Topic: William Gilbert Mouat

Topic type:

William Gilbert Mouat 1863 — 1956 Land surveyor, Mine surveyor, Gold Miner, Gold dredge operator, designer & builder, Engineering consultant. Memoirs from his mining days.



We were doing some surveying at Lake Te Kapu (may now be Tekapo) and Morven Hills. We drove in our express or wagonette whenever we could, to carry all our gear. Rarely were we given any choice but when we were through there, we were told to go back to Martins Bay to finish a job but this time we could choose which way we wanted to travel. Mantell and I decided we would go north and cross over the Alps by a pass to see new country. The others went back to Queenstown and took the route we had gone earlier. A date was fixed when we were to meet over the other side. Tom Mantell and I took a light tent and a swag for winter conditions. We went from Lake Te Teko through the McKenzie Country to Silver Stream, about forty miles and pitched our 6 x 8 tent, cold and tired, and made tea. Although it was snowing next day, we made the Caves. At Pareora Junction, we had a hearty welcome from a squatter and the next day, made Geraldine, where we bought food.


On to Rangitata and up country we went, into the head waters of the Rakaia, then up to the Wilberforce. We camped about 500 ft from the summit. Snow fell, so we dug ourselves in, to wait until the storm passed, a somewhat cold wait. As soon as it faired again, we crossed a pass and reached a hut at the head of the Kokitika (Hokitika) River, on the West Coast. Fortunately, we were able to get under cover, for we felt very cold, just about dark. There was wood in the hut, so we got a fire going to dry out our clothes and cook us a meal. It was only a tin of salmon we had bought at Geraldine and also oatmeal porridge. From there, we made Ross by crossing the Kokitika River at Kanieri. We found there was a hotel kept by an Italian named Larry, who was so kind he charged us nothing for the night and breakfast. Then on to Okarito, where the Boss was away but his wife made us welcome and charged the high price of nothing, so we stocked up well by buying from her store.


It was just as well, as the stores had to last a long time and after a late start, we went southwards. Twelve miles or so later, we met a beachcomber named Billy Brice who had been digging for gold in the black sand that washed up with every tide and had done well. He must have done well or he would hardly have stayed in that lonely place for years. His welcome included pieces of his yeast bread, baked in a camp oven, the finest of breads. He had a vegetable garden, so we had fresh vegetables, which we had missed so often. By daylight, we were on our way, going about twenty miles before camping about four o'clock. We reached Haast next day, a distance of about thirty-two miles, to make camp at Jackson Bay. The weather was so good, the river was low and we crossed safely. Many a man lost his life in that river due to its swiftness.


Keeping hard at it, we did twenty-one miles the following day and passed the Cascades to reach Bruce Bay, a quiet little place with the bush literally alive with birds. Then, to Awarua Bay and we were almost through to Jamestown at Martins Bay. Not a boat could be seen, so we had to work out how to cross the Hollyford River. For the two of us, we needed a big moggy (moki) to go together. The river runs out of Lake McKerrow and is big and fast and when we launched our craft onto the water, it took us more than half a mile to reach the other side, downstream. We had the use of the survey buildings, where we found ample provisions, so had a good rest before the others of the party turned up, after a long journey over the Harris Pass.


Early in December, we finally finished our work and set off for Queenstown, going down the Greenstone Valley. We spent one night at Uncle John’s and caught the steamer the following day. Messrs Bullen Bros, of Dunedin, owned a quartz mine at the head of Skippers Creek, tributary of the Shotover River. The reef was discovered in 1865 and had been worked from the top of a mountain spur down to the creek level. For a time, it was known as "British America", then as "Phoenix". When I was there, the district was known as Bullendale. The battery at the mine was worked by low pressure turbine, when there was enough water or by steam plant. This water was picked up from a stream which gathered run-off from Mt Aurum.


The men were down I think, about the No.4 level, during the time the company was called "Phoenix", and they applied to Government to have the claim surveyed as they wanted to float a bigger company in London. They were bringing in electric power from the left hand branch of Skippers Creek to work the battery and pumps or ventilator. It was the first time electric power was used for mining purposes like that, in all of the Southern Hemisphere. Power was transmitted over a mountain about 1,000 ft above the battery, with seven miles of line.


Government agreed to the request and Mr Wilmott took his party up. It was my first experience of underground surveying and was of great interest to me. I kept a field book, much the same as we gave the boss. Many years after, I made use of it when, as underground manager of some mine I had to do another survey. My map received a medal at the Industrial Exhibition in Dunedin in 1898. It is now in the Eureka Museum in Queenstown and is the only plan of those workings. The office was burnt and all records lost. My plan went to the bottom of the sea when I was wrecked at Fiji but the box was recovered.


While Mr Wilmott surveyed mining claims at the Nevis and Bendigo, I was with his party and met the manager of the Bendigo, Mr Hilton. We became very friendly, both being musical. He offered me a position as carpenter and rock drill man, 1/3 an hour and overtime, which was much better than the survey. I decided to leave and go mining. Mr Wilmott had been very good to me and I would miss him. He had trained me well when I asked questions, and lent me instruments.




I moved to Bendigo, twenty-two miles from Cromwell, where I built myself a hut entirely of stone, roof and all, plastered with clay. The mine is known to have produced £400,000 worth of gold when it was owned by four men. Workings went down 420 feet and about 1,000 ft along the reef, averaging four ounces to the ton. The water became a problem and the men sold out. A new company formed to sink a perpendicular shaft and when I joined they were down 150 ft. Eventually it sank to 520 ft.


I made all the ladders and did other woodwork as well as being on the shift when required. The rock drill was my care. George Murchie was blacksmith, a very clever smith indeed and could temper steel as I have never known another to do. We got on famously and he taught me many secrets of the game that came in useful all my life. When Mr Hilton found I was anxious to learn all about mining, he taught me and loaned me books. For a start, I was ignorant of explosives. It happened while I was down the shaft, that I was sent up for six sticks of jelly (gelignite). I found the jelly and went to the shaft. The word plug is often used instead of stick.


"How do you want them?" I asked. "Do I carry them in my pocket or just drop them down?"

"Throw them, of course," said Mr Hilton, little dreaming I would be so stupid.


Down went the sticks and bang went the jelly. That was one of the greatest frights I ever had. Down the ladders I scrambled, expecting to find the poor man in bits, but he had more sense than I did and had gone into a drive (side-tunnel) out of the way. All I could see was a heap of stone, brought down with the explosion. That was a lesson I could never forget and was always careful with explosives after that.


Mr Hilton was a nervous man usually, especially when he had gold in his possession. One night, he had quite an amount of gold. The men around knew something of it. He always kept a gun loaded and made no secret of the fact. That particular evening, he heard someone quite close to his window.


"Hello! Who is it?" he called.


Nobody answered. Then, the sound moved around to the door. He was not game to open it. Back came the steps to the window and he saw a white form which appeared to be crouching down.


"If you don't answer," he yelled, "I'll shoot."


When nobody answered, he raised his gun and shot through the glass, with the two barrels. Men living near, upon hearing the shot, rushed to see what the matter was. Trouble had only just begun though. He had shot Molly Marr’s white goat.


