Whether the events that follow actually occured is for the reader to decide…
Tuesday, 31 May, 1921, and outside the No. 2 Crosscut, 500 ft. in from the adit portal, the last shift of all, ever, was about to commence. The Kereru Gold Mining Co. Ltd., owner of the mine, had gone into liquidation, left its London offices and was in the process of dissolving. The battery and cyanide plant were being removed; although built for £3 million (in 2017, valued at $256 million) their scrap metal value now only £200,000 ($17 million).
Only the mine remained to be ‘mothballed’; a euphemism for the removal of everything saleable, and as a result three men now stood at the No.2 Crosscut entrance, awaiting the start of the shift and to receive instructions from the Shift Boss.
The three – Fred Shaw, Oscar Levokjwix (‘Lev’, to his mates) and Charlie James, had worked as Contract Miners for years – indeed, it had been for so long that none of them had any idea exactly when they had paired up. It was certainly before ‘The War’ (the Great War of recent memory), but before that? No-one could recall, although if asked, they were definite that it was before Waihi and the infamous events of 1912. Of that they were all certain. As professional miners, they were renowned for their abilities and skills. Now, they waited, the flames from their hat-mounted carbide lamps the sole illumination. Invisible air currents made the flames gutter, placing dancing shadows on the surrounding walls, while in the silence, distant water echoed as it dripped from roofs in abandoned tunnels.
Albert Benton, the Shift Boss, arrived – eventually. He was a careful and experienced man, well-regarded by all in the mine, knowing his job and always cheerful. He was however ‘Company’ and as such, suspect. He could never, despite any effort he might make, be equal with those who were waiting, a point understood by all and never discussed as a result.
Benton had certainly been a contract miner at one time, but with promotion came distance and the gap could never be bridged – at least, not in the present circumstances. Another time, another place? Perhaps,but just not now.
With Benton’s arrival came instructions, and the men were soon at work uplifting rails, dismantling air and water lines, removing timber and tidying-up the area. They all knew what they had to do and did it quickly and efficiently. There was however a slight problem; the disposal of the four sticks of Nobel’s Dynamite (known universally as ‘Jelly’) and its associated roll of fuse cord. These essential tools of the gold-miners’ trade, as always, carefully placed to one side, albeit separately, would in other times have been combined together, inserted into the gold-bearing reef in specially-drilled holes, and the fuse lit. The explosion that resulted when flame met explosives would break the gold-bearing white quartz rock into pieces. When loaded into wagons the ore was then taken away for processing.
At their morning crib (‘Smoko’ / meal break) Fred had looked at Albert Benton and asked “What about the Jelly and the cord?” “Flaming Heck”, was the response, “I dunno’ – I can’t see the Company wanting it, and we can’t leave it here”. A contemplative silence followed, until Lev spoke. “If we can’t leave ‘em, why don’t we blow ‘em’; problem solved?” The others looked at him as if he was crazy, yet, the more they thought about it, the more sense it made.
But, where to carry-out the deed? More discussion followed, until finally a conclusion was reached; the adjacent (and unfinished) No. 5 Drive would be ideal. The No. 2 Crosscut where the men were standing had been driven onto the Toi Toi Reef, and had produced some high-grade ore. However, the size of the reef was unknown, and to determine this, the Company had put exploratory tunnels into the area where it thought the reef might be.
The No.5 was one of these. It had found nothing and had been abandoned. As a place suitable to detonate unwanted explosives, it was ideal.
As Shift Boss, Albert Benton bore the final responsibility for any work being carried-out within his area, so ultimately, the decision was his. Charlie James (who fancied himself a scholar) summarised it well: “To blow, or not to blow’ that is indeed the question”. And so it was. Time passed, and after due thought and consideration, Benton gave his assent, detailing Fred and Lev to “Do the necessary, do it quickly, and for heaven’s sake, do it safely!!”. “Yes sir”, came the reply and the two men quickly disappeared into the darkness, the flames from their helmet-mounted lamps making shadows on the walls as they went. Denton and Charlie carried on, lifting, stacking, removing, as they waited for the others to return.
An hour passed, then suddenly lights appeared in the distance; Fred and Lev returning. They were moving rapidly and on their arrival, knowing what was to come, the group moved into the crosscut to wait. A minute passed, then two, until finally a loud rumbling indicated that the explosives had ignited. Mentally they all counted; ‘One’; ‘Two’; ‘Three’; Four’, and after the fourth explosion, they relaxed, thankful that the ‘disposal’ problem had been resolved.
Time passed and the work came to an end; everything cleaned-up, removed and the cross cut ready to be abandoned to whatever fate might befall it. With the passing of time, the fumes from the explosives would also have dissipated. ‘Are you going back to have a look Mister Benton?’ Charlie asked. “No, not today; no need; every sticks gone off, No.5 will be closed, and besides, once we’re out of here no-one will care. No point”. “Fair enough’, came Charlie’s response, ‘But can I go and have a look anyway, for old times’ sake. We’ve all worked here and I can’t see us ever coming back again”. “Oh, very well, but don’t be long. We’re finished here and I want to go home – and so do the others”. Grunts of assent came from Fred and Lev
Charlie left the group, carefully making his way towards the entrance of No.5 Drive. From practice, he walked carefully, subconsciously noting every detail of the tunnel as he walked. After five minutes he arrived at the entrance to the No.5 Drive, to find broken rock scattered everywhere. The roof of the working had collapsed, the supporting timbers splintered and distorted, and everywhere, desolation. This was to be expected. However, what was not expected was the sight of a thin yellow line at a point half-way along the right-hand side of the working; a thin yellow line in the white quartz rock, and also evident in a piece of quartz which he idly kicked with his boot as he entered. Gold??? Surely not, and yet? Quickly Charlie ran his thumbnail along the line. Gold is soft and his nail left a mark on the line, so perhaps, just perhaps? But, what to do?
He picked up and pocketed several small pieces of quartz, including three containing the mysterious yellow line. The latter he put in his hatband, concealing them behind the lamp. This done, he started back to find the others; the journey seeming just a little shorter.
On his return, the usual questions followed: ‘What did it look like?’, ‘Did everything come down?’; ‘Did you find anything?’(this last from Benton). He replied to them all, and, pulling the rocks from his pocket, showed them (especially Benton), what he had found. He did not mention the rocks in his hat band.
With that done and assurances given, the men walked back out to the adit portal, to daylight and an uncertain future. Mr. Benton told the Mine Manager that No.2 Crosscut was cleared of all machinery, rails and pipework, and that worthy in turn contacted the Company’s Attorney in Auckland to appraise him of the fact, the Attorney subsequently advising the Chairman of the Board (in London) of the situation. As a result, on 14 November 1921 the Chairman issued a statement to the effect that the Kereru Gold Mining Co. Ltd. had abandoned its mine.
There is not much more to tell. On 2 January 1922, the New Kereru Gold Mining Co. Ltd. was formed; the Principle Shareholders being Messers. Frederick Shaw, Oscar Levokjwix and Charles James. According to its Prospectus, the new entity’s purpose was ‘To explore and evaluate the site of the former Kereru Gold Mining Co. Ltd. and surrounding areas with a view to exploiting such resources as may be found within that area’. The new organisation was subsequently granted a lease over 750 acres of the former company’s ground and curiously, quickly found extremely rich gold- bearing ore in the vicinity of the No. 2 Crosscut. The ore was especially rich within the former No.5 Drive, the deposit there-in being subsequently christened the Alton Patch by the Principle Shareholders. Oddly, none of these (subsequently knighted) gentlemen would ever divulge the origins of the name.
Of Albert Benton, nothing more was ever heard…