Gold Miner The New Zealand Goldrush Journal

Volume 2 (2018)


1862 - 1866

By Kae Lewis

Major John Richardson was appointed Superintendent of Otago in 1862. Once gold was proclaimed in September of that year, he had two things on his mind: the preservation of law and order amongst the miners and the safe conveyance of gold to Dunedin. He sent for experienced Police Constables from the Victoria Goldfields and organized roads, ferries and communications to Gabrielís Gully and beyond.

Vincent Pyke was appointed the Chief Commissioner and Secretary of the Goldfields. He appointed the Gold Wardens and defined their role in keeping the peace amongst the miners. Over the next year, he amended and adapted The Goldfields Act of 1858 to update it and address the local needs of the miners. He extended the claims in the Otago goldfield to 30 square feet per man, a popular move with the miners. During this time, he travelled extensively on the goldfield and wrote several books and articles.

'It is important that Wardens are appointed or we may hear of Lynch Law being practiced.'

Major John Richardson

Superintendent of Otago 1862
Click to enlarge the photo.

Vincent Pyke

Vincent Pyke
Chief Commissioner and Secretary
of the Otago Goldfields.
Click to enlarge the photo.

When goldfield at Dunstan was opened on 23rd September 1862, 150 years ago, Major Jackson Keddell was appointed as the first Commissioner (Gold Warden). He was one of the Police Officers who had arrived from Victoria. A year later in October 1863, Major Keddell resigned to join the Auckland militia, although later he was appointed as the Gold Warden on the West Coast and at Coromandel.

Major Jackson Keddell



Resident Magistrate and Gold Warden, Dunstan Goldfields, Clyde, Central Otago, 1863 - 1868.

Keddlell was replaced by Mr. Henry Wirgman (Harry) Robinson who was the Warden from the Mt Benger Goldfield, Warden Robinson had previous experience as a miner on the Victoria Goldfields and had then moved to Dunedin to become an editor at the Otago Witness. He was Wardenís Camp at Dunstan (later called Clyde) where he lived with his wife Charlotte from October 1863. Their daughter was born at the Dunstan camp in 1868.

Harry Robinson
Click to enlarge the photo.
Harry Robinson
Click to enlarge the photo.


The considerable staff of the Wardenís Court at Dunstan in 1863-4 consisted of:

  • At least two Wardens: Harry Robinson (Magistrate of the Warden's Court and Justice of the Peace) and Harry Stratford who as Clerk at the Wardenís Office issued the Miner's Rights and Licenses).
  • The Bailiffs, Philip Connelly and T. Harvey, who issued the Warden's Court summonses to the miners.
  • A Gold Receiver, Benjamin Fox Duncan, bought the gold from the miners, and collected the duty due on it. He then arranged the transport of the gold to Dunedin under an armed escort.
  • Police Constables, including Edward Field.
  • A Mining Surveyor who was responsible for mine safety and accident inspection, as well as assisting the Wardens with the production of maps to illustrate boundary disputes. These included Henry Clifford Bate and James Coates.

The Wardens issued Minerís Rights, Mining Licenses and Water Rights, and collected the fees. The Gold Wardenís primary function was to resolve disputes and prevent the miners resorting to violence. He helped resolve mining disputes either by on-site negotiations or a court-case with compulsory summonses to all parties. They also allocated residence and business sites, administered agricultural leases to prevent clashes between miners and pastoralists, heard other civil and criminal cases in court, and prepared coronerís reports in the case of deaths.

The Clyde Warden's Court Jurisdiction in 1864.

Map of Clyde Warden's Court
A map showing roughly the area being administered by the Clyde Warden's Court in 1864. When miners rushed to other outlying areas, these districts were split off, and another Warden appointed to open a new Warden's Court, for example, at Arrowtown, Alexandra, Cromwell and Roxburgh.
Source of Map: NZ Topo Map of Cromwell.
Click to enlarge the photo.

The Township of Clyde at Dunstan.

The Township of Clyde
There are miners' huts on their beach claims on the riverbank, with the township of Clyde on the rise behind them, safely away from the frequent floods. The entrance to Dunstan Gorge where the majority of the first miners trekked looking for claims is on the left.
The photograph was taken in about 1870.

