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Gold on the West Coast
THE year 1865 is memorable for the rich gold discoveries on the West Coast and the enormous influx of diggers into that region. Men came from Sydney and Melbourne as well as from all parts of New Zealand. Hokitika was the scene of the first great rush, and by the end of 1866 had a population estimated at between thirty and fifty thousand. Field after field was opened up with amazing rapidity. The lure of gold, the promise of a better-paying field, drew men to the Arahura, then to Lake Kanieri, the Kokatahi district, the Waimea Creek (close to the Taramakau) and south to Okarito. Almost every river yielded a rich reward to those who faced the hardships of forcing a way through virgin bush and over swollen streams. On the Coast men were effectively cut off from civilisation. Many fell victims to the treacherous currents of the fast, icy-cold rivers.
The wild but beautiful environment of the pioneer miners was soon transformed. Mushroom towns with shops, banks, and hotels innumerable, .seemed to spring up overnight. The rapidity of the growth of Hokitika, for instance, was amazing. Its prosperity may be fairly estimated from the fact that the Hokitika Directory of 1866 contains a list of one hundred hotels. The Directory also shows that Stafford Town (on the Waimea Creek, only eight miles from Hokitika) had thirty-four hotels in 1869, Kanieri fourteen, Ross twenty-four, and Grey fifty-seven. The West Canterbury gold-field had been officially proclaimed on 2nd March 1865, and thereafter some attempt was made to connect Christchurch with Hokitika. A road was pushed up the Bealey, and down the Otira Gorge and the Taramakau River to Arahura and Hokitika. The West Coast people complained that Canterbury was growing rich at their expense, and a separation movement achieved success with the passage of the County of Westland Bill in 1868.
Lake Kanieri, Westland
Okarito in the 1860's. This is one of the earliest pictures of the Westland diggings
In 1866, while seeking for painting subjects, N. Chevalier and wife crossed the Harper Saddle on horses, using a well known miners route. He was afterwards appointed artist to the Duke of Edinburgh during the tour round the world in 1869, remaining in the service of the Royal Family for some years.
An Early miners right, or license to prospect for gold
The gorge of the Kokatahi River, typical of the Westland black-blocks. The drawing was made by Charles Douglas, an explorer at Westland, who traveled widely in gold-bearing country
Stafford, a mining settlement near Hokitika. Thornhill-Cooper sketched this view in 1868
THE gold fever claimed easy victims from all classes of society — farmers, lawyers, clerks, artisans, doctors, sailors. All left their commonplace tasks and set out with high hopes to labour strenuously and often unsuccessfully at work for which some of them were little fitted. Considering the undeveloped state of the country and the suddenness of the gold-rushes, the organisation of law and order at the goldfields was effected with commendable rapidity. The Gold-fields Ordinance of 1858 provided machinery for the setting up of goldfields districts and for their government. What usually happened was that gold was discovered, the fact published, men rushed to stake out claims, a goldfield was proclaimed, and a Warden appointed to settle disputes and make necessary regulations. Shortly after the first miners, there appeared the storekeeper, who often prospered more than the diggers; and when the field was proved, the banker, giving by his presence the assurance that the field was no ‘ duffer.’ Canvas towns sprang up overnight, and possibly disappeared as rapidly at the news of a bigger rush elsewhere. If the field was worked for some time, canvas gave way to corrugated iron; hotels and dance halls were built in large numbers; and later Post Office, Court-house, hospital, churches, and Athenaeum appeared.
Despite the activities of Garrett and Sullivan and their accomplices in Otago and on the West Coast, the New Zealandgoldfields were comparatively free from serious crime, and for this a good deal of credit is due to the Provincial Police, and to the steadying effect of the inclusion among the diggers of many of the original colonists.
A digger on the tramp isthe title R.C. Reid gave this illustration from 'Rambles on the Golden Coast.' It is a reasonably faithful picture of a prospector of the period and his equipment
The Bank of New South Wales, Cromwell, in 1867. Cromwell was an important gold mining centre in Otago.
