Gold Miner The New Zealand Goldrush Journal

Volume 6 (2022)


SOME NEW ZEALAND GOLDMINERS AT THE KLONDIKE GOLDRUSH 1898

WILLIAM NICHOLL, HORATIO WALMSLEY, WILLIAM TURKEY, WILLIAM PACEY
Edited by Kae Lewis
Introduction by Kae Lewis

William Sharmon Crawford Nicholl was born in Northern Ireland in 1852, and the family emigrated to New Zealand in about 1860. Tragically, his father died soon after they arrived in New Zealand. His mother remarried, and William, with his mother, stepfather and a brother and sister arrived in Thames about 1868, soon after the start of the goldrush. William (Billie) was only sixteen and worked on gold claims in Thames and Coromandel, gradually learning to prospect and mine for gold. He was on a long prospecting trip in 1879 when he discovered a huge outcrop of valuable quartz at Waihi. After some initial investigations on his own, he then staked and registered a five acre claim in his own name. He named his claim the Martha, and eventually became a major shareholder in the amalgamation that became the Martha Mine of Waihi.

Like all gold prospectors of the period, William Nicholl was constantly prospecting for gold in one place or another. Nothing could stop him when he heard about good prospects, and he would just have to drop everything and rush off to try his luck. The Martha Mine was eventually taken over by rich investors who bought him out for a song. The Martha Lode became the richest gold discovery ever made in New Zealand, before or since. William took up the nearby Waitekauri Mine on tribute for a while, and later owned and operated the Maratoto Mine for about three years. It was just after he had sold his interest in the Maratoto Mine, and with a painful divorce behind him, he decided to join the Klondike Gold Rush.

A local newspaper, The Ohinemuri Gazette, was on to the story immediately, noting his departure in the edition dated 2 October 1897:
Mr William Nicholl, the orginal prospector of the Martha Mine, Waihi, passed through Paeora on last Thursday night en route for Auckland, and leaves today by the San Francisco steamer on his way to the Klondike Goldfields.

William Nicholl was a quartz reef (hard rock) miner through and through. Although there was alluvial (placer) gold in New Zealand, it was a long way south, and he had never tried his luck there. Prospecting and mining for hard rock gold located deep below ground in quartz reefs is totally different to looking for alluvial gold scattered in river sands and soils all over the plains below. He does not at any stage in his autobiography consider this problem, that he would not be able to draw on his considerable experience prospecting for quartz reefs when he arrived in the Klondike. So he was as much a greenhorn as all the other stampeders around him in this regard. Perhaps he went to the Klondike becasue he was hell-bent on an adventure and to once more capture the old days of searching alone for gold in the wilderness. In 1897, he was 45 years old, fighting fit and ready for anything.

William spent the last decade of his life writing a detailed autobiography covering his entire life. The following is based on this autobiography, of which there are several versions that survive. It is almost all in his own words, although I have lightly edited it, to modernize the English, corrected the grammar and have substituted certain words and phases that no longer have the same meanings as they once did. When the story starts in October 1897, William is languishing in the mining town of Waihi, with the huge Martha Mine dominating the town but he is no longer involved. He had two sons who were at boarding school, and he left them in the care of his sister and he hoped, their mother. Kae Lewis (editor)

The Klondike by William Nicholl

Just then, the newspapers were teeming with news of rich discoveries made on the Klondike. Everyone seemed to be Klondike-mad with excitement. The newspapers were looked for eagerly to get the latest news from the field: number of tons of gold already produced and the number of boats that had been sent down the Yukon from Dawson City laden with gold, also to hear about the latest gulches found and the number of tons of gold taken from the Discovery Claim. Along with all the rest, I too was getting a bit excited, and it only needed a few more good reports to start me going. The excitement was just about up to fever heat.

Then we read about the big finds that had been made on the Indian River, Dominion Creek, Sulphur and Australian Gulches. There were reports about the number of animals engaged in packing gold to Dawson City, the number of claims staked out, and the fact that it was impossible to get within seventy miles of Dawson City without walking over stakes.

This was September 1897, and people said that it was time enough to leave New Zealand in March to strike the breaking up of the ice on the Yukon. Things had started to move in Waihi. It was the birth of the big boom, the mine had started to pay dividends and was opening up well. I was just on the edge of whether I would go to the Klondike or stay in Waihi and buy property in the Main Street of Waihi Township. The shares in the mine had jumped from 2/6 to £5 in a fortnight, so things were moving in Waihi and the adjoining districts.

Then another flourishing report came from the Klondike, and I could stand it no longer. I went to Auckland and took a boat to Wellington to catch the Vancouver boat. I had booked my passage to Vancouver, figuring on getting my outfit over the Chilkoot. Then I would get down to Lake Bennett, build my boat and be ready to float off with the breaking-up of the ice in April/May.

I had to stay in Wellington for a week to await the boat to Vancouver and thought it was the longest week I had ever spent. I was Klondike-mad, sure enough. The boat arrived in the end, and there were no passengers aboard her returning from the Klondike. There were only eleven of us who went aboard for the Klondike. This included eight boys from the Western Australian goldfields, and three New Zealanders. We all chummed up together and were mates till we got to the Klondike.

When we arrived at Vancouver, we found that there was not so much talk of the Klondike as there was in New Zealand. We had to wait in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada for five days for a boat to take us to Dyea, the nearest port to the Chilkoot Pass. All hands decided on taking that route. While we were waiting, “Swift Water Bill” arrived out from the Klondike, and the morning’s papers were full up with him and how much gold he had brought out with him. He was supposed to have £60,000 worth of gold with him. I saw him, and he had a nugget chain across his vest with a big nugget hanging in the centre for a pendant. He was bound for Seattle. When he arrived in Seattle, the papers reported that it was £600,000 worth of gold that he had brought with him. We learnt later that he had been fitted up with a sleigh and dog team and $3,000 to go out and advertise the Klondike Goldfield, to get people on the move.

The boat arrived, and we got our outfits on board. We had about a ton and a half of an outfit per man, with tent, Yukon stove and sleigh. We threaded our way through the Alaska Islands, calling in at Juneau. This city is supported principally by the Tredival Mine on Douglas Island, just across the water from Juneau. I never saw a town with so many injured people: nearly every man in the street was walking on crutches or had his arms or head tied up.

We made a start for Dyea, Alaska, USA and were surprised to be held up for custom's duty. All our outfits were inspected thoroughly and heavily taxed since they were Canadian goods. The duty of my outfit came to $66, and it had to be paid in gold coin. We all had our money in sovereigns. I think very little of that money actually went to the Government, the Customs Officer looked quite pleased when we were handing him the golden sovereigns.

Dyea, Alaska
Dyea, Alaska 1897-8
Click to enlarge the photo.
Canadian Government Regulations that Affected every Stampeder (Digger) entering Canada from Alaska, USA:

Chilkoot Pass. To prevent mass starvation in the remote and inaccessible Yukon Territory, the Canadian Government required every stampeder to bring a year’s supply of goods before they could cross the border into Canada.

The Northwest Mounted police were dispatched by the Canadian Federal Government to maintain law and order in the midst of Klondike chaos. The Mounties set up a post along the Canadian-US border at the summit of the Chilkoot Pass. Here they checked the miners had adequate supplies and maintained written records of every individual who arrived at the summit.
Records from 1898 – 1899 survive and are indexed.

William Nicholl Contines on the Chilkoot Trail, 1878.

Once landed at Dyea, we had our outfits brought up to Canyon City with a wagon. We took our sledges, camp outfits and some grub and made our way up the Chilkoot Trail to Sheep Camp. It was a hard pull up the Canyon. The temperature was 10 degrees below zero (Fahrenheit), and the lower the temperature, the harder the sleigh is to pull. We camped about half a mile above Sheep Camp on the site where 200 diggers lost their lives three months ago, getting buried with an avalanche sweeping down the gulch and burying everything in its path.

We pitched our tents on the snow and fitted up our Yukon stoves. Then we cut the foliage off the spruce trees to throw on the snow for feathers to sleep on. When the fire was going in the stove, and the stove and stove pipe were red hot, it made things look like home inside the tent. However, it looked quite different outside.

