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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 44

Chapter VII. Gold

page 58

Chapter VII. Gold.

When the news of the discovery of gold in Gabriel's Gully was made known, it created a great sensation. The previous indications obtained in the Lindis district had not taken possession of the popular mind. It was far away, but here was the precious metal in fabulous quantities within fifty miles of Dunedin. The arrival of the first escort, dashing into the town at a smart trot with drawn sabres, guarding the small iron boxes filled with the treasure, excited the very dullest. It was no dream. These were the proceeds of merely turning over the surface of a quiet valley, shewing how practicable it was for any person to solve most satisfactorily, that vexing problem continually agitating men's minds, How to get rich in a hurry. The town became deserted, and the labourers left their fields. All hastened to El Dorado. Tents were pitched, and the shovel and pick brought into full play. The settlers who possessed a team of bullocks, hastened to participate in the golden harvest, by transporting provisions to the motley multitude at a heavy ransom. Fifty pounds a ton was paid for the carriage of flour. The grassy gully was everywhere riddled with varying success, and its pure stream converted by the washings of the soil into a muddy rivulet.

In a short time many tired of the hardships, or were driven back by the enormous expense of living. Labour resumed its usual course, and the field was gradually left to the possession of those who followed the pursuit of gold as a calling, or who were fascinated by the lottery-like nature of its rewards. New rushes brought a large mining population into the country. Steamers were laid on between Melbourne and Port Chalmers. Commercial men came over in crowds to share in the general prosperity, and trade received a powerful impulse. The strangers all brought money with them, and the wealth of the community was suddenly increased. Large sums were offered for business sites in Dunedin. One staid shopkeeper, who occupied premises at the corner of a street, was offered thousands for his shop. He drove the offerer out with indignation, saying, 'Ye canna have made your money honestly.' The hardy gold-seekers opened up the whole interior of the page break
Sluicing for Gold, Otago.

Sluicing for Gold, Otago.

page 60 country, paying at first in many places above £100 a ton for the transport of provisions. By-and-by things settled down. Roads were explored and carrying became systematised, heavy English waggons and teams of ten powerful draught-horses being used. Prices fell to a tenth of what they were. In wild, mountainous districts goods were packed, and the Otago pack-saddle became so noted that it was used as a model by the Imperial government in the Abyssinian war.
Altogether the yield of gold in the colony since its discovery has amounted to 35millions sterling, no insignificant contribution to the wealth of the world. The production of gold is now a settled industry, employing directly and indirectly 50,000 people, or a tenth part of the whole population. This field of labour is by no means exhausted, as the gold-bearing reefs may be said scarcely to be touched, the attention of miners having been chiefly confined hitherto to alluvial diggings. The settled steadiness of the yield may be judged of by the returns for the five years ending in 1878:
Value exported, 1874 £1,505,331
Value exported, 1875 1,407,770
Value exported, 1876 1,268,596
Value exported, 1877 1,476,312
Value exported, 1878 1,240,079

Gold-seeking has been on the whole a very precarious means of gaining a livelihood. The average return obtained by the miners is about £97 per man annually. While some have obtained prizes, numbers have toiled for years and earned a bare subsistence, sometimes not that. The patience and brave spirit displayed in general are very great. The hope of ultimate success has sustained many in expending money and toil for months in arduous works without return. Occasionally a mine apparently barren takes a capricious turn, and becomes what the miners term 'a jeweller's shop.' Labouring men are enriched in a day, but they are very apt, enticed by their success and their sanguine nature, to enter into fresh speculations, and lose all they have made. We met a stone-cutter last year who had been in the earliest rush to the Shotover, a river whose very sands were golden. It flows in a deep rocky gorge, and wherever the miners could get a chance of laying bare a part of the channel, the yield of gold was astonishing. The stone-cutter realised more than £20,000. He then conceived the bold idea of diverting the course of the river, and page 61 gathering the untold wealth in its old bed. He employed a number of men in the work at £5 and £6 a week of wages, spent all his means, and at the moment when he expected to reap the rich reward of his determined perseverance and skill, the turbulent river came down in heavy flood in a night, and swept all his expensive works away. He was completely ruined. He bore his loss like a man, and fell back on his trade, which he had learned in New York. He is now the lessee of a government quarry of freestone, which he hopes to bring into remunerative use, now that railway communication is open with Invercargill and Dunedin.

