Kōura - Māori and Gold


The goldrushes

In 1857 there were 1,300 Pakeha and 600 Māori digging in the Aorere district, New Zealand's first real goldrush. The influx had a profound effect on tangata whenua as tikanga1 obliged them to welcome, with appropriate ceremony and hospitality, all relatives and manuhiri, severely challenging Tamati Pirimona Marino and his people at Aorere.

:Mahakapawa CampMurray, J P fl 1880s-1890s: Mahakapawa Camp. 1888, Alexander Turnbull Library, G-561
Click image to enlarge

Māori miners were very successful, with records of four taking 130oz (ounces), three leaving for Wellington with 60oz (three weeks work), and five taking 200oz to Nelson. Māori accessed more remote fields by river canoes and employed innovative mining methods. Hohepa Tamaihengia, hoping for a better gold price, built "... a beautifully modeled whale boat, about 30 feet long" at the Quartz Ranges, which his party sailed down the river and on to Wellington.2

A rush at Anatoki, a tributary of the Tākaka River, caused racial tension. Tākaka chief, Te Meihana, staked most available claims and shepherded them for relatives and friends, telling Europeans none were left for them. A meeting was held at the Tākaka Inn in October 1857 to resolve the dispute. Six regulations were approved by both Māori and Pakeha, including rules about shepherding and unworked claims.

When gold was discovered in January 1862 on their own land at Te Tai Tapu (Westhaven), the chiefs advertised claims, charging every miner one pound per annum. However, Māori control of the goldfields at Te Tai Tapu was short-lived; within six years, Proclamations and legislation wrested administration from the Māori owners and transferred it to the Nelson Provincial Government and the Crown.

Te Tau Ihu Māori were prominent on the Buller goldfields. In June 1861, the Marlborough Press reported "the total quantity of gold brought up to Collingwood, procured in three weeks by five natives, has been 52oz, which they obtained chiefly by fossicking with their knives". 3 The rush was on, first to Waimangaroa, about 15 km north of Westport, and then to Lyell, probably in November 1862.

Deep Creek, Havelock [1864]Crawford, James Coutts, 1817-1889 : Deep Creek, Havelock [1864]. [London, 1880], Alexander Turnbull Library, PUBL-0085-261
Click image to enlarge

Māori were again very successful miners, with one wahine reported to have extracted 1lb in a day, "Big Benny" finding a 25oz nugget, and a party of six obtaining a 59oz nugget at the Lyell.

Māori established a monopoly on river transport from Westport to Lyell (about 50-60 km of strong currents, rapids, eddies, whirlpools, falls, rocks and snags). "... The canoes, which always ascend in company, say eight or ten at a time, are worked by natives, and will carry, according to their size, from ten or twelve cwt. up to two tons occupying about three days in the passage. The charge for a passage up the river is 2 Pounds per man'.4

An exciting trip down-river could be made in hours. Māori rented Native Reserve land to storekeepers, and Collingwood chief Marino, hosted "... a large dinner to all hands, both white and Maoris ... sucking pig, fowl, beef, plum pudding, fruit pies and tarts of several descriptions ..." for Christmas 1862.5

Māori were similarly active participants in the later rushes to Wakamarina (near Havelock) in 1864, and the Mahakipawa, Cullensville and Waikakaho Goldfields of the late 1880s.

Māori earned considerable income from goldmining and ancillary services, but whanau and communal lifestyle was seriously disrupted by long male absence at the goldfields. Alcohol consumption became a common practice, and cultivations were often neglected.


Updated April 2020

Sources used in this story


  1. Tikanga (custom) incorporated such principles as rangatiratanga - chieftainship; kaitiakitanga - stewardship, caretaking; manaakitanga - caring for people, manawhenuatanga - land ownership; tāngata whenua - the people of the land, resident tribes; manuhiri - visitors, from another tribal district

    Sources used in this Story
  2. Nelson Examiner 27.1.1858 ; Mitchell, H & J (2004) Te Tau Ihu o Te Waka: A History of Maori of Nelson and Marlborough Vol II p. 303
  3. Marlborough Press 8.6.1861; Mitchell, p. 309
  4. Nelson Government Gazette 1863; Mitchell, p. 314
  5. Colonist 10.12.1862 ; Mitchells, p. 312

Want to find out more about the Kōura - Māori and Gold ? View Further Sources here.

Do you have a story about this subject? Find out how to add one here.

Comment on this story

Post your comment


  • A further "recent" source is Robert Jenkin's 2008 article "Anatoki Gold" in Memories, no.70 (Feb/Mar 2008), p.38-45. It tells how Maori and Pakeha worked together on the Anatoki goldfields (Golden Bay) in the 1850s. The story of the Anatoki goldfields is closely linked with the Aorere goldfields, just over the range, and also with Wellington.

    Posted by Penny Griffith, 20/08/2015 8:26pm (9 years ago)

RSS feed for comments on this page | RSS feed for all comments

Further sources - Kōura - Māori and Gold


  • Larnack, W.J.M. Handbook of New Zealand Mines 1887 Wellington : Government Printer,  pp237-274.
  • Mitchell, H & J (2007) Te Tau Ihu o Te Waka:  A History of Māori of Nelson and Marlborough, volume II: Te Ara Hou  Wellington, N.Z. : Huia Publishers in association with the Wakatū Incorporation, pp299-328, and references cited there
  • Re Wakamarina:
    Johnston, M R (1992) Gold in a Tin Dish:  Vol I.  The History of the Wakamarina Goldfield. Nelson. N.Z.: Nikau Press.
    The Marlborough Press:  1864-1865.
  • Re Mahakipawa, Cullensville, Waikakaho: Johnston, M R:  (1992) “Gold in a Tin Dish:  Vol II.  The History of the Eastern Marlborough Goldfields”. Nelson. N.Z.: Nikau Press


  • Re Golden Bay Goldfields:
    The Colonist
    The Nelson Examiner:  1857-1858.
  • Re Te Tai Tapu:
    Mitchell, H & J (2004) Te Tau Ihu o Te Waka:  A History of Māori of Nelson and Marlborough, Vol I The People and the land. Wellington, N.Z. : Huia Publishers, pp397-402.
    The Nelson Examiner:  March-May 1862.
  • Re Buller
    The Colonist:  1862-1863.
  • Re Mahakipawa, Cullensville, Waikakaho:
    Daily Times:  1888.; Marlborough Express”:  1888-1889.

Web Resources