The armed Gold Escort at Clyde leaving for Dunedin
Pedlars at the diggings. In 'Five Years in New Zealand' Robert B. Booth described the scene thus: 'These men were simply shrewd, energetic men of business, ready without actual dishonesty to take every possible advantage of wants and weaknesses of their fellow men. We had some pleasant evenings in their company.'
Coromadel and Thames Fields
ALLTHOUGH Marlborough produced some 33,000 ounces of gold from the Wakamarina in 1864-65, the only goldfield of any size which remains to be discussed is the Hauraki Mining District. Nine years after Ring’s discovery, Coromandel again became the scene of mining operations. In June 1862 Coromandel was proclaimed a goldfield. The Maori Wars prevented any large influx, of miners, despite the report of alluvial gold at Te Aroha. In 1865 gold was reported to be present in the Thames Valley. Maori prospectors ‘ struck it rich’ in that area, and the Thames gold-field was proclaimed in July 1867. A month later, when the alluvial gold was already becoming scarce, a prospector named Hunt, working with three other miners, White, Clarkson, and Cobley, discovered very valuable gold-bearing rock near the mouth of the Kurunui Creek. ‘ Hunt’s Shot-over’ became the first quartz reef mine on the Thames goldfield. The four men are said to have gained £40,000 apiece. Some 129,211 ounces of gold were won in the Thames and Coromandel areas in less than two years. The fame of the Thames El Dorado brought on the usual rush. In 1871 the Thames field had a gold output of 330,326 ounces. Grahamstown, part of the modern town of Thames, became the mining centre of the Thames area. Close by lay some of the most celebrated mines in New Zealand—the Shotover, the Caledonian, which in its first year paid over £500,000, the Golden Crown, which paid £200,000 in one year, and the Kurunui, which yielded £25,000 from the first week’s crushing. Other parts of the Hauraki area paid the company shareholders handsomely. For example, the famous Waihi mine, opened in 1878, has yielded nearly £20,000,000 in gold and silver. The Ohinemuri district and the New Find Reef, Wairongomai, near Te Aroha, had to wait for the introduction of modern methods to become paying concerns. Quartz-crushing still continues, although literally millions of tons of quartz have been forced to yield up their spoil of bullion.
The Shotover mine, the first quartz reef mine on the Thames goldfield.
A gold battery on the Tararu Creek, Auckland, from a wood engraving published in the 'Illustrated New Zealand News' (1865).
These are the Gentlemen diggers who pronounce the Thames goldfield a "Duffer" is the description of this cartoon in 'Punch' (Auckland) of 1868. A 'duffer' was a goldfield which had disapointed the hopes of prospectors.
A quartz mine at Karangahake, near Waihi
A water colour sketch between 'Grahams Town and the Thames Goldfields.'
Hunt's Claim and the Kurunui tramway, from the 'Illustrated New Zealand Herald' (1869)
Tin-Dish & Cradle
IN many places in the South Island of New Zealand, gold was present, in the form of small specks, in the material washed down by rivers and streams either in recent times or in ages past. Where streams of recent origin flowed through the deposits laid down many thousands of years ago the gold was concentrated, and it was in such places that the sensational finds of the gold-rush days were made.
Most of the methods employed by the early miners were based on the fact that gold is a very heavy substance, which sinks to the bottom of a stream of water carrying gold, silt, and gravel. The prospector’s essential equipment was the shovel and tin-dish. With his shovel he cleared away the coarse gravel till he came to the finer ‘ wash-dirt,’ the possibly gold-bearing layer in the bed of the stream. A shovelful of this was put into the dish and washed in running water. If the miner was fortunate, specks of gold were left in the dish as the clay and sand were washed away.
Having found a good locality for his operations, the miner would probably set to work with a tub and cradle. In the tub the wash-dirt was puddled with a shovel and water to separate the gold from clay, and then fed into a cradle. This was a box on rockers, open at one end and at the other end fitted with a hopper, through which the gold-bearing material was washed with sufficient water to make the sand and clay flow out the open end when the cradle was rocked. Bars on the sloping bottom of the box and a lining of some hairy material caught the heavy gold particles which sank to the bottom. When sufficient wash-dirt had been put through, the gold caught in the lining was collected in a ‘ panning-off’ dish filled with water.
