Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 42, September 1998
[sadly, no author given - E]
Much has already been written detailing the opening of the Ohinemuri Goldfield on 3 March 1875 at Mackaytown so I will not relate these events again. Before the actual "Opening" my mates and I had been camping nearby. It was late summer so conditions had been good for camping and remained so for a short time.
In this article I will relate my experiences associated with the building of the first crushing "battery" at the place later known as Karangahake. I say "later known" as Karangahake because, at the time, there were no official names for areas beyond Mackaytown. In fact the area of which I write was for sometime known as "Battery Flat", once we had built the battery there. There was no road access to the area on which Karangahake township was built years later. Just up stream on the Ohinemuri River, beyond Mackaytown, the river flowed between two cliffs. In later years the road was cut through on one side and much later still the railway was cut through on the opposite side. These bluffs blocked off direct access from Mackaytown to the flat area now known as River Road, at Karangahake. There were other bluffs further up, undercut by the river, which also prevented access at river level to the mining area.
Eventually the first store, post office and hotel were built at Battery Flat, that location being desirable because it was on the same side of the river as the mines. ["Battery Flat" was across the river from the present picnic area and is reached now by the present walkway. - Editor]
Now to return to the subject of building the battery. Soon after the goldfield was opened in 1875 the possibility of erecting a battery at Karangahake was being considered by various miners. On 25 July 1875 a meeting of delegates from All Nations, Prospectors and Mazeppa Companies (these were three of the Karangahake mines) was held at the Governor Bowen Hotel, Thames to discuss amalgamation and the erection of a battery.
After locating a suitable site, the first problem was to get building materials and machinery into the area. As the two bluffs mentioned prevented direct flat access up the valley from Mackaytown, a ford was constructed across the river opposite Mackaytown to the flat known as Wairere. The track was then formed across this river flat, up the hill side and along the flat area at the top of Crown Hill. The original track followed the alignment of the present road. [County Road - Editor] Reaching a point high above Battery Flat, a steep tramway was constructed down the hill side to enable goods to be lowered. Some old photos show this tramway.
For the purposes of establishing a battery, the Karangahake Goldmining and Quartz Crushing Company was formed, the Managers being Mr Cornes and Mr Coutts. By the end of December 1875 most of the machinery needed had been brought to the site and construction was underway.
On 5 July 1876 the battery was started but it only ran for half an hour before it shook off the stamper shoes. After repair, a further test run was made two days later and it was decided to have the official opening on 12 July. When the 11th of July arrived, a further test run was made but it was found that when eight stampers were started the speed was 60 blows per minute but when 12 head were run the speed slowed to about 50 blows and when the whole 16 head of stampers was run they could only manage 34 blows per minute. In view of this, the official opening was postponed. It was thought that either the flume did not bring down enough water or the turbine was not properly constructed.
After carrying out the necessary alterations crushing got underway but by August it was realized that the battery process was not able to deal with the type of ore being obtained at Karangahake. Even 12 months before, a Mr Masters had assayed a parcel of ore and, although it was of good value, he had warned that the ordinary battery process would not extract the gold.
There were continual troubles. A flood in August washed away some of the fluming and later a stamper rod snapped. Much gold was seen in the stone but not on the battery plates where a lot of scum was gathering. This was said to be due to the high percentage of silver which 'sickens' the quick silver (mercury). At the end of August 1876 the battery stopped whilst scientific tests were carried out to find a way to extract the gold. Later the battery resumed but it was very unsatisfactory. The amalgam from the plates was at this time retorted at the Queen of Beauty Battery, Thames and refined at the National Bank's premises. In early October we had a state of chaos at the battery because ore from different companies, namely the Main Lead and City of Auckland, had been mixed up.
Readers who know of Karangahake's later mining history may be unfamiliar with the mining companies mentioned. These earlier claims and companies were of small size and often of short existence. From the end of 1876 until after 1882, little activity took place at Karangahake apart from prospecting and during these years the battery stood idle and deteriorating.
After the discovery of important reefs in March 1882, one of the companies formed, the Hauraki, commenced negotiations to purchased the old Karangahake battery. The purchase was completed by 25 April 1882 and the battery was then known as the Hauraki Battery. The Hauraki Company, owned by Messrs McCombie, McWilliams and Liddell, then commenced to remodel and repair the machinery. I returned to Karangahake at this time from Thames, where I had been working since 1877, and obtained a job with the Hauraki Company. It was necessary to build a new water race and the work went on for months. In January 1883 we had a new manager, Mr MacDonald. There were five other men working on the battery, including the foreman, Mr Corbett. Floods caused delays and even by April 1883 the tramway, from the mine to the battery, was not completed.
I learnt later, that in 1881, there had been tenders called by the Waihi Mine to have the battery moved there. This idea fell through when Dan Leahy and Sims took up a claim on Taukani Hill, near the battery.
At last, on 30 August 1883, the battery commenced operations, running at a speed which enabled the stampers to deliver 60 blows per minute, the machinery being driven by a Shields turbine. We only had two berdans which limited the output somewhat, but some good progress was made for a period until the 6 November, when the Waitawheta River flooded to a height unprecedented in the memory of any of us who had been there for years. This resulted in two sections of the Hauraki's trestle work and fluming, which spanned the river near the battery, being carried down stream to where they were converted to firewood by the Maoris living there. This damage was repaired and crushing resumed and, for the year ended 31 December 1883, 164 oz.11 dwt. (penny-weight) of gold was recovered.
Apart from ore from the Hauraki's own claim, other companies had ore crushed by the Hauraki Battery. To enable them to transport the ore to the battery, the various mines built tramways from their mines to the Hauraki Battery. The Ivanhoe Company spent a great deal of money on their tramway which was completed by early November 1883. Other claims of this period were the Annie, Diana, Dubbo, Noble, Maria, Martha, Hidden Treasure and many others.
Though the battery had been remodelled, it was out of date and the extraction rate was very poor. This battery ceased to be used around 1886 by most mines and they then stockpiled their ore, pending the completion of Railey's Battery. The Hauraki Company was reformed in 1886 and became the Kenilworth Company. They did not use the battery and I went to work on Railey's Battery, this being my line of employment rather than mining.