Gold Miner The New Zealand Goldrush Journal

Volume 2 (2018)

THE TAPU GOLDFIELD 1867- 1868 Part I

by Kae Lewis

The First Few Months

The Tapu Goldfield was located 30km north of Thames on the western seaboard of the Coromandel Peninsula.

Thames Map
Figure 1: Map of The Thames Goldfield, showing the Tapu Goldfield in the north.
Source: The Thames Goldfields Miner's Guide.
Click to enlarge the photo.

November 2017 marked the 150th anniversary of the official opening of the Tapu Goldfield on 9th November 1867. However, it was the 8th January 1868 before enough gold miners were convinced of the merits of the field to cause a rush up the coast. By the 18th February, there were 400 men prospecting and staking claims on the hills above the Tapu creek. The Maori tapu line, after which the creek is still named to this day, lay on the entrance to the creek and extended up the southern side, while, initially at least, the miners were concentrating on the northern side.

Tapu Creek
Figure 2: Tapu Creek as it is today (2018).
Click to enlarge the photo.

Tapu Creek
Figure 3: Tapu Creek as it was in 1868. Note the steep sides of the creek, within which much of the gold was found in 1868.
Source: Photograph by John Kinder held at
The Auckland War Memorial Museum.
Click to enlarge the photo.

The Original Inhabitants of Waipatukahu (Tapu) Creek

The first tapu was placed in about 1839 when the Ngati Tamatera pa had been sacked by a raiding party from the Tauranga district. Many Ngati Tamatera were slaughtered and buried at the river mouth. Hence the area became tapu. Later, during the Maori wars, Chief Tamumeha Te Moananui placed a second tapu there to restrict overland passage through the area. The British Army was trying to prevent local Maori from joining in the wars at Waikato.

Gold Discovered at Tapu Creek

Miners reported to James MacKay on 11 October 1867 that gold had been found in the Tapu Creek. He liked the idea of opening a goldfield at Tapu because he hoped it would distract the miners from wanting to go to the forbidden Ohinemuri to look for alluvial gold. He visited the various tribes involved and an agreement was reached. In 1868, since the wars had now ceased, it was hoped the tapu could be removed. On 18 Feb 1868, the Chiefs Te Moananui and Pita Taurua came from Coromandel to discuss the lifting of the tapu on the Waipatukahu (Tapu) creek and the ground to the south of the creek.

By then there were several sluicing claims operating, including the McIsaacs and their neighbours the Navvies who were doing well.

The McIsaac Family
Figure 4: Results from a search of The Goldminer's Database: Nine members of the McIsaac family from Coromandel staked the first claim at Tapu, beginning on 14 November 1867, one week after the Tapu Goldfield was officially opened.
Click to enlarge the photo.

High Quality Gold found at Tapu Creek

A miner arrives in Thames from Tapu Creek on 5th Jan 1868 with 30 oz of high quality gold. Tapu gold was worth up to £4 per oz, while most Thames gold was worth between £2 9s and £3 2s due to its much higher silver content.

Several small nuggets were found at Tapu Creek on 7 Jan 1868. There were three dry creeks (No's 2, 3 & 4 Creeks - see the map in Part II, Figure 1.) running into the Tapu Creek, and it is said that 1000 oz of alluvial gold was taken from them. Many tried looking for good pay dirt in the main Tapu Creek with mixed results.

11 Jan 1868, 400 – 500 miners proceed from the Thames to Tapu Creek. Most were seeking alluvial gold in the creek bed. They found nuggets of course-grained gold, free of quartz, weight from a pennyweight to 7 ozs. But most of it had quartz attached because it was found only a short distance from the quartz-reef source. For a true alluvial goldfield, such as was found in Otago, there must be a long distance and a mighty river such as the Clutha, to grind down the quartz and release the gold. This simply does not occur anywhere on the Thames and Tapu goldfields, and hence very little alluvial gold was ever found on either of these goldfields. However these early finds of gold nuggets in the Tapu Creek was a good indication to the miners that in the hills above the creek, they would surely find the source quartz-reef full of high quality gold, unlike anything yet seen at either The Thames or Coromandel. There was great excitement when it was reported that a nugget weighing 20 oz had been found in the Tapu Creek.

