Gold Rush

Witness to a Gold Rush

This is an original receipt from 1886 for one year’s subscription to a weekly newspaper called the Otago Witness.  Twenty-five years earlier this very newspaper printed what is arguably New Zealand’s most influential letter to an editor…

The date was 8th June 1861 and the author of the letter was Gabriel Read.  He was writing to tell the world of a discovery he had made in a Central Otago gully that now bears his name.

You can just imagine what the reaction would have been like in Dunedin when the paper was printed.  People rushing to get a copy, racing off to share the news and make plans.  Some people were concerned about what might happen to their quiet little settlement but most would have been very excited.  The news from Gabriel was that there was gold in the hills.  This was the start of the Otago gold rush.

I mounted my own little prospecting trip to Gabriel’s Gully at the end of Winter 2009.  It was in winter that the original rush started and right from my first step into water I had instant respect for the early miners.

Gold mining is an activity that for the most part is dependent on accessibility to water.  Gold pans need water to lap away at the pay dirt and sluicing operations need water on a greater scale.  In short, if you are looking for gold then you are likely to get wet!  I’ll share more about my gold prospecting adventures another day.

If you are interested in giving it a go yourself, Crown Minerals has set aside a small part of Gabriel’s Gully where modern day prospectors can try their luck using traditional methods.

In 1861, the publisher of the Otago Witness started a second paper.  Perhaps this was in part a result of the population and economic boom that immediately followed Gabriel’s discovery.  The last Otago Witness was printed in 1932 and has since largely faded from the memory of locals, but the second paper is still available today – the Otago Daily Times.

© Lemuel Lyes

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