New Zealand Gold Mining History Begins
Credit for finding gold in New Zealand must be given to the Maoris (New Zealand settlers prior to the Europeans). However, the soft yellow metal was of little value in their culture and was by in-large ignored. They treasured the Pounamu (Green Stone), a Jade occurring as river rocks, for its beautiful deep green colour and its hardness perfect for forming into adzes and clubs.
It was the Europeans that came chasing the yellow metal. Prior to The Second World War European currencies were tied to what was known as the Gold Standard which required each monetary unit to be backed by the corresponding amount of gold (or sliver) held in a vault – if not circulating as actual coins. During the war many countries depleted their gold reserves to finance ammunition and war machinery which lead to rapid inflation in The Great Depression. In an effort to help stem inflation Western countries found themselves needing to tie their currencies back to some form of Gold Standard which in turn produced a need for more gold to be found.
This global demand for gold set the stage for the frenzied gold rushes that were to sweep the world as thousands of men sought to free their families from the grip of the depression and build gold paved empires. The reality of the gold rush was much different from the dream of the gold rush for most people, but there was always the possibility that you might be one of the lucky few to find the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
In 1848 there was a rush of gold miners into the Wild West of American as the Californian gold rush began. These hardy soles braved all kinds of hardships as they lead the charge into lands not set up for European lifestyles. This has often been the case around the world where a gold rush is found in land that is beyond the settlement of western civilization. Gold miners would rush in to be the first to stake a claim and strike it rich. Then there would be a scramble to build supply lines and provide hospitality for the hard working (and hopefully wealthy) miners. And so many remote areas would then become settled by the gold greedy European.
New Zealand was no different. Although attempts were made to find gold near civilization in the North it would be the untamed South that would be the scene of the great gold rush bonanza.
Gold mining history in New Zealand was almost over as soon as it began
Commercial interests in Auckland offered a £500 prize for anyone who could find payable quantities of gold anywhere nearby in the 1850s, at a time when some New Zealand settlers were leaving for the California and Australian gold rushes. In September 1852, Charles Ring, a timber merchant, claimed the prize for a find in Coromandel. A brief gold rush ensued around Coromandel township, Cape Colville and Mercury Bay but only £1500 of gold was accessible in river silt, although more was in quartz veins where it was inaccessible to individual prospectors. The rush lasted only about three months. (Wikipedia)
However, the prospectors began to explore more of New Zealand and with the help of the Maori new “discoveries” were made.
Discoveries near Collingwood in Golden Bay (1856), Gabriels Gully in Otago (1861), Wakamarina in Marlborough (1864) and at Greenstone Creek on the West Coast (1864) followed. Not all discoveries translated into major finds. The ones that did were on Coromandel Peninsula, in Otago and on the West Coast, where there were significant gold rushes followed by decades of mining.
The early mining of the 1860s in Otago and on the West Coast was mainly undertaken by individuals working alluvial deposits (river gravels). In three separate years in the late 1860s and early 1870s the amount of gold won exceeded 20,000 kilograms. These totals have never been bettered. From the 1870s mining became more mechanised. Companies were floated, and dredges and sluicing ventures won more and more gold. Underground mining, which tunnelled out quartz veins that were crushed to release their gold, boomed on the Coromandel Peninsula and West Coast from the 1870s.
Gold mining had declined by the 1920s, and from the 1950s it was a very small industry. The rise of gold prices in the late 1970s brought about a revival, with new technology allowing opencast pits to be dug in Otago and on the Coromandel Peninsula in the 1980s and 1990s.
New Zealand Gold Mining History Overview
|1852||Charles Ring discovers gold at Coromandel|
|1856||Gold rush to Collingwood-Takaka|
|1861||Gabriel Read discovers gold in Otago, followed by a gold rush|
|1862||Gold rush to Marlborough|
|1865||Gold rush to West Coast|
|1866||Record gold production of 735,000 oz (more than 22 tonnes)|
|1875||Gold rush to Waihi|
|1878||Discovery of Martha vein|
|1881||World’s first successful steam-powered dredge begins work on Clutha River|
|1952||Closure of Martha mine, Waihi|
|1972||Gold price $US58|
|1973||Gold price floated|
|1975||NZ gold production falls below 2000 oz, the lowest since mining began|
|1978||Resumption of hard rock gold exploration|
|1980||Gold price reaches $US612|
|1988||Martha opencast mine opens at Waihi|
|1990||Macraes mine opens in Otago|
|2000||Macraes and Martha mines each produce one millionth ounce|
|2007||Reefton mine opens|