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Nelson Historical Society Journal, Volume 2, Issue 3, November 1968

Old Experiences — Early Days Recalled

page 7

Old Experiences — Early Days Recalled

Mr. Richard Moth, of Brunnerton writes: I am sending you a few items of my experiences of the early days of the Whakamarina diggings, and also the early days of Hokitika and the West Coast.

I was born at Rotherwick, Hampshire, England, on October 22nd, 1842, and went to London in May, 1856. From that time until I sailed for New Zealand in 1863 I was working at Bishop and Starr's, organ builders to her Majesty the Queen, where I had the advantage of a great deal of travelling about London and suburbs, visiting many of the London churches with the tuner for the firm for about 18 months, among which was St. Paul's Cathedral every weekend. Among other large churches visited were Greenwich Hospital, Brixton Church, Stratham Church, and St. George's Cathedral, Southwark. I was at the building of the large organ for the Roman Catholic Oratory, Brompton, with four manuals, and containing 5,000 pipes; also the Royal Sardinian Chapel, costing £2,000; one for the new Catholic Church, Mile End Road; and one with two manuals for the Roman Catholic Church, Auckland, N.Z. I was at the opening and consecration of the Mile End Road Church by the late Cardinal Wiseman.

I sailed from the London Dock in the steamship Otago on November 5th, 1863, for Nelson, paying £10 as part of the passage money—the full fare was 22 guineas–the agreement being that I was to work for the other part during the voyage. The day before we sailed I signed articles the same as the ship's company, who were all discharged at Sydney. I still have my discharge. It is dated Sydney, January 12th, 1864, and is signed by William Smith, master captain. I acted as pantryman in the saloon. On the voyage we had 36 first-class passengers (fare 65 guineas). There was a Captain Speedy and another officer for the Maori war aboard; also second and third-class passengers, about 115 all told. There was only one other passenger for Nelson, Marmonduke Sedgwick, who afterwards had the tannery at Nelson. We made the quickest passage on record at that time, viz. 51 days 6 hours, beating the Great Britain by 2½ days. We steamed all the way out, calling at Cape St. Vincent and Capetown for coal, and experienced the roughest weather between Capetown and Melbourne. The Great Britain was lying in Hobson Bay when we reached Melbourne, and Captain Grey (commander) came aboard. We went from Melbourne to Sydney where all the ship's company were discharged, Sydney being then the headquarters of the Intercolonial and Panama Company. The Otago then went on page 8to Auckland and some other New Zealand ports. The Nelson passengers were told to go ashore until the Prince Alfred returned to Sydney, when she would leave for Nelson. I arrived at Nelson by the Prince Alfred on February 1st, 1864, going next day to Waimea Valley West to Mr. Wm. Evan's farm, where I helped to get the harvest in. Coming back to Nelson about the middle of March, I was about 5 or 6 weeks with Wadman, soda water and ginger ale manufacturer.

The Whakamarina rush took place about the beginning of April. I left Nelson and went to the goldfields. My mates were Frank Day and Martin, both natives of Nelson. We bought tent, cooking utensils and tools, and camped the first night on Franklin's Flat, on the top of the Maungatapu, above where the murders were committeed. The next night we camped between Canvas Town and Deep Creek. The following morning there was a rush for Deep Creek, where we were fortunate in getting a small claim, about two men's ground in the bed of the creek. The sizes of the claims were then 20ft. by 30ft. or the width of the stream. Afterwards we took George Cundy, a Collingwood digger, in with us as he had more experience than us. In about seven weeks we got about £140 per man. We then went down to Nelson. I sent £50 to England and Frank Day and I went back to Whakamarina and took two other mates with us, Robert Newman and George Demson, better known on this coast as "Sydney Bill". He died in Brunner a few years ago. We took up a claim on the left bank of the Whakamarina River and brought water on to it from another creek, about one mile from the township, but it did not turn out very well. We then took up a river claim and put a dam in the whole length of the claim with crates filled with sacks of clay, working in July up to our waists in water, when being ready to work the part we had dried, Denis Quinlan and his three mates jumped it as a beach claim. We went to Havelock and Warden Kinnersley put an injunction on the claim to prevent either party working until he had visited the claim; but Quinlan and party still worked on, taking no notice of the injunction. Now we come to the time when Quinlan and his mates nearly killed the police sergeant at Deep Creek, for which offence there was offered a reward of £50 per head for their arrest. The second night after the offence, as we were lying in the tent, after going to bed, the tent was opened by troopers, and we were covered by their revolvers, the police having come up the wrong side of the river and mistaking our tent for Quinlans, who were camped on the opposite side of the river, but Quinlan was on the alert, as we saw them making over the range with their bottle lanterns, and the first man I saw packing with horses from the beach to the Waimea was Denis Quinlan. None of your readers will remember the end he met, his body being found in the Buller River. But the claim did not turn out as well as we expected, and in January, 1865, we left it.

