The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 62
Then I must not omit to say something on the all-important question of gold. Some of you have, doubtless, itching ears to hear about the finding of the precious page 32 metal, which has proved such an important factor in the progress of the world, and the love of which is the root of all evil. I have often thought what a wonderful provision the Almighty has made to provide this incentive to the occupation of new lands. And how very singularly it seems to happen that some series of thrilling finds occur in the early days of a goldfield which are never again realised, but which serve the purpose of a strong inducement to our race to flock to the El Dorado. Scenes of the most intense excitement have occurred once, at least, in the case of each of our various goldfields; wondrous finds have been made, and in some instances large fortunes realised in an incredibly short space of time. New Zealand is a country rich in minerals, not only gold, but silver, copper, iron, manganese, antimony, coal, and most other minerals. The industry of gold-mining has been established since 1857. Gold was first found in Coromandel in 1852, but not until five years later was it discovered that the whole Peninsula of Cape Colville was rich in the precious metal. Ten years later than this the Thames Goldfield was proclaimed, and what is justly termed a "rush," took place from all parts of the colony, as well as the adjacent colonies. A miner, named Hunt, with his mates, discovered the Shotover Reef at the Thames, which proved enormously rich, and he and his partners are said to have made each £40,000 out of it.
Other marvellous finds soon followed, till the most wondrous was discovered in the celebrated Caledonian, said to be the richest quartz mine in the world, and which paid £570,000 in one year, and altogether produced about £1,500,000 value of gold. A few years after the discovery of gold in the north, rich alluvial gold was found on the west coast of the South Island and in Otago. The usual rush of miners was again and again repeated, and vast quantities of the precious metal were obtained by sluicing and washing the surface, and later by quartz-reefing. From the year 1857 to 1866 the quantity of gold produced steadily increased, until in the latter year the value was over £2,844,000. Since this time, however, there has been a gradual falling off in the results, notwithstanding the fact that more work has been done, and a larger quantity of wash-dirt and quartz treated. The gross result, however, of the entire period shows nearly 12,000,000 ounces, value nearly £46,500,000 sterling. page 33 Perhaps one of the most singular features has been that in very many instances the gold has been found on the surface. Perhaps a road or a track was being formed when a lead would be discovered with rich gold plainly visible. One instance is within my own personal knowledge, when stone containing gold at the rate of two ounces to each pound weight of stone, and of the value of upwards of £3 per ounce was discovered. Such discoveries had the effect of creating great excitement, particularly among the gold-seeking community, of which the population was largely composed. Sometimes a cottager would be cultivating his garden, and would find grains of glittering gold peppered through the clods of earth he was turning over. Only the other day, in digging potatoes, gold was found clinging to the tubers.
The creeks often revealed to the passer-by some of the wonders that were and still are in store for the gold-seeker. I have seen many times the most delightful water-worn pebbles literally smothered in the precious metal. Many men have worked away in the beds of these creeks and gained large quantities of golden stone. Doubtless there is great fascination about the life of the gold miner, but the experience of too many is, and has been, "Where it is, there it is; but where it isn't, there am I." Hence, in the majority of cases, the man who turns his attention to something that steadily produces him sufficient for his livelihood is a long way the better off. The real miner, however, prefers the free, independent life of his choice, living in the wild hilly regions, often in solitude, prospecting, turning up the surface, washing samples in the creeks, tracing outcrops, and generally seeking with wonderful patience, perhaps with insufficient food and clothing, for the indications of gold. I have known many instances where this persistence has been wonderfully rewarded; but in how few cases has the gold, when won, been rightly used! Too often has it been the inducing cause of drunken wastefulness and careless improvidence, which in a few months have left the victim to repeat his former experiences, perhaps never again to have the like good fortune. The general tendency of such experiences as I have described is to induce bonâ fide settlement of the land, and large numbers, finding the fickleness of Dame Fortune, have made themselves comfortable homes, and gradually assumed the position of settlers, thus forming part of a settled population in the page 34 districts that, but for the "gold fever," would not have to this present time been occupied. To me this appears part of the Providential plan of the Almighty to provide for the peopling of the earth. Gold mining will doubtless continue to be one of the steady industries of the colony, and as science develops the best methods of treating the auriferous deposits and the inventive genius of the present day produces the best machinery for extracting the gold and separating it from the baser metals, which form such an obstacle to the success of the miner, it will be found that deposits that have been worked will be re-worked, and, as well as others that have been left as non-payable, will produce satisfactory returns for labour expended.