The New Zealand Herald: 15 January 1868:

'I returned (to Shortland) late last night from Tapu. The sea-mouth of Tapu Creek is a fine reach of water, in which a cutter or small steamer could ride safely in a heavy wind, and as the winds believe in being heavy on this part of the coast, that would be a great advantage, if the creek could be used at or near its junction with the sea. But it cannot be used, as it is tapu. Now the reason it is tapu is, I am told, that some five hundred chiefs - not your common people - are buried here; and although they were the Bay of Island's natives who had come down to this part of the world to have a 'great fight' yet their enemies have still held that that the bones must be taken care of, so the place remains sacred.

(To get to Tapu), I did what I have often done before, strapped up my swag, flung my billy on my back, and walked the distance. I made it from Shortland Town in six hours, having camped for an hour to have a cup of tea on the road. The road is about 16 miles, along the beach all the way. Very hard to travel but still pleasant for those who, like myself, enjoy a good walk now and then. On the road down, I saw two or three native settlements, and a few Maori. At some parts of the track along the beach there are immense boulders to be clambered over. It is necessary to start from either end of the line as near to low water as possible, or you may be delayed by some hours; the water is 12 feet deep in some places. Making a track along the ranges is impossible so there is nothing for it but to camp and wait for the fall of the tide.

About 5 o'clock in the evening, I reached the small flat which is the site of the township. Flags were waving, dogs were barking and men were shouting. A township was to be formed, and many were pegging off their allotments already. But the site of the town, if town there is to be, must be something like what I have heard of Wellington. In a straight line, there is not more than 200 yards of level ground from the sea beach to the foot of a high and most precipitous range which shuts in this little flat. All who have been along this coast are aware that the ranges dip abruptly into the sea, and this at the Tapu Creek is one of the exceptions on a small scale. I do not think there ought to be a township here - not for the present at least, as the miner's right and business licences will be ample rental for the use of the place (from the Maori landowners). I am told that the Civil Commissioner, Mr Mackay is also of this opinion, as he intends fixing the township, should one be laid out, at the Waikawau. There are a number of stores on the flat, and the corrugated iron and bricks for a bakehouse and oven were being landed from the cutter 'Catherine' while I was there.

As to the Tapu itself: Early next morning, I started up the creek; there were not many men visible, but (this may be because) there was a rush on the previous day. There was very little sign of work done, but that was accounted for by the fact of the alluvial claim that has turned out best - McIsaac's, being at the very top of one of the highest ranges here. I went in search of this claim, but did not get to it. I could have got along somehow myself, but, as my dog had persisted in coming with me from Shortland, and he, poor fellow, couldn't walk along the side of the range as steep as a wall, so I had to give it up. I went however along a good many of the creeks with a small prospecting party that had been down about a week, and while out, I fell in with many other parties. We tried a good many prospects, and while they were working, I went with others to see what was being done, but I only saw 'colour' in one case. The same colour that we raised here at the Tapu, I have seen raised in 96 cases out of 99 in the Karaka Creek. There are strong indications of the country having reefs but not as strong as in the Karaka and its surrounding blocks. In a word, I see no reason to believe that the Tapu Creek is an alluvial diggings, and if it is an alluvial diggings, there is as yet no fair grounds for the high value that is set on them. No-one would be more glad than I would be to see a good alluvial field, but there are certain signs and tokens by which you can tell whether or not men are making money, and these signs and tokens are absent here just now. At the same time, I arrive at this consolatory conclusion that the Karaka gold-field extends down to the Tapu. As I came near the township, I found that McLiver's party had taken the course I should certainly take myself - they were putting a drive down into the ranges in search of a second Scotia claim. Mr Mackay had called in with the 'Emma' on his way to Cabbage Bay and had left Mr Warden Baillie to look after official business.'

