The New Zealand Goldrush Journal

Volume 4 (2020)


Life on the Thames Goldfields through the eyes of
Joseph Cochrane, 1823 - 1875

by Wanda Hopkins

Shortland, The Thames, 30 December 1867:
'If swarms of mosquitos and legions of blowflies could add to the comforts of life, we should have a great deal of comfort here, at the close of the year of grace 1867. As many flies I have often seen in the bush before; but the mosquitos here beat anything of my previous acquaintance. They murder sleep up in the ranges and gullies, and many are obliged to abandon their claims during the night so as to try to get a little rest.'
(New Zealand Herald, 31/12/1867)

Joseph Cochrane 1823-1875

Joseph Cochrane Jnr (known as Joe) was born into a family of merchants in Londonderry, Ireland in 1823. His father, Joseph Cochrane Snr had declared himself bankrupt in the late 1830s on the verge of inheriting a rural property from his late father at Chrislaghmore; land that had been in the family for at least three generations previously.

The Irish linen industry, in which the family was also involved, was experiencing difficulty adapting to mechanisation and competition from cotton. New business management structures were also evolving largely to the exclusion of the traditional merchants.

As a consequence of this downturn in their fortunes, Joe's father sold his property in nearby Buncrana in an attempt to settle his debts but subsequently lost the battle to retain his right to the property. Presumably this property would have eventually been left to Joe Jnr and his brothers, Samuel and James, had times been better.

A devout Protestant family, they had close ties with the Presbyterian Church in the Parish of Upper Fahan, Co. Donegal. One of their forebears, a man named Ninian Cochran was the first parish minister between 1719 and 1748. The Rev. John Macky, husband of Joe’s older sister, Rebecca, was ordained at Fahan in 1842. The family as a whole were regarded as 'well off' with some members of the extended family making significant financial contributions to their local Parish.

Young Joe was a loyal and dedicated man whose family in turn was highly dependent on him. In times when his brothers had settled in Canada, it fell on Joseph to shore up what remained of the family business interests and foster good will. Family letters from this period document that he not only accompanied his aunt to Scotland to seek medical assistance, but his sister Kitty to London prior to her departure for New Zealand in 1852.

Prior to emigrating, Joseph Jnr had also assisted in the management of the Flax and Tow Spinning Mill in Buncrana, at that time owned by his brother-in-law's family, the Alexanders, when the business experienced financial difficulties. Likewise, he removed to Londonderry in an attempt to revive a warehouse business known as the 'City House' with his Aunt Orr. Thus when Joseph Cochrane Jnr left his native-born Londonderry for Auckland in April 1854, he was unmarried but already had a lifetime of business experiences to draw upon. There was the promise of work in Auckland.

His travelling companions included the Macky elders, John and Eliza; their son the Rev. John Macky with his wife Rebecca who was Joe's sister, and their five children; his elder sister, Ann Alexander who was widowed, together with the youngest Macky sibling, Dorcas. Another sister, Catherine (Kitty) emigrated to New Zealand in 1852 and married Rev. John's brother, Thomas, to whom the letter is written. The Macky elders also emigrated in 1854, together with their daughter, Dorcas.

Joseph’s first verifiable destination was Tauranga where he set up a trading post in 1855 on land belonging to Hori Ngatai. By 1857 he had returned to Auckland, working for a time for his brother-in-law, Thomas Macky, and later setting up business as an auctioneer with his brother, Samuel, in the firm known as Samuel Cochrane, Brother & Co.

However, it is with the rush of gold on the nearby Coromandel and the Thames where we pick up the narrative.


The downturn of the Auckland economy had seen the commercial ambitions of many come to a grinding halt, and Joseph Cochrane had fared no better. He filed for bankruptcy in December 1867, his assets being sold the following year to settle his estate. (ref. Daily Southern Cross (DSC) 6 December 1867, NZ Herald 9 January 1868)

During these difficult times, the Thames goldfields became a source of hope for many, and with his forced retirement from Auckland business circles, Joseph found his way to Mata Creek and Hastings.

Joseph’s first confirmed link with the goldfields appeared in a brief newspaper report in May 1868 (ref. NZ Herald 30 May 1868). By the end of the year he had already involved himself in the local affairs of the district and was busying himself with improvements to the Hastings goldfield. His appointment to the Tapu Creek Progress committee followed, and in November 1868, he accepted his first official goldfields appointment (ref. DSC 12 November 1868).

In a letter to his brother-in-law, Thomas Macky, written in December 1868, Joseph invited members of his extended family to visit him at the Hastings (Tapu Creek) goldfields.

