Wangapeka Gold


Gold was known in the Wangapeka district from the late 1850s.1  However, although an award was paid in 1861 to prospectors for the discovery of gold in the area, the decision by administrators in the Provincial Government was not to proclaim it as a Goldfield.  Rather, it was regarded as “poor man’s diggingsand was to be administered under the Waste Lands Act.

John Gully. Wangapeka River

John Gully, Wangapeka Valley 1886. Image courtesy Bishop Suter Art Gallery. Click image to enlarge

In 1869 there were reports of the discovery of a reef at Blue Duck creek in the district by  miner Alfred Culliford, who had purchased the auriferous land.3

This was immediately followed by sale of adjacent blocks of land to men, several of whom were government officials, simultaneously sparking a rush to the region and concerns about the propriety of the sales.4

Further land sales were officially stopped, and any attempt to mine the gold on these sites was blocked until it was clarified whether these lands were within the already designated South West Nelson Goldfield or outside this goldfield.  A petition to the Governor (his Excellency Sir George Ferguson Bowen) of about some 800 signatories from the region called for this clarification.5

This imposed inactivity in turn generated more heat from the local newspapers and citizenry. Provinces across New Zealand were feeling the adverse effects of a depression in trade, and the experiences of Otago and Westland had shown that activities on goldfields made a huge boost to their regions – an effect that was being denied, or at least delayed, to the Nelson province.6


Charles Broad. Ref: 1/2-091447-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/22704513

At this point the Provincial Government instructed Charles Broad, Warden and Resident magistrate then of the Brighton and Charleston goldfields, to visit the Wangapeka where by now about 100 miners had gathered and were attempting to stake claims. Broad was to promote the need for a survey to determine if the land was within or outside of the official South West Nelson goldfield.  The prospective miners were angry that their attempts to begin mining were being delayed and refused to countenance any attempt to survey to site. They actively resisted a group of surveyors attempting to enter the site, accompanied by police, and the instruction to Broad to arrest one of the resisting miners, a W. Noble.7 

No attempt was made to arrest any of the miners and the attempts to survey the field were abandoned.8  However, the uproar led to the immediate establishment of an official enquiry into the Wangapeka land sales.9 This was conducted by Mr. Domett,  assisted by Mr Kingdon who was to represent the miners (of whom, one of them Mr R.A. Moss was to also take a part) and Mr Henry Adams to represent the Provincial Government. It commenced 16 December 1869 and concluded on 24 December 1869.

The official enquiry was reported in full in local newspapers and, together with all other official communications, in an Appendix to the Journal of the House of Representatives, where it fills 53 pages and records verbatim some 75 items of correspondence.10

This enquiry makes for fascinating reading, uncovering the fact that there were four different maps of the Province's South West Goldfield.  The position of Mt Owen, on whose slopes the Wangapeka region is, was different in all four, but, surprisingly, this had not been noticed until then.10   

One immediate outcome was the appointment of the surveyor Mr J.W.A. Marchant to define the position of Mt Owen, so that the question as to whether the Wangapeka field was within or outside of the goldfield could be determined.  As it transpired subsequently, the Wangapeka was within the already designated South West Nelson goldfield.11 Therefore, the exploitation of the goldfield was then able to proceed.

Goldminers slab hut at Wangapeka

Jonsen's split slab hut near Rolling River. One of Wangapeka's independent old diggers, Jonsen, a runaway Norwegian sailor, spent 25 years working the goldfield.

Another outcome of the enquiry was that the Wangapeka was separately designated as a Goldfield and as such a Warden to manage it specifically was appointed.11 The first appointment was the temporary one of Dr Joseph Giles (previously Warden from Westport) until T.A.S. Kynnersley could take up the position.  Subsequently, on 7 September 1870 Mr Lowther Broad, who was a younger brother of Charles Broad, RM, was appointed Warden of the Wangapeka goldfield.11

A third important outcome was that the Waste Lands Act was amended12 to remove the legal ambiguities and uncertainties that had troubled the provincial administrators that precipitated this dispute. These amendments were to have benefits for the whole of New Zealand. 

