Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 20, June 1976


In the last Journal [see Journal 19: Opening of the Goldfield - E] we saw that after the initial rush to the Karangahake goldfield, the miners soon drifted away disappointed with their finds. It was not until seven years later that extensive prospective prospecting by Messrs J. Liddell, McWilliams Brothers, A. Shepherd and John McCombie revealed gold bearing reefs. These men prospected higher on the mountain than did the earlier searchers and in March 1882 they located the great Maria Reef. A second rush took place and many claims were taken up. Some of the men who took part in these ventures were: W. Davies, A. Hogg, R. Noble, P. Hansen, J. Shaw and M. Marrinan.

During 1882/83 many of the claims were given the names of other famous mines both on other goldfields within New Zealand and far away. At this time there was in the miners' camp a set of Sir Walter Scott's novels which were read with interest by the men, who gave the names of the novels to their mining claims. Among these were the Ivanhoe, Woodstock, Kenilworth and Talisman. The original set of novels is now in the possession of the Paeroa Historical Society.

Between 1882 and 1885 there were at least 35 claims pegged. After this initial period most miners realised that more capital and manpower was needed to work the reefs. They either formed partnerships or their claims were otherwise absorbed into larger ones worked by small companies. The era of pegging and working "one man's ground" was over.

In the 1890's, after the introduction of the successful cyanide process, there was another "rush" of pegging claims in which often only a little prospecting was carried out. Many of them were taken up in hope that the large companies would buy them after finding that reefs in their ground extended into a neighbouring claim. The majority of these small claims of which there were more than 70, had a very brief existence.

The names, Woodstock, Talisman and Crown are well known in the history of Ohinemuri's mining days. These mining companies grew often from small beginnings by the merging of various claims until they occupied most of the gold field at Karangahake.

Woodstock - The area was originally held by the Maria Company who gave it up as worthless. At first, the new owners Messrs Liddell and Shepherd worked it on their own account without attempting to raise capital or form a company. Up to 1887, 300 tons of ore had been mined and treated at the Ivanhoe battery but returns were poor. Only the ore near the surface contained free gold. Deeper, silver values increased with a reduction in the gold content. Between 1887 and 1889 the mine was worked almost wholly by tributers who crushed 413 tons for a recovery of 91 oz. of bullion.

A new company the "Woodstock United Goldmining Co." was formed by merging with the Kenilworth claim. This company with a capital of £27,500 was registered on 14 January 1890. In the next five years work continued but without great results, then in 1895 the company reformed as the Woodstock Goldmining Co. Ltd. The nominal capital was £150,000 with £40,000 paid up at the time of registration on 30 July 1895. By this time the Ivanhoe and Truro claims had been taken over (1894), giving a total of 72 acres. The erection of a battery commenced and also an aerial tramway to bring firewood from the bush to the battery.

Prior to 1896 the lowest level worked was No. 3 about 200 feet above the Waitawheta River. Progressively the workings went deeper. After opening No. 5 level, just above the river, it was necessary to sink a shaft. This was done from a chamber excavated on No. 5 level. Upon reaching a depth of 252 feet another level was opened up but by the end of 1901 the company was in financial difficulties. There was a further reconstruction of the company and in 1902 work resumed with 92 men in employment. Work continued into 1903 but the ore between five and six levels was too poor to meet pumping and mining expenses. In 1904 the claim passed into the hands of the Talisman Consolidated Company. Managers and Mine Managers of the Woodstock included Mr. Frank Rich, Mr. John McCombie and Mr. Noble (Battery man).

Talisman - In 1893 there were four men at work on the Talisman claim which was owned by A. Shepherd and others. They found that capital was needed to develop the mine and an attempt was made to raise it on the London market. This failed and a small local company was formed and registered on 5/11/1894.

Five and a half tons of ore was sent to Germany for treatment in 1893 and in 1894, 280 tons was treated at the Crown Mines Battery. This gave a good return but the Crown Mine Company wanted the Talisman to pay all treatment costs plus 20% of the bullion, nor would they allow the Talisman to have the tailings. These terms were unacceptable so the Talisman decided to erect their own battery. The first of 10 stampers was in operation by 1895 but was unsatisfactory. Little ore was crushed until 1897 by which time the battery had been remodelled.

