quartz in the stope was broken, it was trucked out.
Truckers working in pairs filled the trucks from the passes and pushed them to the chamber ready for conveyance to the surface. In parts of the mine where conditions allowed, horses were used for hauling trucks and these animals, in splendid condition, with sleek, glossy coats, were brought up the shafts before the holiday periods, where they grazed in the sunshine for three weeks. They were brought to the surface blindfolded and it would be some days before the protection could be removed as they accustomed themselves to daylight.
In the earlier stages of development work in the mine, after removal of the ore bodies, stopes were filled with worthless rock to Number 7 level, adding stability to the underground structure.
Water in the mine was disposed of by pumping, and the mine pumps were kept working day and night, 626 gallons per minute being brought to the surface. From Number 15 level the water was pumped by suspended pumps to Number 13 level and thence forced by stationary pumps to Number 11 level. From there, stationary pumps brought it to the surface where it flowed through the town gutters and finally into the river.
From the mine a narrow gauge railway ran along the banks of the river to the Waikino battery. Small locomotives pulled daily ten or eleven trains of about 40 trucks, each containing 2 tons of ore. Stampers at the battery crushed the ore to a fine powder and it was passed on to tube-mills filled with flint pebbles where it was reduced to so fine a powder that when mixed with water it was known technically as "slime."
This gold-bearing slime was then passed in to the cyanide tanks, so long a conspicuous feature of the Waikino landscape Agitated with a current of air, the cyanide solution with gold and silver in a dissolved state, was removed from the tanks, the crushed ore passing into the river. The liquid was passed over zinc which precipitated the gold and silver, and the bullion — gold, silver and zinc mixture, was returned to Waihi for separation and refining by electrolysis. Pure gold and silver were recovered separately and melted into bars.
The great Waikino Battery was far removed in time and method from the first battery erected for Nicholl in 1882 on a site a few chains removed from the present lake in Junction Road. Mr H. J. Beeche in a recent communication vividly describes working conditions in the battery erected by "Manukau" Jones on the banks of the Ohinemuri River, behind the present recreation ground [no, this battery was on the Ohinemuri River, becoming what we now think of as the Silverton Battery. The authors may mean the Waihi Battery at Union Hill. – E]. "The quartz was roasted in kilns, each holding several hundreds of tons, layers of quartz and firewood being alternated and when fired, taking several days to burn out and cool off. The roasted quartz, plus the ashes, was then drawn off into trucks and fed into the stamper boxes. When pulverised finer than flour, it was again drawn off into trucks and tipped into vats containing cyanide solution. The dust was terrific and it was altogether a cruel business. A worker who stayed in the battery, even for two or three years, was almost certain to develop phthisis. The miners got the dust while boring in rock and quartz, the battery-worker got it from working in a dust-laden atmosphere, and the latter seemed the more rapid killer and accounted for many men, mostly in the prime of life.
"The company used to issue squares of linen or cambric cloth to tie over the mouth and nose. 'Nose rags' was the polite name for them — the impolite names are not for here! In the early days when there were not many battery workers, the Company, under doctor's orders, supplied a ration of beer to each man. It was supposed to dissolve the dust, but perhaps the treatment failed because the men did not get enough.
"The company experimented over a long period to find a process which would dispense with the roasting and consequently the battery dust. At last they were successful and changed over to wet crushing.
"When mentioning roasting kilns, the mind goes back to a mystery at Waikino. A man called Johnny Mann, who lived some distance from the battery, walked out of the hotel one evening, reasonably sober. He did not turn up for work next morning, so a mate went to his hut to find out if he was ill, but he was not there. Search parties failed to find him and the police were notified. Then someone remembered that sometimes Johnny used to take a short cut and cross the kilns. When the police heard this they instructed that the kilns in operation at that particular time be closely watched and any developments reported. The kilns were watched and from one of them, mixed with quartz and ashes some pieces of charred bone appeared. All work on the kiln was stopped and the police were notified.
Later in the day two policemen arrived in a buggy together with a fair sized box, and all proceeded to the kiln and started to draw it off. Work ceased on the other kilns while the workers stood reverently by with their hats off. As each piece of bone was placed carefully in the box such remarks as 'Poor old Johnny’ and 'He wasn't a bad sort of bloke really,' were heard. Finally the kiln was emptied and the police drove off with their findings.
