Friday 3 August 2018

29 January to 4 February, 1868

The right man in the right place.

Captain John Butt

Wednesday, 29 January
About midnight at Sussex Street, Newton, Auckland, Mrs William Fleming is awakened when her youngest child, who has been sick, calls for a drink.  The Flemings are a family of five with the father away at the Thames diggings.  On reaching the kitchen Mrs Fleming is astonished to discover it on fire.   She immediately screams for assistance and in a few minutes several neighbours are on the spot but little can be done and the four roomed cottage is completely destroyed.  Mrs Fleming had been boiling potatoes shortly before retiring to bed and the fire is believed to have originated in the grate where burning embers had been left.  Mrs Fleming was possibly tired and distracted with an ill child and a husband away at the diggings.  Police are present but spectators are not numerous owing to the distance from town.

The NZ Herald correspondent is greatly fatigued after visiting a large number of claims at the Thames over the past two or three days. That and the pressure of other business have prevented him writing up his account.  However he now puts pen to paper noting that the Thames is likely to lose Mr Mackay.  It is thought that he is about to relinquish the active part that he has been taking.  “If this be so,” notes the correspondent, “it will be a great loss to us.”

The Tauranga arrives in Auckland with William Hunt and George Clarkson of the Shotover bearing two bags of gold weighing 1,432 oz  which is lodged at the Bank of New Zealand to await the departure of the mail steamer.  Another gentleman by the Tauranga is the bearer of about 25 oz gold from Tapu Creek. 

Thursday, 30 January
The fine new clinker built screw steamer Jane, recently launched from the yards of Thomas Thwaite at Smales Point, makes her official trial trip today. The Jane is to be employed on the Thames trade.  A number of invitations are issued for the occasion, and the weather being fine and favourable, a good many visitors enjoy a pleasant excursion on the waters of the Waitemata.  The Jane’s cabin, which is capable of accommodating a large number of people, has been beautifully fitted up and varnished throughout. 

Avon for the Thames with six hhds ale, one spring cart, ½ ton sugar, ten cases sundries, six packages, machinery.   

Whau for the Thames with 1,000 bricks, six sheep.
Wahapu for the Thames with 6,000 bricks, six sheep, four bags potatoes, four bags sugar.  

Tay for the Thames with  stores.

Detective Crick arrives at Tapu on business, however he is scarcely there two hours when he spies two men, brothers Edward and Thomas Mooney,  suspected of several robberies at Shortland.   They made their way to Tapu last night in a boat.  He follows them but loses them for a short while in thick scrub.  He searches the place where he saw them and finds a quantity of articles.  He watches the place and a short time later Edward Mooney comes back and retrieves a bag of flour and a pick.  Crick asks him what he is going to do with them and he replies he is going to return them as he has taken them by mistake.  Mooney is arrested and taken back to Shortland.

Captain John Butt, from the start of his residence at the Thames, has shown himself to be gentleman of much enterprise; he goes heart and soul into the general advancement of the place – whether in business or amusement.   It would be difficult to find anyone at the Thames who can be more appropriately referred to as being the right man in the right place. Visitors from Auckland and elsewhere are at once surprised to find in the few months old township of Shortland a building of such excellent pretensions as his American Theatre.  The success of its opening, though,  is disappointingly briefly noted in the Auckland journals.  At his American Theatre the Auckland Amateur Company have been playing nightly to at first small, but during the last week, rapidly increasing audiences.  The stock of scenery is fast increasing and is very effective.  The general management regarding the  change of programmes and variety of entertainments selected is best shown by improvement in receipts of the house. There is nightly dancing and singing of more than average order.

Stewed oysters and potatoes. 
Friday, 31 January
There are not so many men to be seen in the township of Shortland – many have left for other places, the Tapu Creek and Manaia being fancied most

Mr Mackay, Dr Hector, the government geologist,  and Mr Lundon, customs officer, arrive at Tapu Creek and go up to McIssac’s reef.  Dr Hector expresses a favourable opinion of the district as gold bearing.  It exhibits a similarity to the Whakamarina, in the province of Marlborough, where gold was discovered in 1864.  Dr Hector then boards the Tauranga for Auckland and Mr Mackay goes on to Shortland.

