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Journal of the Nelson and Marlborough Historical Societies, Volume 2, Issue 3, 1989

"Glittering Prospects" — Toilsome Journey Over the Maungatapu — An Eye Witness Describes the Wakamarina "Rush"

page 25

"Glittering Prospects"
Toilsome Journey Over the Maungatapu

An Eye Witness Describes the Wakamarina "Rush"

The first issue of Lucas's Almanac contains the following intimate description of the gold rush from Nelson to the Wakamarina, over the Maungatapu in April, 1864:

"In the month of April, 1864, Nelson was aroused from the most depressed commercial state, into which for months it had been gradually sinking, to the glittering prospects held out by the discovery of a well-paying goldfield, within 31 miles of its parish church, but situate in the Province of Marlborough. The exciting news speedily flew round our little city, and a "rush" took place, such as had never been seen here before. Mechanics, labourers, clerks, tradesmen and others, all left their usual avocations and joined in the flight; the streets were alive with 'departing pilgrims' and more than one unwilling husband was compelled by his spouse to leave his comfortable home and make a toilsome journey over the Maungatapu. A good account of the 'rush' was thus given at the time, by a special correspondent of the 'Examiner':

"As I returned to Nelson yesterday, the 32 miles of road teemed with parties rushing for gold. Some, who were old hands, were well equipped; others, who were green as the foliage around them, toiled under loads which they would no more have attempted to carry in their ordinary transactions, and along a level road, than they would to become oxen and draw their own carts. I saw farmers and tradesmen, professional men and mere boys. I met a party of men going to the diggings, most slovenly accoutered, to neither of whom would I have given three shillings for a day's work before these diggings started; I met another person walking by himself, whose every appearance, even had I not known him well, would plainly have said, "I am a hard drinker"; two others I saw with neither pick, shovel, blanket, nor any single thing save and except a square bottle of gin tied up in a handkerchief.

They asked how far it was to the diggings; and the person who was then with me, said "Twelve miles". The one with the gin dropped there and then on to a stump, saying "Hang, it Ned, we shall never get there, let us have a drop of comfort"; and at the bottle I left them. Another individual was trudging along, but seemed to think, "He would soon turn back". He offered to return with me but I could not delay. I met another man who, if I mistake not, is a grandfather, his knee was tied up, and he asked me to bring word to a mate who was to follow him from town, to take a little soap liniment with him. I met another old settler, one of the stoutest men Nelson possesses; he was on the other side of the Maungatapu, eating some of the comforts his wife had packed up for him, and sitting beside his cradle – I mean his digging cradle. When he will get to the diggings I should be sorry to say. I saw two young lads, one about twelve years, the other say ten years old; and, at the foot of the hill, I met a man with an umbrella in his hand, and swag at back.

Vessels arrived almost daily with large numbers of passengers, both at Picton and Nelson. The roads leading to the diggings presented one continuous stream of swag-laden gold seekers; and many were the laughable scenes depicted of fat men and lean, old men and young, and mere boys, all in quest of gold, and yet who knew as much about working for it as does – say the Lord Mayor of London. Of course, it soon proved no bed of roses to a very large proportion of the green hands, who were gradually edged out as the bona fide diggers arrived. Havelock, now its principal business town, which had been a township with two houses and a most extensive mud flat, speedily opened into importance, and soon possessed one long canvas street, a bi-weekly newspaper, together with numerous village politicians, Customs officers, etc. Canvas Town, at the mouth of the Wakamarina, which, hitherto, had dilapidated specimen of a Maori pah, soon put forth its streets, its lines of tents, or so-called restaurants, stores, and hotels, and its continually changing population. For a time all page 26glittered. The field was, however, discovered in the fall of the year. The few weeks of fine weather yielded unheard of prizes to a large number; but when the rains came, and horses and pack oxen got bogged on the roads, the diggers were washed out of their claims by severe and continuous floods, and storekeepers to realise had to make sacrifices, the gilt wore off as the Wakamarina settled into a more steady, more sober position, whence, it is to be hoped, it will gradually rise into the importance of being a lasting and well paying member of the now extended community of New Zealand goldfields. This 'rush' caused a great improvement in business matters, and landed property changed hands at considerably enhanced prices".

Nelson Bros sluicing claim, Wakamarina. Akersten Collection NPM

Nelson Bros sluicing claim, Wakamarina. Akersten Collection NPM