The New Zealand Herald: 16 January 1868:

'Perhaps the most satisfactory news yet received from the Thames is the opening of an alluvial diggings at the Tapu Creek. The successful result of the rush which has lately set in to that place is now put beyond a doubt by the appearance in the market of parcels of alluvial gold. Yesterday Mr Hogg, of the firm Hogg and Co., of Shortland Town, showed us a fine sample of alluvial gold altogether weighing 33 oz which has been purchased from miners arriving in Shortland from Tapu, and which in the course of the day was deposited in the Bank of New Zealand. We were also shown another sample by Mr Sceats of some 12 oz, brought from the same locality, chiefly fine gold.

The gold is at present chiefly obtained from gullies leading into the Tapu Creek. The sinking (depth) varies from 1-7 feet, and in some places the whole of the ground will pay for washing (with a gold pan). The bottom is a rotten (broken-up) slate. It is said that a large extent of likely-looking alluvial country extends from Tapu to Cabbage Bay, containing large gullies and alluvial flats. Towards Waikawau, the gold is a shotty (pocked) nature, and if, as we were told, two men in two hours obtained three and a half ounces of such gold, there can be no doubt as to the productiveness of the field. The gold, too is worth considerably more than that obtained from the Kauaeranga (Thames) reefs. Quartz too is found in abundance in the ranges, and Mr McIsaac and party have, we are informed, struck a very promising leader.

Our informant adds that at Tapu, where there are now some hundreds of miners, there is a general appearance of well-doing, and that a considerable amount of gold is now in the hands of individuals. Amongst the gold shown to us yesterday were several nuggets varying from half an ounce to a piece the size of a walnut; other pieces again, contained more or less of quartz. We are assured that there is a large extent of country which has every appearance of being auriferous, and from which in various places, alluvial gold has been obtained, while for those desirous of quartz-reefing, there is a large field for exploration in the neighbouring hills.'

The New Zealand Herald: 20 January 1868:

'News of Tapu Creek: The miners, of whom there are between 800 and 1000 already on the ground, appear to be generally doing well and to be satisfied with their prospects. Large offers for shares have been refused. Stores and buildings are going up, and the place is rapidly increasing in size and population. For the benefit of ingoing vessels, Mr Sceats (owner of the newly built British Hotel) with his customary enterprise, has improvised a kind of lighthouse on a small scale, by erecting a pole with a lamp at the top of it. It is said that though there is at least 10 feet of water in the mouth of the creek at high water, it is not a safe anchorage, as when the water subsides, the vessel is left resting on large boulders.'
Cutter Fly
Figure 5: Daily Southern Cross 16 January 1868.
Click to enlarge the photo.
SS Tauranga
Figure 6: Daily Southern Cross 18 January 1868.
Click to enlarge the photo.

The Township of Hastings.

By the 1 February 1868, it was estimated that there were between 800 and 1000 miners on the Tapu Creek. The township of Hastings at the mouth of the Tapu Creek had been marked out by James MacKay, so he must have given up the idea of putting it at Waikawau. All the allotments were sold while stores and buildings, most made of wood and canvas were rapidly going up. 25 oz of gold had been brought to the Thames from Tapu Creek, even without any stamping batteries.

8 Feb 1868: 80 oz of gold arrived in the Thames from the McIsaac’s claim, Tapu Creek.

14 March 1868. John Sceats has opened his new hotel, the British which was always popular. John Sceats also took out a miner’s right at Tapu Creek on 18 January 1868 and was one of the shareholders of the Lord Nelson claim, next to McIsaac’s.

John Sceats
Figure 7: John Sceats, Publican of Hastings was a shareholder in the Lord Nelson Claims at Tapu.
Source:The Goldminer's Database
Click to enlarge the photo.

Another substantial hotel was being built at Tapu by Mr Horne.

Town Plan
Figure 8: The Surveyor's Plan of Hastings, 1868 commissioned by James Mackay Jnr.
Source: Sir George Grey Collection, Auckland Public Library.
Click to enlarge the photo.
Tapu Township
Figure 9: An aerial view of Tapu township taken in 1959, showing the silting of the mouth of the creek caused mostly by goldmining.
Source: Whites Aviation collection,
Alexander Turnball Library.
Click to enlarge the photo.

