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Adam Porter: a miner who became a ‘self-made man’

Adam Porter won the accolade of being a ‘self-made man’ because of rising from humble beginnings in Scotland. After arriving in New Zealand, aged 12, and working hard for some years, he joined the South Island gold rushes from 1861 onwards, sometimes as a miner and sometimes as an investor, storekeeper and publican. Even as a young man he was involved in local politics. After settling at Thames after the goldfield opened there, he concentrated on prospecting in Ohinemuri and in promoting the interests of the mining industry generally. From 1875 onwards he would be a director of many mining companies, and would encourage the prospecting of new districts, especially in his capacity as an Ohinemuri representative on the county council. Amongst his many policies designed to benefit the community was the promotion of education, including secondary education. By the late 1870s he was based in Auckland. From 1878 onwards he claimed to know that gold was to be found at Te Aroha, and urged the government to acquire Maori land there for Pakeha farmers and prospectors. In mid-1880 he arranged for a government-subsidized prospecting party to examine the mountain under the leadership of Hone Werahiko, and liaised with both the warden and the government on the latter’s behalf, on occasions implying that he had shared in the discovery of gold. He may have tried to obtain control over the new find, but despite this he remained Werahiko’s agent and would be the executor of his estate. As well as investing in the Te Aroha and Waiorongomai fields, he was involved in the development of mines throughout Hauraki in the 1880s. Over time he took an increasingly leading role in promoting the mining industry, as for example a member of the Thames Drainage Board and of the Auckland Chamber of Commerce. For many years he attempted to obtain government assistance for mining, and was also interested in new mining technology. In his last years he was a leading member of the Auckland business community, investing in non-mining ventures and being a good employer (though critics disagreed). He also became involved in local government issues and the temperance movement before speaking his mind on national issues, finally standing for parliament as an independent-minded supporter of his old friend from his West Coast days, Richard John Seddon. Harsh working conditions on the West Coast led to poor health and an early death. He left his family a comfortably legacy, and was remembered as having a genial, kindly, and witty personality but also having a good sense of his own importance. He seized opportunities, sometimes in a manner that offended others, but tried to benefit not only himself but also the wider community.
Working Paper
Type of thesis
Te Aroha Mining District Working Papers
Hart, P. (2016). Adam Porter: a miner who became a ‘self-made man’. (Te Aroha Mining District Working papers, No. 62). Hamilton, New Zealand: University of Waikato, Historical Research Unit.
Historical Research Unit, University of Waikato
© 2016 Philip Hart