And so, after all the furore, did the Wangapeka gold strike have the benefits that were hoped for by the community? In short, the answer appears to be, sadly no.  The initial description of it being a ‘poor man’s diggings’ was later borne out, there being no vast wealth returned to miners, their companies (Culliford’s Gold-Mining Company or the Waimea South company) or the region.  However, it did lead to the construction of roads and bridges which opened up some difficult country, and of infrastructure that enabled farming and other developments to occur.13

The events were to be a platform on which the personalities of several prominent men were played out. These included Alfred Domett,14 Mr D.M. Luckie14 & Mr Felix Wakefield14, a brother of Edward Gibbon Wakefield about whom much is already written. The figure of the miner Mr R.A. Moss still remains shadowy: it appears that he may have been Scottish and came to Hokitika in 1865 as a passenger on the SS “Gothenburg” from Melbourne.  Little more is known of him.  Officials in the Provincial Government who played important roles in this affair include, Oswald Curtis, Superintendent of the Province; Alfred Greenfield, Provincial Secretary; H.C. Daniell, Commissioner for Crown Lands; Mr J. T. Catley, Receiver of Land Revenue; Henry Adams, Provincial Solicitor:  Joseph A. Harley, clerk to the Resident Magistrate; Robert Shallcrass, Inspector of Police; Charles Lendrick Maclean, Registrar of the Supreme Court; John Sharp, Resident Magistrate at Nelson; H. D. Jackson, Provincial Auditor; Mr John Gully, draughtsman, Crown Land Office; Alexander Mackay, Native Commissioner; and Henry Lewis, Chief Surveyor. 

And as for my great grandfather, Charles Broad15, despite his actions being the object of criticism by the miners, I leave the last word on his actions to Mr Luckie:16

”The whole proceeding of the Government in regard to Wangapeka, stands out in bold contrast to what they did under somewhat similar circumstances at the West Coast. In his speech of 1868, his Honour [Mr Justice (C.W.) Richmond], referring to the assault at Addisons Flat, said he had a firm reliance on the good feeling of the people, and also on this Council, for protecting men whilst in their lawful occupation. Contrast this with the letter written by the Provincial Secretary to Mr. Broad, in 1869. It is as follows:—

 ‘In the event of the survey being forcibly prevented, you will try and arrest one or two of the most prominent persons offering resistance, such attempt to be made without resort to violence. Should the arrest be prevented by force, you will at once report to this office, and wait further instructions.’

If this is not an assumption of the powers of a judge, I know not what is. Had it occurred in England the whole country would have rung with a loud protest against such justice's justice. The loss occasioned to the province by the advocacy of justice for the miners, rests on some one's shoulders; whose can they be, if not the Superintendent's and his Executive's? I say it was due to their utter disregard of facts, and too much regard for persons.

Now it has been said on behalf of the Government, that though the Wangapeka land-sales may have been a mistake, it was the result of honest conviction; that however much delay has occurred in opening the Wangapeka, there is no doubt that the Superintendent has acted throughout from conscientious motives. Such an excuse reminds me much of the old Scottish lady, to whom a person was recommended as a very decent servant. " Damn her decency," said the old lady, "can she cook a collop?" No one doubts Mr. Curtis's conscientious motives, but we want more in our head magistrate — we want competency, we want ability to cook the political collop.”

2019 (updated August 2020)

