Tuesday 7 August 2018

1 January to 7 January, 1868

Grinning through a horse collar
British Museum AN517849001

Prosperity likely to be permanent. 

Wednesday, 1 January 1868
Towards morning all is quiet at the Thames  and the usual first foot* in is accompanied by a friendly bottle and the congratulations of the season.

A large crowd begins assembling on part of the flat bordering the left of the Hape Creek, where a stand and refreshment booths have been erected in anticipation of the Caledonian games.  The situation is the best in the district giving, from the height on which Mr Mackay’s house is built, an open view of the ground.  To those who don’t pay admission to the stand this is a favourite spot. Here and there men who have their wives and families with them are parading themselves in the fashion of  Christmas holiday seekers.  Groups of Maori of both sexes are  squatting on the grass.  In the Kauaeranga River there are 14 coasting vessels,  and steaming down the gulf the Tauranga and Enterprise can be seen on their way to Auckland.

The stand has been built at the expense of the games committee, Captain Butt using the ground floor as a place of refreshment.  On the right of the stand Messrs Mulligan and Sheenan have a large marquee and on the left, Mr Rose, of the Coach and Horses, provides ample room for those who might visit him.  They each have their share of public patronage.   At 11 o’clock the sports commence.  There are races followed by a quoits match, running, high jump, vaulting with a pole,  running, hop, step and jump,  and standing, hop, step and jump. 

At Auckland a Presbyterian meeting is held in St Andrews church.  There are thousands of persons at the Thames goldfield, the meeting is told, and the Presbytery can only supply one service a month.  It is a disgrace to the Presbytery that they cannot send more ministers to the Thames district considering the number of Presbyterians there.  A committee of Supply for the Thames Goldfields states that the diggers who attend the services are most willing to contribute to collections.

The New Zealand Herald notes that the past year has been one of the most important in the history of the colony, the general stagnation of trade and business, the general want of confidence, great depreciation of property, the impoverished provincial government and the opening of the Thames reefs are all important circumstances of an significant character and they all have an influence which will be long felt.  “In fact 1867 seems to have been the beginning of the end of systems and ideas which have been hitherto considered as of great importance . . . the opening up of the Thames district we look upon as the commencement of prosperity likely to be permanent.”

There has been steady increase in the monthly export of gold from the Thames. The banks alone sent to Sydney in December 3113 oz as against 1200 oz sent away at the beginning of November.  This amount only represents the amount forwarded to Sydney by the banks and does not include private parcels of gold sent elsewhere.  Considering how very little increased crushing machinery has been available to the miners during the past month, the increased quantity of gold is highly satisfactory.  It is still nearly all the produce of Berdan crushing.  There is still an enormous demand for machinery.

The Caledonian games at the Thames rounds up with putting the stone (20 lb) as the last event of the day.  Music and dancing is kept to until a late hour and the Tauranga, which arrives this evening, receives several visitors from the shore, who partake of Captain Sellars hospitality.

NZH 1 January, 1868

DSC 1 January, 1868

Thursday, 2 January
A strong nor’wester driving the rain in torrents blows several tents down, Mr Burke’s hotel on the Waiotahi flat is much damaged, the machine house of Scanlan and Co is thrown over to one side and the printing office being built at the corner of Mackay and Pollen Streets is blown down. Despite the state of the weather the committee of the Caledonian games determines that the sports should go on as many who are at the Thames have come a distance and remained in town overnight. 

The first event is throwing the hammer. The hornpipe, sword dance and Highland Reel are postponed. The Hack Race disintegrates into a barney when some mistake occurs from the horses having to go round the course four times.  One of the spirited animals bolts into a flax swamp, the stewards decide the race in favour of the same horse as the judge had awarded the prize to and the barney turns into a protest.

 Some men take a rope that had been fixed round for the quoit and hammer throwing matches and run it across the course, while one of the public stands by with a big pole to “knock on the head any ------  man who attempted to pull away the rope.” 

It is now raining a perfect deluge and the stewards proclaim there will be no more sports this day.  The stewards and committee also say there will be no running of another race tomorrow and  another disturbance starts. With no police force to enforce order, the stewards and the committee vanish, leaving the public to do as it likes.  The crowd soon afterwards takes possession of the grandstand and volunteer amusements are kept up until late in the afternoon. 

