Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 30, September 1986

The following article was discovered recently by Waihi Borough Council staff in the Borough Chamber's safe. It was written by the late Mr. W. M. Wallnutt who was Waihi's longest serving Mayor - from 1923-1947.

Mr. W. M. Wallnutt

CAME IN 1896.

I came to Waihi in August 1896. My Intention was to take up mining as a profession, and I had a letter of introduction to the Manager of the Silverton, Mr. H.H. Adams, from Mr. D. G. MacDonald, well known legal Manager of Auckland. It was necessary to put in so many years in practical mining, but after a few years underground I decided to take on journalistic work. I opened an agency for printing and advertising and press correspondence for the Auckland Star, and as a side line, did some sharebroking. The boom came later. Apart from the Waihi Company's shares which were about ten pound or more, the most extensive business was transacted in Waihi Extendeds, Pride of Waihi and Waihi Beach in that order. This was in 1905.

What was subsequently known as the Martha lode outcropped on the Pukewa Hill - Pukewa meaning 'The Spur'. The first prospector to arrive on the Hill was Mr. John McCombie - one time general manager of the Crown Mines, Karangahake, and who came in company with an American named Robert Lee in February 1878. I have heard Mr. McCombie speaking of his experiences at that time.

They started at the northern end of the outcrop at a depth of 60 feet by driving a crosscut from the western end of the Spur, and after driving about 89 feet, met with unexpected opposition. Two old native warriors suddenly appeared and warned them that Pukewa was a Wahi tapu (Sacred place) and insisted on them suspending operations. This they refused to do. Next morning however, a small army of wahenes [wahines – E] (women folk) advanced to the attack. Three of them seized the barrow which Lee had just emptied over the 40 foot sloping tiphead, and commenced to wrestle with him for its possession. Just when the women reached the extreme edge Lee let go the barrow; there was a momentary struggle on the part of the dusky damsels to restore their equilibrium, but the effort came too late, and away they went taking turn about with the barrow in acrobatic evolutions down the slope. Lee and McCombie then sought refuge in their tunnel, but the unwelcome visitors, however, started to pull down the earth around the mouth of the tunnel, and after a time it looked like a case of burial alive. Just as the mouth of the tunnel was about filled up the two prospectors threw out into the falling earth two prepared charges of blasting powder with fuses lit. Shortly after, a terrific explosion occurred which properly scared the natives who lost no time in making themselves scarce. The crosscut was continued a distance of 200 feet, but prospecting was not encouraging. A parcel of ore taken to the Smile of Fortune Battery at Owharoa returned only three pound.

When McCombie and his mate had left for Te Aroha, where a Maori named Hore Werahiko had struck it rich, there came on the scene Mr. W. S. Nicholl, of Waitekauri, and his mate Robert Mafurey [Majurey – E]. In the years round about 1932 when Mr. Nicholl was about 80 years of age, the late W. F. ('Daldy') MacWilliams and myself frequently visited Nicholl who lived in a small cottage close to the Waitekauri road just before you entered the township, and discussed the mining outlook of the Waitekauri and Owharoa fields.

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Referring to the days of 1878, Nicholl told me that while he did not claim to having been the first to discover reefs in the district, he could lay claim to haying been the first to find payable gold, the precious metal then being worth three pound sixteen per ounce. When he first went into the tunnel driven by McCombie the lode then being followed was known as a buck reef (calcite). He then decided to prospect the northern and western sides of the hill and pot-holed down from where the Waihi Gold Mining Company's No. 3 Shaft was subsequently sunk, with the result that he came on two or three runs of rich stuff. The Young Colonial was the first claim pegged out, and while, as already stated, he did not claim to have been the first prospector on the ground, he claimed to have named the Martha over 50 years ago. Nicholl opened up at 125 feet from McCombie's drive. The lode was 40 feet wide valued four ozs to the ton. They took out 30 sacks of ore for a yield of 24 ounces of gold. Probably only half of the gold in the parcel was saved.

Nicholl was a wonderful old chap and possessed a great sense of humour. One of his stories which I heard was that after visiting Fiji he decided to leave for America and join the Klondyke [or Klondike – E] rush. When there he had an exciting fight with a bear, and the latter - the bear - came off second best! Nicholl used a sword bayonet on this occasion and just as the bear was about to hug him his mate shot the bear with a revolver.