Next morning, we started to bring up our outfit in two sleigh loads. I found two hundredweight was more than I cared to haul up the canyon. One of our party bought two dogs but he found them a failure. They would have had all his food eaten before we finished dragging it up. We got two loads up the canyon, and that night, a blizzard set in. It blew and snowed for three days.

The first night of the blizzard, I was awakened by pressure on my sleeping bag. I had a difficult time getting out of my sleeping bag and squeezing my way to the door of the tent. When I opened it, I found I was snowed in three feet deep. I had to shovel the snow off my tent because it was buried with only three feet of it above the snow. This had to be repeated for three days, and when the blizzard ended, my tent was down a hole eight feet below the surface of the snow. The other boys had a similar experience.

I had cached the two sleigh-loads of my outfit a few hundred yards higher up the trail than my tent, but I never found it because it was buried six feet with snow. I should have stood a pole up to mark it but I was green and did not know what a blizzard was until I actually experienced one at Sheep Camp.

sled
Packing an outfit up the Chilkoot Trail on a sled similar to the one used by William Nicholl.
Click to enlarge the photo.

We had to get to work and break a trail in the soft snow for a distance of five miles to get to our Canyon City cache. The snow had not fallen as heavily in the canyon, so we soon had the trail broken. Then we brought the balance of the outfit up without any further mishap. From our camp, we then had to pack our outfits to the scales (Chilkoot Pass). I stuck a pole up at my cache, it was sticking up fifteen feet out of the snow when I dumped my first load alongside it. When I was finished caching my outfit, only two feet of the top of the pole was out of the snow. I had to dig twelve feet down to get to my first load.

Chilkoot Pass, Alaska
Caching their outfits in the deep snow at the bottom of Chilkoot Pass, with poles sticking out of the ground to mark the cache beneath the snow.
Click to enlarge the photo.
Chilkoot Pass, Alaska
The line on the left is the stampeders packing their gear up the steep cliff to the top of Chilkoot Pass. On the right hand side, you can see the figues of men sliding back down in the snow-shoot to get the rest of their outfit.
Click to enlarge the photo.

Now we had to pack our gear up the steep cliff to the top of Chilkoot Pass. There was a rope all the way up the cliff to haul yourself up with. The getting-up was a tough proposition but the coming down was easy: you sit down in a snow-shoot and are at the scales in a few seconds.

While we were packing our outfits to the summit of the pass, there was a tribe of Alaskan Indians who got caught in a blizzard at the scales. A woman and her two children were lost on the trail in the blinding blizzard. It was reported at Sheep Camp, and all hands turned out to look for her. She was found with her two children lying in the shelter of a boulder, frozen to death. She had taken off all her clothes to wrap around her kiddies. The youngest had the most clothes on and was still alive but the other was just dead. They were all brought to the Sheep Camp, and all hands turned out for the funeral.

When we dumped all our outfits at the top of the Chilkoot Pass, we shifted our camp to Lake Lundreman and made one trip a day back to the Pass to fetch our outfit. The temperature was lower on this side of the range, often going down as low as 25 degrees below zero fahrenheit. When it is that cold, your sledge-runners freeze to the trail as you were pulling it along. We had all our outfits dumped on Lake Bennett before the Canadian Police arrived.

map
Map showing the route from Dyea to Dawson City in 1898.
Click to enlarge the photo.

We made a start to whip-saw the lumber to build our boats with. We had our boats built long before the breaking-up of the ice and did not know what to do with ourselves while we were waiting. I used to take long trips up into the ranges in my snow shoes but I could not get any of the boys to keep me company. I did not strike any good gold country. However, I did not see any bears, as my mates said I would meet with in some of my wanderings.

I took a run over to Dyea to get some stores I was short of and to post a letter back to New Zealand. I found the Police camped near the summit of the Pass and collecting custom’s duty from the diggers as they passed over the summit. There was a great stir all along the trail, and I saw sacks of goods cached all the way along the trail.

I got back to the Pass with my pack and was held up by the Canadian Police for duty. The receipt I got for the duty I paid on my pack was written on a piece of newspaper and worded this way: Pass W. Nicholls pack and Canadian goods.

Offical Records From the Royal Canadian Mounted Police on the Chilkoot Trail

From the searchable database for Yukon Genealogy Records:
The Chilkoot checkpoint was at the Canadian border at the top of the Pass. The riverboat records list the names and boat numbers of the stampeders embarking on the Yukon River trip from Lake Bennett to Dawson City.

Northwest Mounted Police Records at Lake Bennett & Tagish: riverboat passenger lists:
Name: Nicholl, W.S.C.; Date: May 21, 1898; Boat: New Zealand, boat 779.

Northwest Mounted Police records at Chilkoot: checkpoints listing people who entered the Yukon:
Name: Nichol, W.C.; Date: June 1, 1898; checkpoint: New Zealand.

There were two others recorded as being on Boat 779 (William's boat) at this time and were probably his mates. They were J. Shefield who was a fellow New Zealander, and Frank Louis, a Californian. It also seems likely that J. Shefield went back to Dyea with William Nicholl because he also re-entered Canada at Chilkoot Pass on 1 June, 1898.

These records show that William Nicholl was at Lake Bennett on 21 May 1898, and then, back at Chilkoot Pass and entering Yukon again on 1 June. This was because he made a quick trip back to Dyea to get some more stores and post a letter, probably to his sons and his sister and indicating that he was worried about them. William did lose two loads of his outfit when it was buried in the snow at Sheep Camp, and would be why he needed to go back to the port at Dyea for more supplies. This probably indicates that he was also worrying if he would have enough food to keep himself going during the coming months.

It is a testament to the fitness and health of William Nicholl that he decided to return all the way to Dyea to get more stores and post a letter. Many people died trying to get up this trail in 1898, even horses did not have the endurance for it, but 45 year old William Nicholl arrived at Lake Bennett with his outfit, helped build the boat, went on several prospecting trips in the mountains there, and then decided to take a quick trip back to Dyea before the ice broke up. He was quite obviously a person who could not sit around the camp at Lake Bennett doing nothing for weeks on end.

The stampeders were being charged duty by the Alaskan authorities on their one ton cache of supplies becasue it had all been bought in New Zealand or British Columbia, Canada. When they arrived in Dyea, which was in Alaska, USA, William was charged $66 tax, to be paid in gold coin. Then when they arrived at the top of the Chilkoot Pass, having crossed the border back into Canada, the Canadian Police charged import duty because the outfit had been bought in from the US. It was the Canadian authorities that had decreed that no-one would be allowed to cross into Yukon, Canada unless they had one ton of supplies. Of course, these supplies had to be bought BEFORE they arrived at the border, because there was nothing at Chilkoot except the police post. It seems unlikely that the Canadian Government would have set up such a racketerring scheme, which leads William to assume that it was the Police themselves that were to benefit from the added duty.

William Nicholl left New Zealand in October 1897 and it has taken him seven months to get up as far as Lake Bennett. When he was in New Zealand, he had read that he should leave in March to be ready for the ice on the river to break up in April/May. In fact, he had left in October 1879 and arrived at Lake Bennett at the end of May, only to find Lake Bennett was still solidly iced up. It was about a month later before the ice had melted sufficently for them to start on the journey, by which time they had probably eaten their way through a good part of their outfit. This was one of the reasons for stampeders running out of food once they got onto the Klondike, despite the one ton of supplies. Other reasons were lost or stolen caches, supplies falling over-board on the flimsy boats, or the entire boats being wrecked and overturned in the rapids.

William Nicholl Sails up Lake Bennett and On To The Yukon River 1898.

When I got back to camp, the ice on the Lake was getting a bit thin and sloppy, and so we could start for the Golden City. There were four of us in the boat I was in, and we loaded our outfits on board. We hoisted our sail and drifted away with great expectations. On the lakes, we had to depend on the wind so we rigged up blankets and anything else we had to hurry us along. There were police camps at the mouths of all the rivers where they demanded that you haul in to get your outfit checked.

Lake Labarg was a beautiful sight with the moving mass of boats. People thought it would be impossible for them to pass through Miles Canyon and Whitehorse Rapids without all jamming together. We drifted over the lakes with the wind behind us all the way. We beached our boat at Miles Canyon to have a look at it before shooting it. It certainly looked a pretty swift proposition to get wrecked in. We let go the painter and started with a long sweep fore and aft. We were flying down the canyon at lightning speed. When we were about halfway through, we bumped the side of the Canyon. This made our boat leak badly but we got through safely.

