Martha Hill Mine

Martha Hill Mine

Martha Hill Mine Martha Hill Mine Martha Hill Mine Martha Hill Mine Martha Hill Mine Martha Hill Mine Martha Hill Mine Martha Hill Mine

Martha Hill Mine (1890)

New Zealand’s bitterest strike

The early Otago gold rushes had been alluvial but most late 19th-century mining there, in Westland and at Thames was in quartz country, which required expensive machinery. The Martha Hill Mine (named after prospector William Nicholl’s sister) at Waihī had produced more gold than any other in New Zealand history - 224,000 g of gold and 1,680,000 g of silver - by the time it closed in 1952. The most famous - or infamous, depending on your politics - mine owner was the London-owned Waihi Gold Mining Company. This firm swallowed up many of its rivals and enthusiastically adopted modern technology (such as cyanide extraction) in its struggle to make a profit from the low-grade ores it mined. In the early 1900s its cost-cutting put it on a collision course with its workers when it halved production and then provoked a traumatic strike. Abetted by thuggish Commissioner of Police John Cullen, the Waihi GMC’s actions led to riots and beatings. On ‘Black Tuesday’, 12 November 1912, strikebreakers murdered unionist Frederick George Evans, who future Labour Party leader Harry Holland made a martyr in the bestseller The tragic story of the Waihi strike.

Waihī remains an active mining centre (opencast mining resumed in 1988). You can still see many relics from the earlier period in and around the township. The most impressive are the 14-m-high concrete cyanide agitation tanks on the Union battery site (1895) and the ruined No. 5 ‘Cornish’ Pumphouse (1904). Its massive horizontal beam pump once removed water from shafts almost 650 m deep.

With mining continuing, in 2006 the 1840-tonne No. 5 Pumphouse was relocated 300 m, a major engineering feat.

Further information

This site is item number 68 on the History of New Zealand in 100 Places list.

On the ground

The Waihī Information Centre is just across the road from the pumphouse.

Websites

Book

  • Phil Moore and Neville Ritchie, Coromandel gold, Dunmore Press, Palmerston North, 1996

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