From the collections of Central Stories Museum, Alexandra, Central Otago.
Click to enlarge the photo.


From 1863 onwards, there was a constant flow of miners arriving at the Dunstan, until they numbered in the thousands. They were subjected to great hardships due to the rugged terrain, the almost complete lack of trees for firewood and the severe weather conditions. The rivers immediately flooded with the melting of the snows, and the miners were forced to go prospecting in the high country until they could get back to their beach claims. Initially there was a great shortage of food at the Dunstan, with the remote sheep stations the only hope for the starving miners to obtain food supplies.

They could freely prospect initially but, before they could begin any actual mining activities, the miners had to visit the Gold Warden and obtain a Minerís Right. These cost £1 and had to be produced on demand or the miner could face a court summons, fine or gaol. They then staked a claim, initially 24 feet square, later 30 feet square for each man in the party. They then had to occupy their claim continuously or risk another miner legally jumping the claim. The Gold Warden would help protect the rights of any miner who had a valid claim and Minerís Right.

Two Miners
The early miners were not always equipped for a Central Otago winter far from civilization.
Click to enlarge the photo.

Miner's shelters

Early gold miner's shelters were dug in all along the Molyneau River.
Source: Photograph by Evan Lewis ©
Click to enlarge the photo.


The Clutha-Molyneux River was the initial focus of the mining activities. Much of the river had steep rocky sides and fast flowing, dangerous currents. With no wood to build huts, the miners often dug in on the terraces above the river for shelter from the bitter mountain winds in the winter.

Mining techniques, apart from simple gold panning during prospecting, included the use of the cradle, sluice box or sluice gun, all of which are illustrated on the home page of GOLDRUSH ONLINE. These methods all required a continuous flow of water coming from above the claim. Since they had no pumps, the water in the river below was of no use to them. They used stone to construct water-races, with dams and zig-zags to control the flow down the often steep river banks. It took four men a full month to cut a race 40 feet long.

Lake Dunstan 2011

Lake Dunstan
Lake Dunstan, as seen today above the dam at Clyde at the site of the original Hartley & Riley's diggings. The water level is now considerably above the original level of the old Molyneux River. The river was named the Molyneau below the town of Cromwell, and the Clutha above.
Click to enlarge the photo.
Source: Photograph by Evan Lewis ©

The old Molyneau River bed, now flooded by Lake Dunstan.


This contemporary water-colour is thought to be Hartley & Riley's Dunstan diggings on the Molyneau River 1862-63.
Source: Alexander Turnball Library Collection A-235-035.
Click to enlarge the photo.


Few Miner's Right certificates like this one illustrated below have survived. The Gold Warden filled it in, tore it from a book of certificates and issued it to the miner. The miner then had to keep it safe, producing it on demand to prove he had a valid claim. The only Miner's Right certificates to survive would be those still amongst personal family papers. The Gold Warden also filled in and retained a butt book, some of which are still in the collections at Archives NZ.

An Otago Miner's Right 1862

Miner's Right

The Remains of an Old Water-Race on The Banks of the Molyneux River

There is evidence of a zig-zag water-race (designed to reduce the flow rate of the water as it comes down the steep hill) half way up this hill on the banks of the Molyneux River (now Lake Dunstan, above the Clyde Dam.) In the foreground of this photograph is the evidence of extensive sluicing activities have been carried out in the foreground of this photograph, using the water from the race above.

Source: Photograph by Evan Lewis ©
Click to enlarge the photo.


The miners also had to apply to the Warden for a license before they could build a water-race or dam. The Warden filled in his preprinted forms to define the location, length as well as the course of the race.

District of Clyde
February 29th 1864.
hereby give notice that we intend to contruct a water-race for Mining purposes, commencing at a point about half a mile above Hunter's store, Smith Gully and terminating about 500 yards below Hunter's Store, Smith's Gully.
The length of such Race is one mile or thereabouts, and its intended course is North East.

| NAME (IN FULL) | Number of Miner's Right | Date of Miner's Right | RESIDENCE |
| Walter H. MOORE | 5163 | 29/2/64 | Smith's Gully |
| Joseph L. MOORE | 5164 | 29/2/64 | Smith's Gully |

Since the date of the application for the water-race is the same as the date of issue for their Miner's Rights, it is likely that they had only recently arrived at Smith's Gully, and that they were living on their claim. Both Walter and Joseph Moore appear on the Otago Nominal Roll for Manuherikia District, residence: Smith Gully, Walter from 1866 - 1867 and Joseph from 1866 - 1875. From this we might assume that they had some success with their gold mining activities in Smith Gully. We know from other records (see below) that these Moores were brothers.