The miners at Tapu are restless in consequence of rumours that new ground had been discovered out on the ranges. Weatherboard buildings are going up on the flat, giving an appearance of business to this until very recently unfrequented district.  The tapu portion is being fenced in.  After being dull at Tapu Creek in mining and business there are now visible signs of improvement.  Kelly and party’s claim is successful beyond a doubt. They are in great spirits over their future prospects.  They have got protection from the Commissioner so they can erect a water wheel and other appliances for pumping.  Numbers of claims both north and south of McIssac’s have been taken up and some of them are being worked with great energy.  The alluvial gullies are still doing pretty well, some are getting good gold, others are making wages, and many tucker.

Mr Sandes, surveyor, and his party are still surveying and marking out Tapu township.  The first quarter has to be paid for Tapu business sites on 1 February at Shortland; this arrangement has caused a great deal of dissatisfaction amongst the Tapu business community.  They do not see why they should be compelled to go to Shortland to pay their ground rent, besides the inconvenience of leaving their businesses for a time.

Tapu is entirely isolated from all postal communication.  There are some respectable storekeepers who would willingly take charge of a post office and now as steamers are calling daily at the bay, it would be a very easy matter to arrange this. A collection of a purse of money made by the diggers of Tapu is presented to Mrs Smith for services rendered to the unfortunate Kate Brown.  Dick Taylor, implicated in her death,  has disappeared.

Mr H Meyers of Queen Street, Auckland, receives a letter from San Francisco dated 10 December, 1867 which advises that two vessels, the schooner Alice and the barque Domingo, have been laid on for Auckland.   Both vessels are full of passengers who are coming to try their fortunes at the Thames goldfields.   A number of these passengers only just arrived in San Francisco from Auckland by the Circular Saw Liners Kate and Constance and it seems they are coming back.

The Barque Kate
NZ Electronic Text Collection

A bar of gold from the Shotover weighing 320 oz 12 dwt is on exhibition at Mr Becks, jeweler,  in Queen Street, Auckland.  Altogether four bars have been smelted by Mr Beck for the Union Bank and are to be forwarded by steamer to Sydney.

Arrangements are made with Fraser and Tinne by the owners of a claim on the Moanataiari Creek for the erection of a crushing machine, the engine to be of 10 hp, with four heads of stampers.  It will be ready in about one month’s time.

Mr Kelly, of Auckland, has just finished building a very extensive bakery at Tapu.  The oven was built by mechanics from Auckland, as was the workshop, which is substantially constructed, and covered with corrugated iron.  Tonight the first batch of bread is taken out of the oven and the superiority of it shows that Mr Kelly is a thorough master of his profession. 

Saturday, 1 February
A tangi is held over the five year old son of Daniel Tookey by all his Maori relations.  The child, a fine, chubby boy about 5 years of age, was playing without his hat under a broiling sun and received sunstroke. Dr Sam did all that medical skill could accomplish to save the little fellow’s life but his efforts were unsuccessful.

The export of gold this month, as far as can be judged by the receipts published from day to day parcels received by the various steamers from the Thames goldfields, will not prove quite so large as for January.  A total of 3,413 oz was forwarded on that occasion to England, by way of Panama and to Sydney, but it is not anticipated the export this month will exceed 3,000 oz.

 A quantity of auriferous quartz is brought to Auckland from the Moanataiari claim, with the object of finding the best method of saving the gold.  Previously in the crushing it had been supposed that the quicksilver had not taken up the gold, which must have passed over the tables and gone away in the tailings.  This is a complaint made by most of the claim holders on the Moanataiari Creek.

