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Workers at the Waihī Gold Mining Co’s Battery, Waikino, in July 1904. Photo: SUPPLIED

Missing man found after search

As part of a Valley Profile series, MEGHAN HAWKES explores our local history by seeking out stories of life and death in the Thames Valley.

A casual remark aroused the interest of Constable George Bevan of Karangahake.
A man was missing at Waikino and the constable thought it was worth further investigation. Edward Bramble told him that the previous morning he had picked up a hat floating in the Waihī Gold mining company’s water race close to the Waikino stamper battery. Several men identified the hat as belonging to Donald McMillan, a Scotchman who was a little eccentric in his habits.
The water was cut to the race and soon after, Donald’s body was discovered. On searching it the constable found a recent Waihī Daily Telegraph dated Saturday 6 August, 1904, a flask full of whiskey, watch and chain, a rule, one shilling, three pence and a pocket knife. The watch had stopped at seven minutes past eight. He later inspected Donald’s hut and everything appeared to be in order. But not everything was quite in order with Donald or Waikino.
At the inquest, Edward Bramble said he had known Donald for about a year. He saw him last on Saturday afternoon. He was quite sober and Edward didn’t think he drank to excess. Andrew Aukin, who worked at Montgomery’s Owharoa hotel, had seen Donald on Sunday morning at 6.30. Half an hour later Donald brought a bag over and said he would call for it in the evening but Andrew didn’t see him again. Donald did not ask for a drink nor did he get a drink. Grace McGregor, servant at the Owharoa hotel, said she never served drink on Sundays. Not a soul asked her for a drink on Sunday morning. William Hicks,
Donald’s next door neighbour, sometimes saw him the worse for liquor, but not what he would call drunk. It was frosty on Sunday morning and William thought Donald may have slipped into the water race. Ralph Montgomery, hotel publican, saw Donald on Saturday night at closing time. He asked for a bed, but Ralph was unable to give him one; he had already seventy boarders at the hotel. Ralph told Donald to stay the night by the fire in the sitting room. He often gave Donald a bed, because he was afraid of the track to his home in the dark. Donald was none the worse for drink.
Much of the evidence attesting to Donald’s sobriety appeared to be an attempt to divert suspicion away from the Owharoa Hotel illegally selling liquor on Sunday’s and the fact that Donald may have been drunk when he went into the water race.
This evidence though crumbled when Samuel Fraser, battery manager at Waikino, had his say. Samuel had dispensed with Donald’s services owing to his coming to work when intoxicated.
He had given him many chances and took him on several times because he seemed so poor. He had to dismiss him finally because he could not depend on him. It was not safe for him to work in that state. “There has been a considerable amount of heavy drinking in Waikino,” he said “but a better class of men are now coming on, but there is still too much drinking to my liking.”
The jury returned a verdict that Donald McMillan was accidentally drowned in the Waihī Company’s water race at Waikino. Constable Bevan was praised for his promptness in acting on unofficial information and tracing and recovering the body.
Donald, 42 and single, was buried at Pukerimu cemetery, Paeroa.