The water began to beat us in the shaft, so Mr Hilton decided to go to Victoria in Australia to buy pumps. While he was away, we men worked what was known as the B Leader. It was fairly rich, as so many leads are in that district. We made our wages and had five pounds per week for Mr Hilton. I worked under him for two years.


Timber was the trouble and it had to be brought great distances. I was sent with another man, up to the mill at the Matukituki River, which runs into the lake at Wanaka. On several occasions, we brought down rafts containing 7,000 to 8,000 ft of timber. We put up a rough sail and sailed across the lake to the outlet. Once there, we had no more use for a sail, as the Clutha carried us along. It was much better than the time I came down on a moggy. We would beach the raft as close as we could to the road. Sometimes we got timber from the head of Lake Wakatipu.


One time, I was sent up to Bullendale to try to get miners. I landed there the day Mrs McArthur opened her hotel. I met Mr Edwin Foord and his brother Alf, who lived in a fine tent just above the hotel. The trip was not a success so far as getting miners was concerned.


I got the chance of buying a share in a sluicing claim owned by five partners. Mr Pearce wanted to go to Australia, so I bought his share, also his four roomed house and contents, including stove, sewing machine and quite a wardrobe of clothes he and his family could not take with them. This claim was seven miles from the Bendigo and 2,000 ft higher up the range. It was the "Rise and Shine."


Sending for my brother Jack to work my share, I remained with Mr Hilton till the pumps were working. I had a mare at home called Creamy, bought from Mrs Harwood at Otepopo. I got my brother Dick to ride her up, as he happened to be going to Queenstown. Unfortunately, he foundered her and had to leave her at Sam Inders at Hills Creek. She was well looked after and was all right after a while but I sold her to Dr Stackpoole in Cromwell. Dick walked from Hills Creek to "Rise and Shine", then on to Queenstown. Walking was no trouble to him as he was a wonderful walker. Later, I bought another horse from Ted Wheeler at Matakanui for £15, named Fossicker.


Another of the partners in "Rise and Shine" was looking for somebody to replace him. Dick and his wife came to work there but we had trouble almost from the start for the other three expected to get equal gold, without working. I felt wages should be paid before dividing the gold, which was fair.


We worked for some months and were in the middle of washing-up, a job we did only twice a year. The wash was so close to being over, we knew we could finish within a day or two. I went down on Fossicker for the mail and to visit a young lady which kept me late, so I was not back till after twelve o'clock. It was all of seven miles away. As I came up the hill, I saw a light in our tailrace. I jumped off my horse to see if it might be Jack but he was in bed. Calling to him quietly, telling him to hurry, I ran down and grabbed a sluice fork. Right under our noses were six Chinese men bagging our wash dirt.


The fork handle broke over the back of one man because I was so angry at them. I lashed out again but the men ran away in time. Jack came running after me but we thought it was useless to go chasing people in the dark. Although we watched all night, nobody came stealing back to the claim. In the morning, I took a Colt revolver and Schneider rifle to the Chinese camp. I shot into the air and the six men came out.


"You rob my tail-race," I yelled. "You get out or I'll shoot you all."


I fired a few more shots, aiming at some rocks above them.


"Go! Go! Me go", chattered the Chinese men.


I could see they really were packing up but I fired a few more shots. Presently, six men of the Orient hurried downhill carrying their belongings. I watched till they were a couple of miles up the road on the way to Cromwell.


Our wash was very good and we found that the men had touched very little, so my midnight ride was well worth while. Perhaps we hurried the wash-up a bit too much and may have had more gold otherwise, but 250 ounces was a good, honest haul. The Chinese miners laid a charge against me, which had to be answered. The charge sounded as if I had not been provoked. On the day, I explained the circumstances and the Warden said no one could blame me if I had injured them when I had caught them red-handed with my property. He dismissed the case and the Chinese disappeared. We found they had left big jars of preserved ginger.


"Our costs, no doubt," said one of our miners.


We had visitors one evening, a Maori man named Wawa and his wife and three young children. They were in such a sorry state after coming over from Jackson Bay on the West Coast, we made them come straight in. Jack put on water and we let the family wash off dust and mud in our bath-tub. He brought out clothes Mrs Pearce had left and it was a miracle to see how many of them fitted. They were well-suited. We kept the family for a few days, especially when we realised we had a new mother with a tiny baby to consider. The child had been born somewhere on the road and all the food they had, was what they had gathered along the way, as they travelled.


Wawa told us that when he went over, he had lost his way and climbed up to the top of the highest mountain to look about him for landmarks. I understood that it was Mt Aspiring. They knew the Maori track down Thomsons Gorge, used by them when they were after greenstone. When they left our little miner's house, Mrs Wawa had five skirts on and as many blouses. That was the easiest way to carry them. Wawa himself, carried all the children’s clothes that were left. A real haul for the poor people, but it was good fortune that we understood Maori still.


We could rarely sluice in winter, as the water would be frozen in the terrace. The water supply was led along the Dunstan Range on the southern side, then across a saddle or pass, 4,400 ft above sea level, to the northern side where our claim was. We had a "water right" for twelve "heads" (a cubic measure while it was flowing from a dam and available for washing or sluicing gold-bearing material). Down on the southern side, there were six or seven sluicing claims and the companies were often short of water. We got word they were applying to have our twelve heads reduced. The law is that you can only hold rights to the amount your water-race could carry.


Immediately I heard what was a-foot, I sent Jack to Cromwell and bought extra shovels, picks and tucker. At that time, there were always men coming and going, up and down Thomsons Gorge. I stopped every one and asked them to help me. I got about a dozen men and set them to open the race wherever I marked it. In places, the race would carry twenty heads but in others, only about two. I asked the men to stay out of sight if strangers were about.


By the time the six claim holders and their solicitor arrived, every doubtful part had been widened. I took them to the head of the race to give them all the time possible. It was a stiff climb and rough. It so happened that at the time of their visit, there was fully the twelve heads of-water in the race, if not more. I turned it all into the race and we followed it along. Not a drop of it was lost. It all ran down through our claim. It was too valuable a right to lose and I paid the men well. Many years after, I was talking publicly at my later home town of Devonport, about mining and mining laws. The incident cropped up and an old gentleman who was listening most attentively said,


"I had to wait fifty years to know how that was done!"


He was one of the six claim owners who followed the water down to our claim. Some of them had inspected the race previously and knew its weak spots.


A miner named Lidson found a number of gash veins and leaders further along the range and got me interested. He was a first-class man so I knew he understood what he was talking about. I knew where there was a small abandoned battery in a very difficult place to remove it. Charley O'Donnell said he could get it out for an interest in the undertaking. He took a dray and two horses over the mountains and we loaded up what we wanted. No one would believe a dray had gone over there, for it was so difficult, we had to use ropes to hold back the dray in some places. But we arrived, complete with a two-stamp battery and other gear.


We were starting in an old shaft, so had to get rid of bad air for a moral. I had left Mr Hilton by this time and was working on the sluicing claim. We needed a big water wheel to drive the battery and we used a whip and horse to get water out and quartz up. We floated the mine in a small syndicate which got some good returns. Mr Foord visited us and became interested in the methods of work. He encouraged others to consider the ideas. But Mrs Lidson soon got full of living in lonely places, so left and shortly Mr Lidson got full of living alone so he left. We had to close our "Jubilee" then.