During the afternoon Chief Taipari invites several gentlemen to his new residence where he entertains them most courteously.   

House and garden of Chief Taipari,  photographed in 1868 by Daniel Manders Beere
Alexander Turnball Library Ref: 1/2-096134-G

Late this evening the games committee meet at Mr Wallis’ hotel and decide to abide by their previous decision in the race case and to resume the sports tomorrow morning.

Rangatira for the Thames with 1 case biscuit, ½ ton flour, 2 cases, 3 casks, buckets, 1 bundle, 10 sheep, 1 ton hay, 3 cases brandy, 20 sacks, 1 bottle quicksilver.

Every man of them shows muscle.

Friday, 3 January
The third day of the Thames sports begins with a whale boat race, followed by the watermen's boat race.  It is a rather fatiguing affair with the wind blowing great guns from the south west.

A large canoe containing about 35 Maori now rounds the point between Thames and the Kauaeranga.  These Maori are from Kirikiri and are to contend with the Parawai Maori in the big event – the canoe race.

 At 12.30 the two canoes are laying alongside the starting boat.  Every Maori is stripped to the buff, a shawl wrapped round his loins.  With the exception of three or four who are old men (though no less skilful than younger men in the use of the paddle) every man of them shows a muscle that a prize fighter might envy.  The crew poise their paddles and when the pistol fires the captains of each canoe signals with his mere and away they go, head to head through a rolling sea.  They keep together for about half a mile when a wave sweeps over the two canoes. The canoes are righted, the water bailed out, and after sending some of the crew onshore, the race is continued.

Half the crews have been bailing nearly all the distance of four miles. The Kirikiri canoe succeeds in rounding the cutter Safety first.  In the other canoe Taipari is standing, urging his crew.  The leading canoe nearly comes to grief again.  However it is righted and reaches the landing place amidst the cheers of thousands on the banks.  To the Europeans who have never seen how coolly a Maori conducts himself under difficulty whilst in a boiling sea, the sight is riveting. The Maori are afterward attended by their women, who give over their shawls.

The stewards now proceed to the flat where a hack race is run for a scarf pin.  Mr Murphy, of Coromandel, is knocked over by a horse swerving from the course.  He is a good deal shaken.

The hurdle race follows – the fences are taken in first rate style although  some horses baulk occasionally.  The first steeplechase run on the Thames goldfield is won by Tim Whiffler, owned by Dudley Eyre, the first government surveyor on the Thames goldfield. 

Maori war dance, 1868 engraving.

Alamy stock photo

Tossing the cabar and dancing occupies about two hours, and then Chief Taipari announces that the Maori will perform a war dance and sing songs. The great dance is thought almost the best, and certainly the most novel part of the proceedings. The crowd never ceases cheering and ultimately buckets of Whitson’s beer are bailed out in pannikins to them.

Another hack race is got up – the winner is a young boy who rides his races with a skill beyond his years.

On leaving the course for the township, the Maori insist in carrying Mr Mulligan on their shoulders to the hotel where they sing to him one of their old songs.  Mr Mulligan shouts drinks, and so the day ends.   The sports programme is not yet exhausted though and the sports continue tomorrow.

 Avon  for the Thames with  1 ½ tons sugar, three tons flour, 10 kegs butter, 20 cases whisky, two cases champagne, two casks soda water, eight casks pork, one case wine, one basket wine, 20 packages groceries, one keg rum, two cases sundries, 12 hhds beer, 14,000 shingles, 1,000 ft timber, five boilers, two reaping machines, eight sacks chaff, 10 passengers and luggage.  

Rangatira for the Thames with one case biscuit, ½ ton flour, three buckets, one bundle, 10 sheep, one ton hay, three cases brandy, 20 sacks biscuit, one bottle quicksilver, three cases ale.

