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Nelson Historical Society Journal, Volume 1, Issue 2, May 1957


page 7

In the early days of settlement vigorous efforts were made to find out what mineral deposits were in the country. It was some few years before gold was discovered but once it became known that gold deposits existed prospecting was carried out in many different localities. I intend to confine myself to the workings carried on in the various valleys at the heads of the Motueka and Buller Rivers. For the most Part these workings were not very extensive and could only be regarded as poor men's diggings.

I believe it would be correct to say that the gold prospectors were the real explorers of much of our back country but, unfortunately, gold seekers do not usually say where they have been or leave maps of the localities. With many of them it was a case of carrying a back-breaking load of provisions out over the mountains and not returning until they were short of food. News of a gold find would usually bring a "rush" of diggers. Many of them would not stay long but move off to see if some other find was better. The tracks which these men followed often led over steep mountain ranges but the lure of gold seemed to overcome the greatest obstacles. Hundreds of diggers passed backwards and forwards through Tophouse at the time of the various "rushes" to the Wakamarina and Buller workings. One lady who, as a girl, lived at Tophouse, wrote that she could remember the occasion when there were 100 diggers at Top-house for the night. The Wakamarina "rush" caused a great movement of gold seekers and at David Kerr's Blue Glen homestead, in the Upper Motupiko Valley, they had to try and provide meals for the hordes passing through from the Buller to Wakamarina. They had a stone oven in which 16 loaves were baked at a time. Some of the bread had to be cooked while the hungry diggers waited and then it was eaten hot, straight from the oven.

To get to the Wangapeka fields from the Wairau or Buller Valleys the diggers either climbed Mount Owen from near the head of the Tadmor Valley into the head of the Dart River or else they followed up the Owen Valley to the watershed and descended the streams running into the Wangapeka River. From the top of this saddle easy walking would lead to either Blue or Nuggety Creeks.

The gold in these areas came from many different geological formations, and experts could tell from which locality any particular specimen had come. While this does not come into our present study it is interesting to hear that the Baton gold always sold for a lower price as these dull little nuggets often contained sand. Wangapeka gold was of reef origin and many old prospectors spent most of their years trying to find the parent reef. That from Tadmor-Sherry was fine alluvial gold and was said to have been deposited by glacial action. That from deposits in the Upper Buller and Howard Rivers areas was in little chunky nuggets. The colour varied from place to place.

Gold at the Baton Valley was first worked about 1856. It was apparently first found by a runaway sailor boy, Batteyn Norman. His name was spelt B-a-t-t-e-y-n, and some few years later the surveyors' reports were referring to the district as B-a-t-t-e-n. Later it was simply spelt B-a-t-o-n. There were soon some hundreds of men working and the packing of provisions became a problem. Tracks for pack-horses were made up the rivers from Ngatimoti and also from the Upper Motueka Valley by way Tadmor and Wangapeka Plain. The old pack track over the Baton Saddle from Wangapeka is still visible. Pack bullocks were at one time used on the trip. John Taylor arrived in the Baton in 1859 after having spent four years on the Collingwood goldfields, and set up a store and hotel.

page 8

A new chum who went to the Baton diggings found that most of the ground near the stream was taken up already so he enquired where he could dig to get some gold. One miner pointed to a large rock in the riverbed and said, "You dig under that and you will find gold." Not knowing any better he did what he was told. He dug all round the rock and got gold, so he cleaned up the riverbed below and then cut some birch saplings and laid them in the river for skids. When ready some of the other men helped him to roll over the rock and skid it out of the way. There was good gold in the gravel beneath and, after all, he had the laugh on the other men, as he made enough money to buy a farm in the Motueka Valley.

While the particulars about the actual number of men working the claims are not now available it would be fairly correct to say that after the first enthusiasm had died down about fifty diggers remained on the field for quite a few years. Some took up land and became settlers and for many years there was a local school. A racecourse with hack meetings brought entrants from districts many miles away. By 1900 there were only a few old timers left at the diggings but in the slump of 1930 many subsidised diggers fossicked over old ground.

From the Baton some prospectors used to go, each summer, over the 4000ft Ogg's Pass from the Skeet stream into the Crowe and other streams on the Karamea side of the ranges. They would take swags of as much as a hundredweight and would not return until they were short of food. No doubt bird life would help to supply their larder. One of these diggers who had run out of food went into the Baton Hotel and said to Mrs Taylor's daughters, "Give me a feed and I will give you enough gold to buy a dress." Gold prospectors with experience both here and in Australia believed that the area near these streams at the head of the Karamea River was some of the most promising gold-bearing country that they had seen. In March, 1883, the Motueka Valley River Board voted £200 to be spent on the Baton-Karamea track.