After work - boiling the billy' - a sketch from the 'New Zealand graphic' of 1891, which shows the primitive comfort of a miner's hut on the Buller fields, and his indispensable rifle and dish.
A miner's tin dish and cradle.
Buckets of a Southland dredge. Contrast this powerful machinery with the simple yet efficient manual equipment of the early diggers.
Slucing and Dredging
EXTENDED application of the principles upon which the cradle was based, led first to sluice boxes, then to ground-sluicing and to elevating and sluicing, in all of which water is made to do a large amount of the work. In order to obtain supplies of water with sufficient force to break up ! soil, many dams were constructed, and the water was led many miles in open ‘races,’ or in n pipes, to the miners’ claims, form of mining which required considerable (ital and which, therefore, was usually carried : by companies, was dredging. By means of dredges, which were first used for winning gold Mew Zealand, wash-dirt was obtained from the Is of large rivers. The earliest ‘ spoon-dredges’ re employed in 1863 and for a time they won considerable amount of gold with very simple alliances. Five years later the bucket type of dredge was introduced, and this, in various improved forms, has been used ever since, important changes being the introduction of steam dredges about 1882 and the accidental but very profitable discovery, at the very end of the century, that often re were rich gold-bearing deposits concealed beneath a hard layer which was apparently the torn of the river bed.
In the boom period of dredging, about 1900, dent dredges secured as much as 1,000 ounces of gold in one week’s working. These rich returns caused feverish speculation, large sums being made and lost by people who never saw a dredge. The disappointments suffered by many even in the boom period, and the exhaustion of the richest deposits caused a slackening of interest in dredging until after the War, when the increased price of gold revived the hopes of investors by ensuring profitable returns from only moderately rich workings.
The dredging companies, using modern machinery and methods, including geophysical surveys and prospecting by boring, though not surrounded with the romantic interest that attaches to the individual digger wresting Nature’s riches from her, nevertheless make important contributions to the gold production of the country.
Beach Leads and Reefs
A distinctive feature of mining in the Duller district was the discovery in 1865 of the ‘beach leads’ of gold. They were layers of heavy sand containing a considerable quantity of gold formed by the action of the waves, tending always to sweep back the lighter material cast up and to leave behind the heavier. In the course of time, as the sea-coast was built up, later deposits of light material covered some of the leads, and in order to trace out the line of richest deposit, miners had often to construct tunnels extending many hundreds of feet into the hills.
Apart from gold extracted and laid down by water, there was gold still embedded in quartz, forming ‘ reefs.’ Quartz-mining was a company affair, requiring considerable outlay before any return could be expected. The quartz-mining area of New Zealand was the Hauraki goldfield in the Auckland Province. Small reefs have been found in the Otago and West Coast areas, but not containing gold in extraordinary quantities. In quartz-mining, the gold-bearing rock was crushed by ‘ stumpers’ or ‘ rollers,’ and the gold extracted by chemical means—in the early days by passing the crushed ore over mercury, which formed an amalgam with the gold, and more recently by the more efficient cyanide process.
Reef mining and prospecting for reefs require a considerable technical knowledge of geology and metallurgy, and in order to assist miners to acquire this knowledge, in 1885 Schools of Mines were set up on the various goldfields. The interest and satisfactory progress of the miners fully justified the efforts made on their behalf by Professor Black and his able band of assistants, and warranted the help given by the Government in the purchase of materials for demonstrations.
Coromandel, the scene of a conference between Lieutenant-Governor Wynard and Maori chiefs in 1853 on the subject of the purchase of the Coromandel goldfield.
The Phoenix Company's crushing works at Skippers Creek, 1887. This was the first crushing-mill in New Zealand to be worked by electricity.
Wealth of Nations Battery, Reefton.' Taken from Reid's 'Rambles on the Golden Coast,' (1886), this picture shows the desolate background of many battery sites
The Taipo Valley, Westland, where prospectors endured hardships in their search for gold, snow, flooded rivers, and thick forest prove difficult obsticles
Gold-the Great Coloniser
THE discovery of gold in the infant colony of New Zealand was of paramount importance in speeding up immigration into the country. In the five years from 1861 to 1865 the population increased over 90,000 mainly by reason of the arrivals from overseas anxious to make their fortunes on the goldfields. Some of these became permanent settlers, while others, like the Chinese who flocked in to ‘ fossick’ on the Otago goldfields, left little impression upon the country.
