I forwarded the remarks on emigration of miners to New Zealand to Elaine
Bolitho. Her reply (in part) is as follows.
When times were hard on the mining scene, certainly the Cornish looked
abroad for work. As an almost island people, they were accustomed to
travelling by sea to reach wherever they wanted to go, and men would go to
South America (note the monkey puzzle trees brought back from there to
Cornwall), Mexico, USA, or Canada. Earlier the pattern was to go, earn some
money and come home again. From the 1830s on, with more miners seeking work
in the Southern Hemisphere ie South Africa, Australia or New Zealand, it
became increasingly likely that they would stay, settle and send for their
The following comments relate more specifically to the New Zealand scene.
First, a chronology of mining in New Zealand with particular reference to
the West Coast of the South Island, and appears as an Appendix in my book
“Reefton School of Mines, stories of Jim Bolitho.” (published 1998 by
Friends of Waiuta, PO Box 83, Reefton 7851 New Zealand and still
available.) Items in italics update in 2009.
pre-1820 Maori people aware of gold-bearing rocks.
1820 Sailors may have seen gold at Preece's Point, Coromandel Harbour.
1838-40 Gold seen at Te Aroha.
1842 Gold noticed in Golden Bay area of Nelson (seen again 1850, 1854,
1848 Thomas Brunner sees coal seam beside Grey River.
1849 Coal mine opened at Saddle Hill, near Dunedin.
1852 First significant Coromandel gold discovery announced. Charles Ring
claims £500 reward.
11 December New Zealand's first gold sale at Connell & Ridings -
from the Wynyard diggings at Coromandel.
Miners come from California and Australia where gold was found
in 1848 and 1851.
1856 Gold found in Mataura River by CW Ligar, Surveyor General.
1857 Oakes Brothers and Edward Dobson see Gold on the West Coast.
Small gold rush to Aorere in Nelson area.
1858 Collingwood Act - first New Zealand Goldmining Act. (Based on
1859 John Rochfort finds gold near Berlins, while surveying. Gold also
worked by Maori party.
1860s Huntly coal mine worked from time of Land Wars.
1861 Reuben Waite organises gold-seeking expedition to Westport/Buller.
Gold found and worked at Karamea, Waimangaroa and Buller River.
Gabriel Read finds gold in Gabriel's Gully, Central Otago -
first major goldfield and gold rush.
1862 Otago rushes spread.
Gold also found at Lyell Creek (West Coast) by Maori prospector
Simon (Epapara); and at Coromandel.
First coal is mined in Auckland province, at Drury.
1864 Gold At Wakamarina, Marlborough. First West Coast gold rush - to
Greenstone Creek, a tributary of the Teramakau River. Richer finds follow
First Coast coal mine worked at Brunner.
1865 Hokitika develops as gold field capital - "most rising place on earth."
West Canterbury Goldfield proclaimed on 2 March.
Nelson South West Goldfield proclaimed on 1 August.
1866 Goldfields Act passed.
Discoveries and diggings in Inangahua Goldfield, and Charleston.
1867 Goldfield proclaimed and quartz mining begins at Kauaeranga
(Thames). Quartz mined at Waimangaroa, Buller.
First Reefton area coal mine opened at Soldiers Creek.
1868 Quartz mined at Moonlight, Grey Valley.
1869 First coal mined on Kaitangata coalfield.
1870 Quartz reef discovered up Murray Creek (Reefton) by Richard Shiel.
Three separate lines of reef found by November. Reefton established and named.
1871 Reefton develops. Hankin and Faler begin first stock-broking
business in December.
1873 First significant migration of Chinese miners from Otago to Westland.
1874 Hydraulic sluicing develops at Greenstone.
The Regulation of Mines Act provides for regulation and
inspection of coal mines.
1875 Ohinemuri Goldfield (Coromandel) proclaimed 3 March.
1876 Alluvial gold found at Kumara, Teramakau Valley. Later becomes New
Zealand's greatest sluicing field.
1877 Coal is carried down Denniston incline for the first time, proving
viability of mining Buller coal plateau.
1878 Quartz Reef at Martha Hill, Waihi first recognised - would become
largest New Zealand mine.
Mines Department comes into existence.
