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Journal of the Nelson and Marlborough Historical Societies, Volume 2, Issue 4, 1990

Gold Rush in Waiwhero

Gold Rush in Waiwhero

page 39

The Waiwhero was the site of the first Nelson gold rush in about 1854–55. In the early part of this century, the residents of the area had memories relating to the gold rush, and today there are still a few people who remember hearing about the event.

The site is more correctly described as Pangatotara, but the diggers had to approach by the Waiwhero Road, there being no road along the Motueka River, and they had some accommodation near the Waiwhero road. A short walk through bush and scrub took them to the little streams which drained into the Motueka River. The bigger Waiwhero Stream does not have gold in it but, just upstream, are the two little streams which do have gold. They cross the road by Durrant's farm, and are named Tin Pot Gully and Golden Gully or Durrant's Gully. I wonder how many Golden Gullies there are in New Zealand? Between these two streams is a ridge, which is the site of two shafts about one hundred feet deep and six by eight feet at the mouth. They are open now, but about 1910 a little boy nearly went down the shaft and at that time they were covered by rotting boards. There are other smaller excavations near the stream. The whole area is now part of Baigent's forest, with pines, manuka and scrub growing over it.

Few people recorded this particular gold rush. Judge Broad mentions the discovery of gold in the Motueka district in 1856, Nolan says gold was discovered in 1856 within seven miles of Motueka and towards the Batten (Baton). H.P. Washbourn says "about the year 1855 people were very much excited about gold digging, as the report of the richness of California followed by that to Australia made people very keen on the idea of finding gold… In that year there was a small rush to Motueka, gold having been found at Waiwhero, Ngatimoti way, but it was not in payable quantity, and they soon returned". Washbourn, who went gold digging in the Collingwood area at that same time, describes a gold rush as like a "large camping picnic with everyone in the highest spirits as if they had just come into a fortune or were just about to do so". The numbers who arrived at Tin Pot Gully are variously said to have been 150,300 or 500. As it is a very small area, it must
Waiwhero, Motueka Valley.

Waiwhero, Motueka Valley.

page 40have been a very gay scene, with 500 men there in picnic mood. They soon moved on to better prospects in Collingwood and, later, the West Coast. Gold obtained in Tin Pot was fine gold. One who obtained gold here much later was Mr Adam Knowles, who lived on the edge of Tin Pot Gully on the family farm. His father, Joseph Dale Knowles, had bought the property about 1855/6 and, as he did not speak of any involvement in the gold rush, his family assume that it was over by the time of the purchase.

Raspberries were grown on the Knowles' properly and, in 1911, the pickers camped on the banks of the Tin Pot where, they noted, "gold was first found in Nelson province".

Washbourne describes diggers in the 1850's as wearing moleskin trousers, blue or red shirts worn outside the trousers, knotted capes with a peak hanging down the back, and finished off with sheath or bowie knives. The hair and beard were generally long and untrimmed.

Another local digger was a Mr Parsons, who lived in the remains of a gold digger's hut on what may have been the site of the original diggers' settlement, opposite the Waiwhero Cemetery. It was on a small flat, about a quarter of a mile from the Waiwhero Road, where there was a spring and some old walnut trees. About 1910, elderly Mr Parsons lived there, with his eight dogs. As the hut was not weatherproof, he actually lived in a tent inside the hut. His cooking was done in the remains of the corrugated iron fireplace, which was outside the tent, but under the remains of the hut. One day, as he was cooking his food in a frying pan, a visitor came by on horse-back. Grass sometimes grew inside the hut and the horse put its head in, looking for a mouthful.

A gust of wind blew the little half door, which caught the horse's neck. Thence started a tug of war between the horse and the hut, with Mr Parsons and his frying pan in a situation of some danger. Every time the hut rocked, Mr Parsons and his frying pan could be seen for a brief period, until the horse eventually freed itself and the hut stopped rocking. Mr Parsons did a little farming and grew raspberries, Victoria plums and a few old fashioned gooseberries, red and yellow and very sweet. This was not his main income, however. He had his gold ripple in Tin Pot Stream, to keep him in stores. Nobody was allowed to know the whereabouts of this gold. The eight dogs kept Mr Parsons company, and it appears that he was not a good housekeeper. Once a year, his niece from Motueka descended on the hut for spring cleaning. It took six months before poor Mr Parsons could find everything again. Two who farmed the area later, and maybe owned Mr Parsons' property, were Mr Jim Rankin and Mr Richards. A Mr Bannister owned the accommodation house for a time about 1910.

One further relic of the gold diggers was an old accommodation house, built of 12 inch wide pit sawn timber. It was sited by the Waiwhero Road, above and north of the stream, overlooking the cemetery. Apparently Mr Parsons and his father ran it, and it was still there about 1910. Rats had taken matches into its nooks and crannies and, because they were not safety matches, fires broke out. So many fires that the house was unsafe and had to be demolished. Since then, another house or houses have been built in front of the original one. Big oak trees mark the position of the accommodation house.

Today, the open shafts and a little gold in the streams are the remnants of a short and exciting period in the life of Motueka Valley.


Broad, L. The Jubilee History of Nelson. Nelson, 1982

Greenwood, Miss Eleanor. Oral information

Heath, E. E. H. Memoirs of F. H. Knowles

Knowles, E. Oral information

Nolan, Tony. Historic gold trails of Nelson and Marlborough. Reed, 1976

Salisbury, J. P. After many days. London, 1895

Vickerman, Trix. Dairy 1910/11

Washbourn H. P. Reminiscences of early days. Nelson, 1933