facebook   twitter   mail  

The Nelson Photo News



Meet Hon. Archie of Stockton

In the hills behind Granity on the West Coast is the ghost mining town of Stockton. There are two residents of this place. And the Hon. Archie Milleris one of them.

The difference between Archie Miller and the other Stockton-ite, Baldy McGregor, is that Archie has chosen to retire there. Mr McGregor still works as a miner.

Looking at Archie Miller one would imagine him as a pretty useful lightweight boxer in his day. Or a nippy rugby halfback. But this nuggety, deep-chested Scotsman has been underground for the greater part of his working life.

Much of Archie Miller's life has been spent around West Coast mines. He has seen the boom days of coal mining. And he has witnessed the decline. The Millerton Mine where Archie worked for nine months before shifting to nearby Stockton, once had more than 200 miners working in its depth. Millerton was closed about two years ago when 12 men worked it.

Archie Miller came to New Zealand from Scotland in 1921 on the immigrant ship Waimana. He first worked at Avoca, near Christchurch, before heading for the West Coast where apart from 1923-26 when he went to the North Island, he has been since.

Mining has provided Archie Miller with excitement, danger, hard work, and a library of yarns.

He was at the Dobson Mine in 1926 when nine miners were killed in an explosion.

"It was on the dog-watch when it happened, " he said. "If it had been during the day it would have been a lot worse. Many miners would probably have been killed."

Archie came close to death more than once in the mines but the one experience he remembers vividly was in the year of the big earthquake - 1929. (Continued on next page).


Archie Miller, 75, a West Coast miner for more than 50 years, has chosen to retire at the ghost mining town of Stockton. The house he occupies was once a doctor's home and surgery


There's nothing like a brew of hot, thick soup to make a cold winter day more comfortable. Archie just makes sure everything's cooking well


Locomotives used to cart coal from the mines in those days, and miners coming off shift travelled in empty boxes behind the locomotive to the bath house. On this occasion there were five boxes containing men. Each carried about eight miners. Just as the locomotive was negotiating a steep incline the braking system failed.

"The whole thing gathered momentum and it must have been going at about 75 mph, " said Archie. "I thought the only way to survive was to jump clear. But there was a long drop on either side of the track when the train first went out of control and I waited until it went through a cutting."

He hurled himself over the edge of the box, hit the cutting wall and was flung back near the track. The missing index finger on his right hand is testimony to what happened.

"When I hit near the track my hand was flung in front of me and the last box went over it."

Only a few men managed to jump clear and most suffered injury. Those who were unable to escape seemed doomed because the driver and fireman had also leapt from the runaway locomotive. But the train came to a halt at the bottom of the incline and none of the miners who stayed on was hurt.

Mining was a tough, dangerous occupation but there is no trace of regret in the old miner's voice as he recounted some of his numberous experiences.

The house which Archie Miller now occupies was once the Stockton doctor's surgery and, in his working days, Archie often assisted injured miners to the place. And he has been with men when they died there.

Stockton was once a bustling town of 400 populated by hard working, hard drinking miners. Now most of its houses are derelict. In many cases only chimneys still stand. Ironically the main street still has a lamp.

When Archie Miller stands in the middle of this deserted street he appears at home. And yet he is no hermit. He is hospitable, keenly interested in the outside world and retains a close contact with life in the mines.

Surely living alone in a ghost town must be lonely? No, not really, he considers.

"There are buses which take miners to the hydro and Webb mines daily and I can always get a lift into town (Granity) when they go back again, " he said.

If you ever visit the Stockton mines keep an eye out for Archie's place on the way. You can't miss it. Right on a sharp corner. And "Hon. Archie" prominent on the letter box.


For company Mr Miller has two cats and here one of them, Jock, receives a bit of attention


The main street of Stockton. At night this street light under which Archie Miller stands casts light over a deserted scene. At the left are the old living quarters of a single men's hostel. Stockton once had a population of about 400