When sluicing was off, Jack and I used to go higher up the mountain, where we found a rich leader. We took Daisy, another mare of mine, to pack down any stone we got out. We were all right inside the drive but it was hard on the mare out in a blizzard. Each Saturday night, Jack would go for the mail and I would start up the Jubilee battery and put our quartz through. The leader was very rich, almost pure gold but only a few inches thick.


I loved to watch the two stampers going at top, and to see the gold in amalgam forming waves on the Wilfley tables. We got a marvellous amount of gold out of that leader but only worked when we were unable to sluice. I bought another of the partners out, so now held 3/5 of the shares. The other two never worked but expected us to give them the same as we got after working hard. That was unfair and I got full up of bothering with them, so when Mr John Ewing, the biggest sluicing man Central Otago ever had, offered to buy me out, to get the water right, I agreed to sell. While I had been with the "Rise and Shine", I had been over to Australia many times to sell our gold at the Mint, so people could guess how well we did.


One day, I bought a mare called Bessie from a man at Hills Creek and took her to the claim. When I was in Dunedin at a race meeting, I met Mr Jack Sewell, a chemist who was racing two horses. One was Mohawk. Mohawk ran off his fences but a jockey called Wattie told me he was a good horse but Jack was sick of him and wanted to sell. I bought him for £60 and raced him in a flying handicap and won, with a dividend of £62 pounds. Then we made tracks for the claim. I also bought Skipper, a fine black horse, from Hugh McIntyre. He won fifteen races for me. All little towns had race meetings in those days and I attended a good many of them. Cromwell put on their race meeting about Christmas time.


"Here come the diggers and their billy goats," somebody said as I took my fleet down to the meeting.


It was true that the horses looked a bit too woolly as they had been out on the range and were pretty rough, not a bit like race-horses that most people spent hours combing and training nicely.


Fossicker, Bessie, Skipper, Paddy and Mohawk. My horses won six of the seven races. Bessie won two!


That next Christmas, I was over at a meeting at the Kaik (Maori village area) on the Otago (Otakou) Peninsula and met up with somebody selling a horse, saddle and bridle. Shortly, I rode him up to the claim. I left him in Pascoe's paddock, entered him for a race at Blacks, but when I went to get him some fools had shaved his tail. I put a rug over him but was not game to ride him. A jockey named Brady said he would ride him for me and until the last minute, I covered up his sorry sight of the shorn tail, keeping the rug in place. What a shouting and hooting there was, when the public saw the rat tail sticking out behind. The stake was £15. I won but lost heart and exchanged him for a horse called Paddy.


Before I came into the district around Cromwell, a man came with his wife and children. His wife was a big, hard-working woman who kept her house and children clean and bright. He was working on a reef some miles from us. Somehow, he could always "see" gold and worked in a nearby creek at times, getting alluvial gold.


While he worked near us, his wife had two children. The other two were his, not hers. When he had everything set for the scheme he had in view, he loaded his gun with gold he had recovered from the creek. It seemed he had been doing this for some time and the gold in the reef had been shot in. He peppered the quartz wherever it showed and the stone he had taken out was treated likewise. Then he went to Dunedin and found some speculators interested. They sent up experts who took many samples for assaying (testing). They sent in very favourable reports and the owner sold out for a big sum. But nobody ever heard of him again. He left his wife with four children to feed and clothe.


The company had a fine new battery erected but they had only one crushing and wash-up when they discovered that the reef had been salted. By that time, the man was out of the country.




As soon as I sold my water-rights to Mr Ewing, I decided to try my luck at Nenthorn. That field will never be forgotten by thousands who lost their money. It was an area of about twenty square miles. A considerable amount of gold was recovered but very few dividends were ever paid. It would seem the reefs were very rich at the outcrop but did not carry down as rich. Little was ever done below 200 to 300 ft. The reefs may have been rich again further down but no one ever tried to find out. In very few cases does a reef not make again after a displacement, so many fortunes may lie there waiting for someone.


After I had settled everything at the "Rise and Shine", I had a bank account of more than four thousand pounds and a fleet of race horses. I heard Toomey and Party had discovered a rich quartz mine at Nenthorn, so I decided to go and try my luck. I left my brother Jack, to pack up and bring the horses. Taking the best horse, I started out on the 148 mile journey. Over the saddle and into Thomsons Gorge we went, once worked by a hundred Chinese miners from side to side. Needless to say, they left nothing behind. Twenty miles took me to Tinkers, then on to the White Horse, sixteen miles. I stayed an hour and a half to feed the horses and self, then went off to Hills Creek, eighteen miles away, where I stayed again with Sam Inder.


Two fellows met me and we got on the road early, to reach Wedderburn, twelve miles away, for breakfast. Another fifteen miles took us to Gimmerburn for our dinner. On the morrow, we were joined by six more men and pushed on to Macraes Flat, eighteen miles further on. I had to buy my chaff and feed the horse before I could have my meal, then made Nenthorn, twenty-one miles off, about 5 pm.


We camped in the snow grass and tethered our horses. One T.Tait and I cut sod and built a 6 x 8 hut, which we thatched with snow grass, so we were under cover for the night. What a sight we saw next day, when we found about 100 men on the field and people still coming from everywhere. Tait went to Macraes and bought an anvil and bellows as well as smithy coal. He came back about five o'clock and we built a forge with sods, then began sharpening picks and drills at threepence a point. Nothing venture, nothing win, so next day I went to Naseby and bought an 8¾ ton wagon load of timber and iron, arriving back on the field at Nenthorn on the Saturday about noon. I put six men on, building sod huts, 8 x 12 ft. Those men would work only when they were broke, then they were glad to get enough for tucker.


My wagon load arrived on Monday, with corrugated iron and timber, so I put roofs on the sod huts and charged 2 shillings a night for a bed of tussock, and glad the men were to be under a roof. My hut was 16 x 10 ft and floored. I shifted in at 11 pm. and almost fell into bed. Huts 8 x 12 sold for £50 and we could not supply the demand. I made up my mind to send a wagon to Palmerston for four tons of iron and timber, then put more men on cutting sods, which also was a big help to the miners as they could see what they were doing better.


One Laverty wanted a bar built with a room behind and we agreed on a price of £150. More than 300 men had come and hundreds more were on their way, coming in hourly. One Maloney, ordered a place 24 x 24 ft with a bar and two rooms. We built it in a day, at a price of £250. It had frames with iron sides and roof, doors and windows. Griffen ordered a bar and six rooms, built in three days at a cost of £700. Every carpenter I could get was on the job. By Saturday, there were at least twenty-five of them, working at top rate. Mitchell opened a timber yard, using his four ten-horse wagons on the road and soon there were a hundred men building sod huts and houses.


My brother Jack arrived with my fleet of horses, so I paid two men £50 to put up a six stall sod stable, 30 x 10 with eight foot high walls. They had it up in two and a half days. There was no crushing plant on the field and all quartz had to be crushed by dollying, the dollies going night and day. Fresh finds kept the fever going and in a short time, there were thousands prospecting and building.


