The Hawke's Bay Museums Trust collection holds a significant number of glass plate negatives taken by photographer Russell Duncan.
Duncan was born in Wellington in 1855, and as a small child moved with his family to Forest Gate Station, Ruataniwha, Hawke's Bay.
In order that he attain "as good an education as possible" his parents sent him to Napier to board at William Marshall's grammar school where he was taught "Greek, Latin, French, mathematics, commercial arithmetic and bookkeeping together with history, geography, and the use of globes and pencil and water colour drawing".
At the school prizegiving held December 24, 1867, Duncan won a first in English and French. This private education held him in good stead as in 1870 he was employed by the merchant firm of Kinross & Co. By 1885 he and Charles Ellison had established the merchant firm of Ellison & Duncan Ltd, Waghorne St.
Throughout his life Duncan was very interested in New Zealand history and amassed a significant collection of books and pamphlets.
A keen photographer he visited and photographed many historical areas in the North Island as well as practically every site along the New Zealand coastline where Captain Cook and HMS Endeavour (1768-1771) anchored. He also visited the Auckland, Campbell and other outlying islands and, while doing so, noted the almost total extinction of fur seals.
As a historian he wrote "Early Walks in New Zealand" and "The Fight at Ruakituri". His legacy to the people of Hawke's Bay was the donation to the Hawke's Bay Museums Trust of his collection of glass plate negatives and photograph albums, along with a compilation of more than 1000 valuable rare books and pamphlets which remains a rich resource for researchers today.
Among the glass plate negatives are two showing the Maharahara Copper Mine, situated on the spurs of the Ruahine Ranges, 14.5km north of Woodville.
When copper deposits were first discovered a Napier syndicate, the Maharahara Copper Mining Company Limited, was formed.
On February 5, 1889 the Hawke's Bay Herald announced that a draft prospectus of the mining company was available for the public to peruse and that the proprietors of the mine had tested the viability of the deposits of ore and were confident in the findings. Further, the lode was of "exceptional width" and contained ore of a "very high class".
An added advantage was the mine's location, sandwiched between two streams, which would provide a plentiful supply of water.
Firewood, used for smelting, was also abundant as the area was surrounded by forest. The mine was approximately 11km (7 miles) from the nearest railway line and was an "easy gradient over which a tramway or road could be constructed at a reasonable cost".
The shareholders, amongst whom were some of Hawke's Bay's elite, signed the first agreement on March 3, 1889: men such as J D Ormond, (runholder, politician, provincial superintendent), J H Coleman (owner of Crownthorpe), J N Williams (runholder and orchardist), William Nelson (Tomoana Freezing Works), Thomas Tanner (runholder), John Vigor Brown (businessman and later Mayor of Napier), and E W Knowles (Daily Telegraph newspaper proprietor).
To add credence to their confidence the shareholders took up two thirds of the shares to prove "they were not asking the public to join in a venture they themselves were not prepared to support". The newspaper predicted that the establishment of the mine "will mark an epoch in the history of Hawke's Bay".
By March 21, 1889, the lode in the shaft was penetrated and three tons of copper deposits were sent to Auckland for testing, which disappointedly proved to be made-up of mostly iron ore. Despondent but not beaten, the company decided to hire Captain Bryant, a very knowledgeable and experienced miner, to oversee operations.
Bryant quickly found a new lode and speculated that the ore was of a high quality and would be monetarily viable. On June 15 it was announced that a shaft had been sunk to a depth of 51 feet (15.5m) and that the new lode improved in quality as it got deeper and could be traced for 300 feet (91.4m).
Sadly, on September 13, Captain Bryant, who had travelled by train to Napier the previous day on mining business, died from a heart attack on the back staircase of the Masonic Hotel.
Regardless, work progressed with a low level drive put in to reach the lode. Positive reinforcement continued with "an expert" who examined the lode informing shareholders that it was "the richest and largest ever found in the colony" and that it "ought to yield an excellent return".
Conversely, a year later rumours were abounding about the critical prospects of the mine. One of the main grippes by a shareholder was that the new manager was uncommunicative about whether "copper has been, is, or will be found in payable quantities".
Adding further to the general discord was a report in reference to the mine from the Geological Department, stating that the copper present was not "in the form of a solid vein or lobe, but rather consists of pipe veins or mineral deposits" which were difficult and expensive to trace and follow. It was firmly felt that shareholders and public be informed of these facts.
By November 1890 it become apparent that the mine was uneconomical. After due consideration it was resolved by shareholders, to voluntarily wind-up the company. Two more attempts, (1906 and 1930s) by different companies, were made before the mine permanently closed. Remnants of the mine remain at the base of the Ruahine Ranges near a walking track by Coppermine Stream.
• Gail Pope is social history curator at the MTG.