At first the mining, all on the Maria Reef, had been confined to the upper levels of the Karangahake Mountain by means of adits. After commencing the No. 8 level in 1900 a shaft, eventually 1,000 ft. deep was sunk from a chamber. Lower levels were driven from the shaft and also from the Woodstock stopes. The Woodstock was taken over in 1904 and after enlarging the Woodstock Shaft access to the very deep levels could also be reached by walking up the tramline alongside the Waitawheta River, entering the Woodstock No. 5 level (River level) and descending by cage in the Woodstock shaft to Talisman No. 14 level. There were only two more levels below No. 14, and these were reached by ladder. The Talisman shaft from No. 8 level (Half way up the mountain) did not have a cage to lower men, only an ore skip and ladder ways.

By 1905, the Talisman had increased from the original 30 acres to 506 acres by taking over the Bonanza claim (1896), the Talisman Extended, Royal Mail, Victor-Waihou, and finally, Woodstock in 1904. These companies had in many cases already merged or taken over still other claims, Diamond, Rose, Maria, Ivanhoe, Sir Walter Scott, Truro, Kenilworth, Hidden Treasure, just to list a few. So it was that the Talisman continued to grow. The first dividend, £30,000 was paid out in 1906.

Between 1906 and 1914, extensive mining was carried out between No. 8 and No. 13 levels. These were good years for the company which in 1912 employed 360 men. Production had climbed steadily from 4,194 tons in 1898 to 13,396 tons in 1902 then jumped to 47,267 tons in 1903. The peak was reached in 1914 with 52,210 tons of ore mined. There were a few setbacks, mainly by way of flooding in the lower levels, especially in 1909 when the Crown stopped pumping for a time, but on the whole good progress was made and returns were satisfactory.

Within a few years the end was to come. Development work in 1913 proved disappointing. A crosscut from No. 11 level to the Welcome Reef failed to find payable ore, as did crosscuts put out from No. 13 level in 1914. It was hoped to locate other reefs parallel to the main reef but none were found. This was the beginning of the end for Karangahake town, as the only other large mine, the Crown, was also in difficulties having reached its peak in 1909. In 1916 a winze (shaft) sunk from No. 15 level was opened out to reveal nice large galena crystals. These would be a joy to today's mineral collectors but were of no joy to the Talisman Company. The battery suspended operations in 1918.

During 1919, bores were sunk from the lower levels, Government drills being used. These bores were sunk on various angles in an endeavour to locate payable ore. Zinc, iron, sulphides and black flint were found but all attempts to find payable ore by prospecting, mining and drilling had failed and at the end of December 1919 operations ceased. An attempt to salvage rails and airpipes was made but the pumps failed and water rose in the lower levels. In 1920 the company went into liquidation. During its lifetime the company produced most of the 3,510,691 oz. of bullion which came from the claim. The bullion was valued at £2,958,013 and the Talisman Consolidated Company paid £1,150,972 in dividends. It is interesting to note that in 1912 each ton of ore cost £2/3/4d to mine and treat. Actual mining was 12/9d per ton, milling 13/1d per ton and development costs (that is finding the ore) 9/9 per ton. The balance was office expenses 2/1 and construction 5/8.

The company's personnel included:-

General Managers - Mr. Mitchell and Mr. H. Stanfield.
Mine Managers - Goldsworthy, McCombie, Rickard and Dutton.
Battery Managers - Taylor, Phillip, Dean.
Smelting Foreman - Gwilliam, Dette, Carpenter.
Assayers - George Chappell, Metcalf.
Office - Mr. Kitching.
Metallurgist - D. Deane.

Crown Mine: This claim was situated on both sides of the Waitawheta River upstream of the Woodstock claim. The Waitawheta Gorge formed a natural "crosscut" through the reefs on the claim. The reefs, Welcome and Crown were mined on both the north and south sides of the river but by far the greatest development took place on the south side under the Karangahake mountain.

