Many visitors to Thames remark on the close proximity of the steep range of hills immediately inland from the town - the foothills of the Coromandel Ranges. Nearly everyone who lives in Thames is aware of the steep hill that dominates the skyline to the east, and most are aware that it is known as 'Una Hill', or, locally, 'the Una'. What is the origin of that name, and what is its significance to the rich history of the town?
In many ways, the mining history of the Una hill area is typical of the hundreds of claims that were registered and mined, following the opening of the Thames goldfield in 1867 - some successfully, and many less so. Regardless of numerous changes of ownership, names and boundaries, the various Una claims were mined from 1867 through to the mid-1940s and produced 30,103 ozs of bullion overall (until 1935), worth £79,132, from 25,076 tons of quartz (Downey 1935, reprinted 2002 p 139).
The output represents an average of just over 1 oz of bullion per ton of quartz, which was the critical yield figure used to determine whether a mining venture was viable or not (at that time). The fact that the returns from the Una were consistently good over a long period of time, without the benefits of a rich bonanza strike, such as in the Moanataiari and Waiotahi valleys, is a testament to the overall profitability of the area. It is likely that sound engineering, management and business practices also played a part.
When the Thames goldfield was proclaimed 'open' from 1st August 1867, hundreds of miners flocked to it, hoping to obtain alluvial (free-standing) gold, as had been the case in other NZ goldfields, mainly in the South island. However, Thames gold was not easily obtainable by panning gravel in the creeks or by sluicing, as it was firmly bound up in quartz rock deposits and needed intensive crushing and chemical separation methods to liberate.
Many of the miners departed, declaring the goldfield a dud, but some persevered. Some gold was won by small groups of men using relatively primitive methods: the Shotover claim in the Kuranui valley was the first rich claim in the Thames field, and was initially worked by quarrying the rock, and crushing it using manual methods. Eventually, however, the trend was to amalgamate small claims into larger areas of ground and to raise venture capital to establish the large crushing plants (known as batteries) and chemical separation techniques that were required.
According to Weston (1927 p.62-65):
'The claims taken up at first were small, consisting of so many 'men's ground'. A 'man's ground' was one third of an acre. … When it became evident, as was soon the case, that capital expenditure was essential for the prospecting and opening up of mines, it was also plain that the monetary resources of individual miners, or small parties, could not carry them far. To provide a tenure that could meet these conditions, new leasing regulations were brought into force.'
In this study of the history of the Una Gold Mining and Quartz Crushing Company (GM & QC Co), one name kept recurring - that of JOHN GIBBONS. (See separate article for a brief description of Gibbons' background and business interests in the Thames area.) The name 'Una' was probably derived from the name of his daughter, Isabel Una Gibbons, who was born on 23rd December 1866, about 14 months before the opening of Gibbons' battery in the Karaka.
John Gibbons apparently arrived in Thames in late 1867 or very early 1868. Kae Lewis' Gold Miners Database (2009) shows that a John Gibbons recorded numerous mining claims in the Coromandel area in 1867 and 1868: five in the Karaka, and several others at Waikawau, Coromandel and Tararu. It is likely that one, or some, of the Karaka claims formed the basis for the Una Company, but that is not certain. However, it would be consistent with the trend towards the amalgamation of small claims, noted above.
John Gibbons, having an engineering background, was also intent on establishing infrastructure required for a quartz-based goldfield. The Thames Miners' Guide (1868, reprinted 1975 p94) provides a list of batteries in Thames by late 1868. These include:
'U.N.O. [probably Una] Quartz Crushing Mill (late Gibbons') ten stampers, water power, and steam power for eight stampers when deficient of water. Commenced crushing in February 1868, crushed 500 tons of quartz since April 1868.'
This battery was one of the first to be built on the bank of the Karaka Creek, south of Irishtown Road. Eventually, several were built in the section of the creek between Augustus and Mackay Sts, including Bull's, Scanlan's, Vickery's and the Piako batteries. The Daily Southern Cross of 14th March 1869 records the following:
'I made a round of the crushing machines yesterday … The first battery I visited was Gibbons' water wheel in the Karaka. This is a ten-stamp battery, but owing to the want of water in the creek, three stampers only were at work. There will, no doubt, be ample water as the season advances, but in the mean-time, Mr Gibbons is wisely about to add steam to his battery, to add fifteen stampers for the steam, and five more for the water power during the winter season.'