The great wealth of some of the quartz reefs still entices hundreds in the search for gold, and the occasional find of a vein, highly auriferous, rewards their labour, and leads to the formation of joint-stock companies, by means of which that branch of the mining industry is now chiefly carried on.

Besides the quantity of gold exported, as above specified, there is a considerable amount used up in the colony. In 1877, this was estimated at 18,000 oz. In 1878 it was less. Although 1878 shews a falling off in the yield as compared with the previous year, the secretary for the gold-fields reports (20th August 1879) that 'the history of the gold-fields during the past year reveals encouraging features of progress in several districts.' The falling off has been chiefly in the quartz-mining, arising from the withdrawal of capital in consequence of the restrictive policy of the banks, rendered necessary by the financial crisis in England. The demand for labour on the public works also operated in temporarily withdrawing men from mining. The actual number of miners employed on 31st March 1879, was 14,297. Of these, 3000 are Chinese, of whom about three-fourths are in Otago. They are the gleaners of the field, generally working in associated parties, and almost always on ground which has been abandoned by the European miner. Their patient industry, method, and co-operation enable them to achieve results surprisingly successful. They are brought into the colony by leaders who regulate their location. Several hundred are occasionally landed at once, who string away in Indian file through the streets to their appointed lodging, each in his national dress, carrying his bundle. In a year or two they return to embark for the Flowery Land with a little fortune of £100 or £200 apiece, clad in comfortable woollen garments, instead of the wide cotton nankeens. With their means, on reaching their homes, they pass among their poorer fellow- page 62 townsmen as comparatively rich men. The Chinese population are thus in a constant state of fluctuation.

Machinery now performs an important part in the seeking for gold. There are 66 steam-engines at work in winding, crushing, and other operations, 88 water-wheels, and about 15,000 sluices. The approximate value of the mining plant is £470,220. There are 5350 miles of water-races, some of them being 20 miles in length. The government has assisted several of the more important races by contributions of capital. The Waimea-Kumara race enables 723 men to prosecute an industry yielding about £120 per man. The Nelson Creek race enables 67 men, after paying for water, to make the very high average of £239 per man. The number of mining companies registered is 343, with a paid-up capital of £3,059,758.

The hardy miners, with their accompanying traders, were the real pioneers of the interior of the country. It was by them that the almost inaccessible valleys in the back-country of Otago were explored. It was they who landed on the unknown west coast of the South Island, and transformed its strip of country, 10 to 20 miles wide by 300 miles long, covered with dense forest, and having the disadvantage of a heavy rainfall, into a scene of energetic industry, with towns, roads, and harbours. Their latest achievement was settling the Thames gold-field in the North Island, giving a yearly return of £300,000. The state has done its part in endeavouring to secure many of the miners as permanent settlers. On the gold-fields, lands have been set apart for agricultural lease, whereby a miner may take up a section of 320 acres, convertible into freehold in the same way as the land occupied under the system of deferred payments. Hitherto these leases have been chiefly available in Otago, where 92,000 acres have been taken up. The land so occupied near Queenstown is famous for its wheat crops. Milling wheat grown there, 1070 feet above the level of the sea, 50 bushels to the acre, thrashed in the open air immediately after reaping, is among the exhibits at the Sydney Exhibition. There are 16,000 acres leased in the Nelson district, and 4000 in Auckland. A large extent, 100,000 acres, is open for selection at the Thames, Auckland; but the land is inferior, and very little of it as yet made accessible by roads. However, a fine district there is about to be opened up. Twenty thousand acres of the Te Aroha alluvial lands have been surveyed into sections, varying from 100 to 300 acres each. This block has the advantage of the page break
The Grey River, West Coast.

The Grey River, West Coast.

page 64 natural highway of the branches of a navigable river, and it will be open for application as soon as several main outfall drains have been cut through the swampy part of the plain.

In Otago during 1878, a total area of 180,000 acres, in sixteen different localities, has been set apart for settlement. This is nearly all now surveyed, and ready for selection. Fully one-half is arable, and has been surveyed into sections not exceeding 320 acres each; and the remainder, consisting principally of hill-sides and mountain-slopes, into grazing farms of from 1000 to 4000 acres each. Mr M'Kerrow in his report pertinently adds: 'These figures present large possibilities in the way of settlement.' The right to apply is not restricted to miners, but the land is open to all comers, and may be offered on immediate or deferred payments, as well as agricultural lease.