Miles Canyon
Navigating Miles Canyon rapids on the Yukon River, 1899.
Source: University of Washington Library.
Click to enlarge the photo.

There was one of our party who reckoned he was a bit of an expert at guiding a boat through swift water but whenever he came near any swift water, he would not stay in the boat. He would always have something wrong with his head and complained of a giddy feeling and thought the walk would do him good. He would suggest that we could beach and pick him up lower down.

We hauled in after we cleared the canyon and patched up our boat where it was leaking. We then passed on down to the White Horse Rapids. We tied up before shooting them to have a look at them. The only danger in shooting these rapids was a boulder just before entering the rapids. Half a dozen plugs of gelignite would blow the whole business out of existence and make the rapids as safe as a mill-pond. (So speaks a true quartz-reef miner - Editor)

While we were looking at the rapids, a boat struck the boulder and capsized. There were four in the boat, and three of them were drowned. A woman that was aboard put her arm up out of the water and was lassoed by a cowboy on the bank and pulled ashore safely.

We got into our boat to take the rapids but Mack’s head was a lot worse, and he reckoned he would walk. We got through without any mishap and picked up Mack. We made up our minds not to let him out of the boat when we were going to shoot the Rink and Five Fingers Rapids. When we came to the Rink, Mack wanted us to pull ashore but we kept on going. Mack got red first, then blue and white and remained that colour for a while after we passed through the Five Finger’s Rapids.

There was nothing more to be afraid of, all we had to do was sit there, and float down with the current. I decided to cache my outfit at the mouth of the Indian River and strike out from there after having a good look at Aldrada, Bonanza and Skookums Gulches. When we got down to the Indian River, we hauled in, and my mates helped me cache my outfit. Then I floated down to Dawson with them. We hauled in at Laustown and found a large crowd already there. They were looking very much disappointed, and a number of them wanted to dispose of their outfits to get down the river in a boat.

We crossed the Klondike in a boat to Dawson City. There was no evidence there of a flourishing goldfield that we had been given to understand through the papers. It consisted of a few log cabins in the city, a stockade for the Canadian Police and a bit of a pier for the steamers coming up the river to tie up to. The Yukoneer was lying at the pier and was just about to start down the river. They did not look like successful diggers, in fact they looked just the opposite.

After having a look at the city, we called into the record office and took out our miner’s rights. We took the numbers of each miner’s right and put them down on the back of all our rights so that if any of us struck a good show, we could stake claims for the rest. We found both men and women auctioning claims but it was easy to see the sales were fake. In one of the Klondike newspaper issues, they published the correct amount of gold mined from the Klondike and challenged the authorities to deny its truth while criticizing them for fooling people to such a hole as Dawson City. I tried to get a copy of the paper but there were only a few about because they were all called in. I offered a Yankee $5 for a copy but he would not part with it.

miner's certicate
William S. C. Nicholl's Miner's Certificate for the Dominion of Canada, dated Dawson, 18 June, 1898, two weeks after he had crossed over the border at Chilkoot Pass for the second time. The original of this certificate is at the Waihi Museum, and all the names of his mates are still written on the back, although, unfortunately, too faded to read now.
Source: The Jack Moore collection, Waihi Museum and Arts Centre Inc., Waihi, New Zealand.
Click to enlarge the photo.

We all had a run up Eldorado and Bonanza Creeks to see where the supposed tons of gold were got. There was a bit of work done in Skookums Gulch but not a lot done in the two creeks. There was a party washing down their sluice box just as we arrived. They were standing around the sluice box so we went over to see what was going on. They washed down and panned off the concentrate from the box, getting about 40 oz to the dish. It was the finishing-up of his dump, and the chances are that it was all he got out of it. (The "dump" is the pay-dirt that he had brought up from his shaft and dumped on the ground at the top. Ed.) The claim was being offered for sale.

I bid my mates goodbye and crossed the divide to get over into the Indian River. On my way over, on the flank of the divide on the Indian River side, I stopped to pick up a stone to have a look at it. It was just then that I heard a terrible crash as if a cannon ball had passed me. I looked up but was too late to see what it was. I heard the scrub breaking all the way down to the Indian River. It was either a moose or a bear, and I must have been almost touching it when I stooped down to pick up the stone. When a prospector is travelling in new country, he is on the look-out for gold but not wild animals.

I reached my cache and had a sleep for three or four hours. When I awoke, I had a snack, then looked around for a spruce tree big enough to make a dug-out. I found one that was two feet in diameter. It was the biggest tree that I could find, in fact it is the biggest I saw in the Yukon. I got to work and made a twenty feet long dug-out from it. Using an axe, I sharpened the nose of the log and flatted one side of it, then with axe, adze and fire, I soon had it ready to float. I put in two fifty-pound bags of flour, a sack of beans, a side of bacon together with a lot of other stores and my tools.

I put on my gumboots and started off on the fifteen mile run up the river. On the first day, I found the gum boots were a failure because when they were full of water, it was hard to move your legs. I had to be in the river most of the time to guide the dugout clear of the boulders.

I struck two good places where gold could catch, if there had been any in the river. I cleaned out two crevices that were lying against the stream and panned them off for two fine colours of gold. I worked sixteen hours a day getting the dug-out up the river, while stopping to try the most likely places all the way up the river. Since it was daylight all the time, I was sleeping in the middle of the day and working at night when it was cooler. I managed to get the dug-out up to the mouth of Dominion Creek but I could go no further with the it, and so I made a cache of my goods here.

Now, we had read in papers that tons of gold were being produced all the way from the mouth of the Indian River to the junction of Dominion Creek. However the river had never had a pick put in it, and I feel assured, it never will. I would be surprised to get an ounce of gold to an acre of it. I had a run up Dominion Creek and Sulpher Creek where I found claims staked out but no men there. I saw two or three holes down on each creek but no sign of any gold.

I came back along the hills to see if I could find any sign of a reef outcrop but there was none to be found. I got back to my cache and made up a pack of rice, beans, bacon, tea and sugar, enough to last me a month. I then made my way up Australian Gulch. I left my gun behind, thinking it too heavy to carry. I had my pick, dish and shovel to carry besides the grub and my mosquito curtain. There is no other place that the mosquito stings so badly as on the Indian River, and the sand fly’s bite is like a red-hot needle stuck in the flesh. They are so small that you can hardly see them but you have no trouble feeling them when they are up your legs.

I started up the gulch, intending to get as far away from Dawson City as I could while my grub lasted. I found the gulch staked out from end to end, with no men on it or work done on it to show that any returns had been taken from it. I kept on going and struck another gulch in the Porcupine River water-shed which I found to be staked out also.

After this, I kept to the high country in search of reefs. After going for three days without striking anything, I made my way down to a creek running into the Porcupine River. This creek had no stakes in it, or signs of anyone ever being there. I prospected for a mile down and could get no trace of gold. I could see that this creek forked lower down, so I went across to strike its left branch by going through some spruce and cottonwood scrub.

I saw a huge moose eating the green moss that grows at the bottom of the pool. His back was to me, and I was to leeward of him. I stood and watched him for about ten minutes. He would lift his head, look and listen and then go on eating again. I would have had a shot at him if I had had my gun. I let out a loud yell which struck him like a bullet. He staggered and bounded off at a terrific pace. I made my way to the creek and travelled up it for some distance before I had a chance to try it. The rim rock came in from the right-hand side. I struck some crevices in it, cleaned them out and panned out three specks of gold that would weigh about a grain.

I followed up the creek for about two miles to the rim rocks. I got better prospects here but not enough to pay. I did a bit of blind stabbing in different places. I touched bottom in one place and could get about five grains to the pan. I found stone showing gold in this creek and had a hunt around to see if I could find the reef that shed it but failed. I did not stake out any claims on the creek.

I got up on the high country and kept on going in the hopes of striking reefing country. The quartz that I found in the creek gave me a bit of encouragement. Then I went down to a creek twenty miles east of the last creek I had tried, which was running into the Porcupine River. It had about eight or ten sluice-heads of water in it where I struck it. I started to prospect up the creek and obtained a good show of gold at any place I tested it.

