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Karangahake School and District 70th Jubilee 1889-1959

Retrospect by the late John McCombie.

A considerable number of gold diggers were camped at Cashell's Landing, Puke, in the year 1869. They were waiting for the opening of Ohinemuri as a goldfield, which it was then expected would eventuate daily. In the meantime the Maoris kept watch and ward over "the promised land", and, although some of the most daring "fossickers" managed to elude the vigilance of the dusky sentinels, others were caught in the act and treated in a manner that was by no means ceremonious. Those who managed to run the gauntlet and who claimed to have reached the gold-bearing territory returned with "Baron Munchausen" tales regarding the dimensions and value of the reefs which they had discovered.

After a weary wait extending over a period of six years, it was announced through medium of the Government Gazette, that the Ohinemuri lands would be thrown open for gold-mining purposes on March 3, 1875, when negotiations for the purchase of the property from the Maoris had been completed by Mr James Mackay.

Karangahake was then the centre of attraction because it was generally considered to be a perfect "Eldorado" of mineral wealth, and the undernoted men claimed to be the original prospectors: Messrs J. Smyth, J. Corbett, M. Coleman, T. Arnold, A. Macky, J. W. Thorp and J. Verrall.

At an early hour on the day of the opening there was great excitement at Mackaytown, which sprang up mushroom-like in a few hours. It was a veritable canvastown with a population of about 1600 people, and the main street was fringed with about 20 stores, where grog and groceries were obtainable at famine prices.

Frantic Rush for Claims

The headquarters of the warden's department was then situated at Mackaytown, and applications for miners' rights were received by an army of clerks, who worked under the supervision of Mr A. J. Allom throughout the whole of the previous day. Warden Fraser mounted an improvised platform at 9.55 a.m. and, after a brief address, he declared the field to be open for gold-mining purposes.

The struggle to obtain the separate bundles of "rights", followed by the helter-skelter down the hill, across the Ohinemuri River, and up the opposite bank, can more easily he imagined than described. Picture 600 excited men starting out together from one place, at a given signal, the track leading down a steep hillside, across a mountain torrent, and thence up another abrupt incline, the goal being the prospectors' claim at Karangahake. The distance between the two points is about one and a half miles, and in a few minutes after the issue of the rights the rough track was literally lined with a struggling mass of horsemen and footmen.

Soon after the breathless diggers reached the ground a perfect forest of pegs reared their heads around the prospectors' claim, which had already been surveyed and the boundaries defined. Promiscuous pegging led up to sharp disputes which would have culminated in a "free fight" but for the presence of a strong force of the armed constabulary.

The whole of the claims marked off on that particular day were located along the foothills on the north-western slope of the Karangahake main gorge, and here developments very soon proved that the country rock was disturbed to such a serious extent as to make mining both difficult and hazardous. The reefs occurred in isolated lenses, partaking of the character of the country rock, and they were neither defined nor continuous. Nevertheless, several full-fledged gold-mining companies were formed, a battery consisting of 16 head of stampers erected, and permanent work entered upon with great spirit. This involved an expenditure of many thousand of pounds sterling without any results worth mentioning, and things generally went from bad to worse, until the place was completely deserted.

Talisman and Crown Reefs Found

Prospecting operations were started about the month of March, 1882, by Messrs J. Liddell, McWilliams Brothers and J. McCombie, somewhat higher up the mountain range than the location of the old workings. Within two months they succeeded in unearthing the gold and silver bearing reefs that were later worked upon in the Talisman Consolidated and New Zealand Crown Mines. Here the out-crops of several reefs yielded fair pan prospects of free gold, and, when the new discovery became public property a "rush" took place. Then all the available ground in the immediate vicinity was marked off in areas ranging from five to 15 acres, and "new finds" were of daily occurrence.

Hereunder are the names of some of the men who took an active part in locating the new mining ventures: Messrs W. Davies, A. Hogg, R. Noble, P. C. Hansen, H. M. Shepherd, L. Melhouse, W. Tregoweth, E. Ryan, J. W. Shaw and M. Marrinan. The prospectors claim named "The Hauraki" was formed into a company, which purchased the 16-stamp mill, already referred to, and the mine was connected therewith through medium of a stationary aerial tramline. Subsequently a large tonnage of ore was reduced for a bullion return which did not liquidate the cost of breaking, leaving that of transit and treatment out of the question altogether.

Mine after mine suspended work, and once more all the claims in the Karangahake district were virtually abandoned. The undermentioned gold-diggers did not join the general exodus because they had faith in the future possibilities of the reefs: Messrs J. Liddell, A. Shepherd, C. Davidson, M. Kelly, G. Mason, W. Fraser and J. McCombie. The party of men worked off the Maria reef for a length of full one mile along its line in five separate leases, and they registered their applications in the warden's office.

In the camp for some time before taking up the new claims, a series of Sir Walter Scott's novels formed the bulk of the reading matter, and all hands were more or less interested. Consequently they named the claims Ivanhoe, Woodstock, Kenilworth, Talisman and Peveril of the Peak.