In the early 1840's Reverend Ashwell established a Missionary Station, Kaitotehe, across the river from Taupiri Mountain. While Ashwell was there, the local Maori pointed out a coal seam further to the north. This coal was later tested and proved to be usable coal. A small mine, Kupa Kupa, was developed on the west side of the river, south of Huntly. The coal from this mine was used during the Waikato Wars to fire the ships used by the British during this same war Rahui Pokeka, as Huntly was then known, a stockade had been built on the riverbank, not for soldiers, but for animals and stores. This was sited in the middle of today's Main Street.
After the wars some of the soldiers were granted land in our area. Most of the grants were 50 acres/20.2 hectares, and were on the east side of the river. This was the beginning of the European settlement of Huntly.
In 1870, a settler, James Henry arrived to take up the position of Postmaster. He named the town "Huntley Lodge" after his home in Scotland. Eventually the "Lodge" was dropped and then the "e".... Huntly.
The Ralph family were also one of our early families, and began working the first mine in the east side of the river.
While mining this site, on the hill behind today's brickworks, fire-clay was discovered. A brickworks was then established.
More coal mines were opened in Huntly and the surrounding towns, hence Huntly became synonymous for both coal and bricks.
Ralph Mine Disaster
At 7:20am on Saturday 12th September 1914, a tremendous explosion shook the township of Huntly. So great was the force of the explosion that the reverberating roar was heard at Kimihia, some two miles away.
Forty-three men lost their lives in the coal mining disaster; the second highest death toll in New Zealand’s mining history. Over the mine shaft, that dominated the Huntly skyline, a large column of smoke and dust shot into the sky, interspersed for a few minutes with sheets of flickering flame. Men near the east ventilation shaft heard two dull, heavy sounds, moments apart, then came belching dust, smoke and flame and a hissing noise.
A Royal Commission of Inquiry was set up to investigate the disaster, which found the cause to be an explosion of accumulated firedamp, which ignited on contact with the naked flame of a miner’s lamp.
Various Clubs and Community Members came together to see the disaster and the impact on Huntly remembered. A Model Poppet Head was unveiled in the Main Street along with a head stone bearing all 43 names of the men that perished.
The Waikato Coalfields Museum
Over a hundred and twenty years ago a homestead was built for the first coal mine manager of Huntly - William Tattley. Now it's home the Waikato Coalfields Museum which houses various collections of photos, oral histories, family histories and artefacts that bring to life Huntly's unique coal mining history.
The museum is located on Harlock Place, off Hakanoa Street, only 100 meters north of the Huntly Town Centre. The Museum is open 7 days a week from 10am to 4pm and entry is free, however they do appreciate a small donation.
For more information on the museum, visit their website by clicking the picture to the right of the page.