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Journal of the Nelson and Marlborough Historical Societies, Volume 2, Issue 5, 1993

Book Review: Gold in a Tin Dish

page 47

Book Review: Gold in a Tin Dish

Volume 1: The History of the Wakamarina Goldfields

Published by Nikau Press, P O Box 602, Nelson

Printed by Stiles Printing Ltd

600 pages, illustrated. $90

Mike Johnston's deep interest in history has been revealed to members by the amount of time he has put into Nelson Historical Society affairs over the last 20 years, including 6 years as president. His book 'High Hopes', published in 1987, gave an interesting insight into the geology and mining history of the Nelson mineral belt. Over the last 5 years his research work has continued, documenting the search for gold in Marlborough and East Nelson through geological and mining reports and many decades of newspapers.

It is being published in two parts. This first volume gives a very detailed history of the Wakamarina goldfield, but it is not just a collection of facts. The author has developed it into a particularly readable account of life and endeavours in those days. He gives an extremely detailed account of the events leading up to the infamous Maungatapu murders and the aftermath, as the crime was committed to capture gold
Mining the Wakamarina Gorge, about 1890. Tyree Studio Collection, Nelson Provincial Museum.

Mining the Wakamarina Gorge, about 1890. Tyree Studio Collection, Nelson Provincial Museum.

page 48from the Wakamarina River which the victims were carrying.

While the initial finds in the Wakamarina River gravels were quite rich, one small river could not support the thousands of gold miners who flocked there from all over New Zealand and Australia in 1864, and the rush fell away almost as quickly as it started. The remaining miners toiled on, and a succession of ambitious schemes were developed to try and extract the rumoured rich gold from the depths of the Wakamarina gorges. All of these were unsuccessful and, as the author points out, high grades of gold are seldom encountered in gorges because the turbulent waters carry the gold further downstream. This was also the case in the Shotover River in Otago.

During the 1870s, attention turned towards the quartz reefs in the area. The Golden Bar proved to be the major one, but efforts to recover the gold and then the scheelite all failed, due to the low grades of both. The mine struggled on into the Depression and was revived briefly during the 1940s, to finally check the scheelite potential.

The large hard-bound book is very well presented and has a simple layout. It is well illustrated, having many particularly good photographs – both archival and modern, excellent maps and several good explanatory sketches of equipment. The volume is completed with a very useful glossary, particularly full references and index.

The present is always more interesting if the past has been properly recorded. We are all fortunate that such a good geologist and historian is prepared to put in the tremendous amount of time and work necessary to produce work of this quality. It is to be hoped that sales of this fine book are not retarded by the high price necessitated by the size of the volume.

Jock Braithwaite