Good News From the Claims of Tapu Creek.

18 March 1868: Another two pioneers of the Tapu Creek were Thomas Quinn and John Cashell who held the Perseverance claim on the south-bank of the Tapu Creek. They struck a rich reef in March, and reports compared it to Hunt’s (at The Thames Goldfield) for richness.

The great richness of the gold quartz taken from Cashell’s claim has caused a rush to Tapu Creek. All ground in the vicinity is now pegged out.

It is still hoped that the tapu at present placed on the creek will be removed.

Due to the good news from the claims, the township of Hastings was developing rapidly. Mr Reed’s Hotel arranged sports with running races during the afternoon of 17th March 1868 for St Patrick’s Day. There was still no post office at Tapu Creek, with letters taking two weeks to reach them. The miners held a meeting at the British Hotel and agreed to petition the Government for postal services. No clergyman had yet visited the creek. (This statement was later found to be incorrect.) The diggers who settled at Tapu Creek were as quiet and orderly a group as was ever seen on a goldfield and would have welcomed a clergyman to preach to them on occasions.

1 April 1868: The McIsacc’s claim, Tapu Creek deposited 213 oz of gold valued at £3 18s per oz, for a total of £824. Work proceeds well on the Lord Nelson and British claims.

Tapu Creek
Figure 10: Tapu Creek in about 1868, showing the miners' track along the creek. Drawing by Albin Martin.
Source: Sir George Grey Collection, from The McKelvie Trust Collection, Auckland Art Gallery.
Click to enlarge the photo.
Tapu Creek
Figure 11: Tapu Creek in about 1868, showing the alluvial miners at work in the creek. Drawing by Albin Martin.
Source: Sir George Grey Collection, from The McKelvie Trust Collection, Auckland Art Gallery.
Click to enlarge the photo.

16 April 1868 Claims at Tapu have enhanced in value but stamping batteries are sorely needed. The Thistle, Shamrock, Hit and Miss are three claims named as having excellent prospects. Lord Nelson claim find 6 oz to the dish, but with no stamping battery, mining cannot proceed.

John Sceat’s British Hotel is now operating, with a rush to stake claims in the ground immediately behind it. Other hotels at Tapu were run by Robert Hunt, Anthony Burke and Richard Cassells.

18 April 1868 The paddle steamer 'Clyde' took the machinery for the first stamping battery to be built at Tapu Creek. At high tide, the Clyde was able to run right up into the creek to offload. The trader 'Spey' also comes regularly to Tapu, an 8 hour run from Auckland.

21 May 1868: Buildings are springing up rapidly in all directions, with many storekeepers expanding their premises.

Several claims have struck gold: New York, Full Moon and Evening Star. Shares of established claims are rising in value. But there is still not adequate quartz-crushing facilities to allow the mines to work at full capacity. There are many good sites and plenty of water power available in the Tapu Creek.

McIsaac’s claim became the Tapu Goldmining company and they are building their own stamping battery.

The Reverend Mr Davies visited Tapu Creek and many were very pleased to see him there. There is talk of a Sunday and day school being established as many families had settled at Tapu, and there was now quite a crowd of children.

By April 1868, there was a thriving township at Tapu, with the British Hotel forming the focal point of the community. There was a great lack of crushing machinery at first, but soon the hills, both north and south were fully staked out with profitable mining claims.

The New Zealand Herald 12 September 1868:

