Other formats

    Adobe Portable Document Format file (facsimile images)   TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

Settlers and Pioneers


Central Otago people look back regretfully to the sixties when gold was taken out of river pockets in incredible quantities. A couple of diggers would get a thousand pounds' worth of gold in a day's sluicing. The story is told by Robert Gilkison in his book, Early Days in Central Otago. In 1860 the pioneer settler of Wakatipu, W. G. Rees, built his homestead on the site now occupied by Eichardt's Hotel in Queenstown. He had a sheep run on that side of the great lake, and he found it necessary to procure a boat for crossing to the south end. That was a most difficult task in those primitive days, when the interior of Otago was quite unroaded. He had to go all the way to the Bluff to get one. He bought a whaleboat there and a pair of bullocks, and sledges to take it to the lake. After a long, rough journey he reached the lake at the place now known as Kingston, the head of the south arm. He and his mate took the bullocks in the boat across to the Queenstown side; the hard-worked pair deserved a trip as passengers by that time. The whaleboat was most useful for carrying stores up the lake and taking the wool clip away.

page 112

That was before the great gold discoveries. By the end of 1862 there were 4,000 diggers in the Wakatipu district, mostly at the Shotover and the Arrow. Their only way of getting flour and other stores in the first few months on the fields was to buy it from Mr Rees at the homestead, and he was dependent on his boat for getting the goods up the lake. There were very often hundreds of hungry diggers waiting there for it, and they paid half-a-crown for a pannikinful. Then when the gold had to be sent away to Kingston for the town banks, Rees's whaleboat had to carry it all, until other boats were brought up from the seaport. In the first week of this work in 1862 the boat took 25,000 ounces of gold, worth nearly £100,000. On the second week's trip it carried 18,000 ounces, and the third week 16,000 ounces. Presently other boats were placed on the lake, and before long there was a small steamer. But while the first great rush lasted that useful whaleboat earned its weight in gold many times over. Meanwhile the pioneer sheepfarmers were finding that wool was not the sole money-earning product of their runs.

The largest of all the huge blocks of sheep and cattle country taken up in the South Island was the McLean brothers' run of 450,000 acres extending from Lake Hawea to below Cromwell on the east side of the Clutha River. The McLeans were men of courage and large ideas; and they needed big blocks page 113for their flocks and herds in that hard inhospitable land. They prospered as they deserved.

The first sheep-man at Lake Wanaka was Mr Wilkin, who built his homestead close to the junction of the Hawea River with the Clutha. His memory is preserved in the name of a large river flowing into the head of Wanaka.