Volume 6 (2022)
THE TRUE STORY OF THE DISCOVERY OF THE SHOTOVER MINE AT THAMES IN 1867
As told to David Henry Clarkson, by his father George Clarkson
The New Zealand Government offered a reward of £5,000 to the discoverer of the first payable goldfield. George Clarkson, starting out from Papakura, walked to Auckland where he boarded a small boat 'The Enterprise'. The run to Thames took 17 hours. He went ashore in a pulling boat, and looked around for somewhere to stay. At that time, there were no houses, only whares.
A large whare partitioned into two was occupied, one half by Mr Mackay, the mining registrar, and the other half by Hunt and White. George Clarkson was invited to share their half of the whare. He set out prospecting but with no results, and finally took his things to the boat with the intention of returning to Auckland. On the shore, he met someone who advised him to try again, as there would later be some more Maori land opened for prospecting, he took the advice.
Next morning, he walked along the beach until he came to the Kuranui Creek. Taking a pan of dirt from the creek, he washed it and found good prospects of gold. Returning to the whare, he asked Hunt how he was getting on. He replied that 'so far he had had no luck'. Clarkson then told him of the prospects shown in the Kuranui Creek and invited him to join in. Hunt said he already had his partner, White, so Clarkson included him too.
Early next morning, they went up the creek through thick undergrowth until they came to a little waterfall about 20ft high. Hunt and White went up the right-hand side of the fall, and Clarkson the left-hand side. Reaching the top, he sat down and looked at the water. Hunt called, 'come on, let's go up further' but Clarkson said, 'No, I won't go any further', and began to retrace his steps the same way he had gone up. The others went down their way.
Reaching their starting point, Clarkson walked to the face of the rock, and looking intently saw a speck of gold. He called out 'hand me up the pick' (it was his own), then knocking the moss off the stone, picked some of the rock out, and found it was a very rich stone.
The three men went back together with the stone to the camp and showed it to Mr Mackay. He asked where they got it and who found it. Both men said, 'Clarkson found it', and Mr Mackay at once said 'you're a very lucky man'. He warned them not to say a word to anyone because it was on Maori land.
Mackay straight away set to work negotiating with the Maoris, who were very reluctant to throw open the land for prospecting. However, after four days' hard persuading, they finally agree. Mr Mackay then issued the miner's rights, and Clarkson had the first one because he had discovered the gold.
Mackay, Clarkson and the other two went to the show, where the warden measured it off, allowing them one acre each (prospectors were entitled to two acres each) but the warden said it would be sufficient because it was so rich. In point of fact, a quarter acre would have taken it all in; the reed was 4ft wide and the shoot of gold 20ft long. Then Hunt suggested taking another partner in to make it even, and said he knew a man named Cobley, so they included him.
They took some samples of stone to Auckland and had it treated (at a place at the top of Grey Street). It went 8oz of gold to 1lb of stone. Then work started in earnest.
Frazer and Tinney put up a 10-head battery at the mine, and the crushing proceeded. One day the battery was not working as it should, and they stopped it to investigate. The amalgam was half way up the gratings! (The amalgam is a mixture of gold and quicksilver (mercury). Eight retorts were kept going to separate the quicksilver from the gold. One day, Cobley was left to look after the retorts, but when Clarkson returned, he found him drunk and the bottom burned out of the retorts. The gold running out into the ashes.
The banks at Thames were buying the gold at only 25 shillings per ounce, so the miners sent 7,000 ounces to England through the bank on the corner of Queen and Victoria Street. The price they received from England was £3.10.0 per ounce, plus the silver metal extracted.
The 'Shotover' was so named at the suggestion of the minister - the water shooting over the top.
The four men got at least £40,000 each out of it, and it is interesting to note that the Government of the day did not honour its pledge to pay the reward offered for the discovery of the first payable goldfield. It still owes.
There remains no written proof that my father made the actual discovery because of his lack of foresight in letting Hunt get away with lies. Yet at the time it was well-known, and there were many instances of Hunt being challenged and unable to answer, but he had the cunning which my father lacked. So in the history of goldmining in New Zealand, it is known as 'Hunt's claim'.
The Thames people had the miner's pick with which the lucky strike was made, engraved 'Mr. George Clarkson, the Gold Discoverer'. The pick is in my possession.
This is the story of the actual finding of the 'Shotover' as told to me by my father, George Clarkson.
Comments by the Editor, Kae Lewis
Much of this article has proved to be controversial and may be put down to the memories of an elderly Clarkson which may have faded over time. Also the story is second-hand, told by his son, probably much later. It seems likely that Hunt and Clarkson first noticed the reef together, while White and Cobley remained in camp. However, it is the same with almost every gold claim, one of the claim-holders make the first discovery and points it out to his mates. It is the later development of the mine that counts and this is almost always a joint effort. One miner in each claim often stands out, usually because of his leadership and organizational skills. In the case of the Shotover claim, this leader was undoubtedly Hunt.
The problem with the claim being in Maori territory was because the boundary of the negotiated Thames Special Area went down the centre of the Kuranui Creek. Since the claimholders wanted their Shotover claim to encompase the entire Kuranui waterfall, only half of it was within the Thames Special Area, and half on Maori land. Eventually they were able to peg out the entire waterwall. Soon after that, the entire Kuranui Hill and the Waitotahi was included in the Thames Special Area, thanks to James Mackay's ongoing negotiations with the landowners.
The complete story of the finding and developing of the Shotover Mine in the Kuranui is given in more detail in my book: Goldrush To The Thames, New Zealand 1867 - 1869 by Kae Lewis.