The Daily Southern Cross of 17th February 1869 provides a list of gold mining companies registered in the Thames area at that time. This records the Una GM & QC Co; registered 9th October 1868, with 400 shares, nominal capital of £4000 and paid-up capital of £2250. The legal owner is recorded as William F. Buckland. However, several Daily Southern Cross reports of bi-annual meetings of the Una GM & QC Co (e.g. January 1870, July 1870, January 1871, February 1873) record the presence of John Gibbons, in several roles, including Managing Director and Chairman. These confirm his key status in the company over several years.
In 1869, pressure on the [then] Auckland provincial government caused that body to fund and build several tramways and aerial ropeways for mining activities in the Thames area; mostly along the major creeks flowing out of the nearby foothills (Bullock 1964 pp. 6-10). The Daily Southern Cross of 23rd July 1869 noted that the Una Co intended to develop its own tramway, with associated feeder chutes, to transport ore from its mines on the face of Una hill to its battery alongside Karaka Creek:
'The Una Company, to whom claimholders in the district are under considerable obligations for their enterprise, are about to construct a tramway from their battery to the top of the Karaka [the original Maori name for Una] Hill. It will be a double line and self-acting, one truck going down pulling the other up. This will be easy to accomplish, as the gradient of the upper part of the line will be a steep one. The contract for this work was accepted last week, and the cost to the Una Company will be about £1,000. Mr. McNeil, the well-known contractor, has the execution of the works entrusted to him. This work will be of immense value to a number of the claims on the Karaka hill, many of which are completely debarred from bringing down stone to the mill during the winter months. These new works, with the Government line of tramway in course of formation (along Karaka stream), have put new vigour into the district, and the prospect of unlimited crushing machines has induced many claimholders to prosecute their mining operations with renewed zest. The opening of spring will see a change for the better in the Karaka, and we hope to see it again the favourite locality it once was.'
The tramway was obviously in operation by the end of 1869, as evidenced by the following article in the Daily Southern Cross of 21st December 1869:
'The usual fortnightly retorting for the Una Company took place on Saturday last, and although during that time only 15 head of stampers had been working for the company- the remaining ten having been employed crushing for the Pride of the Karaka- the result was very favourable. The result of the retorting was 140 oz. of gold, or an average of about an ounce to the ton. Since the formation of the Una Company [it] has been well opened up, and advantageously worked, as is evidenced by the constant supply of stone that is daily and nightly sent down the company's shoot [chute] and tramway to the battery, the returns, though not very rich, have been continuous and satisfactory.'
The fact that the Una GM & QC Co owned its own infrastructure was probably a factor in its profitability over a long period of time, without the benefits of a 'bonanza' strike to boost profits. This is supported by the Evening Post of 24th December 1869:
'The whole of the expenses connected with the working, carriage and crushing are in the hands of the [Una] company, and are conducted in a systematic and economical manner, … so that with a continuous yield of even an ounce to the ton, … the company will soon be in a position to pay the shareholders handsome dividends.'
Mining was a dangerous business - not only for those working underground. The Daily Southern Cross of 3rd October 1873 recorded a fatal accident that occurred on the Una tramway:
'Our Thames correspondent reports the occurrence of an accident that was attended by horrible effects. The account runs as follows: Yesterday (Thursday) morning the transit of crushing stuff from the [Una] mine to the battery was proceeding as usual -the line of transit being along a tramway that terminates in a self-acting tramway leading directly to the battery door. Trucks are lowered down this inclined plane by means of a powerful break [brake], and the full truck pulls the empty one up.
Very great care in working this part of the hill has always been exercised, and the man in charge of it has held the position for over two years, and is noted for his steadiness: his name is Thomas Thrupp. However, in the case before me a sad mistake must have been made, for it appears that the full truck, loaded with 25 cwt. [1.25 tons] of stuff, was pushed over the platform before the traction rope had been attached to it, the consequence being that it shot down the line at fearful speed until it came to the central loop where the trucks pass each other, and there it dashed off the rails, and was broken in pieces.