Several shops opened, selling food or hot meals. There were two banks. The first battery to be opened was the Crœsus, at Nenthorn Creek. The stone they were getting, went two ounces to the ton but they were not getting enough to keep the battery going full time, so they crushed for any company who took quartz to the battery. The Eureka was on rich stone but the reef was only four inches wide. It seemed to be almost pure gold holding the quartz together, not quartz holding the gold. Deciding to buy a share in this mine, I worked in it, myself. There were just seven shares and the quarter share they sold me cost £150. Later I bought a half share for £300.


When we were down twenty feet, we lagged a ton of quartz and I carted it through to Dunedin, where Kincaid and McQueen’s battery could crush it. It went ten ounces to the ton but the battery was not an up-to-date one, so probably much was lost. Shares in the Eureka shot up. I worked in that mine and I have always wondered why it never paid dividends as it should have. I have my own opinion why, but would not dare to say. The stone was regularly crushed at the Crœsus battery. The mine was worked only to 250 ft, when the reef pinched out. Or did it? I bought into the "Daddy" for £600 and sank a shaft at my own expense. The reef pinched out and the venture cost me £1,000, so I went to work at the Crœsus, but after a year, things were shady. No dividends were paid. If I had sold earlier, I could have made a fortune but as it was, I waited too long. I had spent my money on so many horses and so many shares with calls every month, that I was broke.


While the boom was on, we decided to hold a race meeting. About 200 hundred men formed a working bee and laid out a course. It was only three quarters of a mile as the ground was so rough. We raised £60 by subscription, sold the booth for drinks at £25, refreshments for £10 and race cards for £5. Nominations came in from Dunedin and all the districts around. G.Dowse who handicapped for the Dunedin Jockey Club was handicapper and Mason and Roberts were on the tote. Jack had been looking after my horses. I had Skipper in a hack race and very soon, we could see it was between my horse and Poolburn Jack, although we all had twenty starters. My horse had gone out favourite and as they all came thundering over the turf, the two nearest caused such excitement, that the crowd surged forward, pressing against the judge's box. Just when the horses were at the finishing post, the box and the judge toppled over.


"What horse won?" shouted the judge, covered in confusion.


"Skipper," yelled some of the punters,


"Poolburn Jack," shouted others.


Then began a donnybrook. Arguments broke out on all sides, with people hitting out at anybody who claimed that their horse had won. Somebody whispered "Skipper" to the judge who awarded him the winner but I always had my doubts, so was never satisfied.


With us were Mohawk, Daisy, Fossicker, Skipper and Fraulein, which I bought from J.Wright. She was a champion trotter and soon was sold and sent to Australia. I next bought Forest Queen, a lovely roan mare, for £65, before all my money was gone. The pay-out for the day's racing was the same night. It was the first and only time I was somewhat drunk on champagne. I had never been a drinking man but I got properly inked that night. They made it a rule that all winners should shout champagne for the room where there were about 100 men. I had three wins and I thought I would get one cheque, but no, I had to shout three times.


Jack took Forest Queen to Australia, where he won quite a number of races. Mr brother Dick and his wife Alice, had a pie shop while the rush was at its height but they moved away when things began to slip badly. I had built them a place but found I could not sell it when I wanted to, as people began to leave faster than they had come and nothing could be sold.


It was early in the rush days when the "Break of Day" quartz mine at Nenthorn Creek was the scene of wild excitement. Trouble arose over who was the rightful owner to the claim. There were no end of applications for the claim and the cases came before the Warden at Macraes, eighteen miles away. My party and I were keen to get the claim, as it adjoined ours but we had neither pegged nor applied for it. Our solicitor advised us if we wanted it to be ready to peg, as it would be certain the Warden would declare the claim abandoned, and if we wanted it we should be the first to peg it. We had the pegs ready just in case, and I rode in to see how things were going. On Mohawk, I was there early. Mohawk was in training for the National Steeplechase meeting in Christchurch. A big, fine horse, standing fifteen hands. He was a wonderful jumper.


At the last moment, I forgot a rug for him, so when we arrived in the stables nearby, I commandeered one from a horse in the next stall, little dreaming whose horse it was. Some time later, I went to have a look at Mohawk, only to find a man in blue there. He had come from Palmerston in case of trouble.


"Is that your horse?" he bellowed.


“Tis, sergeant,” I replied, knowing he was only a constable.


“Tis my rug you have on your beast. Why did you take my rug off my horse?”


"To keep my horse warm," I murmured.


"Well, I'll have you know. My horse is as good as yours, any day. So just put the rug back, will ye? Or you're headin' for trouble."


"You think your horse is as good as mine?" I said. "Why this is Mohawk, the steeple-chaser.”


"The divil it is. Put the rug back on him, boy. I backed him over at Palmerston and got a seven pound divvy. Keep the old divil warm now. My horse can stand a bit of cold. Look at all the wool on him, this winter."


We went back to watch the next case together.


If lying could get a man a mining claim, scores of people would have one. The Warden listened to all the applications and was told the time and method of pegging. One man said he put four pegs in, sixteen inches high and dug trenches too.


"Any marks?" asked the Warden.


“No sir," the man said. "Those pegs were high enough."


"How did you peg your claim?" asked the Warden of the next man.


"I put a stone at each comer, sir."


"Any trenches?"


"No sir, there were so many trenches, I could not find any spare room."


The next man was a miner who knew the regulations.


"Four pegs, one at each corner, three feet above the ground and three inches in diameter, trenches at each corner, five feet long denoting the direction."


He admitted he was not the first to peg but he was the first to peg correctly. The Warden listened to the applications, then made some cutting remarks about the amount of truthfulness.


"I must declare the claim ‘abandoned’," he said solemnly.


From that moment, the first man to get the claim pegged and get in his application would get it. Immediately, there was a mad rush, every man interested got himself going. What a wild stampede there was for horses or vehicles. The Man in Blue was standing at the stable door, patiently.


"Here's your chance to try out the Hawk, boy," he said.


Soon I was on the road but there were many ahead of myself. If I hoped to pass them, I must cut off five miles at least and go across country. For a start, I had to get over a six wire fence with a barb on the top. I dismounted and put my coat over the wire as Mohawk had never been trained to wire. Then I put him to the fence and he flew over. Recovering my knightly coat, I set off across the open country, dodging rocks or jumping others. I had great hopes of winning the race when he cleared the second water channel. The worst jump was over a high gate on top of a rise, the take off was bad and he was getting tired. Well, he blundered and we parted company, except that I still held the reins. I was unhurt, so was my horse.


Nenthorn Creek was the next obstacle and I could never have attempted it with any of my other horses, however Mohawk soared over with just a few inches to spare. I reached Nenthorn first and Jack was waiting with a fresh horse. Before any of the others arrived, I had pegs in and was away back on Daisy. Few had reached the town even, by then.


Mohawk raced at Cromwell where he cast a joint, so when a grocer asked if he might buy him for steady work I sold him, for his racing days were over.


While I was still at Nenthorn, I kept up my studies and made several visits to the School of Mines in Dunedin. Professor Black was very helpful and was always pleased to help students with things they could not understand. None of my interests were turning out any good, so I got rid of them almost entirely and went to Golden Point near Macraes. It was a quartz and scheelite claim.


