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The wages heist - all too easy!

This is Kuaotunu’ – by R A Simpson. First Printed 1955 – many reprints, All Rights Reserved. Excerpts in The Informer used with permission.

Intro: In 1889 Charles Kawhine made the sensational discovery of alluvial gold on the Bald Spur, Kuaotunu. News of Kawhine’s find quickly spread and it wasn’t long before the Bald Spur was pegged out with mining claims.

Kuaotunu’s population is believed to have peaked at around 1000 people with three hotels, a school, churches and numerous stores. In the early 1900’s, a fine new post office was built, the pride of the district. This also became the register for births, deaths and marriages.

The mail, like the passengers and goods, was all received and delivered by steamer from Auckland.

Around the year 1909, the township was awakened from its free and easy acceptance of custom with regard to mail arrangements by an all too easy mail robbery, which caused a great stir and sensation in the community.

The practice over the years had been for the mail to be brought in onshore from the steamer and taken into the goods shed and left there while other work was proceeding. The mail on this occasion was a valuable one, and that this knowledge was possessed by some person or persons, there seems little doubt.

The possibility that the robbery may have been committed before the mail left the steamer cannot be completely ruled out, but it would seem that a better opportunity would be presented after it has been delivered to the shed, for here in the early morning darkness, with the door unlocked and the mail bag upon the floor and unattended, there would be no great risk of interruption of any robber who had planned well, his evil work.

From the goods-shed to the post office, a distance of perhaps 300 yards, the mail was delivered as usual, “at 9 o’clock when the post office was opened,” per wheelbarrow propelled by one Mick Sullivan for the munificent sum of 6 pence. On this occasion when the mail bag was received by the Postmistress, “Miss Tot O’brien,” she observed a neat triangle cut out in the side, and immediately reported the matter. The miner’s pay of 300 pounds was found to be missing. Who was guilty?

Detectives sent down from Auckland were unable to solve this one, and to this day it remains a mystery. Locals thought they knew the answer, but that was all. The authorities, unwilling to risk a recurrence, took immediate precautions and provided a tiny box-like shed, painted the Traditional Red, placed it beside the goods shed and provided a padlock and key, and there the mail was deposited immediately it was brought ashore. The humorous part about it was its flimsy construction of light materials. A good kick with a boundary rider’s boot, or a swipe with a substantial walking stick, would have sent the wooden structure to matchwood. Or, a hefty miner could have lifted up the whole box of tricks and marched off without difficulty.

Well, the secret has died along with the culprit. Or has it?

Note from Stan Stewart: I commend this history to anyone with an interest in Kuaotunu 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.

You can buy a copy: @$15 from Kuaotunu Store, 16 Blackjack Rd and the Mercury Bay Museum and Paper Plus Whitianga. Early edition can be found on Trade Me.


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