04 January, 2013

Tunneling for gold. Lost beneath the lake.

This updates a much older post, now with historic photos from the 1930s.

Out our back gate the land falls away steeply into the river.  The Lady Ranfurly gold dredge took incredible amounts of gold from the bottom of the river right here in the early 1900's. ( see post Gold from the River.
That started people thinking.  As they do when gold is to be had.  The Great Depression of the 1930s put many people back into the hunt for gold.  The most successful were right here.

The theory was 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.
This photo from our back gate shows Scotland point to the left where the tunneling operations were before the lake was created and the water raised.  The entrances were close to the original river because that enabled tunnels to be drained down and outwards.
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 washing 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 minesas 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.
Todays peaceful scene conceals past cycles of frantic and fruitful activity.
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.

Acknowledging the 'Sir George Grey Special Collections'  Auckland Libraries who have gathered images from the pictorial magazine 'Auckland Weekly News' 1932 and 1933.  Present day photos by Kerry Hand.


  1. Anonymous said...

    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 .
    03 September, 2012
    Anonymous said...

    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
    09 November, 2012

  2. Nice to read about my uncles, Rich, Perce and Bill Bell and Bill 'Killy' Kilgour! In the 50's I used to prospect a bit further along nearer the mouth of the gorge with a cousin Alister Murray. Will never forget the back-breaking toil of keeping the cradle full while ladling in water alongside the river in scenic surroundings and the beautiful Central weather.

    Years ago while living in Calgary I spent considerable time in another beautiful area, the Highwood and Livingston areas of the Southern Alberta Rockies, looking for the legendary Lost Lemon gold mine. I guess once you get the gold never really leaves you. Peter Bell, Cobble Hill, British Columbia.

  3. By the way: "The project did not continue for long, I have not learned why..." In a word, water. My dad Stan, the youngest of the Bell brothers worked for a bit in one of the tunnels, and said it was extremely risky work because of the water percolating into the old stream bed. He said he saw solid bluegum posts crushed lengthwise by the weight of the overburden, so realizing the danger, they took the sensible way out--and sold. Peter Bell

  4. Many years ago in Dunedin I came across an "antique dealer" called Harry Pleace who had a small junk shop in Hillside Road. When he learned that I was interested in gold mining and had spent much of my early childhood in Cromwell he offered to show me the photo collection he had of the Bell Kilgour gold strike. The photos were brilliant and included many taken underground. Unfortunately Harry would not let me get copies so I don't know what happened to them. Apparently he had bought them at an auction in Cromwell. The photos really belong in the Cromwell Museum.

  5. Graeme Thomas20 April, 2018

    As a young lad I used ot visit Lance Hooper. He lived along North East Valley in Dunedin. When I went to meet him I took the gold that I had found over the last couple of years, all of five ounces. He looked at it and said that it was nothing and fromthen on toldme many stories of his past experiences gold mining. He asked me to take him up to where they had worked as he knew where there was more. I found that interesting because where he claimed it would be shows up in surveys as either an extension or another buried river lead further over right at the base of the hill.
    Gold mining is addictive and eventually in the Waipori District I found quite a few kilogrammes of gold. The best I did was half a pound of gold in three handfuls of dirt. I found enough gold to make me decide to buy the sheep run in order to protect my access to the claim we took out. Much of my time goldmining was inspired by the story of the Bell, Hooper and Kilgour discovery and by my discussions with Lance Hooper.

    1. I see that there is an auction in Auckland later this month (22 August 2018) run by Art and Object. It is a rare book auction and lots 12 and 13 are old gold mining documents from Central Otago. Lot 12 includes correspondence between M C Chalmers, W Kilgour and J P Bell. Lot 12 is all about the Kawarau and has an estimate of $200.
      Lot 13 includes an application for a special alluvial claim (6/2/34) by Bell Hooper Cromwell Gold Ltd. Estimate $200 - $300.
      These look like a part of the Kawarau gold history.
      Craig Sutherland 8/8/18

  6. It was probably not the best medium for me to bring up those items in the August Auction in Auckland. Your site is very good and it would be a shame to clutter it with things like the comment I left last night. I have contacted Bob Kilgour directly about the items as there will be a close family interest in them for him. I really wanted to get the message to him that they were coming up and my comment on your site, on hindsight, isn't needed now.
    Your site is very interesting and I see there are a couple of things I will follow up on. There is a comment there about a chap called Harry who had photos of inside the BK mine. I know Harry and I will have a chat to him. The chap who knew lance Hooper is also worth contacting.
    thank you


I would love to hear from you on any of these posts. This blog is not daily news and I will respond to comments even on backdated posts.