Economy of the Region
In 1901 the total population of the area, excluding Maoris, numbered 23,199; 60 years later, with Maoris again excluded, it was 19,649. The sex ratio in 1901 was 78 women per 100 men, but in 1961 it was 98.
These figures are suggestive of the remarkable transition which the economy of the area has undergone. It is true that numerous regions of New Zealand have experienced a period of wildly exploitative activity followed by a period of consolidation when livestock farming created a more permanent basis to the regional economy. The fascination of Coromandel lies in the fact that this saga is crowded on to one small stage during a short period of time. Briefly, the timber resources of the region, especially kauri, attracted the attention of English merchant and naval interests in the early 1800s, and a cosmopolitan settlement of traders, land speculators, escapees, and deserters was established for trading purposes on an island in Coromandel Harbour. In 1852 the discovery of gold created a rush at Coromandel, but the difficulties of obtaining equipment adequate for the needs of lode mining destroyed the interest of the majority of the 2,000 diggers. In 1867, however, the rush to the Thames field induced a rapid increase in population so that 12,000 people were located in the vicinity, and a revival of interest in the Coromandel field occurred. By the 1880s the industry had once more slumped, but it revived again around Waihi with the new technologies introduced from Australia and North America by larger, better financed, and better organised companies. During the last three decades of the nineteenth century the forest resources of the peninsula were, as McCaskill (1949) puts it, “ruthlessly and energetically squandered”. The timber millers were followed by the kauri-gum diggers who burnt and destroyed large areas of seedlings and second growth. The flax industry, which had periodic bursts of intense activity, was conducted with the same ruthless disregard. At the turn of the century these exploitative industries had almost passed their peak. The population was concentrated around the Waihi, Thames, and Coromandel goldfields, the other communities being widely dispersed according to the location of their resources. Agriculture was sporadically distributed, its location often determined by the demand of the local market.