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Thames celebrates 150 years since goldfields proclaimed

11 July 2017

Historic gold-processing machinery, restored during 50 years of voluntary work by Hauraki Prospectors Association (HPA) and supporters, is about to become fully operational, as part of celebrations to mark the 150th anniversary of the Thames goldfields being opened.

Goldmine Experience in Thames

(Above: Goldmine Experience at the northern end of Thames)

On Sunday, August 6, Thames Coromandel Mayor Sandra Goudie, together with veteran HPA volunteer Lawrie Cobb, will officially start a refurbished stamper battery and other 19th Century plant at the group’s Goldmine Experience site.

Thames Community Board Chairperson Diane Connors will unveil an honours board of firms and organisations that have given money, time and other resources in the half-century of local effort and the site will open free to the public that afternoon.

The opening ceremony is part of a 12-month-long, 150th anniversary commemoration of the Thames goldfields discovery that includes Ngati Maru, our Council, Thames Community Board, heritage groups and businesses, starting on 1 August.

Last year Thames Community Board granted $22,000 towards the battery project, but most funding has come from HPA tourism income, with materials and time donated by a raft of businesses and tradespeople.

While Goldmine Experience has run various machines over the decades, 6 August will mark the first operation of a complete 19th Century processing plant in modern times; a project that is unique in New Zealand. Five stamps will run on 6 August, with another five to be installed later.

Association President Carl Jensen said August 6 was the culmination of “an amazing story”.

“It started in the 1960s when parts were recovered from high in the Coromandel Ranges at Neavesville where heavy stamps, stamper or mortar boxes, line shafts and berdans were disassembled, winched and carried by teams of volunteers to the top of the ‘Neavesville Stairway’.

"The team was visited by Auckland news media, including writer Barry Crump, with a television documentary in 1967.”

Over the past 30 years the Goldmine-Experience site has grown from one building to seven, with nearly all work still done by volunteers.

Recently they have focused not only on the battery but also on ancillary machinery such as a crusher, two Wilfley tables, a ball mill and berdan. The next project, a working steam engine, is due for completion this year.

150 days of celebrations after 150 years

Thames 150 poster

Thames was once centre stage of an era that changed our world and on 1 August, the town celebrates 150 years since the proclamation of the Thames Goldfields.

A bonanza of events recapturing the momentous lure of gold in these hills is planned to run throughout the year from August 1. It begins with a dawn blessing, followed by a street parade along Pollen Street between Cochrane St and Willoughby Street in Thames - and you are invited!

Pollen Street will have a rolling closure between 12pm and 1.30pm to allow for the parade, with participants meeting at the middle - at the Thames Civic Centre - for an official opening at 1pm of the 150th Anniversary of Thames Goldfields.

“We’re encouraging people to dress in period costume and if they wish to join the parade, they can meet outside Number One Shoes or at the Thames Museum, from 12,” says TCDC Community Development Officer Marlene Perry.

“There will be a closure of Mary Street outside the Thames War Memorial Civic Centre from 11.30am to 3pm on the day to allow for the events taking place inside, and for a display of classic and vintage cars.”

August 1 is also the opening day of two photography exhibitions – one at Bella Street Pumphouse showing photos taken by John Fields and ‘Growing with Gold’, showing images of Thames from the earliest gold mining days.

Entry is by gold coin donation at the meeting room of The Treasury on Queen St, Thames. This exhibition will continue to be open for public viewing on the days The Treasury is open - Monday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday 11.00am until 3.00pm, for several months.

The Thames Goldfield ignited largescale industry with firms like A&G Price installing huge stampers for crushing ore, and companies like Charles Judd Ltd Engineers catering to the inventiveness and adaptability of early settlers.

One of the best examples of a restored stamper battery is to be found at the Thames Goldmine Experience where, on Sunday 6 August, the Hauraki Prospectors Association officially start a refurbished stamper battery and other 19th Century plant (see full story above).

The hope and excitement of creating a new and prosperous life through the discovery of gold is the true tale of many New Zealanders’ ancestors, and the 150th anniversary is bringing together many families through research – some of whom have written books about their family histories.

Thames woman Kae Lewis is igniting the interest and helping reconnect people with their goldmining heritage with her book Goldrush to the Thames New Zealand, which documents the years of 1867 – 1869 when the first flush of gold miners arrived to look for gold.

Her website holds the names of 50,000 goldminers from all the goldrushes of New Zealand spanning the years 1861 – 1872, drawn from Kae’s voluntary work transcribing goldminers records from Archives New Zealand.

If you suspect you may have had an ancestor who was a goldminer, you can put the name in the search box and it lists 90 percent of the miners who were in Thames or Tapu in the first two years of gold discovery,” explains Kae.

For those seeking to step back in time and experience at least the mining attire, the historic Bella Street Pumphouse is hosting a three-course dinner with cash bar and entertainment. Diners encouraged to dress in period costume and tickets are limited for the event on Friday August 18.

Catch the Gold Fever that brought New Zealand to the forefront of the world with these and more events. For a full list of events and how to book, visit www.thamesheritage.co.nz/goldfields or the new Thames Info website www.thamesinfo.co.nz.