NZH 1 February, 1868

There is a call for Australia to assist with the Thames goldfield. Six months working at the field has shown that Auckland, while able to find the men to work the claims, needs Australia to furnish her with machinery.  Week after week the miners at the Thames have been waiting in vain for efficient machinery. Some six thousand men, it is estimated, are now working in the Thames district and thousands of tons of auriferous quartz lie waiting for the machinery to crush it.  Some half dozen attempts have been made to erect machinery, but only in one or two instances has the attempt been satisfactory.    Auckland has some clever mechanics and first class iron foundries but recently certain boxes made of pieces of wrought iron clamped together ‘gave’ with the working of the machine and let out the amalgam.  In another case the foundation was defective.  Generally the gold is not saved to the satisfaction of the miners.  In one case a quarter ton of picked rich stone crushed at one of the machines the return was actually nil. On the other hand men with tin dishes employed in washing the tailings from another machine, are earning twelve shillings per day.  The tenacity with which the miners have clung to their claims, hoping almost against hope, looking for an announcement by every mail that Sydney or Victoria is coming to their rescue, with suitable machinery and experienced men to work it, is most commendable.

Auckland is still not recovering from the deep commercial depressions that have existed for such a length of time.  Business failures during the month have been fewer than for some time, only because there are now not so many businesses.  Those who have passed through the ordeal have restricted their business to suit the limited market.  The Thames goldfield may yet be the means of reviving trade, but the majority of those who have tried their fortunes there have failed in making their work remunerative.  However, as the field is extended by the finding of new leaders in different parts of the range, and less labour is thrown away in unprofitable working, good results are anticipated for the trade of Auckland.

At Tapu, Charles Blomfield and his mates stroll up the creek and about half a mile on came across two diggers working an old fashioned cradle.  One rocks the cradle and bails the water, the other shovels in the wash dirt and stirs it with a forked stick.  Every now and then one of them snatches something out of the dirt and pops it into his mouth - they are little nuggets of gold of a rich dark colour. 

The rocks on the Tapu coast are crowded with oysters – diggers go down to the beach and fill their billies and later feast on stewed oysters and potatoes. On the river flats of the next creek, a mile or so along the beach, are some fine peach groves, all laden with fruit.  This afternoon, as with all recent Saturday afternoons,  processions of diggers return laden with kits, flour bags and  sacks full of ripe peaches, the juice running down their backs.  

 Fly for Tapu Creek with two hhds ale, five packages, one cask beef, 14 cases, one bale, five tons other stores. 

  Rob Roy for the Thames with 2 tons potatoes, six hhds ale, 2 tons groceries, 20 sheep, 500 ft timber, one ton coke.

Auckland Police Gazette - Thefts at the Thames.

From the tent of John Thompson, Shortland, during the night of 16 December, the property of James McArthur, one Crimean shirt, red, black and white stripes, one pair duck trousers, laced up the back with a small piece of twine and stained with paint, one £1 note and 15 shillings in silver, and a receipt from Robert Doran to James McArthur for repairs to a boat.

  From the whare of Henry Glover at Shortland, on the afternoon of 19 December,  a large red blanket (darned in the centre with worsted of same colour).

 From the whare of Mr Murphy, Shortland, on the night of 21 January, two Crimean shirts, one having black and red stripes, the other light coloured, one grey jumper, one towel, one pair black cloth trousers, 1 shilling in cash, two pair blue blankets.

 From the Bendigo Store, Eyre Street, Shortland, on the night of 31 January,  property of J H Drabble,  one cash box, ten inches long and varnished black, a bundle of bills of exchange amounting to about  £200 – the whole drawn in Calcutta (Oriental Bank), five promissory notes payable to Captain J H Drabble, amount about £45, one large cameo brooch, set in gold, female figures representing Morning holding a wreath, four picks, two shovels and a quantity of men’s clothing. 

From the pocket of a vest, the property of John Blackmore, Shortland, during 9 December,  an English silver watch, makers James Beck, Auckland. 

From the person of Alexander Reid, whilst in a state of intoxication at the Reefers Arms Hotel, Shortland, on 21 January, one ten pound note, seven sovereigns and upwards of one pound in silver.