Over the next few years, Joseph’s life would become even more rooted in the goldfields life including several more official appointments. While it is unlikely that he made any sort of fortune from his years on the goldfields, he at least afforded himself the opportunity to re-establish himself and his reputation as a reliable and honourable citizen.


With the rush for gold came a corresponding urgency for the means of extracting the gold from the ore-bearing rock and shipping it from the goldfields.

The recently launched Bay of Plenty Steam Navigation Company’s SS Tauranga was among the many coastal vessels seconded to the Tapu Creek run because of its ability to safely navigate the lower reaches of the creek. Thomas Macky and other shipping agents did well from this trade.

During the 1860s, steam-driven stamper batteries were commonly used to crush the quartz, with mercury being introduced as an agent in the final extraction process. Always willing to flex his entrepreneurial muscle, Joseph’s brother, Samuel Cochrane funded the removal of two stamper batteries from the Coromandel in 1867 to the Thames Goldfield. (ref. NZ Herald 8 October 1867).

As an alternative to the steam-driven batteries however, the Tapu Quartz - Crushing Company installed a Schiele’s turbine water wheel to power the stamping machinery (ref. DSC 29 June 1869). In a ceremony attended by number of people from the Auckland and Shortland business-world, Joseph Cochrane christened the newly instated turbine, 'The Nautilus'.

Schiele's Turbine Water Wheel
Click to enlarge the photo.

With the water wheel promoted as being 'most important invention introduced on the goldfield', the Tapu Quartz-Crushing Company had inaugurated a new era in motive power. In a speech (ref. NZ Herald 29 June 1869) at the Edinburgh Hotel, Tapu, Joseph Cochrane also claimed that twelve months earlier, the company had begun developing the resources of the goldfield at a considerable amount of time and expense. By introducing machinery to crush quartz at a low rate, there were many benefits to be had. The new turbine, which was currently working 15 head of stampers, was capable of working double that number. In his opinion the Tapu district 'was not to be surpassed on the Thames.'

The Tapu Quartz Crushing Mill at Tapu Creek, situated about a quarter mile up the Tapu Creek from the Hastings Landing. The leases of the Tapu Gold Mining Company is a further quarter a mile west from the Tapu creek, at the top of No 3 Creek.
Source: NZ Map 69, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Library. Redrawn by Evan Lewis in Goldrush To The Thames, New Zealand 1867 - 69, by Kae Lewis. Parawai Press 2017.
'For the benefit of those of your readers who may not happen to know where the Tapu Creek is, or why it is called Tapu or sacred creek, I may tell you all I know myself of the matter. The embouchure or sea mouth of the Tapu Creek is a fine reach of water. But it cannot be used, as it is tapu. Now the reason it is tapu is, I am told, that some five hundred chiefs - not your common people - are buried here; and though some of their mortal remains may have afforded a large number of free quarters to their enemies, as they were Bay of Islands’ natives who had come down to this part of the world to have a 'great fight', yet their enemies have still held that their bones must be taken care of, so the place remains sacred.' Excerpt: New Zealand Herald, 15 January 1868

Tapu Creek
Photograhed by Rev John Kinder, 1868
Click to enlarge the photo.


The public of Shortland were indulged in what proved an agreeable change from the monotony of everyday life by an excursion to the new town of Hastings, Tapu Creek, on Sunday.

Two hours’ easy steam, brought the passengers in view of their destination, and gave them an opportunity of renewing their acquaintance with the hills which had been the object of interest and subject of conversation during the passage. On the beach there were indications of a rising township, whist the water frontage afforded proof enough that good landing accommodation was at hand.

Vessels are enabled to go in with the tide. There are a number of new buildings going up, comprising hotels, stores and private houses. The allotments, we heard, were being rapidly taken up, but this is perhaps owing to the fact of the high ranges which enclose the township render its enlargement at any distant period out of the question, coupled with the constantly improving prospects of the claim holders, and the discoveries of fresh claims, which are now almost a daily occurrence.

A site for the quartz crushing mill has been obtained higher up the creek, in a more central position, where it is contemplation to erect a larger battery of stampers that the one now about to be put up. For the convenience of a water-race, and a considerable power of water is very great and will be daily appreciated by the company. We believe they purpose erecting one of Schiele’s turbine water wheels, a principle which has been found far superior to any yet tried.

