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Mining - trouble with explosives

Part Three of three articles on Kūaotunu’s history

Note from Stan Stewart: I commend this history to anyone with an interest in Kūaotunu and Coromandel. It is easy to read, factual, full of human interest with many amusing episodes. The Informer will carry three short episodes taken directly from the book.

For the storage of explosives, a magazine was erected in what is still known as ‘Magazine Gully’, which extends in a south-easterly direction from the main road between the Upper and Lower townships, being the second gully up from the school corner.

This calls to mind a little incident that might have demolished Kuaotunu much more rapidly than it was erected, “fast as that may have been”. The Mountain King mine was expecting a cargo of explosives from Auckland, said cargo being brought in Arthur Berridger’s scow, “Kahu”.

The time of her arrival was a little uncertain, but to make sure the “Kahu” would not meet with any undue delay when she did arrive, the mine authorities decided that seeing there would be several dray loads, quick ‘turnaround’ of the dray could be secured by unloading each dray load into the nearby goods shed as it was unloaded from the ship. Then the whole consignment could be carted to the magazine the next day.

A certain gentleman, Mr C.E.T. Simpson (known by the boys as ‘Simmy’), ‘a very early arrival in Kuaotunu’ was engaged by the mining company to carry out the work. Mr Simpson employed Mick O’Connor, ‘a genial fellow’, to help expedite the operation. The “Kahu” was somewhat delayed and while waiting on the arrival on a sweltering hot day, Mr Simpson of gentlemanly character, found Mick’s entreaties to come and have a drink irresistible.

The pair accordingly entered Courtney’s Hotel across the street, and to the surprise of the barman, Mr Simpson said he would like to have a “Be-arr”. Now Courtney Hotel “Be-arr” had a kick in it like one of the teamster’s draught horses. After a couple of hours on the premises, the pair emerged from the bar considerably fortified. By this time the “Kahu” had arrived and was on the beach, and with amazing agility, the pair bounded on to the waiting dray and took their seats on the tail board. They proceeded to the ship’s side, and with the much-needed help of Arthur Berridge got on a load of about two tons of gelignite, together with a case of about 2000 detonators, which was placed on the top of the load.

The team started off, and arriving at the shed, Mick said, “Will you get up and pass the stuff down, or will I?”

Simmy (Mr Simpson), with his hand on the tip release, the dray being a tipper, and having decided he was not going to exert himself any more than absolutely necessary, said to Mick, “Stand aside, stand aside”. Simmy’s thought being to slide/spill the two tons of gelignite and 2000 detonators onto the ground.

Mick called, “Simmy, If you are going to unload that way, please give me five minutes”.

Simmy, observing the look of apprehension and concern on Mick’s whiskered face, changed his mind. They unloaded by hand and saved Courtney’s Hotel and indeed the whole township from total destruction.

This is Kuaotunu’ - by R A Simpson. First printed 1955 - many reprints. All Rights Reserved. Excerpts in The Informer used with permission. You can buy a copy: @$15 from Kuaotunu Store, 16 Blackjack Rd and the Mercury Bay Museum and Paper Plus Whitianga. Early editions can be found on Trade Me.

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