The early Martha Mine

From Coromandel to Te Puke, the region has been associated with gold mining for over 130 years. Thames, Karangahake, Waikino, Kuaotunu, and many other areas were the site of gold mines and stamper batteries. Many of the roads in the area started out as pack tracks and mining trails. Today, little is left apart from a few foundations and some rusting machinery on deserted sites, and the displays in museums such as those at Thames, Waihi and Waikino where the Victoria Battery at Waikino was recently opened to the public.

In 1878, however, all this was yet to come, as McCombie and Lee discovered gold in what was to become one of the great gold mining districts of the world…

1852: New Zealand’s first gold discovery. Charles Ring found gold at Kapanga Creek, Coromandel.

1878: John McCombie and Robert Lee discovered gold on Pukewa (Martha Hill).

1879: William Nicholl pegged a five acre claim over the diggings of McCombie and Lee and named it Martha after a family member. Underground mining commenced at Martha Hill.

1882: First stamper battery in operation, located near No.4 shaft & Junction Road

1890: Waihi Gold Mining Company Limited of London purchased the Martha Mine.

1894: The Waihi Gold Mining Company adopted the cyanide process for gold extraction, which was first trialled at Karangahake.

1897: Construction of Victoria Battery at Waikino commenced. Waihi School of Mines established and located in School Lane, Waihi.

The Victoria Battery at Waikino during its early operation. Today the remains of the site are a popular tourist attraction.

1904: Cornish Pumphouse construction commenced at Martha Mine.

1912: Miners’ strike from May to November.

1913: The Waikato River’s first hydro electric power station was built by the Waihi Gold Mining Company at Horahora to supply power to the Victoria Battery and the Martha Mine. This structure is now beneath Lake Karapiro.

1947: Waihi School of Mines closed.

1952: Mine closure: during its life the Martha Mine produced 174,160 kg (5.6 million oz) of gold and 1,193,180 kg (38.4 million oz) of silver from 11,932,000 tonnes of ore. For 70 years the Martha was mined, employing a work force averaging 600 people. The underground workings extended to a depth of approximately 600m. At the completion of mining, dewatering also ceased and consequently the groundwater returned to its pre-mining water level.

1961: An area of land on Martha Hill subsided into early underground workings associated with the Royal Lode, leaving a crater approximately 40m in diameter. In later years the Waihi Borough Council filled the crater with various items including old car bodies.

1. 1961 Royal Workings collapse 2. Cornish Pumphouse 3. Mine Lake. The lake formed above the collapsed Milking Cow workings. Note the vegetation cover on Martha Hill. The mine had closed only 10 years earlier, in 1952, and this revegetation occurred naturally from that time. This photograph was taken in 1961.