I struck a bend in the creek where a rimrock stuck out into the stream a little below the water. I spotted a nugget of gold in a crevice about two feet below water. I put my arm down and picked it out of the crevice. It weighed one ounce sixteen pennyweights. I lowered the water on the rock by bringing up a tail race, then found seven ounces on the rock shelf. The wash-dirt dipped all round the rock. I blind stabbed it down until I was up to my middle in water but I could not touch the main bottom.

I had nearly finished my beans and bacon and had only rice left. It would take me a week to get back to my cache. Before I left, I decided to stake out my discovery claim and stake one each for the other boys. After doing this and leaving my tools on the bank of the creek, I struck out for a week’s tramp on rice only, until I struck my cache on the Indian River.

On my way back, when I struck some high hills, I could see over the beautiful valley of the Yukon. I thought it was a pity that such a land with its fertile soil was not in the same position under the sun as New Zealand. It would be the garden of the earth, and something to be proud of, being born in such a land.

I battled back to the Indian River. It was pretty hard going in places where the moss was deep. I finished the last of my rice the day before I reached my cache. I started a fire and boiled a billy of beans and made some leather jackets to do me on my way down the river. I found my dugout, had a paddle and found I could sit in the stern of the dugout and make it fly down the river.

The worst difficulty was to guide it through the boulders. I got along well and was about a mile and a half from my cache at the mouth of the river, when the river took a sharp bend and swept into the bank. I was flying down and in a second, was swept against the bank. I tried to push the dug-out off with a paddle. In doing so, the dug-out turned upside down, and my outfit and I landed in the water.

I was swept under water and held there with a tangle of willow roots. I managed to kick myself clear but I had swallowed a few mouthfuls of water. When I got my head above water, I could not see the dug-out anywhere, nor any of my outfit. They had rounded the bend in the river. I struck out down-stream.

When I got to the bend, I could see Her Ladyship making her way to the Yukon, bottom-up and as fast as the current would take her with a fifty pound bag of flour following her. This was all of my outfit that I could see. The only things I regret loosing was my gun and ammunition.

I retrieved the dug-out, righted her and discovered the paddle was floating alongside of her. When I got the water out of her, I paddled her down to the cache. I was in the act of boiling the billy when I saw a boat enter the mouth of the river and was pulling up to me. He was close to me before I recognized him. It was one of my best friends from Waihi, dear old Horatio Walmsley. We had a warm handshake, and he told me that since he got to Dawson City, he had been on the hunt for me.

The day before, he had met one of my mates who told him that I had cached at the mouth of the Indian River, and so he made straight for me. I told him that if he had come a day sooner, he would not have found me. He told me that my wife had not returned to the boys, and that he had seen my sister who told him that the boys were alright. This was a shock for me: I thought if she had any love for the boys, she would have come back to them, hearing that I was out of the country. When I heard that she was not back, my spirits went down to bedrock. I could not help shedding a tear for my two boys. I would not have left New Zealand if I had thought she would not return to them to give them a mother’s care.

I boiled the billy, and we had a feed of biscuits and tinned dog. I told him about the creek I had found and showed him the gold I had found in it. I also told him I had staked out claims for my mates and had come down to record the claims. I invited him to come with me, and he agreed.

Horatio Walmsley was only the second settler to ever come to Waihi, New Zealand. In 1879, he obtained an agricultural lease on the northeastern side of the furture Martha Mine at the end of the present-day Walmsley Road. When William Nicholl came to stake his claim on Martha Hill late in 1879, Horatio was one of only a few Europeans in the entire district, and this would have been the start of their life-long friendship. In 1881, Horatio's brother, Sherriff Benjamin Frederick Walmsley joined him, they bred cattle, and later were timber contractors for many years. The Walmsley agricultural lease had the closest stand of timber to the mine and so their timber was much in demand. William Nicholl sought them out when he contracted to supply timber to the Waihi Gold Mining Company in about 1889-90.

William Nicholl registers his claim at Dawson City 1878

We made our way down the river to Dawson City in Walmsley’s boat to record the claims and to replenish our outfits for the winter. When in the city, I met three of my trail mates, and they had not been out of the city. They had built a cache and were going to take up a claim on Alderade Creek. One of them was in hospital with typhoid fever. I told them that I had been out prospecting and had staked a claim in a creek for them, and that I had come in to record them.

We went to the record office, and it was full up. We had to wait a while before we could get a hearing. I made a sketch of the country and marked on it the number of creeks that I had found on my tour. I handed this to the record officer with the creeks marked on my plan and the position of the claims I had staked out on the creek. He took my sketch into the office and returned with it half an hour later with two sketch plans, the one I gave him and one similar. The only difference was that the creek was staked end to end. He showed me the sketch and told me the whole creek was already recorded. I tried to explain to him that there were no marks of men having been in the creek before me and that there were no stakes in it before mine. I accused him of his sketch being a fake.

He ordered me out of the office. Three police that were standing a few paces from me caught me by the arms and hustled me out of the door. I was thrown on my face and cut badly. I had nothing to protect myself with, only my fists but with my arms being caught, I could not use them. My eyes were blackened, and the skin off my face. They took me to the hospital, and I got my face plastered up. My mates wanted me to stay and go into the claim with them but I had had enough. I was satisfied that there were no laws or protection in this country, so the sooner I was out of it the better.

William Nicholl and Horatio Walmsley had intended to 'record the claims and to replenish our outfits for the winter.' The violence and corruption of the authorities in Dawson City soon changed their minds, and they decided to leave the country immediately. However, this may have been fortunate. They do not seem to realise just how cold the winter would be in the Yukon, that the ground and rivers would soon be frozen solid and covered in many feet of snow from September through to May. They only had one blanket each. If they had gone back up to their remote claim near the Porcupine River, it is likely neither of them would have survived the harshness of the winter so far from civilisation. They certainly would not have been able to mine for gold until the following May or June when the ground thawed out. And once the rivers iced up, they could not escape, even if their food and money had run out.

William Nicholl and Horatio Walmsley Leave the Yukon.

Walmsley agreed with me that it was best to get out of it. We sold any of our outfit that we didn’t need for the journey. We decided to take our boat up the river as far as Fort Chilkoot, a distance of 200 miles and then take the ferry boat. All hands on board the ferry had rifles, and they were continuously firing at flocks of crane and geese as they were flying passed, migrating south. I never saw one come down.

On the second day out, they saw a bear going up the steep bank, and all guns were on him. He walked up the bank as if there was nothing wrong. He was nearly up to the top of the bank about six hundred yards away when old Ellis asked his son for the rifle. The old fellow dropped him with his first shot, to the surprise of all on board.

We hauled the steamer through the Five Fingers and the Rink Rapids with the steam winch. When we got to White Horse, Walmsley and I decided to walk the 24 miles to Lake March. We only had four pounds of flour, some tea and sugar left. They told us that we could buy what we wanted at White Horse. We hunted around and after a lot of battling, managed to get ten pounds of flour as a favour for $50.

Then we set off. We only had one blanket each, and the nights were getting cold and long. Walmsley had a revolver, and I carried my sword bayonet which I used for a scrub knife. When we got up the river a few miles, I went down to get some water to make some tea, and surprised a black bear eating a dead horse that had been washed up on the low bank of the river. There was a high bank behind him and me in front of him. He let out a horrid yell and came for me. I dodged him and hit him on the back with the bayonet. He saw Walmsley above him, turned and made a spring for the rock. I got him on the hind leg with the sword bayonet. He came around and as quick as lightning, knocked the bayonet out of my hand. Then he made a bounce to hug me. Just as I felt the pressure of his legs, Walmsley’s revolver went off and drove a bullet through his spine. The bear had managed to slightly damage my left hand and cut me on the right arm with his claws. We cut one of the hams off and his claws to take with us. The ham was a bit rank but was just alright.

bear's claw
This mysterious object is on display at Waihi Musuem and is thought to be the bear claw that William Nicholl cut from the bear that day near White Horse, and then had mounted with Klondike gold, perhaps from the nuggets that William found at Porcupine Creek.
Source:The Jack Moore collection, Waihi Museum and Arts Centre Inc., Waihi, New Zealand.
Click to enlarge the photo.

