Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 7, May 1967


Much of the credit for bringing about early interest in the establishment of a School of Mines in Waihi belongs to the "Waihi Miner" - (Proprietors: Messrs Galbraith & Vercker-Bindon). In 1901 this newspaper was merged in the "Daily Telegraph" which in turn ceased publication in 1951.

In June 1896, at a public meeting, a committee was elected whose purpose was to establish a School of Mines. With a quarter acre of school reserve set aside by the Auckland Education Board, and a Government subsidy of £1 promised for every £1 raised locally, a contract was soon let for the erection of a building.

The school was officially opened on the 1st July 1897 with Mr P.G. Morgan, M.A. as its first Director. It was the first provision for higher education in the district, and unlike the Thames School of Mines it depended upon public subscription and grants from local bodies, whereas Thames drew its finance from Government sources alone. It was controlled by a council consisting of a President, two Vice-Presidents, six ordinary members and two student members as well as two representatives from the local authority, which was the Ohinemuri County Council till 1902, and then the Waihi Borough Council. The first President was Thomas Gilmour, Manager of the Waihi Gold Mining Co., and later Mayor of Waihi.

Since its opening the original building was enlarged several times and eventually contained three large lecture rooms, chemical and assaying laboratories. museum, library, ore crushing plant, electrical workshop, oil fired electric generating plant, x-ray apparatus, wireless equipment etc.

In 1905, Percy Morgan, who had in 1900 married the elder daughter of Thomas Gilmour, left to take up an appointment with the N.Z. Geological Survey, and in 1911 to become its Director. Being particularly interested in structural geology his work was always characterised by thoroughness, and his published works of which there are over 100, gained such unquestioning confidence, that even today some are standard works of reference. When he left Waihi, his position at the School of Mines was filled by his younger brother, Mr A.H.V. Morgan, M.A. who in 1911 married the second daughter of Thomas Gilmour. The history of the school is the greater part of the life story of Vivian Morgan, for apart from 4 years on active service with the N.Z.M.C. as a radiologist, he was to be associated with it for 45 years - first as assistant to his brother and then from 1905 to 1946 as Director.

During most of this time the school had a full-time staff of three, aided by several part time assistants. Lectures were all duplicated in the evening to accommodate students on shift work. The cost of attending classes was a modest 5/- per term.

In 1910 the staff was:-


A.H.V. Morgan, M.A.

Drawing Instructor

R.H. Mitchell

Asst. Lecturer

F.T. Seelye, A.O.S.M.

Laboratory Asst.

H.A. Hamilton

Lecturer in Electrical Engineering

A.T. Ellis


C.F. Sims

And the Office Bearers:


Thomas Gilmour

Vice Presidents

W.H. Johnston and M.F. Haszard

Hon. Vice Presents:

H.P. Barry, W.F. Grace, R.E. Williams, E.G. Banks, W. Crauford-Brown [W. Crawford-Brown ? – E], A.T. Kenrick, W. McConachie


A.H. Benge, J.L. Gilmour, J. Livesey, J.R. Noble, H.B. Devereau, P. Cooney, J. Nicholson

Students Representatives

F. Stewart and Rev. W. White


Classes were taken in mining and allied subjects necessary to obtain a mine or battery manager's certificate, a bullion assayers certificate or an engine driver's ticket. It was also possible to obtain a Mines Department Scholarship and so attend the Otago University School of Mines. Subjects included Mathematic Surveying, Ventilation, pumping, winding, geology, chemistry, assaying, mechanical drawing, electricity and magnetism, mechanics and hydraulics.

It was a difficult task, requiring endless patience, to teach these involved technical subjects to students at different stages of progress, and often to those with sketchy preliminary education, but these difficulties were overcome and the school became well known for the ability and success of its students.

In addition to lecturing, the staff carried out hundreds of assays and analyses for the public each year. The charge for determining gold and silver was 5/-, but assays for bona fide prospectors was free, as also was the identification of minerals and precious stones.

Wireless or radio wave propagation was always of great interest to those associated with the school, and some of the earliest experiments in N.Z. were conducted at Waihi. A demonstration of this took place during a students' Conversazione on May 14th 1909, when Mr Morgan used a spark-gap transmitter and a "coherer" as a receiver to produce wireless signals which caused a bell to ring and a light to be switched on in another part of the building. Later two 70 foot masts made from pipes salvaged from one of the Karangahake mines, were erected, and often people gathered in the "wireless room" to listen with earphones to the howls and whistles that accompanied the first broadcasts of music in N.Z. in 1921 from Professor Jack's Dunedin station. Perhaps the first distant wireless signal (DX) received in Waihi was picked up in 1923 by the late John Corcoran of Gladstone Rd., an electrical student of the School of Mines. He heard the distress signal from the S.S. Trevessa, a ship disabled in the Indian Ocean. In 1937 the late K.M. Wrigley, a former student conducted a course of lectures on radio theory and practice at the School of Mines, which although short lived, were very well attended.

With the languishing of the mining industry, and the withdrawal of the Government subsidy, it was only natural that the usefulness of the school would come to an end. Its loss was felt deeply by those who were able to draw on its technical and analytical services. Its equipment was dispersed, and the exhibits in the Waihi Museum are the remnants of its extensive mineral collection. Finally the building itself was removed, some of which is now the Waihi Scout Hall and some has become Mr Blanche Fisher's wool shed in Golden Valley. Still other parts were removed to the Waihi Beach to become a beach cottage.

Footnote: At the present time the only plaque marking an historic place in Waihi is situated at the end of School Lane alongside the Intermediate School swimming pool. Indicating the site of the Waihi School of Mines, this plaque was constructed in 1961 under the direction and at the expense of two former students of the school – Mrs Myrtle Haszard and Mr Norman Morton.

It is fitting that the School of Mines should be commemorated, for students from this school were to make the town of Waihi known throughout the mining world both at home and overseas.

MR. O.J. MORGAN, younger son of Vivian Morgan, and grandson of Thomas Gilmour was born in Waihi in 1919. He was educated at the Central School and the Waihi High School, and for four years was a student and laboratory assistant at the School of Mines, before spending 5 years in the radar branch of the air force. On returning to Waihi he developed and expanded a business begun as a side-line by his father in 1921, manufacturing dental filling materials. He has served for 14 years as a Borough Councillor, and the same time as a member of the Waihi South School committee. In 1946 he married Miss Rosemary Small of Palmerston North, and has a family of 4 sons and 1 daughter.