26 September, 2010

Tunneling for gold


Out the back gate the land falls away steeply into the river.  The Lady Ranfurly gold dredge took incredible amounts of gold from bottom of the river right here in the early 1900's. ( see post "Gold in the river") 
That started people thinking.  As they do when gold is to be had for the inventive.
This photo, from our back gate shows Scotland point, where before the lake was created and the water raised.  It was the site of two mining operations.  The entrances were close to the original river because that enabled tunnels to be drained.
Scotland Point mine entrances.  This bank of the river.  To the right of centre.  Now deep under water.
Geological surveys of the area produced a theory that the Kawarau River once flowed under the flat land where we are, probably caused by a sandstone bar redirecting the flow north.  If this was the case, then a lead of gold could be found under the flat and be very rich indeed.

Scotland Point, is named after a Mr Scotland who in the 1880's found the first traces of that buried river bed.  Building small tunnels just large enough to crawl inside, he dug up the wash while lying on his back or stomach, and placed it into a tray attached to a rope, which was pulled out by his wife, who would run it through a baby's cradle.  Many attempts were made to find Scotland's workings but they were never found.

In 1932
Percy Bell, Bill Kilgour, Richie Bell and Zip and Lance Hooper, during weeks of back-breaking work, used picks and shovels and, occasionally, explosives to put drives into the sandstone cliffs.  It was the midst of the Depression and the Government started paying a miner's benefit of about 14 shillings and 3 pence a week to assist men in prospecting for gold.

Bill Kilgour's two brothers and other local men were brought in to work the Bell Kilgour and Bell Hooper mines as they moved towards the foothills, finding average daily takes of 8lb to 10lb (3.6kg to 4.5kg), which was "very rich indeed"  Finally, the Bell Kilgour and Bell Hooper Gold Mining companies were formed, and continued to find significant amounts of gold from Scotland's lead.

According to Professor Park, an eminent mining authority at the time, it was one the most significant finds of alluvial gold deposits found anywhere in New Zealand since the 1800s.  However the project did not continue for long.  I have not learned why.  Although obviously if it had continued to be possible to get the gold then tunneling would have continued.


  1. Bill Kilgour was my father Percy was my uncle your story is true .When Bill and Percy were on the gold they paddocked out rooms up to 35 feet square underground and held the roof up with popular posts while they excavated the bottom 3 feet of the heavy wash material that contained the best of the golds . On one occassion once all the wash had been removed they always blased the caps on the posts and the roof did
    not come down till the next day . These underground cavens
    at times when they fell in did
    run thru to the surface hence some surface slumpage . There is much more to tell . I mined there in 1975 and mined out the old tunnel and recovered some 100s ounces , this was the start of a new family affair in mining and I
    have been mining ever since , getting a bit old now but still at it , its wonderfull the world of gold . Chez Bob Kilgour .

  2. Lance and Neville Hooper were my mother's cousins. There were partners in the Bell Hooper mine at Scotland Point. I used to spend a lot of time at Scotland point with a gold pan and cradle. I recall the remains of the Lady Ranfurly dredge and the large rusting cable wheel that lay in the side of the river a couple of meters downstream just above the mine entrance. I also remember meeting Lance Hooper when I was a small child. He had become a bit peculiar but my mother recalls the Bro.s dropping off a small bottle of gold for them when things were tight in the depression days. When he died they found vacuum cleaners stuffed with 5 pound notes because he didn't want the tax department to know how much money he had.
    In the early 60's my parents bought a holiday home from Bill Hooper (Lance's & Neville's dad) at Lowburn Ferry. It was between the Clutha river and a dredge hole and a just below the Lowburn bridge. The only other house nearby was owned by an old guy called Bob Bell who would have been close to 70 in those days. Bob was a bachelor and had never moved far. I remember him saying that the furthest he had traveled was to Dunedin and that was once during the great flu of back in 1918? When Bob died Percy moved into his house. Unfortunately he was only there for a few years before he also passed away. I remember old Bob well and he was a real character. He used to go into Cromwell once a week to get his groceries. Probably got his meat from the Ding Dong Butchery.
    After Percy died a chap called Ned MacIntyre moved in. He was a one time miner from The Nevis and other paces and he never lost the gold fever.
    The area was beautiful and it broke my heart when it was flooded. I had a little spot that I worked just below Quartz Reef Point. It was in the river just below the gravel pit and i did quite well out of it. There was clay bottom and gold kept getting churned up from a large hole just upstram of it. I was getting about 1/2 ounce for a Saturday's work and some of the gold was quite rough. I had a small portable suction dredge and only once did I go through the clay into the wash below. It contained gold that was quite chunky and honey combed and obviously hadn't come far or been exposed to the river current. I regret very much that I never exploited that area. it's just memory now but I have never lost my gold fever. Now I read a lot about it. The book my The Murrays - Costly Gold - brings everything into perspective. It was a hard life for the early miners but fossicking was a lot of fun.
    Craig Sutherland


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