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Canvastown, Trout Hotel and Wakamarina Valley Gold Rush – Marlborough

Canvastown, Trout Hotel and Wakamarina Valley Gold Rush of 1864 – Marlborough, New Zealand

By Allan Burgess

The first gold was reputedly discovered in the Wakamarina River in 1860 by Mrs George Whiting Pope, Nee Elizabeth Catherine Climo while doing the washing where she lived near Canvastown.

On the 3rd, 4th and 5th of April 1884 Hiram Harris, John Wilson, Joshua and George Rutland used a Long Tom sluice to extract an incredible 18 and a half ounces of gold from the Wakamarina River at Wilsons Beach. I have read other reports that say Harris, Wilson and the Rutlands actually found 54 ounces at that time worth £210.

Note you can double-click or double-tap all the photographs on this page to enlarge them.

This was the type of sluice used to mine most of the alluvial gold during the 1800s in the Wakamarina Valley. Photo credit: Long Tom sluice similar to that used by Gold diggers on Stoneburn, near Dunedin, NZ, 1876-1880, Otago, by William Hart, Hart, Campbell & Co. Purchased 1943. Te Papa (C.014911)

In August 1863, the Marlborough Provincial Council had offered a bonus of £1,500 for the discovery of gold and coal in Marlborough. These same men claimed that as well. 

All that remains of Canvastown today when viewed from SH6 via Google Maps Street View. From left, Canvastown Memorial Hall, rural fire station, public loo, church (de-registered), old shop and The Trout Hotel. This scene would have appeared vastly different in 1864 when gold prospectors’ tents stretched as far as the eye could see. There is much more to the Wakamarina Valley than meets the eye from here.

The current (April 2022) price of 54 ounces of gold in NZ dollars would be approx. $157,000.

According to the inflation calculator on the Reserve Bank of New Zealand website, a basket of goods and services that cost £1,500.00 in quarter 2 of 1864 would have cost $186,182.45 in quarter 1 of 2022. So Harris, Wilson and the Rutlands did very well out of their discovery. Note that these are the figures that I came up with. I suggest that to be sure you check them for yourself.  

The nature of the Wakamarina goldfield meant that although there were many rich surface pockets of alluvial gold, there were few steady workings. 


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Canvastown is a pleasant 10km drive from Havelock. Click on the map to enlarge it. You can also zoom in for a more detailed view. Then click or tap your “back button” to return to the article.

Inevitably, there was a sudden large scale gold rush. Within a couple of months, there were as many as 6,000 miners living under canvas working the Wakamarina River. Most of the side valleys where streams followed into the Wakamarina River were also profitable, with Doom, Foster, Deep and Mountain Camp Creeks producing gold.

As to the total number of miners working the river above Canvastown by mid-1864, there are various figures quoted. One thing is sure the rush brought hopeful miners from all directions including Australia. Tent settlements appeared almost overnight at Havelock, Canvastown and further up the Wakamarina River valley. Also arriving on the new goldfield of course was the usual motley assortment of “hangers-on” in the form of shopkeepers, publicans, and merchants looking to “cash in” on the miners’ good fortune. 

By January 1865 the frenetic pass had already slowed considerably with many miners having drifted away to goldfields elsewhere after being either unable to secure claims on the Wakamarina or find more gold on their existing claims. In just 8 months or so the boom days were over. The miners over this early period were extracting alluvial gold, that is loose gold that has been washed down the river and was recovered by sluicing.

Take a look at the old black and white photograph of water pumping equipment being used at Wakamarina Gorge, Marlborough circa 1890 to extract gold. You can get some idea of the scale of the extensive gold workings that have taken place in the Wakamarina Valley over the past 150 years or so. This work was carried out with little more than a pick and shovel. It must have been a hard life, particularly during the cold wet winters, all while living in rough conditions sleeping in small huts or living under canvas. There were also large periodic floods that could wipe out these wooden structures. Injuries and deaths from accidents were common in the 1800s.

By the 1880s onwards gold was being mined by companies dredging and using battery stampers to extract gold from quartz reefs from which the alluvial gold of the earlier years had been released naturally. This form of mining produced mixed results and in the end, most of these companies went broke or could no longer justify the cost of extraction.

Nobody knows for sure how much gold has been extracted from the Wakamarina River valley. It is thought to have been something like 44,687 ounces of the more easily won alluvial gold together with a further 17,000 ounces extracted by quartz stampers.

Today, small farms and lifestyle blocks line the sides of Wakamarina Road. This block has some happy looking goats.

Deep Creek Cemetery is located at 928/948 Wakamarina Road, Wakamarina 7178. It contains numerous unmarked graves and the exact number of people buried there is unknown. A board from the Deep Creek cemetery showing those known to be buried there, together with the names of those who might possibly be buried there is shown below.

Canvastown and the Wakamarina River valley are very interesting places to visit whether it be for a day trip or an extended holiday. There is much to see from the old gold mining days.

Relics from the Wakamarina Valley’s gold mining era have been used to create a memorial across the road from the Trout Hotel at Canvastown.
Above is, a close-up from the Centennial Memorial. From left: dredge buckets from the Golden Point dredge, ball mill or quartz crusher came from the Smile of Fortune claim, and the lightweight two-stamp battery used at Dead Horse Creek in the early 1940s.
Plaque on the Centennial Memorial.
Photograph taken a decade later of the Centennial Memorial unveiled in 1964 to mark 100 years since gold was first discovered In the Wakamarina Valley.