Well would it have been if this was the worst aspect of the affair; but, sad to relate, a fine little girl, named Susan Edith Andrews, aged 11 years, and the daughter of a miner, John Andrews, working in the Kuranui mine, and residing near the Una, happened to be crossing the line as the truck rushed down. Some people standing near perceived her peril, and shouted to her to run, but the poor child must have been confused by the danger she was in, for she moved in the wrong direction, and the next moment the truck struck and passed over her …'
Susan Andrews is buried in an unmarked grave in Shortland cemetery (Thames-Coromandel District Council 2009). Ironically (but probably coincidentally), she was interred in a plot next to Emily Nicholls, who died in 1871, and was the wife of William Nicholls, the manager of the Una GM & QC Co (Daily Southern Cross, 26th August 1871). Emily Nicholls' grave does have a headstone, probably reflecting the differing economic circumstances of the two families.
It appears that the original Una GM & QC Co ceased operations in 1878. After a gap of about ten years, parts of the original claim were taken up by new companies and private ventures, who mined the Una Hill area intermittently through to the 1940s. Those involved included Dives, Success, Occidental, New Una and Occidental-New Una United Companies, plus a few independent miners or groups. Details are provided by Downey (1935, reprinted 2002 p136-9). A map showing the location of claims in the Una area as at 1909 is at Fig 21. The original Una GM & QC Co claim was a large one, covering most of the western side of the hill, and overlapping slightly over the main north-south ridge into Te Papa gully, to the east.
The original Una Co developed four main adits; three to the north (Karaka side) of the hill and No 4 to the south (Hape) side. Apparently Nos 1-3 were the most profitable; however, No 4 became the main focus for later ventures. According to Downey (1935, reprinted 2002 p138):
'The work was not profitable, and in 1930 the company (Occidental-New Una United) ceased operations. The claims were then sold to a local syndicate, which has made attempts to raise capital to work them, but so far without success.'
After 1930, at least two share prospectuses were issued, in attempts to raise capital for mining of the Una claims: the Thames Una Consolidated Gold Mining Company in 1932 (apparently unsuccessful) and Una Hill Consolidated Gold Mines Ltd in 1935. (Copies of these documents are held in the David Arbury collection of The Coromandel Heritage Trust, Thames) The development plans included in both prospectuses centred on the old Una No. 4 adit, with a stated intention to develop a shaft and explore to a lower level. Apparently, the 1935 prospectus did manage to raise some capital, as Williams and Williams (1994 p. 198-9) featured a copy of a share certificate and noted that 273 oz of gold had been produced by 1942.
The prospects of obtaining a sudden bonanza must have driven human beings in mining ventures through much of recorded history, and 'gold fever' had still not abated after nearly 70 years of the Thames gold-field; the last 60 or so relatively unprofitable. Both prospectuses included a glowing report by prominent local mining engineer E.F. Adams. He concluded:'
The mine is a sound gold-mining proposition with a prospect of quite brilliant development results.
A Mr John Caisley, former manager of the Occidental mine, stated that:
'… the further development of this area is a thoroughly sound mining enterprise with excellent prospects of striking a rich bonanza in the course of opening up its reserves of other payable ore bodies. … it is undoubtedly one of the best propositions on the Thames field.'
Despite the optimism, anecdotal evidence indicates the Una area had been abandoned by the mid-1940s, with a considerable amount of infrastructure left behind. There are indications that further investigations were conducted during the 1980s, but no new mining activity eventuated (Sowman 2009). Rather prophetically, Adams noted in the 1932 prospectus:
'It must be admitted that judicious and energetic mining, associated with the element of luck, has, on this goldfield, proved to be the one and only discoverer of bonanza. Many eminent geologists have inspected the field … [but] in no instance has a discovery been made on this field as a result of the forecast of a geologist.'
The out-of-pocket 1935 shareholders would probably agree with him!
Historical sources, including photos (particularly, a high-resolution digital copy of Fig 2 above), maps and newspaper articles provided valuable information that allowed the location of several key sites of the Una GM & QC Co's infrastructure.
