CHAPTER IV. Goldmining, Ancient and Modern...
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Goldmining, Ancient and Modern. --Sluicing. -- Dredging. --Quartz Lodes.
THE following extract from Mr. Brough Smyth's "Goldfields of Victoria" is both interesting and instructive:--
"Gold was got in Egypt about 2000 years ago from veins of quartz in exactly the same way as our miners get it. The miner apparently followed the underlie of the veins, and excavated sloping shafts, and made galleries of great length. The workmen, carrying lamps on their foreheads, dug and toiled under conditions which would not now be borne. The stone when taken out was pounded in mortars, washed on sloping boards, and the rich residuum treated, if with less metallurgical skill, certainly with ultimate results not much inferior to those now obtained.
"Pliny's account of goldmining operations in Spain, might, with a few unimportant alterations, be accepted as a fair description of the method of working some of our mines. Vein mining, the modes of washing auriferous earth, the system of races (some of them 100 miles in length), and the timbering of drives were but little different from what may be seen now.
"At every rush the miners are obliged very often to work in the same manner, and resort to the same contrivances for getting gold as were common in the times of Darius, the son of Hystaspes (B.C. 521).
"Comparing one epoch with another, and confining ourselves to the ordinary modes of the occurrence of gold, there are few changes to note. And as regards the laws, the ordinances of Ferdinand and Isabella contain paragraphs which are nearly word for word the same as occur in many of the statutes, mining bye-laws, and mining regulations which are now in force. Like difficulties call for the like remedies; and the sharp texts of the Spanish rulers have to be reproduced now to check irregularities of the same kind, and due to the same causes, which operated to the disadvantage of the miners four hundred years ago." 1
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All this is very true. Nevertheless, there are many variations of the modes of mining necessitated by geological conditions. The experience of the Victorian miners was of little use to them when they marked out claims at Tuapeka. As an illustration, I may mention that some old Bendigonians started puddling machines, after the Bendigo fashion, to wash the soil in some gullies running into Wetherstones. But the circumstances were so different that the least consideration should have taught them that the experiment would be a failure, as it proved to be, because the soil was so largely composed of gravel. In fact, there was nothing to "puddle"--anything like the stiff clays of Bendigo being non-existent.
Another mistake arising from the application of Victorian experience was evidenced in sinking shafts in pursuit of deep leads. I have already narrated how the celebrated Blue Spur was first wrought after this fashion. There were many fortunes in the ground, but the ordinary mode of working it was unsuitable. Few of the first miners knew anything of sluicing, which was very little practised in Victoria except in the Ovens district. First, a rich deposit of gold was found, and wrought only at the foot of the Spur. The Witness of the period records that "the first party who sank in the "Blue Point," at the head of Gabriel's Gully, could scarcely get the colour from the bottom of their shaft, and consequently abandoned it. Another party took possession of the hole and commenced driving; and before they had got in two feet they came across a patch as rich as any of the far-famed 'jewellers' shops' at Ballarat. As much as 1200 and 1400 ounces were taken out of the claims adjoining the original prospectors." Then, as Mr. Gascoigne tells us, "California Jem" brought in water for sluicing at Munro's Gully, and very soon his example was followed by others. Mr. John Drummond, mining-surveyor, writing in 1864, says:-- "From careful calculations, and taking the average depth at 100ft. (which is below the average depth), I find that there is over 29,000,000 cubic yards or tons, and supposing each party of four to be in full working order, and working 280 days in the year, and each party putting through
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150 tons per day, gives us, as a result, that it would take four hundred miners seven years to work that small portion of ground out. There can be no doubt that the Blue Spur forms the nucleus for the supply of Gabriel's Gully on the one side, and Morris' Gully on the other; and should mining operations progress as at present, it bids fair in a short time to rival some of the gigantic workings of California." And he adds, "I have no doubt that, when the hill has been washed away, the present tailings will be re-taken up, and either passed through a mill or re-sluiced."
Mr. Drummond's forecast has been proved to be correct in all particulars. The average number of miners working on the Blue Spur may be estimated at from 80 to 100, and nothing like the quantity of earth specified has ever been put through. For nearly twenty-five years the miners have been working away, and still the large surface area of forty-five acres remains, for the bottom has not been touched, save at the edges of the rocky basin, within which this vast auriferous deposit exists. It is the opinion of Dr. Hector and Professor Ulrich, and also of Captain Hutton, that the Blue Spur occupies the site of an ancient mountain lake, or tarn, through which the waters of some river once poured in remote geological times. At present there is no sign of the exhaustion of the auriferous deposits. The tailings have been, and are being, taken up and re-wrought, as it was predicted by Mr. Drummond twenty-three years ago they would be, by a company formed for the purpose.
