Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 2, October 1964

By George Chappell

About the turn of the century Karangahake was a very lively town with a population of over 2000 which brought it close to becoming a Borough. No doubt it was a noisy place and dangerous so far as work was concerned, but it had a generous community spirit and ready help for those in need or distress.

Besides numerous small concerns there were three big mines working, the Woodstock, the Crown and the Talisman, for which I was chief assayer from 1897 till 1914 - years of great production. The mines worked six days a week and the batteries thundered for 24 hours a day and seven days a week. The shops remained open till 8 and 9 pm from Monday to Friday, and on Saturdays till 10 and 11 pm, while the hotels plied their trade the full 24 hours, catering for the "shifts" going on and coming off. (Day - 8 am to 4 pm, Afternoon - 4 pm to midnight, and Night - midnight to 8 am). Men with their pink candles and crib tins were always coming and going, and people gathered quickly when the dread siren announced the all too frequent accident.

On Sunday mornings many of those not working proceeded to the Recreation Ground at Mackaytown and there all differences were settled by fist-fights watched by the crowd, but other sport played a prominent part in the lives of the men. There were some excellent football teams as is evidenced by the fact that one year there were eleven Karangahake players in a Thames Valley side. One of our men, George Gillett was regarded as a rugby marvel, being able to take his place anywhere in the team of which he was frequently Captain. He was an All Black in the famous 1905 Representatives. Other All Blacks were Douggie McGregor, who went to California in 1911 and Australia in 1919, also Scotty McClymont, an International Rugby League player for ten years who became even more famous as a Selector, Coach and Manager after he left here. There were many more outstanding players such as: Jack Baggest, Ernie Jury, Tiffy Lang, Dave Dean, W McLean, Bunting, Dillimore and Bramble.

As in most mining towns gambling was prevalent for small odds and there were two-up schools everywhere. Often when it was too wet outside they would gamble on matches thrown into culverts from underneath the verandas. Indoor entertainment was not lacking either for there were three halls and on occasions there would be three travelling shows at once filling them all. I remember too the fine local concerts that were staged and the first class Brass Bands under Herb Robinson and George Fallon who was a tailor and saw to it that we men dressed well. There were many single men in the town, and dances were well attended, with no lack of partners for the girls. But I imagine that the women had no easy time in those days - at least those who lived in small houses with large families and absolutely no conveniences. Yet they always seemed to make the best of things and children grew up strong, healthy and independent.

The Miner's Union played a big part in the life of Karangahake, as did the several Friendly Society Lodges, contributing assistance in times of accident or distress. There were three public halls and four churches, two large hotels besides the one at Mackaytown and numerous boarding houses. It is difficult now to visualise the Band Rotunda and the busy Main Street - which consisted of a High Road and a Low Road - lined with shops and several two-storey buildings as well as a busy Post Office, which was later moved to Hikutaia. Some businesses that I remember were:

Stationers - White, Leach, Thorburn, Liddel.

Drapers - Adams, Mynette, Noonan, Cordes, and Miss Bullian.

Butchers - Tetley, Wight, Ott, Vuglar, Wells.

Bootmaker - Searle.

Tinsmith - Taylor.

Ironmonger - Walters.

Baker - Keating.

Chemists - Fraser, Stephenson.

Bill Marsh supplied most of the milk from his farm at Turners Hill.

There was a branch of the "Ohinemuri Coaching & Carriage Company" with its manager E S Cock, Coachbuilder and General Blacksmith. This was quite an important terminus and changing place for teams. (Of course the opening of the railway in 1905 made a big difference to this business but horses were still used for carting goods from the station, and we were still in the "Horse and Buggy Days" so far as private transport was concerned. We had a horse-drawn Ambulance for many years). We also had a newspaper, the "Goldfields Advocate", a demy sheet with six columns to a page and issued twice a week. I think the name of the proprietor was Ellis, but we avidly read the Auckland Weekly News and other papers.

In my day the town was lit by gas generated in Paeroa from 1897 by the "Ohinemuri Light and Power Company". But we were not far away from the era of lamps and candles and still a long way from that of modern sewage.

During my stay in Karangahake I always slept above the Strong Room at the Talisman as it was necessary for someone to be there both night and day. However I had my meals at the Hotel and went on many expeditions up the hills, besides taking part in a good deal of tennis. I was always fascinated by the wonderful teams of horses that hauled machinery to the mines and batteries. There was no tar seal in those days and the three to four inch metal put on 8 and 9 inches thick, was soon crushed down by the steel-shod wheels of the wagons.