Barometers start falling with ominous signs of an unwelcome change in the pleasant weather which has prevailed for several weeks.    At Auckland small vessels lying at the wharf are hauled into the stream while others are taken round and moored on the western side of the wharf.

A Great Storm.
Sunday, 2 February
The Claude Hamilton sails for Sydney with 222 ozs 8 dwts Thames gold  shipped by the Bank of Australasia, and 1,364 ozs 15 dwts 12 grams shipped by the Union Bank of Australia.  The Bank of New Zealand also has a quantity of Thames gold which will be forwarded to England.   The Claude Hamilton takes a full cargo of New Zealand produce and about 30 passengers.

Wild weather sweeps in this morning.  Heavy rain and a hard gale hammer the Thames.
The consecration of the Roman Catholic Church is postponed in consequence of the stormy weather.   

The Kauaeranga River rises several feet and so great is the rush of water that almost the whole distance between the Karaka and the Waiotahi goes two feet under water.  The shoot constructed for the large crushing machine imported by David Graham, at the Waiotahi Creek, is carried away tonight.  Several boats at anchor near the township break adrift and are carried out to sea.  A large number of small boats sink at their moorings. The cutter Tay drifts and fouls the cutter Glitter, a fine centre-board built vessel, only recently employed at the Thames.  Both vessels are carried out a considerable distance and when the Tay leaves her, the Glitter washes ashore on Tararu Point and breaks up.  Diggers have their tents and effects carried away with the heavy rainfall.  Claims are flooded and large heaps of auriferous quartz stacked and waiting to be passed through machinery are washed away.

Monday, 3 February
The heavy rains have proved most disastrous on the Thames and many claim holders have sustained serious losses.  Relentless rains and severe violent squalls continue all day.  The steamer Maori Chief and all of the vessels lying in the creek are driven out on the banks.   A small ketch drifts over to Piako, a cargo boat named Safety is missing and two other vessels of small tonnage have been carried up the Thames River by the force of the gale.  All canvas erections have suffered very severely, tents of all sorts having come to grief. 

The new Bank of New Zealand at the Thames opens today; the building, though not finished is a very neat one and adds considerably to the appearance of Pollen Street.   Mr H F Christie has been appointed agent of the bank.

Tuesday, 4 February
The wet weather has done great damage, large quantities of stacked quartz have been carried away and many of the shafts and drives have fallen in.  

Two new claims, Banbury and the Britannia, in the Waiotahi Creek, have struck gold but there is little news due to the state of the weather.

Jane and George Whittingham, of Shortland, go to the North Hotel for a drink. After awhile George leaves Jane to go home by herself while he continues on to the Reefer’s Arms.  He is very drunk on his return home and says he will have the tent down in five minutes.  He takes a knife and begins cutting the tent ropes. Around the end of July George had left Jane at Ngaruawhaia.  She and the children eventually made their way to the Thames. She did not know George was here also until one day about three months ago  when he walked into her tent and threatened to destroy her character. Sadly, this is nothing unusual for the Whittingham’s.

Wahapu  for the Thames with  4,000 bricks, one retort, sundries, six passengers. 

 Avon  for the Thames with 1 ton potatoes, 2 tons biscuit, 6 cheeses, 1 ¼ cask brandy, 6 hhds beer, four kegs butter, four tons hay, 10 bags sugar, 12 packages, groceries, one ton coal, three passengers.

DSC 4 February, 1868
NZH 4 February, 1868


The Great Storm of 1868 was a violent tempst that swept across much of New Zealand between 1–6 February, wrecking 12 ships and causing extensive flooding. About 40 lives were known to be lost and at the time an estimated £500,000 to £1 million worth of damage was caused. The storm is currently thought to have been an ex tropical cyclone which peaked in New Zealand over the period between the 3rd and 4th. Events from the storm inspired Michelanne Foster’s 2008 play, The Great Storm of 1868.

I have come across some curious  information about Captain John Butt in local books -

 He was a ‘Dutch seaman’ who was born in Sussex, England in 1830.

· He arrived in New Zealand in 1845.