Another story was to the effect that his most gruelling experience, however, occurred in the hills between Wharikiranponga [Wharekirauponga – E] and Waihi. On this occasion he said he had the worst battle to save his life that he ever had during his 60 years experience as a digger. For eight hours he battled against storm and wind, and when his legs had just about failed him he noticed a lot of pig rootings about. If he should die now, thought Mr. Nicholl, the pigs would tear his corpse to bits and he would have a contract in collecting the pieces on the Day of Judgment!

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In the year 1931, I found Nicholl busily engaged in boring operations at Waitekauri notwithstanding the fact that he was in his eightieth year. He had set up a small boring plant with coupling rods and steel bit, and had sunk a series of holes along a dacite formation similar to Owharoa, and which disclosed the existence of quartz at a depth of some 40 feet. Like others of the old time mining men, he was of the opinion that a large lode existed in the Waitekauri district and would someday be brought to light.

Mr. Nicholl, Mr. 'Daldy' MacWilliams and myself came to the conclusion that the evidence of shed ores, the continuity of the formation, its size and values pointed to the existence of a main fissure lode at no great depth. Some day it will come to light.

In March of 1883 the then Martha Company gathered in the various claims along the line of reef and made them one family. The first four years saw 30,000 tons of ore treated for an average yield of thirteen shillings per ton, and eventually the mine was let on tribute to W Hollis and party.

It was in 1890 that the Mine and Plant passed into the hands of the Waihi Company being purchased for three thousand pounds by Mr. Thomas Russell [T H Russell – E] for the Company. This was Waihi's Natal Day.

The coming of the cyanide process in August 1893, revolutionised the methods of ore treatment, and turned the tide in the affairs of the company. It proved an immediate success, the average extraction for a number of years being 88 to 92 per cent of gold and 50 per cent of silver. The patentees of the process were McArthur and Forrest and their representative, Mr. Alfred James, visited Waihi early in 1893.

The year 1909 saw the mine attain its zenith when it reached a total return of 950,594 pound. The following year proved a memorable one as marking the first downward trend, and 1912 saw the yield reduced to 332,786 pound. With the discovery of the bedded country at No.9 level, the tide turned in the affairs of the Company, and the shares rapidly declined from ten pound to 30/- in a few months. What is referred to as 'bedded country' came in on the footwall side of the Martha lode and was not seen south of the Martha until No. 11 level. Exploration work has proved that bedding country is unfavourable for the discovery of payable ore bodies. As No. 4 shaft was further sunk many flatly-dipping seams were met with containing carbonaceous matter Indicating surface commotion of great age.

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When Nicholl arrived back from Fiji about the time Mr. Thomas Russell had just acquired the Martha Mine, he heard that the Maratoto Mining Company had been wound up, and that the mine and battery had been bought at public auction by a Mr. Judd, foundryman, of Thames for two hundred and ten pounds.

Nicholl went to Thames and offered to take the Mine and Battery on tribute at 10 per cent. Judd replied that he knew nothing about mining and would not let it. Nicholl told him he had not money to buy it, but if he would trust him he would pay him in two months time. Judd gave him the keys of the battery and told him to go ahead and that he would draw up the transfer when he brought the money. Nicholl decided to see Mr. Russell and ask him for seven bottles of quicksilver to charge the pans and settled in the Maratoto battery. Russell told him to go to the battery manager at Waitekauri and after trudging the five miles to Waitekauri the manager would not give the bottles without a written order. When he got back he told Russell what had transpired, and he said he would go out with him. When they got there Russell told the manager to give Nicholl the bottles of quicksilver.

Nicholl then started to carry the silver over the range to Maratoto, the first four miles being all uphill. To the top of Sheep Hill the track rises 1800 feet above the Waitekauri battery. A bottle of quicksilver weighs 90 lbs. When he picked up the first bottle he thought it would be a mere cakewalk, carrying the seven bottles over the range, so he went at it; but by the time he had the first bottle on the top of Sheep Hill his shoulders were skinned. The bottle had not been quite full, and the silver was continually on the move while he carried it. Next day he filled two bottles so that the quicksilver could not move.