The New Zealand Herald comes to the defence of the Thames diggers who have been maligned in an Evening News report.  At the Auckland Races on New Year’s Day, before the crowd left the racecourse, some officers of the 18th  Regiment in a dray were annoyed by a half drunken man who attempted, thinking it was a public vehicle, to take a seat in it.  He was put off, but a scuffle ensued and men of the Royal Irish Regiment as well as the police were summoned to the spot.  A very inaccurate account in the Evening News stated that the Thames diggers present had collected old bottles and placed them in holes near the course with a view of throwing them at the soldiers as they passed by.  “This is a most foul and calumnious attack on the character of a hard working but respectable class of men,” splutters the Herald.  “Diggers can take their own part in the affray without resorting to the use of empty bottles whether against soldiers or any other class of man, and from the orderly manner in which the miners from the Thames have spent their Christmas holidays in town, there are few who would lay such a charge against them upon mere hearsay.  The very temperate manner in which they behaved on the race course shows pretty clearly that there was no intention on the part of the diggers to provoke a breach of the peace.”

Saturday, 4 January
The Star of the South makes a special trip to the Thames with about 100 passengers.  She makes a quick run down of 4 ½ hours, passing the Midge and Enterprise and the cutters Severn and Rangatira bound for Auckland.

A new yacht is launched at Auckland called the Digger.  She will be employed between Great Barrier and the Thames. The Digger is another fine specimen of what Auckland boat builders are capable of turning out.

The fourth and last day of sports begins at the Thames.  A disputed footrace of 100 yards run on the first day is run and won again by the original winner. Jumping in a sack and a wheelbarrow race follow.  Lads blindfolded and grinning through horse collars create a diversion among the crowd, after which a hurdle race for heats twice round the course is improvised.  George Couldrey is run over by a horse and cut severely about the face, his right ear is nearly taken off and his hand is fractured.  He is instantly attended by Dr Clarence Hooper, who also rendered assistance to Mr Murphy, who was run over yesterday.

Highland fling, engraving, 1867
The Bettmann Archive

The Highland bagpipes gather together a large muster, among who are several from the land of the clans and the heather.  Mr J H McRae and Ronald McDonald delight the musical taste of their countrymen with reels and strathspeys  so well that the judge cannot decide on whom to give the prize. 

 At the Auckland Acclimatisation Society meeting a proposal is read from Mr John Graham offering the society ten deer, or any larger number not exceeding 50, running at present on Motu Island, for £5 per head.  Once captured, Mr Jones enthuses,  if the deer were let loose up the Thames they would in a short time grow into a large herd.  They would thrive best in the most inaccessible places and the outlay would be trifling compared to the result, for in a few years the whole interior of the country would be stocked with fallow deer.

The sports programme at the Thames having now been exhausted, Joseph Mulligan of the Victoria Hotel, ascends the grandstand and addresses the crowd saying that as this is the first meeting held by Europeans on the Thames, he has much pleasure in tapping a hogshead of beer, to be drunk by his friends now before him (vociferous cheering).  And, furthermore, he will subscribe a sum of £25 towards sports to be held on 17 March (St Patrick's Day) when he hopes to see as large a muster on the ground as there has been for the past four days. 

A circle is formed, about ten men deep, round the hogshead of beer and every man who feels thirsty has a pannikin full, many have more and when it is exhausted Mr Mulligan is carried on the shoulders of the men. The prizes will be awarded on Monday.  All the gentlemen officiating as judges, starters, stewards and clerk of the course have had a difficult task keeping order but carried out their duties in a courteous manner.  Mr Hicks, jeweller of Vulcan Lane, Auckland, and Mr Howden of Queen Street, Auckland, present a silver cup for the hurdle race and a scarf pin for the hack race.  Due honour is done to those gentlemen in a cup of champagne this evening at the Victoria Hotel. 

All hands after resting tomorrow will go to work none the worse for enjoying themselves at the first New Years sports held  at the Thames.  

 Don, Diamond, Catherine and Cornstalk for the Thames with cargoes of sawn timber and general merchandise.

'Our' goldfields.

Sunday, 5 January
The demand on the public purse for the maintenance of the sick and destitute has very considerably decreased during the past six months, although there were increased costs between October and November 1867 attributed to the temporary aid afforded to families the heads of which have gone to the Thames.  Since June, no less than 200 names have been struck off the books as imposters - very great care has been taken with applicants in discriminating between real and fictitious want.   Another system of fraud uncovered is that of selling rations - bakers, butchers and contractors have received instructions to issue no more than three days rations at a time.  Formally the whole months rations could be drawn at once, and instances have been known of a family drawing 168 loaves on one day, with a view to selling them.

