Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Waitomo Caves of Yesterday Year - On the Research Trail.

Otorohanga Railway Station near Waitomo Caves - photo CRB February 2014

Recently we did a trip down Otorohanga way. Was interested to see that September 2014 marked 125 years of tourism for Waitomo Caves - from 125 years ago not long the Caves were explored by English Surveyor Fred Mace with Maori Chief Tane Tinorau. In part of the past New Zealand History the two men ( according to the Ashburton Guardian ) constructed a slender raft of logs and used this to enter the caves. That was said to be back in December 1887 and that before that despite many knowing about the caves few had ventured into them.
This bought back memories of the stories,  I had been told of the expedition Great Grandfather went on to the  caves. Of the beauty he had seen. The memory of back in 2008 doing some research at Paeroa Museum with the then Museum Curator Graham Watton on the Thames Waikato and Waihi Railways. As I was leaving for the day, my eyes lighted on an article with photo in a display  -  the newspaper heading " Discovery of the Glow-worm Grotto." This was proof of the story I had been told about Great Grandfather. I took notes - meaning to write these up some day. Two years later in 2010 we were at a flea market and there amongst a pile of newspapers and books was the same publication with the article " Discovery of the Glow-worm Grotto." Along with the photo. This photo I discovered recently, also appeared in the Sydney Illustrated News (Saturday 25 October 1890 page 15.)
Photo clipping from The New Zealand Herald Centennial Record, November 13, 1963

Still meaning to write the story up - one day - got busy on other research and writing - shipping and railways.  Now it is time to write it up - so words to blog - to add a part of the past New Zealand History.
Following the exploring of the caves by Mace and Tinorau, the then Government instructed Thomas Humphries, Chief Surveyor and Commissioner of Crown Lands to visit  the Waitomo Caves near Tauranga and to make a report to the Government. (  Humphries was appointed Surveyor General In 1906  and retired from this position in 1909. During his life his work in both  astronomical and geodetic fields was recognised by  his election as a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society.)

courtesy NZETC in

Louis E. Ward Early Wellington Whitcombe and Tombs Limited, 1928, Auckland
Humphries took with him a party with skills in their respective fields. Albert George Allom a surveyor( son of Albert James Allom who moved to Thames in 1867 and is said to have held a number of appointments until 1886, including that of receiver gold revenue and mining Registrar at both Thames and Mackaytown) ; well- known  photographer John Robert Hanna ( who was said to have been commissioned by the Government to take the photographs ) ; Hanna's assistant  Bain;  James Stewart Civil Engineer & Surveyor ( well- known as in charge various projects Railway Construction and Survey in the Auckland Province including 1873 - 1880 The Thames Waikato Railway ) ;  Major William Gilbert Mair Native Court Judge; Henry Dunbar Johnson native interpreter( formerly in Ohinemuri area )   and William Cussen ( brother of Laurence - both brothers had carried out Triangulation work in the King Country).

             John Robert Hanna                              James Stewart Minst. CE
in Cyclopaedia NZ Auckland Province
  Major William Gilbert Mair                    Henry Dunbar Johnson courtesy NZETC
                                                               The Cyclopedia of New Zealand [Wellington Provincial District] The Cyclopedia     Company, Limited, 1897, Wellington
According to Thomas Humphries' report to Government ( AJHR 1889 H H18 ) and articles across a number of newspapers, both  John Robert Hanna and Humphries took extensive photographs. The Taranaki Herald reported the following  on the photos which had been presented to the Government: -

Humphries' report to Government also included photos and maps.

Courtesy ATOLS Online National Library NZ In Appendix to the Journals of the House of Representatives, 1889 Session I H-18 THE WAITOMO CAVES, KING COUNTRY (REPORT ON).

James Stewart did not say much officially  on the Expedition to the caves as Thomas Humphries was in charge of and making the Report to the Government . However newspapers did report on Stewart saying  :
" It will be a wonderful attraction in fact, I have never seen anything I have enjoyed more since the destruction of the White Terrace." ( NZ Herald 07/06/1889)
Passed down was this story from Stewart along with the Expedition during the Tarawera Eruption. It must have been a special occasion for him to see something just as beautiful as the White Terraces he had also seen prior to the eruption of Tarawera. The photos for us today are a reminder of what both the Waitomo Caves and the terraces looked like in that part of the past.

Courtesy ATOLS Online National Library NZ In Appendix to the Journals of the House of Representatives, 1889 Session I H-18 THE WAITOMO CAVES, KING COUNTRY (REPORT ON).

Major William Mair and Henry Dunbar Johnson who had also witnessed the Tarawera eruption and its aftermath also were said to feel the same. Mair had written a paper on the Tarawera Eruption for the New Zealand Institute ( Art. XLV.—Notes on the Eruption of Tarawera Mountain and Rotomahana, 10th June, 1886, as seen from Taheke, Lake Rotoiti.) Mair intended to write one on the Waitomo Caves. A review of the Institute papers does not show one from Mair on the caves . However Thomas Humphries was reported on giving an account with photo presentation to the Auckland Institute in 1889 and 1892.
Tinorau opened the caves to tourists in 1889. Now 125 years later Waitomo Caves over the years has been a very relevant Part of  past New Zealand history for tourism and the memories for many of a trip  to the caves. Memories that are not forgotten.
Reference Source:
  •  Lawn, C.A. F.N.Z.I.S. The Pioneer Land Surveyors of New Zealand Part IV. Auckland: N.Z.I.S., 14 October,1977.
  • The Cyclopedia of New Zealand [Wellington Provincial District] The Cyclopedia     Company, Limited, 1897, Wellington
  • The New Zealand Herald Centennial Record, November 13, 1963
  • Appendix to the Journals of the House of Representatives, 1889 Session I H-18 THE WAITOMO CAVES, KING COUNTRY (REPORT ON).
  • Sydney Illustrated News Saturday 25 October 1890 page 15
  • THE OFFICIAL INSPECTION OF RAILWAYS. New Zealand Herald, , 3 May 1889, Page 5
  • THE OTOROHANGA CAVES. New Zealand Herald, 7 June 1889, Page 5
  • THE OTOROHANGA CAVES AT WAIKATO. Taranaki Herald, , 12 June 1889, Page 3
  • THE OTOROHANGA CAVES. Timaru Herald, , 21 June 1889, Page 3
  • THE OTOROIIANGA CAVES. New Zealand Herald, 12 August 1889, Page 11
  •  RANDOM SHOTS Auckland Star, 28 September 1889, Page
Our family first met Graham Watton when my mother Helen Stewart was writing for the local and national newspapers. When I retired and began the history research on great grandfather and those early railways it was once more contact with Graham Watton in his role as Curator Paeroa Museum. In 2012 Graham Watton passed away and tis was a great loss to historians and researchers such as myself. His knowledge and help were vast - I miss it.


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