1879 Otago School of Mines opened.
1881 Hydraulic elevator designed in Dunedin to lift alluvial gold
deposits from below drainage level to the top of a large-scale sluicing
channel, thus creating sufficient fall for gold saving and tailing disposal.
1880s Nightcaps Coal Company consolidates Ohai coal field workings.
1881-7 Quartz mining in the Terawhiti Hills, near Wellington - proves
1883 Beginning of period of depression in Reefton quartz mining.
1884 Old Stockman, the first mine on the Taranaki coalfield, begins work.
1885-6 Professor Black's West Coast and Otago lecture tour initiates first
Schools of Mines.
1886 Prototype of steam dredge begins work at Alexandra.
Government requires certificated mine officials. Coal-mines Act
and Mining Act implement this. (Subsequent legislation continues to amend
and extend these requirements.)
1889 Cyanide process for extracting gold first used in New Zealand at
Karangahake, near Waihi.
1890 Gold dredging begins on West Coast following success in Otago.
1893 Cyanide process first used on West Coast at Welcome Mine, Boatmans.
1895 Greater overseas investment, as David Ziman initiates Consolidated
Goldfields of New Zealand Ltd to take over many Reefton Mines from 1896.
1896 New Zealand's worst mining disaster at Brunner coal mine kills 65.
1898 Eight Schools of Mines operating in New Zealand - others revived later.
1901 James Park begins 30 years service as Director of School of Mines
at Otago University.
State Coal acquire first leases at Rewanui in Westland, and open
their first mine at Seddonville on Buller coal field.
1903 First coal produced from State Coal's Seddonville mine.
1905 Birthday Reef discovery gives rise to Blackwater Mine (New
Zealand's second biggest), and Waiuta.
1910 Operation of stone quarries is added to responsibilities of Mines
1911 Mines Department assumes control of operations connected with
prospecting, mining for and storage of mineral oils and natural gas.
1914 In value and number of employees, coal mining overtakes gold mining
(nationally). Rotowaro and Glen Massey (Waikato) coalfields developed during
World War I.
1921 Discovery of the Alexander Reefs, leads to last mine on Inangahua
1923 Otira Tunnel opening gives transalpine rail access to West Coast mines.
1926 Reefton School of Mines closes.
1930 Reefton School of Mines reopens.
Period of depression increases prospecting activities and gold
1931 Britain abandons gold standard, stimulating a sharp rise in value
which, with the aid of government subsidies, brings about a revival in New
Zealand gold mining.
1934 Major revival in gold dredging starts in Cental Otago and on West
1937 Petroleum Act vests mineral oil, or relative hydro-carbon and
natural gas in Crown, with Minister of Mines having sole rights to issue
1939-45 During World War II New Zealand government adopts policy of
acquiring major coal mines.
1943 Alexander Mines cease operations after producing 41,091 ounces of gold.
1945 Atomic Energy Act vests all natural substances, chemical compounds
and physical combinations of uranium and thorium in Crown. Similar
provisions in 1959 cover bauxite and ironsands.
1948 Otago School of Mines scholarships are replaced with coal-mining
engineering bursaries and two travelling scholarships in coal-mining. Chair
of Coal Mining established.
Coal Research Unit established by Otago School of Mines in
liaison with Mines Department.
63% of New Zealand's coal production coming from State mines.
1951 Blackwater Mines Waiuta close after producing 732,907 ounces of
1952 Martha Mine at Waihi (New Zealand's largest gold mine) closes.
1953 Enquiry into Mining Education - Coromandel School of Mines closes.
1955 Radioactive minerals found on West Coast. Mineral exploration
1956 Runanga and Westport Schools of Mines close.
1960s National coal demand and production starts to decline. Wallsend
first in a succession of West Coast mine closures.
1964 State Coal operates 34 coal mines, including 14 opencast mines.
1966 Otago School of Mines becomes part of the Department of Mineral
Technology within Faculty of Science.
1967 Denniston incline closes, although mining continues.
1968 Uniform codes for Australian and New Zealand Mines.
1970 Reefton School of Mines - last regional one in New Zealand - closes
on Jim Bolitho's retirement.
1986 University of Otago Department of Mineral Technology
disestablished. Teaching of Mineral Technology transferred to Engineering
School at University of Auckland.
circa 1988 Large scale mining operations commence with new technology -
Golden Cross and Martha
Hill (Coromandel) mines reopened. Also at Macraes Flat in Otago.
