Waihi Borough Council Diamond Jubilee Booklet 1902-1962



Waihi is indeed fortunate in having an abundant supply of water so near at hand, yet for many years after a town had been established most households drew their water from backyard wells or rain water tanks. By having the "rights" on all the suitable streams, from which water races were constructed, the mining companies made a waterworks impossible. This state of affairs, however, weighed heavily on the Waihi Company's conscience, for it allowed some water to be pumped from its holding ponds into a small reservoir at the top of Martha St. This was reticulated in the central area of the town, while the hospital was allowed to draw from the Waitete water race near Hollis' bush.

As the population grew, and the town became a Borough, so also did the need for something more permanent, and before long the Company permitted the Council to build the present reservoir in Walmsley's Stream. The Hon R. J. Seddon turned on this supply on March 13th., 1905, and for many years it proved quite adequate. However, with the resurgence of house building, septic tank installations and the requirements of industry during the last 15 years, the water available quickly fell short of the demand. The destruction by fire of much of the native bush in the catchment area hastened this situation.

Irksome restrictions now became unavoidable each summer, but this was remedied in 1957 when a loan of £27,000 was raised by the Borough Council. As well as enabling many miles of worn-out street mains to be replaced, this money made it possible to double the intake of water by tapping the upper Waitete Stream.

Meanwhile, to meet the ever increasing demand for water, the Council has reserved the catchment areas of two more neighbouring streams.


The first post office in Waihi was opened in 1882 in the store of J. Phillips and Son, situated on the site now occupied by New Zealand Railways Road Services in lower Seddon Street. In 1886 Daniel Campbell took over the store and for some years conducted a coaching business in conjunction with it. He held the first mail contract in the district. On the 1st September 1891, Waihi was connected to Auckland by telephone, and on the 16th July, 1892, a Post Office Savings Bank was opened. At the present time there are over 4,400 accounts in this bank, with a credit balance of £720,000.

The telephone exchange opened in 1905 with 52 subscribers, and by 1910 this number had increased to 87. In 1930 it was 225, 1950, 658 and in 1960, 1149. Today there are 1243 and the exchange handles about 99,500 toll calls a year. In 1930 a 6 a.m. to midnight week-day attendance with two hours' attendance on Sundays and holidays was being observed, the latter hours being increased to 12 in July, 1935. A continuous attendance was introduced on the 10th December, 1945.

On the 29th October, 1957, Mr G. A. Walsh, M.P., opened an automatic exchange in Waihi, the equipment in which was estimated to meet Waihi's needs until 1965, and the building itself large enough to cater for at least 20 years of expansion.


Phillips, M. J.



Roberts, W.H. L

26. 7.28


Unthank, A.

1. 1.85

9. 4.86

Lawson, A. E.


15. 3.38

Campbell, D.

10. 4.86

15. 7.92

Grinlinton, V. G.

23. 4.38

31. 3.44

Chandler, G.

16. 7.92

31. 7.95

Whithham, L. A.

11. 4.44


Culpan, H.

1. 8.95

31. 3.97

Hills, S. W.


10. 5.48

Benner, A.

1. 4.97


King, A. R.

31. 5.48

13. 8.51

Mann, A. W.

1. 1.02


Brock, E. C.

14. 8.51

15. 2.56

Smallbone, G. F. B.

1. 1.13

31. 7.14

Burke, L. A.

12. 3.56


Kennedy, W. F.

1. 4.15


Hampton, C. L.

16. 1.57

30. 6.58

Hazelton, G. W.



Farrell, E. R.


22. 2.60

Dawson, H.T.



Brewer, W. H. G.

31. 3.60


Free. W. R. H.

13. 1.25

25. 7.28

McKinnon. W. G.




Waihi has an interesting link with the Post Office in New Zealand for it was at Waihi in 1904 that Mr Dawson Donaldson, past Director-General, was born. Mr Donaldson, whose father was a former Mayor of Waihi, left the New Zealand Post Office in September, 1962, to take over one of the most important telecommunication posts in the world. Now living in London, Mr Donaldson is at present Chairman of the Commonwealth Telecommunication Board, a board with representatives from nearly every country in the Commonwealth. With an around-the-world telephone cable under way and satellite telecommunication not far distant, Mr Donaldson takes over an important job at a time of accelerated changes in telecommunication techniques.


As early as 1913 electric power was being used in Waihi in enormous quantities. Apart, however, from a few "mine houses" it was not available for domestic use.

This power came from the first large hydro-electric station in the North Island and was situated at the Horahora rapids on the Waikato River, 17 miles upstream from Cambridge. Horahora was installed and operated by the Waihi Gold Mining Co., the power being brought the 55 miles to Waihi by way of the Hinuera Valley, Matamata, over Te Aroha range near Waiorongomai to the Waitawheta Valley and Waikino. This was the longest transmission line yet built in New Zealand, and traversed extremely rugged country. Many of the steel towers which carried this line are in use in the Matamata and Waihi districts today.