'The township of Hastings is still in embryo; six public houses, six sharebrokers' offices, one butcher, one baker and one or two stores form the foundation-stones of its future greatness. There are about 2,000 diggers scattered over this part of the country, and every gully, every spur for ten miles round, is taken up. The mountains are very high and run close to the sea. From a distance, the numerous drives made into nearly perpendicular cliffs have the appearance of pigeon-holes, or look not unlike the batteries of Gibraltar. From the coast-line, from every gully, from every point where you can get a glimpse at the rugged ranges, the sight is the same - small white tents on the cliffs, and drive (tunnel entrance) next to drive. If you follow up the gorge for miles; if you climb over waterfalls, up various spurs where a goat scarcely finds footing, there is a digger, his tent and axe, and two of his drives. A wonderful amount of work, a great deal of money spent, and what is the result? At present none whatever. Except a few specimens now and then in a small leader, which always runs out when followed up, and perhaps the not inconsiderable amount for shares sold, there is no gold exported from this place yet. The cry has been for machinery - a battery with ten stampers has been at work for some time - but no sample crushing has paid expenses yet. There may be some good quartz higher up the ranges, but how machinery can be brought up there or the quartz brought down is a mystery to me. At present people live in hope, and the sharebrokers are busy. I was not fortunate enough to see a single specimen in Tapu, although I went into most of the golden claims - the specimens were all sent to the agents in Auckland.'

The New Zealand Herald 22 September 1868:

'There have been numbers of fresh arrivals this week, and very few departures. A considerable number of speculators also honoured us with a visit and expressed great surprise and pleasure with regard the prospects of Tapu. Storekeepers also report that the trade is improving, and matters on the whole are assuming a very cheerful aspect.

The New Zealand Herald 5 November 1868:

'His Honor, The Superintendent (James Mackay Jnr) accompanied by the Engineer-in-Chief, the Provincial Secretary (Daniel Pollen) and Mr Warden Lowther Broad paid a visit to Hastings (Tapu Creek) yesterday, with a view to inquiring into the wants of the place. The water supply was, we understand, lamentably defective for those in the immediate vicinty of the township. The supply available is taken up by sluice-heads, and passes through the machines at work on the field. Arrangements will be made to establish a police-station there, and other matters of interest to the district will likewise receive the attention of the Government.'

The New Zealand Herald 22 December 1868:

' 'Mr Wrigg, the Chief Goldfields Surveyor arrived here from Shortland this week and has marked off the site for the wharf. The road from the township up Tapu Creek to the machine has also been marked, and I presume, definitely reserved. This has given much satisfaction and was very much needed.
The Rev Mr Francis, Catholic clergyman officiated here last Sunday, and there was a large attendance. Considerable inconvenience is felt because the services are being held in a hotel. A public meeting of Catholics was convened the day following, to consider requesting the Government to grant them a site for the contruction of a church etc. They resolved:-'That the secretary Mr Mooney be instructed to write to the Warden, Mr Broad, requesting the Government to grant them a site which has been selected by them, beyond the boundary of this township, to enable the construction of a church, school and presbytery.' The following were appointed canvassers for the project: Messrs McIsaac, Kelly, Burke, Hockliff and Dr Drake. A request has been sent to Auckland for the Rev Mr Francis to be stationed at Hastings.'

In his report on the Tapu Goldfield, the geologist F. W. Hutton recorded:

'...the existance of more than a hundred mining claims and a population of about five hundred people. The total gold-silver output up to the end of 1885 is stated to have been 35,000 oz, and from 1887 to the end of 1908, a further 8,520 oz.
If there were 500 people mining 35,000 oz of gold with a reported purity of about 0.75, this represents an average of 70 oz per person, worth in today's money (2018), NZ$95,000 each. Some would have found a lot less than this, some a great deal more. Note however this only accounts for the gold officially recorded. There was nothing to stop a miner placing the gold in his pocket or luggage and leaving the area, or indeed the country without ever recording his finds. It was only recorded if the miner needed to cash out immediately at the local bank.

There is a lot more information about the early history of the Tapu Goldfield, its miners and their claims to be found in the The Goldminers' Database: a freely available fully searchable online database of the Goldminers of New Zealand, as well in the accompanying book, 'Goldrush To The Thames, New Zealand 1867 - 1868' by Kae Lewis. Parawai Press 2017.


THE TAPU GOLDIFELD 1867-68: Part II: North of Tapu Creek.

THE TAPU GOLDIFELD 1867-68: Part III: The Middle Tapu Creek.

THE TAPU GOLDIFELD 1867-68: Part IV: South of Tapu Creek.

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