Topic: Joseph Harris Smallman (1839-1925)

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This article on Joseph Harris Smallman (1839-1925) was written by Christine Clement and entered into the 2011 Memoir and Local History Competition.

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Joseph Harris Smallman was the son of Elihu Smallman and Ann Smallman (née Harris) and was born on 20th June 1839 at Kingshill Field, Wednesbury, Staffordshire, England. The name Elihu comes from the Book of Job (Job 32:2, 34:1). The use of Old Testament names is often a sign of a nonconformist family, i.e. dissenters from the established church (Church of England).

Elihu Smallman was baptised on 26th March 1815 at the Providence Baptist Chapel in Coseley, Staffordshire, England. Elihu Smallman was a mine agent and later mining surveyor as were his sons Joseph Harris Smallman and Thomas Smallman.

Joseph H. Smallman was a member of the North of England Institute of Mining and Mechanical Engineers in 1861. In 1862 he married Sophia Spencer, the daughter of John Spencer, an iron master and his wife Maria. Joseph and Sophia’s son Herbert Spencer Smallman’s birth was registered in 1863. On 29th July 1864, leaving Sophia and Herbert behind, Joseph left Plymouth bound for Auckland on board the Ida Zeigler.

The vessel arrived in Auckland on 29th October 1864. It is not known why Joseph came to New Zealand – whether he was asked to or whether he came to investigate mining possibilities himself, but he soon became involved in the search for gold in the Coromandel area. The first traceable report of gold in New Zealand by a European was at Te Aroha in 1838. Gold had been found in the Coromandel in 1852 but did not progress as local Maori would not cede the land.

In 1856, gold was found in the Collingwood-Takaka district and then in 1861, Gabriel Read found gold near Lawrence and a major gold rush to Central Otago followed. This was followed by a gold find in Marlborough in 1862. In July 1863 the second New Zealand Land Wars broke out between the colonial military forces and the Kingitanga, or Maori of the King Movement. The fighting in the Waikato ended in April 1864. As the business stimulation of the Land Wars faded Auckland was in the doldrums and a good goldfield nearby was wanted badly. The South Island was producing £ millions.

In May 1864 James Mackay (1831-1912) was appointed Civil Commissioner for the Hauraki district. He had done a little mining at Collingwood and because he understood the Maori language and customs, he soon found that he mediated in disputes between Maori and the miners. The only Hauraki area Maori who was keen for a search for gold on his land was Hanauru Taipari, of Ngati Maru descent, who called himself ‘Hoterene’ or Shortland, after Willoughby Shortland, acting Governor of New Zealand. In April 1865 Walter Williamson and Joseph Harris Smallman (wrongly listed as James in some reports) applied to Mackay to search Ngati Maru land for gold.

On 2nd May 18671 Walter Williamson wrote that, “The reward of £5,000, offered by the Provincial Government for the discovery of a payable goldfield in the province of Auckland, having stimulated several natives and others to represent themselves to your honour as discoverers of gold in the Thames district, I have the honour to submit for your information the following report, deduced from my experience as a gold prospector in that country during the years 1865 and 1866. In the month of April 1865, I applied to Mr Mackay, Civil Commissioner of the Thames District, for permission to proceed thence to prospect for gold; and; after organising a party, was placed on the land known as Kauaeranga, situate at the mouth of the Waiwhakauranga river, entering the upper waters of the Gulf of Hauraki.

“The creeks in the locality were thoroughly tested, as also the highlands and gullies, and, in every instance where a shaft was sunk, gold in fine scaly particles was found. On the level land extending from the ranges to the beach (from half to one and a half miles) gold was observable at about two feet from the surface. Without entering into details, I may state that in no instance did we discover gold of an alluvial character. The party separated but in consequence of information I received from several natives, I was induced to apply to the Government to assist me in a further search, and was instructed to continue…”

Joseph Smallman then wrote: “Auckland, May 13, 1867. To his honour the Superintendent. Sir — Seeing that your honour is anxious to develop the goldfields of this province, I beg to inform you I firmly believe alluvial gold will be found payable at Kauaeranga, Gulf of Hauraki, having prospected there for several months in 1865. The names of the native owner at Kauaeranga are as follows: — Shortland Taipari, Hanauru Taipari. We also found alluvial gold at the Waiotahi, about 2½ or 3 miles to the north of Kauaeranga. The names of the native chiefs are Karuri, Rapana. There is also a piece of ground separated from Kauaeranga by the Karaka Creek, owned by a native woman named Lydia, which also contains alluvial gold. She was not willing at the time for us to prospect upon it, but has since consented. — l am, etc. J. H. Smallman.”2

The first official discovery of gold at Thames was made in June 1867 on the southern bank of the Karaka Creek. Agreement was then reached with local Maori on 30th July and a proclamation was issued to take effect from 1st August 1867. This was the official opening of the Thames Goldfield. The Karaka Creek divided Thames – Kauaeranga, later known as Shortland to the south and Grahamstown, named for Robert Graham to the north.

