Marlborough Museum Collection of Gold Mining Objects and Photographs
THE WAKAMARINA GOLD RUSH ERA FROM 1864 ONWARDS
Nobody seemed interested when, in 1860, Elizabeth Pope saw specks of gold when rinsing clothes in the Wakamarina River near Canvastown. But three years later, the Superintendent of the new Province of Marlborough was hoping for mining revenues, and offered a reward of £1,375 to any person discovering a WORKABLE GOLDFIELD. To be eligible, the lucky person had to produce at least 10,000 ounces - quite a tall order. The following Easter, four men struck plentiful gold near Mountain Camp Creek. Two of them eventually got the reward.
The Wakamarina Gold Rush, of the 1860s, was definitely a winner. The Valley proved quite rich - well, for those first on the scene. Later, when the river terraces had been worked out, the returns tapered off. Miners had to band together to work sluicing claims, and larger enterprises which were more successful.
In the 1880s, a second rush developed. The new rush followed up fresh discoveries, often of reef gold, in parts of the Sounds, Waikakaho Valley and North Bank, together with alluvial mining in the Cullensville -Mahakipawa Field, Onamalutu and the North Bank streams. Today, fossickers still do well enough in the Wakamarina river bed. Away from that valley, however, Marlborough’s fields were never rich. Gold was never found south of the Alpine Fault running down the Wairau Valley.
THE SECOND GOLD RUSH - 1880s & 1890s
Miners fossicking on their own had done quite well in the early days of the 1860s Wakamarina Rush. Once the easy gold had gone, miners had to band together in order to work bigger claims using machinery.
The Second Rush began the same way. Quite soon, however, men needed to sluice ground, pump out shafts, tunnel into hillsides, cut kilometres of water races, erect gold stampers, and even build gold dredges. Some of the new work at Cullensville, and the fresh start in the Wakamarina, the underground mines in the Waikakaho, and North Bank valleys, all required large cash investments. Occasionally the businessmen of Blenheim, and Picton obliged. At other times, investors in England supported the developments.
Much of the mining was hit or miss. Few did well. The gold dredges of Top Valley, and the Wakamarina, proved dismal failures. Away from the Wakamarina Valley, Marlborough’s mined areas were the “poor man’s goldfields”.
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