The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 44
Chapter VII. Gold
Chapter VII. Gold.
When the news of the discovery of gold in Gabriel's Gully was made known, it created a great sensation. The previous indications obtained in the Lindis district had not taken possession of the popular mind. It was far away, but here was the precious metal in fabulous quantities within fifty miles of Dunedin. The arrival of the first escort, dashing into the town at a smart trot with drawn sabres, guarding the small iron boxes filled with the treasure, excited the very dullest. It was no dream. These were the proceeds of merely turning over the surface of a quiet valley, shewing how practicable it was for any person to solve most satisfactorily, that vexing problem continually agitating men's minds, How to get rich in a hurry. The town became deserted, and the labourers left their fields. All hastened to El Dorado. Tents were pitched, and the shovel and pick brought into full play. The settlers who possessed a team of bullocks, hastened to participate in the golden harvest, by transporting provisions to the motley multitude at a heavy ransom. Fifty pounds a ton was paid for the carriage of flour. The grassy gully was everywhere riddled with varying success, and its pure stream converted by the washings of the soil into a muddy rivulet.
|Value exported, 1874||£1,505,331|
|Value exported, 1875||1,407,770|
|Value exported, 1876||1,268,596|
|Value exported, 1877||1,476,312|
|Value exported, 1878||1,240,079|
Gold-seeking has been on the whole a very precarious means of gaining a livelihood. The average return obtained by the miners is about £97 per man annually. While some have obtained prizes, numbers have toiled for years and earned a bare subsistence, sometimes not that. The patience and brave spirit displayed in general are very great. The hope of ultimate success has sustained many in expending money and toil for months in arduous works without return. Occasionally a mine apparently barren takes a capricious turn, and becomes what the miners term 'a jeweller's shop.' Labouring men are enriched in a day, but they are very apt, enticed by their success and their sanguine nature, to enter into fresh speculations, and lose all they have made. We met a stone-cutter last year who had been in the earliest rush to the Shotover, a river whose very sands were golden. It flows in a deep rocky gorge, and wherever the miners could get a chance of laying bare a part of the channel, the yield of gold was astonishing. The stone-cutter realised more than £20,000. He then conceived the bold idea of diverting the course of the river, and page 61 gathering the untold wealth in its old bed. He employed a number of men in the work at £5 and £6 a week of wages, spent all his means, and at the moment when he expected to reap the rich reward of his determined perseverance and skill, the turbulent river came down in heavy flood in a night, and swept all his expensive works away. He was completely ruined. He bore his loss like a man, and fell back on his trade, which he had learned in New York. He is now the lessee of a government quarry of freestone, which he hopes to bring into remunerative use, now that railway communication is open with Invercargill and Dunedin.
The great wealth of some of the quartz reefs still entices hundreds in the search for gold, and the occasional find of a vein, highly auriferous, rewards their labour, and leads to the formation of joint-stock companies, by means of which that branch of the mining industry is now chiefly carried on.
Besides the quantity of gold exported, as above specified, there is a considerable amount used up in the colony. In 1877, this was estimated at 18,000 oz. In 1878 it was less. Although 1878 shews a falling off in the yield as compared with the previous year, the secretary for the gold-fields reports (20th August 1879) that 'the history of the gold-fields during the past year reveals encouraging features of progress in several districts.' The falling off has been chiefly in the quartz-mining, arising from the withdrawal of capital in consequence of the restrictive policy of the banks, rendered necessary by the financial crisis in England. The demand for labour on the public works also operated in temporarily withdrawing men from mining. The actual number of miners employed on 31st March 1879, was 14,297. Of these, 3000 are Chinese, of whom about three-fourths are in Otago. They are the gleaners of the field, generally working in associated parties, and almost always on ground which has been abandoned by the European miner. Their patient industry, method, and co-operation enable them to achieve results surprisingly successful. They are brought into the colony by leaders who regulate their location. Several hundred are occasionally landed at once, who string away in Indian file through the streets to their appointed lodging, each in his national dress, carrying his bundle. In a year or two they return to embark for the Flowery Land with a little fortune of £100 or £200 apiece, clad in comfortable woollen garments, instead of the wide cotton nankeens. With their means, on reaching their homes, they pass among their poorer fellow- page 62 townsmen as comparatively rich men. The Chinese population are thus in a constant state of fluctuation.
Machinery now performs an important part in the seeking for gold. There are 66 steam-engines at work in winding, crushing, and other operations, 88 water-wheels, and about 15,000 sluices. The approximate value of the mining plant is £470,220. There are 5350 miles of water-races, some of them being 20 miles in length. The government has assisted several of the more important races by contributions of capital. The Waimea-Kumara race enables 723 men to prosecute an industry yielding about £120 per man. The Nelson Creek race enables 67 men, after paying for water, to make the very high average of £239 per man. The number of mining companies registered is 343, with a paid-up capital of £3,059,758.
In Otago during 1878, a total area of 180,000 acres, in sixteen different localities, has been set apart for settlement. This is nearly all now surveyed, and ready for selection. Fully one-half is arable, and has been surveyed into sections not exceeding 320 acres each; and the remainder, consisting principally of hill-sides and mountain-slopes, into grazing farms of from 1000 to 4000 acres each. Mr M'Kerrow in his report pertinently adds: 'These figures present large possibilities in the way of settlement.' The right to apply is not restricted to miners, but the land is open to all comers, and may be offered on immediate or deferred payments, as well as agricultural lease.