John Jacobus (Jacob) Appoo


You may well be familiar with the Nelson name Appo Hocton. His last name also appears on maps labeling the first gold strikes in the Aorere Goldfields a little South of Collingwood. Appo's Flat and Appo's Creek being the flash point of a massive gold rush. But Appo Hocton was indeed not responsible for the first gold rush, although the spelling of his last name was adopted onto the maps.

Historic Aorere Goldfields ground sluicing claim

Historic Aorere Goldfields ground sluicing claim. Wikimedia

This is the story of the real man who first struck gold.  John Jacobus (Jacob) Appoo was a Sinhalese - from Sri Lanka, formerly known as Ceylon -  believed to have been born in Trincomalee in about 1822. His father was John Emmanuel Appoo and his mother's name (possibly Silva) is unknown. John Jacobus was a Merchant Navy Seaman from 1845 to 1854 and served as a crew member on several ships including the Zoe, Gartsherrie, Zephyr, and Osbert, calling at Ceylon, India, Dominica, Trinidad, and the West Indies and also plying the waters closer to home.

John Jacobus Appoo married Alice Handley at Bethnal Green on 1 December 1851, and on 14 August 1853 their daughter Elizabeth Sylvia Appoo was born. She died on 17 October 1853. It is thought that John Appoo arrived in New Zealand in about 1854, and family folklore suggests that he could have jumped ship in Nelson. John Jacobus Appoo discovered rich alluvial gold in the Massacre Bay area, sparking the Aorere gold rush.

Miners Aorere River. Collingwood Goldfields. NPM Tyree 182087

Miners. Aorere River. Collingwood Goldfields. Nelson Provincial Museum. Tyree 182087

Appoo's Creek and Appoo's Flat were named after John Jacobus Appoo. Appoo's Creek, which became a flourishing gold mining area, is a tributary of the Aorere River, which flows into Massacre Bay. There was easy money to be made from the goldrush, and John quickly bought property in Nelson and set up a substantial business in Bridge Street. According to the Nelson Examiner, October 1855, the enterprising and versatile John Appoo provided many services to the huge numbers of goldseekers flocking in to the area. "Watches, clocks and jewellery repaired. Hairdresser and dentist. N.B. Corns extracted."

At about this time Appoo applied for his wife Alice and her sister Jane to come to New Zealand, and in May 1856, the two women arrived in Nelson on the Inchannin. It is possible that John may have returned to England and accompanied them to New Zealand on the voyage, as on 22 December 1856, Thomas Andrew Appoo was born. In June 1857, John sold his Bridge Street property, and sailed for Australia, following the gold trail to Amherst, Victoria, leaving his pregnant wife Alice in the care of Catholic friends in Nelson.

Alice Elizabeth Silva Appoo was born in Nelson on 11 February 1858, and a few months later, his wife Alice and their two young children, Thomas and Alice, joined John in Victoria, where by 1858 he owned property in Back Creek and was advertising in Clunes as a "hairdresser, working jeweller dentist and chiropodist". The infant death of John and Alice's son, John Bestian Appoo, who was born in Amherst, is recorded on 2 September 1859. John Appoo died at Back Creek of Phthisis (tuberculosis) on 28 March 1861, and was buried in the Amherst Cemetery. His wife Alice married Christopher Clark, a Northumberland coalminer, on 23 February 1862, in Clunes.


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Further sources - John Jacobus (Jacob) Appoo


  • Atkins, R. (Aug.1977) Journey into the unknown. NZ Genealogist, p.642-645

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