Mr Walter Hislop of Dunedin became interested and we undertook to build a battery for one share. Six shareholders held the claim. My investment was my labour while Mr Hislop financed it. Then I remembered the "Come in Time" battery and managed to buy it for £80, a gift at that money.


I took an eight horse wagon up to Bendigo, then found George Murchie at Mt Highlay, where he was working for Mr Hilton. We pulled the battery down and carried it all on the wagon to Deepdale. We bought a Fowler Traction Engine, the first on the Taieri and had it sent by train to Dunback. A driver came with it, as none of us had ever driven such a thing, although I had often helped with the stationary engines while I was harvesting in Canterbury.


Somehow, I seemed to take to steam engines. We had to go up a very steep hill and had a cart with water following us, then just as we got to the top, we blew a plug, miles from any shops. I went over to a farm house and got some lead from a tea chest, most of the tea at that time coming from China packed in lead lined chests. We made a plug and were able to get on our way.

For miles it was a rough road, then we had to go down a very steep slope. We knew we could hardly go straight, so we engaged men to dig a trench along the slope and we had to keep the inside wheels in the trench, or roll over. It was a tricky job and by the time we landed at Golden Point, I knew all about that engine.


The shareholders were getting quartz out which had to be sledged up the hill from the battery. I built the battery, then went on wages. We got out a crushing and it proved the claim was a paying concern. The shareholders had an overdraft in the bank and when we put the gold in, the bank seized it to pay off the overdraft, although the manager had assured me he would let it by to pay wages and put the second crushing in the bank. One of the shareholders died and his trustees demanded £1,000 for his share. That settled things. The company was faced with liquidation. Mr Hislop lost all he had put in and I lost my work as well as £85 in wages. I was promised a share by the men who bought the claim and battery but they went back on their word. I was so disgusted, I sold all my horses, except Fossicker, and when I went to Sydney, I took him with me.


All the while, I had gone backwards and forwards to the university and when the next examination came round, I sat, along with eighty other students. On the second day, something happened. Only twenty turned up. The third day we were further reduced and on the fourth, there were two of us. In the end I was left as the sole student, with a pass which was 95%. They nicknamed me "Passable" or "Possible".


In Australia, Jack met me with a horse, Forest Queen. He came to the boat and we rode out to his place. The two horses were entered for a race, meeting at New England and won a race with each.


I saw an advertisement for shearers, in a Sydney paper, out at the "Gunnadar" Station. I wired "Shearer from N.Z. open for engagement" and had a reply, "Come at once. Fare paid." Off I went and found it was a very big station with something like 150,000 sheep. Shearing had been far away from my interests for years but I soon got into it and did well. Jack followed me but he could only cook, which he made a poor showing at for a few days, as he had to bake bread. He could get plenty of milk, so made soda bread, finding the shearers liked it better than yeast bread.


Alf Keith, a New Zealander who had settled in New Brighton near Melbourne, had a team of horses. As soon as he got to know where I was, he sent for me to come and bring our horses. When the shearing at that station was finished, I went to Melbourne and rode one of his horses. We won!


I was very keen to know all I could about mining in Australia, so went to Ballarat, to the Golden Point mine and became shift boss for a few months. While there, I heard I had passed my examinations officially. Next, I went to Eagle Hawk. They were down much deeper than any mines in New Zealand and worked on a different principle. Between times, I entered my horse and was more or less successful. Jack looked after both our horses and I earned enough to keep them. When we had a good win, I sent money home and that was fairly often. I worked in quite a number of mines but never for very long. The Gimpie, New England, Charters Towers and others. Every mine was different and I found knowledge I made use of later.


I called on a Mr Cook who had made a fortune at Gabriel’s Gully in New Zealand. He had racing stables at Sandringham near Melbourne and had a hundred horses or so in training. He even had his own racetrack to work his horses. One night, I was walking through some long grass and stood on a snake. It bit me. Luckily, an Aboriginal was near at hand and he immediately scarified its marks and sucked out the poison, but I felt that bite for a long time after.


Mr Cook had an old horse they used to drag a pile of brushwood over the track, after the horses had been racing or training, to smooth it down. One morning, I went out to take my turn and put a box on top. Away I went, quite unconscious of what had been sleeping in the brush. Presently, a snake poked its head up between my legs. I never moved faster in my life. Snakes are vermin you never get used to. I sometimes saw natives run after them and catch them by the tail, then crack them like a whip to kill them, but I never ever tried that game!


We raced the Forest Queen at Marong and had a very good win. Somebody wanted her after that and I sold her to a man who took her to Tasmania. Jack bought a horse called Pihi and went back to New Zealand. Fossicker and I won a number of races but at Epsom near Bendigo, he broke his leg and the only advice I could get, was to put him out of his misery. Soon after, I just went back to New Zealand.




Not long after being home again, I was offered the management of a mine near Serpentine in Central Otago, called Golden Gully. It had been worked for many years and produced quite a lot of gold. It had fallen on bad times and eventually was taken up by a Dunedin syndicate. They had very little money and could barely pay expenses. Jack and I and two other men went up to bring out the quartz. It is 4,000 ft above sea level and very cold in winter. There was no timber to be got for the mine and the cost of bringing it in was high. Otherwise, there was good peat, so we were not short for fires and it was the fiercest I ever burned.


After a time, we decided I could take the mine on tribute (lease) but it was not long ere the leader of the reef pinched out. We were told of a leader away near the top of the mountain, some distance from the claim, where somebody had got good gold. We got permission to crush any quartz in the battery. When winter came, our battery was full of quartz. We heated water in the hope of crushing it but the whole thing froze before we got it on to the Wilfley tables, so we were marooned there for months.


Jack and I found the leader at the bottom of a shaft that was full of bad gas. To get down, we burned speargrass and threw it down. We pulled up water and dropped it back, to drive out the gas. All we had was a windlass, so it was hard work. There was still no timber to make ladders, so when I went down, I had to depend on Jack to pull me up. The leader was only a few inches wide but was nearly pure gold. I followed it in for 100 ft but the drive was so narrow, I had to go sideways. A candle box with a rope on it did for a lantern, then when I filled the box, I would go out to the shaft and haul it along, then tip it into the bucket and go back for more. The work was dangerous, so we had to test the air every day. We had two horses, which we took to the mine to haul down our quartz but when the frost was bad, we had no chance of getting the horses up or down the hill.


A cousin of ours was working for us a short while and used to go to a settler's place about a mile away to play cards. From our hut, we could see the place he visited, for we were up on a hill. A few years previously, a Mr Mumford who had worked there, had fallen into the water race and been drowned. His job had been to turn on the water. People in the area declared that at times, you could see Mumford's ghost walking along the race, carrying his lantern. George was superstitious and after we had mentioned these things, he began to believe it would appear. In the meantime, it failed to stop George going down to card parties and coming home late, then wakening us up.


Weary of it all, we decided to give him a fright one night. We could see when the light went out down below at the settler's home and knew when to expect George. I took a sheet and hid behind a rock, till I heard him coming. I quite forgot George generally carried a double barrelled shotgun to get a duck when ducks were plentiful. I came out with a sheet over me.


