Home' Greymouth Star : August 10th 2017 Contents Greymouth Star
8 - Thursday, August 10, 2017
of the New Zealand Herald
t was just a speck, a slight flicker
at the start.
It would have probably been a
cold winter’s day when William
Hunt, (who earlier played a key
role in the West Cost goldrush),
John Ebenezer White and
George Clarkson were digging in the
Kuranui Stream with their pickaxes.
They were one of many groups who had
flocked to the Coromandel in search of
Dressed in old mud-covered rags and
living in tents the allure of a £5000 reward
to whoever discovered the first payable
goldfield was enough to make the atrocious
Then, 150 years ago today they hit the
Buried in the rock face of the waterfall
they spotted the speck that would forever
change their lives — they found gold.
The discovery was the first big strike in the
Coromandel and within months the Thames
foothills swarmed with men.
For Hunt, White, Clarkson and their
friend William Cobley, life would never
be the same again. They turned into
Backtrack a few days and the men were
living in awful conditions with others who
were hoping to find their fortunes.
The rain was relentless, the mud so thick
and deep even horses ended up stuck, neck
high, struggling to move.
There were no roads, no buildings apart
from a few whare, nowhere for the miners
to keep dry.
Many who had flocked to the area with
dreams of finding gold initially settled on
the flat, around the Shortland Wharf.
They soon moved up into the hills where
they slept on ponga fronds in floorless
Author and historian Kae L ewis, who runs
The Treasury website, says it was a wetter
than usual August in 1867.
“ We’re talking about a very primitive
camp. And what ’s more, that camp was on a
swamp. All the land where Thames now sits
was a swamp, with four or five rivers coming
down through the centre so it was not a
pleasant place to be.
“ Women traipsed through knee-high
mud just to cross the main street. Men just
remained dirty most of the time. Their beds
were full of mud because they were in mud
all day and then nowhere to have a shower
or anything, you just climbed into your bed.”
Lewis, who has also written a book
Goldrush to the Thames 1867-69, said food
was basic and they cooked over an open
fire. Biscuits were a staple, and the peach
trees local Maori had planted around Mt
Pleasant were raided. Their equipment was
also primitive. Miners either had a pick, a
shovel or a wheelbarrow to smash through
The discover y
On August 10, Hunt, White and Clarkson
decided to search a waterfall that flowed
into the Kuranui Stream. They climbed
up and George Clarkson’s son, David, has
written that it was his father who “saw a
speck of gold” as he walked closer to the
Others claim Hunt made the discovery.
Regardless of who saw it first, the men
would have used a pickaxe to knock the
moss off the stone. Soon after it was
confirmed the trio had made the biggest
single discovery of gold in Thames.
Cobley, who was friends with Hunt, was
not with the trio when they made the
discovery, but they needed a fourth person
so he was brought in to allow the size of
their claim — the area a miner was allowed
to canvas for gold — to be expanded.
After finding the gold, the hard work
Cobley ’s great-great-granddaughter
Angela Curtis, who has written a book
about the find called The Shotover, said
their first job was to smash the quartz rock.
They did so by building battering rams out
of trees and putting iron on the end.
Cashing in the gold as they went gave
them enough money to buy explosives and
hire help and get machinery to crush the
rock to keep extracting the gold. It took a
couple of months to establish the extent
of their find but once it had been the men
came flooding to town as word spread in
newspapers around not only New Zealand
but Australia and beyond.
Many flocked to the rivers expecting to be
able to pan for it, but Lewis said within the
first month they realised that was fruitless
and they had to dig for it.
“People were just starting to decide ‘this
is useless, let ’s go home’ and then Hunt ’s
claim was discovered and the figures started
coming out about how much gold he was
pulling out of that place.”
It did not take long for the men to benefit
from their discovery.The first £10,000 Hunt
put in the bank is equivalent to at least
a million or more in today ’s terms. As a
comparison, wages at the mine at the time
were up to £3 a week.
Lewis said a report in 1868 showed they
got £30,000 each out of the mine in their
“That ’s quite a lot of money. We’re talking
But just how many millions is also unclear.
Lewis said it has been widely reported the
group made about £40,000 each in the end
which, in today ’s terms, would be about
However, Curtis, of Papamoa, said she had
done the maths, tracing all the transactions
and worked out that each of the four men
got about $19m each.
“It is all in the realms of myths and
legends because there was very little
accounting going on while they were
hauling it all to the bank,” Lewis said.
“Often much of it went under the radar
because they did not want to have to pay
government duty on the gold.”
There was also opportunity to palm it off
privately, and “duty free”, Lewis said.
What is clear from newspaper excerpts
from the time, is bags and bags of gold were
being transported to Auckland each week
— varying from 1.7kg, to more than 226kg
at a time.
The four men went on to use their
windfall in various ways.
Hunt liked the extravagant things in life
and spent some of his money on getting a
gilded carriage built for him.
Cobley opted for 40 acres (16ha) near
Cheltenham Beach and international travel.
White helped a relative publish a book
and Clarkson was reportedly the most
sensible with his money, which stayed in the
Although the history books attribute
the find to Hunt, Clarkson’s descendants
challenged that and submitted a piece to
the Coromandel Heritage Trust ’s website,
thetreasury.org.nz, stating that it was
George Clarkson who found the gold.
The Herald was unable to track down any
of Hunt ’s family and, unlike Cobley, there is
no book. There were plenty of news reports
about the discovery and how the town
flourished before the people left, with most
eventually moving away.
