Original Correspondence


Tupeka Gold Fields


Otago Witness

Issue Date

29 June 1861


William Cutten






To the Editor of the Otago Witness

Sir–In company with Messrs. Edward Martin, J.L. Gillies, J. Burnside, and J.T. Gillies, I started from Tokomairiro on Monday last to visit the Tupeka Gold Fields, and, through your columns, would convey to the public an account of our excursion.

The distance 'twixt our starting point and the Diggings is about 30 miles, but as the day was propitious, and our horses carried heavy swags in addition to our own weight, we jogged along gently. The track is well defined, and leads through the finest grass country in the Province which, at an early date, should be declared into Hundreds, and opened for sale. The flats and spurs are, in almost every respect, highly suited for agriculture, and would meet a ready market. We reached our destination about sundown, were hospitably entertained by the few “diggers” on the spot, formed a tolerable bunk with Manuka scrub, kindled a rousing fire, and, after an agreeable conversation, enjoyed a comfortable sleep and rose at sunrise refreshed ready for our work.

Before stating the facts, I may observe, that I received the statement of Mr. Read regarding the yield of these Fields with as much incredulity as the most of folks in Dunedin, considering that from some sinister motive he had grossly exagerated, or that your compositor had made the material error of setting up “ounces,” instead of “pennyweights,” as the result of “seven hours'” work. I now frankly state, that so far from magnifying, Mr. Read has kept within the bounds of sober truth, and this I do on the basis of the following facts:–

1st. Our own experience.–The only tools we took with us were, a spade, tin dish, and pannikin. We tried a number of places along the bed of the creek, sinking in each from two to four feet; out of the whole we washed not more than six buckets full, from which we obtained nearly an ounce of gold, to be seen at Mr. Mercer's store. From every one of the holes sunk we obtained gold in paying quantities, some of them were of course richer than others, but the poorest would be remunerative.

2nd. The testimony of others, and proof thereof.–There were only two digging parties at work on Tuesday. Mr. Read's consisted of three, and wrought with a “long tom.” It had on that day been altered, and was not at work till 12 o'clock. After looking at the operation for a considerable time, we witnessed them wash out 4 ounces for the half day's work. As the fruit of seven days work Mr. Read showed us his bag, which contained about five pounds weight of gold.

The other party consisted of two men, who wrought with a “cradle.” On Monday they obtained seven ounces and on Tuesday five ounces as a reward for their labour. In this case also we saw the gold obtained.

The valley in which the present operations are carried on has been named, out of compliment to Mr. Read, “Gabriel's Gully.” To him the whole merit of the discovery belongs, and he now reaps the reward due to his persevering efforts in realizing a handsome sum from the banks of the creek. The extent of the valley is about three miles in length, with less than a quarter mile in breadth; but Mr. Read assured me that, prospecting in some of the other gullies adjacent, he found gold in each of them, in equal quantities to the present, and from the conformation of the country, I have no doubt his statement is absolutely correct. In crossing the Waitahuna river on our road down we tried a handful of the sand from the banks, and found several small pieces of hold, plainly indicating its source to be an auriferous country. I have no hesitation in stating that so soon as a sufficient number of men are on the ground, the diggings will be found to extend over a large tract of country, instead of being limited to the narrow valley in which they are now wrought. There is plenty of water, the road could be made easy for drays at a cost of £50, and there is as much firewood lying [undeciphered] will last for some time.

Parties intending to set out for the fields should provide themselves with a spade, tin dish, and material for making a cradle, besides taking a week or two's provisions, and their tent. There is already a store started for the ground, with supplies of flour, potatoes, beef, &c.

On our homeward journey to Tokomairiro on Wednesday, we met no fewer than eight drays laden with all the necessaries for operation, with a party of from four to eight men attached to each. In addition, we met a number of foot passengers and riders hurrying on to the field, so that by this time I am certain that there will be a hundred diggers hard at work; and if only a half of the luck attends them as the pioneers experienced, before the end of another week there will be 500 ounces of gold waiting an escort to bring it to Dunedin! Runholders, farmers, and tradesmen are all preparing for hurrying on to the diggings. A mutual understanding between masters and men has been in many cases come to, so that they have cast in a common lot, and will have a common purse. The runholders in the district–Messrs. Smith & Murray, and Musgrave–show every disposition to be obliging, opening their shepherds' stations as accommodation houses, with very reasonable charges.

Government will require to take immediate and vigorous measures to put the road by the present track into a safe passable state for drays. Only three creeks require to be bridged. If this were done, “Red Tape” might be allowed its own time to lay out a permanent roadway. An escort is also imperatively demanded, and also some one to adjust disputes to claims, &c.

I would counsel the working men of Dunedin at once to make a start. They can easily make the journey on foot in two days. I have not the slightest fear of their being disappointed. Better to risk their chance than go idly about the streets of Dunedin.

I am, &c.,

James M'Indoe

Dunedin, June 28, 1861

Riversdale, Tokomairiro, 26th June, 1861

To his Honor the Superintendent.

Dear Sir–I have just returned from a trip to the Tupeka, the particulars of the journey to and from, the bearer will inform you of, and he will also inform you more particularly of the prospects. I was very heartily received by Mr. Read, who not only afforded every information, but also placed in my hands, as well as in the hands of the rest of the party, the product of their seven days' work–the weight of gold I should guess to be about five pounds. I can assure you that in all my digging experience of three and a-half years in Victoria, I never saw a richer prospect, but the particulars Mr. M'Indoe will give you, as my time is limited. I take out all my men on Friday.

My principal purpose in writing to you is two-fold–that you may see my name in corroboration of Mr. Read's statements, as doubts have been cast upon them, and to urge respectfuly the advisability of a person being despatched by the Government to report; so that immediate steps may be taken to remove one or two obstacles on the otherwise first-rate horse cart road. With my horses I intend to try 15 cwt. in its present state. In another week I believe Tokomairiro will be deserted. I am perfectly satisfied that within a month, if an escort were sent out, 1000 ozs. will be forthcoming, and were I aware how the Government would arrange as to this matter of an escort, I have no doubt, from the fact of so many Tokomairiro people being on the field, it could easily be ascertained when the above quantity would be forthcoming.

In conclusion I beg to state (being fully acquainted with the circumstances which led Mr. Read to prospect) that the credit of this discovery is entirely due to Mr. Read and to no other, as rumour has it.

I have the honour to be, &c.,

J.L. Gillies.

The following message (No. 11), from his Honor the Superintendent relative to the Tokomairiro Gold Fields, was received and read in the Provincial Council yesterday:–

The Superintendent reports for the information of the Council that the accounts received late last evening from the Tupeka and Waitahuna Districts indicate, in those neighbourhoods the existence of gold in large quantities and easily obtainable. These reports bear all the evidence of truth, and necessitate the adoption of immediate and active measures for the preservation of order, and the protection and safe conveyance to Dunedin of the gold accumulated and rapidly accumulating.

Under these circumstances, and with the prospect of more extensive discoveries and the probably resulting influx of population from beyond the seas, the Superintendent asks the Council to invest him with such powers as the urgency of the case may, from time to time, demand him to exercise in order to protect property and to open out the communication, which latter, from the peculiarly favourable character of the country can be done at a comparatively trifling expense.

It is his intention to depute the Chief Surveyor immediately to visit the neighbourhood, and, after examination, to report for his information which report will, at a future day, be submitted to the Council. In the meantime, it may be desirable for the Council to decide whether it would not be expedient to secure the services of an Inspector of Police from Melbourne, and that advantage be taken of the next vessel to carry out this object.