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The New Zealand Reader

The Lindis And Gabriel'S Gully In 1861

page 133

The Lindis And Gabriel'S Gully In 1861.

Notwithstanding many failures, the search for gold was still continued by a number of persons, whose faith in its existence survived repeated discomfitures. Their constancy was at length rewarded; but, strangely enough, it was by accident, and not design, that the first workable goldfield was eventually found. Vague rumours of this discovery reached Dunedin, by way of Oamaru, in March, 1861; but the earliest definite account appeared early in April, in the Lyttelton Times:—

"A party of men, employed in road-making by the Otago Government, picked up some nuggets in the River Lindis, a tributary of the Molyneux, where they were engaged making cuttings for the main road to cross. Mr. McLean, on whose run the gold was found, saw some gold in possession of one of the men. It weighed about 4oz., and consisted of some waterworn nuggets, from the size of a grain of wheat to that of a bean, and apparently of a very fine quality. As the stream where the gold was found is small, and close to the hills, it offers no prospect of a large field sufficient; to induce diggers to go there from any distance at this time of the year."

So little was known of the interior of the province in those days that the Otago Witness newspaper, after having variously described "the new goldfield"—a phrase invariably used, as though goldfields had been numerous and well established—as being seventy, sixty, and ninety miles from Dunedin, finally declared, "the precise locality is quite a mystery."

The exact scene of the discovery was in the Upper Lindis Gorge, situated on the north side of the Lindis Peak, the southernmost termination of the Grandview mountain range, which overlooks Lake Hawea, and extends its vast ramparts to the Ahuriri River. Beyond the Lindis are the valleys and pastures of the Upper Clutha and its tributaries, where, in the early days of settlement, some enterprising colonists had found or forced their way, bringing with them their flocks and herds, The only available route to this country was then by way of the Waitaki Valley and through the Lindis Pass. The pass being then wholly impracticable ior wheeled traffic, the pioneer runholders — prominent page 134amongst whom was the Hon. John McLean, now of Red-castle—sought the assistance of the Government in the formation of a road. Their request was granted, but it was made a condition that the Government should employ the roadmakers. To this circumstance, probably, the discovery is primarily due, for amongst the men so employed there were some who had been on the Australian goldfields, and it was in the prosecution of their labours that they found gold scattered through the soil, and subsequently discovered it in the sands of the streams.

The reader who is unable to draw upon memory and personal experience cannot possibly conceive more than a very faint idea of the absolute solitariness which in those days pervaded and enveloped the interior of Otago—the solemn loneliness of its mountains, the ineffable sadness of its valleys, the utter dreariness of its plains. The weary traveller pursued his lonely way from point to point, always viewing around and before him a continuous and apparently interminable expanse of lofty hills—range succeeding range in monotonous uniformity, everywhere clothed in a sober livery of pale-brown vegetation, relieved only by grim, grey rocks, of fantastic form, sharing the desolation to which they contributed—backed by distant mountain-peaks, which bounded and encompassed the horizon in every direction, piercing the blue ether, and clad in dazzling snows—an expanse diversified by no pleasant forests; devoid of animal as of human life; where the profound stillness was painful in its prolonged intensity, and the only sound that greeted the ear from dawn to dusk was the melancholy wailing of the wind among the tussocks.

Such was the character of the country through which the gold-seekers of that time had to find or make their way, unaided by roads of any description, and seldom assisted even by "cracks" of a defined character. To this account must be added the uncertainty prevailing as to the locality of the "new" goldfield, the length of the journey, and the inclement season of the year. The news reached Dunedin at the end of March—that is to say, at the commencement of winter. That the country was then covered with snow is apparent from the frequent warnings, having reference to this form of danger, which page 135appear in the newspapers of the period. Provisions also were scarce and dear on the field. Lindis was far away from the ports where ships discharge cargoes; and cultivation was in its earliest infancy, and flock-owners had only stock sufficient for breeding purposes—the foundation of hoped-for future fortunes—when the remote solitudes were suddenly invaded by a host of people, all athirst for gold. So meat sold at 1s a pound, and flour at the rate of £60 per ton. The only other items of diet of which I find any records are — sugar, 1s.; butter and cheese, 2s. 6d. a pound; and pickles, 3s. 6d. per bottle. These seem to have exhausted the possible bill of fare at the Lindis. Nevertheless, and in spite of distance and doubt, of snow and dear food, there was in some sort a "rush" to the Lindis. Before the end of April, it was reported that there were three hundred persons at the "diggings." And then we read in the newspapers of the day that "The discovery of gold has caused much alarm amongst the runholders, especially those in the neighbourhood of whose runs the precious metal has been found. The alarm is natural enough; but the Goldfields Act has made provision for compensating a runholder whose run may be declared a goldfield."