There are other deposits of a similar nature at Matakanui, on the slopes of the Dunstan ranges, where alluvial claims have been wrought for twenty years and more, and are still richly productive, without any true bottom having been found. I believe that the resources of Otago in this respect are almost inexhaustible, and that only capital and energy are requisite to render the alluvial Goldfields of Otago the wonder, the admiration, and the envy of the world.
Another feature in goldmining in Otago is river dredging. It is well known that the beds of many of our rivers are
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immensely rich in gold, but the difficulty has been how to get at them. The Molyneux or Clutha River especially is believed, not without reason, to contain nearly enough gold to pay off the national debt of Great Britain. For untold centuries the streams which pour into it have been depositing gold, and only the aid of scientifically-devised mechanical appliances are required to develope the enormous amount of buried wealth which rests beneath its waters. The first attempt to work this source of wealth was made by Mr. Franz Siedeberg at the Dunstan, in 1863, by dredging the river. Since then the machines used for dredging have gradually undergone improvement till they are as nearly perfect as may be. There are now twelve dredges on this river, mostly paying their owners well. The latest invention in this direction is the Wellman dredge, one of which is now being erected in the neighbourhood of Alexandra, at the junction of the Clutha and Manuherikia Rivers, the efficacy of which remains to be tested. Wherever there is a possibility of the river being turned--that is, diverted from its present bed--there is no doubt that astonishing results would reward the investors. The same remark applies to the Kawarau, the Shotover, and the Arrow, where landslips have covered the original bed. Mr. W. C. Wright, in 1864 Mining Surveyor at Wakatipu, wrote thus:-- "In the Arrow division it has been found that ancient river beds exist beneath the landslips, and are remarkable for being lower than the present course of the stream. The wash beneath the immense blocks of rocks composing these slips, can only be got by driving under or through them. I am glad to perceive that, owing to a revival of mining energy, efforts are now being made to develope the hidden treasures that await the bold venturers in this direction."
Attention was given to the occurrence of gold in quartz at a very early period. As recorded in page 4, auriferous quartz was picked up at Goodwood in 1851; and small specimens of a similar kind were frequently found, serving only to tantalise the settlers by raising expectations that were never verified.
Mr. M'Crae, the prospector of whom mention is made in
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page 57, brought into Dunedin two specimens of quartz, containing fine gold, which he had obtained near the junction of the Mareburn with the Taieri River. It may be mentioned in passing that he also produced specimens of "precious stones"--so designated--from the same locality. They were probably zircons, a considerable number of which, and some of them of fair size, have from time to time been found in the Taieri, between the Mareburn and Fillyburn.
In February, 1862, the discovery of an auriferous quartz reef in the neighbourhood of Nuggety Gully, four miles from Waitahuna, was reported; and in January, 1863, two men named Jenkins and Saint reported another and similar discovery in the Waitahuna district. Mr. Surveyor Drummond at that time expressed his belief that there was a continuous line of quartz lodes extending from the Waitahuna Ranges in the south to the Lammerlaw in the north. Subsequent discoveries have confirmed this opinion, only the line is much more extensive in each direction than Mr. Drummond supposed.
In May, 1862, there was a rush to Highlay Hill, where a miner named Bailey had found both good alluvial ground and a gold-bearing quartz reef. The latter appears to have been wrought for a little while and then abandoned.
On July 4th, 1862, the following paragraph appeared in the Daily Times:-- "Specimens of auriferous quartz are said to have been picked up by Captain Toogood, of the steamship Victory, along the shores of the lagoon adjacent to Wickliffe Bay."
Although not immediately connected with the subject, it may not be amiss if I here interpolate a circumstance recorded in the Otago Witness in September, 1862:--
"We saw yesterday two pieces of hardened clay taken from the side of Bell Hill"--now a vanished memory--"one bearing on its surface five or six specks of water-worn gold, and the other three or four specks. They were part of a seam four feet thick of a heavy blue clay, mixed with a slaty formation." As Bell Hill is basaltic, this incident should have some weight in the contention between the aqueous and igneous theorists as to the
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origin of gold. I may say that small pieces of gold have, at various times, been found in the Water of Leith, and also in Lindsay's Creek, where the formation is entirely basaltic.
