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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 70

I.—Gold-Mixing (Plate XLVI.)

I.—Gold-Mixing (Plate XLVI.).

The importance to a newly discovered country of auriferous deposits is not easily overrated, and the sudden accession of population which the thirst for gold occasions can be attained in probably no other manner. The "hardy prospector," in whose race Government coddling and subsidizing have caused serious deterioration, was at one time a veritable hero and explorer. In his wake came tracks, roads, bridges, and subsequently railways, and by the aid of these large tracts of country are opened up; other minerals than that for which he sought are brought to light, and a settled agricultural population frequently takes the place of the wandering attendant on the" new rush."

In the early history of an auriferous country it is naturally from the alluvial deposits that the yield is obtained. When it is possible, as it was page 3 in New Zealand, to pick gold with a knife out of the rocky crevices of a river-bed, and save it in a pannikin, people will not spend time and money on long tunnels and deep shafts through hard ground. Gradually the gold that requires merely picking up becomes exhausted; the days of tin dishes and cradles pass away, and these primitive appliances give way to engineering works of great magnitude and cost, and to the employment of large numbers of day labourers, working for influential companies under competent management.

In many cases, however, parties of working men have combined for the purpose of undertaking works which to the ordinary English mind would appear colossal. Frequently, with the assistance of the local "store-keeper," whose payment has often to come out of the profits of the yet unproved claim, or who is recompensed for his risk by a share, such a party will embark on a speculation—say, the cutting of a water-race or the driving of a tunnel—which may take one or two years to accomplish. Possibly at the termination of this time the ground may prove too poor to work to advantage, when the miners lose their labour, and the storekeeper has another bad debt to add to his list; on the other hand, a rich "patch" may result in returns which amply justify the expenditure and risk. For years even after the surface gravels have ceased to yield their rich harvest, an occasional lucky "fossiker" may light on a noble nugget, or a Chinaman, grubbing on in his quiet persevering way, may find a modest fortune, passed by long ago in the hurried search for riches; but every year brings about conditions under which the individual miner must give way before the organized efforts of capitalists. To the digger of by-gone days this style of mining is anathema: that love of liberty which took him long ago to a new and perhaps uninhabited country, and which has sustained him through all the hardships and perils of a pioneer's life, prevents his sinking to the level of a "wages-man," and he not infrequently wanders off alone into the wilderness, there to work as a "hatter"* on the banks of some creek, where he ends his days free from the galling chains of servitude. There are, however, in New Zealand, still many gold-fields where parties of men can, with only such capital as is contained in indomitable energy and undying perseverance, carry out works of considerable magnitude, and earn a comfortable living. Kind-hearted, frequently well-read, generous beings, they keep alive the traditions of a race which was called into existence by special circumstances, and which is rapidly becoming, in New Zealand at least, as extinct as the moa.

* A "hatter" is a solitary miner; they frequently become very eccentric, or worse. Query: Is this the origin of the phrase, "as mad as a hatter?"