I saw the amazing growth of the mining township, the erection of a very up-to-date School of Mines, under Bob McDuff and then Mr Gibson and on the social side the laying down of tennis courts, croquet lawns and bowling greens. Business in the shopping area was brisk and goods were delivered, mostly on horse-back, to homes in what appeared to be very nearly inaccessible spots. The growth of the school on the hill was phenomenal and there seemed to be plenty of good people who took an interest in the welfare of the young, teaching them at Sunday School, training Boy's Bands and arranging concerts.

Old residents may remember the terrific conflagration in 1910 when the big Woodstock Battery became a heap of ashes and twisted machinery. Sheets of iron flew off into the air like paper kites. Shortly after that, returns began to fall off and later the Crown closed, followed by the Talisman about 1919. After that time, the story is no longer mine, but although the closing was not the end, it heralded an exodus from Karangahake that changed its character. Many of the men had to find work elsewhere, and many of the houses, especially the better class ones, were pulled down and taken away to be erected in other parts of the country.

I was sorry to read recently of the destruction by fire of the Old People's Home at Te Puke. I remember when it was built on Cornes' Paddock at Karangahake for Mr Daw the General Manager of the Crown Mine. In 1920 it was bought by Mr Montgomery, dismantled into sections and taken by scow from Paeroa via Cape Colville to Tauranga, thence to Te Puke, where it was reassembled as a private house, later becoming a fine home for elderly people.


The Talisman bought out the Woodstock and held in all an area of 507 acres. At the end of 1911 it had produced nearly 2½ million ounces of gold valued at £1,573,645 and had been worked for a vertical depth of 1,500 feet. Levels were numbered from the top of the mountain and at one time from No. 8 level downward each level showed an increase in the length of the payable ore until at No. 14 level it was over 1,100 feet with width of from 4 to 10 feet.

The ore from the passes was trucked from the Talisman shaft and tipped into hoppers of about 7 tons capacity beneath the levels. Thence it was hoisted in skips by air winch placed in No. 11 level to the top of the Talisman shaft at No. 8 level. From there it was trucked by horse-tram to bins at the upper terminal of an aerial tram which worked as a self acting jig, delivering the ore directly to the battery storage bins below. A separate small hopper was provided at each level for waste rock, which was hoisted to the river adit only and trucked out to the mullock-tip. The Talisman shaft had four compartments below No.11 level - two ore skipways, one waste skipway and one ladder-way and pipe compartment.

In places the quartz in the Talisman mine was exceedingly rich and on one occasion the General Manager called me up at 2 am one morning saying he had just had a phone call from the shift boss reporting that they had broken into a huge vugue in the reef and that it looked like a jeweller's shop. He suggested that I might like to go up to the mine with him and see it. Needless to say I was out of bed, dressed in no time and together we proceeded to the mine and into the workings where they had broken into the large hole in the reef. Well words could not possibly express the beauty of what we saw. There were large festoons of pure metallic silver as fine and glistening as spun silk. We were lost in awe and admiration as we moved the candles from one position to another.


The main entrance to the Crown Mine was by the Waitawheta River level - the naming of the various levels proceeded from this, the first above being known as No. 1A, and the first below as No. 1B. Surface waters were not allowed to percolate and lower workings were kept dry by a two-throw electrically driven pump fixed in the chamber of No. 5B level. The ore was delivered in horse-drawn trucks to the battery which was near the present hall and railway bridge, about a mile from the mine.


At the batteries the treatment of ore consisted first of "pulverisation" by rock-breakers, stampers and tube mills followed by concentration (by some form of shaking), amalgamation, cyanidation, precipitation and finally of assaying. The cyanide process of gold extraction was introduced for the first time in New Zealand by the Crown Mine in 1889 and made possible the exploitation of the lower grade ores. Dry crushing, with roasting the raw ore, was formally practised but the introduction of fine wet-crushing machinery obviated this costly and unhealthy method of treatment.

The following were some of the mining officials in my day:






Daw, McCombie


Barrett, Hutchinson







McCombie, Rickard


Other assayers were: Mr Metcalf (Talisman), Mr Napier (Crown).

Our smelting Foremen were: Messrs. Ben Gwilliam, Dette, and Carpenter.

Office: Mr Kitching (Talisman), Mr Waddel and Mr R Lloyd (Crown).