When Gabriel Read first discovered gold he aptly described it as “shining like the stars in Orion on a dark, frosty night.” Read’s discovery of gold near Lawrence, Central Otago in 1861 triggered an international gold rush that propelled the rapid development of Dunedin and Otago.
In Otago Museum’s Southern Land, Southern People Gallery is a replica of an entrance to a gold mine, like those once seen throughout Central Otago. The discovery of gold drastically changed the region - Dunedin’s population trebled within three years and by 1870 it was indisputably New Zealand’s largest and richest city. During the 1860s alone, 21 million pounds sterling worth of gold was found throughout Otago!
Most of the gold found was alluvial gold which washed down rivers and could be easily recovered by panning or picking nuggets out of the riverbed. However, during the 1870s and 80s as this became scarcer, other methods were employed such as quartz mining.
Out of the dark and gloomy depths of the Museum mine comes the story of these gold miners, who would look for quartz in the rocks at the surface, then dig tunnels deep into the hillside hoping to strike gold. The mine entrance was purpose built for the Museum, inspired by the originals and includes a trolley, lantern, tools and rock features which are authentic from the period.
Gold may have significantly influenced European settlement within the Otago region, but the story of the gold miners is just one example of many told in the Otago Museum’s Southern Land, Southern People Gallery. Aptly named, the gallery focuses on the uniqueness of both the Southern Region’s land and its people. Journey alongside Southern Maori, European settlers, sheep farmers and coal miners to discover how people have explored the region, over time utilised its natural resources and embraced its wild character.
Southern Land, Southern People – Otago Museum’s gateway to one of New Zealand’s most diverse and dramatic regions.
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