"Bang, bang" went the gun.


I dropped the sheet and scrambled up a short-cut and got into my bunk, boots and all, just as George arrived.


"Are you awake, Johnny? Gilbert?" he called excitedly.


"We could hardly be anything else with the noise you make," Jack said.


"I settled old Mumford, Johnny. I gave him both barrels, fair in his face. I bet he stays in his grave now."


"But you can't shoot a ghost, George."


"I'm not so sure about that. He disappeared mighty soon."


The first winter in the Serpentine caught us before we had washed up. Everything was frozen in a night. All the water we boiled to pour onto the boxes froze on the tables. There we were, still tied to the place, unable to leave in case of an occasional thaw or anybody came about to steal the gold in the boxes. Besides, it belonged to the syndicate, or what was left after wages were paid.


To get tucker, Jack and I went rabbiting round about and sold the skins so we kept out of debt. That winter, it was particularly cold, with unusually heavy snow storms. Snow covered everything, the swamp around Lake Onslow called the Dismal Swamp was frozen and deep in snow. Billy Rainham was ground-sluicing in a creek near us until frozen out too. Mother's nugget brooch came from this claim and many more nuggets too. This is not to be wondered at, with such a leader. Billy made a pair of snowshoes fifteen feet long, so he could go to the White Horse, fifteen miles away, in about an hour, but it was downhill so he took three or four hours coming back.


After he had made it look easy, I made myself a pair and learned to use them, able to take my turn going for the mail. One day, word came through that a young man named Dick Webb, who had been packing food for some diggers at Pettigrew’s near the Dismal Swamp, was missing in the snow storm. As is usual, with diggers, every man turned out to look for him. Mr Crossan at Berwick sent out a pack horse with bread for us all and a Jim Taylor from Devonport was in charge of the horse. Only a young man, he was.


Bill and I set off on our shoes, covering about eighteen or twenty miles over the frozen swamp, then thought we would try the rising ground towards the Lammerlaws, where the snow had been blown off the ridges, into deep drifts. Under the lee of a big rock we saw the end of a strap, belonging to a pack saddle. We lifted it up and found the missing boy underneath. He was alive but could not speak till a little painkiller put a bit of warmth into him. We made a rough sledge out of our snowshoes, then as we lifted him on, we discovered his legs were badly frost-bitten, with flesh dropping off.


We dragged him till we met another party who took over, as we were all in, then a third came from Roxburgh. Young Dick was taken to hospital and had his two legs amputated. He recovered and we gathered £600 for him to get artificial legs from America. He went to live in Australia for the sake of the warmer climate and kept a wood and coal yard at Mordialick, where he married and had a family.


Sea birds used to breed in the Dismal Swamp in season. What a change it was to be able to go out and half-fill a bucket with eggs, then mix some up with condensed milk and fill the camp oven. When it had cooked, we cut it like cheese. We went after wild ducks occasionally, having to go between six or eight miles and were dead licked before we reached home again.


Once we pulled up at a Chinese miner's camp. His name was Tuky or Too Key and he had a camp under an overhanging rock, with a sluicing claim in the creek below. Out came the Chinese brandy and Jack and I were soon out to it, dead to the world. When we woke up, Too Key had cooked some of the ducks with rice. Now that is a meal a Chinaman is wonderfully proficient at cooking, especially if he had a bit of pork to go with it. We had a good binder, left some birds and told him where we had dropped a few more, then made for camp and arrived about 3 am.


After a trip to Dunedin once, I called at Pettigrew’s place where they were sluicing on the side of the Rock and Pillar Range. They had a good garden that produced such rhubarb. I was given a bundle tied like faggots to carry across my saddle. Rhubarb grown among the tussocks is very good for people they say and just after the Gabriel’s Gully gold rush, it was one of the favourite dishes in the hotels and the little tents. Some of it was grown at a place called Bunk Town or Bungtown on the Waipori Road and sold around Lawrence six miles away. People at the back of Blue Spur also grew it and it kept the miners healthy, if they could afford to buy it. At first, miners tried to grow it at Weatherstons but there was no room, due to much prospecting and workings as well as dense water races.


Jack and I worked the leader, till I was about 100 ft in but Jack was full up of the place and wanted to take his horse Pihi and go to the North Island. Jim, another brother came to help me instead. Father had been more or less an invalid for some months. On Christmas morning, Mother found he had died in his sleep, with only my youngest brother at home. They tried to get word to us but had no chance of that because of the long holiday and he was buried before we reached home.


Desolately, I went back to the mine and put all the quartz from the leader in the battery. I asked the syndicate for permission to clean up all the battery and as the mine was worked out, as well as knowing we had had a hard run, they agreed.


There is always plenty of quartz and sand about all old batteries and I cleaned it up thoroughly and was astonished at what I recovered. All told, I had more than 200 ounces from the leader and battery. While I was in the leader I was suffering a good deal and my doctor advised me not to go underground but keep in the open till he could operate in about a year's time.


I went to Sydney and put my gold into the mint, then went into hospital for fistulas. I was in hospital for eight days with bladder trouble caused by the fistulas. After I came out I met a Mr Knight who was a trotting trainer and he remembered me, from a meeting earlier. I said I would like to take a good trotter back to New Zealand and he knew of several. We visited a Mr Bryant who had two for sale, both good horses. He wanted £350 for one called Pastime and £300 for one called Nea, who had raced as a pony. The following day, the two horses were given a trial at the Canterbury Course, where both of them showed up well and I asked to have a ride on Nea.


"Would you take £250 for Nea," I asked, "with all her gear?"


He accepted the offer. She was a Galloway, a few inches bigger than a pony but she had won six races as either a pony or Galloway around Sydney. I shipped her back to a friend in Wellington, on the "Wakatipu". Back in Dunedin with her a month later, I nominated her for a two mile trot at Tapanui. I gave her performances in Sydney and put £50 on her. She won.

The owner of the second horse put in a protest, on the ground she was not a pony. George Dowse or Douse, the handicapper, said he had handicapped her as a pony and given her forty seconds. She was measured and was half an inch over, so was disqualified, so I went down for my money. Later, I found out that the stewards had backed Gaiety, the second horse. Had they backed mine, she must have likely won.


I took her back home and was given a contract to build a house for Mrs Lehman or Leaman near my mother’s place. The labour would mean £100 to me. One of my brothers rode Nea along the hard beach sand at Purakaunui. I nominated her in two trots at Forbury Park in Dunedin, a two mile and a one mile. The handicaps were 40 sec. in the two mile and 15 sec. in the other. My bookmaker was Patterson of Wellington and I won the double at 200 to 8.


Nobody knew. There was a big field of about fourteen horses, several from Christchurch, that were very fast, Tommy, Bedale, Random, all scratch horses. The stake money was £100 for the first race and £80 for the second. Big money in those days. I put £50 on the tote.


All the horses got away to a good start and I was not long getting the mare near the front of the field. She led into the straight and won easily, with about 20 lbs of mud on her tail. The dividend was £4-18-0, more than an ounce of gold cost.