Shiploads of people then came to Thames. Miners first tried for alluvial finds rather than quartz. Then on 10th August 1867, Thames’ first quartz bonanza, known as ‘Shotover’ was struck, followed by two more big bonanzas, the ‘Manakau’ and ‘Golden Crown’.

Joseph Smallman was said to be one of the early shareholders of the Golden Crown and “…held his share up to a short time before the great find but had made it over on some kind of agreement to another man, only to find, when the mine became valuable that the other person had registered the share in his own name but virtue of the agreement and destroyed the document itself, of which he held the only copy.”3 During its operation the Golden Crown mine was said to have distributed £141,904 to its shareholders.4

Around 1873 Joseph entered into a relationship with Harete (Charlotte) Guilding née Nicholls. Harete had been born near Mangaiti, Te Aroha around 1844 and was the daughter of William Nicholls and Harete Te Whakaawa of Matakana Island. William was born in 1818 in Falmouth, Cornwall and came to Wellington on board the Aurora arriving on 22nd January 1840. He was a cooper and was said to have settled in Tauranga where he met Harete. The family then resided on her family land in the Te Aroha area.

One of their sons, William Grey Nicholls (aka Wiremu Kerei Nikora) became a member of the first Ohinemuri County Council and represented Paeroa from 1913 to 1915 in the Legislative Council.

Harete Nicholls had married John Richard William Guilding on 23rd January 1860 at the Otawhao Church (now St John’s Anglican Church, Te Awamutu). The couple had two daughters, Mary Ann and Evelyn Alice. Unfortunately both girls drowned in the Mangaiti Stream, near Te Aroha on 25th August 1872.

Joseph Smallman and Harete lived in the Te Aroha/Thames area. In April 1881 he was a witness on behalf of the Crown for the Procoffi murder case in Te Aroha.5 Smallman had been convicted of being drunk and disorderly at the time and was in the Thames lockup.

The last mention of Joseph Harris Smallman in New Zealand newspapers is on 21st October 1881 when the Resident Magistrates Court in Thames noted J E Hansen v. J H Smallman – claim £25 19s 8d.6 The 1885/6 Electorate Roll gives his residential address as Paharekeke, near Te Aroha.

Joseph Harris Smallman then returned to England to his wife and son. By the 1891 census of 5th April, Joseph Smallman, mining engineer and Sophia were living at Handsworth, West Bromwich with a twelve year old domestic servant. In the 1901 census they are recorded twice – once at their home Fair View, Old Park Road, Kingshill, Wednesbury with one domestic servant, and then at their son’s residence at Handsworth. Herbert was by then managing director of a tube works and had a cook and a domestic housemaid. In the 1911 census Joseph and Sophia are again with their son Herbert, now an iron and steel tube manufacturer.

Sophia is listed as having been married to Joseph for 48 years. Both Joseph and Sophia died in Kingshill.



1.    Daily Southern Cross, Volume XXIII, Issue 3129, 27 July 1867, page 5.

2.    Daily Southern Cross, Volume XXIII, Issue 3132, 31 July 1867, Page 3.

3.    Thames Diamond Jubilee Souvenir 1867-1927. (Thames Star: 1927 Thames) p154).

4.    Ibid, p149.

5.    Waikato Times, Volume XVI, Issue 1372, 16 April 1881, page 2.

6.    Thames Star, Volume XII, Issue 3998, 21 October 1881, page 2.



Ellen McCormack (Tauranga).

Mackay James ( The History of Gold Mining On ‘The River Thames’. Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 1, June 1964 by AM Isdale, B.A.

 ‘Joseph Harris Smallman (1839-1925)’ was written for the Memoir & Local History Competition 2011, run annually by the New Zealand Society of Authors (Bay of Plenty Region) with support from Tauranga Writers.


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Joseph Harris Smallman (1839-1925)

First Names:Joseph Harris
Last Name:Smallman
Date of Birth:20 June 1839
Place of Birth:at Kingshill Field, Wednesbury, Staffordshire
Country of birth:England
Date of Arrival:29 October 1864
Name of the ship:Ida Zeigler
Date of sailing:29 July 1864
Port of arrival:Auckland
Sailed from:Plymouth
Spouses name:Sophia Spencer
Date of marriage:1862
Fathers name:Elihu Smallman
Mothers name:Ann Harris
Name of sibilings:Thomas Smallman
Name of the children:Herbert Spencer Smallman