When we arrived at the Lake, we saw what we thought was a camp about a mile to the left. We noticed that the tents looked small, and we thought they might be caches and that someone would be there looking after them. We went to see, and when we got there, we found it to be a bit of calico stretched over a pole covering a box that was lying on a table made of sticks and about four feet high. We could not think what it was. Walmsley was determined to find out. He took my bayonet and prized a board off one of the boxes. He found a red blanket with something neatly wrapped up in it. He went to work and unwrapped it, finding a human skeleton with the bones bleached white and polished. This was an Indian burial ground.

He put the board back on the box, and it did not take long for us to get back to the mouth of the river. We made a raft and poled it to the west side of the lake and made our way to the police camp at the head of the lake. We had to walk on a network of dead trees lying ten or fifteen feet deep in a confused mass. Young green trees were growing thickly up through it. We got half-way up and found a bit of clean ground, lit a fire and cooked a feed of bear ham.

When we had cooked it, two Indian women sat down in front of us. It seemed to us that they dropped from the clouds. We did not see them until they were right on us. We could not make them understand our language. We offered them some bear ham, and they offered us an animal like a squirrel only much bigger. We did not want it as we had plenty of meat. They roasted two of these animals which were very fat. They were only half cooked when they started to eat them. The fat escaped and ran down the corners of their lips. They did not let it waste by keeping one hand under their chins to catch the drips. Then they licked the oil off the palm of their hands. It struck me that they might have found out that we had been tampering with their graveyard and tracked us till they found us. We could not learn anything from them. They finished their feast and left.

We reached the police camp just on dark. It was on the opposite side of the river. We hailed them, and there was quite a lot of talk before they would agree to bring us across. We were a ragged-looking pair. We had thought we could buy food there but they would not sell us any. They let us sleep in an empty bell tent and gave us a mug of coffee in the morning.

After we were finished, we saw the boat steaming up the Lake. When she arrived, we got aboard her and landed at the head of Lake Bennett. From here, we walked over White Pass to Skagway. The trail was strewn with dead horses and pigs for miles in many places. There were heaps of them lying dead. When we got to Skagway, we took a boat to Vancouver. I parted with Walmsley here and took a boat for New Zealand, poorer than when I left it. Walmsley went to British East Africa.

William Nicholl and Horatio Walmsley separated in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada in about September 1898. William Nicholl returned to New Zealand and lived out his days at his Waitekauri home, prospecting in the hills around the entire area for as long as he was able. He died in Auckland, New Zealand in 1937, aged 85.

William Nicholl
William Nicholl at Waitekauri in the 1920s.
Source:The Jack Moore collection, Waihi Museum and Arts Centre Inc., Waihi, New Zealand.
Click to enlarge the photo.
Letters from Horatio Walmsley in the Klondike

Horatio Walmsley wrote several letters home about his original trip up to Dawson before he met up with William Nicholl. Parts of these letters were published in local newspapers, the Thames Star and the Waihi Miner.

Thames Star 30th September 1898:

We left Little Salmon on the 29th June (1898), having lost nearly two weeks there and reached Fort Selkirk the following day. We camped the first evening about two miles above the Five Finger Rapids but did not know we were so near until the next morning, when we reached them soon after starting. There were harmless bogeys. By keeping to the right-hand channel, although the current is swift and rather rough, there is no danger, and no difficulty passing through. High rock stands up on either side, with many river gulls perched on them.

Fort Selkirk consists of a few log huts and is opposite the mouth of the Pelly River, a little lower down the Yukon. Here, there were the usual reports of finds of gold, and with my partner being more in favour of fireside mining, we decided on a division of our goods. We accomplished this very amicably and pleasantly, he joining another party, some members of which had gone up to the reported find. Much to the disgust of my partner, they returned the day we had completed our division with the usual tale of emptiness.

The next day, I started for Dawson with a German who had separated from his party and was en route to Dawson. He was very happy to take advantage of my scow. On the third day, we made it to Stewart River, 100 miles from Selkirk. This journey could be done in two days but we did not get away until late the first day. We had delayed until noon to examine a system of reefs about 1 ½ miles up. This is the only system of reefs that I saw since leaving Canyon City, USA, and I have kept a careful watch on the ranges as we passed. A large reef system was apparent but it was of poor quality, and I could see no sign of any tests for gold being made. We debated the advisability of staying and trying the surrounding country for alluvial gold, but our desire to proceed was strong, and so we passed on.

At Stewart River, there were thousands of men waiting for news from parties prospecting, or waiting for the return of members of their own party. All the men harboured a great distrust of Dawson, the fear being that nothing is to be got there. To go down (the river) is to remain down unless you pay very high steamboat fares to get up again because to pull against the current is impossible. The fare from Dawson to Stewart River is $25 each for passengers alone.

Traces of gold of the very finest description can be got all down the river but nothing to give the faintest encouragement. I tried one place where the bed-rock was exposed, and looking as though it might hold gold, but I could only get 6 or 7 very fine colours to each dish. On the Grey, Ahaura, Buller and other rivers on the West Coast of New Zealand, a tail of gold an inch long can be got almost anywhere, and the beds are being extensively worked by sluicing and Californian Pumps. There is nothing yet discovered, either above Dawson or below, and men who have been many miles up Stewart River are leaving in disgust, and making for Dawson as a forlorn hope.

Thames Star 29 November 1898:

The Waihi Miner published a letter from Horatio A. Walmsley of Waihi and says:
A fellow passenger of mine secured a bench claim three across from the creek, and was sinking on it, expecting to go 100 feet down to bedrock. He informed me that he shepherded the ground for 20 days before he recorded it, in order to ascertain how long it might have been staked and not recorded. During that period, he got to know the surrounding claims. One of the best of the bench claims around was held by a German. He told my informant that he made $4 per day with his cradle, and that sometimes, by very hard work, he made $5. This can only go on during the summer, as everything freezes in the winter.

Another party, who made Dawson immediately, secured a bench claim only one across from the creek, and were heard to say that they had taken upwards of $2,000 worth of gold from a very small space of ground. They had everything ready for signing over their property before leaving, and then rumours got around that the ground was not at all as it was reported to be, with the result that on investigation, the purchaser changed his mind and refused to buy. This left them lamenting as they sold their outfits before exiting.

I also met another party at Dawson who were up the Little Salmon with me, all fresh from England. They were going in high spirits to see a claim offered to them for sale. I warned them not to believe the prospects told to them by the seller but to make a test for themselves away from the exposed face of the lead. They kindly promised to report results, and to make room for me if I wished to come in with them. They subsequently told me that they were shown very excellent dish prospects taken before their eyes, from the lead, and were then invited to tea. They returned to the claim by themselves, and after a great many dishes were washed, managed to obtain about as much altogether as was obtained by the owner in each dish. They did not purchase the claim.

The newspaper published at Dawson, the Klondike Nugget, estimated that, from the amount of royalty collected, the gross yield for this season, after allowing the widest margin possible for gold not accounted for, at $5 million or £1 million sterling, or about as much as the old Caledonia Mine at the Thames, New Zealand produced in one year. The quality of the gold is not high. At Dawson, The Bank of British North America pays U.S. $14.05 or £3 0s 5d sterling per ounce gold. At Vancouver or Seattle, it ranges from $14 to $17 per ounce on assay. If we compare the estimated yield by the Klondike Nugget of $5 million with other newspapers’ estimated of $10 million to $40 million, we have a fair sample of the usual exaggeration of all things.

I had the opportunity of recording two or three bench claims but I could see nothing in them. I saw evidences of reefs on the ranges around the celebrated creeks, but nothing to offer the least hope of their being payable or even gold-bearing.

Mr Walmsley next refers to the corruption amongst the Dawson officials and says: I myself know someone who went into the Recorder’s Office at night, and through bribery was able to record bench claims which they never saw nor staked. I also know of cases where men have secured recommendations of concessions (leases), on condition that certain officials were to have two thirds of such concessions, if granted. Corruption throughout, from the highest official to the meanest constable, is rampant.