About an hour and a half later, I put £100 on Nea in the mile but I had her tail tied up, clear of the mud. Jack rode Pihi in the same race and Nea was re-handicapped, so instead of 15 sec., she got 1 sec. At the half mile post Pihi was leading but Nea passed him and won with Tommy second and Pihi third. The dividend was £3-19-0, still more than one ounce of gold cost.


In went a protest. Men said she was a ring-in, which she was not. I got my money from the tote but they held back the stakes. I gave my case to Solly Solomon and after they had made extensive enquiries, he gave them six days to pay up. The stakes came to £180 with a solicitor's fee of two guineas. I had a big black bag and I took it home, stuffed with money, then emptied the contents out on Mother's table for the family to count. I had about £565 without my double in Wellington. Mr Dowse was not a bit pleased at the mare. He thought it was unfair to win the double. However, I left the mare home and went off to Wellington to make sure I collected my £200.


Up there I met Dick Henry, whom I had met previously at Tapanui. Dick had a horse nominated in Nelson but he was broke and could not afford to take her over. I agreed to finance him, so he went there for a few days before the races and stayed at the Richmond Hotel. The proprietor was president of the Nelson Jockey Club. Jenny, Dick's horse, had 40 sec. in the mile on the first day. There was another horse called Jenny 2. The public were confused and put their money on our Jenny, which made her a hot favourite. We had only £10 on her, only to realise that if she won, we could not get our money back. We were not sorry when she lost.


That night, we had to get to work on her and had her legs in hot water for some hours which made all the difference to her. Next day, she had 15 sec. in the mile and won easily, with the dividend at £6-5-0. There was an enquiry but the stewards were satisfied when we told them of the hot fomentations and Dick produced the ten tickets for the first day. This time, we had £50 on her and the stake money was £30. I went back to Wellington £172 better off, after giving Dick his share.


It cost me £75 to send to Canada for the very latest in sulkies and harness but I won a number of races with it. Home again, I bought a tip dray and draft horse, also a spring cart for my brother Jim. The family were all harvesting. After I bought a little pony, Tim, for £7, I took Nea and Tim to Wellington, where I boarded at Prestons Hotel at Miramar, near the trotting park. We won another double, Nea and I but she paid only even money. I harnessed up wee Tim for the pony race. He was so small, he looked like a rabbit in the shafts. When the crowd saw him, they nearly went mad with excitement but he was so small, very few backed him. The trot was two miles and he had 40 sec. Tim was the smallest in the field.


I put £10 on him and faced the starter. Some horses had 60 sec. He broke a few times but I put the whip on him and he trotted bravely. At the mile, he was in front, but tiring, so I just let him plod but found that when we entered the straight, he was still in front. For the life of me, I could hardly claim to be in control, for when he heard thundering hoofs behind him and the soft swish the sulkies made through the air, it aroused his instincts. As they came close, he hoofed it for all he was worth, beating the scratch horse Sultan by two lengths, while the crowd were wildly happy at the sight of the little warrior with the bright eyes and streaming tail.


What a win it was, for he paid £14-13-0.


A few days later, I took the horses to Johnsonville where Nea won but the dividend was poor and Tim was beaten in the trot. Shortly, I bought three more horses to train, Pearl, Invictus and Cotherson and then went up to Hastings. Driving Bryant’s J.H. in the big race, we won off scratch with a dividend of £2-12-0. Back in Miramar with five horses in training, I was kept busy. Mr Bryant who had sold me Nea sold me another called Beware. She was well named for she was handy with her teeth.


By the time the next meeting came along at Miramar, I had a horse in every race, either my own or one I was training. Out of seven races on the programme, I won five, either riding or driving. The tote gave me £577 and the stakes were £140, a big day. Often it was the same all over again, at Johnsonville, Lower Hutt and Masterton, where I took Nea, Tim, and Pihi. We sold Pihi to a Maori farmer for £15 and Tim changed hands for £10. Down in the South Island, I raced again. Beware won a race at Lancaster Park and so did Pearl. For a time, I went backwards and forwards between Christchurch and Wellington.


All the year, I had been suffering a good deal of the time, so decided to give up racing for a while and go into hospital for the operation. Dr De Renzie operated in a private hospital in Christchurch, where I had a bad three weeks, but the operation was successful for I never had a repetition of the trouble. I took Nea to Rangiora but was too weak to help her, so we were beaten. If she had won, she would have paid a bumper dividend. I decided to send her to stud by Imperious and she had a foal I called Protonea. Beware had a foal which my brother Tom took, and he trained it like a circus pony. They were all turned out at my brother Jim's farm.


Some of the horses were not safe. Mother had no idea of what they could do at awkward moments. Grandfather used to tease her and so did Father while he was alive but they forgot that horses were a fearsome novelty in all of the Maori villages, although daring young blades began to trade whatever they could lay their hands on for a colt or any other, as time went along. Mother's relatives were less daring than some and kept only a bullock or two!


My sister Lizzie once rode one of my horses and vowed she would never forgive me for letting her think it was "quite suitable" as a hack. Visitors had come to see Mother unexpectedly and she had nothing to offer them for a meal as she had hoped somebody would go over to the store, later in the day. Lizzie (or Elizabeth) went for her new riding habit, a shopping bag and a shilling or so for flour and a number of other things.

"Oh, Maria," objected one of the visitors, who had walked down our hill and was somewhat wiser in horse sense. "She can’t take those beasts. She might be killed!"


But Lizzie had vanished.


She managed to saddle and bridle the nearest horse quietly. When she was in the saddle however, it was off and jumped a fence onto the track. The store was a mile or two up the hill and although she managed to ride the horse to the door, she dare not get off and called out to the store keeper, to see if he could fill the bag for her. They were soon on their return journey, with a still frisky horse, eagerly going downhill, not to be advised for the new chum under any circumstances.


My sister was a good rider within a short while. As things turned out, she married William Hislop, a cousin of Walter, not a businessman but an architect, in Dunedin.




In Dunedin I met Mr Fred Evans, who had just returned from London. It was understood he had floated the "Phoenix" for £120,000. Nobody found out what money was ever paid over but it was very evident no large sum ever got into the Company in New Zealand, where the name was changed to the "Achilles". Mr J. Evans, son of Fred, was manager while his father was away but now was leaving to take up an appointment in Waihi. By chance, I was appointed to take his place as underground manager.


After reaching Queenstown, I hired a horse to take me to the Reefs. When the horse is a good walker, it is only about an hour to the hill top, then another hour to the Shotover River. At Hells Gates, which is a place much written about and photographed nowadays, I saw a man on a horse. He was waving with all his might and I wondered if all lunatics had not been locked up, or it was some emergency. Little did I dream I would meet a man so soon, who knew me.


When we met, I found it was my friend Mr Edwin Foord, who had come into my life so often. Somebody had told him to look out for me. At the time he was electric engineer at the mine I was going to, the very same mine I had done underground surveying for, while I was with Mr Wilmott. His daughter Mary kept house for him. Strangely enough, his niece Margaret Foord had married my mother's half-brother Charley Driver, who had sold me several horses.


I was unable to meet Miss Foord that evening but next day we met and I went in to Queenstown to church with her. The moment I met Mary, I knew she was the woman I wanted to marry. It was funny. I had been all over Australia and a lot of New Zealand, yet I had to go to that out of the way corner to meet the one I wanted. She very soon knew my feelings but gave very little encouragement. There were few single girls in the district but plenty young men and old ones. I knew three of the old boys wanted to marry her, the Boss was one, and more than one young man. Eventually, Mary and I were married eighteen months later in Arrowtown.


