Maori settled in the area as early as the 15th century. Gold was discovered in 1867 and from that period the town was developed. Milling of Kauri forests was a large industry at the turn of the century. Fishing was also very important. When the gold mining and Kauri logging industries began to decline other ways of gaining income were initiated with the draining of the Hauraki Plains for farming in the 1930s.
Thames township, or "The Thames" as it was often referred to is located on the southern shores of the Hauraki Gulf. European traders and missionaries began to settle in the area 130 years ago. Marutuahu survivors of the early 1800s inter tribal warfare, returned to live peacefully in the area also.
"Ngati Maru chief Hoterene Taipari expressed the Maori attitude when he said in a speech at Parawai that the Marutuahu were tired of war; they wanted all tribes and all races to live in peace together, as one family. If the pakeha met with opposition when seeking timber or mining rights it was only over details: the over-ruling Maori spirit was one of co-operation"(1).
The first major discovery of gold was made on August 10, 1867 by a prospector, William Hunt, in a waterfall in the bed of the Kuranui Stream. This mine produced over 102,353oz bullion and was known as the Shotover.
The era from 1868 to 1871 were the bonanza years for the town with gold production topping one million pounds sterling at its peak. Official figures for production of the Thames Mines recorded a yield of 2,327,619oz bullion with the value at $845 million.
The richest bonanza of the fields were the Manukau-Golden Crown-Caledonian mines but many others yielded near equivalent amounts Towards the end of the last century Thames was the largest centre of population in New Zealand with 18,000 inhabitants and well over 100 hotels and three theatres. The population today stands at approximately 7,000 and now has only four hotels in the town centre.
The Thames School of Mines is a historic property managed by the New Zealand Historic Places Trust. It comprises the former Thames School of Mines complex, in existence between 1886 and 1953. Its Mineralogical Museum is a museum of a gold-mining town. It has country rock, elements in host rocks, fossils for dating before radiocarbon dating and metallurgical samples. The authenticity of the complex is intact. The Thames school was one of over 30 schools opened up in the mining districts during the late 1880s-1890s. Reefton and Thames are the only two surviving examples in New Zealand now.
For more information on the Gold mining History of the area see http://www.goldmine-experience.co.nz
Just as the many creeks flow from the foothills of the Coromandel Ranges into the Firth of Thames, so does the length of tar seal known as Cochrane Street. This quiet 400 metres may well be unique in New Zealand, with three differing, but complimentary, museums along its length. Those museums are dedicated to the town that in its heyday was an international hotspot; known by locals as "The Thames".
At Cochrane Street’s source on "Bird in the Hand Hill" (perhaps so named by a canny miner) we find the Bella Street Pumphouse Museum. Hidden behind its grey corrugated iron walls you will discover evidence of the processes employed in the 1800s for removing water from the mine shafts below ground. This was no small scale operation and the original quadrants and 14 tonne crankshaft, along with full scale replicas of the original gear wheel and flywheel will show you the effort that went into keeping the goldfield’s mines from flooding. A ‘working’ miniature model demonstrates how the pump operated, and an extensive photo gallery details the building of the pump and the Pumphouse. Also on show is a collection of Thames Borough Council and Power Board electrical equipment, and the Francis Turbine that supplied electricity to the whole town.
The Thames then, as now, was much more than a gold mining town filled with pubs. On the banks of Cochrane Street, through the World War One memorial archway and on the site of the playing fields of the former Waiokaraka/Central School, is the Thames Historical Museum. Here you will get a broader idea of the social history of the town. You will see that The Thames was the centre of local government, as well as the base for industries such as Kauri logging, flounder fishing, farming and locomotive manufacturing. Such a bustling town needed a full range of shops to cater to the growing numbers of families and you will have the opportunity to walk along the boardwalk that protected the residents from its muddy streets. The museum is also proud to host much of Ted Egan’s collection of wooden replicas of buildings from Thames’ past.
Continuing down Cochrane Street’s length will bring you to its mouth and here you will find the Thames School of Mines and Mineralogical Museum. Mining in the 19th century wasn’t simply a matter of attacking the ground with a pick and shovel, and it was at the school that potential mine managers learned the latest methods of extracting the precious bullion from ore. Come and sit at its desks, you may hear the ghosts of long dead instructors explaining the uses of the array of multi-coloured chemicals that line the shelves... The Mineralogical Museum next door houses a collection of rocks that was used by the school’s tutors to explain the nature of the various minerals miners would encounter when they, using their Thames School of Mines certificate, obtained employment throughout the world. The TSM is managed by the Historic Places Trust.