This assurance was well founded, for the legislators of New Zealand were wise betimes. An "Act to make provision for the Management of Goldfields in the Colony of New Zealand" was passed in 1858, before any well-defined goldfield had been discovered. And in the same year, still taking time by the forelock, they also passed an Act imposing an export duty of 2s. 6d. per ounce on gold, extending (unless the clause is wrongly punctuated) to foreign coins, and "articles of plate, jewellery, or ornament actually worn upon the person or made elsewhere than in the colony." And now, having become possessed of the long-desired goldfields, the settlers regarded their new acquisition with something like dismay. "Gold," writes the editor of the Witness, who, no doubt, faithfully reflected the prevailing opinion, "is not an unmixed blessing. … We are not of the number of those who look upon the discovery of gold as the greatest of blessings."

But circumstances do not halt for opinions. For a brief space there was a general stampede to the Lindis, though page 136it does not appear that the number of working miners actually on the ground at any time exceeded four hundred. The wildest reports gained easy credence. It was gravely stated thab the goldfield was "calculated to cover forty square miles." Some portions of the country which have never yet produced an ounce of gold were pronounced, on what appeared at the time good evidence, to be richly auriferous. A shepherd bad picked up some gold in a creek flowing into Lake Wanaka, and therefore, it was argued, all the country between Wanaka and the Lindis must be gold-bearing. And so the rumours ran. But the earlier forecast of the writer in the Lyttellon Times proved to be correct. The field was an exceedingly limited one, and early in July the Witness was enabled to state, with an approximation to accuracy, that the Lindis was a, "complete failure."

Before that time came, however, the people of Otago had been thoroughly aroused by the following letter in the Witness of the 8th June, 1861:—

"Tokomairiro, 4th June, 1861.

"To Major Richardson, &c.

"Sir,—I take the liberty of troubling you with a short report on the result of a gold-prospecting tour which I commenced about a fortnight since, and which occupied me about ten days. During that period I travelled inland about thirty-five miles, and examined the ravines and tributaries of the Waitahuna and Tuapeka Rivers.

"My equipment consisted of a tent, blankets, spade, tin dish, butcher's knife, and about a week's provisions. I examined a large area of country, and washed pans of earth in different localities. I found at many places prospects which would hold out a certainty that men with the proper tools would he munificently remunerated; and in one place, for ten hours' work with pan and butcher's knife, I was enabled to collect about seven ounces of gold. I have now had constructed proper machinery and tools, and will be able, in the course of a few days, to report with more certainty. Mr. John Hardy, the member for this district, will accompany me, and, on his return, communicate personally with your Honour. His earnestness in favour of a gold-fields discovery has so pleased me that I have been induced page 137to make him my confidant, and he has kindly placed his time at my disposal.

"Had I made anything like an exhibition of my gold the plain would have been deserted by all the adult inhabitants the next day, and the farmers would have suffered seriously from a neglect of agricultural operations at this season of the year.

"Although the being able to work secretly for a time would greatly benefit me, I feel it my duty to impart these facts. I consider it important; for you to know that the stream of population must set through Waihola rather than Oamaru.

"These communications are made in confidence that my secret is safe with Major Richardson, but, if a disclosure is of any benefit to the public interest, you are at liberty to treat this as a public communication to the Superintendent. Mr. Hardy will be in town in the course of a week, and I think you might do well, perhaps, to await his return, when he will impart the result of his trip. At all events, I leave myself as a client under your Honour's patronage, convinced that, by so doing, I take the most certain course to insure the benefit to which I may some day be considered entitled for this important discovery.

"Mr. Hardy will be able to show you what I think may be specimens of copper-ore; if it is so, there is a great quantity in the mountains, and rich seams of coal in its vicinity.

"I have the honour to be, "Your obedient servant,

"Thos. Gabriel Read."

Read's statement was at first received with incredulity. The news seemed too good to be true. Prospectors had been seeking gold for ten years, and reputed discoveries had been numerous and frequent, but nothing had come of them. The Lindis had, indeed, raised expectations to a high pitch. For a time it promised well, but already it was apparently failing. And now this letter of Gabriel Read's opened up prospects that dazzled only to bewilder the people. He was represented, and truly so, to be possessed of Californian and Australian experience; but, after all, there might only be a small "patch" of payable ground. There was a brief period of suspense, during which none but page 138the bolder spirits went up to Tuapeka, while the prudent and wary waited for more sure information.

