Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 51, September 2007
(by Graham Watton)
The historic Victoria Battery site at Waikino proved to be a most interesting visit for 22 members of the Paeroa and District Historical Society in March last.
The party was met at the old power transformer station by members of the Victoria Battery Society and after briefing on the origins of the battery and its operations, the visitors split into two groups. One was taken on a guided tour of the six kilns used for "roasting" the ore and the other was taken for a train ride around the large battery site with a commentary describing each part of the site.
Those who went up to the kilns climbed up some 60 steps and then into a covered area where a walkway took members over the brick lined kilns which taper down some 7m to a narrow doorway. The ore from the Martha mine in Waihi was placed in layers between timber, and then ignited to burn the sulphides and other impurities before the next step in the processing to obtain the gold and silver.
From the walkway it was down to the "ground floor" and into the loop tunnel linked the kilns to enable trucks brought out the burnt ore for the next step, the crushing.
Both parties returned to the power house and changed over. It was now around the battery site, with several stops to allow for time to identify points of interest mentioned in the recorded commentary.
Back together again the members inspected the powerhouse and the museum which the Battery Society members are gradually developing. Like all things heritage, volunteers and funding are the most important ingredients, but are lacking in quantity and the battery project is no different.
Fortunately the Department of Conservation, which owns the site, is continually upgrading the buildings and has been responsible for the restoration of the kilns.
After an interesting two hours, the group travelled to the Waikino Station Café, formerly the Paeroa railway station built in 1895, for an very enjoyable luncheon. An interesting video screened covering the historic record of the battery, Waikino and its adjacent mining communities of Owharoa and Waitekauri.
The Waihi Gold Mining Company was processing its Martha Mine ore on site in Waihi during the 1880s and as the mine developed, pressure increased on its mercury-based processing system which was recovering around 50 to 60 per cent of the gold and silver bullion.
The company took a very keen interest in a new recovery process using cyanide which lifts the returns to 95 to 97 per cent. This processed was first trialled in the Ohinemuri gold field at the Ryall's Battery in the Waitawheta Gorge and then the New Zealand Crown Company at Karangahake.
Through the early 1890s the Martha mine production increased and in 1897 Waihi Gold Co. decided to build a new battery and chose the Waikino site on the bank of the Ohinemuri River. There was plenty of cheap water-power available with a dam being constructed in the Ohinemuri River just south of Waihi. A water race brought the water down to the new site and from the height the pressure was able to drive a 360hp turbine which in turn drove the whole processing plant including a 100-head stamper unit—this number was doubled in 1903. The quartz ore was transported from the mine site to Waikino by a private railway, known as "The Rake".
Later coal-fired boilers provided the steam for the engines which took over from the water turbines. Towards the end of the first decade of the 1900s, electricity was becoming the power source of the future. A special water supply from the Waitekauri River drove the initial dynamos to generate electricity for the fitters and carpenters workshops, followed by lighting and crane motors.
By 1913 electricity came from the Waihi Gold Company's Horahora Hydro-electric Power Station on the Waikato River south of Cambridge. Large electric motors were installed to complete the modernisation of the battery.
The battery continued to process the Martha Mine ore until 1953, one year after the mine closed. Gradually the machinery was dismantled and sold or removed as scrap metal. The huge timber framed buildings were dismantled, the beams being used in buildings around the district.
The remaining machinery, timber and the massive concrete foundations and the powerhouse were stark reminders of the almost 50 years of the high production gold battery. The weeds and scrub gradually took over until some 20 years ago when the Department of Conservation commenced to restore the area as part of the walkway linking Waikino to Karangahake along the now disused railway line.
The Victoria Battery Society was formed and enthusiasts commenced restoring the battery and, with the DOC staff, are gradually bringing life back into this historic part of the Ohinemuri goldfields.