Reverend Brenda Marshall, the great-
granddaughter of John Ebenezer White,
was 61-years-old before she knew she had a
direct link to the discovery.
Marshall said White’s son, John Leigh
White, died when her mother was only
6-years-old, so the history that was passed
down was full of half truths.
“All the stories and truths died with him
because he left a wife and two kids — my
mum and her brother — but everything got
twisted and in the end my mum didn’t really
know what was truth and what wasn’t.”
Marshall said her mother grew up
thinking her great-grandfather had worked
in coal mines so she got a huge shock the
day she walked into the Thames School
of Mines to discover he was part of the
“WhenI found out I had to sit down. I
was absolutely stunned that he discovered
gold. This man leaped out of his chair,
reached out his hand and shook it
vigorously and said, ‘how do you do, great to
meet you, you’re famous’, and I said ‘oh am
I?’ and my husband is standing there with
his mouth open.”
As for the debate over who found the
gold, Marshall said she was “horrified” that
it was still an issue, and Clarkson’s great-
grandson Ruskin Cranwell, 76, said he was
“It’s a long time ago now. They all came
out with a lot of money but they all died
Cranwell, 76, grew up being told stories
from his uncle, Trevor Clarkson, about his
A sore point among the family was the
fact George took his son David Clarkson to
Australia to prospect for gold, leaving two
wives at home to fend for themselves for a
couple of years.
“That desire to find gold was pretty deep.”
Curtis said Cobley was 28 when he
became an overnight millionaire.
“His life changed overnight, they became
famous worldwide. The goldrush started.
Auckland emptied out in a matter of weeks.
By December, there were around 5000
people living on the field.”
Coromandel Heritage Trust member and
archaeologist Dave Wilton said the men
sold up after three or four years.
Mining continued — its biggest
production was recorded in 1871 — but
largely quietened down in the area until a
last ‘bonanza’ in 1905 at the Waiotahi Mine
— about 1km south of Thames.
In 1875 a new gold rush sprang up at
nearby Waihi that led to the discovery
of the Martha Mine three years later. It
was closed in 1952, but open-cast mining
resumed at the site in the 1980s and
Despite their good fortune and subsequent
wealth it is widely believed the four men
finished their lives with little more than
they originally had when they slept in those
army tents in muddy clothes.
Although they — and their money — are
long gone, their legacy remains. Their story
is now on display at a special exhibition at
the Thames museum to acknowledge the
discovery that changed their lives in a way
they could never have imagined.
William Alexander Hunt
Aside from being a
co-discoverer of the first
major gold find, Hunt
courted controversy of a
In newspaper reports
from the National
Library of New Zealand,
it turns out Hunt was a
bit of a playboy, historian
Kae Lewis says.
“In those days you couldn’t play around
with a girl unless you were serious about
of hanky panky and then he shot off and
married another lady.”
It was so serious, the case was heard in
the Supreme Court on December 18, 1868.
An article from the Daily Southern Cross
headlined the case, “Action For Breach of
Promise of Marriage”.
The woman involved, Margaret Knox,
was an orphan who lived with her aunt
and uncle. The uncle launched proceedings
after claiming Hunt had promised to marry
“In the court case it was revealed that he
did compromise this girl,” L ewis said.
Not only did Hunt lose the case and was
ordered to pay £5000, he was only a few
days into his new marriage, which came to
an end soon afterwards.
Hunt also liked the extravagant things in
life. He hired the best builders in Auckland
to build a gilded carriage to travel around
the city. It was later reported he moved
to Australia where he bought a horse and
carriage previously used by the D uke of
Edinburgh when he visited Australia in
Cobley ’s great-great-
Curtis said one of
his most interesting
purchases was what
is known as the town
of Devonport, which
was 40 acres near
He travelled to
England, taking a load of kauri to build his
parents a mansion. There he met his wife,
whom he brought back to New Zealand
and also built a kauri mansion on his land
at Devonport. The pair travelled extensively
and he took her shopping in Paris and
other exotic locations. He later returned
to Thames and became a labourer before
returning to Auckland. He died in 1913
John Ebenezer White
White had a close
in Ponsonby, he
used his fortune
to help his cousin
publish The Ancient
History of the
Maori. Six volumes
are still in print today. He also helped
establish the White Star Line between
Auckland and Gisborne.
According to White’s great-granddaughter
Brenda Marshall, his wife lived in “absolute
poverty” after his early death in 1892 aged
in his 30s. He had earlier travelled to
England and brought home a Scottish wife.
As well as his wife, he was sur vived by three
It is reported that
Clarkson was the
most sensible with his
millions, and most of
the money stayed in the
However, that is a
surprise to Clarkson’s
Cranwell, of Auckland,
who had no idea how it was spent.
He went even further, adding it was the
gold that destroyed his family.
The men reportedly made £40,000 each.
The average wage in the mine was about
farm in Hamilton.
A division in the family meant the family
stopped talking and they took their stories
of what happened to the grave.
Newspaper excerpts showed that Clarkson
arrived in New Zealand on a boat from
Glasgow in 1875. Of the four, he was the
longest to live, eventually dying in March
The golden era
Charles Ring discovers gold at
Coromandel in 1852
Goldrush to Collingwood-Takaka 1856
Goldrush to Otago 1861
Goldrush to Marlborough 1862
Goldrush to West Coast 1865
Goldrush to Thames 1867
Goldrush to Waihi 1875
The treasure hunt
The Coromandel stamp battery.
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