Re-assessment of Reefton gold mining sites for large scale
1989 Top section of Prohibition shaft at Waiuta reopened - start of
extensive prospecting and drilling programme. (Did not re-open)
1991 Resource Management Act and Crown Minerals Act control mining
1998 Reopening Globe Progress mine postponed, following drop in gold
price. Work at Waiuta also put on hold.
Last classes in Mineral Technology conducted at University of
Reefton School of Mines building repiled, and exterior restored.
Circa 2008 Gold mining at Globe Progress site recommenced by Macraes.
The first settlers to come to NZ in the 1840s included some miners from
Cornwall, but in almost every case they stated their occupation as labourer
or farmer, for that is what the NZ company was looking for and offering
cheaper passages for agricultural workers.
Some prospecting was carried out in New Zealand, and coal and gold deposits
were identified but it was 1861 before the find at Gabriels Gully brought
miners to NZ on a large scale. Miners continued to come as agricultural
workers, or were recruited for specific tasks, i.e the building of a railway
tunnel between Lyttelton and Christchurch (opened 1866). This was a good
example of chain migration. Cornish miners were welcomed because of their
hard rock skills, and as more and more workers were needed they were
recruited from amount the cousin Jacks at home. (Pryor forebears came to NZ
and then called for their neighbouring Bolithos to come too in 1865.) But
once work like that was complete, prospecting and working gold had great appeal.
There have been waves of miners emigrating to NZ coinciding with either a
gold find or requests for extra workers – for example, even after world War
I there were a good number of further Cornish miners recruited. The West
Coast of the South Island was a popular spot for the miners to come to, as
there were both gold and coal mines. Coal attracted out-of-work miners from
Wales, and the North of England over the years, and for a couple of
generations local sons would follow their fathers down the mine. Many Irish
came to the West Coast in search of gold. This is still reflected today in
that their Irish Catholicism has resulted in the West Coast being the area
of of population with the highest census percentage of Catholics in New Zealand.
However among those who came, there were many who saw it as a stepping stone
to owning land. My husband’s great grandfather James Bolitho is reported to
have said, “Didn’t come all t’is way to be in ’ole underground. I want to
own land.” He was one of the both/and people – both a mine manager and a
small farmer at Blacks Point, near Reefton. This was a very strong Cornish
settlement but Reefton itself was much more cosmopolitan.
Chinese miners, who came first to Otago and then to Westland, generally
entered workings abandoned by others. Meticulous work yielded good results,
but the NZ government charged a poll tax on each Chinese migrant and would
not let them bring wives to NZ. Later, when these regulations were relaxed,
wives came, families followed, and many Chinese miners went into market
gardening and ran green-grocers shops. Later they and their descendants
followed the general range of occupations of other New Zealanders.
In New Zealand the scale of mining operations varied. Some were small family
affairs, some employed a few locals, others more. Appendices to the Journals
of the House of Representatives listed these each year and the reports are a
good source of information re NZ mining. There were always a few big
companies – like Consolidated at Reefton – with overseas funding and
shareholders. Many small companies formed to work a local claim. Some went
broke if the claim was a ‘duffer;’ some thrived for a time until the gold
ran out. Others lasted longer and returned good profits to the shareholders.
Coal mining was largely taken over by the NZ Government – State Coal mines
existed in all the major coalfields, alongside smaller local operators in
many cases. The State Coal enterprises continue today as ‘Solid Energy,’ but
using today’s techniques requires fewer operators. Present day opencast gold
mining operations – at Waihi, Globe Progress and Reefton and Macraes Flat
require the backing and equipment of large companies.
Regarding other minerals, uranium was prospected for in New Zealand, but as
it was not found in workable quantities, was not mined. There was one
short-lived workable deposit of copper on Kawau Island, where Cornishmen
came to work.
...I am particularly busy at present with research on my current commission,
writing the story of the Knight family. They came from Cornwall on the
second emigrant ship to Wellington in February 1840, listed on the shipping
register as William Knight labourer, wife and children. When the children
were baptised he was a miner at Tywardreath. Mining, Methodism and Cornwall
seem to be a constant theme in my research...