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Journal of the Nelson and Marlborough Historical Societies, Volume 1, Issue 1, October 1981

What's in a Name?

page 42

What's in a Name?

Many people are intrigued to know how the name of Chinaman Gully came to be associated with a small stream in the Big Bush (between Kikiwa and Tophouse) area. Gold digging is the clue to the name. The first report of gold being found was in the Nelson Evening Mail in November 1868:

"It is rumoured that gold in payable quantities has been discovered near Ben Nevis, in the district of Waimea South, on the way between Quail Valley and the Tophouse, and that eight ounces, its produce, were brought to town yesterday."

A small number of gold diggers worked claims there over the years and prospectors again tried their luck during the depression of the early 1930's. The Chinese worked there in the 1870's selling sufficient gold to keep them in meat and essential stores.

Quoting from a Nelson Evening Mail article written by my friend, Mr J. E. Tomlinson, and printed on April 13th, 1963, we gain the following information:

"Quite a few Chinese worked in the bottom end of the gully and did quite a bit of work there, traces of which can still be seen. Hence the name Chinaman Gully. It was all bush in Chinaman Gully in those days. The Kerrs of Blue Glen used to supply the miners with meat and stores paid for with gold from the creek.

"This gold in the Chinaman Gully was very thin and there were no nuggety pieces which seems to suggest it might have travelled a long way in the glacial period. I owned this property in later years. The first mile of the creek had the bush fallen along its banks and colours of gold could be found in the wash in most of the banks. Back in the bush about five branches had all the creek beds worked to the head, where dams had been built to collect water to wash through the boxes. Old huts and camp sites can still be found well back in the bush. Some occasional apple trees had grown up around them. During the slump period about ten men were working there for a short while. Possibly about 10 ounces of gold was taken out."

"Diggers' Creek, the only other creek to have gold in it worth digging, was on the Motupiko side of the range. It was about two miles further up the valley although the heads of the creeks are not far apart. The gold in Diggers' Creek was nuggety and some nice pieces of several pennyweights were obtained.

"My father, at Tophouse Hotel, used to buy the gold at three pounds ten shillings an ounce and sell it to Louis Kerr, of Nelson."