Map 1: The Dunstan Goldfield South of Cromwell.

Map of Dunstan
Smith Gully and Adams Gully are located south west
of Bannockburn on the Kawarau as they were in 1878.

Source of Map: The Bannockburn Heritage Landscape Study,
Dept of Conservation, NZ.

Click to enlarge the photo.

An Application for a Water-Race 1864

Application for a water-race

An example of the standard forms used by the Gold Warden for an application for a water-race. This application is one of many Dunstan records indexed on the GOLDMINERS' DATABASE. and available to search online for free.

Source: Archives NZ, Dunedin Branch, Clyde Warden's Court records.
Click to enlarge the photo.
Another example of a water-race application reads:
Dunstan. March 1864, I hereby give notice that I intend to construct a water-race for Mining purposes, commencing at a point one mile from the foot of Adams Gully and terminating at the South Hill of Smith (Gully). The length of the race is 5 miles, course southwest and northeast.
Signed Edward Thomas, Miner's Right 5426 dated 6/28/64. Residence: Smith Gully.
See Map 1 above for the location of these Gullies, near Cromwell.


Notices were then posted at the Wardenís office and on site informing others of the minersí intention. Any miner who objected to the water-race or dam because it infringed on his own water rights and license then had 14 days to contact the Warden and make his objections known.

An example of a handwritten notice to be posted at the site for fourteen days:

20th January 1864.
We hereby give notice that we intend to construct a water-race for mining purposes commencing at a point 12 miles nearly due north from the township of Clyde on the Dunstan Range, from a stream running in the direction of the Manuherekia and terminating at the Head of a Race previously cut by the undermentioned. The length of such race is about 3 miles and its intended course is nearly south.
W. Munford 4862 4th Jan 1864
W. Brown 17423 27 April 1863
R. Hunter 4861 4th Jan 1864
J. Clark 4951 20 Jan 1864
C. McKay 8161 29 Jan 1863

See Map 2 below for the location of the Dunstan Range. This example of a handwritten notice dated 20 January 1864 illustrates the difficulties encountered during transcription of these notices with mispelling in the Warden's handwriting. Although the first name in the list of signatories on the notice definitely says MNFORD, it can be ascertained from other records that there was a William MUNFORD at Dunstan in 1864, and therefore this record has been indexed as MUNFORD.

Notice of Intent 1864


A handwritten notice to be posted at the site, giving notice of the intention to construct a water-race.

Source: Archives NZ, Dunedin Branch, Clyde Warden's Court records.

Click to enlarge the photo.

Map 2: The Dunstan Goldfield north of Clyde.

The area due north of Clyde, showing the Dunstan Range
with the large number of small creeks running down
toward the Manuherikia River in the bottom right hand
corner of this map.

Source of Map: NZ Topo Map of Cromwell.
Click to enlarge the photo.


Reasons given to the Warden for objections to water-races at Dunstan often centered on the adequate flow of water. The miners were frequently concerned that already there was not enough water at certain times and felt that, if another claim was taking the flow from above them, they would not have enough to service their own mining operation. Others were concerned about flooding from run-off at their claims below the water-race. The Warden always addressed the protests of the existing miners before granting a new Water-Race Registration.

11 March 1864.
To the Chief Commissioner, Dunstan.
Sir, We the undersigned miners in Smith's Gully having noticed a placard signed by you granting a Right of Water from the above gully to the Moore Brothers. We beg most respectfully to inform you it will be most injurious to every individual holding a claim in the Gully if the water be turned out of its proper channel at night. It will be midday before it is of any service to any party working in the gully.

A Water-Race Application Signed by
Warden Henry H. Robinson.

