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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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