Auckland Star 12 March 1901:
H. Walmsley of Waihi who left three years ago for Klondike is about to return to Waihi after a very successful stay in British Columbia.
William Turkey Goes to the Klondike in 1898
An account published in the New Zealand Herald 14 April 1898:
Mr William C. Turkey who is well-known on the New Zealand goldfields writes:
Dyea, Alaska, March 10, 1898:

I left Auckland last June, arriving in San Francisco in July. The excitement was intense all over the country at the time, so I lost no time in getting to the gateway to the goldfields, known as Skagway. But it was impossible to get in. I went back to the States, visiting all the principal mining towns, including Butte city, Monatana with a population of 60,000 inhabitants. They pay the highest wages in the world - 14 shillings for seven days per week.

I started again for the icy country on February 1st, arriving here at Dyea 10 days later, and got as far as the Summit. But seeing it was impossible to get any further until April 1 (because it was still frozen up), I decided to wait a bit longer, like thousands of others. It is nothing to see men carried in here frozen to death. Fully 2,000 horses died here during the winter. Dead horses, dogs, mules and donkeys will act as stepping-stones when the ice thaws.

It is worse than Waitekauri for mud in summer-time. There is a disease here known as spinal meningitis, caused through exposure. It is carrying men off by the score. Murders, suicides, and "hold-ups" are a daily occurrance here. Any man that can penetrate this country with a little experience in placer mining, and have a little money, say about £40, stands a good chance of making an independant fortune. I never met a man coming out yet but had from $10,000 - $50,000. It is the best chance that ever a poor man had, to make money, provided he can stand all kinds of hardship.

There are not many practical (experienced) miners coming here. They are principally what they term tenderfeet over here, unaccustomed to any kind of hardship. 50% of them will never get over the trail. It is about 400 miles from here to Dawson City, where the big strike was first made. I met a man here that came out three weeks ago, that I worked with in Charters Towers (a goldfield in Queensland, Australia) years ago. He told me the wash dirt on the Yukon runs from $50 to $200 to the dish. It is daylight for 24 hours a day in summer time. Every man you see has plenty of money.

I should strongly advise any intending fortune-seekers from New Zealand that are likely to suffer from consumption or home sickness, or any other diseases, to stay away, as it takes a man with nine lives to stand this climate in winter time. As a lot of your readers are aware, I suffered all kinds of hardships and privations all over the colonies, but I never met anything to stagger me until I cam here. The temperature goes as low as 25 degrees below zero. In summer time, the mosquitoes are a perfect plague. They would bite you through sheet-iron pants. People should not bring much clothing with them, as you can get the right kind here. Light clothes are useless here. Provisions are as cheap here as they are in Auckland, at least on the Coast of Alaska.

People are arriving at the rate of one thousand daily. One half of them go back disgusted at the first opportunity. The people are as thick along the trail as ever you saw then in the Auckland Stock Exchange during the boom. Of course, at present, I am only going on heresay as regards the richness of this country but I believe it is as rich as they claim it to be.

I expect to be in there by April 20, 1898, and then I will send you the correct figures for the benefit of your readers. Fully 500,000 people will go over these trails in the summer. They are coming here from all over the world. There are two ways of getting in there - the White Pass which goes in from Skagway, or the Chilkoot Pass which goes from Dyea which is the best.

If a man is caught stealing here, they lynch him there and then. Miners make their own laws. They gave one fellow 20 lashes the other day for stealing a coat, then branded him in large letters across his chest. It is not a home for criminals, by any means. They will show them no mercy. I will send you all the latest news when I get to Dawson City.

Nothing more was heard from William Turkey or at least, the papers were silent about him.

Shipping ads
Click to enlarge the photo.
An Armchair Stampeder in Vancouver
An unnamed Aucklander writes:
Vancouver, March 1898:

As some of your readers may like to hear of the Klondike rush from one on the spot, and not from the garbled versions of those who are paid to crack up the various routes, I venture to send this letter.

Leaving Wellington February 12 1898 by the Aorangi, and calling for a few hours at Suva and Honolulu, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada was reached at midnight on 4 March, and Vancouver on March 5th at midday, a record passage.

Everything here points Klondike-wards. The ironmongers, grocers, and clothing houses must be making money fast. Since my arrival, over 1,600 men have left here for the north by various steamers, with 80% of these men outfitted here. Every man has to take 1000lb of provisions, besides clothing and tools, and what with many of them taking teams of dogs, horses, sleighs, boats etc, the cash turnover for the storekeepers must have increased enormously.

Those who have gone north have mostly gone by Wrangell (Island), Dyea and Skagway, to try to get over the passes and lakes while the ice and snow make it easier to travel. Owing to a very early spring, I hear the routes are in a state of indescribable slush, and hundreds are blocked on the various routes.

The real rush has not yet set in, and will not until the gold returns (estimated at $10 million) come out from Dawson City in June or July. Then, for all you hear, it will be the biggest rush on record. Even now, every train that comes in from the East is packed to overflowing with Klondikers. Many trains are so heavily laden they have to be brought in to two, and sometimes three stations. The streets are thronged with men in all sorts of clothing, who are waitng for steamers to carry them north. The hotels are overcrowded, and the City Council is arranging accommodation for newcomers in the drill hall and other places where the traveller can get a night's rest.

Of the 140 Klondikers the Aorangi brought in, the majority have gone north. Though they seem a pretty tough and hardy lot, they little know of the trials that are in store for them before they get to Yukon. The cold is such as Australians and New Zealanders have no conception of. Spinal meningitis is reported to be rampant from Skagway northwards. A party of three men going over the Chilkoot Pass had to stop, as one of them was almost paralysed with this complaint, brought on by cold and exposure only. His two mates put him between them one night for extra warmth, and in the morning, woke to find a corpse lying between them.

You do not hear even 1% of such cases, as the papers and transportation companies do not publish these gruesome stories. Their idea is to get people to believe that you can get from Vancouver to Dawson as easily as from Auckland to Kuaotuna, and thus keep up the rush. Whatever the true facts about this season's gold returns are, one thing is certain that the transportation companies will make it a big one in any case.

L. B. Hamlin from Victoria, Austalia in Dawson City 1897
Mr L. B. Hamlin, the Provincial Government Engineer, sent a report on the Yukon which arrived in Victoria, Australia 9 March 1898:

Dawson City, 1 November 1897: Dawson City is a long, straggling place composed of log cabins and tents, extending over two miles and divided by the Klondike River. The population is about 2,000 at present. An immense number of fortune hunters are frozen in along the different trails. The only buildings with any pretense to size are three stores, opera houses, police barracks and the hospital. Saloons and restaurants are innumerable. Whisky is largely consumed at these places and costs 50 cents to one dollar per glass. A famine in food is likely to occur in the early spring. There is a great shortage, the stores have nothing to sell, such as rice, flour, beans and bacon. A fifty pounds bag of flour costs $100 per bag, rice beans and bacon are $1 per pound, beef $1.25 per pound, and everything else in proportion.

Many hundreds of the miners are forced to go outside in the winter, searching for food, which is a serious and dangerous undertaking. The London Daily Mail Correspondent recently lost all his supplies on the Trail and was picked up by a party of two Indians and one white man, only to die of cold,starvation and exposure.

Lawlessness has been rife in Skagway, the "tough" element and the "confidence" men being much to the fore. In last week's papers, it was stated that three men had had revolvers pointed at them in broad daylight on the beach at Skagway. They were forced to hand over $150, $300 and $700 to the blackguards.

Dawson City
Dawson City taken at Midnight by the light of the Acrtic Sun. 1888-9 (William Pacey Collection).
Source: Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections AWNS-18990908-4-2
Click to enlarge the photo.
Wintering over in Dawson City is not Recommended
Auckland Star 29 January 1898:

Portland, Oregon, USA, 24 December 1897:

George Ruth of Flathead, Montana reached Portland on the steamer Elder this evening, having come direct from Dawson City having left there 5 November 1897. He warned of the suffering likely before winter passes, because of the shortage of provisions in Dawson, and vicinity. Mr Ruth disposed of all his supplies, except 110 pounds which he intended to use of his way to Dyea

Of the situation there he said:
All had never been told of the richness of the claims. They are panning out in wonderful quantities, but the glitter of the gold does not make up for the lack of bread. Men are short in some instances, and there is little chance of obtaining supplies unless they are got in from outside Dawson. There is about enough provisions, I would judge, to keep about 2,000 men through the winter, while the population dependent on Dawson for food is between 5,000 and 7,000.