Similar sensational statements were made from time to time. But the first actual quartz workings were doubtless those at Waipori, on the Shetland Reef, where the O. P. Q. (Otago Pioneer Quartz) Mining Company carried on operations for several years. This reef was discovered in March 1862, by a party of six Victorian miners--all Shetland men--who discovered the reef projecting above the surface, and showing gold. Although six are mentioned, the names of only two--Hosea Fraser and Andrew Williamson--are recorded in the first announcement of the discovery which appears in the Witness of July 26th. At first they broke the stone down with picks and washed it in a cradle; and in this rude manner they obtained 7 ozs. for two weeks' work. Subsequently they wrought it with a battery of four heads or stampers. It is illustrative of the condition of manufacturing industry at that period that when they desired to enlarge their battery, and to erect a waterwheel, they were compelled to send for the stampers and wheel to Melbourne. The first record of these workings is in the Official Report for 1863. The thickness of the reef is there stated to vary from three and a-half to six feet, gradually thickening as it got deeper. The yield from 179 tons is given as 203 ounces--a little over an ounce and a-half to the ton. This reef was successfully wrought for several years; and but for the want of skilled management I believe it would be in work at the present time. It was never thoroughly tested in the lower levels; but when the works were suspended the shaft was passing through a barren section, such as occurs at intervals in all quartz veins, and is generally succeeded by richer stone. That it is a genuine reef, and not a mere "slide," may be regarded as certain.
The next mention of quartz reefs is to be found in the following extracts from my Official Report for 1863:--
On the 1st August, 1863, Mr. Warden Williamson reported: "I have this day granted prospecting claims, at Golden Point,
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Pleasant Creek (Upper Shotover District), to Thomas M'Hattie and John M'Ilroy, for two distinct quartz reefs. The specimens are good, gold being distributed throughout the quartz. The casing also contains fine gold." These were called the "Elgin" reefs; but no results are recorded of them under that name.
Of Skippers, where some fine auriferous quartz veins have since been found, it was only recorded that "at various times quartz boulders containing gold had been picked up in the water courses." The same thing occurred at the Woolshed Creek, where a fine specimen of waterworn quartz thickly impregnated with gold was picked up and presented to the Provincial Government by Mr. Borthwick Robert Baird, in 1863. No reef has, however, yet been discovered in the vicinity of the Woolshed; though there are abundant evidences of the existence of auriferous veins in the immediate vicinity of that stream.
I think I am correct in saying that the next big discovery in quartz reefs was that at Bendigo. At Skippers and elsewhere there had been going on a sort of "groping" for golden quartz. But none of these made any sensation, for the simple reason that the products were infinitesimal. I should not care to say positively who discovered the famous Bendigo reef. In 1864 Mr. Julian Coates, at that time mining surveyor at Dunstan, reported to Mr. Warden Robinson, that he had found a hill bestrewn with golden quartz, and a rich reef projecting from the surface. But no reliance was placed on his statement. Yet it is an absolute fact that loose fragments of quartz, thickly studded with gold, and in large quantities, were lying exposed on the hill-side. Many of these were gathered up and crushed with very profitable results by some Germans at the time. Similar stone has been collected ever since, and on a recent visit to the locality I found that the present manager of the company's works had in 1886 gathered and stacked a tolerably large quantity of the same gold-bearing stone from slopes of the ranges. The credit of really prospecting the reef must be given to three men---Thomas Logan, Brian Hebden, and John Garret. They were all working miners, and one of them always "shepherded" the claim, whilst the
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others wrought for wages elsewhere. Their patience and perseverance were eventually rewarded by the discovery of what was undoubtedly the richest quartz-reef in Otago. Some parts of it yielded as much as six ounces to the ton, and as the stone was generally very friable, great quantities could be extracted and put through the stampers daily.
From this time outwards there are no certain records extant. When the Goldfields Department was extinguished, there was no one to take note of successive discoveries.
Nuggets have been of unfrequent occurrence and comparatively small size on the New Zealand Goldfields. Such information as exists, or can be obtained, will be found in the Appendices. 2
The commencement and progress of agricultural settlement on the Goldfields is a subject intimately connected with the theme of this work. So also are the early attempts to discover a Goldfield on the immediate West Coast, and both these are dealt with in the Appendices. 3
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