Signature of W.H. Robinson

Another application for a water-race at Smith's Gully signed by Warden H. W. Robinson on 28th March 1864. The Warden has added a note at the bottom of the page.
'Statement of George Parker: No dispute - plenty of water.'
Source: Archives NZ, Dunedin Branch, Clyde Applications.
Click to enlarge the photo.

A Dam and Associated Water-Race

A dam and water-race.

Photo taken from Lake Dunstan, which the miners knew as the Molyneau River in 1864. There is evidence of a dam just below the skyline on the right hand side, and the associated water-race taking water off to the left of the photo. A dam saves night water but can cut off supply to miners down-stream.
Source: Photograph by Evan Lewis ©
Click to enlarge the photo.

In the above application for a Water Race, the Miners' Right number and date of issue is listed against the name of each miner in the party. Since the original Registers of Miner's Rights for the Otago Goldfield have mostly been lost, this information has proved invaluable and has been indexed separately on The Goldminers' Database. The date of issue of a miner's first Miner's Right usually coincided with his recent arrival on the goldfield.

It is evident that the miners had to speak, read and write English well in order to interact with the Warden and defend their rights. It is extraordinary how well they could express themselves in copperplate handwriting, with few if any grammatical or spelling errors. The miners had to be able to read the posted notices and stand in court to defend their rights, in English. Any miner who could not do this would be at a distinct disadvantage, eg Chinese miners.

There were no Chinese miners in these early Dunstan Wardenís Court records. They were assigned to separate areas, often previously worked ground, and had separate records which are not covered in this article. It is possible that the equivalent application records of Chinese gold miners have not survived as there is nothing from 1861 - 1866 listed at Archives NZ.


The miners could build a dam above their claims to save the night water going to waste while they were sleeping. But the use of dams often interfered with the water rights of those mining further down stream. In a large gold mining communtity like Smith Gully, which had one main stream flowing down the center, many miners could be impacted if a dam was built at the source or at the top of the gully. The situation changed rapidly as miners moved to different sites and their water needs changed, with the Warden having to continually assess the new circumstances. This was why the Warden needed Registrars such as Harry Stratford working at the Warden's office so that the work of issuing Miner's Rights and certificates could continue during his prolonged absences on the field.

The Warden makes a decision, leaving himself room to resolve further disputes:

Granted on the condition that the applicants take the night water only and that they turn the water back into the natural bed for the general use of the miners at such hours as may from time to time be ordered by the Warden and provided that should it at any time appear to the Warden that the interests of the general body of miners in Smithís Gully are impaired by the water being taken, this grant may be cancelled.
H.W. Robinson, Warden.
16 March 1864.

The Sonora Creek Flowing into Lake Dunstan

Sonora Creek

Source: Photograph by Evan Lewis ©

Click to enlarge the photo.

Warden Robinson Makes a Decision

Warden's decision

Warden Robinson has written a note, laying out his conditions for the granting of water rights to a party of miners at Smith's Gully.

Source: Archives NZ, Dunedin Branch, Clyde Warden's Court records.
Click to enlarge the photo.

In this case, the Warden settled the matter in just over two weeks from the time of application (29th Feb). He always defended a miner who held prior rights to the water. Unless the Warden could establish that there was adequate water to be shared, he did not issue subsequent water rights licenses on the creek.

The 14 day wait for the license to be issued was an anxious time for the miners. Since they could not progress any further without water flowing on their claim, they would often start the work, not knowing whether they would be permitted to continue. A letter from William C. Blyth and party expresses the anxiety as they wait:

'If no objections are lodged against our application for a water-race & extended claim at Hobart Town or Maori Point would you be kind enough to forward us the grants as early as possible as we want to Commence the race. If there is anything to pay for registration we will forward it immediately if you will inform us.
Messrs Bradley, Richards and Smith that made application at the same time have abandoned the enterprise, not being satisfied in the nature of the attempt. So that I know there is no opposition in that quarter.
If any objections should be lodged if you would inform us by letter addressed to William C. Blyth, Rocky Point, we would be very much obliged as we cannot afford the expense of a journey to Dunstan for the race is a tougher job than we expected.
I have to remain for Blyth, Dern & Smith, Your obedient Servant Wm C. Blyth.