There seems to be lots of meat and sugar but all other kinds of food are very short. A few days before I left, I sold two bags of flour for $150, and saw two sheep bring the same amount. A short time before I left, 300 men left Dawson to go down the river until they reached the supplies said to be cached there.

The mounted police are getting as many to leave as possible. As I came out, I found that the police has about 100 tons of provisions stored at Lake Bennett, which they intended to take to Dawson as soon as possible. They now have 200 dogs there, waiting to take the expedition in.

I found it impossible for a man to drag a sled with enough food and clothing to supply him while going from Dawson to the coast. I started with 110 pounds but when I was 15 nights out, I had to dispose of all but a small quantity and to throw away all blankets but one pair. I relied on getting food from people camped on the way, and from the stores of the mounted police.

The s.s. Cape Otway leaves Auckland bound for the Klondike March 1898
New Zealand Herald 8 March 1898:

Two Wairarapa Maori leave this week for the Klondike Goldfields.

New Zealand Herald 10 March 1898:

There arrived by the s.s. Mahinapua nine, and by the Gairloch, two enterprising diggers who intend to join the s.s. Cape Otway, en route for the Klondike goldfields. They come from all parts of the South, and will probably find out one bit of proverbial philosophy, that "the rolling stone gathers no moss."

About 40 passengers join the Cape Otway at Auckland for the Klondike. The majority of the passengers leaving by the Cape Otway are from the South and the West Coast.

Cape Otway
Fares to Juneau and Dyea: Saloon £35; Second Saloon: £30 Click to enlarge the photo.
New Zealand Herald 12 March 1898:

The Cape Otway's Passengers "Off To The Klondike": The steamer Cape Otway arrived in Auckland last night from Sydney and leaves for Juneau (the nearest port to Klondike) via Suva and Vancouver, carrying 203 passengers, the majority of whom are bound for the Klondike mining fields. Eighty of the men come from Western Australia where some have been mining for years with considerable success. The balance are from Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland, with 43 from New Zealand, the majority of whom are from the Southern districts. Most of the miners have means (money), some it is said having as much as £6,000 lying to their credit in Australian Banks, and others with a few hundred pounds. They look a steady and hardy lot of men, and so far as health and physical strength are concerned, appear to be well-fitted to withstand the trying climate of the district to which they are bound. Though there are several parties on board, the majority of the men intend to work singly or in pairs. The bigger parties will secure larger areas of property, although their earnings will go into a common fund and be divided among them. They have conducted themselves well, and some of them appear to be a rather superior class of miners. Several stowaways were discovered on the passage across from Sydney, with five being handed over to the Auckland Police last night. It is suspected that there are others on board who will doubtless be found before the voyage is ended. Among the saloon passengers is W. R. Cuthbertson, the well-known Australian explorer, who is being despatched to the field by an influential Australian syndicate.

More Reports from the Klondike
New Zealand Herald 19 November 1898:

Mr J.T. Tracey of Wellington who has returned from Klondike gives a compelling account of the new goldfield, and earnestly advises everyone to keep away. There are, he says, only a few good claims, and he accuses the officials of secretly sending out to investigate new applications, and if they find the prospects are good, the applicants are informed that the claim was recorded some time before. On his trip up, 1400 boats left Lake Bennett together. No less than 10 New Zealanders whose names he does not give, were drowned in the rapids, and this was only about a twentieth of the number lost on the trip alone. A great many who were disgusted with the place tried to get back down the Yukon but some were drowned. Many a wife or friend thinks they are still prospecting in the Yukon Valley but they will never see again.

Auckland Star 12 December 1898:

Some forty unsuccessful miners returned from the Klondike by the Aorangi. Several landed in Wellington, but most of them went on to Sydney. Only one of those on board had any success. They say all the payable claims are taken up.

Auckland Star 28 December 1898:

The Daily Telegraph's special correspondent at Dawson City stongly warns Australians from going to the Klondike. It is no poor man's field, and the only poeple who make any money are the transportation companies, the saloon keepers and the police. For the sake of them, the boom will probably be kept up for a year or two longer. He charges the police and other Government officials with wholesale bribery and sharp practice.

New Zealand Herald 16 May 1899:

An Aucklander in Klondike:
Dawson, Yukon, Canada, 14 March 1899: My dear father, As I promised when I left New Zealand that I would give you a general description of the Yukon goldfield. I now feel in a position to do so, having toured quite extensively during this last summer and winter over various creeks and workings. There are great difficulties attached to a prospector's life here, which is mainly due to the severity of this northern climate, and also to the incomplete and inefficient regulations that govern.

The only means of transportation that the prospector has is either to pack his provisions on his back, haul them over frozen ground in a sled by hand or should he be the lucky owner of some good dogs, to yoke them up for the purpose. Then comes the sinking of holes in frozen ground, which is a very slow process, as the ground has to be burnt with fires. I can get down about 18 inches on the average day, so the pay, when struck, needs to be very rich to recompense the prospector. The season for working creek claims only last about six months. The bench and hill claims are worked during the summer months with an ordinary cradle, and must be rich before they pay, as the ground in the summer still remains frozen and requires to be burnt out also.

The cost of living is extremely high, work for wages is hard to get, and it is almost impossible for a man who is destitute for money to be able to live here. The field is certainly a rich one, but as far as is yet shown, is of very limited extent. No new discoveries extending the limits of the field have been made since the first creeks were staked. They seem practically the only creeks where rich pay is now being found, and many of them have proven of no value. A very few hundred of all the thousands of claims staked are actually paying under the present system of working them. No quartz of any value has yet been found so far as I know.

There are a great many men on this field who cannot get work to do at any kind of wages, let alone living wages. Next summer will see a great many rush back to the outside world. I believe, with many others, that there are methods of working the ground on these fields, such as hydraulicing, dredging etc that can be made profitable to people with capital. This will enable low-grade ground to be profitably worked, then, and not until then, will the place be worth coming to. As to scope of country for enterprises of this nature, it may be said it is unlimited, as prospects can be got everywhere that would prove highly remunerative if operated on efficiently.

New Zealand Herald 3 August 1899:

Vessels from the north are bringing down miners from the goldfields, some of them very rich and healthy, others defeated and suffering. The vicinity of Klondike has fulfilled early promises, but Copper River and other regions have lured men into dreadful dangers and hardships, without giving any returns. The second gold ship of the season arrived in Seattle on 4 July 1899, bringing about $150,000 in dust. The money belonged to 30 passengers. The City of Topeka arrived at Seattle two days later, bringing about $200,000 in dust. The wealth belonged to Klondikers, while Copper River miners are without money or decent clothes. They were assisted by their more fortunate fellows. It is reported that a Government relief party sent into the interior did much good, saving many lives. The steamer Humbolt brought 275 passengers and about $500,000.

New Zealand Herald 10 August 1899:

Writing from Victoria (British Columbia) on 29 June 1899, a correspondent says: Gold has begun to arrive from the north. Already 5 steamers have arrived with a number of wealthy Klondikers. Altogether, the gold is valued at $2 million. The output this season will be about $19 million in total.

William Pacey Returns from The Klondike 1899
William Pacey
William Pacey, a New Zealander who made his fortune at the Klondike in 12 months 1898-9.
Source: Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections AWNS-18990908-4-3
Click to enlarge the photo.
New Zealand Herald 4 September 1899:

William Pacey of Alexandra, Otago, was one of the passengers on the Cape Otway which left the Queen Street wharf, Auckland in March 1898. Mr Pacey is a tall, muscular and determined-looking man who has been a miner all his life and shows little signs of his 12 months' residence on the "placer" goldfields of the Klondike. He has mined in the quartz claims of the South, worked in alluvial deposits in central Otago, has spoon-dredged for gold on Otago rivers, and pegged out auriferous areas after the introduction of the elevator for tailings, which enabled dredging operations to be considerably extended. Throughout all this mining activity, he has met with varying success. Speaking of dredging claims, it is more than probable that his dredging interests in Otago may add still further to his wealth. Mr Pacey may therefore be considered an exceptionally fortunate man as he has made one fortune in the Klondike in 14 months, and the future may bring forth another.

Mining records
Mining records for William Pacey at Woolshed, Otago 1863, as seen in the Goldminer's database.
Click to enlarge the photo.