Although heavier, he found them much easier to carry. He made two trips the following day and charged the settler with two bottles of silver, the other bottle he kept to charge the pans. He cleaned up after running the battery for a fortnight and reported [retorted – E] gold to the value of one hundred and three pounds. He took the gold to the bank and sold it, opening an account in his wife's name. After running the battery for five weeks he had enough bullion to pay Judd the two hundred and ten pound. He kept the battery going for three years and turned out one thousand three hundred pound a year for that period. He received a letter from 'Long Drive' Walker asking him if he would sell the mine. Nicholl said he would for two thousand five hundred pound, but Walker said he would not purchase at that figure and offered two thousand pound. Eventually Nicholl agreed and the property went to Walker.

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News of rich discoveries on the Klondyke caused Nicholl to get somewhat excited. This was in November 1893. Things started to move in Waihi. It was the birth of the big boom, and shares in the mine jumped from 2/6 to five pounds in a fortnight! Another flourishing report came from Klondyke and Nichol could stand it no longer and went to Wellington and booked passage to Vancouver.

Typical of many of the famous gold rushes, was the official opening of the Ohinemuri Goldfield in March 1875, by the Warden, Colonel Fraser. This occurred at 9.55 o'clock in the morning at Mackaytown, which at that period was a regular canvas town containing 1600 souls. At a given signal, 600 excited men on horseback and foot crossed the river and made uphill for the Prospectors' claim on the side of the Karangahake Mountain. Those who claimed to be the original prospectors were Messrs. J. Smyth, J. Corbett, M. Coleman, T. Arnold, A. Mackay, J. Thorp and J. Verrall. The late Mr. T. H. Gordon, of Waihi had arrived in the district in 1875 and participated in the rush.

In 1882 the famous Talisman Mine and Crown reefs were discovered by the MacWilliam brothers, J. Liddle [Liddell – E] and J. McCombie.

My close friend and prospecting mate, Mr. 'Daldy' MacWilliams, already mentioned in this talk, and widely known in mining circles, physical culture, football and boxing throughout the Hauraki Peninsula, was in his early youth a member of a Government Survey party engaged in the Rotokuhu [Rotokohu – E] Valley in the neighbourhood of Karangahake, was shot down by hostile natives and left for dead. The natives opened fire on the party and young MacWilliams fell with a bullet in his body. It was only his wonderful presence of mind in feigning death that saved his life. He crawled some distance down a hill towards a swamp and was discovered by a half-caste woman named Kate Thompson, who carried him on her back to Paeroa. He was then taken to the Thames Hospital where the bullet was extracted and he soon recovered. In later years in company with MacWilliams I visited the scene of the shooting. In 1900 MacWilliams went to Waihi and was appointed Bailiff and draughtsman at the Waihi Court. He retired in 1927.

On November 9, 1905, Richard John Seddon, Prime Minister of New Zealand, stood on the railway station platform at Waihi and formally declared the Paeroa-Waihi section of the East Coast Main Trunk line open. On that occasion one of the three engines conveying the Premier and about 1000 excursionists, ran off the line after passing through the Karangahake tunnel. Unsuccessful attempts were made to get it on again, and after a delay of an hour and a half Mr. Seddon went ahead on the first engine.

Origin of the term "Digger".

It is claimed that the term 'Digger' the common appellation for Australia and New Zealand troops, originated in Waihi during the formation of a tunnelling corps to be incorporated with the Royal Engineers. The incident took place at the Waihi Mine, No. 2 shaft, in 1915, when the Miners were assembled and addressed by certain high-ranking officers. It was found that approximately 120 miners were willing to join up as tunnellers. Late comers to the meeting were greeted with cries of 'Come on you diggers and line up and join the tunnellers'. During the subsequent farewells 'Good-bye, you Diggers' were used.

The Waihi members of the Tunnelling Corps entrained at the Waihi station on Thursday August 15, 1915 and sailed in the middle of December.

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Mr W M WALLNUTT was born in Ireland in 1870, being the grandson of the Lord Mayor of Limerick and Captain the Hon Hugh Brice White R N, Commander-in-Chief of the Coast Guards, Ireland. He had his schooling in England and came to New Zealand when 19, serving for several years with the Survey Department before coming to Waihi in 1896. After a 3 year period of mining, Mr Wallnutt took up journalism.

He took an active interest in sport and in the formation of the Waihi Borough, and was Coroner for 40 years. On 2 May 1923, Mr Wallnutt was elected Mayor of Waihi and retained this office until his death on 28 July, 1947.