District's gold rush to be celebrated

A view of the main engine house and shaft of the Bendigo mine in the late 19th century.  -Otago Witness
A view of the main engine house and shaft of the Bendigo mine in the late 19th century. -Otago Witness

Central Otago's golden celebrations will continue next month as the 150th anniversary of Bendigo, one of the "most significant" gold rush areas, is marked.

The celebrations will start on December 1 with an informal "pack run" along the 14km kanuka trail, which Otago Goldfields Heritage Trust secretary Terry Davis described as a "hidden gem".

"The trail goes through kanuka forest and over classic rocky Bendigo hills. There is no other landscape quite like it anywhere," he said.

Following that, the recently relocated Bendigo Gold Light Co's dredge bucket ladder will be formally opened in a ceremony that will also recognise stabilisation work done on the old bakehouse.

Trust president Martin Anderson said although the bucket ladder had been moved several months ago, they thought a winter function to mark the occasion might have been too cold.

The ceremony and following pot-luck lunch, open to everyone, would be the highlight of the weekend, but there would also be guided walks and four-wheel-drive tours to explore remnants of a mining life which "had a major impact on the landscape", he said.

"Bendigo has got to be right up there as one of the most significant gold rush areas."

The walks will be accompanied by Department of Conservation staff and Otago gold rush scholar Lloyd Carpenter.

Mr Carpenter said Bendigo was an area rich in gold, but many mining companies barely broke even and the only one to find "decent" gold was the Cromwell Quartz Mining Co, which was formed by two of the first men on the scene, Thomas Logan and Jack Garrett.

The company began operating in 1868 and in the first four weeks crushed 100 tonnes of quartz to find 228oz of gold.

Their following four weeks were even more profitable.

Miners flocked to the area but unfortunately, that first claim was the only one that got decent gold - a "geological freak", Mr Carpenter said.

By February of 1870, the population of the town had reached 500 and by the middle of that year, there were 52 claims being worked.

Of those, only 18 were quartz claims.

The Cromwell company worked until it lost the gold seam in 1906.

From the 1930s until 1942, the area was subjected to a "last gasp" gold rush that saw several stamper batteries and companies in action.

Mr Carpenter said Bendigo was the most profitable quartz mining area in Central Otago with "tens of thousands" of ounces of gold smashed out of the rock.

Other events for the weekend include a stone wall building demonstration and talk and a "picnic in the vines", with tastings and winery tour.

A Cromwell genealogy group will also provide a display showing family histories of the area.

sarah.marquet@odt.co.nz