The Daily Southern Cross has begun referring to the Thames as ‘our’ goldfields.  It is becoming more apparent that the quality of Thames gold is not as inferior as it was at first supposed to be, judging by the latest purchase ticket from the Royal Mint Sydney, dated December 16, 1867.  This sample is no different from the bulk of the gold obtained at the Thames, except it was cleaner.  The great fault is that miners do not take sufficient pains to clean their gold.

At the foundry of Charles Hawkeswood, Chapel Street, Auckland, two eight stamper crushing machines have been made to order for the Thames diggings.  They are constructed on an improved principle.  Instead of having to ladle the amalgam from the front, a trap door is constructed at the back of the machine, from which the amalgam is taken out on to the ripple table.  The box of the machine is of a superior description and much stronger than anything previously made. It is most likely there will be a great demand for this improved crushing machine at the goldfields.

Monday, 6 January
Spencer and Co, chemists, of Shortland, are now able to assay gold and auriferous quartz at the Thames, as well as retort and smelt gold.  A room is also made available on their premises for medical men who may wish to meet their patients in Shortland.  

The steamer Maori Chief, intended for the Thames Goldfields, makes her official trial trip in the Waitemata under the superintendence of the Government Inspector of Steamboats.  She leaves her anchorage off Mr Duthie’s shipyard and steams down the harbour.  She tries her speed against the Enterprise.  The Enterprise soon however leaves the Maori Chief behind.  Her speed will be increased to 8 knots when additional flats have been fitted to her paddle wheels.  The Maori Chief will have a certificate to ply within the limits of Shortland.   

 Wahapu  for the Thames with three horses, sundries.  
Otahuhu for the Thames with sundries.

DSC 6 January, 1868

NZH 6 January, 1868

Tapu Creek, Thames Goldfields 1868 by Albin Martin 
Mackelvie Trust Collection, Auckland Art Gallery, Accession no M1885/1/141

Rush to Tapu Creek. 

Tuesday, 7 January
The fourteen day protection for claims is lifted on the Thames field today and the men are industriously back at work.   Nearly 3,000 miners now hold mining licenses.

There is a rush to Tapu Creek - payable gold has been discovered during the holidays by several parties who were out prospecting there.  Between 400 and 500 men, who were not making wages, determine to try their luck on the new ground.  A number of claims are marked off and gold found on several of them.

The Tauranga calls at Tapu Creek this afternoon on her passage to Auckland and lands about 50 more men. She then brings up to Auckland samples from Tapu Creek – one is an excellent specimen of water worn gold. Some of the pieces are over an ounce of pure gold, while others contain quartz formation.

The Tauranga will now be laid up for some days to undergo a thorough overhaul of her machinery and hull before resuming on the Thames trade.

A new newspaper named the Thames Advertiser is proposed– a meeting of parties who agree  to take shares  will be held at Butt’s Shortland Hotel, Wednesday 15 January at noon.

Dr Pollen, agent to the general government, leaves Auckland this afternoon for the Thames in the colonial steamer Sturt, with the Commissioner of Police Mr Naughton,  Superintendent Williamson  and others.  The object of their visit is connected with the contemplated opening of Shortland Town as a port of entry.  

Avon  for the Thames with three tons flour, eight head cattle, six pigs, four palings, three passengers.

NZH 7 January, 1868

*In Scottish and Northern English folklore, the 'first foot' is the first person to enter the home of a household on New Year’s Day and a bringer of good fortune for the coming year.

Grinning through a horse collar was a game where participants vied with one another putting their heads through horse collars and making grimaces, the prize being awarded to the one who made the most hideous contortions. 


Wishing you all the very best for 2018.


Papers Past

© Meghan Hawkes / First year on the Thames Goldfield 2017 - 2018

Please credit Meghan Hawkes/ First year on the Thames Goldfield 2017 - 2018  when re-using information from this blog.

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