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History of Blackball

Historic Blackball 051And so it was that the West Coast’s population bloomed from around 200 Maori people in the early 1860’s to almost 14,000 by early 1865.
At Christmas that year all of Hokitika’s 72 hotels were packed with boozing miners. At the peak of the rush, in 1867, there were probably about 29,000 people on the West Coast – around 12% of New Zealand’s European population.
Today 32,400 folk call the Coast home. 
A very local theory has it that the rush to the Coast was postponed until after James MacKay had purchased the area for the Crown in 1860 for 300 gold sovereigns.
In 1858 the Oakes brothers found gold in West Canterbury but the reward the Canterbury Provincial Council was offering wasn’t given as they found it on the wrong side of the Alps!
The first payable gold was discovered in Greenstone Creek, a tributary of the Taramakau, in 1864.
Soon after George Cundy made a significant discovery in the Blackball Creek finding an impressive 22-ounce nugget that he sold to Greymouth trader, Reuben Waite on Christmas Day.
But neighbouring Moonlight soon overshadowed the Blackball area with its purer and more easily accessed gold.
Blackball was but a smattering of huts alongside a rough track that lead into the hills.
Coal, set to become Blackball’s raison d’être was unearthed during a hunt for gold in the Blackball Creek and before long three Greymouth businessmen took out a lease.
By 1886 it had passed into the hands of more wealthy Christchurch businessmen and a stone drive to access the coal began.
In October 1890 coal was struck but the world was in recession; a large investment was needed for development so a British takeover occurred and the Midland Railway Company was given land grants in the town and the mine in return for its investment.
Two years later the Black Ball Coal Mining Company N.Z. Limited formed in London with local and English “gentlemen capitalists” as directors.
It placed an order In Germany for a prefabricated aerial ropeway that was to carry coal from the mine, across Goat Terrace and the Grey River to the Ngahere railhead.
The mine opened as soon as the aerial was complete in 1893.
Financially things were still dire though – poor drainage, inadequate ventilation, the underachieving aerial and the unreliable port created huge problems.
The New Zealand Shipping Company under its chairman Sir Edward Dawes. entered the fray, taking over the lease, opening up a subdivision and giving 21-year leases.
The school opened in 1895 and the first headmaster, Henry Harrison, remarked how he thought it had been delayed rather too long as on day one some of the older boys scaled the tall trees nearby and were reluctant to come down!
Blackball was still very isolated. The outside world was reached by either the Brunner Track, or from across the river by ferry. Imagine the joy when Premier Seddon laid a pile for the railway bridge in 1902.
It opened for cart and pedestrian traffic four years later and for trains in 1909.
By then quite a community had evolved.
Along with the school there were two churches, a hotel, shops and about 550 settled villagers.

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