Temporary observatory at Clyde, 1882. From left, unknown, Rev Mr Clinton, James Hector (in observatory. The telescope is a six-inch Cook telescope, on loan from Mr G.V. Shannon of Wellington).
Hocken Collections: S08-223. The photographer is unknown
20 May 2011 marks 150 years since Gabriel Read discovered the payable gold that led to the Otago gold rush in an area now known as Gabriel’s Gully near the Otago town of Lawrence. This momentous discovery and the gold rush that followed rapidly transformed the face of Victorian Dunedin. This exhibition, which explores the use of gold in contemporary art and photography, has been mounted to commemorate this sesquicentennial. Artisans and artists have been awe struck by this highly malleable and alluring precious metal for thousands of years.
The show includes more than forty artworks and photographs that either employ gold as a material or colouring, or take gold mining as their subject. There is a focus on work by artists with strong associations to Otago such as Cilla McQueen, Ralph Hotere, Mary McFarlane and Russell Moses. Other artists that feature in the show, and well known for their use of gold in their work, are Tony Lane and Max Gimblett. Photographers with work on display include Ben Cauchi and Marti Friedlander, who use the early photographic process of gold toning as well as Peter Peryer and Peter Evans who have both captured the open cast gold mine near Macraes Flat in East Otago.A small number of historical items including a fifteenth century Book of Hours from, an 18th century Russian ikon, late nineteenth century gold-toned photographs by Rev John Kinder and an album of photographs of Chinese miners who worked in various Otago goldfields, provide a historical context for the contemporary works.
The spirit of the Otago Gold Rush is colourfully captured in Allan Houston’s manuscripts. Not much is known about Houston, but he arrived from Scotland on the Hamilla Mitchell in September 1864 and was for a short time a self-described miners’ representative, practical digger, and storekeeper at Gabriel’s Gully. His manuscript, compiled in 1865, includes description of work and social life on the goldfields, politics, farming, commerce, flora, fauna, and settlements in Otago.
|A group of Tuapeka men|
Commenting on a digger’s reminiscences of the first rush in 1861, Houston wrote: ‘Of all unpoetical sort of things, one of the most so, is for a young, newly married person to “go off to the diggings”. He is indeed a brave, bold, man who can go straight home & without wincing quietly say “Wife I’m off to the new rush”! It’s more trying than “popping the question” for the decent man has a great chance of being considered insane by his affectionate partner in Life – “What! Going to the diggings? Eh! what do you mean, Sir?”’
Houston explains some of the lingo in use at the time, including:
- Making Tucker: Getting gold only sufficient to make a living.
- A Duffer: A failure – disappointment.
- A Stringer: A small vein of gold that does not pay, but leads a digger on ‘Will-o’the-Wisp’ like, and ends in a ‘Duffer’.
- Cockatoos: Small owners of land, but poor.
- Jumping a Claim: Taking forcible possession – ‘Might being right’ ‘a-la-revolver’ – Any person having a ‘Miner’s Right’ or ‘Licence’, can lawfully ‘Jump’ the claim of those without this document.
- New Chum: The latest arrival.
- Old Identity: Old Settlers of Otago – Barracouta – i.e. a fish contemptibly applied to old settlers.
- New Iniquity: The Victorian new arrivals.
- A Nobbler: A glass of any Liquor – usually costs 1/- at the diggings.
|Houston’s description and photos of Balclutha and the Crown Inn.|
These manuscripts would be a great transcription project for someone. The picture painted is sometimes a little too rosy to be convincing, but Houston was there and his writing is full of life, charm, and a sense of optimism prevailing over adversity.
|The scene at Gabriel’s Gully, 1865|
Post prepared by David Murray, Assistant Archivist, from Houston, Allan: ‘The Gold fields of Otago, A.H.’s Jottings 1865 with Lithographic Illustrations. Memoranda of Otago Gold diggings and of Gold Diggers, from personal inspection and reliable information written in March 1865’ (Misc-MS-1413).