This letter also gives evidence that there was a reliable postal service to very remote points on the goldfield. Maori Point was near the modern-day farming settlement of Tarras, about 50 km north of Clyde in the upper Clutha valley.

A complaint regarding the water rights of Sonora Creek:

To H.W. Robinson, Warden Sir, We hereby give notice that we object to the application of Joseph Schmitz, George Gertenbach, Julius Sorenzen and James Hansen for a water-race to be taken out of Senora (Sonora?) Creek, the said water having been applied for by us prior to the date of their application. Signed Geo B. Douglas, Thomas Gibbs. Sept 26th 1864.

The Sonora Creek today, as seen in the photo above, has about half a sluice-head of water flowing, or in other words, it does not have much flow at the best of times. The abundance of green plants indicates that there have been recent rains, and this may be as good as it gets. This is the kind of analysis the Warden would make when reviewing the application for a water-race upstream of other miners using the water from this creek. One more water-race would use the entire flow, and render the claims below useless. The Warden always protected the miners with prior claims to water. Otago Creeks often run dry at certain times of the year, bringing all sluicing work to a halt. They can also freeze solid during winter and then flood during the spring thaw, carrying away all crudely built water-races and dams before it.


After 14 days, if there had been no objections to the water-race lodged at the Wardenís Office, or if any dispute had been settled by the Warden, the Certificate of Registration was issued. The miners paid a fee of 2 shillings and sixpence for the Registration Certificate, made out in the names of all men in the party. The certificates were torn out of a butt book and given to the miners. Many butt books survive at Archives NZ but few certificates because, like the orginal Minerís Right, they were preprinted and given to the Miner to be produced on demand. Any surviving Miner's Rights and Certificates are usually found amongst old family papers.

An original certificate for the registration of a water race is seen below. This certificate was signed by Harry Stratford, Mining Registrar, on behalf of the Warden and was issued to James Hackett, Julius Vogel, B. L. Faycon and A. Irving. Julius Vogel was the founder and editor of the Otago Daily Times where Harry Robinson had also worked. Later Vogel became the Premier of New Zealand 1873-75.

A Certificate of Registration for a Water-Race.

Certificate of Registration

This certificate for a water-race is dated 27 June 1864 and was issued at Dunstan Warden's Office by Harry Stratford, on behalf of the Warden.

Source: Archives NZ, Dunedin Branch, Clyde Warden's Court records.
Click to enlarge the photo.

An Application for Claim Protection

Claim Protection

Source: Archives NZ, Dunedin Branch, Clyde Warden's Court records.
Click to enlarge the photo.


If a miner needed to be away from his claim because of flooding or any other reason, such as illness, he could apply to the Warden for Claim Protection for a fee of two shillings and sixpence. Once a Claim Protection Certificate was issued, the Warden protected the claim until he could return.

There was a continual problem at Dunstan because the river rose and fell on a daily basis in some seasons and great floods in spring could wash away everything in its path. The miner would then return to find someone else working his claim, and little to prove that it was his old claim. When the rising water washed out the corner pegs of a miner's beach claim, it would be protected for as long as his Protection Certificate was valid.

An application for Claim Protection is seen in the above photograph and reads:

I hereby give notice that I desire to obtain a Protection Certificate for twenty eight days for my claim situate at Sandy Point on the west bank of the Clutha and I declare the following particulars are true in all respects:
1. The claim has been worked during the last season.
2. The depth sunk is 'surfacing.'
3. The length of the drive is 'nil'
4. The cause for which I require protection is that the Claim is flooded and unworkable

| NAME (IN FULL) | Number of Miner's Right | Date of Miner's Right | RESIDENCE |
| William BUCHANAN | 5527 | 4/4/64 | Clyde |

This Notice for Claim Protection, issued by the Gold Warden in 1864, was pre-printed as a form that was originally set-up for quartz mining. The 'depth sunk' and the 'length of the drive' is not relevant to alluvial mining. The Government authorities must have been expecting that Otago would be a quartz reef mining district when they had the forms hurriedly printed during the 1861 - 1863 period.

Not all miners could obtain a Claim Protection Certificate, if they could not afford it or if their claim was too far away from the Warden's Office in Clyde. Even if they did manage to get one, the Warden was not always able to get to remote places to resolve claim disputes in a timely way.