· He was a trader with the Maori at the Thames between 1845 – 1853, trading provisions and horse hacks between the Thames and Auckland.

· In 1853 he sold his ship and hired himself out as a captain in NZ and around the world.

· In 1855 he invested money in a partnership with ship chandler William Anderson who had started trading in the Kauaeranga area in 1825. Their ambition was to create a town there.

· In 1855 John Butt and William Anderson established the first store, post office and wharf at the mouth of the Kauaeranga River. This was a thatched raupo building  and operated by Mr Niccol (sic).

· In 1863 Butt and Anderson replaced the old thatched raupo post office and store with a new timber one called the “Landing Store”. This was a large two storey building designed to hold timber and joinery.

· In 1866 John Butt started the first coach and mail service – called Cobb & Co – from Auckland to Waikato.

· In 1867 he was Captain of the
Enterprise bringing the first miners to the Thames.


John Butt was a man of great initiative, a champion of the Thames and a prominent figure early on but I could find no supporting evidence for most of these claims.

If he was "trading with the Maori at Thames" in 1845 he would have only been 15.

There is no evidence of a ship chandler named  William Anderson trading with the Maori at Thames in 1825. In 1825 most of the district had been abandoned by Maori after the dreadful Nga Puhi raids.

The only ships chandler with the surname Anderson was Hugh Falconer Anderson, a Scotsman who emigrated to Australia, then in 1854 came to Auckland.  He  traded for some time between Auckland and Sydney in the barque Spray.

There are no mentions of a  store, post office or wharf at the mouth of the Kauaeranga River in 1855. William Nicholls was a trader in the area and leased land  at the Thames, establishing  a store there nine years later in 1864, but he didn’t ‘operate’ it for John Butt. 

I have found no mention of anything called a ‘Landing Store’ of the size or dimensions stated. With the arrival of the first miner’s this would have been a godsend for shelter and surely noted somewhere in descriptions of the buildings then existing at the Thames. 

A newspaper report states of Captain Butt's hotel and theatre that  "It is astonishing that this building, which on the 1st of August, 1867, was being built as a Maori whare to be occupied by Chief Taipari, is today enlarged and extended into a handsome hotel, with extensive accommodation and a theatre."

Cobb and Co at this time was under the proprietorship of the aptly named Quick’s. (C G and F Quick.)

The Captain of the Enterprise bringing the first miners in 1867 was Captain Davies, not Captain Butt. 

There are two obituary's for John Butt - one says he arrived at the Thames on the cutter Tay on 31 July,  1867, the other says it was the Enterprise  on 1 August, 1867.  This report mistakenly says Captain Seon was the Enterprise's master. 

Newspaper reports at the time say Captain Butt  actually arrived on the Severn with provisions on 1st August. 

John Butt's obituary states that in the years before he arrived on the Thames goldfield  he was employed by Henderson and Macffarlane,(sic) as master of one of the largest vessels in their fleet, the Constance, which traded between Auckland and California. He had sailed to nearly all parts the globe. After leaving Henderson and Macffarlane’s employ, he started a business as a shipchandler and stevedore in Auckland, in conjunction with Captain Anderson, and did very well, but sold out when Thames was proclaimed a goldfield. Here, with a considerable amount of foresight, he erected business premises on the spot where the Shortland Hotel now stands. This was soon demolished and the large hotel known as Shortland Hotel/Butts American Theatre was erected. 

Captain Butt married Mary Ann Bell at St Marks, Remuera in 1858. Their first son, John Bell Butt, was born in 1859. Their daughter, Annie,  was born in 1866 but died in February 1867 at their Moore Street residence in Smales Point, aged six months.  His first wife, Anne, had died in November 1856, at their Albert Street, Auckland home.  


Papers Past
Racing for Gold by Johnny Williams
This building, this site, and its creator, Captain John Butt, has the greatest historic history of Kauaeranga Shortland Thames : development of the area, 1855-2010 : the life, of the restorer, 1930-2010, by Dennis Larking (Declla)

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

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