"It was some time before the report of the pathologist was received by the police, and this stated quite definitely that the bones were not human bones.
"The kiln workers were not surprised about this. They agreed that the butcher had been most helpful.
"But no one found the missing man."
Gold was the crucial factor in the development of the Waihi and Ohinemuri district. The area was opened up by prospectors who dreamed of finding alluvial gold. They were to be disillusioned. It took heavy machinery technology and British capital before gold was won in any great quantities in the Ohinemuri area.
Miners were to be company employees. They lived in camps which supplanted the calico and corrugated iron huts of the prospectors. Gradually amenities were developed in these settlements. In 1902, Waihi residents felt confident enough to hive off from the Ohinemuri County Council and form a borough. Up to the peak mining year of 1909, gold duty from the Waihi mines gave the borough as assured income. Waihi emerged as the main gold mining town in the Ohinemuri.
The 1912 strike was a reaction of Waihi unionists and the Federation of Labour to the Industrial Conciliation and Arbitration system. Because of its distaste for I.C.A., the Waihi union in 1911 had voluntarily deregistered itself from the Act. The strike started with the registration of a Waihi engine-drivers' union under this Act. It was to be the first major defeat for the "Red" Federation. The fact that the Waihi unionists could hold out for months against the mining companies who supported the arbitrationist unionists, illustrated the loyalty of most workers to their organisation. Though the Waihi Union lost the strike, and leading unionists were forced out of town as a consequence, ex-members of the Federation of Labour were to infiltrate into the ranks of the new union, the Ohinemuri Miners’ and Battery Workers' Union. After 1912 labour relations were mainly concerned with bargaining for wage claims.
The district's gold production reached its peak in 1909 and suffered an overall decline until the mines were closed in 1952. Minor goldmining companies fell out of the race, leaving the Waihi Company supreme. Other goldmining settlements in the district disappeared.
The pessimism connected with mining in the early 'twenties was reflected in the affairs of the Waihi Borough Council. The town's population suffered an overall decline. The borough council, because of financial strain caused largely by depleted gold duty, found it difficult to maintain the amenities of a past era. Admittedly, the mining situation did improve in the 'thirties, but Waihi was a shadow of its former self. The fear was not far from many minds that one day the mine would close, leaving the town derelect.
However, new developments were afoot. Farming had been developing on the plains surrounding Waihi and in the war years the main factory in the town came into its own. These two factors were to ameliorate the effects of the closing of the mine in 1952. By this time the borough had solved some of its financial difficulties and the reduction in area, which occurred in 1954, assisted the local body to carry on without the gold duty which had once been its major source of income. New Zealand's former leading goldmining-town had been transformed into a country town which has much in common with many rural centres.
Thanks are due to Mr C. G. Sleeman, late of Waihi College and now of Henderson High School, who, in agreeing to joint authorship has allowed extensive use to be made of his thesis "Gold Town: The Influence of Goldmining Upon Waihi, 1890-1953," presented for the degree of Master of Arts in History, in 1958. Mr Sleeman's thesis, though not primarily concerned with the mines as such, covers in considerable detail the history of industrial relations in Waihi, and it is regretted that space has not allowed this aspect of Waihi's history to be dealt with more fully. To Mr R. D. Landy, who came to work in the Waihi mine as a young man in 1895, and to whose friendship and reminiscences I owe much. To Messrs J. B. Beeche, H. J. Beeche, O. J. Morgan, A. H. Sparke, and A. Rowney, my thanks for information and assistance. John McCombie's account of the discovery of the reef has been taken from Mrs O. H. Lynch's story, "Golden Tapestry of Early Waihi," published in the Waihi Gazette, August 2, 1962, and a regional survey of Waihi compiled by pupils of the Waihi District High School in 1939 has yielded information on stoping and ore winning in the mine. — R. P. B.
The association of gold with Waihi is still being carried on by the "Dominion Gold Supply Company," a business conducted by Mr O. J. Morgan, which for 40 years has manufactured gold and silver alloys for dentists throughout the country.Back to Top