The miners could register agreements to buy and sell claims or shares of jointly held claims as well as register rules of partnership amongst themselves. The agreements were then lodged with the Warden in case of future disputes.

A Claim Agreement

Claim Transfer

A claim agreement between a party of goldminers working on the west bank of the Kawarau River in 1864.
Source of the document: Archives NZ, Dunedin Branch, Clyde Applications.
Click to enlarge the photo.

The Kawarau River Today

Kawarau River
The Kawarau River as it is today, with the water level raised by the Clyde dam. The Roaring Meg is about 40 Km above Clyde.

Source: Photograph by Evan Lewis ©
Click to enlarge the photo.
29th March 1864
This certifies that John Thomas purchases this day, March 29th, one fourth share in our claim situated on West Bank of Kawarau river one mile from Roaring Meg and known as The Great Extended for the sum of Eighty Pounds sterling. The said John Thomas agreeing to work personally or substitute a qualified miner and to pay working expenses from this date
Working rules: Any man losing time without the consent of the remaining shareholders forfeits one pound sterling per day.
Signed Alfred Kitchingham (M.R. 5254), Thomas Kinnish (M.R. 5255), John F. Roberts (M.R. 14117).

The total value of this claim on the west bank of the Kawarau river in March 1864 is given as 4x £80 = £320 sterling. Using the UK Inflation Calculator, this is worth £28,426 sterling in today's money. They must have already made some rich discoveries to enduce John Thomas to pay this sum, considering its isolation and the difficulties they faced to extract the gold. With gold worth about £3 13s 3d per oz in Otago in 1864 (£3 17s 10d per oz at the market in London), it would take at least 22 oz of gold for John Thomas to recoup his investment of £80. He would need more for his living expenses and to buy mining equipment until he broke even. In 1865, Warden Lowther Broad at Arrowtown said that a miner needed capital of £100 - £200 to succeed on the goldfield and that most miners at Cardrona were making at least £10 per week.

This illustrates the high value placed on the enterprise by the miners who toiled long hard hours and who would fight to defend their rights to the claim. For this reason the Wardens kept meticulous records on the claim, who owned the shares and any buying or selling of shares. The Wardens and their records were very necessary to keep the peace amongst these men who were working desperately for this one chance of a lifetime to make it rich. If they failed, it was back to earning 5 shillings a day as a day labourer for them.

The fledgling Otago Provincial Government controlled the Goldfields remarkably well during the goldrush, considering the remote and scattered locations. They moved with lightning speed to stay ahead of the miners who pushed up rivers and mountains in search of gold. The Government appointed Wardens to distant unexplored regions, equipping them with adequate legislation, a bureaucratic system with pre-printed license forms, together with Courts of Law and well-trained police, all in place as quickly as possible. They raced to build adequate roads for the transport of food and materials, organised a regular escort service for the gold, ran ferries for the safe passage of the miners across the mighty rivers in their paths, set-up postal service to all corners of the remote and ever-changing goldfields, and even built a hospital at Dunstan. As a result, despite the huge influx of unruly miners from all corners of the world, there were no riots of discontent, no lynch gangs and minimal violent crime on the Otago goldfields.


  1. Pyke, Vincent M.R.H. History of Early Gold Discoveries in Otago. Otago Daily Times and Witness Newspapers Company Limited (Dunedin, New Zealand) 1962.
  2. Salmon, J.H.M. A History of Gold-Mining in New Zealand. Government Printer (Wellington, New Zealand) 1963, 76 - 100.
  3. The Gold Fields Wardenís Report. Otago Daily Times. Issue 551, 23 September 1863. Page 5.
  4. Clyde Warden's Court Applications, Dunstan Wardenís Court. Archives NZ (Dunedin).
  5. NZ Topo Map of New Zealand.
  6. Bannockburn Heritage Landscape, Science for Conservation 244, Department of Conservation, New Zealand.
  7. Veitch, Isobel. Clyde and Dunstan. Published 1976 by John McIndoe Ltd.
  8. McGraw, John. Gold on The Dunstan. Published 2003 by Square One Press.
  9. Otago Witness 23 Dec 1865. News of the Week. October 1863 - 1869.

Home Journal