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A Romance of Lake Wakatipu

Note 24.—Gabriel's Gully

Note 24.—Gabriel's Gully.

Gabriel's Gully, named after Gabriel Read, its prospector, was the big event in the history of New Zealand. The influences it exercised directly, but far more so indirectly, upon the fortunes and destiny of the colony cannot be stated, even approximately. To the early settlers it proved, together with the developments it promoted in other directions, a perfect windfall. It provided them with a needful supply of ready cash, and created markets never dreamt of in the philosophy of their early colonising schemes. From being a hazy, indistinct idea in the minds of the outside world, New Zealand became an established fact, capable of asserting for itself a position in the social and domestic economics of the day. To its pastoral interest belongs the honour, but to its goldfields interest belongs the glory, of making New Zealand what we now find it—a premier Australasian colony.

In the year 1861 the place first emerged from utter obscurity. In a communication addressed to Major, afterwards Sir John C. Richardson, Superintendent of Otago, Gabriel Read states, inter alia, that he had penetrated inland as far as the gully, and, with no other appliance than that of a butcher's knife and a tin dish', he had for ten hours' work netted 7oz. of gold. The good news was confirmed by the late Mr. Justice Gillies, then a resident of Otago, in a further communication, dated the 28th June, and from that day to this the gully has page 127gone on with various degrees of success, asserting for itself the position of a large gold-bearing centre.

By far the most distinctive feature of its workings is the Blue Spur. It is, or, at all events, was, an extraordinary mound or saddle, separating Gabriel's from the adjoining operations in Munroe's. It is a blue conglomerate, hard, but not flinty. Hill-sluicing at this period was quite a novelty, and when the first claim was taken up on the side of the spur the owners were considered little better than fanatics. With a few sluice-heads of water hastily brought on to the ground, they were enabled to establish the soundness of their enterprise, and forthwith every spare inch of the spur was occupied. Races, twenty and thirty miles in length, carrying enormous quantities of water, were brought in. The hydraulic force was kept in operation night and day, so that, when fully manned, the spur, from top to bottom, became a perfect bee-hive for industry.

The stuff, in the first instance, was broken down by hand. Now and again an odd shot was put in to slacken the more obdurate strata. That suggested the idea of a big shot, and after the question in its pros and cons had been discussed, what was then known as Morrison and Clayton's party, the first claimholders on the spur, determined upon making the plucky experiment of firing three tons of powder. In anticipation of the event great preparations were made. A tee drive, with a side chamber, was put in, each chamber being charged with a ton weight of powder. To minimise the chance of accident, the shot was fired at night. It was a night of intense excitement all round the gully. People came from for and near to witness the upshot. It was fired by a galvanic battery, and, without doing the slightest unnecessary damage, a wing of the hill was blown down bodily. The whole thing was pronounced an unqualified success, and in celebration thereof a supper and ball ensued, which lasted without intermission for about a week. It was afterwards ascertained that only one of the three chambers had exploded, and with some little trouble the remaining two tons of powder were recovered without sustaining material damage.

This was the inauguration of heavy blasting operations, afterwards so popular in hill workings in Otago. Its results on the Blue Spur were that the mound eventually disappeared altogether, and the through passage from thence to Munroes was levelled to the ground. The claims were then opened out, and the lower strata brought out on an incline in trucks, and passed through a head of stamps. This was the condition of things when the Spur, or, rather, what remained of it, got into the hands of an amalgamated company, worked with English capital.

To rework the Blue Spur tailings, now accumulated over a vast area 30ft. to 50ft. deep, has long been considered in the light of a payable project; and no one acquainted with the early workings can doubt but that the opinion is well founded. The wont of fall, however, was a great drawback to their treatment. Latterly, a system of hydraulics has been employed, by which the stuff is raised by water power to a sufficient height for enabling the dirt to be washed, and the débris shot off clear of all interruption to the workings. The enterprise is carried out on a systematic principle, and in pursuance thereof operations were began at the mouth of the gully, a distance of two or three miles from the spur. The ground there is poor, having been operated upon at least half-a-dozen times—both by European and Chinese labour. Despite that fact, the latest reports show the project is paying, and, as might be expected, the further they get up the gully the stuff becomes the richer. When they reach the real body of the spur tailings, very rich ground may be looked for. With only the pick and the shovel at work, and some hundreds of sluice-heads of water pouring down the hill, it is easy to understand a large quantity of gold must have been carried off in the débris. The tailings were washed down ground-sluices in lumps averaging from the size of a duck's egg to that of a cannon-ball; and conglomerate that size must of necessity have been impregnated with good gold. We can speak positively when we say the general impression at the time was that from 25 to 50 per cent. of the gold escaped. Be that as it may, these tailings are good dirt, and between Gabriel's and Munroe's deposits alone will provide work for many years to come.

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