If a digger shows any reasonable claim for assistance in following up a quartz prospect, it appears to us that he finds no difficulty in obtaining it there, and a considerable sum is thus spent in assisting prospectors by some. The result of this mutual confidence and faith in the resources of the locality will, in our opinion, tend to the discovery of reefs in this place as golden as any that have previously been found in the country, and as promising in abundance of stone.

Time did not admit our visiting more than a tithe of all the reefs that have been discovered; nor was it necessary for our purpose that we should make the pilgrimage of every hill at one visit; but we saw enough in a few hours to assure us that it would be difficult to over-rate the resources of the district, or to place a limit to the reasonable expectations that may be entertained for the future.

Excerpt: Hawkes Bay Times, 28 May 1868

The Mining Records for Joseph Cochrane

From Goldrush Online: The Goldminer's Database.
Click to enlarge the photo.

Source: The Daily Southern Cross: 2 June 1868.


Joseph Cochrane would see out his days on the Thames goldfields only returning to Auckland to seek medical intervention. During his final years he served in various government appointments including Receiver of Gold Revenue, Clerk of the local Magistrates Court and Deputy Returning Officer in the Thames/ Coromandel areas. In October 1875, Joe died in the Ponsonby home of his brother-in-law and life-long friend, Thomas Macky. Auckland Library records revealed that he was laid to rest in the Macky family plot at the Symonds Street Cemetery.

Although there is no memorial to him, many tributes their way into newspapers, in Auckland, Thames and Tauranga, and even into the Londonderry Press.

'Mr. Cochrane has been cherished for his frank and genial qualities and so his unostentatious acts of kindness; and many a one this day will mourn for him as for the loss of one of their nearest and dearest personal friends.'
Auckland Star 18 October 1875
'He is one of the right sort.'
Thames Star 16 October 1875.
'Joseph Cochrane was buried to-day. There was a large attendance, and the shops were partially closed, and flags in the harbour half-mast high for his and Clark’s* death.'
Thames Advertiser 19 October 1875.
*refers to Archibald Clark, former Mayor of Auckland.


Hastings 22 Dec 1868
Dear Thomas

What do you think of you and Jno (Rev. John Macky) coming down at the New Year bringing the boys for a practical lesson on Geology. I think he (?) will be well: I cannot get any place at the mouth of the river but I am sole owner occupant of two whares a little bit up of which John can speak and so far (?) that they are better than a tent for sleeping in – if you come, we (?) have a trip to Crown mountain and (wander?) seeing all the Hastings diggings could have a few cruises through the mountains.

John Anderson has left for Ohinemuri which is so far good. I am in a state of official idleness altho not altogether idle – I was out yesterday and today with Old McIsaacs and we had a good sound turn - so much so that neither of us could settle to sleep last night between mosquitos and reefs and (?) &c. He is to go up to my place tomorrow with me for a continuation of our labours which had a pleasing result yesterday and may perhaps prove more markedly so tomorrow.

He McIsaac says he had not seen any place in all his experience so attractive as the ground we were working and he set to and picked out some stones and sure enough got a (good?) show of gold in the dish – the beginnings he will follow up.

Tell John I have upon hit another reef beyond but close to Heaphy’s drives and I have little doubt that it will prove the standard of reef which on top of McIsaacs hill yields (?).

Give my heartiest regards and real Christmas good wishes (corner torn from letter) mother (Elizabeth Macky born Lindsay) when you see her also the old man (John Macky Snr). I wish I was giving them myself. However (letter torn) sufficiently well having plenty of stones to (letter torn).

Yours Dear Thos

Love (Jos.) Coch (presumably Cochrane - corner torn from letter)

Letter attributed to Joseph Cochrane from Hastings, dated 22 December 1868, Source: Sir George Grey Special Collections - NZMS 935

So given this information, I now have the confidence to bestow this dusty doc its rightful place in the Cochrane family record, and the history of the Thames Goldfields.

A letter dated 22 December 1868, at Hastings, attributed to Joseph Cochrane (Jnr)
Source: Sir George Grey Special Collections - NZMS 935
Click to enlarge the photo.


  1. Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries.
  2. The Elms collection, Tauranga, NZ.
  3. PapersPast. Daily Southern Cross, New Zealander, New Zealand Herald.
  4. The Treasury, Thames. NZ.
  5. Goldrush Online: The Goldminer's Database. by Kae Lewis.
  6. First year on the Thames Goldfield, 1867 - 1868, Meghan Hawkes
  7. The photography of the Rev. John Kinder.
  8. Joseph Cochrane (1823-1875) The Irish Genealogical Research Society.
  9. Joseph Cochrane (1789 - 1865), father of Joseph Cochrane of Hastings.
Home Journal