Like most natural watercourses, Cochrane Street has tributaries of history that feed into it. Only a few steps north up Queen Street is The Treasury, a former Carnegie library and present home of The Coromandel Heritage Trust. This building, as its name suggests, houses a treasure trove of archival records covering the home and working lives of people and businesses throughout the Coromandel Peninsula and Hauraki Plains. If you are researching your family tree, or intend to write a book on any aspect of the history of this region, or are just curious, then this is the place to visit.
At the point where Cochrane Street spills into the Firth of Thames is the Thames Small Gauge Railway, which partly follows the line of the original railway track that ran between Grahamstown and Shortland Stations before continuing south to Paeroa. The present "Grahamstown Station" on this site was built in the last decade of the 1900s, but designed to maintain the 1800s aura of the area.
Heading south down Pollen Street from Cochrane Street is the block of Victorian shops popularly known as "Grahamstown". While this street becomes a bustling market on Saturday mornings, take the opportunity during the week to browse and absorb the atmosphere exuded by these sturdy Kauri buildings. Find its hidden treasures: the ornate mirror of the internationally historically renowned Palmers’ Sweet Shop (unfortunately no longer a sweet shop), the carved rosettes in the façades, the monkey up the tree...
On the south bank of Cochrane Street is the former site of Thames Iron Works/Judd Engineering, with the stables facing Cochrane Street and one of the original foundry buildings further along Queen Street. It was from this complex that the lighthouses currently found at Kahurangi Point on the north-western tip of the South Island, Cape Brett in the Bay of Islands, Cape Campbell in Marlborough, and East Cape were despatched to light the way for passing ships. This was also the first business in New Zealand to manufacture domestic rotary mowers and one the first to assemble cars in Thames.
Venturing further north along Queen Street from Cochrane Street you will come to the Hauraki Prospectors Association and the Goldmine Experience. It is here that you could have the opportunity to walk through a genuine gold mine and see a five-stamp stamper battery pounding the ore in preparation for the extraction of gold and silver bullion.
Much of the history of The Thames is living history, even if in some cases it is no longer used for its original purpose. Churches, shops, government buildings, public houses, and homes have been reused, restored and revitalised. A&G Price Ltd morphed from a manufacturer of railway locomotives to the pourer of keels for America’s Cup yachts. The Shortland Railway Station went from a bustling terminus for freight and passengers to the headquarters of Ngati Maru, whose history predates the gold rush. Courthouses became local businesses and places of worship. There are countless examples, so come into the Thames Information Centre / i-Site to discover how to explore our town and experience our history...
The history of The Thames.
'Kauaeranga' is the original name for the Thames area. The Kauaeranga River was once named 'Waiwhakauaeranga', meaning 'waters of the stacked-up jaw bones'. Ngati Maru historians claim the name originated after a battle, where members of Ngati Maru stacked up the jaw bones of their defeated enemies in rows on the banks of the river.
Early settlers to northern New Zealand quickly found kauri timber to be a valuable resource. Its thick, straight trunk results in knot free timber. In addition, kauri timber is durable, easily worked and has an attractive colour and grain. Kauri timber was used during the 1800s to early 1900s for buildings, construction, bridges, wharves, roofing, railway wagons, street paving, furniture and paneling.
From the 1870s to the 1920s, the Kauaeranga Valley was logged extensively for kauri. Within the Kauaeranga River valley and its tributaries, contractors worked long hours to fell literally thousands of kauri using axes, saws and timber jacks.
The more accessible stands of kauri were logged first, with bullock teams and horses transporting logs from the bush to mills. As these areas were depleted, logging began on the much steeper gullies and hillsides, posing new challenges in getting logs to the mills.
By 1928, all but the most inaccessible kauri within the Kauaeranga Valley had been logged. The tramline was pulled up and the dams, bush camps and other relics slowly fell into ruin as the native forest began to 'recover'.
In 1970 the remaining native forests of the Kauaeranga Valley were protected as part of the Coromandel Forest Park.
For more info see http://www.doc.govt.nz