page 9

Coming to Hokitika in the steamer Nelson from Nelson, with a big number of passengers, I landed at Hokitika on February 9th, 1865. Jumping off the steamer in the bush the only business place I then saw was that of Cassius and Commisky, a small store and post office near the river, where Revell Street is now, and a place partly erected on the opposite side which, I heard, was for a public house. The next day we started for the Waimea Creek, where the principal rush then was. Loaded with heavy swags and tucker the boatman put us across the Arahura. He had a small shanty on the Hokitika side, but on going back to his hut and forgetting to tie the boat up, he ran to the river to save it from going out to sea and was drowned. We stopped that night at Moore Thomas's shanty. There was a man named Burke there drinking, and we followed him to Liverpool Bill Gully, Stafford. He was the only man then working in that gully or creek. We worked there until the end of May, getting our tucker from Waimea. There was no building or tents about Stafford then; only an old fern hut standing below where Stafford is now.

Returning to Hokitika at the end of May we found a street with a great variety of buildings extending from the river to nearly opposite where the present cemetery is now. The Kanieri was just rushed then, and nearly all the ground taken up. We sank several shallow holes at Tucker Flat; we got a dwt. piece in one hole, but nothing to induce us to start there, so we crossed the river and went up above where Gazlor's store is now, and put down four holes about 6ft. x 3ft. with an average of eight feet deep. We could get two gr. to the dish from 2ft. below the surface. We then intended applying for a prospecting claim, as there were six of us in the party, and we could only get a prospecting claim for four men. We pegged off double ground for four men and two men, ground on what we considered the best line below the other.

Our party at this time consisted of the following: Richard Moth, Frank Day, Sam Lloyd, Italian Joe, Antonia (a Spaniard), and a man named Nelson (a Norwegian), and we applied for a prospecting claim in June, 1865. We put down a fifth hole on the two men's ground, about 6ft. x 3ft, 8ft. deep, cradled the dirt from it, and got 9oz. 12dwt. of gold from it. We did not get the prospecting claim, as a new find was supposed to be 3 miles from other workings. We took out several paddocks, which got filled up with water, heavy rain hindering us from working regularly, and having all the water to pump out it was hard at that time to get any men that were willing to put in time cutting drainage tail races, which is the cause of so many of the old Coasters not making more gold than they did. Sooner than do a little dead work they went about to other places and worked worse ground than they had left.

Many of the old miners of those times will remember the fight that took place up near our claim on the island, opposite Sam Mit-page 10chell's store, between Dick Hill and the Auckland soldier. When Inspector Broham came and stopped them fighting at the Kanieri, Harry Duffy asked him if he would follow them if they crossed the river, and the Inspector told them to go anywhere they liked, but they could not fight there. It was not long after this that the police cleared a lot of these men out of Hokitika.