A number of site visits were made over the period May - November 2009, which eventually led to the discovery of the battery site, tramway and associated infrastructure. Searching was particularly difficult, due to heavy re-growth of bush on the lower slopes of the Una; plus thick bracken and gorse on the upper slopes, the results of a fire in Te Papa gully in the 1960s.
The Una battery site was estimated from NZ Map 4531 (Unknown cartographer c1868), a digital copy of which was obtained from the Auckland City Library. This shows the battery site at the northern end of Augustus St, where it joins Karaka Rd. Augustus St was never built as one continuous stretch of road and the northern section is now part of St Patricks Row (and doesn't actually join Karaka Rd). The battery site is probably the current property at 211 Karaka Rd (see maps at Figs 17 and 18).
A brief search was conducted along the Karaka Stream and in the back yards in the vicinity of 211 Karaka Rd. There is sufficient level ground, on two levels, to have supported a battery; however, there were no obvious remnants, such as building foundations. A few iron relics were found in the stream and around the banks, such as a large bolt and a few short lengths of pipe, but the age and origin of these is uncertain.
The staging area shown in Fig 6, next to a prominent rock outcrop, was found, approx 80m immediately east of the Block 27 reservoir. The area of the tramway railhead was found by walking up a gully approx 100m south of the rock outcrop. The route of the tramway is apparent, from a flat area near the entrance to No. 4 adit. It contours around the north side of the gully, in a well-formed cutting, to the edge of the ridge, heads off down an incline to the rock outcrop shown on Fig 5 above, then down another incline in a roughly straight line to the battery site. The route is no longer apparent, below the Block 27 reservoir (built c.1920) on the outskirts of town. From here to the battery site, the route has been extensively modified by residential housing development.
The rock outcrop beside the staging area still exists, and has a level area in front of it, consistent with the photo. The presence of bee hives prevented a thorough search.
The tramway railhead was located by searching up the gully to the south of the rock outcrop, as described in the previous section. At the railhead, there is a roughly level area of approx 50m x 50m, with an adit entrance, which is thought to be Una No 4 adit, as its location is consistent with Fig 8 and other historical information. The area around the railhead also contains the remains of chutes which terminated at the railhead, and flat areas that may have been building sites. This was apparently a major industrial site for the original Una GM & QC Co.
The chute labelled '1' appears to be the main chute, with other supplementary chutes feeding into it, or directly to the railhead. Chute 1 was found, and followed from the No 4 adit area, up to near the top of Una hill, where thick scrub prevented any further progress. Numerous adits and ramps/tracks leading to the chute were found. There appeared to be a pattern: level areas approx every 100m up the gully, each level area having several adits in the vicinity, and each having a level cutting, which led to the chute. Three of these level areas were found, before heavy bracken and gorse, the result of scrub fires in Te Papa gully in the 1960s, prevented any further vertical progress. Two of the levels are marked as WPs 501 and 505 on the TUMONZ map at Fig 17. A waypoint was unable to be taken at the third level due to heavy bush canopy.
A local resident, Malcolm Sowman (2009) is aware of 2 - 3 adits immediately east the ridge, around the area of the top of Chute 1 in Fig 11. This would explain why this chute goes right to the top of the hill. No sign of these adits was found, due to heavy bracken and gorse re-growth.
In Fig 11, Chute 2 appears to be fed from a ramp leading from an adit immediately above it. From above the third level (where heavy bracken and scrub was encountered) a small gully to the south east led to a probable loading bay at the top of the 'turquoise' track (see Fig 17). The gully may have been the route of the chute marked '2', but that is uncertain. However, the probable loading bay would be in the right area to have been at the top of Chute 2. WP 505 was obtained by following a level track running north from the loading bay until it met what was probably the main chute (Chute 1 in Fig 11).