The mine was not producing much gold. I wanted to find the main lode, which had been lost some years before and for some reason, I thought I could find it. After I had studied all the plans and old papers, I sat in the office, certain that the diggings were going in the wrong direction. I had studied quite a bit about displacements on lodes, so I asked for four men to prospect for this lode. Permission was given but it was far from easy because when the men saw the direction I was taking, they all said it was crazy. Some old diggers on the other hand, thought it was all right. It took six weeks to prove and the lode was just where I expected it. It was big, all of sixteen feet wide. Parts were very rich and picked stone would go 100 ounces to the ton, yet taking the rich with the poor, it averaged only one ounce to the ton.


We surprised Mr Evans the day he came back to work after being away for six weeks with gout, and took him to see where we had fired five bores. We fired them at 9 pm., to discover that we had struck the lode right in the richest part. The men took out about 20 lbs of stone and we carried it up to the office to the Boss. He nearly went into apoplexy and sent the men out for some whisky, so a really merry night was had by all. I was promised a new suit but promise is all I ever got, nor were the Home Company ever told it was the underground manager, not the managing director, who found the lode that gave the mine its new lease of life. Every care was taken, usually, to keep to the book, especially since the big Blue Spur case of about 1890, over in London, with Sir Walter Bullen as chairman.


Over the next eleven months, we had good returns, better than had ever been recovered before. From 1,000 oz down to 600 oz a month it was, to the moment we nearly lost the mine. It had rained for some days before the clouds lifted and the weather cleared, but we found an unaccountable amount of water was flooding the mine, evidently from old workings. The pumps were not strong enough or big enough to cope with the flow, so I asked the butcher if he could give me two of the biggest bullock hides he had. We sewed them up and put them on the cages, one on each. We had to be quick, otherwise we would lose the pump on the lower level, where the good quartz was.


Down went the cage and every time it came up, it brought 105 gallons of water. As fast as it came up, the other one went down into a well at the foot of the shaft. It was an all night job, but we saved the mine, even though we were very afraid at times. It was apparent the water was coming from some of the old workings.


Mr Evans and I were at variance over timbering the mine. He would have square sets in the stopes (upward shafts leading from underground diggings), which I knew was not suitable for the class of country, which was heavy ground to keep up. In the end, timbering proved the best.


I was offered a mine in a better part of Otago, so left Bullendale on my birthday, Dec. 6, 1898. My wife stayed in Arrowtown and I went to Dunedin, where I made models of timbering for mines and prepared a plan of the Achilles mine from its earliest workings, to the time I left. I was very proud of them and thought I must show them in the Exhibition in Dunedin, where somehow I got two medals. Later the office was burnt down and the plans lost from other sets, but my brother-in-law E.G.M.Foord had mine, which went to the Eureka Museum in Queenstown.


Our first son was born in Arrowtown, and two days later my wife's father Mr Edwin Foord was killed in the Cross Mine, Waitekauri, near Waihi. I had to take my sister-in-law back to Arrowtown and she stayed a few weeks. From there, I went to be manager of the Burnt Creek Quartz Mine near Waitahuna. As soon as a house was ready, Mary and the baby joined me, though it was miles away from women who could have given company to her. The mine turned out no good and again shareholders had put their money into a claim that was not properly prospected. I took over another mine there, on tribute, then moved to a better place. About then, I bought a beautiful dog cart and drove Nea, our trotting mare, to Canada Reefs, a few miles from Milton. I built a very good sod stable and noticed a number of sod houses there, really warm places they were.


One night while I was away, Nea took ill with gripes. The men walked her about for some hours and my wife gave her all the hot things she had in the house, then she boiled some linseed meal and put it in a pickle jar, pouring it down the horse's throat. Very soon, she had the satisfaction of hearing her start to eat again, so knew she was better.


I had to work early and late at that mine and could never understand why the returns never came up to what assays led me to expect. It was after I was away that the reason came out. The old man who was in the battery, systematically took gold out of the box. Another took his place but I went broke.


I drove Nea through to Dunedin and shipped her to a man in Wellington. He lost her very soon after. By then, I was full up of quartz mining, so decided to go dredging, as there was a boom. I went to a firm in Dunedin and got work on a dredge they were erecting at Adam's Flat, not far from the place I had just left. Moving machinery seemed to suit me and I seemed to have a special knack.


After that ended, I took on a contract to put the machinery on the "Havelock" Dredge at Waitahuna. The job was over in record time, six weeks later and I made £150, so was able to look myself in the face again. Next, the Dunedin firm sent me to put the machinery on the new Alexandra Dredge, below Clyde. They had another job just across the river at the same time, on the "Perseverance". Rivalry grew up between our crew and theirs and in the end, when they had some problem, we had to go and finish their dredge. The crew was pretty good.


While we were fitting up the dredge, the wagon bringing the boiler got stuck in the Manuherikia River which was partly in flood and rising. I had to go to Alexandra for help and got Billy Finlay to bring his team of eight horses. We took out all but the shafters, coupled on his horses and put the others back. Another team came and were put to work with wire ropes, then the twenty-four horses creaked, sighed and groaned in their harnesses and chains, with the swingletrees bobbing in the water. Just in time, the wagon came free.


When I was in Clyde, our second son was born in Arrowtown, November 13, 1899.


My next jobs were to fit up the Central Electric, Alpine Consols and Alpine No.2, all below Cromwell. Mr R.Wales asked me to join him when the work was over there and we opened an office in Dunedin as consulting and erecting engineers. We took a contract to shift the Ettrick Dredge from Millers Flat to Switzers, which was toward 100 miles away. In Gore, I engaged three traction engines, then took off the ladder and buckets, disconnected the tumbler framing and left the pontoons in two parts. Before we were ready to set off, we packed all the buckets and other gear on the pontoons and engines. The third engine pulled a trailer, which carried all the odds and ends.


Down at Raes Junction, we were most unlucky when sparks from an engine set fire to some gear that was accidentally saturated in oil. We ran the pontoon to a creek and managed to put out the fire but the owners cut off £50 for the damage done.


Our next worry was to get through a cutting with a bad bend. After measuring it all ways, we could not get the pontoons around, so we took sixteen feet off each. This cost us another £300. But after loading the pieces onto the pontoons, we had no further trouble. We still made enough out of the job, so after paying for the traction engines and the deductions, it was all right, for we had set the contract price at £2,800.


We designed the Waikaka Dredge, the Charlton Valley, as well as a bigger one on the Molyneux, the Britannia at Island Block, down in the Tuapeka County.


[See also the brochure, "Steam Technology in Lawrence & Tuapeka". Gilbert designed the New Alexandra, the Alpine No 2, Central Electric and Alpine Consols].






These memoirs compiled and edited by

Michael Broad of Dunedin,

a grand-nephew of Gilbert Mouat.

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William Gilbert Mouat

Categories:Heritage Theme and Social
First Names:William Gilbert
Last Name:Mouat
Place of Birth:Purikanui