The feverish search for the precious metal led to a rapid superficial exploration of the greater part of the South Island—hitherto the more backward island. Unfortunately, the miners rarely brought back records of their journeys. The development of paying fields and the consequent increase of public revenues had a profound influence on the material side of provincial life in the sixties. Disorganisation of the old order of things followed from the sudden inrush of a new population and the departure for the goldfields of numbers of the original settlers from the towns and farms. Gold export duties and licenses provided the revenue necessary for public works on a grander scale than in the pre-rush days. Surveys were made, roads formed, bridges built, harbour facilities improved, municipal buildings erected, and various amenities provided.
The cultural side of colonial life was influenced to as great a degree as the material. Though crime increased, thanks to the arrival of some undesirable types of immigrant, on the other hand the new wealth made possible a higher level of general culture. For instance, it was no coincidence that the University of Otago was opened within a decade of the discovery of gold by Gabriel Read. A comparison of the Nelson or the Dunedin of 1860 with the same town of 1870 reveals amazing changes. Gold certainly quickened development. The country districts also benefited greatly. Agriculture received an immense fillip, since the increased population had to be fed. The gold-producing area was altered physically; land covered with ‘tailings’ was rendered useless for agriculture, but irrigation by means of old mining races increased the productivity of many districts.
Engineers sampling new ground with a drill
Mount Tutoko, from Lake Alabaster, sketched by Charles Douglas on one of his exploration trips.
Pine trees on tailings. It is now the policy of the Mines Department to issue licenses on condition that trees shall be planted on all and left in a state unsuitable for farming. Pines so planted show good growth.
A striking contrast between the desolate tailings and the ground cleared ready for dredging.
Value of Gold to New Zealand
IN modern times gold-mining remains one of the minor industries of this country. In the days of the great depression more and more men turned to gold-mining as a means of making a living. In 1929 less than one and a-half thousand men were engaged in the industry, but by 1934 the number lad risen to over six and a-half thousand. This increase in numbers was caused partly by the enhanced price of gold and partly by the system of government subsidies to unemployed men willing to undertake prospecting and mining. The amount and value of the gold produced also increased.
In the eighty years between 1857 and 1937 gold contributed £, 103,008,494 to the wealth of New Zealand. That money was partly responsible for material improvements in both town and country. It also enabled New Zealand to import much more than would otherwise have been possible. It was thus responsible for raising the standard of living. New Zealand also benefited by the new blood which the diggers added to her national stock. Many immigrants of the sixties remained in New Zealand, and after the rushes were over contributed greatly to the development of other industries. Gold-mining was a definite factor in settling people on the land in the back country. On the other hand several New Zealand towns of today owe their origin and general prosperity to the gold produced in neighbouring mines, although admittedly most of the mining towns of the sixties and seventies have dwindled almost to vanishing point. The impetus given to the colony, at a critical stage in its history, by the discovery of rich deposits of gold was of sufficient importance to justify an early writer’s use of the headline, ‘Gold—the Great Coloniser.’
Sluicing for gold at Ross, Westland. The alluvial 'face' is washed with water under pressure, the wash dirt eventually passing through a sluice box, or over gold saving tables.
Massive steel buckets ascending, filled with gold-bearing debris.
Buckets of the Rimu dredge, which are discharged at the rate of 23 a minute, each holding 12 cubic feet of water.
The Arahura dredge in the course of construction. A powerful all steel dredge, having buckets of eighteen cubic feet capacity, and capable of digging from 75ft to 85ft under water.
The remains of mining machinery at Terawhiti, Wellington Province. Gold had been found near Cape Terawhiti in 1862 and small quartz mines were being worked in 1883, but the pockets of quartz were soon exhausted and the mining machinery abandoned, though there may be more gold at a greater depth in this neighbourhood.