Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Thoughts on gold digging

In November 2009, just before I had problems with my prostate (though you didn't need to know that) I was staying for a few days at the former Waipiata sanatorium (now called En Hakkore) near Ranfurly in the Maniototo. One afternoon we walked up the hill to a cemetery that was situated on a slight slope overlooking the plains. The gravestones were scattered around the not-very-large walled-in area, and everyone of them spoke of people who'd been buried there around a hundred years before. There were no recent ones.

The reason for this was that the cemetery is all that's left of a small town that once stood up on this hill. Though the view is magnificent the inhabitants must have found it a rather windy spot. The town, called Hamiltons, came into existence because of gold, and died not long after the gold ceased to be found.

I found some information about Hamiltons on a Central Otago tourism site

The area is named after Captain Hamilton, who along with two others drew up and took up Run 204, know as Hamiltons Station. In late 1863, gold was reported and the field initially proved very rich, yielding thousands of ounces of gold. [I wonder how many gold bars that amounts to?] Some 2000 miners first worked the area, peaking at 4000 in 1864. Ironically, the surviving township of Patearoa once relied heavily on Hamiltons for shops and services. The town of Hamiltons, which included 25 liquor outlets and 40 stores, did not last long, although a few miners did stay and continue hydraulic sluicing.

Patearoa, as the extract notes, survived, even though its gold rush was comparatively short-lived. Perhaps its situation, down on the plain, is more sheltered and less exposed than Hamiltons.

This last week there's been a lot of celebrating going on in Lawrence, where gold was first discovered 150 years ago by Gabriel Reed. Lawrence's population was at one time 11,500 - it's now around 550. Gold digging must be one of the most unpleasant occupations a person can choose, even given the end results. Out in a lonely place, living in a tent or a shack of some sort (if you're lucky), often without friends, definitely without wives and children, and continually afraid that someone's going to steal what you've gained. And for the Chinese people who came here to search for it, it was an exceptionally difficult lifestyle, as they were despised and hated by the Europeans. You can still see some of their old shelters near Cromwell. The landscape around is pitiless, barren and rocky.
Post a Comment