The events leading up to the Waihi Company's decision to construct Horahora began in the late 1890's, when the systematic exploratory work being carried out at the mine showed huge quantities of low grade ore available. At this time practically every drop of water power in the vicinity of Waihi and Waikino had been harnessed, and although this had been supplemented by steam power, it was still far from sufficient to meet the ever increasing demand. For the generation of steam, large quantities of firewood were brought to the mines on tramways which were run far into the surrounding bush. In the course of time the hills were denuded, resulting in a slow but steady falling off of a regular supply of water for power. It was about this time H. P. Barry, superintendent of the Waihi Co., decided to investigate bringing electric power from Horahora. Barry knew the Waikato River well, having spent many holidays fishing from its banks.

Government permission to develop Horahora did not come easily. The first approach by the company in 1903 was rejected so completely that the scheme was temporarily abandoned, and an order was placed in England for six producer-gas engines. These engines were duly installed at Waikino. Horahora power, however, had not been forgotten and when further representatives were made later, they were backed by the people of Waihi, a public meeting having been called for this purpose by the mayor. This meeting was held in the Miners' Hall on March 21st, 1906, and strong support was given to the proposal. Nevertheless, it was still more than three years before agreement was reached, and so it came about that early in 1910 Waihi men began work on this pioneer hydro-electric power station, which from 1920 onwards was to do so much in demonstrating to the people of New Zealand the benefits of the everyday use of electricity.

During this long period of negotiation, the main objection raised time and again by the Government was that Horahora would create competition with its own plans for a bigger station at Huka Falls. On the other hand the company claimed that the Government was at liberty to take over the project at cost and at any time, with the one condition that 200 h.p. [2000? Or more? – E] be set aside for its use. (Because of this condition the company was not subjected to power cuts during the acute shortage after the Second World War). Furthermore, the company had agreed to continue buying coal at its present rate of 20,000 tons per year, and so ensure the economical operation of the Paeroa-Waihi railway, which was now nearing completion. This offer also re-assured the coal miners.

The Horahora station proved highly successful, and power was available considerably in excess of the Waihi company's needs. At one time this surplus was offered both Hamilton and Waihi Borough at cost — but no business resulted. On November 1st., 1919, the station was taken over by the Government in accordance with the original agreement. Electric power boards were formed, and before long electricity from Horahora was being distributed over much of the Auckland province. In 1926 its output was increased from 6500 kw. to 10,300 kw., and it spent most of its later years operating on considerable overload. Horahora was always valued for its reliability, and those who maintained it, spoke of it in glowing terms. Eventually, however, it had to give way to still more progress, and after 33 years, and with its generators turning until the last possible moment, the station was submerged during April 1947, by the new Karapiro Lake.

When the Thames Valley Power Board was formed in 1920, the Waihi Borough Council intimated that it did not wish to be represented, and so it came about that although Waihi inspired and constructed Horahora, its output of electricity became available everywhere but in Waihi homes. (Although this decision of the borough council is difficult to understand today, it must be remembered that in 1920, Waihi owned a flourishing gas works which met the demand for lighting, cooking and heating, whereas cooking and heating by electricity were still mostly untried.) It was not in fact until December, 1924, when the Waihi Borough was declared an outer area of the board's district that the first 70 consumers were connected. However, as the borough was an outer area, Waihi consumers paid a higher charge for electricity than those in the board's inner area. This, of course, was a source of irritation which prevailed for many years until in 1937 the ratepayers petitioned the Governor-General for representation on the board. This duly came about and in 1938 Mr H. L. Boughton became Waihi's first representative, and has continued to serve on the board ever since.

(In compiling this article, the writer acknowledges assistance from Mr H. J. Beeche for information taken from his book "Electrical Development in New Zealand", and from the Thames Valley Electric-Power Board.)


The decision to establish a gasworks was made at a Waihi Borough Council meeting in 1904. An alternative proposal to install an electric lighting plant met with little support. Later an offer from the Paeroa Gas Company to continue its supply pipes from Karangahake was also rejected.

From the start of operations in 1906, and for the next 25 years, the gasworks more or less justified its existence, but by about 1930, the use of electricity had gained so much favour as to make the production of gas in Waihi uneconomical. The works struggled along through the depression and war years, however, and in 1949 the Council sought permission to close it down, but the Government considered this unwise, because of the national shortage of electric power at the time. So for three more years, under the direction of Mr Pat Finnel, the worn-out equipment was nursed along, and the gas holder was patched and patched again.

By this time the Council was losing money at a rate of nearly £100 per week and the effect on the Borough's finances and general maintenance programme was alarming to say the least. In July, 1952, therefore, after six months' notice had been given to the remaining consumers, Mr Albert Harvey, who had grown up with the works, was recalled from retirement and invited to throw the last shovelful of coal into the retorts.

Footnote: One consumer who remained faithful to the gasworks until the supply ran out, was Mr H. L. Boughton, Chairman of the Thames Valley Electric-PowerBoard.