Sources used in this story

  1. Newport, J.W.N. (1957). Goldfields in the Upper Motueka and Buller Valleys. Nelson Historical Society Journal, volume 1, issue 2, May 1957
  2. McAloon, J (1997). In Nelson, A regional history Cape Catley Ltd in association with the Nelson City Council, pp 87-80.; Colonist, volume xiii, issue 1262, 29 October 1869, page 5, The sales of land at Wangapeka.
  3. Nelson Examiner and New Zealand Chronicle, volume xxviii, issue 86, 27 October 1869, page 4, Mr. Burnett's report on the quartz reef found in the Wangapeka district.
  4. Nelson Examiner and New Zealand Chronicle, volume xxviii, issue 83, 16 October 1869, page 3, Discovery of a rich quartz reef.
  5. Colonist, volume xiii, issue 1272, 3 December 1869, page 3, The late land sales—petition to the Governor.
  6. Nelson Examiner and New Zealand Chronicle, volume xxviii, issue 84, 20 October 1869, page 3, The Superintendency. Mr. Curtis at Wakefield.  Nelson Evening Mail, volume iv, issue 305, 30 December 1869, page 2, the Wangapeka difficulty. Nelson Examiner and New Zealand Chronicle, volume xxix, issue 14, 16 February 1870, page 2, Wangapeka land sales. Public meeting.
  7. Colonist, volume xii, issue 1274, 10 December 1869, page 3, Latest from Wangapeka; Nelson Examiner and New Zealand Chronicle, volume xxix, issue 16, 23 February 1870, page 3, Correspondence relating to Wangapeka land sales (specifically the 3 enclosures to No 18 dated around 5 December 1869); Colonist, volume xiii, issue 1294, 18 February 1870, page 3, Mr. Broad and the diggers (a letter to the Editor by W. Noble)
    Note - Charles Broad's involvement was the starting point for me personally to investigate this affair as I, being a great grandson of Charles Broad, was somewhat concerned at the criticism that was levelled at him for actions.
  8. As an aside, I wonder if the memory of a riot at the Addisons Flat near Westport on 3 April 1868 may have influenced the actions of the Provincial Government in their response to events at Wangapeka - see: McLintock, H.A., editor 'An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand’, (1966). The Battle of Addisons Flat, 1868' &  Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand:
  9. Colonist, volume xiii, issue 1278, 24 December 1869, page 6, Official Enquiry. [Specially Reported.] First day—Thursday, December 16. Ibid, The Wangapeka land sales; Colonist, volume xiii, issue 1278, 24 December 1869, page 4, The Wangapeka land sales, official enquiry. Tuesday, December 20. [continued from page 8]; Appendix to the Journals of the House of Representatives, 1870 Session I, C-01. “Papers relative to the Wangapeka land sales and inquiry respecting the same by the General Government”. [This collection includes 74 papers of correspondence, including the survey results (From Mr JWA Marchant) & the official inquiry pertaining to the Wangapeka land claims dated from no. 1 - 25 October 1869 to no. 75 - 4 May 1871]:
  10. Appendix to the Journals of the House of Representatives, 1870 Session I, C-01. “Papers relative to the Wangapeka land sales and inquiry respecting the same by the General Government”.
  11. Colonist, volume xiii, issue 1298, 4 March 1870, page 4, The Wangapeka correspondence. [concluded.]; Nelson Examiner and New Zealand Chronicle, vol XXIX Issue 72 page 2, 7 September 1870, News of the Day. Warden for Wangapeka.
  12. Nelson Examiner and New Zealand Chronicle, volume xxix, issue 56, 13 July 1870, page 3, Waste Lands Acts. Resolutions of the Nelson Provincial Council for the amendment of the "Waste Lands Act, 18P3," and the "Crown Lands (Nelson) Leasing Act, 18G7," passed by the Council, June 31, 1870."
  13. Colonist, volume xiv, issue 1438, 7 July 1871, page 5, Culliford goldmining company;  Newport, J.W.N.  (1962) Footprints. The story of the settlement and development of the Nelson back country districts” (pub Whitcombe and Tombs Ltd, Christchurch NZ), Wangapeka Valley, pp 215- 237; McAloon, J (1997). In “Nelson, A regional history” (Pub. Cape Catley Ltd in association with the Nelson City Council, pp 87-80.
  14. Graham, Jeanine. In, “Dictionary of New Zealand Biography”, (1990), 'Domett, Alfred'. (Te Ara, the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 28 September 2019);   Harvey, Ross., In, “Dictionary of New Zealand Biography”, (1993), 'Luckie, David Mitchell'. (Te Ara, the Encyclopedia of New Zealand,;  McLintock A,H., editor “An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand,(1966);  Wakefield, Felix', (Te Ara, the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, )
  15. Hutchison, Annie. In, ”Dictionary of New Zealand Biography”, (1990). 'Broad, Charles', also Te Ara, the Encyclopedia of New Zealand:            
  16. Nelson Examiner and New Zealand Chronicle, volume xxix, issue 39, 14 May 1870, page 3, Provincial Council. No confidence.

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  • it is a good source of facts

    Posted by Timothy Cottrell, 26/03/2024 2:05pm (3 months ago)

  • Possible correction needed on webpage relating to Alfred Greenfield. The Chief Clerk of the Nelson Provincial Council (verified on a letter dated 26th November 1859) was A Greenfield. Possibly the title 'Provincial Secretary' as used on this webpage is incorrect? Ed. Alfred Greenfield was elected Provincial Secretary in 1865 according to the Nelson Provincial Council Gazette.

    Posted by ZJ Potgieter, 28/08/2022 5:55pm (2 years ago)

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