Kawau becomes a mining metropolis.

The Kawau company built a village for the miners and their families. They were built in the bay they called Garlick Bay (later Mansion House Bay) and spent about 23,000 pounds. Included was a house for mine manager Captain Ninnis and a street with houses on either side for the workers and their families, plus a jetty.

The photograph to the left shows the house built for the Mine Manager Captain Ninnis in 1845 in the foreground. The additions of 1863 built by Sir George Grey are at the rear.


Some of the families elected to built houses at other nearby locations.  By 1848 there were about 220 people residing on the island.

A Traditional Cornish Pumphouse was erected to house a 50 horsepower steam engine. The engine drove a Cornish mine pump, after a smaller engine was found insufficient for dewatering as the workings extended.

The photo to the right of a traditional Cornish Pump House built on the south side of the island was taken in 1951.  The main structure is of sandstone blocks and the chimney is red brick.

Whittaker’s Shaft is just visible at the surface of the sea to the right of the building.


It was Whitakers Shaft that proved to be the downfall of the operations and brought mining to an end during the 1850’s by causing seawater to flood the mine.

The copper lode ran roughly north-south. Outcropping on a steep spur on the coast where the main mine entrance and Cornish Pumphouse was located. Some land was reclaimed at the end of the spur to provide a platform area for working. The reclaimed land was used also for stockpiling ore prior to shipment from a jetty at the mine location.

Although the lode could not be described as an extensive mineral deposit it was a rich sulphide orebody.


The photo to the left shows the now flooded main entrance to the mine. As the miners sort to follow the vien the shaft split into multiple tunnels on multiple levels.  

Showing as the blue green coloration in the rock is the rich orebody


However, an inappropriate grant of land (below high water mark) adjacent to the Kawau Company’s workings to Lawyer Mr Frederick Whittaker and Mr Theophilus Heale of Auckland caused considerable trouble. These persons proceeded to also mine the same copper lode, using the Kawau Company’s reclaimed land to enable their operations to be conducted.

Briefly, the Grant was in exchange for a land allotment (No 16) in Auckland Town, wanted by the Surveyor General to commence a defence plan on Albert Hill. The landward boundary was defined as high water mark, so the Grant included the Kawau Company’s reclaimed land.

The reclaimed land at Kawau was essential to the Kawau Company’s operations.Without doubt they also had intended mining the part of the copper lode now possessed by Whitaker and Heal as a result of the Grant. Protracted litigation and communications went all the way to Mr Gladstone in London. The Kawau Company desperately tried to get a just resolution while Whittaker and Heale continued mining. Up to 17 November 1846, according to customs returns, Whitaker and Heale had already exported 469 tons of copper ore valued at 7,840 pounds.


However there was a turn for the better when the new Governor George Gray arrived at the end of November 1845 for his first term in New Zealand.

The Kawau Company petitioned him upon the subject and at the same time also petitioned Mr Gladstone on the injustices they had sustained through their agent in London. Mr Gladstone forwarded a copy of the Kawau Company’s complaint to Governor Grey and indicated the view that if the statements were true the Kawau Company had every reason to complain.

Governor Grey agreed and after taking advice from the Attorney-General, an application was made to the Supreme Court successfully repealing the Grant to Whitaker and Heale. The Court (Lord Grey) recommended that the land between high and low water be included in the grant to the Kawau Company and that was done.

This was a milestone in defining the title boundary of Kawau Island as being mean low water mark.

Whittaker and Heale not only mined copper ore from below high water mark but tunnelled toward the Kawau Company’s landward workings on the same lode, and because their shaft was to seaward and only protected from the sea by a timber collar at the surface the Kawau Company’s mine was already exposed to risk of flooding. John Taylor directed his miners to dig toward the sea, in the direction of the rival mine to confirm his suspicions and they reached the workings of Whittaker and Heal on the Kawau Company land, about 12 feet to landward of high water mark. Captain Ninnis, the Kawau Company’s mining engineer knocked down the partition of ore between the two mines and caught Whittaker and Heale’s men in the act. The connecting of the two mine workings directly to the sea through Whittaker’s Shaft led to flooding of both mines several years later when the timber collar inevitably failed.