William Pacey was interviewed by the Herald and said:
I can truthfully say that I have done very well out of my claim. It was not a difficult matter to reach the field. By far the best route is by Skagway. As a miner, I recognised the enormous possibilities of the field, including the rich placers of the valley of the Yukon and its tributaries, the Klondike, the Eldorado and Bonanza Creeks. The Klondike is one of the richest rivers in the world, and the amount of gold won from some of the claims is enormous. The amounts already run from $300,000 to $400,000, and Skookum's Gulch should by this time have yielded over $500,000.

From the Yukon Genealogy Database: North-Western Mounted Police records at Lakes Bennett and Tagish: riverboat passenger lists:
Name: PACEY, William
Date: 28 May 1898
New Zealand Boat 1645

White Horse Rapids
William Pacey shooting the White Horse Rapids on his way to the Klondike 1898. (William Pacey Collection)
Source: Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections AWNS-18990908-4-1
Click to enlarge the photo.

Experts have proved that the quartz formation is of low grade. The country rock is mica schist, streaked with quartz. The pay streaks vary in depth and are found practically on the surface in some places while in others you have to sink a shaft many feet before bed rock is reached. This pay streak, despite the opinions of experts, has been traced for miles and miles. I believe they will hold out, as the mining areas are extended, as they are doing rapidly. The pay streak is very rich in places. It sometimes runs to several dollars to the pan, and you can understand what that means when you have a good claim and can shovel regularly into a rocker to save the gold.

The operation of working the claims is very simple. The ground is frozen to bedrock all year round, except for say 5 feet from the surface. You clear away for your shaft and sink by burning your way down, beating the frozen ground and digging away until you reach bedrock. You burn in the evening when you leave off work, and the next day, you remove the thawed country and gravel. You proceed this way until you want to extend from the shaft and work to the boundary of your claim. Your shaft is not a big one, but it is large enough to be able to send up the golden deposit. If air is required, it is an easy matter to rig up a wind-blast near the mouth of the shaft.

My claim was situated on Gold Hill which lies inland a little from the Eldorado and Bonanza River claims. My shaft was the third sunk on that part of the field. There are over 300 claims being worked there now, and many of them are payable. My claim was 100 feet square, this being the regulation area for hill claims, while 500 feet square may be taken up as a river claim. Yes the claims are small, but they are quite large enough if you strike the pay streak. The methods of saving the gold are most primitive, yet effective. It does not require much skill, or a super-abundance of gold-saving appliances to save gold like this. We sank 62 feet, and struck bedrock, but we carried the pay streak, and she panned out well. I had several men on the ground, and we did good work. We made handsome hauls from our dirt, and after 12 months on the field, I was able to leave for home with enough gold to keep myself, my wife and family comfortably.

Gold Hill Claim
William Pacey's Gold Hill claim on the Klondike, 1888-9. (William Pacey Collection)
Source: Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections AWNS-18990908-5-3
Click to enlarge the photo.

We had our trials and troubles. The cost of living was considerable with meat at 5 shillings a pound, bread and butter at similar rates. This was a great drawback for a man without a large amount of capital, although prices have gone down considerably in the last twelve months.

When I had taken a sufficient quantity of gold out, I decided to sell out. I disposed of my mine for very much more than I paid for it. Perhaps I sold too soon, but I had had enough. And besides, I had been absent from my wife, and she was anxious about me, and always wrote asking me to return. Those I sold to will take a large quantity of gold from the mine. Others will do well on this particular portion of the field.

Eldorado and Bonanza are very rich creeks, despite what has been stated to the contrary. Miles and miles of creeks have been located, and I am certain the auriferous and rich gravel deposits will be found to extend further and further. At Eldorado, some of the claims have yielded between $300,000 and $500,000, while there is said to be good paydirt on the Hunker and branches of the Indian River. Bonanza Creek is also rich, both above and below the Discovery Claim. From quarter to half a million dollars have been won from some river claims, which, as I have said, are 500 feet square. Skookum's Gulch is somewhat peculiar in that it is a surface claim, and is being worked by means of an open face, the pay streak being about 18 feet wide and very rich.

Grand Forks Junction
Grand Forks, junction of Eldorado and Bonanza Creeks, 1888-9 (William Pacey Collection).
Source: William Pacey, Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections AWNS-18990908-5-1
Click to enlarge the photo.

The Klondike is not the fraud that many people call it, mostly disappointed miners, or ignorant new-chums who should never have ventured onto the field. It is a marvellously rich field, and don't you forget it. It is not the rough and lawless country that many describe it. There is just as much law and order in Dawson City and surroundings now as there is in Auckland. There are no murders, men do not waltz round all day with their six-shooters ready to draw on an opponent There are very few robberies, and crime is not as bad as many would state. Many of those who have described the place as a den of inequity have never got near the place. Many have turned back disheartened, with not a good word to say about the Klondike. This is most unfair, and should be contradicted. Of course there are lively times in some of the saloons, but very few crimes committed.

There are many rich claims there, but again, the population is much in excess of what the area can support at present. Though I do not say to New Zealanders: 'Go to the Klondike', I must say that there is nothing to prevent a man doing what I have done, provided he has experience, and luck as well. What I would say would be to wait until the mining district is extended, and if there is a chance to get in early, make full and careful enquiries before leaving. There are many restrictions on mining in the Klondike, and the Government Regulations are very strict. In my opinion, they do much to retard the progress of the industry.

Skookum's Gulch
Skookum's Gulch Claim is somewhat peculiar in that it is a surface claim, and is being worked by means of an open face, the pay streak being about 18 feet wide and very rich at that. 1888-9. (William Pacey Collection)
Source: Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections AWNS-18990908-5-2
Click to enlarge the photo.

William Pacey has brought back two of the miniature sacks that alluvial miners usually carry their gold in, and he poured the contents onto the table. One bag was filled with handsome nuggets, from the size of a pigeon's egg to small alluvial slugs. The other was filled with small nuggets, ranging in size from that of marbles to beads. A few of the nuggets were impregnated with white quartz. The gold would run about £3 10s per oz, and in the two bags shown, there must have been gold to the value of over £250 (about 71 oz). Another bag contained dust, valued at $2,000 (571 oz). The rest of his gold has been previously banked, to a total of, it is said, £7,000. Mr Pacey stated that he had brought back a few bags of gold with him to show his wife, children and friends. Attached to a $190 gold watch, he had a handsome chain made solely of small nuggets linked together with gold rings, while for his wife and her companion, Mr Pacey had a chain of nuggets and broaches, with the gold beaten into miniature picks, buckets and shovels, all being made from gold won from his claim.

Acknowledgments

I would like thank Harriet Taylor and Bronwyn Spurr of the Waihi Arts Centre and Museum Association Inc, Waihi for their kind assistance. I would also like to acknowledge the use of the Nicholl family photos and letters donated to the Waihi Arts Centre and Museum Association Inc by Mr Jack Moore who was the nephew of William Nicholl.

References
  1. Thames Today and As it Opened 60 years Ago, 1937 An unpublished manuscript by William Nicholl. Auckland Libraries Reference NZ MSS 512.
  2. Latest From The Klondike by William C. Turkey. New Zealand Herald 14 April 1898.
  3. Goldminer's Database
  4. Heritage Images, Auckland Libraries.
  5. Paperspast National Library of New Zealand.
  6. Klondyke, Letter From Mr H.A. Walmsley
  7. Notes and Comments - Walmsley. Thames Star 29 November 1898
  8. Back From the Klondike by William Pacey. New Zealand Herald 4 September 1899.
  9. Yukon Genealogy Search the Database Online for N.W.M.P. Chilkoot checkpoint and riverboat records.1898-9
  10. Search the Yukon Archives.
  11. Library and Archives Canada.
  12. FamilySearch Yukon Online Genealogy Records
  13. White Pass and Yukon Route
  14. Dawson City Museum.
  15. Alaska State Library, Finding Your Gold Rush Relatives.
  16. Stampeder Genealogy: National Park Service
  17. Tons of Goods: National Parks Service.
  18. Explore North An Explorers Guide to the North.
  19. Mileages on the Upper Yukon River: Explore North.
  20. The Klondike and Nome Goldrushes: Photograph Collection University of Washington Library.
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