It was not long in coming. Mr. Hardy—referred to in Bead's letter—returned from his trip, and on the 28th June he announced the result of his investigations. From his place in the Provincial Council Chamber he told the members, who with eager attention and bated breath listened to his words, that, in company with Mr. Read, he had prospected country "about thirty-one miles long by five broad, and in every hole they had sunk they had found the precious metal."

On the same day the Superintendent—Major Richardson—transmitted to the Council a message which, following up Mr. Hardy's announcement, must have greatly exercised the public mind, In it he stated, "The accounts received late last evening from the Tuapeka and Waitahuna districts indicate the existence of gold in large quantities, and easily obtainable. These reports bear all the evidence of truth, and necessitate the adoption of immediate and active measures for the preservation of order, and the safe conveyance to Dunedin of the gold accumulated and accumulating."

The message then proceeds to ask that the Superintendent may be invested with general powers, in the following terms: "Under these circumstances, and with the prospect of more extensive discoveries, and the probably resulting influx of population from beyond seas, the Superintendent asks the Council to invest him with such powers as the urgency of the case may from time to time demand, in order to protect property and open out communication."

It was further suggested that it would be expedient to secure the services of an Inspector of Police and a contingent of experienced constables from Melbourne.

The glad and gratified Council was not slow to respond. Before rising, a resolution, moved by Mr. Cutten, was unanimously assented to, empowering his Honour to "take such action in the various matters as may to him seem fit, and cordially placing in his hands the necessary powers, confident that the necessary provision will be properly made, and no unnecessary expenditure of public money incurred."

page 139

The confidence of the Council was not misplaced, for the practically unlimited powers thus unreservedly intrusted to Major Richardson's disposal were wisely and judiciously exercised during the critical period that ensued.

In compliment to Mr. Read, the valley in which he made his famous discovery was named "Gabriel's Gully," and as such it is still known. Early in June, it was visited by many well-known settlers, amongst whom were Messrs. John L. Gillies, the present secretary of the Otago Harbour Board, J. Burnside, James McIndoe, Edward Martin, and Thomes B. Gillies, now Judge of the Supreme Court. The columns of the two weekly newspapers—the Witness and the Colonist—soon teemed with correspondence descriptive of the journey, which was then regarded, not without reason, as a feat worthy of record, and with exciting accounts of the richness of the gully. A very readable and interesting letter from the pen of Mr. T. B. Gillies, occupying two columns of the Colonist, gives an exhaustive report of the goldfield and its surroundings, in the course of which a curious illustration of the sober demeanour of the gold-seekers is thus rendered: "The deep gravity, almost solemnity, on every visage struck me as very peculiar. Men whom I had never met before save with a smile on their countenances, and a joke on their lips, I met there grave and solemn, as if the cares of a nation were centred on them —they could not even appreciate a joke."Evidently the getting of gold was a very serious business with them.

These letters, and the continuous favourable reports from Tuapeka, had an immense but not surprising effect. The "rush" began in earnest. Every one hastened to enrich himself with the golden spoils of the earth. Mr. William H. Cutten, the Commissioner of Lands, was then connected with the Witness, as editor or contributor; and in a leading article which appeared in that paper on 6th July we diseern "the touch of a vanished hand." Thus it runs: "Gold, gold, gold, is the universal subject of conversation. … The number of persons leaving town each morning is quite surprising. The fever is running at such a height that, if it continue, there will scarcely be a man left in town. An anecdote is told of Geelong, that, upon the breaking-out of the Australian diggings, there was but one man left, and he had a wooden leg, which the ladies page 140threatened to saw off if he attempted to get away., as they were determined not to be completely deserted. As things go there appears every probability of the Dunedin ladies coming to the same pass. The Tokomairiro plain is positively deserted. Master and man have gone together on equal terms, leaving their farming operations under an agreement to return to reap crops; but, if the fever continues, there will be little crop, we should think, to reap. The men having left the plain, there appeared no remedy; and we are informed that the women and children, in numberless cases, have gone also. On the last Sunday the congregation at church consisted of the minister and precentor."

Vincent Pyke

("History of the Early Gold Discoveries in Otago").