This article was first published in 'Even More True Tales Of Northern Coromandel, compiled by Coromandel Town History Research Group.
I am a Thamesite, with multiple branches who settled in Thames from the time the goldfields opened in 1867. Until recently I never knew I had a connection to the upper Peninsula; that is until I found the birth registration of Alfred Maran.
The lure of gold and riches was a draw-card for many of our early European settlers who came to the Coromandel Peninsula to make their fortune. Sadly few did but they certainly lived colourful and adventure filled lives, that by comparison make our lives today seem very dull. Here is the story of one such family, who for a time called Coromandel home.
My great,great-grandfather was Clement Augustus Cornes born in Belfast, Ireland about 1844; the son of Major John Cornes (18th Royal Irish Regiment) and Margaret nee Graham. Clement and his two brothers (Alfred Richard and Edmund Cephalus) came to New Zealand. Clement arrived in 1861, then joined the Forest Rangers, from which he was discharged November 1863. About this time Clement met Barbara Ellen Moran who was born in Scotland, daughter of Fencible Archibald Moran and Susan nee McDougal of Ireland. Barbara had been a child bride at 13 to an American carpenter by the name of Charles Henry Hart, who later returned to USA alone. Barbara and Clement met in Auckland, where they had their first child William in 1864 and then the next passage of their 'married' life is in Coromandel.
Their next child Margaret is born in Coromandel in 1865, although written proof has yet to be found. The third child, my great-grandfather Alfred Richard Cornes was born 20 January 1867 at Kapanga. (Alfred married Mary Ann Earl on 21 May 1890 at Te Aroha). Although a family bible shows that Clement and Barbara were married in 1863, facts are that they married 1868 at Thames, with residence given as Kapanga. For years I hunted for the birth registration and certificate for their third child, Alfred without success, until by chance some creative spelling found the registration. Alfred Richard MARAN, born 20 January 1867 at Kapanga, son of Barbarella Maran and Clement Agustus Cornes, a miner. Well at least they had the parents nearly right! It did though give me proof of his birth details, but equally important - a direct connection to the Coromandel town area.
It's ironic that after years of holidaying at Oamaru Bay and countless hours and daytrips to Coromandel, a family connection had been found. It makes you wonder about how a place can feel familiar and comfortable, with some appeal, yet you just can't put your finger on why?
Clement's mining connections to the Coromandel area included the Kapanga Mine; with Miners Rights issued in August-September 1869 for Coromandel and Kennedy Bay areas. When he died in 1906, the newspaper obituary states that, 'Recently he disposed of his interest in the Kapanga mine at Coromandel, of which he was part owner.' It also states, 'He was one of the oldest and best known prospectors of the Hauraki Peninsula, and was identified with the mining industry at Thames, Ohinemuri, and Coromandel for a number of years.'
A banquet was given in Clement's honour at Te Aroha in 1888 and was reported in The Te Aroha News, in Clements own words he says, 'I may say I am the oldest miner on this Peninsula, and have worked in all parts of it, from Coromandel right along the reefs to Te Aroha and Wairongomai,' while admitting it broke him on several occasions!
The Kapanga Mine was 'New Zealand's first two hard rock gold mines - Kapanga and Scotty's Mine, Driving Creek Coromandel Peninsula.' Downey outlines that the Kapanga area of about 29 acres, which had several claims including: Kapanga, Scotty's, South & Blagrove's Claims. The Kapanga mine was one of the most important Quartz mine in New Zealand . For the Kapanga Claim, 'Anything in the way of detailed information regarding it for the years prior to 1887 is scarce.' The claim was owned by the Kapanga Goldmining Company, shortly after 1863 when a battery was operational. The mine did relatively well, with the usual peaks and troughs of production of ore and several changes of ownership. Interestingly Downey goes onto state that in '1906 the mine had passed ownership to Cornes and Hollis.' This would likely have been one of Clement's sons; who also chased the gold, like their father before them.
When looking at early pictures of the Kapanga mining area, it is not hard to imagine the daily challenges that the men and their families faced. It is easy to say, how did they manage? Take a step back and remember where the settlers came from. They were generally used to a hard life. For Clement, as a child he had traveled all around Europe with the soldiers' families enduring the battle skirmishes; in between multiple stays in English army barracks. One can only speculate for him to finally reach Coromandel, he must have enjoyed the climate, the freedom and the opportunities that were before him and his growing family of thirteen. Likewise for Barbara Moran, a young girl from Scotland who came to New Zealand in 1847 to settle at the Howick Fencible village . Her father died that same year and the family's fortunes seem to have plummeted quickly downwards. I believe the young Cornes couple would have embraced the life and challenges that the Kapanga area brought them. A fresh new start in a very picturesque part of New Zealand; even taking into account the usual dirty, hard conditions of a mining site.
Despite leaving Coromandel by 1876 (when he is at the Golden Calf Claim at Moanatairi) Clement kept his interest at the Kapanga mine and no doubt ventured back to the town where he first mined, on many occasions.
The Cornes family are just one of many who briefly called Coromandel home. We can but hope that the experience was positive, both for them and the town. To date I haven't found any school records, electoral roll information or been able to expand on their time at Kapanga. As a genealogist finding these footprints, no matter how faint, allows us to walk in our ancestors past and ponder. Now I can proudly say - my Great-grandfather was born at Kapanga during the time his father worked the Kapanga mine. This is but the introduction, now the challenge is mine, to dig some more and find my own gold on the Cornes family - early Kapanga settlers of the 1860s.
1. The Goldminer's Database by Kae Lewis.
2. 'The New Zealand Herald' Page 6, 11 August 1906.
3. 'The Te Aroha News' 12 May 1888.
4. Nolan, T. 'Historic Gold Trails of the Coromandel' 1977.
5. Downey, J F. 'Goldmines of the Hauraki District' 1935.
6. The New Zealand Fencible Society 'The Royal New Zealand Fencibles 1847-1852'.