During the course of numerous searches of the west face of Una hill, several serendipitous finds were made, including access tracks and a building site, that all appear to be related to early mining activity. There is a well-formed track, metalled in places and wide enough to take carts, that runs from Karaka Rd, around the western and southern faces of the Una, into Te Papa gully. This track is visible in Figs 2 and 6, immediately below the rocky outcrop/staging area, so it appears to date from at least c.1870. (It is marked as a dashed black line on Fig 17.) The section from the southern end of Una Hill around to Te Papa gully is now quite overgrown, but was traversable until about 2006. This cart track was probably the main access route to Te Papa gully, at least until an aerial tramway was built from the top of the gully down to Hape Creek in 1870. (There were numerous prominent claims in Te Papa gully, including Lord Nelson, North Star and Star of Te Papa.)
At the southern end of Una hill, a foot track branches off the cart track, and cuts back across the western face of the hill (marked as a dotted black line on Fig 17), to a clump of large pines (waypoint marked as “Pines” on Fig 17). This is a current, well maintained track (but may have been based on an old access track) that is now used to gain access to the summit of Karaka/Una hill. At the area marked as 'Pines”, it meets a well-formed track that runs down a prominent ridge line from near the summit, down to the cart track approx 200m south of the rock outcrop. This track was recorded by GPS and is marked in turquoise on Fig 17. The “turquoise” track includes cuttings and embankments, and was initially thought to be the Una tramway, until GPS waypoints were taken and plotted on a map, when it was immediately apparent that it was in the wrong place and running in the wrong direction. It was probably a major access track, to the top of the chute and to adits near the top of the hill, and may have been used for transportation of quartz for crushing in dry weather, before the tramway/chute system was built. The upper half of the turquoise track is now part of the main walking track to the summit.
Near where the turquoise track meets the cart track, a probable building site was found; shown as “Bldg site” on Fig 17. (Note that the site was approx 20m east of the cart track and not to the west as drawn - there is apparent error associated with the GPS track or waypoints.) The building site includes four concrete bases, of the order of 1 m2, but all of different shapes and having different patterns of mounting bolts, arranged in a roughly straight line approx 40m long, and oriented roughly north-south. At the northern end of the line of foundations, there is a cut-out section of ground consistent with the corner of a building. Approx 20m south of the southern-most concrete base is the probable remains of a collapsed adit.
Scattered around the building site were the broken remains of two beer bottles, with dates 1938 and 1939 on the bases, and two largely intact bottles marked “This bottle is the property of the Dominion Compressed Yeast Co Ltd.” Google and Papers Past searches for this company revealed references spanning 1919-1940, so the yeast bottles are likely to be consistent with the age of the beer bottles, i.e. c. 1930s. It was noted in a later visit that the two yeast bottles had been removed (or possibly hidden around the site).
The building site was visited by Drs Neville Ritchie and Caroline Phillips, who thought the site was associated with machinery of some sort, but probably wasn't a battery site. The bottles appear to indicate that the site is c. 1930s and may be part of attempts to reopen the old No. 4 adit area associated with the 1935 share float. The 1932 and 1935 prospectuses both mention the need for drainage and air supply for lower levels of the mine.
The extensive searches of the west face of the Una revealed a considerable number of adits (at least 10-15), in addition to those in the gully containing the main chute. These will be recorded separately, and submitted as an update to the SRF.
Adams, E. F. and Fraser, C. (1909) Topographical and Geological Map of the Special Area of Thames Goldfield, NZ
Bullock, K. I. (1964). Steam at the Rainbows End, Railway Enthusiasts Society, Auckland.
Downey, J. F. (1935, reprinted 2002). Gold-Mines of the Hauraki District, Cadsonbury Publications, Christchurch.
Lewis, Kae (2009).Gold Miners' of New Zealand Database. Accessed 1 September 2009.
Sowman, M. (2009). Personal communication, Thames.
Thames-Coromandel District Council (2009) On-line Cemeteries Database., Accessed 1 July 2009.
Unknown cartographer (c1868) NZ Map 4531 Thames Illustrated Mining Map.
Unknown author, Thames Gold Fields Miner's Guide 1868. ( Published by Edward Wayte, Queen St, Auckland, reprinted 1975, Capper Press, Christchurch.)
Weston, F. (1927). Thames Diamond Jubilee Souvenir: 1867-1927, Thames Star, Thames.
Williams, Z. and Williams, J. (1994). Thames & the Coromandel Peninsula: 2000 Years. Williams Publishers, Thames.