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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 12, Issue 2 (May 1, 1937)


In the early half of the nineteenth century it was customary for vessels visiting New Zealand to make their landfall at the Cascades (South Island); those three gleaming ribands of water being so distinctive as to preclude any danger of confusion in the similarity of landscape.

During this period a French barque, carrying, in addition to a general cargo, a considerable amount of specie, arrived off the Cascades. Her crew had mutinied and the five survivors of the well-contested battle took to the beach, carrying with them in many trips the gold which formed the most valuable part of the loot.

Transport and roads being alike nonexistent, left them with no alternative but to bury the swag in a cave and pursue a painful and perilous journey to Greymouth by way of the beaches. Sodden with the continuous crossing of flooded and treacherous rivers, lumpy with the bites of mosquitoes by night and sand-flies by day, and staggering on the verge of exhaustion from a diet whose basis was shellfish, four of them ultimately reached civilisation. One of the party, unable to stand the hardships of the trail had fallen sick and taken shelter in the pa of some friendly natives. He was the lucky one, his companions being apprehended and handed over to the captain of a French warship, who incontinently hanged the lot of them.

The sole survivor of the gang later reached white men's dwellings and settled down in the district where Westport now stands. His honesty may be taken as read: his poverty was indubitable, inasmuch as he was never able to save enough money for the charter of a vessel to pick up the hidden loot. Dying, he handed over to his son a map with the necessary bearings marked on it, showing the locality of the mutineer's bullion.

Ridicule provided an even more exasperating handicap to the son than poverty had proved to the father, for the West Coast miners to whom he went with his tale had gold enough and troubles enough of their own without fitting out an expedition to salve a hypothetical hoard which might well have existed only in the rum-inspired romances of the old mutineer. The tale gradually assumed the proportion of a legend and the Coasters refused to regard it as anything else. When it was mentioned they laughed, bought the mentioner a drink—and let it go at that.

It was left to the city whose residents spend the Saturday afternoons but keep the Sabbath, to outfit a party which left Dunedin and landing at Jackson's Bay made a strenuous but futile effort to locate the treasure. The rusted remnants of their equipment may still be seen scattered about where they were abandoned.

(A. Vaugham.) Lake Wahapo, Westland, South. Island, New Zealand.

(A. Vaugham.)
Lake Wahapo, Westland, South. Island, New Zealand.

In the immediate vicinity of the alleged “plant” the tradition still persists. Ask Arawata Bill, that lean old devotee of pick and gold-pan, and he will assure you with more or less lurid emphasis that the gold is there, that he has been within measurable distance of it, but—that tragic tantalising word!

Ask the Nolans or the Crons and they will laugh the idea to scorn— but curiously enough, with a note of belief underlying the laughter. True or false the “Frenchman's Gold” is one of the accepted legends of South Westland.

Is it worth looking for? Who knows?