The original Crown Claim was taken up in 1883 by W. Davies who worked it for a syndicate. It was then formed in to a company with Adam Porter as chairman of Directors and G.N. McGruer as mine manager, the position he held for 46 years. By 1887, four years work had brought no returns mainly because of difficulties in treating the ore.

The lowest level being mined in 1887 was some 500 feet above the river and after the formation of the N.Z. Crown Mines Ltd. an inclined tramway was constructed to bring ore down to Railey's battery. Details of the Crown Batteries are discussed in a separate article. Early work had all been on the Crown Reef but in 1891 work commenced on the Welcome Reef. A new level, just above the river was driven and eventually (1902) extended 2894 feet providing the main access to the workings. During 1892/93 six levels were being worked with 112 men in employment.

A chamber was excavated in the river level drive in 1896 and the sinking of a shaft commenced and by 1898 was down 60 feet. The number of men employed increased progressively, 195 in 1897, 210 in 1898 and 230 in 1900. Ore in the upper levels was becoming depleted and sinking the shaft was carried out as quickly as possible. At a depth of 70 feet, level 1B was opened out, 2B at 140 feet, 3B at 210 feet. These levels were progressively extended south along the line of the reef and stoping commenced. This system of opening levels each 70 feet differed from that of the Talisman who opened levels only each 200 feet; the reason being that large parts of the Talisman reef, Maria, were unpayable. In payable sections they drove intermediate levels and made a great deal of use of winzes and rises.

The Crown paid its first dividend in 1896. The general manager at this time being R.H. Daw. He held this position from about 1897 until John McCombie became general Manager in 1909.

Water was a great source of trouble and flooded the lower levels in November 1908. This also flooded the Talisman in 1909/1910. In 1910 the Talisman installed a very large pump in their Woodstock shaft capable of pumping 50,000 gallons an hour. The Talisman shaft was already capable of pumping 41,000 gallons an hour, This eased the strain on the Crown Mines pumps and after installing a larger pump they started to pump out their lower levels on 12/8/1910.

A further level 4B was opened out from the shaft in 1902 at a depth of 372 feet and another 5B at 506 feet. It was found impossible to work level 5B from the shaft because of the amount of water. A winze was sunk down from 4B level further away from the shaft and 5B level worked from that but work was slow as the ore had to be drawn up the winze to 4B level, then taken to the shaft and hence hauled to the surface.

In 1908, the shaft was down 526 feet. This was over 500 feet below the Waitawheta River and well below sea level. Mrs. G. Bunting a resident of Karangahake for many years recalls being taken down the shaft when her husband was working there. She remembers the alarming sensation as the cage plunged into the dark depths and water cascaded over them.

After 1905, the number of men in employ decreased. Pumping was always a great expense and there were a few other problems. In 1908, a spring giving off sulphuretted - hydrogen gas was struck when a winze was being sunk from 5B level. Over the years, the area held had increased from 60 acres to 404 acres. The claims taken over by the Crown Company included Monastery, Earl of Glasgow (Maria Reef), Mammoth, Ravenswood.

Work continued with declining returns during the period 1910/15. By 1916 most men had been put off and 21 tributers worked the mine. Up to 1919 the water races and levels were kept in good repair but in 1920 the machinery was dismantled. Surface prospecting continued and in 1923 the Rose cross cut was commenced. This continued until 1926 but after driving 824 feet work ceased. In July 1928, the mining warden forfeited the company's holdings.

The Company's head office was in London and most of the Directors resided overseas. The list of Directors included such names as Jacques Kulp, le Vincomte Charles due Peloux, Marguis d' Hautpaul and others. Of more interest are the remembered names of the local men on the field.

In 1900 the General Manager was R.H. Daw and his staff -

Mine Manager - - - George N. McGruer.
Accountant - - - David G. Waddell.
Metallurgist - - - James Napier.
Battery Manager - - William Hutchison.
Foreman, cyanide plant - - James J. Barrett.
Asst. Foreman, cyanide plant - Peter Conway.
Assayer - - - - - William D. Littlejohn.

The treatment of ore for the extraction of precious metals will be dealt with in a further article about the famous Karangahake Batteries. (G.S.) [see Journal 21: Extraction of Gold and Silver - Karangahake - E]