We got news that at the Eight Mile they were getting gold in buckets full at Jones's Creek or Ross, and Frank Day, Italian Joe and I started for Ross, along the beach and up the Totara River. There was one store at that time on the beach side of Jones's Creek. We pegged out a claim on Sailor Gully, and worked into a false bottom for seven or eight weeks. We were the first working in that gully, the late Abel Tucky working in the claim above us. We then went into Hokitika again, and there was a rush to Bruce Bay about the latter part of September, 1865. Hunt, the prospector, was at Bruce Bay, and had come up to get some provisions down in a cutter. The Waipara had just been got off the South Beach and she was laid up at Bruce Bay, although Hunt said they had got only a little gold on the beach, and there was nothing to warrant a rush. There must have been 70 or 80 of us went down at £4 per head, taking tucker with us, and landing at Bruce Bay in a surf boat, jumping out of the boat up to our waist in water, and getting our tucker to dry land as best we could. My mates at this time were Frank Day (who is still living in Nelson), and Jack M'Kenzie (now of Blackball). We prospected about the bay for a little while and reduced our tucker a bit in going back close to the snow line, but got nothing. There were very few at that time who knew how to save the beach gold, so we started to tramp back to Hokitika. It was a rough tramp; in crossing one of the rivers I had hold of a horse's tail well twisted round my hand, with five others, hand in hand, behind me. When we got into the current my head went under and my hat went off, the others singing out: "For God's sake, Dick, hold tight to the tail." In crossing Cook's River, Frank Day lost his boots, having taken them off in case he had to swim; the raft went to sea, also his boots, and about 25lb. flour, all we had. The tea, sugar, and a little bacon M'Kenzie and I had taken across the trip before. Men coming back from Ross and going south took the raft back. The men stood on the raft until they were knee deep in the water, then jumped, and all got ashore safely. So Day walked from Bruce Bay to Hokitika without boots; we picked the flour up on the beach afterwards, also a very large dog belonging to the men from Ross, which was carried out, but he was quite dead. Reaching Okarito we had to pay 15d. per Ib. for flour. We got back to Hokitika in November, 1865. We then went back to Liverpool Bill's Gully, passing the Auckland lead a few days before it was rushed, and took out the first water right that was taken out on the Gully, which, I think, was afterwards known as "Porter's Race." We then worked a claim in Humphrey's Gully, on to Stafford, and from page 11there to Hunter's Creek, between the first and second Scandinavian Terraces.

When Fox's rush at Charleston took place Frank Day and I started for it, and getting no claim there, and hearing there was a rush at Karamea, we started for that, going through Westport and as far as the Waimangaroa, about 25 miles past Westport. We got a little gold here; it was coarse gold, but nothing worth stopping for. We saw plenty of outcrops of coal along the terraces, and met some men coming back from Karamea reporting it as no good. So we made up our minds to return to the Waimea and retraced our steps, arriving early in January, after having tramped the whole of the coast line from Bruce Bay to Waimangaroa. We went to the right-hand branch of the Waimea Creek until we came to the big dam, where Seddon's and Joe Wolff's stores stood—one on each side of the narrow track. It is from this time that I first knew Richard John Seddon. We went over the hill at the back of Seddon's into Red Jack Creek, where I resided, gold mining and contracting until November, 1874. I went through Red Jack's Creek and Fox's Creek at his request, on the polling day, when he contested the seat against Honest John White for the Canterbury Provincial Council, when Seddon got defeated; this was before Mr. Seddon was married, and his sister Polly was keeping house for him. I remember the words she used when we got back to the store. Dick said: "Have you any tea ready, Polly; you should have had some ready, as we have had a long tramp and are hungry." Polly said, "It won't be long before it is ready Dick; but it is no good grumbling at me if you didn't get in; I cannot help it."

About June or July, 1873, I took the contract to drive a 1,000ft. tunnel under the hill from the Creek into Red Jack's Flat for Phil Williams and Bill Henderson. After that I was time keeper and the ganger for Wilkinson and Rutter on their contracts for the Waimea Race, afterwards taking two tunnels and some of the open ditching contracts from them. I also had a contract for two of the tunnels on Tocker's Terrace—one from the Government and one a sub-contract.

Leaving Red Jack's Creek in November, 1874, I went to Nelson for the Christmas. Robert Scott had been to Victoria to buy some draught horses, and they had such a rough passage from Melbourne that he landed them at Nelson instead of Hokitika. Seeing me in Nelson he asked me to go to Hokitika with him. We arrived in Hokitika the night they were christening the new engine when the lightning set the fire brigade tower on fire. This was the time (January, 1875) the first settlers went down to Jackson's Bay. I went down with the first settlers and helped to put the store and cottages up, together with Mr. Duncan Macfarlane (Resident Agent), George Orams (Store Keeper), James Nightingale (Road Inspector). I took up a ten acre block there, cleared about two acres; stopped page 12until June, 1876, came up to the Kumara rush in July, 1876, and have not been back to Jackson Bay since. I was working the next claim to Cooney when he and his mate were killed at the top of Seddon. I lived at Kumara until Christmas, 1881, then went to Melbourne, via Newcastle, in the Alhambra; stayed in Melbourne working at carpentering until November, 1882; returned to Hokitika; worked at Humphrey's Gully race.