Journal of the Nelson and Marlborough Historical Societies, Volume 2, Issue 3, 1989
The original Druggan's Dam, a much smaller affair than the dam currently visible at Toi Toi Flat, was built by George Druggan during the late 1870's, or early 1880's. Druggan, subsequently, returned to England, where he died in August 1906. (1)
In 1900 the Slate River Sluicing Company began operations on a claim of 49 acres, near the Slate River (see map). (2). The Company planned to greatly enlarge George Druggan's dam, which would then form part of an extensive system supplying water, in large quantities, to the Company's claim. Interestingly, the dam has been known as "Druggan's" since only compatatively recently. During the period of the Slate River Sluicing Company's operations it was always referred to as the Toi Toi Flat dam.
By October 1900 the Company had, according to the Golden Bay Argus, "entered very energetically into the work of developing their property". Mr C. Lewis, recently engaged as an overseer, had supervised construction of a water race layoff from Druggan's dam to the claim. Tenders for construction of the race were to be called shortly thereafter. Mr P. Hawkins, contractor for the construction of the new dam at Toi Toi Falt, had also recently commenced work with a complement of 40 men. According to the Argus, the dimensions of the dam were "quite imposing". The base was to be over 200ft wide and 60ft high, with a length of 300ft. The work would require over 30,000 cubic yards of fill. Its total cost was estimated at £4,000. (3).
The Company also called for tenders for construction of a concrete dam at Doctor Creek in July 1901.
Unfortunately this dam was washed away, during heavy rain in September of that year.
By late August 1901, the Company had almost completed construction of its various pipelines and water races. However, due to a dispute with Hawkins, which later culminated in litigation, construction work on the dam at Toi Toi Flat had been seriously disrupted. Fortunately, the company was able to utilise water from other sources, and begin sluicing operations on a limited scale. (4)
The Company's difficulties in obtaining sufficient water seem to have been overcome by May 1902. The Argus of May 8 reported:
"… the company's dam at Toi Toi flat is just about completed, most of the workmen having been discharged. … the benefit of the dam, when filled [by diverting several adjacent streams] will be greatly appreciated by Mr Matthews, the sluicing manager, who has been much hampered in his operations by want of water".
A description of the water-supply system is contained in the Geological Survey bulletin covering the Parapara subdivision:
The Slate River Sluicing Company's water-supply is derived form a reservoir occupying what was formerly called Toitoi Flat. An earthen dam has been constructed which retains the water from Cole, Coppermine, and Sawpit Creeks. The water from the dam flows along an open canal, and is conducted by means of a short tunnel through a saddle separating the Stanton Creek and Doctor Creek watersheds, into Doctor Creek, which is used as an open race for about a quarter of a mile. From the intake (about a mile and a half above the mouth of Doctor Creek) a short length of open race leads to the penstock. (5)
Unfortunately, the dry summer months saw a substantial diminution in the amount of water flowing into the Company's new dam. The Inspector of Mines, in his summary of mining activities during 1902, remarked that the progressive development of sluicing operations on the Slate River Sluicing Company's claim …
"… continues to be much hampered owing to the inefficient water supply, notwithstanding the heavy expenditure recently incurred in building large conservation works". (6).page 11
Despite this major difficulty, the Company did manage to obtain more than satisfactory results, during periods when sufficient water reserves existed, to enable sluicing operations to be carried out. (7).
In late 1903, the Company decided to increase the capacity of the Toi Toi Flat dam. According to the Argus, the proposed dam extensions, carried out with the assistance of 5 "splendid" draught horses, especially imported for the assignment, would provide the Company with a "magnificent" supply of water. This would then enable the mine managers to look forward to "an uninterrupted run of sluicing for many months to come". (8))
The Argus continued in its optimism, reporting in July 1904:
"The returns from the Slate R. Sluicing Company lately are proving very satisfactory. The command of a practically unlimited supply of water has enabled [the company]… to produce much better results, which may be looked upon not only as permanent but as likely to materially improve during the next few months". (9).
Sadly, the summer of 1904 saw the return of the company's old difficulties, when the flow of water into the dam proved, once again, inadequate. (10)
On at least one occasion, however, too much water was the problem, as the Argus reported:
"Quite a sensational occurrence took place at the Slate Rive Sluicing works a few days ago, which might have had a very much more disastrous ending. While Mr O'Hara, the Manager, and a workman named Atkinson were engaged in the water race tunnel, a great volume of water which page 12had accumulated in the claim above, burst through the tunnel, carrying with it large quantities of boulders, dirt, etc., from the face. The two men in the tunnel were simply overwhelmed with the water, and were swiftly swept down the race and deposited over the drop on to the tailings. Fortunately the drop was only some 7 or 8 feet, and both men rolled clear of the boulders and debris which followed them. Mr O'Hara sustained a sprained ankle and both he and Atkinson were much bruised and cut about the limbs and body, but their escape from much more serious consequences of their impromptu and startling experience was nothing short of miraculous."
In 1905 a new approach was tried. During the dry season, sluicing was suspended, while the workforce were engaged in tunnelling and trenching in an effort to divert the Bedstead Gully stream into the Toi Toi Flat dam. Other streams were diverted in 1906. All this effort, however, was to no avail. The Inspector of Mines, in his report for 1907, remarked:
"Not withstanding the large expenditure incurred towards the storage of water in the Toi Toi dam, together with the heavy work [undertaken]… to maintain efficient tail race fall from the deeper deposits, the present developments fail to show a favourable position of affairs on behalf of the shareholders … work is now suspended".
The Company's claim was worked by Mr O'Hara, on tribute, for some time, before being taken over by several other mining concerns. All these endeavours met with little success. (12)
Druggan's Dam is now the single largest relic still extant on the Aorere goldfields. To the casual observer, it now has the appearance of a rather pleasant natural lake, the tranquillity of which is periodically shattered, by the loud croaking of several hundred enormous frogs.