Centennial Monument

The Monument was built in 1964 to commemorate the 100th anniversary and comprises various tools and apparatus used in gold mining. 

The dredge buckets came from the Golden Point dredge which worked the lower Wakamarina River in the early years of the 1900s.

The ball mill or quartz crusher came from the Smile of Fortune claim in Deep Creek.

The lightweight two-stamp battery or hammer mill was used at Dead Horse Creek in the early 1940s. Manufactured by the Union Ironworks, San Francisco, the battery crushed quartz stockpiled at the southern end of the Golden Bar reef.

The Pelton wheel is from the first Smile of Fortune battery at Deep Creek and was in use for only a short time during 1918.

The plough is believed to be the first used in the district.

The facing stones came from the Wakamarina River. 

Set into the stone cairn are a miner’s pick, a shovel, and a gold panning dish.  Below them are horseshoes and hames, an axe, and a Maori adze made from Tinline stone. 

The monument was unveiled by Mr Martin Mason, a direct descendant of Hemi Whiro, chief of the Te Hora and Taiahi pas at the time of European settlement.

Water pumping equipment at Wakamarina Gorge, Marlborough. Tyree Studio: Negatives of Nelson and Marlborough districts. Ref: 10×8-0698-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/22341617
There are many information signs like this one about Mountain Camp Creek posted beside Wakamarina Road on the eastern side of the river. For the more energetic there are tracks leading down to the Wakamarina River where you can see the remains of old gold prospecting machinery and other points of interest.
This accurate reproduction of a typical gold miners’ hut was built by Les Douglas and Craig Dobie. It is located at Canvastown across the road from the Trout Hotel. It has a dirt floor, stone half, and bed that is little more than hessian sacks stretched between two boards. It would have been cosy warm and dry. Although a cramped living space, it would have been a step up from the Calico tents that gold miners lived in, often for years, in the early days from 1864 onwards.
View looking downstream on the Wakamarina River taken at Butchers Flat. The river would have appeared much the same in the 1860s as it does today. You may be able to make out several wild goats in the centre-left of this photograph.
In many places in the Wakamarina Valley, you can see evidence of gold prospectors digging into the hillsides. Some of these may be quite recent.
Another view of the Wakamarina River at Butchers Flat with a smaller creek or side stream entering on the opposite bank. By 1865 almost the whole of the Wakamarina had been searched for gold and most of the prospectors had left. It was very much a case of a “short-lived boom and bust”. Where possible miners would either dam or divert the river in order to prospect the riverbed.
This signpost is about 200m from Butchers Flat. If you are very energetic you can tramp up over the hills to Onamalutu in the Wairau Valley. There are also mountain bike trails in the Wakamarina Valley. Butchers Flat is approx. 15km by mostly gravel road from Canvastown. As an added exciting bonus various small creeks run across the road meaning it is probably best avoided following heavy rain. Butchers Flat marks the end of the Wakamarina Road.
This sign was erected at the Deep Creek Cemetery to mark the 150th Gold Celebrations in 2014.

Pinedale Motor Camp, 820 Wakamarina Road, Canvastown, Havelock 7178. Is 8.4km from Canvastown on SH6. Accommodation, gold panning, swimming, surrounded by native forest.

Butchers Flat Department of Conservation Camp Ground. Charges are $8.00 per person per night. Water tap and basic toilet only. This grassy, flat camping area was once a gold mining area and is great for picnicking or swimming. Approximately 15km down Wakamarina Road from Canvastown on SH6.

References

Te Ara – An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand.

Wakamarina Gold – TheProw.org.nz

Gold in a Tin Dish: The Search for Gold in Marlborough & Eastern Nelson Vol.1 The History of the Wakamarina Goldfield. By Mike Johnston. ISBN: 9780959797442. Publisher: Nikau Press. Published 1992. Hardback.

Water pumping equipment at Wakamarina Gorge, Marlborough (early photograph). Tyree Studio: Negatives of Nelson and Marlborough districts. Ref: 10×8-0698-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/22341617

Wakamarina Track and Mount Richmond Forrest Park – DoC four-page .pdf includes getting there, history, map, wildlife, walking and mountain bike tracks. Includes useful addresses, email addresses and phone numbers.

Trout Fishing. There is also good trout fly and spin fishing to be had in the Wakamarina River and the nearby Pelorus River should you decide to holiday in the area.


Other New Zealand Photo Galleries you may enjoy:

Canvastown, Trout Hotel and Wakamarina Valley Gold Rush – Marlborough Canvastown and Wakamarina Valley are interesting places to explore during a day trip or extended holiday, old gold workings, camping, swimming and trout fishing.

Christchurch Before and After the Earthquakes One of my most enduring memories of those terrible days was the powerful sense of community spirit and the willingness of total strangers to pitch in and help others in any way they could.

Wellington Central – A Quick Look at Wellington City through the Camera Lens Central Wellington is one of the few places in New Zealand where you could live quite happily without the need to own a car. Everything is within easy walking distance. If you do need to go a bit further the bus and train service is excellent.

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